Our heroes. Puck is in the middle.

I’m late catching up with this one, but after a summer of Inspector Montalbano (which I have nothing against but which has been around a little too long), BBC4 have returned to Scadinavia with Crimes of Passion.

It’s the first of a series of six 90 minute films, made, and set, in Sweden. The stories are based on early novels by the prolific Swedish crime fiction writer, Maria Lang (a pen-name for Dagmar Lange), written in the late forties and early fifties, and centre upon the trio of Puck Ekstadt, a lecturer on murders in literature, her boyfriend (and later husband) Einar Bure, another lecturer, in history, and their friend, Christer Wijke, head of the Murder Squad in Stockholm.

The stories are all set in the early fifties, leading one person to describe them as a cross between Mad Men and The Killing (all background here is being taken, shamelessly, from Wikipedia). The series hasn’t gone down well in Sweden, the pilot film ‘Death of a Loved One’ being poorly received by the critics and the rest of the series has only been available on video-on-subscription service, and never been broadcast, but BBC4 have plumped for this to entertain our Saturday nights for the next six weeks and, what can I say, it’s a decided cut above Salamander (which is our basis for Saturday Eurocrime until BBC4 dredges up something even worse).

As for the comparison, Crimes of Passion lives up to the Mad Men end of the billing but is far from satisfactory on The Killing end. In complete contrast to our ScandiCrime highlights, the atmosphere is not dark and washed out, the action doesn’t take place at night and the closest the principals get to the examination of their souls is the slight concern as to whether Christer might interfere with Puck’s inevitable convergence with Einar (who is known as Eje, for some reason that’s probably clear as daylight to somebody who knows anything about Scandinavian culture in the early fifties: I know nowt, I wasn’t even around for English culture at this point).

‘Death of a Loved One’takes place around Midsummer Night, a day of Swedish celebration that seems to involve parties, lashings of food, drink and games, and tormented passions leading to murder. Puck is invited to Rutger’s island, where Eje will be present, as will Rutger’s wife of less than a year, Ann and other friends, which include a flirtatious and vivacious actress (and this is a decade where you can use the word ‘vivacious’ and not feel antiquated), a nerve-wracked, blocked write with a morbid turn of mind and a shag-anything-that-moves lover. All is going drunkenly well, until the party is crashed by two women, Viveka and Marianne.

Which wouldn’t be so bad if Marianne wasn’t Rutger’s former fiancee, who he dumped last year for unspeakable reasons that would drive a man mad.

As the day wears on, Puck (pronounced closer to ‘Pook’) finds herself a bit of an outsider among all the overwrought tensions and Ann’s determined stiff upper lip. Her attempt to let heself get taken off to the woods and be firmly snogged by Eje is frustrated by evidence of illicit passions going on all around her so, having gathered vital evidence to be brought into play the moment we find a body, she goes and sleeps all night.

In the morning, it’s down to the jetty for a nude swim (fifties maybe, but Sweden: besides we see nothing but a bare bum) and on the way back Puck finds the expected body: Marianne, strangled. She and Eje take the island’s only boat to the mainland, ring up Christer and take him back to the island, where firstly the body’s vanished, and secondly the boat promptly conks out, stranding all of them there.

It’s all very Agatha Christie and Ten Little Indians (a book we so do not refer to by its original title), and in case we miss it, the horrendously sensitive writer shouts it out for us. And of course everyone’s lying about something and being terribly terribly witty to the dumb policeman about it.

So far, it’s all very fifties crime novel cliche, even down to the frequent gatherings in the library, so the series is at least living up to its billing a la Mad Men: the colours, the clothing, the incessant drinking, the even more incessant smoking and the classic building blocks. Puck’s very quiet but she’s always around to see and hear things that will help her determine who the murderer really is.

A couple of things do strike me as strange about the plot. The first is that, though Christer Wijk is head of the Murder Squad in Stockholm, the national capitol, he never once displays the slightest suspicion of either Eje or Puck. Admittedly, Eje is his best friend, and he vouches for Puck, despite having know her only a few days (and not at all carnally, Sweden maybe, but fifties), but Christer really out to be showing a little more professionalism here. The other, and mor unusual, is that not once do any of the guests suspect each other. They’re stranded on the island, there’s been two murders (the philanderer is discovered in the bay, covered with seaweed and nursing a bullet hole where it don’t do no good), and yet nobody seems concerned that they’re trapped there with a murderer.

Not even when Viveka goes headlong down the dangerous stairs into the cellar, cracking her head and breaking her foot, and Puck discovers that the stairs are soaped…

As the end approaches, truths start to spill out. Rutger confesses to having still loved Marianne and her being the only one for him, at which Ann, with very English sang-froid – she has been living over here with us for many years – promptly goes indoors and slits her wrists in the washing-up bowl.

Christer comes to a decision. Marianne was killed because she was about to go off to Bastad with the late philanderer Georg. A jealous, rejected lover could not face that and killed her. But he has the wrong man, in all senses of the word. It takes Puck to sense that the rejected lover is not Rutger, but the person who took Marianne from him: Viveka. Who, once her bluff is called, confesses immediately.

The story ends with Puck and Eje finally getting their much-interrupted lip-lock, but the moment, which is in keeping with the general light-hearted, lightweight mileu of the story, is lost to an unexpected inner speech, a moment of defiance and pride from Viveka, limping to the police launch, as she recognises that she will be called abnormal (for being a lesbian),but stating that her love, her fear, her passion is not abnormal, that it is no different from how the rest of us feel.

It’s a jarring moment, and badly out of place, but it’s still something that needs saying, and I’m glad the story went out of its way to say it.

So: no The Killing, no The Bridge. It’s light, it’s an effective recreation of a crime and place, all the better for lacking the artificiality that cannot be avoided with Agatha Christie herself. It takes it’s time, is never too exciting, and is definitely not too dark, though it does have a thing for close-ups of flies on dead bodies that at least reminds us that, half a century later, there will be deeper, darker crimes, and deeper, darker cops to solve them.

And nowhere is it so mutton-headedly stupid as that Belgian one, so that will content me for the next five weeks.

If the Swedish reaction is anything to go by, we’ve already seen the best one. But I’ll be watching developments, and you know that I’ll call it out if it gets too appalling. Maybe we’ll have some snarky fun before this is over.

A couple of weeks back, I wrote about my enthusiasm for the BBC’s long-running comedy/drama Police cold-case series, New Tricks, which I described as Insubstantial Airfill. That designation should now be waived, at least once, in respect of episode 3, broadcast last night under the title ‘Deep Swimming’.

The cold case crime to be investigated was the accidental death, in 1982, of a political activist, blown up by a malfunctioning home-made bomb at a peaceful protest: Winston Lovatt left behind a wife (Alison) and a six-year old daughter (Bryony). In the modern day, Bryony has just won a well-publicised Sex Discrimination case, after which she receives an anonymous letter stating that her father – who she had publically acknowledged was a terrorist – was instead murdered.

The back-story was set in the era of Greenham Common, and fittingly, the latter-day ‘witnesses’ that UCOS had to question (with an underlying distaste that didn’t lie sufficiently under the surface – and which in the case of Jerry Standing hovered about six feet in the air) were all women – splendid performances all round, especially from Charlotte Cornwell as Alison, and Katya Wyeth as Mary Griffiths, a former Angry Brigade member.

I suppose I should have seen it coming, but then when a programme is Insubstantial Airfill, you come to expect that it won’t include genuinely serious issues, but the twist in the tale was the revelation that Winston Lovatt was not a political activist, but instead a Policeman: a Special Branch operative who had gone undercover, under deep cover, to investigate political ‘subversives’, and who had married and fathered a child in his false indentity, stolen from the grave of a young boy dead at the age of 8.

Sensibly, from the moment this came into play, the inter-cast jokeiness was almost completely banished. The creators too the story very seriously from this point, focussing on the moral complexities and the horrific effects on the innocent people drawn into this deeply buried lie. This was all the more effective for not being spelt out in the script any more than was absolutely necessary, but instead being left to the actresses themselves to show the reader the depth of their feelings in their faces: the hurt, the confusion, the anger, the vestiges of love, the complete undermining of trust. In this respect, the much less well-known Patricia Potter, better associated with rife Insubstantial Airfill Holby City, outshone everyone as Bryony, with a performance of great delicacy with many levels.

Whereas the first two episodes ultimately identified their murderers as obscure, unimportant characters who the audience were led to believe were extremely peripheral, the twist to ‘Deep Swimming’ was that Winston Lovatt wasn’t even dead. or rather he was, but Ben Harker of Special Branch was still very much alive to confront a family he hadn’t seen in three decades, and especially a daughter he said he loved, and who rejected his very existence as a father.

A very deep, moving and excellent episode, that handled its change of pace with aplomb, confidence and maturity, and filled itself with Substance.

Swamp Thing regrown

Having had one story killed under him by cancellation, over a decade later DC’s Swamp Thing went through a similar experience.
After a near-miss in 1978, when the DC Implosion put paid to an intended revival of the series before it saw print, Swamp Thing returned in a new series in 1982, spinning off the back of a horror film directed by the then-unknown Wes Craven, which was a fairly close adaptation of issues 1 and 2 of the first series.
Where, not that long before, the character would have simply returned in Swamp Thing 25, DC had finally come alive to some of the nuances of the collector’s market and wanted to provide themselves with a fresh no. 1, so the series was named Saga of the Swamp Thing.
The new series was written by Martin Pasko and drawn by Tom Yeates in close imitation of Berni Wrightson. Pasko’s long, involved story, with a wholly new supporting cast, was sadly turgid and sales were poor, despite attempts to boost matters by reintroducing long-term series supporting characters Matt Cable and Abigail Arcane, now a married couple, and Abby’s twice-dead Uncle, and Holland’s mortal foe, Anton Arcane.
By issue 19, with Pasko leaving, sales were down to a pitiful 19,000 per month. Cancellation would not long follow. Len Wein, who had returned to edit the series, had the freedom to try a long shot, and invited British-born and based writer Alan Moore to pitch for the series. Moore was, in industry terms, still a young and unproven writer, though he’d been a revelation in British comics over the previous two years, as one of the most innovative and imaginative creators around.
So Moore wrote issue 20, “Loose Ends”, briskly tidying up those parts of Pasko’s continuity for which he had no time. It ended in deliberately clichéd manner, with the Swamp Thing cut down and ‘killed’ by a hail of bullets. We sighed slightly: how many times had we seen the hero ‘die’ on the last page of an issue, only for him to spring back to life on the first page next month.
What we didn’t know was that we had just seen the real thing.
In issue 21, Moore performed an autopsy on the Swamp Thing’s body. D-list villain Jason Woodrue, an existing plant-human hybrid known as the Fluoronic Man, cuts Swampy’s body apart, removing organs like lungs and liver and brain that do not function, that cannot function, because they are made of vegetable matter, not human flesh.
The answer comes by accident. Swap Thing is not, and never was, a human transformed into a plant. He is a plant that has had impressed upon it a powerful, traumatised human consciousness that, unable to accept its death, has shaped itself into the form of a man, complete with organs that don’t work but which comfort it by being there.
Without invalidating a single word of Wein and Wrightson’s Swamp Thing, Moore had turned the concept on its head and created the third Swamp Thing, whose adventures would continue until the end of the series, many years in the future, after 171 issues and many twists and turns.
Moore’s tenure was an awesome run of concepts, as the Swamp Thing slowly accepted that it was not human, not Alec Holland, and began to discover what it was instead. Moore re-defined Swamp as a Plant Elemental, one of a long line of Swamp Things: protectors of the biosphere created when the Green – the overmind of the Earth’s vegetative sphere – needed something to intervene between humanity and the planet. He was the latest in the long line of Erl-Kings.
Throughout this run, Moore was mainly aided by the art team of Steve Bisette (pencils) and John Totleben (inks), with back-ups and fill-ins provided by a number of artists with astonishingly similar vision. One of these, Rick Veitch, became principal artist for the final year of Moore’s run, during which Swamp Thing was forced off Earth, unable to connect himself to the planet any longer.
After a number of adventures in space, Swampy learns how to reconnect and returns. At the end of issue 64, Moore’s last, he and Abby, his lover (that is a story for an entirely different blogpost!) retire to the heart of the Swamp, to peace and a life together.
A decade later, Moore’s influence on the field, and that of British witers who followed him, most particularly Neil Gaiman, would have meant that might have been it. Swamp Thing volume 2 might have been cancelled, the story over. But such times had not yet come about, and issue 65 was due out a month later, and it was written, as well as drawn, by Veitch.
Veitch planned to stay to write two long story arcs. Only the first of these would be completed.
His first arc was a natural offshoot from Moore’s last arc. The Swamp Thing had been forced off Earth, leading the Green, via the Parliament of Trees, to assume he was dead, and lay the seed for the next Swamp Thing. Swampy’s return was disastrous, upsetting (literally) the balance of nature to the risk of the whole planet.
Two solutions were offered to Swampy: that he retire to the Parliament, leaving the world behind, and allow the seed to progress, or to exercise the right of primacy and absorb (i.e. kill) the Sprout. Swampy, still too influenced by the human responses of Alec Holland, refused both options, leading to an increasingly desperate situation as he tries to secure the Sprout a proper birth in a proper form.
In the end, with the Sprout growing increasingly confused and corrupted by all the failed births, Swampy came to an elegant and unexpected conclusion that to birth the Sprout properly, it needed to be born in human form, as the child of Swampy and Abby.
When this was done, ending the line of Erl-Kings, the Parliament’s response was to ask why it had taken him so long to reach this conclusion?
Veitch’s second arc was tied into the 1988 DC Crossover story, Invasion, though I’m assuming that Veitch merely used the premise of the series to set-up his planned sequence.
Invasion was based on the premise that a coalition of 14 alien races, fearful of the sheer variety of Earths superhuman population, launches a pre-emptive strike intended to enslave the planet before it can get out into space. Needless to say, the sheer variety of Earths superhuman population is what defeats them.
However, for Veitch’s purposes, Swamp Thing, as an entity capable of mobilising the actual planet against its invaders, was singled out for a pre-emptive pre-emptive strike. He is forced off Earth again, but this time barred from escaping to another planet. All trace of Swampy is lost, and everyone believes him dead, except the pregnant Abby, who refuses to accept he won’t return.
And she is, naturally, right to believe, for, unable to escape in space, Swamp Thing has fled in time, moving backwards in order to manifest himself, each time in historical periods where he meets notable DC characters.
Curiously, at some point he also encounters a mysterious chunk of amber crystal, with which he cannot co-exist. As soon as it appears, he is forced from that temporal zone, and has to move ever backwards.
This sequence moved from World War II (Sgt. Rock, Easy Co., the Unknown Soldier) to World War I (von Ritter, the Enemy Ace), to the late western period (Johnny Thunder, Madame. 44, Bat Lash and more) to the post-Revolution period (an aging Tomahawk, Etrigan the Demon), and in issue 87, Arthurian times (Arthur, Merlin and Etrigan again).
Issue 88 was where the arc was broken. Veitch had had his outline approved, guest penciller Michael Zulli, on his first mainstream assignment, had completed two-thirds of the pencils. DC had given the issue the go-ahead. And then they pulled out, demanding that the story be scrapped.
What happened? Warner Brothers had happened. The forthcoming Batman film was going to happen. The conservative and religious backlash under President Reagan was happening. The Last Temptation of Christ had definitively happened. Distributors and retailers, who were now DC’s near-exclusive access to their customers, were getting scared of progress and innovation that might play in such sophisticated places as New York, but were considerably less acceptable in Pigfart, Indiana.
Because in issue 88, the Swamp Thing was going to meet Jesus Christ. A monster was going to be seen alongside our Lord and Saviour. What was worse, he was going to be the cupbearer who brings water to Jesus on the Cross: a monster – almost by definition a demon – was going to show pity for the Christ.
DC had accepted the story and then gotten cold feet. Partly this was due to changing social conditions. Partly it was down to Warner Brothers, with the millions it had invested in the first Batman film since Adam West in the Biff-Pow-Bam Sixties, and was actually looking at its comics division and getting antsy about upsetting anyone. And yes, some of it was due to Veitch having glossed over, in his outline, certain aspects of his intended treatment of Jesus (i.e. as a magician and NOT as Christ) that made the story far less innocuous than it was expressed to be.
Whichever way, issue 88 had become unpublishable.
Veitch argued his case strenuously, but unavailingly. Having failed to move DC, he took the only course open to him, and quit. British writers Neil Gaiman and Jamie Delano, who had agreed to take the series over when Veitch had concluded his arc and his commitment, withdrew out of sympathy. For a second time, Swamp Thing found himself in the middle of a story that was Uncompleted.
It can be argued that this was not actually the case. Swamp Thing skipped a month, and issue 88 came out, and the Swamp Thing travels in time story continued under a completely different creative team, writer Doug Wheeler taking over the task of concluding Veitch’s sequence in two perfunctory issues.
An ending was published. Very few people hold it in regard. It has nothing of Veitch’s intentions: indeed Veitch has offered, as recently as 2004, to make whatever changes are necessary to make the unprinted story publishable, provided DC will allow him to finish his story. There was no interest then and, a decade later, with the story itself ‘happening’ three Universes back and DC firmly wedded to trashing everything likable about its characters, it is not something we can ever expect to see.
Indeed, I am led to believe that Wheeler’s twenty-two issue tenure involve retcons to a lot of not just Veitch’s work but that of Moore as well, as if DC expected sales to just collapse and didn’t care any longer.
But sales did not collapse. It would be another seven years before the series would be cancelled, shortening but not leaving uncompleted an ambitious sequence of stories by Mark Millar. Nevertheless, the Swamp Thing’s story ended for me and many others in that moment. Unless Veitch is given the miraculous opportunity to complete his story, it remains a dark and hollow tale, unfulfilled.

There facing each other across the square are those twin bastions of village life, the pub and the church.
Sitting on a bench outside the Baxter Arms supping scrumpy and linseed oil shandies and drowsing in the sunshine are the venerable village elders Messrs. Arlott, Mosey, Frindall and Alston, endlessly yarning about old campaigns in India, Australia, South Africa and the deathless, arid prose plains of British South West Dexterland.
They raise their forelocks to us as we leave them to their dreams and cross the square to the church.
What an exquisite Saxon edifice.
Clean and pure of line like a cover drive by Peter May.
Sturdy and honest like an over bowled by David Brown.
Chaste and virginal like an anecdote told by Barry Wood.
And inside the church displayed in a place of honour by the statuette of St Kevin de Keegan, the patron saint of endorsements, is one of our village’s most cherished possessions.
It is, of course, a relic of the Blessed St Tony Greig of the Sorrows – a fragment of his money belt torn from his person during the Exodus from Surrey and lovingly restored by the master craftsman, Sebastian Coe, for a fee of £97,000, that being the cost of his second-class train fare from Sheffield.
This is exactly what it appears to be: eleven more monologues by the Brigadier on the theme of ‘the summer game’, from his own unique perspective, each adapted lightly from a second series of monologues delivered on Radio 4 by the late Robin Bailey.
More Tales from a Long Room does move onwards a little. Where the first series was mainly centred upon fantastic and improbable cricketing tales that, at root, were surreal extensions of the real cricket tales told in pavilions the length and breadth of the land, this second set is considerably more directed to the Brigadier himself, his life, prejudices and eccentricities, and to his somewhat bizarre take on issues – not always cricketing, well, not at first – current to the very early Eighties.
Tinniswood, who finds himself beimg mentioned in scathing terms (‘that emaciated vileness’) in a couple of the stories, starts out by introducing us to the seemingly idyllic Somerset Village where the Brigadier lives, Witney Scrotum. We meet various local characters, like the Village Blacksmith, Gooch, Old Squire Brearley and Prodger the Poacher, and learn of such landmarks as the lush water meadows leading to the Coppice at Cowdrey’s Bottom, and how the village is overshadowed by the massive earthworks of Botham’s Gut.
I trust you do not need telling that each of those names, be it personage or georgraphical feature, is of a cricketer of some reknown and appertainance to their namesake.
Otherwise the book is a mass of puns on the names of cricketers, capering slights of the interviews of Mr. Michael Parkinson, a tendency to suggest that Old Trafford Tests are played in a state of perpetual gloom, rain and darkness, misrepresentation of all sorts of people’s names and relationships, and some gleefully libellous comments, such as the mouth of Mr Ritchie Benaud bearing a remarkable resemblance to a hamster’s arsehole.
We learn the cricketing significance of the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer to that bald-headed booby, and the identity of the Mole in the M.C.C. We are treated to a cricketing re-write of one of 1981’s biggest television hits as ‘Blofeld Revisited’.  And we learn the Brigadier’s thoughts upon apartheid. He is in favour. He heaps up the arguments, for all the world like a National Front poster, except with the words spelled correctly. He points out how the two should not meet.
Good God, they are women. And we are men.
Tinniswood writes with relish and ingenuity. He seems to have an endless number of jokes on a cricketing theme and his imagination takes him into areas hitherto untouched by a connection with ‘the summer game’
And it’s still completely incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t know a thing about cricket, and anyone not around to remember the major events of 1981 is going to struggle with large parts of this book.
And Ritchie Benaud wasn’t too keen on it either.
The two Long Room books were lated republished in a hardback Collected volume, from which I’ve been re-reading. In cricketing circles, they were a phenomenon. The Brigadier was hot, so Tinniswood’s next book didn’t really come as any surprise.

This isn’t a review, a first impressions dashed out in wonder of any sort. The second episode of the new series was different in so many respects to the Doctor Who I’ve enjoyed during Stevan Moffat’s tenure to date. It couldn’t have been done with Matt Smith, couldn’t have been done with youth and flappiness. It demanded Capaldi, austerity and maturity.

It’s been gone a long time, but it’s back, and suddenly this feels like a completely different series. All because of one line. When ‘Rusty’, the might-have-been-good Dalek, who became the first Dalek to see the Universe through the Doctor’s eyes, turned to him and said:

“You are a good Dalek.”

The world has gotten a little colder tonight.

It’s not really surprising that Mike Nesmith was the only one of the Monkees to have a real solo career. He was, after all, the only ‘real’ musician in the band, and it’s easy to see that he is the only one who looks faintly embarrassed at the hi-jinks they were put through (that is, if he went through them: there are many episodes where he disappears from the screen before things get too silly).
Nesmith contributed by far the highest number of songs to the Monkees’ repertoire, including my personal favourite Monkees track of all time, an uptempo country rocker, ‘What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round?’, to the Pisces, Aquaruis, Capricorn and Jones Ltd album, the first the band were allowed to play on themselves.
It’s another of Nesmith’s songs that privides the title track to this twenty song compilation of his solo career. ‘Listen to the Band’ was a strident, brassy, staccato song in the Monkees’ hands, but Newsmith’s arrangement is considerably more low-key, fluid and laid-back.
And that’s the key to the material, which represents the best of Nesmith’s solo albums, the only notable exception being the omission of ‘Rio’, his only UK hit single (if you count a track that stalled at no 28 as a hit).
In the Monkees, Nesmith’s influence could not go further than a kind of countryfied pop-rock, but once he was free from the restraints put on the band in its early stages, his natural instincts began to emerge, perhaps most strongly on the unsuccessful late single, ‘Sweet Young Thing’.
But once he was solo, and backed by the First National Band, he was free to pursue his tastes.
My first exposure to this was an aching, mournful ballad called ‘Joanne’, a Radio Two Recent Release (in 1971, you were forbidden from using the word ‘new’ on that channel). It was all weeping steel guitars, falsetto, almost yodelling vocals: in short, nearly everything I really don’t like about country music.
But it’s on this CD, as the penultimate track, and I love it, and it reminds me of the exact place in the Lake District and the exact shade of sun when I heard it then.
With Nesmith though, it doesn’t bother me. He retains enough of the pop sensibility to leaven the country influence, but at the heart of it he simply doesn’t have the voice that grates on me.
And there are simply some excellent songs on this compilation, most of which he’s written himself (the fiery ‘Bonaparte’s Retreat’ is a shining example of a roaring cover).
Two that fascinate me are ‘Some of Shelley’s Blues’ and ‘Propinquity’, with which I’d long been familiar due to the cover versions performed by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on their classic Uncle Teddy and his Dog Charlie album.
With the Nitty Grittys, the one’s a barnstormer, fiddles and banjos and and a swing, and gusto in the voice of a song about a man refusing to accept his girlfriend’s decision to break up with him (not a subject you could credibly write about these days, though I’m sure Robin Thicke probably has). The other is a slow, almost shy, sparsely instrumentalised love song, about a man realising that he’s falling in love with a woman he’s known for a long time as a friend.
Nesmith’s takes on these songs are interesting in that ‘Some of Shelley’s Blues’ is looser and more laconic, rowing back from the Nitty Grittys’ energy, whilst his version of ‘Propinquity’ is fuller of sound, and more vigorous. The result is not a meeting of sound in the middle of the two extremes of the Nitty Grittys’ interpretations, but Nesmith’s sound is overall cooler, and more laconic.
There’s an amusing moment halfway through the set, as Nesmith schedules a song that obviously closed side one of its original home, and which still urges the listener to get the record turned over in time for the goodies on its other side!
The result is an entertaining meander through his career, not to mention the most steel guitar I’ve ever stood for in one place! Nesmith is laid-back, contented and at home and the effect is welcome. Even if it is male Country music!

I know what people think about the North.
They think it’s all muck and living over the brush with women like Elsie Tanner.
Well, it isn’t.
There’s a part of the North that Southerners know nothing about.
Absolutely nothing.
I’m talking about the respectable North.
When I was little we always had satsumas at Christmas.
Without fail.
We had a box at the Theatre Royal for the Panto.
We had a sideboard filled of mixed nuts and sultanas.
Mother never went short of housekeeping.
She had an account at Atkinson-Sievewright’s.
She paid two visits per annum each year to her unmarried cousin at Bispham first class on the LMS, and Father never knew what it was like to miss the Old Trafford Test.
That’s what I call the respectable North.
The Southerners don’t know it exists, do they?
They think the North consists entirely of tripe and onions, the Rovers Return, flat caps and whippets, unemployment and Bill Maynard and his disgusting belly.
It wouldn’t be so bad if he could act, would it?
It’s people like him who give the North a bad name.
Any road, why should I bother to defend it?
There’s no need.
It stands up to criticism, does the North.
Am I right?
I am.
The Home Front came out of nowhere. I was on my way to my Grandad’s for the traditional Saturday dinner that had been going on all my life. I was in good time for the bus so I went in the newsagents’ for the paper. There was a spinner rack of books, which you never see these days, and I saw Peter Tinniswood’s name and immediately bought the book.
It was the first Tinniswood to appear as a paperback original, a Star TV tie-in as it proclaimed on the back. Which only made things the more strange as I’d read nothing about another Tinniswood scripted new series.
The book featured a new northern family, the Place’s. There was Mrs Place, a narrow-minded, tight-lipped, disapproving, interfering caricature of a kind of northern woman, tied to the past and unforgiving of anything in the modern world. Then there were her three children: Hallam, who wrote comedy scripts for Television and lived on Wimbledon Common, Garfield, a junior executive in a shirt-making company with a neat little home on a neat little estate, and Avril, who married beneath herself and shamefully produced a gifted child. And then there was Hazel, married to Garfield, but who had been prepared to give herself to Hallam.
It was an oddity as a book, it’s structure unusual. Although it progressed in a series of normal chapters, the story-line broke down into a succession of six events, each linked by a perfunctory continuity, which, of course, would represent episodes of the series. Or, if that were the case, it would be more appropriate to say five-and-a-half events, as the last one seemed to tail off, frustratingly, with something left dangling.
It’s quite clearly a novelisation of the series, which did not appear until some four to six months later, 9.00pm Wednesday night, ITV, for six weeks. This was not unusual in itself: the mid-to-late Seventies had seen several sitcoms appear in spin-off paperbacks that did no more than use unknown writers to adapt the episodes of a series.
However, Tinniswood was the writer of both book and series, and The Home Front was not a work that lent itself to a straightforward adaptation. Indeed, it’s difficult to fully understand the book without seeing or having seen the TV series. And it’s over thirty years since The Home Front was shown, and it was, as far as my knowledge goes, never repeated.
The work, in both its forms, focuses on the internal tensions behind the facade of the family. Each episode introduced a strong element of fantasy, making it difficult to tell what, exactly, was real (most likely the strongest factor in the series not being repeated). The first episode, which features only Mrs Place, takes place on a high speed train to London, to visit Hallam and his girl-friend Shirley, but it is mostly about an outsider, Kay Washbrook, going to London for the wedding of her only daughter, who she has not seen in fifteen years.
Kay, a low key lady, hasn’t seen her ex-husband in that time either. He took her daughter away, had her declared an unfit mother, for good and proper reasons, yet he and his daughter are equally torn between the urge to see her again and the desire for her to stay away.
Similarly, Kay is equally divided between wanting to see her family again and paralysing fear. Mrs Place, with her nosiness and prying, her caustic judgementalness, is the catalyst for all this to spill out, but the ending muddies the waters, suggesting that Kay changed her mind and never caught the train, even as her family, having played their part of the drama, are at the barrier at Euston as Mrs Place goes through.
The line’s more blatantly drawn in the next episode, which takes place in Hallam’s flat by Wimbledon Common. Hallam, we learn, is currently a TV writer by default: after one, very successful sitcom, he hasn’t and doesn’t write anything else. Hallam’s detached from everyone, especially Shirley, and he’s living off an allowance from his mother, who threatens to cut him off if he doesn’t a) get back to writing and b) marries Shirley.
The problem is that Hallam isn’t totally detached. He has an overwhelming concern for Wilfred. Wilfred is a standard poodle, unclipped (which means that, in a centrally heated flat, he is continually bothered with itchy balls, they being surrounded by wool). He was bought to keep Hallam and Shirley together, at which he’s signally failing. Well, he will go and crap in all sorts of corners. But then they keep forgetting to feed him. Or take him out for walks so he can do his business.
Because the greater part of this episode is narrated by Wilfred himself.
That was Tinniswood’s primary approach to converting his television scripts into prose: at very frequent intervals, the characters drop into the first person. What’s more, rather than an internal monolgue, they talk to the reader. They ask questions designed to justify themselves. Am I right? I am, says Mrs Place a hundred times during the course of this book, but everyone who talks to the reader is engaged in a conversation.
Wilfred might be the most improbable source of conversation, but not by much. On screen, he never appeared. Camera shots from his perspective, and a final shot that’s clearly a man in a dog suit. The sequence ends on a twist.
As a consequence, Hallam returns north with his mother, to the bosom of the family. Firstly, Mrs Place takes her younger son Garfield to visit Auntie Medora in her home. Auntie Medora, a very ugly old woman, was once a stunningly beautiful young woman,married to Jake but part of a virtual trio with Jake’s best friend Thurston.
Despite the use of a scenario taken from the 1968 film, The Family Way, the episode is written in such a way as to give the strong impresson that Thurston was an imaginary person, casting the events of the entire sequence into doubt.
This is followed by an episode set at the Place brothers’ old school, on a night honouring their former Headmaster, Mr J. W. H. T. Garlick. Garfield’s wife, Hazel, makes her debut here, a little too smart, too sophisticated for him, with a little-disguised thing for Hallam himself.
But the sequence centres upon Garlick. The tribute is held twenty-five years to the night, the anniversary of a dance organised between the boy’s school and the neighbouring girl’s school, a dance at which, we slowly learn, Garlick’s wife, Mademoiselle, publicly disgraced him with his fellow teacher, the clammy handed Mr Ullapool.
Mr Garlick set out to take his revenge on the school, by turning all his boys into mediocrities: designing their lives to become ‘future tennis club romeos, snug bar braggarts, golf club lechers, wasdhers of Sunday morning cars, pushers of suoermarket trolleys, drivers of mobile caravanettes, tenders of rows and rows and rows of suburban roses’. Garfield is his success, Hallam his one failure.
Mr Garlick is still manipulative. In a foreshadowing moment, he offers Hallam as his successor, a writer who, if asked nicely, will re-write your life, re-design your past and your future.
The episode ends in tragedy: Garlick has been drinking steadily throughout the evening, which in the series drifts backwards and forwards between past and present. This proves to be fatal when, brought up on stage to receive the painting done in his honour, he sees something that is not there but which completes the pattern, and he expires of a heart attack.
The third Place sibling, Avril, finally appears in the penultimate sequence. Avril, as I said, had disgraced the family by marrying beneath herself. The Place’s are a middle class family, bedrock of the respectable North, but Avril turned down the unprepossessing Geoffrey Lancaster for the working class Vernon Hemingway, a storeman in a furniture repository.
As far as Mrs Place is concerned, Avril has ruined her life through stubbornness. She’s determined to remind Avril of that, bringing up Geoffrey Lancaster and everything Avril could have had if she’d only seen sense and married him. Especially when it comes to the matter of Curtis.
Curtis is Avril and Vernon’s son. And he is a Gifted Child, writing letters to the editor of the local paper at the age of two. Everyone is mortally ashamed. Curtis just isn’t like anyone else. He talks to the reader, just as Wilfred did. He blames Hallam as well.
On the other hand, after being apologetic for his son’s intelligence, Vernon becomes the closest of friends with him, father seeking to learn from his infant son, forever struggling. And Vernon begins to learn, as the authorities seek to take Curtis away, to be among his own kind. Ostensibly, it’s for Curtis’s good, but the shadow of the social worker, breaking up families, only darkens the picture of something that is getting increasingly disturbing.
And they come, and they take away, only not Curtis. It is Vernon who’s taken away, to an asylum, Vernon who has taken Curtis’s intelligence into himself, who has become a Gifted Adult, who needs to be removed. It’s an ending that shudders, especially as Curtis has now become an ordinary, everyday, far-from-gifted child.
Who, a fortnight later, is run over by a pantechnicon, and killed.
It was this episode that brought the steadily-growing bleakness and darkness underlying Tinniswood’s humour into full focus. But there was still one final sequence to come.
I’d watched the series week-in, week-out. I knew the book, knew the story well by then. I preferred the book, preferred the additional level of darkness Tinniswood could always access in prose but which could never be fully unfolded for network TV. Being a drama series as much as it was a comedy, The Home Front had gone far deeper than I Didn’t Know You Cared, but the fantastic elements, the attempts to pull off differing levels of reality, had not convinced me on screen.
The final episode was set to facinate me. What we had in the book was not enough, was cut off abruptly. There was more, had to be more, in the last episode. Presciently, I videoed it. I have watched it several times over, though not for several years now, as I do not have a video-player. Though this series is a series of book reviews, in this one instance I have to go beyond the page in order to fully explain the experience of ‘Walk in my Shoes’.
The sequence begins conventionally at first. The Places are all staying at Hallam’s flat, as a treat for Mrs Place’s birthday. She and Hazel are out shopping, Avril’s cooking the meal, Hallam’s at his desk writing, and Garfield enters carrying a bowl of hot water in which he proceeds to soak his feet.
The brothers begin to speculate what their mother will say when she returns, about London, its shops, the minorities, why Garfield has his feet in a bowl of water. Avril joins in, having prepaed a huge repast. When Mrs Place and Hazel return, her words are exactly as predicted.
The meal is excellent, though Mrs Place characteristically is ungrateful, rude and caustic about it, still bringing up Geoffrey Lancaster, which provokes the usually placid Avril into a rant to her mother, in which she states that she hates Geoffrey Lancaster with a passion and a fury, and that if her mother continues in this fashion she will grow to hate her mother with a passion and a fury.
What this might lead to is interrupted by a knock on the door. Hallam has invited some of his friends over for his mother’s birthday.
All this, thus far, is in the book, and took the tv episode up to the first commercial break. But where the book did not, could not, go further, what followed on the TV took the story light-years beyond anything else I had or have ever seen.
The Second Act begins in identical manner to the First. Mrs Place and Hazel are out shopping, Avril’s cooking the meal, Hallam’s at his desk writing, and Garfield enters carrying a bowl of hot water in which he proceeds to soak his feet. The dialogue is identical. But the Places, Mrs Place smiling all over her face, are the audience, sat on the mezzanine balcony. Hallam’s friends, actors all, are performing a script he has written for them. A play that duplicates what has taken place.
They are, of course, actors. They are recognisable in their roles, but they ‘act’ their parts, adding an artificiality to what we have already seen. The ‘play’ plays out, an exact replica, cutting to the ‘audience’ as they take it what is happening before them. Hallam casts several concerned looks at his mother, having second thoughts as her expression shows her reaction to this portrayal.
Until she shrieks for them to stop. It’s not like that, not like that at all. She descends to the ‘stage’, interrupting the actors, bitterly complaining that it’s not like that at all. The Places follow, arguing about what as been going on. Gradually, the ‘actors’ slip away in the background, leaving the stage to the Places, until their arguments reach a peak, and the actors-turned-audience stand to applaud loudly.
Things have already gotten so intense that the relief of a commercial break is welcome. The episode is intensely theatrical. What would follow that?
The Third Act begins,with a sense of both symmetry and inevitably, with the same scene. But Tinniswood has taken things to a yet deeper levels, for now it is the Places, playing the actors playing the Places, with a levity and an archness that is completely at odds with what the scene has become through its previous repetitions. It is impossible not to follow dialogue you are now hearing for the fourth time in less than an hour without trepidation as to what will next be revealed.
And it comes from Mrs Place again, breaking character by being her own character, choosing a moment in the dialogue to turn on Hallam: Hallam the writer, Hallam the manipulator, Hallam who has controlled and shaped their lives, as earlier chapters have hinted. Not just Mrs Place, but Hazel as well, and Garfield and Avril, and even the actors, forcing him to retreat behind his desk as they crowd upon him, characters turning upon their writer, challenging his right to design their lives as dark, difficult and miserable.
Until Hallam begins to speak. Not a conversation, not a dialogue, but a monologue, a monologue about the responsibility of designing people’s lives, that ends in his dismissal of them. He doesn’t like them, not any of them. He’s tired of them, he will not have them in his head any longer. And he is alone.
In the book, Mrs Place’s fluff about how she loves her family and wouldn’t have them any other way merges into the beginning of the book/series, as she gets talking to an anonymised Kay Washbrook. To my shame, I cannot emember the exact ending of the series. I have not watched the tape in many years: I do not have a means of watching it now.
The Home Front is an oddity of a book. The Northernness of the characters echoes the Brandons, presumably deliberately, but nowhere do the Places rise to the solidity of their forerunners: whilst Tinniswood eschews the stripped-down approach of The Stirk of Stirk or Shemerelda, both book and series lack depth. Tinniswood’s work is still sufficiently stylised to make the characters caricatures to one degree or another.
I can easily imagine the Brandon’s going about their lives beyond their books: I cannot see the Places outside The Home Front.
Though it’s likely next to impossible to get to see the series, it’s still entirely possible to read and enjoy the book in its own right, excepting that final episode, which should have been recognised as a classic of television in itself. But apart from the final episode, the series was less successful than the book. Indeed, it was quite weak in many places.
In the series, Mrs Place was played by Brenda Bruce, a Manchester born actress with a prolific TV career behind her, though her open-facedness and comeliness never fitted my conception of her from the book, whilst Hallam was played by a young, but still superb Warren Clarke. With the exception of Cherith Mellor, as Avril, I don’t recollect seeing any of the cast in anything else, though Malcolm (Garfield) Tierney also had a prolific career, appearing in Dr Who and Dalziel and Pascoe among many things, so I obvioudly didn’t recognise him.
The part of Kay Washbrook was played by Jennie Linden, who was stunningly gorgeous, but that has nothing to do with the book.
If anyone knows of any repeats of the series, or any proposals to release it on DVD, I’d love to hear it.
For the next few years, Tinniswood’s career in print would run only one way, as we shall see.