Series 2 – 07: Three Passes: Hard Knott


I have several memories that are shrinkingly-embarrassing, and that I’ll never tell to anyone in my life, no matter how close. The memories of my family’s first walk, or rather my part in it, should be equally embarrassing, but instead I look back on them with amusement: not funny ha-ha, but funny deeply ironic.
I’m sure it took place in 1966, though that would mean my sister was only just four when our parents first tied us firmly into walking boots and threw us out of the car to climb Hard Knott Pass.
Hard Knott was the way out of Eskdale without driving down to the coast, a steep, narrow fell-road rising diagonally, with hairpin bends, over the side of the valley. My parents remembered it well from their courting days, when Dad drove a motorbike, not a car: though the road underfoot had been improved, neither Dad nor his elder brother would drive on Hard Knott. From a perspective of  forty years later, I can sympathise with them.
We didn’t take to the tarmac, but made our own, more direct ascent, angling up the slope, near the beck, with the road well to our left. Dad navigated by compass, picking a landmark on the correct degree and leading us there before selecting our next target, until we emerged on the top of the Pass. I kept casting envious glances at the cars making their cautious way up the road – they were sitting down! – until I got to the car that went across from left to right then a couple of moments later, came back, right to left: not a failure of nerve but a strict hairpin.
I complained every step of the way: perhaps not every step, there being limits to my parents’ patience, but it must have felt like that to them. It was too far, my feet hurt, it was too steep, the sun was too hot, it was too difficult, I needed water, my boots were uncomfortable. Meanwhile, my infant sister bounded on enthusiastically.
Coming back, we stuck to the road. Even though we were now going down, I was still a pain. When a diversion to the Roman Fort – over level grass – was proposed, I sulked out of going, sat by the road, waiting for them to come back to me, until boredom and loneliness sent me looking for them. It felt like giving in, and it was, made worse by not being able to find them, until I was surprised by voices behind me when in the middle of one of the former inner rooms.
It would be embarrassing were it not for what I became, the avid solo walker, going further and higher than 10 year old me would have ever feared: the one out of the four of us that completed the dream of all the Wainwrights.
In later life I did drive over Hard Knott, taking first the long, sylvan ride up the Duddon, then switching to the steep, narrow, shorter slopes of the eastern section of Hard Knott. This left me the steepest parts – 1 in 3 – to descend, very carefully, with the brakes employed almost constantly in the parts that need it.
The photo is of the ascent to the Pass from the Roman Fort on a sharp evening of strong light and shadows, the conditions I remember of our very first walk. Don’t attempt to drive this way without plentiful experience of fellroads, and preferably in dry, sunny conditions. This is the steepest road in the country.

Series 2 – 06: Stickle Pike and Caw


From 1963 to 1968 we took all our holidays in the Lake District – two a year and sometimes, later in the decade, three, they being so inexpensive – at Low Bleansley Farm, in the Lickle Valley, a few miles away from Broughton-in-Furness.
Low Bleansley was farmed by Joseph Troughton, a small, wiry man who might have been any age but who was probably only about fifty, with his son David, a burly lad in his twenties. Taking in guests was a relatively new sideline of his wife, Jean, and enough of a success that, a few years later, an annexe was built to that end of the farmhouse (providing me with my first opportunity of a separate bedroom).
That success was all down to Mrs Troughton, a very welcoming and friendly woman, who provided Bed, Breakfast and Evening Meal with an attention to her guests and good, simple food. We were popular guests, always welcomed as friends whose visits always brought the sun with them at harvest time (we never had more than a single day of rain on any visit). And, being part Cumbrian, we belonged, in a sense.
Indeed, Grandad’s instructions to me on our first visit were, on our last day, to ask Mr Troughton for ‘a la’al bit o’ streer’ which, despite his refusal to admit it, was indeed a little bit of straw. Mr Troughton, greatly amused by my struggling attempt to reproduce dialect, happily obliged.
The Lickle Valley, a working valley immediately to the east of the Duddon Valley, offered nothing to the tourist, except a little-used fell-road shortcut into the middle of the Duddon, at Seathwaite. Narrow at its head, the valley expanded to surprising width and depth as it emerged onto the Duddon Estuary. Low Bleansley, halfway up the western wall, was the lowest farm in the valley, easily seen from the main road to the coast, but to reach it we had to take a narrow road off the Broughton – Coniston road, high on the eastern flank, descending a mile or more to the hamlet of Broughton Mills, then double back down the other side of the valley, more than a mile or more, to the road end at Low Bleansley.
They were happy times. One sheepdog, Nan, was a complete softie, but the other, Beth was hostile and had to be kept tied. In my first ever display of perseverance, I stood and talked and held out my hand for ages  until she allowed me to sit and stroke her. My sister fell for two pet lambs kept one year in a pen at the far end of the farmhouse. She named them Sunny and Snowdrop, and professed to recognise them as sheep the following year.
One night, after tea, Dad and I let ourselves through the gate, onto the steep green fellside beyond. We climbed up a hundred feet or so above the farmhouse, to where a tree grew out of the base of a small rock outcrop, and there created a cache: a thruppenny bit in a film canister, hidden in a hollow in the tree-root, there to be checked upon in later years. There was more than just the coin, but I don’t remember what.
There was no television at the farm, except for one night in May 1968, when the Troughtons invited us into their kitchen to watch the European Cup Final. My parents weren’t bothered about football, but they remembered Munich, whereas I was, to my shame, anti-United because everybody else at school was a Red and I scrabbled at any chance there was to be distinct.
Full-time was also bedtime and, though the match was level, I was sent to bed, grumbling. Then Mam called upstairs: was I still awake? Did I want to see the second half of extra-time? I look back now in horror that I saw my team play its biggest ever game – except for that small piece of it when they won it.
We were back in August for one last time, Saturday to Saturday, and then were horrified to be contacted and told that, on the Thursday of that following week, Mrs Troughton had collapsed and died, I think of a stroke. We were friends as much as guests, but then I feel sure that everyone who visited Low Bleansley for more than a single holiday regarded her as a friend, rather than a mere hostess, and many will have been as shocked and saddened as we were.
Low Bleansley still hosts guests, in self-catering accommodation to this day, under new management. One day, when circumstances allow, I’ll go back there, explore that little scrap of fellside, find that canister, and bring a part of Dad back with me. For those who would like to try Low Bleansley for themselves, here’s a link to their website: http://www.thelicklecottage.co.uk/index.htm
The picture is of Stickle Pike and Caw, small but shapely fells that formed part of the ridge between the Duddon and the Lickle. They were a permanent and attractive backdrop to all approaches to the farm, and I was offended on their behalfs that Wainwright had excluded them from his Guides, though they did make it into The Outlying Fells, and I have climbed them both.

The Beiderbecke Trilogy – Part 2


The Beiderbecke Affair  January – February 1985

Watching this again was every bit the pleasure it was seeing it for the first time, a quarter century plus ago, and no less fun for watching it with a view to analysing it soon afterwards. The Beiderbecke Affair wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s a detective story being played out in the moonstruck outer limits of Leeds by a cast of characters who are, at one and the same time, down to earth and dead ordinary, and truly English eccentrics, who catch our affection immediately. The story is both silly and serious, at heart and in its execution by one of the most perfectly assembled casts I’ve ever seen, never once crosses the line into parody but creates a slightly off-kilter world in which what happens is a matter of real concern.

And it’s still bloody funny from start to finish.

I’ve already described the set-up of the plot in Part 1, and whilst it’s a motivating factor for Trevor and, to a lesser extent, Jill, it’s really a typically Hitchcockian McGuffin. Indeed, the case of the Missing Records, and the Exploding Hedgetrimmer sold to Trevor and Jill’s colleague, Mr Carter, is solved before the end of episode 2 (the explanation? Little Norm cocked up the paperwork).

This McGuffin (the vital, but essentially meaningless object that gets your characters where they have to be for the story) exposes a local network of people organising to get and do things for their friends and neighbours at cost price. This “White Economy”, actually a reinvention of the original Co-op Movement, combined with Jill’s Save the Planet politics and Conservation Candidacy, attracts attention from two directions.

The first is Sergeant Hobson, B. A. Hobson is a graduate copper with first class honours and a thesis on the grey areas at the margins of crime, from where subversive behaviour is bound to arise because people simply insist on doing things that are not normal. Hobson’s eyes are firmly fixed on Trevor, Jill and Big Al, the redundant lathe operator who has set up this White Economy: somewhere in what they’re doing, something has got to be criminal.

The second is a dirty tricks campaign by a prominent local businessman, his Councillor brother who’s on both the Planning and Police Committee, and a certain local Policeman who regards Hobson as a waste of space and is forever urging him to go out and nick some thieves instead of sitting in his office dictating notes and playing with the Police computer. This trio don’t want to see the boat rocked by people who don’t do normal things.

You may note that, although this is a comedy, an extremely likeable, lighthearted and funny comedy, replete with Yorkshire humour, that under the mockery these are very serious, and decidedly sinister objectives. Just because they’re absurd, it doesn’t mean they aren’t serious.

This being a comedy, goodness prevails, as far as it is allowed to, and the second set of bad guys are brought down by Hobson, whose fanaticism is easily directed into a different course, but whose prescient depiction of a future that we’ve reached without understanding what it all meant, gives him the standing on which to not only survive but thrive.

But the bedrock on which the Affair stands, and without which it would be a dismal failure, is the cast. Both the small ensemble of characters designed by Plater, and the splendid actors who animate everybody, with wit, a fine sense of how far to go without overplaying their part, and the immediate and captivating charm that bubbles under the whole production.

Each episode begins with a title sequence. An LP revolves on a turntable, a hand lifts the needle into place at track 1 (for our younger readers, the needle was the antideluvian equivalent of the laser, scratching its way along a complex and continual winding groove). A jaunty jazz tune springs up. The sequence emphasises the musical theme: decks, headphones, sheet music etc, intercut with domestic details like goldfish in a tank and faggots, and peas in a tray. This segues into the opening scene and an episode title that is the first line of dialogue, such as “What I don’t understand is…”

Thus begins episode one. A long dolly shot descends towards a stream of pupils streaming out of a prefab comprehensive school, slowly closing in on Mr Chaplain and Mrs Swinburne. It is Mr Chaplain who utters the opening words, stopping only at the realisation that he’s lost his little yellow van keys.

This launches into a prolonged, easily distracted conversation that very smoothly delivers enough back-story to let the tale start, whilst equally easily allowing Bolam and Flynn to impress their characters on the viewer.

Bolam, then in his early forties, and looking it, underplays his character throughout as an easygoing, mainly contented man with few ambitions. Flynn, petite, wholesome, fresh-faced and winsome, is five to ten years younger: fresher, more active, strong-willed and tolerant of her colleague. They have been connected for long enough to be content in each other’s company, are understanding enough to bicker without wounding sensitive areas – except when they rub each other up the wrong way and fight.

In short, they are instantly established as, I say again, off-kilter individuals who work together well. They’re never demonstrative or romantic, they are completely different characters, but without a single declaration, or even conventional statement of love, they will make it pretty clear to us – and even themselves – that they do rely upon, and need each other.

But the big pluspoint for the series is that, from the first moment, they are likeable. The audience settles back, interested in this pair, and willing to follow them about.

But Jill and Trevor are merely the centre of things. Dudley Sutton, Dominic Jephcott and Terence Rigby are in the credited cast, as is Special Guest Star Colin Blakely from episode 3 onwards, whilst Keith Smith, Keith Marsh, Robert Longden and Norman Schiller are fine supporters in small roles. Alison Skilbeck, playing Jill’s love-rival, Helen of Tadcaster, is a much more straight part, a foil for Trevor and Jill in the two episodes in which she appears.

Dudley Sutton plays history teacher Mr Carter, a cynical and yet almost florid member of staff (and recipient of the Exploding Hedge-Trimmer from the Dazzlingly Beautiful Platinum Blonde), who regards Trevor and Jill as his private soap opera, a daily source of drama upon which he comments with relish. In return, Jill and Trevor treat him as a harmless observer, responding to or around him with a mixture of fantasy cliches and cryptic encapsulations of what’s going on that confuse way more than they enlighten.

Dominic Jephcott excels as Hobson: conspicuously clever, well-maintained hair, blonde good looks, out of his depth whenever he’s not relying on his role as Police Officer, and a military habit of clicking his heels when addressing his superior officer that’s driving Superintendent Forrest bonkers. Hobson is every inch the graduate smartarse, superior in manner, the light of fanaticism glowing in his eyes whenever he’s not being talked down, past, over and around by Trevor and Jill, neither of whom can take him seriously enough to be concerned about his increasing attempts to fit them up. Until he becomes useful to them as a conduit for turning the tables on the McAllister Brothers, who conduct the spoiler campaign. Hobson turns on a dime, without so much as a squeak.

Terrence Rigby, once a fixture on Z-Cars and Softly Softly plays Big Al, a broad, phlegmatic and philosophic former-building-trade work who, after redundancy, has organised the White Economy around the principle of people helping each other out. He’s introduced at a Cub’s football match, along with the excitable, perennially confused Little Norm (Schiller). Described as having the texture and charm of a small Pennine Chain, Al just wants to be left alone without people poking into his business, especially Hobson. Norm is his brother, as are a great number of people during the story, Trevor included, and Janey the Blonde his sister, though it’s never clear if he has any siblings. Al is, quite simply, a cloth-capped force of nature.

As for the smaller parts, Smith is superb is his somewhat one-dimensional role as Mr Wheeler, the headmaster, brusque with his staff, obsequious with Hobson, appearing from nowhere with his hands clasped behind his back, yet still giving the impression of a man who leaves a silvery trail wherever he passes. Longden, who appears in the last two episodes, plays Town Planning Officer, Mr Pitt, a man of careful demeanour and utter spinelessness. Marsh, a familiar figure from other Yorkshire TV sitcoms, plays Harry, a pensioner who keeps turning up out of nowhere, leading a dog called Jason on a length of string, and who wants to be a supergrass, to regain his self-respect after years of unemployment.

As stated above, Alison Skilbeck plays the only straight role in the entire series. She’s brought in, offstage, in episode 3, when Trevor, in a rush of emotional honesty, confesses to having once been engaged to a woman who, completely unlike Jill, was interested in all the same things as he was, only to call the wedding off because he was boring. Her name was Helen: “of Troy?” enquires Jill, amused and determined not to take her relationship with Trevor seriously enough to admit he really means something to her: “of Tadcaster” Trevor somewhat limply replies.

Needless to say, once summoned by name, Helen appears almost immediately, back from London where she’d “met a bloke”, interested in seeing if Trevor was any less boring, and not expecting to find him in a “relationship”. The ladies get on famously with each other, to the extent of going for a posh meal in a posh restaurant where they get poshly pissed and toss a coin for Trevor. Jill, who has already, in a laconic manner, let Helen know that she’s serious about Trevor, is disturbed less by losing than by being disturbed at losing. She’s typically detached and cool about the whole thing, joking that if Trevor marries Helen, she’ll insist on his moving into the spare bedroom, but underneath it she’s unwillingly distressed at the thought.

It doesn’t matter, actually. Trevor’s repeated question about whether he gets a say in it may be said in jest, but he knows what he wants and between an independent and sassy penurious schoolteacher who hates jazz, and a jazz loving rich girl who lets her Daddy treat her as a child, and who tries to order Trevor’s lifestyle (Daddy is a McAllister Brother, you see, and at the heart of things), Helen doesn’t stand a chance.

Charm, silliness, likeability, political underpinning, belly laugh jokes, perfect casting, an upbeat jazz soundtrack and a gentle, laconic pace. The Beiderbecke Affair  is, quite simply, a gem on every level.

And it’s a joy to have found a way to discuss this show without constant comparisons to its hapless predecessor, Get Lost!, which for a while I thought for a while would be impossible. From the first moment of its symbolic credits and its jaunty music, The Beiderbecke Affair joyfully laughs at Get Lost!s failings.

Someone knew in advance that the series was going to hit, for Plater was persuaded to novelise his own script for release as a book, midway through first transmission. It was his first venture into adult prose, and it’s a worthy companion to the series. It was also so popular that it sold out in Manchester before I could get a copy. Fortunately, a friend saw a copy on sale in Wilmslow and grabbed it for me, handing it over on the Thursday night before episode 6.

I took it home and, before going to sleep, read it up to the end of episode 5, and put it away. The series was too good to spoil.

Next, I’ll be looking at The Beiderbecke Affair‘s first sequel, The Beiderbecke Tapes. But, if I may end upon a personal note, if there are any Jill Swinburnes out there, especially ones who look like Barbara Flynn did during this series, would they be so kind as to contact me, with a view to discussing an underplayed, seemingly ill-matched but underneath rather serious relationship. Saying “I love you” strictly excluded, of course.

Series 2 – 05: Torver to Goatswater


To my surprise, this second uphill ‘stock walk’ had slipped my memory, even though I included a piece on the waterfall into Banishead Quarry in the first series. But the narrow upland valley in which the wild Tarn of Goatswater lay, beneath the giant, black cliffs of Dow Crag was very much a favourite destination.
There was a false start to begin with. Along the Broughton-Coniston road, on the way into the village, were separate signposted paths towards Coniston Old Man, and on a sunny day in 1966, with just the four of us, we set off up one. It lead nowhere, petered out on featureless slopes, and somehow we found our way back into the Village.
Mam waited with us children, in the baking heat, whilst Dad walked back alone to fetch the car. I still recall a group of lads walking up the road from the Lake, happily singing the Lovin’ Spoonful’s big smash, “Daydream”.
Did that little expedition prompt Dad to start buying the Wainwrights? (for they were his, not his brothers, and mine after his death, though I had no control over them until I began walking alone). No way of knowing now, but later that year, with my Uncle restored to the group, we set off from a bend in the road near to Torver, halfway down the Lake and back to Broughton, following another sign – Coniston Old Man 4 miles. But this path was in The Southern Fells, and those nearer the Village were not.
A farm road led to a steadily ascending path through woods, and there was the quarry with its spectacular falls, an obvious subject for Dad’s camera. And unknown too, then as now.
Above, a steep path on grass demanded effort, but led quickly to a crossroads with a major footpath at 90 degrees. This was the Walna Scar Road, leading towards the Pass of the same name, but we crossed it, climbing across an angled moor beneath the great sweep of the Old Man’s south ridge and the half-hidden crags of the Dow: a place where, a decade earlier, a Coniston schoolboy had taken photos of a UFO, and looking down on the lake where, less than a year later, Donald Campbell’s Bluebird would lift from the waters and somersault to oblivion.
Above the Moor, a long path trailed the rocks of the South Ridge, before rising to turn into the narrow basin between the two fells, and the path’s end at grey Goatswater.
We never went further. The path vanished, but it would have been easy to parallel the tarn’s shore and ascend to the rim of the hollow, but no-one else wanted to think of it. Dad and my Uncle would study the crags through their binoculars, dreaming of a world outside their reach, then perhaps one would scramble up the somewhat easier and smaller rocks on our side of the cove, and throw down a climbing rope that would be tied round my sister or I, as we practised the most basic and totally safe of rock-climbing.
One time, Dad filmed us with his cine-camera. I overheard him praising my sister for the careful, professional way she cleaned the dirt out of her handholds, and when my turn came, envious of her, I spent so much time cleaning out the handhold that the film ran out before I moved upwards.
We came here often, including one occasion when we set off from the roadhead above the Village to walk Walna Scar Pass, but, on a hot day, broke off at the crossroads to trace our way into the sheltered hollow of the Tarn.
I’ve never been back. Twice, once in each direction, I’ve crossed Goat’s Hause, with the tarn beneath me under afternoon suns, and on Cup Final Day in 1998, avoiding a game in which I couldn’t stomach seeing either Manager succeed, I crossed the moor to Walna Scar Pass, pottered on the Outlying Fells beyond it, and on a scorching afternoon of partial sight – one contact lens simply dried out beyond any hope of popping it back in and my glasses were left in the car – I returned by Banishead Quarry, taking a squinting look at an old haunt unseen in almost a quarter century, and unchanged in every respect.
These places, these walks, and a couple of other spots, are where I cannot help but be close to a family that no longer exists.
The picture is of the classic first sight we always had of Goatswater, rounding the edge of the mouth of the cove, with Dow Crag as an exciting and forbidding backdrop.

The Beiderbecke Trilogy – Part 1


It’s over twenty five years ago now, but one January Sunday evening, at the unusual hour of 8.15pm, we (being my mother, my sister and I) sat down to watch a new comedy thriller on ITV. It had had a positive, but not detailed write-up, in the papers, and something in the description of the quirky ‘crime’ that was about to be investigated by a pair of Leeds schoolteachers triggered my instinct that this would be something worth watching.

Television programmes that united the whole family were rare, my tastes usually differing from those shared by my mother and sister (I was ‘weird’, you see). But all three of us found it hilarious, and glued ourselves to the box for the next five Sundays, with much regret that there were only six episodes.

The Beiderbecke Affair was written by veteran television writer Alan Plater, and starred James Bolam and Barbara Flynn as, respectively, Mr Trevor Chaplin, expatriate Geordie, jazz and football fan, and woodwork teacher at ‘San Quentin’ High School, and Mrs Jill Swinburne, politically active conservationist, radical and English teacher at the said establishment.

When the series began, it was two years and four months since Mrs Swinburne threw out her worthless husband and Mr Chaplin began offering her lifts to school in his little yellow former Post Office van. And the following day, it would be exactly two years since Mrs Swinburne, after consuming a generous share of a bottle of Frascati, dragged Mr Chaplin into bed. Mr Chaplin wished to commemorate the event in some vaguely appropriate fashion involving Frascati, Mrs Swinburne preferred to commemorate it by having him help her deliver leaflets announcing her candidacy as a Conservation Party representative in the forthcoming Council By-Election.

Mr Chaplin elected to stay at home, listening to jazz in his rudimentary top floor flat but, still under the influence of the anniversary, confided in Mrs Swinburne his long held fantasy of being alone in his flat, listening to jazz, when there’s a knock on the door and there stands a dazzingly beautiful platinum blonde.

Mrs Swinburne was suitably scathing but, that evening, as Mr Chaplin relaxed at home, listening to (yes) jazz, there was a knock on the door. There stood a dazzingly beautiful platinum blonde. She was selling mail order, door to door, on behalf of the local Cubs football team, and had a Barnsley accent.

(Personally, I am hooked by this point, and we still haven’t got as far as the plot.)

Mr Chaplin placed an order, for a four LP set (LPs were like frisbees, only flat, and were what we used to play mp3s on) of the complete works of the legendary Bix Beiderbecke, jazz cornettist, whose playing sounded like “bullets shot from a bell”. What was actually delivered consisted of four of the world’s saddest and most unwanted collections of alleged music ever. When Mr Chaplin went to the address on his receipt, he finds it to be a demolished street.

Alone, but for Mrs Swinburne reluctantly at his side, and undaunted, he would venture into the dark underbelly of the moonstruck outer limits of Leeds, in pursuit of the right LPs.

I ask you, how could you not love a series that started like that?

The Beiderbecke Affair was a tremendous success, including a successful novelisation by Plater himself (his first venture into prose), and spawned two sequels, and a consistently successful DVD compilation, which I have recently purchased. The Beiderbecke Trilogy DVD includes six discs, four devoted to the Trilogy itself, one a CD compilation of the original music composed for the series by Frank Ricottit, on which Kenny Bake plays trumpet, and the last featuring a four part series entitled Get Lost!, also written by Plater and featuring two Leeds schoolteachers, this time played by Bridget Turner and Alun Armstrong.

A satisfyingly comprehensive accompanying booklet explained that Get Lost! was produced in 1981, being an idea by Plater that he put forward after signing to adapt J B Priestley’s The Good Companions as a thirteen part TV series, but convincing his employers that the book would work far better in nine parts (it wasn’t much cop at either length, though it beat the abysmal adaptation of Priestley’s later Lost Empires into the proverbial cocked hat). Get Lost! replaced the other four episodes.

I wasn’t previously aware that The Beiderbecke Affair was originally planned and written as a sequel to Get Lost!Get Lost Revisited – and had gone a long way into development before it was determined that Armstrong would be unavailable to reprise his role, at which point the script was revised to feature Mrs Swinburne and Mr Chaplin, a slightly different back-story, and a slightly different approach to the whole idea.

Before reviewing the Trilogy, let’s look first at this unexpected, lost (sorry), prequel.

Get Lost! June – July 1981

Plater wanted to write a detective story, set not in the traditional, romantic environs of Los Angeles, New York or the Lower East Side, but instead in the more down-to-earth setting of the suburbs of Leeds, as well as other parts of his native Yorkshire, with all the traditional elements of the detective story reinterpreted to reflect the setting. It was to be shot 100% on film, to give it a grainy look that is very LowDef to the modern eye. It was to be deliberately downbeat and non-glamorous, and star characters that were equally downbeat and non-glamorous.

The overall effect would look very old-fashioned, and very much a Seventies series in its in style and texture.

Plater originally wrote the parts of Judy Threadgold (married English teacher and socially aware activist) and Neville Keaton (expatriate jazz loving Geordie woodwork teacher) with Judi Dench and Tom Courtney in mind, but the roles went to Bridget Turner and Alun Armstrong.

The plot is simple. The half-term holiday at ‘Colditz’ Comprehensive has begun and Mr Keaton offers Mrs Threadgold her regular lift home, she being on a direct line from school to his flat. However, Mrs Threadgold unusually turns up at Mr Keaton’s flat in a mildly disturbed state: she has lost her husband.

Jim Threadgold, salesman in building supplies, has gone missing. Neville, flattered to be called upon, enthusiastic about investigating but bereft of ideas, recommended turning it over to the Police. But the dull and pedestrian DS Tomlin, based solely on Judy having turned to Neville in this ‘crisis’, suggests that maybe they have bumped off Jim, a suspicion he’s prepared to drop if they produce the missing husband.

The couple learned of a similar disappearance, affecting a Vicar and his Sunday School Teacher. The Vicar’s wife didn’t seem particularly bothered about it all, amused more than anything (she’s played by Kate Binchy, who had totally slipped my memory, but who was an actress I particularly liked, who made a memorable appearance in a BBC Christmas Ghost Story that is shortly to be released on DVD). Mrs Perry provided a link from her husband to Jim: both were members of a local Literary Society.

For the third episode, Judy and Neville followed a trail to a caravan holiday park on the North Sea coast, where they established that there was some sort of organisation assisting people to escape lives in which they feel trapped, and realise their dream: in Jim’s case, to work in a fish’n’chip shop. A gun was waved around, the dullard Tomlin was following the two ‘suspects’ and, when they found themselves trapped by fog, Judy and Neville spent the night in a caravan bed.

Finally, in a last episode entitled Not a Proper Ending, the two returned to Leeds, went back to marking their half-term homeworks (English essays, standard lamps), until their colleague Mr Meagan, a quasi-drunken cynic, identified the culprit behind this organisation as their Head of English, Miss Langley.

From here, in keeping with the episode title, the story resolved itself with Miss Langley and her young henchman leaving the area, Tomlin availing himself of their services, having gotten sick of being bullied by his Superintendent, Jim Threadgold effectively handing Judy over to Neville, behind her back, and the duo half deciding to continue their new ‘relationship’. Which, if Alun Armstrong hadn’t had other commitments,  would have led to Get Lost Revisited. I have to say I’m glad.

It’s impossible for me to judge Get Lost! on its own merits. I’ve only just seen it for the first time, having watched the Beiderbeckes a half dozen times previously. Just the fact of having different actors in all the recognisable roles creates a comparison fatal to this ‘prequel’. But overall, my most overwhelming impression reminds of when I first read Terry Pratchett.

I bought and read the first Discworld book, The Colour of Magic when it débuted in paperback, was mildly amused, and sold the book. Six months later, on holiday, having run out of books, I reluctantly bought the sequel, The Light Fantastic. I could at least rely upon it to amuse me for the evening, then I’d get rid again. But instead, I found loved it: it was as if Pratchett had  spent a long time analysing how TCOM hadn’t worked, and then gone out and done it right.

Get Lost! feels like that. It achieves Plater’s aims, but it achieves them too well, and in doing so exposes the flaws in that approach. It’s based on a serious subject – a missing husband – but Judy  never shows any sign of caring, and with no emotional underpinning, the viewer is taught to regard the investigation as pointless from the outset: just a way of taking up time.

Though Jim will, at the end, describe the wife he’s abandoned as “bloody wonderful”, Turner’s performance offers no justification for that opinion. There’s nothing to suggest why she and Jim ever wanted to get married in the first place.

Indeed, both the principal actors are too downbeat, too uninvolved with what is happening, They have no commitment to what they’re doing, and the viewer consequently isn’t offered anything about which to care.

Judy’s lack of concern about her husband’s abrupt and cowardly departure might be possible to glide over, but the same thing happens between her and Neville.  They bicker and misunderstand in a way Mrs Swinburne and Mr Chaplin will repeat, but there’s no life to it. The only emotion revealed is a brief anger that prompts them to say offensive things about each other. Thus, when Judy drags Neville off to bed in the caravan, there is no genuine emotional or physical basis for the act. It happens because the cliché of the detective story requires it to happen.

And without wishing to criticise either actor, Dench and Courtney would have done all this much better. Not only are they better actors, but once you know they were in Plater’s mind, it becomes clear how much the writing is bent towards their strengths.

The series is funereally slow, and doesn’t benefit from being shot between mid-September and late January: the North Sea does not look good in winter.

It also suffers from looking cheap.  Yorkshire TV may have been one of the ‘Big Five’ of the former ITV Network, but in terms of resources, it was a poor relation to the giants of Granada and Thames. Far too many scenes are shot in close-up, on two characters unnaturally close to each other, confining the background to a narrow compass. The lack of space cramps everything and draws attention to itself.

It’s not all bad. This being Plater, and thus never less than professional, the series has its compensations. There are lines in there, good lines, belly laugh lines all the more welcome for their overall paucity, and there are good sequences that would be more than adequately funny if they were only played with a little energy. Not too much, that would be antithetical to Plater’s dry and laconic world where nothing much happens and it doesn’t surprise anyone. But the contrast between this lethargic effort and the forthcoming Beiderbecke Affair does point out the shortcomings of Get Lost!

It would be interesting to have seen the series re-made with the relevant Beiderbecke cast delivering the same lines, because I think Get Lost! could be a far better, far funnier series if approached in the revised manner that would be introduced with Bolam, Flynn and their superbly cast colleagues. As it is, Get Lost! is partly a sketch, an outline of what would go on to be a far more detailed work, and partly an off-Broadway run that identifies the tangles, loosenesses and flaws that need to be fixed before the show’s set for its real opening.

Series 2 – 04: Mill Gill to Stickle Tarn


Among our ‘stock’ walks, this was definitely an anomaly. It’s not a valley walk, it’s uphill all the way, and in places pretty steep too. Adding in my own experiences when walking solo, when I’ve climbed this route on three separate occasions, I have probably done this walk more often than any in the Lake District. Indeed, my history with Mill Gill goes back far enough that I have walked the long fenced-off western bank of the gill, where the path no longer exists except in First Edition Wainwrights.
And again I’m behind the times, as the Gill is now increasingly known as Stickle Gill (or Ghyll, for the pretentious, and to match the more famous neighbour, Dungeon Ghyll) for the Tarn from which it debouches. The internet certainly knows it better by this new name, but I will stick with what I’ve known for all my life.
Dungeon Ghyll is still the better known – the two Hotels in Great Langdale are named for it – but its cascades are concealed in deep folds of land, twisting and turning across the breast of Harrison Stickle, highest of the Langdale Pikes. Mill Gill has always been open, a fine sight in spate, catching the eye from the New Hotel car park below. I remember my Dad saying that he preferred it.
Though it was steep, and though the path on the eastern bank rapidly eroded, we would take that rocky stairway upwards, bound for the weir at Stickle Tarn, where my Dad and Uncle would train their binoculars on the face of Pavey Ark, following brightly coloured stick figures that had the strength, agility and nerve to tackle Jack’s Rake, angling across the face in a series of exposed grooves. But there were two kids in tow, one of them under ten: it would never be practical for years to come, and when the years came Dad would not be there to do it. I’d have gone with him, in a heartbeat, by then.
Nowadays, the eastern path has been completely relaid by the National Trust: spiral crazy paving I’ve called it, since I first encountered it, descending Sourmilk Gill into Seathwaite in the pouring rain. It’s safe, it’s secure. But it’s no longer natural.
On my last visit, over-familiar with the way, I spotted a track leading uphill to the right in the early stages. On impulse, I took it, and discovered a narrow, precarious but gloriously traffic-free parallel path, about fifty feet above the main drag, all the way to the basin just below the final pull up to the Tarn. A delight that, I hope, remains unknown to the marching masses.
The path along the eastern bank has stood alone for forty years and more, but when we first visited Langdale, and first set off towards Stickle Tarn, there were paths on both banks, and the eastern route was clearly the lesser, probably newer of the two. We walked the western path at least once,and once as an access to a direct route to Harrison Stickle that began in blazing sun and ended as a group sat below the Stickle’s top turret, watching waves of cloud flowing towards us from Windermere, until its refusal to relent forced us down.
Even then, the western path was badly eroded. On our next visit it was fenced off, to prevent further damage. It stayed fenced off to enable the land to recover. And it has recovered so well that no-one visiting Mill Gill today would suspect there had ever been a path there at all.
I’ve other reasons to recall Mill Gill. In 1971, we were on holiday in the week my O-level results were published. I’d left a postcard that the school would fill in and send so that it would be there when I got home. On Thursday, the day of the results, we set off for Mill Gill, only for me to fall ill: headaches and stomach upsets, less than halfway up. The walk had to be abandoned, and I was still unfit for walking on Friday.
Psychsomatic? My mother didn’t think so. We were staying in a new self-catering cottage and I was the only one to have been drinking the tapwater direct. That was enough for her. But there was a strange sequel two years later. We were again on holiday in the week of the O-level results, though I was concerned with A-levels, which I’d passed the Wednesday before, with the grades I needed for Uni. On the Thursday of our holiday, the day of the O-level results, we elected to climb Mill Gill. Curiously, I was ill, in the same manner, forcing the walk to be abandoned at pretty much the same point. I hadn’t been drinking the tapwater that year.
The picture is of the Langdale Pikes, from Lingmoor Fell, across Great Langdale. Mill Gill shows as a bright streak, lit by the sun as it tumbles down its stony, open channel.

Series 2 – 03: Brotherilkeld to Throstlegarth


Times change. I’m astonished to realise that it’s almost thirty years since I last passed through Throstlegarth, and that on the return from my first ascent of Scafell Pike, having ascended by the Cowcove Zigzags and that wonderful, lonely upland walk to Cam Spout, for Mickledore. On the way back, thirsting not to go over trodden ground, I picked a way across the infant, but broad Esk, rounded Great Moss and descended via Esk Gorge to Lingcove Bridge.
I touched on this walk in the final piece in Series 1. Nowadays, it seems the done thing is to divide the name in two, Throstle Garth, but Wainwright and I hold to the old practice of spelling it as a single word. It was always coupled with Brotherilkeld, and we walked several times from one to the other and back, except on one occasion when my Dad led the four of us up beside Esk Gorge, and far enough round to see Scafell Pike from a side I’d never seen before.
The farm was by the main road, just a few yards short of the foot of Hard Knott Pass, and we’d pass through the farmyard and out upon a gentle, slightly rising path, well above the river, guarded to its left by an accompanying wall that, after a rambling, undulating way, as long as the valley was wide about us, would guide us on.
Then, like the wall in Mickleden, it would abruptly turn a corner, turn downhill towards the river, leaving the path to gently decline, at an easy angle, to meet the rushing, bubbling Esk close to where the bluffs across the valley spread out. From there, the path accompanied the bank of the river through the narrowing confines, both sides closing in.
A waterfall became visible ahead, a sudden, steep wall closing off the valley, and as we grew nearer, the span of Lingcove Bridge was clear at the foot of the beck. Like the bridge at the head of Mickleden, this was our aim.
It always seemed obvious to me that the valley must go straight on, beside the open falls, but this was Lingcove Beck, springing from a hidden side-valley above. The Esk disappeared into its gorge, to the left. To carry on meant crossing the water and starting steeply up.
We only did that the once, my Uncle remaining by the bridge to rest. And, years later, I came down that way, fatigued legs eager for some level ground. I crossed the bridge and began the old march back to ‘Butterilket’. I remembered the steps and, when the valley widened and the wall corner appeared, I contoured left, even though the path seemed inclined to stick to the river, though I could have done without even that small climb. I was on old turf here, I knew where to go.
But it seems I didn’t. Once I passed through Brotherilkeld to the road I found a new path, signposted, between channelled fences, avoiding the farm, directed down towards the river. That’s where we go now, away from our old route.
The picture is of the approach to Throstlegarth, as the wall at the end of that part of Eskdale starts to loom, whilst the valley still retains a vestige of width