Travelling with Tinniswood: More Tales from a Long Room


There facing each other across the square are those twin bastions of village life, the pub and the church.
Look.
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.

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An Uncollected Thought: Doctor Who


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.

The Ones I Rarely Play: Michael Nesmith – Listen to the Band


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!

Travelling with Tinniswood: The Home Front


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.

Uncompleted Stories: Swamp Thing 1


Wrightson’s Swamp Thing

Though he’s been around for over forty years, and enjoyed a high esteem for long periods during that time, DC’s Swamp Thing is unlikely to be familiar to the non-comics reading public (with the exception of fans of early Eighties Horror B-Movies).
Like many other DC characters, Swamp Thing has been through several incarnations down the years. Let us begin with a bit of historical perspective.
Swamp Thing was conceived by writer Len Wein and artist Berni Wrightson for an eponymous ten page horror story, published in House of Secrets 92 in 1971. The story was set in an isolated house on the edge of the Louisiana swamplands, in the first decade of the Twentieth Century. Damien Ridge and Linda Olsen Ridge are at home, on the six month anniversary of their marriage, and someone – or something – unseen is watching them from outside.
This is Linda’s second marriage: her first husband, scientist Alex Olsen, Damien’s partner, was killed a year ago in a laboratory explosion. Damien comforted, and subsequently married her, but what Linda does not know is that it was Damien, out of jealousy over her, who sabotaged the lab and dumped Alex’s still-living body in the swamp.
Though he has what he wants, Damien is alert to a little cooolness on Linda’s part, seeing it as her inutuiting his role in all of this. Rather than let her begin investigating, and uncover him, Damien prefers to kill her. He is about to plunge a hypodermic into her neck, unseen, when the viewer outside untervenes.
Linda sees a terrifying monster, vaguely man-shaped, draped in the rotting vegetation of the swamp, burst into the house and horribly kill her husband: widowed twice at so young an age. She screams in terror as the silent monster stares at her, before it shambles out into the swamp, never to be seen again.
What she does not know, because the creature has no voice with which to speak, is that the monster has acted not out of rage or mania, but out of love. The Swamp Thing is, or was, Alex Olsen, transformed out of all recognition but unable to stay away from the woman he loves. By saving her life, he has severed any faint hopes of returning to her. As he turns towards the swamps, his misery is compounded even further by the fact that his vegetable body cannot cry.
“Swamp Thing” was not formally promoted in any way, but word swept rapidly and House of Secrets 92 sold in incredible numbers. I have heard it claimed that it was DC’s best-selling comic of the month, but given the publishing conditions of the early Seventies, I find that very difficult to believe. Certainly, there must have been a considerable sales-spike: more than enough to have DC  pressing Wein and Wrightson to convert the Swamp Thing into a series.
Both creators demurred. In part, it was the desire not to spoil their experience on a story with (rare) personal significance and satisfaction, but in even larger part it was the knowledge that contemporary page rates were nowhere near enough to enable them to do the necessary research for a series set seven decades earlier.
They were, however, willing to revise the character in a contemporary setting. Thus the second Swamp Thing made his debut in the first issue of his own series, set in 1972. This first Swamp Thing series would last 24 bi-monthly issues.
Drs Alec and Linda Holland, biologists, are on the point of completing a Bio-Restorative Formula that could potentially refoliate the Sahara. The Government has moved them to a laboratory in the Lousiana swamplands, disguised as a deserted barn, under the watchful eye of DDI Agent Matt Cable.
However, the Conclave, a criminal organisation, has learned of the Formula and tries to buy it. When the Hollands refuse, the Conclave decides to kill them, rather than allow anyone else to use the formula. Alec is knocked out and left in the lab whilst a bomb is planted: at the last moment, he comes to, only for the bomb to explode in his face, coating his body in the burning chemicals of the formula.
Out of reflex, Alec bursts from the lab and hurls his burning body into the cooling water of the swamps. A month later, the Swamp Thing, seven foot tall, man-shaped, draped in the rotting vegetation of the swamp, rises from the water.
Unlike the first Swamp Thing, Linda is soon killed herself. This gives the ongoing series two points of impetus. First, Holland is seeking a means by which he can restore his humanity, and secondly he wants revenge for his wife’s murder.
Wein, very much a purple writer at that time of his career, structured the series around a parade of classic monsters and horrors, though the main theme was that Man was the true Monster. Wherever Swampy went, trying to mind his own business, meaning no harm to anyone, the moment anyone saw him, they went mob-crazy on his big, green butt.
The series went well under its original creators, but Wrightson left after issue 10, and Wein three issues later. And though replacements as like for like as could be found were conjured up, sales began to decline.
So a decision was taken that, with effect from issue 23, Swamp Thing would be re-positioned as a superhero, instead of horror series.
Outgoing writer, David Michelinie, was kind enough to drop Swampy, at the end of issue 22, not in Louisiana but, improbably, California, on the doorstop of Alec Holland’s heretofore un-mentioned elder brother, Edward.
The new direction was remitted to Gerry Conway. He began by introducing a new, more flambuoyant crime syndicate after the Bio-Restorative Formula, as represented by the former Commander Zero.But whereas Zero, who was supposedly dead, had been a meek, unassuming, be-spectacled man in a suit, Conway put him in a skin-tight costume and, in place of his crushed right hand, affixed a scythe, a la Marvel villain The Grim Reaper.
So Edward Holland hears his brother out and decides that his transformation can be reversed by repeating it. And despite Zero’s attempts to intervene, it works, and Alec Holland was once more human.
This state persisted into issue 24, during which Conway started assembling plot-lines. Edward Holland’s beautiful, red-headed protege is far too impressed with the younger, more handsome Alec: Edward, enraged at being overshadowed yet again by his brilliant younger brother, plots to make him regret it. Alec has another encounter with agents of the syndicate and finds himself wishing he still had Swampy’s strength and invulnerability. Tellingly, his body suffers crippling cramps and stresses…
Issue 25 was advertised as guest-starring Hawkman. But this never appeared as the series was cancelled abruptly due to plummeting sales. The ‘superhero’ Swamp Thing never appeared.
And I have to say that that’s a tremendous relief, since the new direction was utterly ludicrous and wholy implausible even by the standards of Seventies’ comics. The series even had foisted on it a new logo,which, prophetically, was the single worst, most clumsy and ugly logo I have ever seen in comics.
So many things were wrong, or at best wholly cliched by this change that even at the time, continuity-based fans wanted to find a way to obliterate it. To begin, the change of scene to California (Conway had recently moved to LA, and was dragging all his series to the Golden State) was wholly wrong for a swampland creation.
Then the introduction of a new crime syndicate on an infantile level, as opposed to the plausible Conclave and, worst of all, placing the aforementioned Commander John Zero into tights and scythe!
Then the introduction of a new red-head to become Holland’s girlfriend, the trite jealousies of an elder brother who’d shown no interest in his late brother for years, the diminution of Alec Holland’s all-pervading longing to regain his humanity by suggesting that he’d avoided asking his brother’s help out of pride!
The cliché of Edward Holland getting jealous so fast that he was prepared to betray his own brother by undoing a scientifically advvanced procedure that demonstrated him as a genius.
Had issue 25 been published, I have no doubts as to its contents. Alec Holland would have been attacked again, requiring Hawkman’s aid to escape. Red-headed protege, fearful for his safety, would have kissed him. Edward Holland would have snapped and kick-started his plan. And on the final page, Alec would have reverted, no doubt painfully in body as well as in mind, to beingSwamp Thing.
Except that henceforth he would be able to occupy both forms, transforming from Holland to Swampy in the same manner that Bruce Banner becomes the Incredible Hulk. The only question up for debate is whether the transformation would be voluntary or, to extend the Hilk parallel,  uncontrolled and caused by stress of some kind.
Though the story was uncompleted, Conway did get a chance to deal with one of his dangling plot-threads. A few months later, in a short-lived revival of Challengers of the Unknown that lasted eight, guest star crowded issues, Conway chose to put one of the Challs in need of desperate aid from noted biologist Alec Holland.
Though he is working desperately against time to prevent his body reverting permanently to the Swamp Thing (for no given reason), Holland cannot refuse his aid, and ends up losing his battle, thus restoring the status quo in a very cheap manner.
Nobody regretted not seeing this fatuous story through to its conclusion. Edward Holland, Red-Headed Protege and the syndicate disappeared without trace or any kind of second thought, and following Crisis on Infinite Earth in 1985, and the wholesale revision of DC’s history, this little episode ceased to have ever ‘existed’.
It had, in any event, already been obliterated, by writer Alan Moore’s transformation of the Swamp Thing in 1983, which silently revoked any validity in Conway’s two issues.
Nevertheless, this disastrous idea was not to be the Swamp Thing’s only experience of an Uncompleted Story, as we shall see next.

Never Do Anything, Unless It’s To Extremes


It seems only fair to record that, after last season’s series of posts on the ill-fortunes and preposterously bad form of Droylsden FC in the Evo-Stik League Premier Division, the Bloods have completely reversed things so far this season.

With wins of 7-1 and 6-1 already (admittedly with a one-goal home defeat between), Droyslden are the joint highest scorers in the whole of the Evo-Stik League and have the best goal difference of any of its 72 clubs, being in double figures at +10 after only three games.

Does this mean a complete role-reversal for last year? Too soon to tell, but if it does, fairness demands that I record it.

Uncollected Thoughts: The Twelfth Doctor


I’ve been here before – five years ago, was it? A new Doctor, Matt Smith, the Eleventh. What would he be like? Would the show be better under Stephen Moffat than the turgid treacliness of the last half hour of David Tennant under Russell T. Davies?

Funnily enough, those weren’t the questions in my head. The only question I had was: did Karen Gillan look as good onscreen as her photos suggested? To which the answer was a decided yes, plus I loved the accent, and that Matt Smith seemed interesting in his own right.

After not having watched the series regularly since the days of Baker (C), I found myself back with Doctor Who. And, with a few reservations here and there, usually in the places where everybody else was cheering, I’ve enjoyed the ride, none more so than in that final sequence of stories: The Name of the Doctor,The Day of the Doctor, The Time of the Doctor.

So here we are, with another new Doctor to assess: Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor, the oldest Doctor, a reversal of New Who policy, an experiment in changing more than just the face of the Doctor. And unlike five years ago, I was watching the start of this new series for the Doctor himself, and not his companion. Though they are both Scots, so I suppose the difference isn’t that great.

And?

Well, I could start by saying that they had me at the moment the Dinosaur wading down the Thames hacked, and coughed up the Tardis. Then Strax knocks on the door, and the Doctor pops his head out and says, “Shush!” and shuts the door again (and when are we going to get the Madame Vastri, Jenny and Strax soin-off, Moffat? Come on, we will not be patient forever). And they did. I was on the hook and ready to be wound in.

But by the end of this extended introductory episode, things were different. By then I was no longer roaring with laughter, and fully into the swing of the old madness once more. Because, as the episode deftly progressed, that was the madness of Matt Smith, of Number Eleven. There’s always a perod of unsettlement with Re-generations, as the Doctor’s new form shapes his mind in the new direction it will take, with the old self acting as a conduit. Capaldi made an excellent job of hosting the spirit of Smith, especially in some of the early boasts he was making, ruffling the startled Clara’s feathers.

And this section of the programme confronted explicitly some of the questions about Capaldi’s appointment, the abrupt (and chancey) reversion to the Doctor as an adult, almost grandfatherly figure. From Clara’s doubts, her instinctive shying away from the stranger, her unconcealed distaste for the lined face and the grey hair, her conviction that she didn’t know the Doctor any more, to Twelve’s own confusions about himself and how he looks.

Adroitly, given that Capaldi has already twice appeared in the series with other Doctors, this was dealt with by Twelve trying to recollect where he’d seen his face before, and asking himself the rhetorical question about why he’d chosen this one? Interesting word, ‘chosen’. But did not the Curator himself all but state outright that he had chosen to return to a favourite face, or were our nostalgic tears brimming too much at that moment? I’d like to see that investigated a little deeper, Mr Moffat, the extent to which a Re-generating Doctor can choose his new incarnation.

But once he began to concentrate, Capaldi’s Doctor began to take on gravitas. The Smithian flipness dropped away, the confusion realigned itself, and the new Doctor, a more serious, and darker version, began to take shape. With age, Capaldi brings gravitas back to the role. What’s more, he’s set a theme for this series: he’s lived for over 2,000 years, during which time he’s made mistakes: it’s time to go and sort them out.

I’ve not really discussed the plot, as it wasn’t really what mattered in this episode. It was just a vehicle for Twelve to emerge, just as the Victorian setting was a welcome excuse to have the Paternoster Gang around (spin-off! spin-off! spin-off!) as well as a basis for Capaldi’s ‘costume’ as Twelve. Though it can’t be completely ignored: the Doctor persuades the big bad villain, the Half-Faced Man to accept death, though we are left ignorant of the final detail of jump or push. But it leads to a beautiful moment at the end, when the Half-Faced Man finds himself taking tea in a delightful garden, with a familiar dark-haired woman, talking of her ‘boyfriend’: if I say she’s an uncredited Suranne Jones, would you recognise her?

Boyfriend. That’s a loaded word now. Clara, 27 years old and looking pretty darned pretty in her twenty-first century cardigan/blouse/short skirt/opaque tights ensemble, is very unsure about continuing her journey without Eleven’s youthful buoyancy. Twelve solemnly tells her, he’s not her boyfriend (but we know whose he is, don’t we?). And then, in an unheralded cameo, we get Matt Smith on the line, moments before Re-generating, basically pleading the Impossible Girl to stay with Twelve and help him.

It’s a bit weepy and manipulative, and it’s the one thing in the whole episode that I found to be a bit dodgy, and a bit of a nervous let-down: did we really need a bit of Eleven just to buttress things? Are we that nervous about the new direction?

On the whole, I think I’m going to enjoy this new incarnation, and I’m certain the series needs to row back a bit on the daffiness of Smith. In the end, though, Deep Breath was a transition episode and we haven’t seen all that much yet of what it’s transitioning into. It took me three weeks befoe concluding that I really did not like the Davies/Eccleston Doctor. We’re on the brink here, but I think the balance will tip the right way.