The Infinite Jukebox: Something in the Air


Expect there to be a lot of Sixties music on the Infinite Jukebox. I might have missed the decade musically, all but the last ten days of it, but I listened to Radio One throughout the Seventies, and one couldn’t do that without developing a pretty detailed grasp of the music of that era.
Thunderclap Newman’s ‘Something in the Air’ was a three week number 1 in the summer of 1969, a classic One Hit Wonder from a band that took its name from perhaps the least important member, and which wasn’t really a band at all. Indeed, I doubt I ever heard the single at the time, and I first got to know it well by taping it off Terry Wogan’s show, back in the day when large swathes of Radio One’s airtime was still being shared with Radio Two, and he cut the song well short, as he usually did back then: try listening to a song all the way through on Wogan’s show. But I loved the song, and I was one of the few who wanted to hear more from Thunderclap Newman, and in a poll for the greatest number One single of all time, this has my vote firmly in its back pocket.
Though they toured, briefly, as a five-piece, Thunderclap Newman were effectively a three-man operation, though ‘Something in the Air’ was recorded as a four-piece, with a guy named Bijou Drains on bass and arrangements. Well, for this recording he was named Bijou Drains, though most people knew him as a boiler-suited, arm-swinging guitarist with a big nose, who wrote songs for the Who under the name of Pete Townsend. And there were those who were convinced that Thunderclap Newman were a pseudonym for Townsend.
But there was an Andy ‘Thunderclap’ Newman, who was a jazz-loving piano player, with a heavy pair of hands, who worked as a GPO Engineer, dressed like someone twice his age, and refused to get into the music business because he wanted to make sure of his Post Office pension.
And there was Jimmy McCullogh, who was from Glasgow and could play guitar like both an angel and a devil, which was seriously impressive since he was only 15.
And there was John ‘Speedy’ Keen, drummer, singer with an extraordinary nasal whine, rock’n’roller, Who roadie, Townsend’s chauffeur, best mate and Best Man at his wedding. Speedy wrote songs. He was the only guy outside the band to write an original song that The Who had recorded. And Townsend wanted to showcase his mate’s songs, one of which was ‘Revolution’, that is, until the Beatles recorded their song of the same name, which meant that Speedy’s song had to be re-named ‘Something in the Air’.
What a title! In just four words, Keen captured something mystical, the sense of possibility, the atmosphere of change.
The words of the song are simple enough, three verses and choruses, in which only the first line changes. Call out the instigators because there’s Something in the Air/We got to get together sooner or later because the Revolution’s here. And you know it’s right. We have got to get it together, we have got to get it together now.
But the music surrounds it with the haze of summer, McCullough’s twelve-string guitar filling the air, filling the sky, Speedy’s simple yet expressive drumming controlling the movement, Thunderclap’s piano as yet an understated, rhythmic underpinning. It feels like summer, it tastes like summer, with that something more somewhere out there, beyond the reach of the senses but forever on the edge of them.
Lock up the streets and houses, Keen wails, before going on to repeat the lines we’ve already heard, his falsetto yelp filling us with anticipation and desperation both. We have got to get it together, now.
Then the music dissolves, and as if from a different recording studio, from a different session, another song entirely, Thunderclap inserts an astonishing, tub-thumping piano solo that takes the song over, takes it somewhere else, fills the ears with mystery. The others clap, loud, the percussion for this session as the music spins and whirls into itself, the sound dying down as the strings begin to soar, such a soaring, louder, higher, more insistent than before, as McCullough’s guitar and some understated horn rising from the mix underpin Keen’s final, pleading howl. Hand out the arms and ammo, we’re going to blast our way through here. The time’s come, the moment when it depends on faith, courage and despair, when we decide who wins and where history will go next.
And you know it’s right.
Again and again, the horns spiraling, we have got to get it together, we have got to get it together. Now.
And then it ends (though it didn’t that first time, when I taped it off Wogan, who faded it at the end of Newman’s implausible solo). Did we win? No, not in real life. But in the four minutes of genius that Speedy Keen wrote and Pete Townsend constructed, the Revolution is still alive, the summer is hot and the air is pregnant. All we have to do is to get it together. Now.

 

Saturday SkandiDrama: 1864 – Parts 3 & 4


                                                                                   Laust and Peter at war

Oh, but this really is superb.

The 2014 Danish historical drama about a part of European history that most will find obscure continues to demonstrate that intelligent writing and first class acting are unmatchable when it comes to drama, and that it is increasingly shameful that Denmark can do this so regularly whilst the UK TV industry can only achieve anything comparable in tiny bursts of intensity, usually relating to serial killers and/or violence to women.

Two further episodes in, we are starting to get a clearer grasp on the structure of the series. Now that Peter and Laust Jensen are enrolled into the Danish Army, the two historical periods have merged (except in Inge’s opening sentences each week, harking back to their idyllic youth, now gone beyond retrieval), and the contemporary frame of the nose- and lip-ringed Claudia and the old Baron is starting to come into some kind of focus.

Let’s deal with this first. Peroxided Claudia starts off episode 3 in unsympathetic mode, chewing gum and listening to deafening modern-type music whilst stealing graveyard flowers from one grave to put on another, but then it’s off to the Baron’s place. She finds him in very hostile manner, this stemming from deep shame at having shit himself in his bed, and the camera doesn’t shrink from showing this. But, despite her disgust, Claudia actually gets down to cleaning him off and, impliedly, changing his bed and cleaning his sheets before resuming her reading of Inge’s diary (albeit with a purloined jewelled bracelet in her back pocket).

Indeed, the thoroughly modern girl is, despite herself, getting involved in the story, and particularly that of Inge and Laust. She’s desperately demanding to know the ending, do the lovers get together? The Baron’s need for sleep cuts off that spoiler, but she and we do learn that Inge is his grandmother.

Then, in the second half of this double-bill, the Baron goes off on a ‘youngsters-of-today’ rant that’s amusing Claudia until he turns to war, warfare and the basic weakness of Danish youth as opposed to the ‘real men’ of the past, forgetting until a fusillade of fucks comes from the girl that her brother has been killed on service with the current Danish Army. His contrition is real and his apology genuine, though Claudia doesn’t get to receive this until she has tried to pull a sordid scam on three creepy blokes in a pub, and got her nose busted for it.

Though the soap-operaish relationship is the link between the two eras, it’s very good to see how small a role it plays. A lot happens over these two episodes, none of it dwelt-upon at unnecessary length. Though Inge puts on the front of loving both the Jensens equally, and they too agree rules that forbid either to send her letters without the other first reading them, Laust and Inge are soon going behind Peter’s back, guiltily but unstoppably. And there’s one further element: he’s got her pregnant.

Then there’s the complication of Didrich, the Baron’s son, who (in his own, dangerous head at least) also loves Inge, but is reduced to demonstrating by forcing silent Sofia, the gypsy’s daughter, to put on one of Inge’s dresses for him, and then raping her, an attack she will not reveal for decades.

Revealing her pregnancy is an eye-opener for Inge. Since it is not Didrich’s child, which would be alright, her mother disowns her and throws her out. And a letter in camp handed to the wrong Jensen brother spills the beans and leads to another disowning, Peter of Laust.

Where all this will lead is interesting from the very little amounts of attention being given to it, but I am now utterly fascinated with the picture of a forgotten war. Episode 3 deals with the descent into war, with King Frederick frustrating the Prime Minister Bishop Monrad’s insistence on war by dying, but the idiot Monrad just goes on to manipulate his successor, King Christian over the fact that he’s German-born and needs to put his people at risk of death and destruction in order to prove he really has Danish interests at heart…

The instrument of war is a new Danish constitution that claims Schleswig as part of Denmark, in breach of all the treaties signed after the Three Years War. Denmark expect support from England but in a beautifully played serio-farcical scene, Queen Victoria (the inimitable Barbara Flynn) and her Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston (James Fox), England agrees that it cannot possibly send men or weapons, though it will send sympathies. And I was howling with laughter when Palmerston took time to carefully explain the complexities of the Schleswig Question (what about Holstein?!) with the exact story I mentioned last week.

The Constitution produces the desired effect: Prussia and the German Confederation declare war on Denmark. A chance to emulate the glories of 1848! Except that that’s really not going to happen, and we’re told this in no uncertain symbolic terms at the start of episode 4 when the Jensen brothers’ platoon sets off for War, singing jolly War songs, following their aged Captain on his horse, until he dies of old age in the street and the horse leads them all into a back courtyard.

Really though, the symbol runs jut ahead of the reality as the troops arrive at the great traditional impregnable fortress of the Danevirke, only to find it decrepit beyond belief, with no barracks. Oh, and their new Captain is Didrich. From there it can only get worse, and that doesn’t even happen until after the happy-go-lucky boys get to see what war is really like, with the unflinching eye of the camera ramming it all home to the audience in a totally matter of fact manner.

As I mentioned last week, Soren Malling joined the cast for this pair of episodes, as Private Johann Larssen, aka The Light Keeper. Why Larssen has this nickname is yet to be disclosed, but he’s already something of a legend, the oldest private in the Army (though he’s promoted to Colour Sergeant before the evening is over). Larssen is the Old Soldier, and I’m prepared to bet that his nickname comes form his ability to just just keep himself but his colleagues alive in war. Malling’s inner stillness and seen-it-all calm is perfectly enacted.

More next week. I am waiting  eagerly.

In Praise of Pratchett: The Light Fantastic


Every year, when I went on holiday, in those days before television in the rooms became standard, I would take away with me books to read in the quiet evenings after a day on the fells. In September 1986, I badly miscalculated my reading times and ran out in midweek.
It was late in the evening, I was in Keswick, the bookshops were closed and I was running round the newsagents/giftshops that were open until 8.00pm, desperate to buy something I could enjoy reading. But I was struggling to find something that appealed.
There was another Terry Pratchett book about, The Light Fantastic, a sequel to The Colour of Magic (literally so, the only Discworld book to follow directly on from its predecessor). I was dubious of it but the hour was getting late. It probably wouldn’t be much cop, but at least I knew I would be able to read it, and besides I could always sell it on. So, better than nothing.
I have never seen such an improvement in a writer in just the space of one book.
At the time, I only knew Pratchett from the Corgi paperback of half a year earlier. I hadn’t even noted the hardback publication date, so as far as I was concerned, the writer had made this quantum leap in the space of six months. I roared my head off reading The Light Fantastic, knowing that I’d have to re-buy the first book.
What made such a difference? I can make a few points now, but essentially it was down to my instinctive impression on that night’s reading, that in the intervening space, Terry Pratchett had sat down and thoroughly analysed his ‘first’ book, seen where it didn’t work and had set out to do it right this time.
That it had taken him three years to work it out, not six months, doesn’t lessen the impact.
The Light Fantastic was in every way a better book. For one thing, it was a single, coherent story that went several steps beyond The Colour of Magic in developing several narrative voices across a number of characters. Rincewind and Twoflower are hauled back from their fall off the Disc via a resetting of Reality, whereupon they become the target of any number of Wizards from Unseen University, who want the Great Spell back out of Rincewind’s head.
Which is particularly important because Great A’Tuin, the galaxy-sized Turtle, is gradually swimming out of the Discworld Universe’s space towards a single red star. And people are panicking more than somewhat.
But the book had gained more than a plot, it had gained an authorial voice. Pratchett now sounds like Pratchett. He is still nicking tropes from fantasy fiction, but instead of parodying other people’s works, he’s taking archetypal situations and using them in a basically straight manner, whilst undermining them via the responses of his characters. And his jokes sound like Pratchett.
The version of Unseen University we meet here is very rough-edged, and inherently unstable. Pratchett is still a long way from discovering that the most effective form of magic is the one you don’t do, and the Wizards of this Faculty are still overtly competitive. The entire Faculty, the eight Heads of Orders that Pratchett quickly learns he can do without, are wiped out, Archchancellor Galdor Weatherwax (hmm. Significant name, that) by the Luggage, the rest by Tymon, the ambitious but ultimately grey Deputy.
Tymon is actually the most significant figure in this book. He may be magically apt, but he’s the anti-Wizard, Organisation Man, determined on an efficiency that takes the passion, the satisfaction, the fun out of everything. Pratchett finds his true voice, the true purpose of his talent, in inveighing against him as the antithesis of what is needed to be properly human. He still has to learn to let that voice go, to let the anger within form the solid backbone of Discworld, but this is where it first shows.
The Light Fantastic also introduces us to Cohen the Barbarian. Whereas Hrun, in the first book, is a generic barbarian, distinguished only by his unusually small head, Cohen is a far greater conception, the barbarian who has been a legend so long that he’s grown old in his trade: eighty-seven, bald, toothless and a martyr to arthritis, but still unkillable. In the clash between him and Herenna, the Henna-Haired Harridan (visually a more sensible take-off of Marvel’s Red Sonja), there’s only one winner.
We also are privy to that moment, early in the book, where a ball of wild magic rises through the library, transforming the Librarian into, well, The Librarian. His response is, naturally, Oook.
Rincewind comes out of it seemingly on top, supervising the clean-up at Unseen University, in position to take over as Archchancellor. It was never going to be that way, and Pratchett may well have known that already, but since Rincewind wasn’t going to be used in the next book, it was a sentimental gesture at the time, a tidying-up. Sometimes, writers develop a sentimental attachment to their characters, almost as much as readers do. There’s a scene in a much later book where Pratchett demonstrates by how much he learned to know better.
In short, a vastly better book, and more importantly, one on which Pratchett could begin to build the towering edifice that will become Discworld. It’s less the architecture that we see taking shape, than the attitude of Discworld, that of a world in which a certain literalness will forever undermine the fantastic, putting it into its proper place.
My eyes were now wide open for the next book from Terry Pratchett.

Is that what it’s really about? The Who’s Pictures of Lily


This is an occasional series in which, inspired by their being played on Sounds of the Sixties, I pick apart the lyrics of a big Sixties hit record for the real meaning concealed behind the seemingly innocent lyrics.

This one’s a bit of a cheat. Hell, it’s a lot of a cheat, because we’re not here talking about something that, suddenly, strikes you as being not entirely what it seems on the surface, because ‘Pictures of  Lily’ has always been what it seems on the surface, and those lyrics have never been what you would call seemingly innocent.

Still, I’m sure it must have fooled some people at the time it came out, and it must have fooled the BBC – which has always been more than a bit naive when it comes to pop lyrics: how on Earth did ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ get through? – otherwise it would never have gotten on the air in the first place.

“I used to wake up in the morning/I used to feel so bad” sings Daltrey, introducing the topic in an initially innocuous fashion. “I got so sick of having sleepless nights” he complains. What ails the poor lad? Is he in need of Alka Seltzer to settle an upset stomach? Should he try a feather pillow in place of a flock? What can dear old Dad do to help his unfortunate child cope with this tricky attack of insomnia and, incidentally, just why are The Who singing a pop/rock song about insomnia in the first place?

But this is not a song about a medical disorder, although the world is pop is full of songs about lovestruck fellows unable to sleep because their baby don’t love them any more. No, wise old Pop immediately diagnoses both disease and cure. Dad sticks something on the wall, and sonny boy is instantly cured. Just what is this miraculous remedy? (No, it’s not Medicinal Compound).

They are, in fact, the titular Pictures of Lily. They make the lad’s life so wonderful, they help him sleep at night, they solve his childhood problems, and, best of all, they make him feel alright. And how do these undescribed photos perform this tremendous feat? They make his nights not “quite so lonely”.

Can you guess what it’s all about yet? Because if you can’t, you’re really not trying. I apologise for being so brutal about it but what Daddy has done to relieve his firstborn’s nocturnal deficiencies is to provide him with at least quasi-pornographic photos so that he can wank himself to sleep. Yes, that is what it’s really about.

Unfortunately, these pictures of Lily end up causing more problems than they, er, relieve, since the poor semen-splattered kid only goes and falls in love with this lust object. Still, he is not without ambition because, despite his youth, the lad wants to meet this fully grown, no doubt fully developed lady, and this is where Townsend pulls his nasty little switch, because Lily is no longer with us, indeed she’s actually been dead since 1929, that is, thirty-seven years before her pictures came in so handy.

Which leads us to the inevitable, although unwelcome speculation about just how the lad is going to fare if his sexual drive has been so fundamentally linked to the styles, tastes, body-shapes and furtive porn of the mid-Twenties, or even earlier. Even though this song seems to be a single-entendre schoolboy gag, instead it contains hidden psychosexual depths, and would appear instead to be a tragedy. We shouldn’t laugh. And we really shouldn’t wonder just what those pictures of Lily really looked like.

Homicide: Season 4 on the Street


Season 4 cast

Homicide: Life on the Street had now lived for three years in conditions of imminent cancellation and, despite the security of a full season order, two of its cast had had enough of the insecurity. Both Ned Beatty and Daniel Baldwin believed in their series, and Baldwin had spent a considerable amount of his own time and money in doing interviews, talk and radio shows, plugging Homicide everywhere. Both had now had enough of being at the mercy of a network that seemed to have no faith in the programme.
Beatty, who disliked the necessity of living in Baltimore for nine months of the year, was offered film and stage roles, the latter giving him the chance to return to his love of musical theatre. Baldwin too had offers of film roles. He had burned himself out fighting for the series, and wanted a change. Both actors left the series.
Homicide‘s response was to tie Felton and Bolander’s absence into a real-life event, an inter-series National Police Convention that had aroused national scandal over the rowdy and juvenile behaviour of the attendees. So Season 4 started with both detectives on 22 weeks unpaid suspension for their parts in the convention. The length of the seemingly arbitrary suspension exactly covered the full season, leaving the door open for either or both to return if they wished.
With Crosetti never having been replaced, this left the Homicide Division seriously undermanned and Gee anxious to recruit. The season-opening two-parter featured a redball over a series of deaths in fires. Pembleton and Bayliss work and clash with the cocky, abrasive arson Detective Mike Kellerman, who plays a big part in obtaining a confession from the culprit, prompting Gee to offer him a transfer to Homicide. After initially doubting himself, Kellerman, played by Juilliard trained Reed Diamond, accepts the transfer, and finds himself partnered with Lewis.
The season opener was yet another example of Homicide at its immeasurable best. The absence of Beau and the Big Man is dealt with up front, as is the pressure on the now seriously understaffed Division. The double-episode serves as a showcase for Kellerman, who clashes with Pembleton throughout over the widely differing interpretations the detectives bring to the death of a sixteen year old boy in a warehouse fire, but Kellerman demonstrates enough game from the very start that Gee is eager to bring him on board.
But the episodes, as any good series demands, are showcases for other issues. Howard has decided to study to take the Sergeant’s Exam and Munch, stung by this, and by the loss of his partner, follows suit. Naturally, the squadroom immediately takes the action on Kay’s side.
Lewis complains about having had to solo the longest: he will gain Kellerman, and their partnership will add a new undercurrent, alongside the continued relationship of Pembleton and Bayliss, which has its initial difficulties: Frank confides in his partner that Mary is pregnant, a secret that Bayliss immediately blabs everywhere, which does not go down well with Pembleton.
There was one more, less overt thing. The opening episode plainly showed that NBC had made further inroads into wearing down Homicide‘s originality. Reed Diamond, the new cast member, was plainly a very telegenic figure, fresh and clean-lined of face, young and fit, and if we didn’t immediately get that here was a sexy addition to the cast, there was the sexy young guest actress who called him over to her flat, not to give any further information about the fire, but to drop a red silk dragon robe to demonstrate that she was plainly naked beneath it (this not being The Wire, only Kellerman got the benefit of it).
And as for Captain Russert, here was Isabella Hofman wandering around the Homicide Department in a fetchingly pastel jacket and skirt combination, only instead of season 3’s near-ankle-length dresses, this skirt has crept a good four inches above the knee. It was the flaunting of a sexy blonde that NBC had wanted from the start, and now could be gratified by.
The series gained a recurring character early in the season in the form of freelance videograher J H Brodie, played by Max Perlich. Brodie inadvertently taped a killing, and lost his job when he disobeyed his Editor’s instructions not to hand the tape to the Police until it had been aired on the news. Though the squad in general, and Gee in particular, disliked the little man, he was taken on as Police videographer, to shoot crime scenes. Brodie proceeded to get on everyone’s wick, but to establish himself as part of the team, with a sense of ethics about his role that definitely conflicted with those of the more pragmatic Munch.

                                                                              Kellerman and Luther Mahoney
The compromises necessary to work with NBC’s demands showed themselves in the seventh episode, which featured a ‘thrill-killer’ (i.e. serial killer) working his way north into Baltimore where the Police work with the FBI to locate him, only for there to be a sting in the tail. It’s an excellent 40 minutes of TV drama, taut, atmospheric, foreboding, but it’s TV drama, conventional cop show material, a betrayal of everything Homicide was meant to be about.
And it was followed immediately by a two-parter about another serial killer, this time a Texas Corn Tower type sniper. Bayliss tracks him down, but is unable to talk him down: the killer shoots himself. And no sooner is the crisis over than a copycat appears.
Unfortunately, Homicide was still struggling to accommodate Russert, and this two-parter exemplified the problem. Though she’s done nothing wrong in her handling of the redball, Barnfather scapegoats Russert for the benefit of the media, demoting her to Lieutenant. When she protests, he demotes her back to Detective and wants her out of Homicide. Gee protects her, and Russert is central to getting a confession out of the copycat, but this double demotion was still awkward, and was again more a television plot than the naturalistic approach of Homicide.
Russert’s demotion from Captain should have resulted in Giardello being promoted, but once again he was passed over, because of his refusal to be a ‘political’ Police: this time, the Deputy Commissioner’s active interference was made explicit. Instead, the role went to Roger Gaffney: yes, the incompetent, lazy, racist detective forced out of Russert’s squad early in Season 3 was now put in charge of Homicide, and making it plain that power, in his hands, would not corrupt, since the slimey Gaffney arrived in that state.
Interestingly, the moment Russert is demoted, the short skirts vanish, to be replaced by wide-leg trousers.
But that troubling trio of episodes did not keep Homicide from following its own groove. Stories like the quirky ‘The Hat’, which netted Lily Tomlin an award as best Guest Star for her role as a chatterbox, opera-signing murderess traveling cross-country with Lewis and Kellerman, and the two-part ‘Justice’ with Bruce Campbell guesting as a cop whose father is murdered at random, and who does not receive justice from a jury who came to a verdict they didn’t believe in, just so as to be able to go home for the weekend, were as strong as any in earlier seasons, whilst Russert’s demotion back to Detective lent some welcome diversity to a show that had suddenly lost half its strength.
Losing Beatty and Baldwin had more impact than just losing two detectives. Two of the show’s four (or rather three-and-a half) partnerships were cut off. Lewis gained Kellerman to form a new partnership, but for the first half of the season, these and Pembleton/Bayliss were the only pairings, and Homicide suffered from the lack of other perspectives.
The two remaining partners, Munch and Howard, could have teamed up, but it was obvious that would never have worked. The decision to send Kay Howard in to seek a Sergeantship was an elegant one at the outset, but its effect, of separating her from her fellow detectives, of giving her a superior status that raised her above them whilst never remotely giving her any of Gee’s authority, would be fatal in the long run.
Munch, in contrast, was content to be something of a cypher, class clown and irritating with it. This was something that never bothered Richard Belzer, who went on record several times that he loved working on Homicide, and was happy to support such great actors and be part of such superb writing.
However, Russert’s demotion opened things up. She was partnered with Munch, immediately expanding the opportunities available to the show. Though you had to sympathise with Russert, Hoffman’s calm and phlegmatism about her fate stood her in good stead.
The most unhappy person during the second half of the season was Andre Braugher. In a show without stars, he was Homicide’s undoubted star, but he was beginning to get bored with his role. Pembleton in the box was the show’s standard trope, and the steadily growing run of successes for him and Bayliss were beginning to get repetitive.
Fontana recognised this and held discussions with Braugher about possible approaches to keep him fresh. A line was worked out, for Season 5, that intrigued Braugher, and the first hint towards this was dropped into ‘Stake-Out’. This was a superb episode in which the Squad stakes out a private house to await the return of a neighbour wanted to murdered. The entire show consists of various pairs of detectives sitting around and talking, embarrassedly observing the deteriorating relationship of the house-owners, and debating this and that. When the murderer arrives home, his capture takes all of five seconds: archetypal Homicide.
But season 4 had done what was asked of it: it had upped its ratings. Sufficiently so that NBC gave the show the biggest vote of confidence it ever received, an order for 44 episodes: two full series, in the bank, guaranteed.
It was this security that enabled Fontana to make Braugher the proposal he had, which was even more openly foreshadowed in an episode that featured a killing sadly similar to that of Adena Watson, so long ago, an episode that reminded us just how deeply scarred Bayliss was by that experience and an episode that would throw up deep differences between Pembleton and the partner he may well have accepted but whom he had never truly accepted.
Next up, Lewis and Kellerman found themselves handling a multiple drug-related homicide that, though officially solved, left the true villain untouched and untouchable. It was meant as a one-off, but in the scant minutes allowed to teflon Drug Lord Luther Mahoney, Eric Todd Nellums walked away with such commanding smoothness that the writers were determined to make more of it. What they made would underwrite those two series.

                                                                                            Crossover!
Before we get to its end, let’s also celebrate Homicide‘s first official crossover with fellow NBC series, Law & Order. The crossover began on Law & Order with Bayliss and Pembleton travelling to New York to investigate a subway explosion with ties to a similar explosion at a Baltimore Church, with the more procedural series’ Lennie Briscoe, Rey Curtis and Claire Kincaid returning the favour on Homicide. I’ve not seen the first half of the crossover, but the second is a dream if only for the interplay between Munch and Briscoe, especially after John discovers that Lennie has slept with his ex-wife Gwen!
Incidentally, it’s amusing to record that the White Supremacist responsible, who crushes Pembleton by dying of a heart attack before trial, is played by J. K. Simmons, who would go on to become a Law & Order regular as a psychologist.
As the season’s end drew near, there were some great moments. Lewis announced his marriage at shift-end, provoking a great stir among his colleagues as he tries to get everything set up, with Munch at his irritatingly sceptical worst convinced, even after the mystery bride has appeared and the knot been tied, that it’s some colossal and impossibly convoluted practical joke on all of us. Meanwhile, Melissa Leo has great fun appearing as her bubbly, fun-loving sister Carrie, all the way from Italy, for which she masqueraded as actress ‘Margaret May’.
An episode dominated by racial tensions also saw Russert take the decision to press charges through Internal Affairs, against Patrolman Stuart Gharty (played by Peter Gerety) for dereliction of duty. Gharty, a 54 year old, overweight cop with an otherwise clean record, had simply lost it for the street. His refusal to intervene in a shooting incident led to two deaths, both young men, one of which might have been preventable. But since they were drug-dealers, no-one, least of all Gharty, who was reprieved, really cared. Set against the private justice being employed by Black Muslims, it made for a complex episode, lightened only by Munch’s crowing over the return of the silent Stanley Bolander, and his puppy dog disappointment that the Big Man will not call at the Waterfront for a beer.
Whatever else Season 4 had done, with its compromises amongst its efforts to stick to its own straight and narrow, it was secure for a further two years. So it was able to end in spectacular fashion, with a cliff-hanger. In the middle of an interrogation, Penbleton collapses in the Box, holding his head, screaming and spasming. By the end of the episode it is established that he has suffered a stroke: will his brilliant mind survive?

Dan Dare: Terra Nova Part 2


                                                                                          A bit different…

The truth was, there wasn’t that much that was radically different about Frank Bellamy’s first Dan Dare page, on the cover of Eagle Volume 10 no 28. But then again we were not privy to Bellamy’s original art which, legendarily, featured a close-up on Dan which was not recognisable as the Pilot of the Future. To Bellamy’s (private) mortification, Don Harley was brought in to redraw Dan’s face for consistency – a move that distinctly pre-dates the similar treatment handed out to Jack Kirby when he first drew Superman.
Artistically, the remainder of Terra Nova is something of a mish-mash. Bellamy clearly decided not to launch immediately into wholesale artistic changes, but to tone his naturally dynamic style down in the first few weeks, so as not to rattle the audience. And there was also the matter of Harley/Watson’s page. It’s no disrespect to either man to say that they couldn’t draw like Frank Bellamy, but they were also steeped in Frank Hampson’s style and there was a contrast.
Nor was Bellamy favoured by the point of the story where he took over, which was not conducive to dramatic action and exciting perspectives – and he was frustrated from making the major changes Odhams wanted by being in the middle of an ongoing story, millions of miles from Earth: there could be no abrupt changes in uniform or spaceship design for a long time.
Whilst I’m by no means qualified as an art critic, the fundamental differences between Messrs Hampson and Bellamy that I see can be broken down thus: Stylism vs Realism, Interpretative vs Dramatic art, Line vs Dot.
The first of these is in some respects a false dichotomy. Hampson strove at all times for realistic, convincing art, art that depicted the fantastic in such depth that it would be automatically accepted as real, as Truthful. Three of the characters appearing in Terra Nova were based directly upon real people, Robert Hampson, Peter Hampson and Greta Tomlinson. But neither Dan nor Digby had been based in any comparable degree on models. To that extent, they were abstractions, stylised figures, still reflecting a touch of the symbolic: Dan’s long face, lantern jaw and his eyebrow quirk, Digby’s rotundity, his quiff and those decidedly cartoon eyes. They were stylisms designed by Hampson to facilitate the instant recognisability of characters who would be spending large periods of time in generally identikit spacesuits: think of Hank Hogan’s glasses, Pierre Lafayette’s moustaches.
Bellamy, in contrast, was always far more of a photorealist in his approach. He’d cut his teeth at Eagle on real-life histories and he’d been entrusted with drawing Winston Churchill – Churchill, the Greatest Living Englishman, as the period saw him – and that was down to the realism inherent in every brush-stroke. Physically, Dan and Digby become ‘real’ figures in a way very different to that established by Hampson. The underlying cartoon is stripped out. Digby’s eyes develop irises and pupils. Dan’s eyebrows start to look improbable, freakish. And there’s a close-up panel of Jocelyn Peabody that would make you start to think a bit differently about Greta Tomlinson.
No wonder Don Harley had to re-draw that first panel.
The second difference is easier to define. Hampson, from the first, was concerned with what he called the ‘pictorial sub-plot’. This was the second reading, where the boy, having satisfied himself as to the latest development of the plot, would return to study each panel, to read himself into those panels, to ‘walk around’ the consistent, convincing, strange-yet-understandable world in which Dan & Co existed.
Bellamy simply didn’t think that way. His images were concerned with immediacy, with the exiting effect each instant had, not with any longer term attempt to convince people that here was a real, alien world that had functioned before Dan & Co came to this spot, and which would continue to function thereafter. All that mattered was this instant.
Hampson focussed on showing his readers exactly what happened, in imaging an entire world into being for them. Bellamy thrilled them, made them gasp in awe, scared them, but did not even attempt to address what kind of world lay behind the image.
The third difference is a purely artistic distinction. Both Hampson and Bellamy pursued realistic art in terms of the panels they drew. But for Hampson, detail, shade, contrast, these were all achieved by consistent line-work. Short, straight lines, hatching, meticulously laid into place. This detail of work is what so consistently set Hampson’s work apart from his assistants. But it sets it apart from Bellamy, because the latter’s artistic style was built around a form of pointillism. Bellamy used dots as opposed to lines, intense and detailed and as distinctive as Hampson, but also better suited to his dynamism, since pointillism was always associated with the Impressionist approach. It can be much more conducive to impressing an image, where hatching imposes a greater solidity. It’s a fluid approach, and one that, in Bellamy’s hands, was glorious to read.
But it did not help Harley/Watson one little bit in producing work that would complement Bellamy as opposed to jar wildly against his look. And, once Bellamy had relaxed into his own style of lay-out, the intensity and photorealism of his best work, the contrast with the other page is indeed jarring. Which could not be anything but bad for the story.

                                                                                              Oh wow…

Ah, the story. The poor story. Terra Nova‘s back was broken when Frank Hampson left. The grand story cycle was dead in the water. Alan Stranks was no longer there to guide the story as he had done for the past half-decade, half Dan Dare’s life. To replace him, Eric Eden returned once more, this time as scripter. His brief was obviously to get this thing over with as soon as he could (though that would take six months and another story before he could do that: Odhams may well have fumed at the delay but they would not take it out on Eden, who would script the series for another two years after that).
I’ll have more to say about Eden in later posts. He came in on a hiding to nothing and I won’t blame him for what follows. Dan, Dig and Sir Hubert are taken to the Novad city, in the jungle, on an isolated peak, where they discover that Captain Dare not only passed that way but stayed many years, naming the city Pax (latin for Peace), helping the villagers and even teaching one perfect English that he recalls on the spot despite having not practiced speaking it for ten years.
That’s right, Dan’s Dad stayed for what must have logically been twenty years and then moved on, across the ocean, about ten years ago, in search of other Novad civilisations with scientific achievements that might get him back home to his son. So basically he sat around for twenty years before starting to work on a return?
(And we’ve still not considered the point that, in the thirty years Captain Dare has gone, his son – and all his friends around him – have had ten years taken out of their lives courtesy of suspended animation, so is that thirty years real or subjective? Has Captain Dare been away for forty years?).
That established, Terra Nova relapses. The Novads are continually threatened by the Nagrebs: not another tribe but a colony of giant ants (and people thought Stranks prone to cliché). Flamer, Lex and the Prof come planet-side in search of their friends and are attacked by the Nagrebs. Dan goes off to rescue Lex and Peabody, then uses Anastasia to bomb the living shit out of the ant’s nest: bye bye menace.
All of which may have been based upon Stranks’ original synopsis for this part of the cycle but somehow I can’t see Hampson tolerating such a dull idea for anything greater than an Annual.
Terra Nova ends with Dan still in pursuit of his father, and having Digby and Lex detached to assist him. Sir Hubert stays behind to help McHoo map the heavens on the Galactic Galleon, the Professor and Cadet Spry to help improve the biochemistry of the food available to the Novads of Pax.
Take a long look at Jocelyn and Flamer for this is their departure point. From here, they are declared redundant to the Dan Dare series. There are more adventures to come for other’s of Dan’s supporting cast, even in the fast-approaching Sixties when Keith Watson would be the Dan Dare artist, fighting at all turns to reflect and restore the glory days.
There is literally one last appearance for them at the wrap-up of this cycle. Each will appear in a glorious montage panel that features literally everyone of any importance to the series, in 1964. The ‘ultimate’ fates of everyone bar Flamer will be revealed a year after, and at the very end they will gather on a stage to celebrate the end of the series.
But this is where they leave, quietly, unwanted by Eagle‘s new masters. Despite my reservations about the Astral College Junior Cadet, it is sad to see them go.

Dan Dare: What Happened between Volume 10 nos. 27 and 28


                                                                                            A superb book

According to Alastair Crompton in The Man Who Drew Tomorrow (which I still prefer to Tomorrow Revisited, though the latter is a more accurate volume), the downfall of Eagle and Frank Hampson began a long way away, in unrelated circumstances in Russia.
Magazine and periodical publication in Fleet Street was dominated by five houses at the start of 1958, of which Hulton Press was one. On the cryptic instructions of Mirror Group proprietor, Cecil King, Editorial Director Hugh Cudlipp approached the Berry family, who were on the spot, to buy out their controlling interest in Amalgamated Publishing, the largest of these houses.
The Berrys sold, thus changing the balance in Fleet Street publishing. Third place Odhams Press, anxious about their position, decided to fight back by going down the takeover route: their target was Hulton.
Only a short time before, it might have seen unthinkable. But Hultons had gone into a sharp decline, their magazine section losing sales across the board, only its comics division, headed by Marcus Morris, centred upon Eagle and its three red-top stable-mates, Girl, Swift and Robin showing consistent profits.
What had gone wrong? Sir Edward Hulton blamed it on television, on ITV’s arrival in 1956 to start an absorbing rivalry with the BBC that drew everybody away from magazines. His legendary Picture Post editor, Tom Hopkinson (the man who’d looked at Hampson’s home-created three dummy issues of Dragon and advised Hultons to sing up everyone involved and set them to work) argued it was bad editorial direction.
Either way, Sir Edward Hulton took the money, and Odhams Press took over Eagle.
They made it plain that they wanted changes, and moreover economies, and the first place where that should – and would – come from was Frank Hampson’s studio. It was large, it was expensive and no other artist needed anything that looked remotely like it. The fact that it produced Eagle‘s foremost series, and had done so for almost a decade, cut no ice with them.
Looked upon in retrospect, what happened was inevitable for so many reasons. Firstly, there was the sheer expense and, it has to be admitted, improbability of Hampson’s studio. Other artists didn’t need a fleet of assistants, nor reams of reference material to draw for Eagle, so why should Hampson be indulged? Especially, and we already know this to be a powerful motive, as more money was going into the Hampson studio every week than was going to the executives who ran Odhams.
It is a universal peculiarity of the Comics Industry in Britain and America that management just cannot understand the role of the artist and writer in creating a commercially successful product. It’s a blindness that can only stem from a massive sense of internalised inferiority, a jealousy of the presence of imagination in creative people, and a need to denigrate what they produce as being fanciful and unreliable, as opposed to the executive’s consistency and ‘practicality’. Like the Hulton Board in early 1957, when Frank Hampson had tendered his short-lived resignation, they genuinely could not see what made Dan Dare the success it was, and genuinely thought it could be done to the same effect by someone cheaper.
And this effect was exacerbated by Odhams status as ‘professional’ comics publishers. Hulton had had no comics division before the Reverend Marcus Morris turned up with Frank Hampson’s dummies, and neither Morris nor Hampson had any presence in the industry before coming out of nowhere. They were amateurs in Odhams’ eyes, and a decade of success was no corrective to that belief: Morris and Hampson had been lucky.
And they’d achieved this ‘lucky’ success by going against all the ‘correct’ ways to publish comics. Now Odhams were going to come in to show them how to do it right. Anyway, Eagle was dull and unconvincing, and Dan Dare was cardboard, and it was a good job they were there to save the day, before the kids spotted it for themselves (Morris and Hampson had been getting away with it to the tune of 750,000 copies a week for nine years, the readers were bound to twig any day now).
All of which is supplementary to the normal, human instinct to meddle, to change for the sake of change. After all, what point is there, and what use are you, if on taking over a successful venture, you don’t put your own stamp on it? Let it run as it was, and why are you there in the first place?

                                                                                        Let us now forget…

Frank Hampson had always run up against Hulton Press’s lack of ambition when it came to the ways that Dan Dare could have been exploited, both artistically and commercially. In this last year, believing that Eagle was secure in Hulton’s hands, Morris had agreed a number of points that would go some way to addressing Hampson’s concerns, chief amongst these three months paid leave, including a paid-for two month trip to America, to meet with his contemporaries and discuss approaches to that American market.
But these were not in writing, and they were the first things dispensed with by Odhams, who made it plain that they would not tolerate such things in the slightest. Not only Hampson suffered in that respect: Morris’s unlimited expense account vanished as well!
The Reverend would be alright. Within a few weeks of the takeover, already aware that he was not going to be left alone to edit his stable as he had been, Marcus Morris received and accepted another publishing post, one far more to his tastes, and one which would see him rise to the very top of publishing before taken a well-earned, highly-respected retirement.
Hampson still believed in the future of Dan Dare, but found Odhams no more receptive than Hultons had been before them. Change had been demanded of him, and he had lost his one great ally. Safari in Space had gone well, Terra Nova showed signs of continuing the high quality of his work. By dint of his ability, he might be able to hold off interference for some time, though it would mean stress and argument and even less time for his work.
But Odhams were less blind to the possibility of expansion than they seemed. Hultons had licensed Dan Dare to the hilt, and Odhams were very willing to let this continue, especially when they were approached for an option to turn the Pilot of the Future into a film. They signed away the rights and took the money, and said not a word to Frank Hampson. Who found out.
It was a devastating blow. Here was Dan Dare, Hampson’s creation, Britain’s most popular comic book hero, that he had tried, for exhausting years, to expand in so many different ways., and suddenly, in a back-handed manner, he learned that his employers had sold the right to one of those proposals to other people. There would be no money in it for him, no recognition for what he had done, but worst of all there would be no part for him to play.
The avenue of film had been cut off, and Frank Hampson would be barred from helping to shape what appeared. The Licensees could do what they liked with his creation and he could not stop it. They could twist it round in any respect they wanted to, make Peabody a sexy blonde with a cleavage, make the Mekon a muscleman or give Digby a Cockney accent, they could fix these ideas in the public mind, supplant the reality of Dan and his Universe, and he was powerless to stop it.
There is another factor that has not, to my knowledge, previously been put forward as contributory to this situation, and I have no knowledge as to whether or not this played the slightest part in Hampson’s thinking, but it was contemporaneous to this time and should be mentioned here, and this was the death of Alan Stranks, of a heart attack whilst holidaying in Spain, on June 18.
Though Hampson had always had the final say, and he had exercised that say numerous times in creating each week’s continuity, Stranks had been Dan Dare’s writer for the past half-decade: experienced, professional, reliable, Hampson’s longest lasting collaborator on that front. His death occurred just two days before the final issue of Eagle to see print before the printer’s strike and he would certainly have written those two in-house episodes that would represent Frank Hampson’s final pages.
I have no idea how Stranks’ death places in the chronology of those days, and it is pure speculation to wonder if his collaborator’s death, and the prospect of getting a new scripter imposed on him by Odhams affected his decision but, battered and bruised from his experiences, Hampson took the decision that if he could not control Dan Dare, he would rather have nothing to do with the character, he would resign completely from the series.
Odhams were fortunate that this took place during a hiatus in which Eagle was not appearing: they were not required to come up with a completely new creative team at the snap of a finger. The simple answer, the obvious and just one given that he was officially “the second best Dan Dare artist in the World” was Don Harley, but Don didn’t get the job. Hampson was consulted on the issue of his successor and, surprisingly, was in accord with Odhams’ wish that a new artist be cast.
Odhams were looking for changes and this was their golden opportunity. They wanted someone from the outside, not trained by Hampson, not steeped in the traditions of the series, who would make those changes freely and without argument. Harley would have resisted change, or at least Odhams expected him to do so, so he was out, though not completely. And Hampson? A little vaingloriously but, in the context of his experiences, completely understandably, if he was leaving, he wanted to be seen as having left, and Don Harley, his artistic shadow, would not make the visual difference that would emphasize that Dan Dare was no longer under his creator’s hands.
The choice fell on Northampton’s Frank Bellamy, perhaps the only choice that could have been made. Bellamy was an Eagle veteran, and before that a regular on the comic’s younger brother, Swift. His dynamic, hyper-realistic art, his mastery of colour, the sheer energy that poured out of his pages made him the only possible choice. He had specialised in real-life biographies, Eagle‘s back page, and he was the first Eagle artist to be anthologised when his 56 part The Happy Warrior, the career of Winston Churchill, was collected in a special edition.
But the influence of Frank Hampson could not be cast off that easily. Hampson’s maxim as Art Director of Eagle still held: no artist should be required to draw more that one page of colour art per week. Bellamy accepted a contract to draw Dan Dare for a year, with a promise that he would get to draw a strip based in Africa (his lifelong obsession) at the end of it. But he should not draw both pages every week.
For the other page, it was decided that a semblance of Hampson’s studio should be retained, Don Harley and Keith Watson. The reference materials were broken up and destroyed except what Harley and Watson could carry away with them on one trip. And their ‘studio’ was to be a disused canteen in Odhams’ main building.
Despite his professional obligation to giving the client what they want, Bellamy was unhappy about changing the look of Dan Dare, about trampling on a colleague’s work. Nor did he see the need for assistants. This was nothing personal: the three artists met once a week to hand in their two pages, receive and parcel out the next script and retire to the pub for a welcome conversation. Bellamy, as the senior artist, got to dole out the pages as he saw fit. Pages that introduced new characters were his responsibility, and sometimes he’d draw both pages himself, to be balanced out by a pair of pages from the assistants.
Watson didn’t last long. Sick and disgusted at what was being done to Dan Dare, he wrote to Hampson asking him to use his influence to get something done about it. But Hampson had neither influence nor the desire to use it if he had. Watson went to new editor Clifford Makins and tendered his resignation, only to be told that it was a good job as he would have been fired shortly, anyway.
Keith Watson doesn’t disappear from Dan Dare‘s story, unlike Harold Johns and Greta Tomlinson. Ironically enough, he was replaced by Bruce Cornwell, yet again, who undertook the technical art behind Don Harley’s figure work. And, to replace Alan Stranks, Eric Eden returned again – the only period he and Cornwell worked together instead of as alternatives! – taking over writing the strip.
So it’s now time to go back to Terra Nova, where Dan Dare, Digby and Sir Hubert have been kept in suspense, captured by a primitive tribe of Novad natives, and see what happens next…