Well, that was a weird little experience. With the main cast squeezed into inessential cameos at the beginning and the end, this episode played like a backdoor pilot for another spin-off series: Star Trek – Babies.
The set-up is simple: Nog’s on a diplomatic mission to deliver a McGuffin (a secret message for the Grand Negus), with Jake along for the ride but not-so-secretly out for an interview. They bump into a fleet of six Jem’Hadar ships, one of which breaks formation to blast them into atoms, but are saved by the fortuitous appearance of the Valiant, a Defiant-class ship, which teleports then (but not the McGuffin) aboard before destroying the Jem’Hadar ship.
The sting is that the ship’s crew consists solely of cadets, albeit Red Squad cadets, i.e., the best of the best. There were sent on a training mission, to circumnavigate the Federation – this is what you get for trying to betray it, in season 4 – only to get into a fight that kills all the Commissioned staff. Just before he died, Captain Ramirez promoted Cadet Watters to Captain, and Watters has promoted other cadets in that wake.
Like I said, Star Trek: Babies. The cadets appear to be a fully functional crew, loyal, strong, adept. ‘Captain’ Watters certainly seems to be the epitome of a Starfleet Captain, confident, decisive, fully-prepared. He takes advantage of the new arrivals to promote Nog to Lt. Commander, make him Chief Engineer, and appoint him Red Squad.
Nog wavers, but only for a moment. His common sense tells him he isn’t ready, but his ambition, and his Ferengi-ness overrule him. Nog buys wholly into the fantasy of Watters, and his principal lieutenants, “Commander” Farris and “Chief” Collins, and Watters’ determination to fulfil the Valiant‘s last chosen mission, to track and scan a new Jem’Hadar battleship.
Not so Jake. Jake’s there to see things from the outside. He sees how crazy it is. These are cadets, not fully-trained Starfleet officers, by definition unfinished. True, they’re performing to a high level, but these are cadets who’ve been operating behind enemy lines for eight months, without proper command, and without the experience that brings inner resources. Watters may be in full command and looking like a future Kirk or Picard, but he’s not sleeping at night and he’s popping pills like a parka-clad Mod to stay awake. Farris is turning into a paranoid fanatic. Collins breaks down after only a minute’s talking about her home on the Moon. This is not a healthy ship, and Nog’s rapidly turning into one of them.
With Nog’s assistance, the mission is completed. They can all go home. But instead, Watters, who has bought too deeply into being a Starfleet Captain, and into the self-taught myth that Red Squad can do everything, commits the crew to destroying the Jem’Hadar ship. It will be their glory day, it will go down in history.
Only Jake, who is seeing things from a different perspective, demurs. It’s crazy. His Dad wouldn’t attempt this in the Defiant with a full crew and if Captain Benjamin Sisko couldn’t get away with it, nobody could. So he gets slung in the brig, to prevent his defeatism affecting the crew. Oh yes, we’re starting to see the shape of it,aren’t we?
The plan is a rip-off of Star Wars and Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing firing a bomb down a garbage chute or whatever it was. The Valiant takes heavy punishment. Crew are being killed. But the Delta radiation torpedoes hit their mark, the plan succeeds, the mission is fulfilled, all hail Red Squad, see, told you I could do it, ner ner, ner ner, ner.
Only the Jem’Hadar ship doesn’t blow up. They hit Watters’ target but it didn’t do the damage he expected. Watters orders everyone back in, even though it’s now obvious to anyone not sucked up into their own myth of invincibility that there’s not a hope in Hell of achieving anything but everyone getting killed. And the next hit does for him. Farris wants to obey orders but she’s killed too. Suddenly, Nog in senior officer, but he’s snapped out of it and orders Abandon Ship. Only one escape pod escapes, to be picked up by the Defiant. The only survivors are Jake, Nog and Collins.
The episode ends on a sombre debate over how Jake will write this up. Collins maintains that Watters was a great man, and that he didn’t fail, the crew let him down. Nog wants the ship honoured, the crew seen as they were: good, very good, loyal and of the highest quality, a true loss. But he’s seen through the miasma of arrogance and overweening ambition. The truth was, as he tells Collins, that Watters may have been a hero and a great man. But he was a bad Captain.
And Nog hands back to her his Red Squad insignia.
It’s a powerful ending. And I’m indebted to Memory Alpha for telling me that this is more or less the identical plot to the first J.J. Abrams film, except that DS9 is considerably more realistic in having the cadet’s plan fail. Fitting, of course, because DS9 was and is conspicuously better for its darkness, even if that darkness sometimes is only a shade of grey.
It’s nevertheless a bubble story, as opposed to a bottle story. Then again, looking at the outline of the next episode, I might be better off watching this one again. At least it was very well made, and very pertinent.
One of the things I love about pop is that from time to time and far more often than it ought to in a properly ordered Universe, the pursuit of pure commerce results in the creation of great art. Not High Art, save in exceptional circumstances, but of Art nevertheless.
Some of you, having already registered which song I’m writing about, will be looking at me in bewilderment, and a possibly larger fraction of you will have signs of disgust on your face. How can I possibly describe the ultimate bubblegum pop record, a song so light and fluffy that it’s singers and players were a bunch of animation cels, moving in a very limited fashion, as art of any kind, even with a small ‘a’?
But ‘Sugar Sugar’ is a gem, a pure pop gem, and for once one recognised more clearly in this country, where it was number 1 for eight weeks, than in its parent land, where it only topped the Billboard chart for four weeks.
Never forget that there is an art to pop, as well as a craft. The Archies existed because Don Kirshner got fed up dealing with the Monkees who, being human beings and musicians themselves in their respective fashions, had opinions of their own about the music they wanted to be represented by. Cartoons don’t refuse to record tracks, especially not the wholeseome Archies, smalltown boys and girls next door.
And The Archies’ records are perfect bubblegum, simple, expressive, bright and clear. They offer melodies, and tunes and choruses that insert themselves into your head and have you humming them, often unconsciously.
No-one realised just how good ‘Sugar Sugar’ was. It was tucked away on side two of an album, track four. But it’s bounce, its quasi-electronic pulse and its danceable rhythm made it the epitome of this simplistic, but tuneful strand of pop, and a herald for danceable music to come.
The lyrics are, like all true bubblegum, simple to the point of simplistic, even infantile. And why not? Love cannot only be expressed in subtle, carefully-composed lines. Lyrics are an important part of songs – without them, they become instrumentals, which are a whole different barrel of monkeys – but they’re not the whole thing and they rarely ought to be the most important thing. The best songs are a balance, or even an opposition between words and music, and there should be a place, and not a despised place, for that unlearned explosion of love, the one you don’t have the words for yet, but which still makes you want to sing about it. Sugar, ah honey honey, you are my Candy girl. And you got me wanting you.
Besides, this is the Sixties, that decade that mastered the simple surface beneath which are the things you might not wanna talk about in front of your mother. Just what is this Sugar that Ron Dante and his backing singers is going on about. Pour a little sugar on me honey, he’s asking. Pour a little sugar on it baby. And she promises she’s going to make his life so sweet.
Well, that’s up to you to decide. The music doesn’t push the issue either way. It’s straight down the middle cute and bouncy, it’s the girl in the centre of the dancefloor, bouncing up and down in her mini-skirt, aware that everyone is looking at her but not giving any indication that she’s noticed.
Weirdly, when this was slowly descending the Top 30, into January 1970, ‘Tracey’ by The Cufflinks, another piece of bubblegum, was heading for the Top 10. I was a musical simpleton, still learning everything, but at that time I actually recognised, without knowing, that Ron Dante was singing both. And even though ‘Tracey’ is pure bubblegum too, it’s words are more complex, more overt, it’s world is wider. It is, if you need to define such things, a better song. And just as bountiful and commercial.
But ‘Sugar Sugar’ is the more deeply felt music, precisely because of its shallowness. It’s one-molecule-thin, and it says everything we are capable of saying when we’re one-molecule-thin. Ah, honey honey. And we bounce up and down to that rhythm again, the rhythm we’re going to find out about one day soon. Not today. But soon, oh yes, soon.
As always, there seemed to be considerably more than an hour of story in this hour of television, and much happened. And already, the show is delighting in setting up an array of questions, some of which appear to be red herrings. Such as the guy who appeared out of nowhere last week to clonk Richard Twin over the bonce? Nothing to do with Red October, who deny murdering Margrethe Thormod, but rather the jealous boyfriend of the girl who slept with Patrik Twin under the mistaken impression he was Richard.
Or the mysterious, distant, gated community to which Frank takes Sofie and Cristoffer. It’s creepy as hell and the old woman with the long white hair who owns/leads it doesn’t like having her decisions questioned but it’s a place for idealism: be good people, be the best you can be.
Or is it? The problem with red herrings is that sometimes they’re not red at all, it’s down to how you look at them.
Take the open. A young girl, Ida, walks slowly through a busy area before suddenly collapsing. Whilst concerned shoppers gather round, a slightly older girl, Julia, picks pockets. The girls live on the street. They didn’t seem to have anything to do with anything, except that one of the phones they steal turns ooutto be connected directly to the Thormod case.
How many of you, like me, took one look at the girls, assessed their age, and thought, Henrik’s daughters?
Their ages are right. So is their respective hair colours and curliness/straightness when you see the little girls of Henrik’s visions, eight years younger. So, are they Henrik’s missing daughters? Or are we merely meant to think that?
Ah, Henrik. I mean, Sofia Helin gets all the plaudits for her performance as Saga, and doesn’t she just deserve them? But Thure Linhardt, especially on the evidence of this episode, is every bit as important to this series as she is. In The Bridge 3, he sometimes came over as a bit of a pretty boy, but there’s none of that here. Both actors are creating miracles of subtlety by the most minor of facial expressions.
Anyway, let’s get to the facts. Beyond a mention that Saga was lucky, last week’s cliffhanger is swept aside in the most perfunctory of manners. After a brief spell in hospital, she’s up and at them, back to work, re-admitted by Linn the Troll even if her gun practice isn’t up to her usual levels. There’s a moment, during that, when Saga raises the gun, that her eyes betray complete panic.
And she’s back to business, assigned to the Thormod case and immediately hitting the ground like the Saga of old. Her old clothes – the white t-shirts, the leather trousers, the long green coat, the Porsche – are re-adopted like a uniform, and she and Henrik immediately reform their partnership. Which seriously puts the nose out of joint for Jonas, who is still assigned to the case, but who is now relegated to doing no more than be let behind to grow disgruntled. And whilst he’s still an unreconstructed bugger, the glory of the show is that he has every right to be pissed off: he is being treated badly.
Saga’s temporarily staying with Henrik. After an exhausting screw, she can’t sleep, so she gets out the file for Alice Sabroe and her missing daughters and, being Saga and, more importantly, a woman, starts to get some information out of Alice’s old female friends, who’ll tell her what they didn’t tell Henrik: that Alice was unhappy, he was too much the policeman, she talked to someone (male) at work…
There are developments. Taariq the deportee saves the two girls from being attacked outside the restaurant where he washes dishes. They give him a mobile as thanks. He’s shopped by the bastard of the restaurant owner (anything to get out of paying a week’s minimum wage). He explains that Margrethe disagreed with the decision to deport him, offered to help smuggle him away, but she was interrupted by an urgent, worrying call. From the phone that the girls gave him, which has a tracking app on it, for Thormod’s phone.
Now that’s one implausible coincidence and I have to fault the show for that, even as the overall quality mandates me to forgive it. It leads to a hunt for thegirls, who decide to relocate to Malmo.
Meanwhile, Saga and Henrik question Niels Thormod about this new development, but he knows nothing. Except that, after they leave, he phones someone to assure them the Police know nothing, and the plan will proceed. And at the end he collects a secret delivery of police photos of his dead wife…
Oh, and Patrik and Richard Twins? Patrik is a hospital clown, entertaining sick children, except he bursts into the room of one girl who’s terrified of clowns. Accident, of course. Except that he knew to avoid her. At night, he savours the outside heated jacuzzi until distracted by a mysterious, darkened trespasser, who refuses to leave. He has a flashing red dot on him. But when Patrik grabs the rails to get out of the jacuzzi, they are electrified…
That’s the second murder. Everyone assumes it was planned for Richard, who is distraught. Mistaken identity. The Swedish Police place him in protective custody, under guard in a hotel. But when Henrik and Saga go to question hiiim, the guard’s gone. And so’s Richard.
Ah, Saga. Saga is back, as she always was. Except that she’s not right. Spilled paperclips give her a flashback of last series’ killer gouging his arm with a paperclip to open a vein. She’s going off into short fugues. And on the Bridge, behind the wheel, she has a sustained panic attack. Something’s not right. Something’s very much not right. Somewhere in all this tangle, of angles and leads and red herrings and lives that seem to interconnect, there is an answer. Like Henrik, hearing what Alice thought about their marriage, I think we are very much not going to like it.
I don’t usually tend to watch films based on books I know, partly because the kind of books I like very rarely get adapted to film, but more often because I find it very hard to sink into the film and enjoy it for itself because a distinct part of me is continually assessing the mechanics of the adaptation: what’s left out, what’s been compressed, how they handled that scene, aaahh, how they dealt with that bit: no, didn’t like that at all.
As you’ll already be aware, I’ve been a long-term follower of Christopher Priest’s work (curious irony: an Amazon pre-order for his newest novel was in my in-box when I logged on today, before watching this film again) and it took me a long time to test what everyone, including Priest himself, had said, namely that this was good, indeed very good.
Re-watching it this morning, after a long break, I found myself oblivious to how the film is structured to adapt the novel, and more concerned to read how many clues there are to the essential mysteries of the film, which of course I knew from knowing the book.
What The Prestige is about is the rivalry between two late-Nineteenth Century stage magicians, Robert Angier (The Great Danton) (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (The Professor – Le Professeur de la Magie in the novel) (Christian Bale). It focuses on their enmity: Borden is responsible for Angier’s wife’s death on stage, is the better magician to Angier’s superior stagemanship, both try to sabotage each other’s acts, spy on each other, etc. Primarily it centres on one trick, The Transported Man, by which each magician disappears in one place and reappears in another almost instantly.
Borden invents it, Angier tries to duplicate it. Each has their own method but it’s not enough to have their own successful act, each has to know the other’s secret.
Director Christopher Nolan, working with a script adapted by his brother Jonathan, takes an achronological approach to the story, working within a frame-story that deals with the aftermath, in which the meat of events is presented as at least two series of flashbacks, and these are not themselves wholly chronological. We begin with a shot of a field full of identical black top hats, which is crucial to one strand of the plot but whose significance is not understood until much later.
Then we find Borden on trial for the murder of Angier, who, as part of the trick, falls through a trapdoor into a locked cabinet of water, where he drowns.
Then we watch John Cutter, Angier’s ingenieur or stage engineer (a lovely, warm performance by Michael Caine) demonstrate a fairly basic magic trick to a little girl, setting up the concept of the three parts of a magic trick: the Pledge, the Turn and the Prestige, a three-act structure that the Nolans apply to the screenplay.
I’m undecided as to how much of the film’s secrets or revelations to discuss here. I mean, the novel’s been available since 1995 and the film appeared in 2006, so it’s not like I’m risking significant spoilers, but on the other hand the film does tie itself into quite complex knots to preserve its mysteries to very nearly the end, and I feel under a certain obligation to give in to its obsession. For spoilers, read this.
So, knowing in advance what revelations await, how does the film work? Quite simply, superbly. The film incarnates the period, and Bale and Jackman in their contrasting roles are both outstanding and utterly convincing. The supporting cast are also excellent: Rebecca Hall in the rather understated role of Borden’s wife, Sarah and Scarlett Johansen in the more obvious part of Olivia, mistress and assistant too both Angier and Borden are equally natural, and their duality is, for those aware of the true situation, a vital key to one of the revelations.
Indeed, duality (as opposed to Priestian Unreality) is a key element in The Prestige. Though the film avoids those parts of the book where the same events are described in differing ways according to which magician is seeing them, its objective approach is wrapped up in duplicated experiences on each side. To take one blatant example, at different times each magician obtains possession of the other’s diary, pores over it extensively, and learns that each diary is a plant, ending in a direct address to its intended reader, exposing itself to be a complex manipulation.
Once you begin to understand the extent to which duality is a factor in the presentation of the story, it shouldn’t be too difficult to see into the realities that Chris Nolan wants to withhold until the end. In fact, with foreknowledge, it can be seen that the film overflows with minor clues.
I’ve mentioned the film’s primary cast, though Rebecca Hall is actually a supporting actress, and mention must certainly be made of David Bowie’s mildly-extended cameo as the science/electric pioneer, Nikolai Tesla (with Andy Sirkis, blessedly motion-capture free, as his assistant). Bowie, in a neatly underplayed performance, makes Tesla into a strange, near-alien presence, lending a psychological credence to his producing, out of nowhere, the only genuinely magical element of the entire film, even as it is paraded as not Magic but Science.
This is the other mystery that Nolan wants to withhold until the very end. We’ve seen it in action at the outset, or rather one esoteric aspect of it, and it spurs the film into action as the explanation for why Alfred Borden is on trial, is convicted, is hanged. Put the field of top hats together with the man in the locked cage of water and you can understand the magic without needing the last, final, horrific shot to render explicit what the film has long since given away. All things are duplicated.
Actually, the end is the only disappointing thing about the film. Borden, who has died for killing Angier when he hasn’t killed him, kills Angier (work that one out) but not before the two have a final, cryptic conversation that is far too long and slows the film to a crawl just when it needs to stay taut.
I do have one further complaint about the film, or rather my DVD copy of it, which has the soundtrack mixed so low that, given that so much of it is conducted in whispers, or lowered voices, it was impossible to make out what was being said on many occasions, even with the laptop volume cranked up to 100.
But this is still a great film, and despite its differing intentions, it’s a worthy companion to Christopher Priest’s novel. Different but equal: no better thing can be said about an adaptation.
Nothing’s ever like it used to be, and I’m at the age where mostly it was better back then, especially if ‘back then’ is being measured in decades and I was considerably younger and fitter. Especially fitter.
Sadly, FA Cup Final Day is one such thing. I mean, it used to be sacrosanct. Seriously. Cup Final Day was Cup Final Day and nothing stood in its way. No-one would have dreamed of organising a major event for the same day (I’m looking at you, Windsors, or rather I’m not looking at you because I am not interested). It was the showpiece day, the only Football game to be televised all year, and on both channels too – I go back to the days when BBC1 was BBC, full stop – and the entire day’s coverage was devoted to Cup Final preparations. From about 9.30am. On each channel.
Nowadays, we’re lucky it gets televised at all, and the days of that immovable 3.00pm kick-off are as dead as the Twin Towers Wembley. 5.30pm on a Saturday afternoon is complete crap. But that’s an argument that has been lost: I work with a guy in his twenties, football fan, rugby player, cricket lover,total enthusiast, and he has said, openly, that he doesn’t care about the FA Cup, that it doesn’t mean a thing to him.
He’s the future, I’m the past.
Several things are depressing my eagerness for the game today: the excessive wait for the bloody thing to even get started, hanging around to avoid that wedding, Jose Mourinho, the prospect of the actual game being as shitty to watch as the one in 2007 even if we win, Jose Mourinho.
Then again, if we win this, we go level with Arsenal again, 13 wins. Only one other team that has once held the record for FA Cup wins has come back to draw level after losing that record, and that was Blackburn Rovers, who never held that record exclusively but only shared it (albeit for decades). No team has done that twice. No team that has once held the record for FA Cup wins has come back to regain that record. Let’s see if United can do it first.
There’s already something special about this game, as this is only the second time the same two teams have contested the Final three times: Arsenal and Newcastle United are the only others.
This in Manchester United’s twentieth Cup Final. All bar two of these have taken place in my life-time, and it will be the fifteenth I have watched, either on TV or at the old Wembley. Wem-ber-ley, Wem-ber-ley, We’re the famous Man United and we’re going to Wem-ber-ley. Recollections in brief:
1976: disappointment as a semi-neutral, more concerned with Droylsden than any other team.
1977: elation. You can’t not get excited about beating Liverpool, especially when you’re busting up their Treble.
1979: my first as a fully-fledged, albeit Armchair Red. The ignorant call it a classic but it was a dull, one-sided affair for 85 minutes and only that last five, from United’s consolation goal, through Sammy Mac’s equaliser to the kicker of Sunderland’s winning goal, was memorable. I nearly broke the TV switch turning it off.
1983: watching the Final at poor dear Rose’s, a terrible ordeal, watching the Replay at home and bursting with glee. Stevie Foster, what a difference you have made!
1985: sitting on the floor, my back against the armchair, and nearly hitting the roof when Norman Whiteside scored that incredible goal!
1990: watching the Final at my girlfriend’s, seeing her daughter – who I’d taken to her first United game only four months earlier – silently crying when we were 3-2 down, and squeezing her shoulder in sympathy, just before Sparky scored the equaliser, watching the Replay at home and wanting to kick Jimmy Hill’s head in for the way he tried to make United share the blame for Palace’s fouling tactics.
1994: watching in Wembley itself, not having to hear John Motson’s commentary, forgetting we’d won the Double until we were 3-0 up because this – THIS! – was the Cup Final and I WAS THERE!
1995: feeling bloody miserable, but at least I wasn’t there.
1996: in Wembley again, the Double Double, the guy who scored that hat-trick against Droylsden and Eric’s goal, the net bulging suddenly when I hadn’t seen the ball move!
1999: perfect sunshine, the diamond mowing, sitting with Shirley and Lynette, right behind the line of Teddie’s goal, the Third Double, and the middle leg of the Treble, the middle of that incredible eleven days.
2004: at home, en famille, Ronnie and Rudy, not the same from Cardiff.
2005: the horror of being the first Cup Final to be settled on a penalty shoot-out, and no, it wouldn’t have been any better if we’d won it, but after battering them for 120 minutes, argh!
2007: the first Final at New Wembley, shite game, the Fourth Double denied: I have witnesses to the fact that after eighty minutes I said that if the FA had any guts, they’d walk onto the pitch, confiscate the ball and abandon the Cup, unawarded, on the grounds that neither team deserved to win it.
2016: a 5.30pm kick-off is shite, Pardew’s stupid dance, extra-time again, that unexpected winner and the whole thing marred by the announcement, before we even went up for the Cup, that Mourinho was taking over: I wanted van Gaal gone, but he deserved to at least have this moment of glory before they shat on him.
2018: memories yet to be made.
I hope that, by 5.30pm, I can summon at least some of the proper enthusiasm, but the way Mourinho has got the team playing leaves me bored and depressed. I know that my usual statement on occasions like this is, “Sod enjoying the game, I wanna enjoy the result!”, but for a very long time under Fergie, you were pretty much guaranteed both. Today, the chances are… debatable, at best.
So these days and since I last had to drive back to Manchester through Sunday evening I don’t listen to the Top 40 and wouldn’t if you paid me frankly, but a 48 year habit makes me check the Top 100 soonish after it’s posted on-line. And for the past few weeks, even though it’s been on the chart for 28 weeks now, I’ve been noticing that Paloma Faith is there and around with a song called ‘Make Your Own Kind of Music’. Which is a familiar title as you will recall from here.
No doubt it’s a new song. I mean, I know nothing about Paloma Faith except that she’s called Paloma Faith, and anything of hers that I’ve heard has been by accident and I wouldn’t have known, or cared, frankly. I say again, they’re not making this music for me, any more than the Rolling Stones recorded ‘Satisfaction’ for my Gran. Either of them.
Still, I start to notice it and I get curious. She won’t have covered the Mama Cass song. It’ll be something new, I’d probably hate it. The singers of today don’t cover Sixties songs any more, and not the obscure stuff from twice as long ago as they’ve actually been alive. And if, by some implausible reason, she has, she’ll have updated it and fucked it up good and proper.
So, finally, I decided to check. The official video starts badly, all black stiletto platform-soled walking across a thin surface of water, and voices offscreen, carping, criticising, niggling, putting down. She can’t sing. Well, we heard that all those years ago, and ever since, and lately it’s been the ones I am contemporary to that have been saying it. So she’ll riposte, she’ll blast them her own way. Then she abruptly sings this line, ‘Nobody can tell ya/there’s only one song worth singing’, and I am jerked out of my complacent assumptions because, damn, it is that old song, and damn, the girl’s doing it straight, and she might not have Mama Cass Elliot’s voice, she’s singing it like she means it.
Of course, robbed of it’s context, the song changes its focus. It’s about Paloma and it’s about music, nothing before. It’s about believing in herself and what she’s doing, and whoever it is that can’t get into that with her, who must be going, she understands, because this journey is for her.
You could say that cheapens the song, but Paloma’s conviction carries it through, and she’s modernised the arrangement but not changed it, the song is still entire, it’s chorus still comes for you and drags you into it, and she’s done what Mama Cass couldn’t and taken this into the chart, as high as no 6. And this is good.
The official video does the song no favours, starting and ending on Paloma’s first and last lines, melodramatically, cutting the intro and outro that give the song it’s structure, that are the most determinedly Sixties elements to it. which is why the Official video is not linked below.
Between this, and Rita Ora’s ‘Anywhere’, maybe The infinite Jukebox is going to have to open a non-vinyl wing…
She’s not my kind of music, but then she was never meant to be, but after what happened nearly a year ago, and how she has responded to that, Ariana Grande has become one of us: a Mancunian. Read this and understand why. Respect.
Whatever degree of stability Eagle achieved in Volume 14 evaporated like the morning mist in 1964, the year I began my weekly association with the comic, delivered every Wednesday for the remainder of its life. There were two, or depending on how you define them, three revamps in Volume 15 alone, starting with issue 6, which saw the departure of the unloved ‘Mann of Battle’ and its replacement by no less than two new series, both of which were finished before the year was out.
‘Dan Dare’ was once again reformatted, finally making it back to two colour pages, this time wrapped around as front and back cover, the latter displacing the famous Cutaway – the only other remaining original feature – inside, never to be seen in colour again.
And poor Swift was dropped from the masthead with issue 38, just in time for another merger, as Eagle absorbed Longacre’s failed attempt at doing a red-top comic without Marcus Morris: Boy’s World didn’t even last two volumes before the stable-leader became Eagle and Boy’s World with issue 40.
This time, four of the latter’s features were carried over, which necessitated an increase to 24 pages to accommodate them all. It was discouraging that two of these series only lasted six weeks before cancellation, and a third did not last much past the end of the year.
Add to this the near-permanent reduction of ‘Can You Catch a Crook?’ to one page (and one clue), though the occasional page-and-a-halfer popped up, and the near-permanent reduction of ‘Roving Rporter’ to half a page, though the occasional full-pager popped up, stir in a bunch of half page factual strips, mostly drawn by Eric Kincaid, about Pirates, Espionage, Prizefighters and an erratic half pager by Paul Trevillion about eccentric modes of transport: no, if there was one word you could not use with a straight face about Volume 15, it is ‘stable’.
‘Dan Dare’ concluded its cycle of stories in the hybrid format by bringing ‘The Wandering World’ to a successful conclusion with the return to Earth and the twin captures of the Mekon and Xel. The latter then temporarily raised a rebellious teenage army in London in the nine-week ‘The Big City Caper’, an slight affair that was both uneasily reflective of the burgeoning, pop-influenced teenage culture and uncannily predictive of twenty-first century broadcast media.
The new, all-colour format began with my favourite ‘Dan Dare’ story of all time, ‘All Treens Must Die!’, a grandiose, sweeping tale built upon the planned genocide of the Treen Race and its intended replacement with a pure, unsullied, race of Treens, that also picked up on Alan Stranks/Frank Hampson’s dangling reference of six years previously to the ‘Last Three’: a trio of Supertreens, perhaps former Mekons, whose appearance on three successive covers impressed itself so firmly upon me at the time. All this in only twenty weeks! (Apparently, the story was originally intended to run twenty-two weeks but was cut short, presumably in response to the Boys World merger that it overlapped by three issues: David Motton has long since forgotten what may have been in those extra two weeks.)
‘Heros the Spartan’ continued to dominate the centrespread. Luis Bermejo saw out ‘The Man of Vyah’, but Heros and Septimus’s return to Rome was interrupted by the quest of ‘The Axe of Arguth’, which saw Frank Bellamy restored to art duties the same week as ‘All Treens Must Die!’ began. But that didn’t see out the year and it was once again Bermejo as the Volume approached its end.
‘Mann of Battle’ had finished after five issues: ‘Horizon Unlimited’ lasted a bit longer, but that too ended in issue 22. Eagle would rarely have such a long-running prose serial again. It was followed first by ‘Voodoo Island’, a ten-part Caribbean Pirate’s Treasure/Horror story, pleasant enough and clearly written by a scuba-diving enthusiast, like ‘Horizon Unlimited’s aviation-enthusiast author. This was followed by the somewhat oddball ‘The Outlanders’, a thirteen part serial of five Liverpool teenagers emigrating to Australia, and driving there across half the world in a beaten-up Land Rover.
After that, the Volume was seen out by the first of several serialisations of ‘Jennings’ books. Anthony Buckeridge had contributed Rex Milligan to Eagle a decade earlier, and now it was the turn of his more famous creation, no longer being serialised for ‘Children’s Hour’ on BBC Radio, to do the honours.
‘Blackbow the Cheyenne’ continued to give Frank Humphris employment drawing his favourite subject, though none of the stories could live up to the glory days of ‘Riders of the Range’, either in length, or subject. Already, there was a tendency to paint the stories with some kind of pseudo-supernatural edge. Tom Tully was doing this with ‘Heros’, where such things could be absorbed into the fantasy of ancient times, but it was unworthy of Humphris to lace good, solid Westerns with that sort of thing. Still, he had not lost any of his skill.
Of the new features, the highlight of these was ‘Johnny Frog’, drawn with a beautifully soft cross-hatched line by Ron Embleton. Visually, it was magnificent in its detail, the entire page a fine tapestry. Master Frog himself was a drummer boy in Napoleon’s army, a fluent speaker of English, or Scottish, rather, given a message by Bonaparte himself to deliver to Boney’s master spy in England, the Schoolmaster.
But Johnny’s a decoy, and an obvious decoy, meant to be tracked as a distraction from the real messenger, and he hardly lasts an episode before being spotted by an English spy, Lieutenant Alain Yeo of Naval Intelligence. Johnny’s determination and shrewdness sees him get to the Schoolmaster himself, only to be shot for his temerity, though barely wounded. At which point Alain outs him as the son of a French Count and an English noblewoman, real name Jean-Marie, Marquis of St Albans.
No sooner is Johnny installed in his new aristocratic life than Alain is borrowing him back for a secret mission to France, first to seed Dijon harbour with forerunners of mines, then to persuade the French fleet to leave Cadiz to present themselves up to the waiting British fleet off Cape Trafalgar…
All very ‘Jack O’Lantern’-manque, without the latter’s breadth and colour, but this was fitting given that the scripter was Jack’s creator, George Beardsmore. ‘Johnny Frog’ was as full of seeming authenticity as Jack Yorke’s adventures had been, albeit it in a far smaller scope, the three stories that went to make up the run being complete in only thirty-four episodes. The series ended patriotically, if not personally, with Lord Nelson’s death, with a slight air of rush. ‘Johnny Frog’ replaced ‘Mann of Battle’ and was ended to make room for the incoming Boy’s World features.
Making its debut alongside ‘Johnny Frog’, and not even lasting quite as long was the half-page strip, ‘Junior – Reporter!’. I know very little about this except that even in 1964 I could tell there was something very different about this comedy series. Looking at it now, it’s as blatant a reprint from something like Pilote as there can be, screaming la ligne claire from the rooftops.
Artistically, it’s a bit like a more angular Albert Uderzo, for all its being presented as an English story. Essentially, in search of a newspaper story, the editor of the Daily Globe accepts the suggestion of Office Boy Junior of a feature on a day in the life of a Press Photographer. The idea is less impressive to the paper’s leading photographer, Len Lenns but, in sending up Junior by taking a photo of his window box of begonias, he accidentally takes a photo of a safe being cracked, leading to a comic investigation to foil a family of professional crooks.
As stories go, it wasn’t bad, but it was ten times better than its sequel, in which the pair took up a challenge to travel to Texas with only sixpence each, which rapidly degenerated into a pirate comedy, with increasingly skimpy and dull art, as if the uncredited artist was either very short of time or very short of ideas.
It was the first European strip reprint since that solitary Tintin adventure a decade earlier, and unlike those Hulton days, the fact that it had to be credited to someone else didn’t appear anywhere near the strip. And by some oversight, it’s omitted from Cliff Wanford’s ‘Eagle Collectors Handbook’, an otherwise comprehensive summary of everything to appear in Eagle. I am unable to find any information about it online.
Four series joined Eagle in issue 40 from Boy’s World. Both the popular Second World War RAF strip, ‘Raff Regan’ and the Greek Mythology fantasy ‘Wrath of the Gods’ were in mid-story, and both were wrung out and completed in six issues. So far as the former was concerned, this was no great shame, but the splendidly vigorous and boldly depicted latter, two full colour pages from Ron Embleton, would have made a superb addition to Eagle, though probably it was felt that this was too close in atmosphere to ‘Heros the Spartan’.
‘Billy Binns and his Wonderful Specs’ fared little better, though it did at least have the advantage of starting a new story. This was a one page black and white comic school story, so it will be pretty obvious to those who know the Eagle of this period why it didn’t last longer. Binns, a Fourth Former, was basically a klutz, especially sporting-wise, unless he was wearing his Wonderful Specs which, in some never-explained manner, gave him confidence, clarity of thought and implausible athletic ability at everything.
Frankly, it was the Sixties. You had to be there.
Actually, Billy Binns, drawn by Bill Mainwaring, had a life after Eagle. Longacre had launched a new comic in 1964, the semi-legendary Wham!, which may or may not have been read as a kid by Georgios Panyiotu. It was basically an anarchic juvenile paper that I wanted to read but which my parents would never let me because they decided I was too old for it. It was advertised practically every week in Eagle, non-stop and Billy Binns had been running there eve as he was appearing in Boy’s World, the only strip to have appeared simultaneously in two papers, as far as I am aware.
Last of the Boy’s World quartet, and certainly not the least of it in terms of success since it lasted as long at Eagle lived was ‘The Iron Man’, drawn by Spanish artist Martin Salvador and written by Ken Meneal. Nothing to do with Marvel’s slightly earlier Iron Man/Tony Stark, the central character of this page-and-a-half black and white strip was Robert, no other given name, and his constant companion, Tim Brunton, the only man in the world to know that the internationally famous crime-buster was secretly a fantastic robot, dressed in a plastic skin to make him look not very human at all. I’m sorry, but this was ghastly, tedious stuff that, aptly, smacked of the superhero, but completely lacking the brio of the far more successful types of story such as Robot Archie, Kelly’s Eye, Morgyn the Mighty and The Spider that thrived at the traditionally more downmarket Lion.
But when it comes to ghastly, the nail had already been driven into Eagle‘s coffin by the series that, more than any other, represented the failure of Longacre to understand what they still, barely, had. This series was introduced in issue 23, in the revamp, and it would run far too long. I speak of ‘Cornelius Dimworthy’.
I don’t intend to speak much of it. As we were reminded every week, ‘Corny’ was Mortlake School’s ‘dreamiest and luckiest’ schoolboy, dreamiest here not being used in the manner it was being used of the by now regular micro-features on pop groups and pop singers. No, Cornelius had his head in the clouds, meaning that he was utterly impractical, self-deluded, self-centred and convinced of his own incomparable abilities at everything, in a way that got the back up of everybody from the Head down to the school sneaks, Smythe and Sweeting (never have a pair of craven, vicious bullies been so thoroughly justified), but from which he was always rescued, half a dozen times every week, by eye-blinkingly implausible accidents.
I only have to look at this now to want to reach through time, grab my juvenile self by the throat and give him a damned good shaking for even reading this tosh, and I am gripped by the urge to apologise to actual tosh for making that comparison. It was, in short, ridiculous, and not in a good way. It was drawn by Frank McDiarmid and the writer’s identity is unknown and for good reason too.
Apparently, shortly after the series ceased in Eagle it was reprinted in Buster as ‘ Dizzy Dimwitty’ and good luck to all who read it.
Such was Eagle in 1964. Though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, the rot had irreversibly set in. The comic had less than five years left to it, and although its big three strips, Dan Dare, Heros and, at least in artistic terms, Blackbow, still had much to give, its circulation remorselessly drained away, and its death was now inevitable. The last few years would be undeniably painful.
Just over an hour ago (as I write this), I was starting a call when the fire alarm went. The customer reacted to the alarm first, and I apologised that I’d have to terminate the call, could she call again? It being another fine day, and carrying neither coat nor pullover, it took me about four seconds to scoop my glasses case and waterbottle into my bag and vacate the building.
Down four flights of stairs and round the back where our floor congregates. It’s sunny, warm, and I keep my clip-on shades clipped on.
We’ve had two Fire Engines turn up. At least one Police vehicle. Three Incident Response units from the Ambulance Service. This isn’t your ordinary False Alarm. Though all of them have left by now, we’re still outside.
We can’t smoke (not that I do), we can’t use mobile phones (in case we’re mistaken for terrorists about to remotely activate a bomb – seriously), we can’t even go to our nearest Wetherspoons for a pee without a Fire Marshall escorting us, which I would like to do, but I haven’t needed someone to take me to the loo since I was in hospital having my appendix out in 1977: I can hold it a bit yet.
There are a lot of disgruntled people wandering around whose shifts ended at 6.00pm (this is presently 6.50pm) but who are not allowed to leave even if, like me, they have all their gear with them. Roll-calls must still be taken, so that there is a certainty that nobody has been trapped anywhere. Those whose shifts end at 7.00pm are starting to get a bit nervous. I am here to 9.00pm, so on the purely selfish level, I’m in no rush.
The problem, we’re now having explained to us, is a Building Fault, a lift that is continually tripping the Fire Alarm, for which an Engineer is required. This could be another hour yet, and it’s starting to get a bit cool.
On the other hand, there’s a summoning forward of everyone who has been off-shift since 6.00pm and who has all their gear with them. Common sense is about to happen.
This cheers me up. I mean, I am staring at a couple more hours here yet, with the sun going down, my clip-ons unclipped and a bit of a wind about and I don’t want to be staying after 9.00pm.
Of course, when I say I grabbed everything, I meant my everything. There’s a whiteboard, a wrist support, a lidded coffee cup and a £200 pair of headphones out on my desk that could do with being stashed in my locker at some point.
And my bum’s getting numb from the marble balusatrade I’ve been sat on for the past 75 minutes.
Could anyone who’s shift ends at 9.00pm kindly step through this handy time-warp and go home?
Another attack of common sense occurs when it’s announced that those who have finished are to be allowed back in to the building to collect their gear and go, but unfortunately the first of them don’t even get through the ground floor security barriers before the Alarm goes off again, which means Out, the return of the Fire Engine, and this time a Fire Chief, ‘cos this is a Repeat…
Eventually, after two hours, the Powers That Be agree to close the Building. There are no lifts and no Fire Alarms. We are allowed in to retrieve/put gear away, and go. To my dismay, I find I have been in Outbound Status on the customer’s account for 2 hours 2 minutes and 53 seconds – so much for my productivity – and when I close the account I am immediately pushed an Inbound Call, which I have to hang up on.
Those who were stuck outside will get their delay back as Time Worked. The rest, like me, get an early dart. The chippy’s still open when I get the bus so Wednesday Night Fish’n’Chips becomes Tuesday night Fish’n’Chips this week.
And we’ll have fun fun fun till Daddy takes the T-Bird away…