Farewell Andrew Preview

The conductor Andre Previn, former husband of singer-songwriter Dory, former husband of Mia Farrow, and one of the most respected and popular pianists and conductors of our age has died aged 89.

It is no disrespect to his memory or his talent to pinpoint the most famous moment of his life, in Britain, as beiing his first appearance on the Morecambe & Wise Show, as a conductor conned into conducting Grieg’s Piano Concerto with Eric Morecambe as the soloist.

No matter how often I watch it – and I was lucky enough to see it go out the first time – there is no part of this which has gotten old or dimmed. Previn was a natural, and he lives with Eric and Ernie as  their equal, not just their patsy.

Watch it again, cherish how much of a good sport he was, and how bloody funny the whole thing is and forever will be.


Lou Grant: s01 e12 – Takeover

Don’t trust the bastard…

I was wondering why this week’s episode was significantly shorter than the usual run, at just under forty minutes, but the reason for this became abundantly clear about three-quarters of the way in, when an entire segment between ad-breaks failed to materialise. It was irritating, but it didn’t seem to hurt the overall flow of the episode, which for once was not about a newspaper story, but about the newspaper itself. In which sense this was a terrible warning, and a fantasy escape, from something that has become a genuine and horrifying aspect of the world of newspapers ever since.

Our lead in is Lou being invited to a Board Meeting to present his next year’s budget for the newsroom, up $246,000. This provokes bitter opposition from Mrs Pynchon’s nephews, Colin and Freddie, as obvious a pair of shitweasels as you could recognise on the spot, and people with whom Johan from Black Lake would get on with like a house on fire.

The shitweasels are concerned that all the money tied up in the Trib is actually used to run the Trib, and they aren’t getting any dividends. They’re into diversification, like taco stands, lots of money in taco stands. The shitweasels are backed up by 49% of the vote. Mrs Pynchon and her side control 49% of the vote. The crucial 2%, which includes some of writing staff, is controlled by lawyer Norman McAllister, who votes with Mrs Pynchon. Shitweasels dismissed.

But that’s before Russell Grainger arrives in town. Russell’s a newspaper proprietor, but not one like Mrs Pynchon. He’s an asset-stripper, a runner of scandal sheets, celebrity mags, rumour mongers, anything but actual hard news. Russell Grainger doesn’t so much take newspapers downmarket as chuck them down a mineshift and cement a cover over them. And he’s got an eye for Mrs Pynchon, or is it the Trib? Trouble is, she’s got an eye for him.

Charlie Hume is worried. Lou thinks he’s paranoid, and it’s a charming December-December romance. Mrs Pynchon is due some happiness. Unfortunately, Charlie is right, even down to coming out with the Frog and Scorpion story (it’s the same as Al Wilson’s ‘The Snake‘ except that the Scorpion dies too). Mrs Pynchon appreciates Charlie’s warning, but all this research Grainger’s takeover team is doing into just how vulnerable the Trib is is for her benefit.

Or is it? The story is clever enough to play with perceptions. The shitweasels approach Grainger ready to backstab Aunt Maggie and he throws them out with malice aforethought. But then he doesn’t hand the research over to Mrs Pychon but decides to study it further. Then calls Norman McAllister in for lunch…

Oh yes, he’s going for it. Joe Rossi’s leading the outrage and the refusal to work for Grainger but it’s down to votes, and Gainger has them in his pocket (it is at this point that the missing segment is missing). Attention turns to the Board Meeting. An unwanted (by the shitweasels) Director is voted out when the worm Norman turns, seduced by promises of editorial input that fits Grainger’s agenda. And Grainger is voted onto the Board.

Lou and the staff make an impassioned plea for what the Trib is, its importance, and the fact that the Trib is its people, its writers, photographers and editors, its family, none of whom will work for Grainger. It doesn’t move him, he can fill empty desks. But here is where the fantasy kicks in, the glorious escape, Right trumps Might in exactly the way it never has when this story has been repeated in newspaper and newspaper in Ameruca since, and yes, here in dear old Blighty, for when the vote to merge the Trib with Grainger’s coming is held, and Mrs
Pynchon is ready to resign, the vote is 51%/49% against. It moved Norman McAllister back to the Good Guys.

Give Grainger credit. He congratulates Norman, leaves the room immaculately, displays an almost inhuman grace in defeat that Mrs Pynchon wonders if any of them could have matched. The L.A. Tribune has been saved. And props to the episode for some unexpected continuity touxhes, referring to stories from previous episodes, ‘Hoax’ and ‘Nazi’.

‘Takeover’ was a warning that no-one cared about. It was a prediction of the future that no-one listened to. But hell, what good was Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner in warning us of the world to come? It’s here and it will never go away. No, television fiction doesn’t change a damned thing, except in the wrong direction. Warn against the rich and powerful extending their control and exploitation of those lower than them, and you waste your breath, paint those lower as lower still, animals, filthy liars and cheats and you’re onto a winner.

I wish I could live in Lou Grant’s world.

Re-Planning a Lakeland Expedition

Maybe (again)

Yesterday, a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius was recorded in Britain, in winter, for the first time ever.

Today, that record has been broken.

The skies are an unbroken blue, albeit with a tinge of white haze around the horizons. I was hot coming in to work and since my shift started I have been sitting here in a short-sleeved polo shirt, and about five minutes ago I was feeling unconfortably stuffy.

This is Britain in 2019: everything is broken.

Of course, I’m not complaining in the short term. This is nice weather and I’m happy to revel in it. On Sunday, one of my neighbours was out in shorts, sunbathing outside his front door. People continue to deny there’s something wrong with the Earth’s climate.

And the weather, if it can be relied upon and there isn’t a backlash in the immediate future, is tempting me to a day out. And when I say day out, I usually mean a Lake District Expedition: is Patterdale possible yet on current steamer schedules?

The answer is yes: depart Pooley Bridge 12.50, return 15.35, with thirty five minutes stopover at Glenridding. Not great, but feasible. But I can get a bus from Penrith at 11.20 outside the Rail Station, arriving Pooley Bridge 11.50. There’s a much bigger delay on the return, with the only bus leaving Pooley at 17.25 and returning to Penrith Rail Station for 18.09.

And I can do the train journey as two singles (08.47 from Manchester Piccadilly, 18.50 from Penrith), total £27.80 this Saturday coming. I can save £1 by going on Saturday week, but if I book for four weeks in advance, I can reduce the train fares to £21.00, by taking a slightly later train from Penrith.

Hmm. This is doable.

The problem is daylight: it’s starting to be light after 5.00pm now, but it still makes any outing at this time of year a bit too like a Birthday week trip. And if the skies are going to be this clear, and bright, I want all the access to daylight I can get. Nevertheless, with a, say 5.30pm cut-off point for daylight, I’d just about be on the bus at Pooley Bridge when the views vanish.

I wonder if the weather’s going to last…

Person of Interest: s01 e12 – Legacy

Number of the Week

After the complicated machinations of the past couple of weeks, Person of Interest put the brakes on a bit for an episode that concentrated more directly on the Number of the Week. That’s not to say that the episode ignored the development of its multifarious back-stories, or the relationships between its main characters, but that these were definitely background elements.

The Number of the Week was Andrea Gutierrez (April Lee Hernandez, billed as April Hernandez-Castillo), a Civil Rights lawyer deeply in hock to try to establish her legal practice, a rough and ready, unpracticed young woman with a past history as a juvenile lawbreaker. Andrea’s speciality is representing ex-cons with grievances against the State, for which she’s been unrelievedly unsuccessful so far. She’s now representing Terrence King, a former drug addict who’s cleaned himself up for the benefit of his six year old son, who’s now inside for having drugs in his house, despite being provably clean. Someone wants to kill Andrea.

Andrea’s case stands at the conjunction of two scam. There’s the corrupt Probtion Officer, Dominick Goluska, who’s threatening his clients with ‘discovered violations’ that’ll get their asses kicked back into the joint unless they pay him 30% of their wages: Reese deals with him quickly, knocking him cold, sousing him with booze and leaving him behind the wheel of his car, clutching his gun, and calling it in as a 911. It’s funnily fast, and shows the big difference between the levels Reese and Finch operate at and the small-time crook.

But the other one is far more serious. It’s a racket going on. Goluska’s clients who he sets up to go back inside are all single parents whose children go into foster care. Except that someone in the fostering programme is doctoring the records to create additional, ghost children, placed with compliant fosterers, who collect the money for these non-existent children. Andrea’s a target because her case for Terrence King will expose this, if he is released.

It’s a good story, and there’s the usual amount of misdirection as to the real culprit, reminding me that I have to be more alert and remember that anything that’s obvious on this show isn’t going to be.

The fun in this case is in watching Detective Carter moving closer to a full-scale alliance with our vigilante pair. The CIA’s brutal attempt at executing John Reese two episodes ago, in front of her eyes, has shocked her and, in a way that’s never stated, radicalised her. She asks for a meeting with Reese, wants to know more about what they do, and where they get their intel from.

This latter Reese won’t disclose, but he hands Carter a nme, Andrea Gutierrez, and starts to use her to get information to assist the case, and working in parallel lines. And without telling her he’s already got Detective Fusco on a line, nor telling Fusco that Carter’s now an ally, all through some wonderfully fussy mother hen calls from Lionel about Carter’s new, secretive actions.

And Carter, who’s made it plain that she is a Police Officer and there are rules, is already getting flustered about how Reese just ignores rules, because he can. But she’s in the slipstream now, and John’s already pointed out that once you’re past a certain point, there’s no going back. (He’s also told her she’s getting paranoid – now you’re learning…)

But let us not forget Harold Finch. There is the usual dry wise-cracking between our odd pair, still much of a cross between banter and sniping. Reese still knows too little and he wants to know a lot more. Mid-episode, Finch is called away on private business, involving bailing out a young man on misdemeanour charges, who embraces him and calls him ‘Uncle Harold’.

It’s not too difficult to work out who he is, and that the Uncleship is honorary: he is Will Ingram (Michael Stahl-David), son of Finch’s old partner, Nathan Ingram. There’s a clear affection between the pair. Will’s a qualified Doctor, who’s spent a lot of time overseas, in Red Cross and other wild-doctoring circumstances. He’s back to clean out his Dad’s old loft apartment, get rid of his things, go back abroad, except that he changes his mind when he starts going through his Dad’s old papers.

There’s a mysterious gap of seven years, when Nathan shut his company down, paid off all his employees, worked on something that he sold to the Government for $1. You and I and the cat know that this is the story of the Machine, but Will doesn’t. Something like that, he muses, is either worthless or priceless. He wants to know more.

This disturbs Finch. He’s concealed himself even from this engaging, thoughtful, intelligent nephew: Will thinks Finch was only his Dad’s best friend, that he works in Insurance, that he wasn’t involved in the Company. Will’s going to dig even deeper into his Dad’s papers…

And if this isn’t enough of a development on its own, there’s John Reese. John still has trust issues with Finch, about whom he knows little except that there is more to know. He’s tracked Finch to the loft, observed him and Will. He’s found Will’s phoros on-line, including the face of Nathan Ingram. He’s found a headline about Billionaire’s tragic death. He’s got a job for Lionel Fusco. It involves tracking Finch…

Saturday SkandiKrime: Trapped 2 – episode 4.

I wanna be there…

Too fast, too soon…

So far, Trapped 2 has set itself up as being the doings of a mysterious, racist, far right group, Hammer of Thor, opposed to anything that is not Icelandic, but especially the Muslims. Halla the Minister, opening the door for a Muslim company to invest in the smelting plant, burned badly by her own twin brother. Hafdis the Mayor, who will sign the Letter of Intent, only she won’t if he’s been kidnapped, and put under threat of death.

And then in one episode, not even halfway yet, Hammer of Thor’s leader is identified as Hanna Stine, the hairdresser and all round fanatic, Hafdis is recused and the movement uprooted, two arrested, one shot dead. If only it were so easy to get rid of the bastards in real life.

The one who got killed committed suicide by Police, so stupid that he thinks he can avoid being taken back to gaol for abducting Mayor Hafdis by shooting her dead in front of half a task force of Police. And Hanna, after racing home to clear the decks of all incriminating fascist literature so that she can brazen it out in front of Andri, gives herself away by going on a rant that morphs from nationalism to anti-Muslim in no time flat.

I wish they were that stupid in real life, or that maybe our Police might put some effort into actually locking them up.

But that’s not that, after all, and we know it isn’t. There’s evidence gathered from the egregious Hanna to give the brothrrs Ketillsson an unbreakable alibi: they didn’t kill Finnur, and whoever did tried to frame them.

And there’s a more sinister and personal matter. Aron decides to bunk off school today, and of courseThorhildur decides to join him with barely a nanosecond’s thought. This idiot pair of malcontents, with their evenly balanced shoulders of matching chips, already piss me off mightily, especially for their aassumption that they’re the only ones around with any brains, when the reverse is true. Aron boasts of continually stealing cars and how the oonly way to stop him was to buy him one of his own, oh, har har. They head off to Finnur’s farm, cut the Police seal, have a screwing session and look for strong liquor. Aron finds it, and millions of rolled-up rolls of Euros.

Finders keepers, they decide, since everbody else on Iceland is stupid. Not as stupid as Thorhildur, who finds a mobile phone in the bag with the money (it’s the same Nokia I have: I’m accidentally cool). She also finds a series of text messages. Being far more clever than anyone else, she replies “Hi.”

And gets a response: “Aren’t you supposed to be dead?”

Oh, there’s more coming, much more. This has only been the overture.

Saturday SkandiKrime: Trapped 2 – episode 3

In which, or so it feels, not a lot happens. And who cares?

Trapped is still following the Scandinavian template of using the first half of the series to build up questions before easing into answering them. We should not, at this stage, be expecting too much by way of resolution. But the third episode was built very much upon maintaining a shroud of screcy in respect of what has already been set up, without adding more layers of mystification.

We left Mayor Hafdis arriving home at the end of episode 2 to find red paint slogans daubed all over the house and garage, words – Traitor You Will Pay – apparently dictated by the runaway idiot Skuli. Hafdis has no intention of reacting to these, except for painting them over, nor reporting them to thePolice any time soon. It’s supposed to be about denying idiots the oxygen of publicity, or so she says to her mayoral rival Kolbrun, who promptly sneaks a cameraphone photo or two and shops her to the Press, who are getting nothing out of Andri or Hinrika.

Skuli stays on the run throughout most of the episode, deep in mountains and high valleys, lakes leading to spectacular downfalls, secnery that, despite the absence of snow, drags me towards the screen to revel in it. He’s knifed a dog to death, his Dad, declaring everything to be political like a low-rent Tommy Robinson, is out on his quadbike, hunting for him, brother Torfi’s clearly uncomfortable at having a Muslim lawyer foisted upon him but accepts his advice to deny everything and say nothing. But Skuli’s found, in a bad way, sick and vomiting and foaming at the mouth, and on his way to Reykjavik hospital.

But some developments have taken place. Halla, the burnt Minister, is out of quarantine and will live. But she won’t be fit for the signing session tomorrow, so the Prime Minister’s heading north to take her place with Hafdis and the Man from American Aluminium (surely, if they’re American, it would be Aluminum?)

And Aron reckons Torfi and Skuli were having their strings pulled by a woman.

And Torfi lets slip that something’s going to happen today. Andri’s afraid of an attack on the smelting plant, where the foreign workers can handle themselves and are looking forward to doing so. Then he’s afraid of a bomb attack on the Prime Minister. But instead it’s Hafdis again, kidnapped off the street, driving home. Is that is? Is that what’s planned? Or do we as yet not know anything? I’m betting we don’t.

More from episode 4 later.


Film 2019: Birth

I don’t think there’s any point in pretending that I bought this DVD for any other reason than Nicole Kidman, for her unusual, short-haired look that is so totally uncharacteristic but which is so effective. I bought it once, and let it go and bought again, late last year, but I am no nearer understanding it now than before, a state that I think is shared by Director and co-scripter Jonathan Glazer.

I was tempted to describe Birth as a film with a great hollowness at its centre, but I tink that’s misleading. I think rather it has a multiplicity of hollownesses to it, as much perhaps as one for each character as well as one for the film itself. It sets out to explore an idea that fascinates Glazer, as well as Kidman, who wanted the central role and who does as good a job as anybody in it, but it fails to either root the idea properly or, ultimately, to see it through with any conviction.

The film begins with a disembodied voice, lecturing about non-belief in reincarnation. This is Sean, never to be seen, except as a black, hooded silhouette in a snowy Central Park, running briskly for some distance before collapsing and dying under a bridge. The camera cuts to a baby being born.

The lecture is meant to be ironic, but instead it’s too heavy-handed and blatant. We jump ten years, to a party in an apartment block of rich people. Sean’s widow, Anna (Kidman), has agreed to marry Joseph (Danny Huston), and everybody’s congratulating… him. Not her, or them, just him. This was something I noticed early on: Anna is a prize, a trophy, not real. She has a job, although we don’t know what she does, although for that matter we don’t know what Joseph does either. That’s supposed to be because it doesn’t matter, it’s of no relevance what either of them do, what any of the people in this film do, but instead it creates a lack of solidity that makes everyone unreal. They have no roots, no purpose.

A lot of people are at the party, and it’s a while before we work out who everybody is, which contributes further to the film’s nebulous nature. There’s Anna’s mother (Lauren Bacall), her pregnant sister Laura, Sean’s brother Clifford, very much out of place, his wife Clara (Anne Heche) deciding at the last minute that their engagement present needs a ribbon, but instead rushing out in the dark to bury it in the Park, and buying a silver-framed mirror instead.

And there’s a silent, sullen-faced ten year old boy who follows her, watching her, who then invades the party. He (Cameron Bright) is called Sean. He invades a later dinner party to tell Anna that he is Sean, her dead husband, Sean.

This is the centrality of the film. Has Sean the lecturer been reincarnated as Sean the ten year old boy? Nobody believes it. Nobody, that is, except Anna, and not at first but long before the end she has become besotted with this unprepossessing boy, believes in him passionately in the face of everybody else, loves him as Sean, her husband, whom she has never stopped loving ten years after his death, and who plans to run away with him and marry him when he turns twenty-one.

It’s ridiculous, both in concept and execution. Anna starts with natural scepticism, but unlike everybody else, Sean’s seemingly impossible knowledge of Sean and his life with Anna, convinces her that it’s real. Every other person who knew Sean, in life, who roundly declares this is not Sean is dismissed.

This is supposed to feed our air of uncertainty, our difficult to suspend disbelief. What it really is is Anna convincing herself of what she wants to be convinced, that the husband she loves has returned to her.

It doesn’t help that as either Sean, Bright is so unprepossessing. He’s an intense but monotonised-voiced kid who’s either oblivious to the obvious distress he’s causing Anna in the beginning, or else doesn’t care about her as long as he gets his way. Which, notwithstanding his genuine love for Anna, is not a million miles away from Joseph, whose own disturbance is more important than Anna’s.

Apparently, until a fortnight before shooting commenced, Birth was supposed to be about Sean, until Glazer’s fascination with what Kidman could bring to the part (and let us not forget that, aside from being seriously gorgeous, Kidman is a seriously superb actress), it became about Anna.

The film’s problem is that it cannot really commit itself to its semi-supernatural basis. Its conceit is that a ten year old boy convinces a woman in her late thirties that he is her husband. It’s a fantastic prospect in every sense of the word, and Glazer fails to anchor it in any form of realism by making the characters into cyphers. And the film can’t sustain itself so far as its proposition is concerned, letting everything down by revealing it all as a fake. Worse still, an unsupported fake.

You see, we’ve already seen the con in action. The buried engagement present. Because Sean was screwing his sister-in-law Clara, was conducting a love affair with her. To prove his love for her was greater, he brought Clara all Anna’s love-letters, unopened, though he wouldn’t leave Anna. They were to be a spiteful engagement gift, but Clara couldn’t go through with it at the last minute. Sean the boy followed her, dug it up, memorised all the personal details in the letters.

And even the con collapses in an improbable manner. Sean the boy loves Anna, but all it takes is Clara telling him that if he really were Sean the husband, he’d have come to her first to break him of his obsession. And all it takes is Sean telling Anna he’s not Sean to break her of her obsession. No, it doesn’t wash.

The film does nothing to explain how and when Sean fell in love with Anna in the first place, and even less to explain why Anna starts to fall for the boy. It then cuts its own throat in a weak coda in which Anna apologises to Joseph and begs him to take her back (which he does) by repetitively insisting its wasn’t her fault. Then there’s the wedding, accompanied by a voiceover from Sean, having a school photo taken, explaining that he can’t explain it (because Glazer can’t), that he’s better now and smiling for the only time in the film. Which leads to Anna paddling in the sea in her wedding dress and looking like she hasn’t got the courage to walk out. It’s a non-ending ending of someone who hasn’t got an ending, and what little merit the film has is washed away with it.

So does Birth have any merit? It’s low-key, and deliberately paced, it’s Park scenes are wintry and bleak with a stark beauty and it has Kidman. Her short hair, unadorned wardrobe and short, clipped sentences are intended to signal a woman still in mourning, inside and out, someone who has let her sexuality and glamour go (so, the nude scene where Anna and Joseph are having sex fits in…?). That theory runs up against the fact that the short hair makes us focus upon Kidman’s face more clearly, and that even downplayed she is just too naturally attractive, whilst the quiet, close-fitting wardrobe demonstrates that whilst she is slender and slim, she’s got curves where you’d expect them. Dammit, when she’s still sceptical of Sean, she teases him over her needs and how he, as a ten year old boy, can’t satisfy them.

But for Kidman, I wouldn’t think twice about retaining this film, but she rises above its failings luminously, and is always worth seeing. Not that i’ll be re-running this film too many times.

TV Century 21 – 2068

Now it’s 2068. TV Century 21 underwent a major revamp, changing its title to the commonly used TV21, its logo-box from blue to red (or rather scarlet) and abandoning the pseudo-newspaper look in favour of the appearance of an orthodox comic.
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was now the cover feature, a banner headline, a couple of colour panels and continued inside. But if you thought the format of Keith Watson’s ‘hybrid’ year on Dan Dare in Eagle was weird, it had nothing on this, with the story getting two black and white pages, and then a third in colour. Art by Ron Embleton still, of course, but not being well-served like this.
TV21 Stop Press was next up, the last remnant of the ‘newspaper’, then Special Agent Twenty-One’s strip was thoroughly revamped and re-named Magnet. The period was updated from 2045 to December 2067, Brent Cleever has retired from being head of the USS to a remote farm in Gloucestershire, where he’s still working on deadly toys, and also a robot which turns on him.
The Munsters and Thunderbirds remained unchanged, but Fireball XL5 was reduced to a two page prose serial. Mike Noble was off Zero-X again, Stingray still in black & white, but cut to a page and a half. And the comic was back to 20 pages with the back page devoted to a Spectrum feature page. Bilko and Front Page were gone. Overall, rather a difference. Issue 155 (6 January) also included a sixteen page free giveaway fact file booklet on Spectrum.

Spectrum cover

The second week of the new comic started to develop things a little further. The scarlet theme of the first cover gave way to lightish blue: obviously we were going to cycle through, groan, the spectrum. Cleever’s robot blew up the moment it touched him, because the former agent had been transformed into a magnetic man. What else should I have expected? This was 1968, and all Britain’s boys comics were going to have to have superpowered characters.
I remember none of this, a process not aided by the sudden shrinking of the DVD copies, with certain issues having two pages crammed side by side in a narrower range, making the lettering unreadable.
A feature on The Inventors in issue 164 (9 March) confirmed that I hadn’t given the comic up yet as I distinctly remember reading about Percy Shaw, the inventor of the cats eyes road reflectors. I also remembered elements of the current Thunderbirds story, in which the Hood appeared to have killed Brains but instead brainwashed him to give up International Rescue’s secrets, and mounted an attack on Tracey Island.
At this point, after 165 consecutive issues, I hit the first gap. Only two issues, mind, but given the brevity of the stories in Captain Scarlet, enough to cause massive disruption to following the flagship series. I picked up again with issue 168 (6 April), with the mystery of Colonel White’s kidnapping resolved (and Mike Noble now assigned to an irregular run on Captain Scarlet). Magnet was ending its story, or so it appeared from what little I could make of the compressed pages, but Stingray and Thunderbirds were ongoing.
Sadly, another link to issue 1 had come to an end, as Fireball XL5 had given way to another prose series, looking into the further future of 3031AD., after Earth has been devastated by a meteorite, and is trying to reconstruct itself in colonies on the Moon. Single stories each week related to Project SWORD.

The Brent Cleever series rebranded itself Mr Magnet the following week. Perhaps Cleever’s magnetic personality was having a rejuvenating effect upon him because, although this was supposed to be taking place twenty years after his adventures as Twenty-One, the grey temples had disappeared, along with the lines on his face and he was being drawn just as young as before.
Issue 171 (27 April) opened up a new feature, ‘The Critics’, inviting TV21 readers to send in mini-reviews of books and films. Predictably, these were dumb: a book review in which the reader complained that there wasn’t action in every chapter, a book should have action in every chapter, except maybe the first, and a filmgoer criticising ‘A Man for all Seasons’ for an emotional scene between Sir Thomas More and his wife because it was soppy (I suppose it was, after all he was about to be beheaded, down with this sort of thing). It wasn’t repeated. Meanwhile Project SWORD had a splendid b&w illustration from Ron Embleton to commend it.
Embleton was back on Captain Scarlet a week later, in a new and once more disappointingly short story: even with four pages per week, two-parters were just not good enough. This was a serious case of dumbing-down beyond the level at which the comic had usually operated.

Mr Magnet – how the mighty fall

The full-scale reproductions were finally resumed with issue 173 (11 May), making the physical side of reading the comic easy again, though the long struggle, coupled with the constantly changing front page colour scheme were frankly offputting. TV21 had lost its freshness, and the way Captain Scarlet – the series where the Anderson shows plateaued, leading to the eventual fade – was dominating the comic, far more so than even Thunderbirds had, was starting to puncture its quality.
Unfortunately, this upgrade lasts only two weeks before the DVD reverts to the horribly compressed reproductions.
There’s a second and even bigger gap in the DVD record,with only four widely separated issues available between issues 179 (22 June) and 196 (19 October). At the start of this lacuna, Captain Scarlet had just lost his second colour page, reverting to b&w. By the time continuous coverage resumed, the comic had undergone substantial changes, as a result of a merger with TV Tornado.
I’ll return to them in a moment, but I do want to mention one disturbing thing in issue 188 (21 August). A letters page, entitled Shades of Opinion (readers were Spectrum Shades), had five short letters all addressed to Colonel White, three with answers. One of the two left without a response was from London reader William Saxby, writing about his next door neighbour, a ‘black boy’ from Africa. William plays with him most days and he’s stayed for tea many times, but some of his other friends’ parents won’t let him play with their sons because he’s black. William asked if other Shades have the same thing, and who they think is right?
To me, that’s the model of a letter than demands an answer, and a positive one to boot. The comic gets half a point for printing it at all, but several minus ones from shying away from a statement. Did William change his mind about his friend because he didn’t get the support that, in his honest confusion, he was seeking? How can we know? I’d hate to think of that African lad losing what sounded like a good friend because that kid started to feel awkward about treating him naturally.
But, to be fair, issue 193 (21 September) did include follow-up letters to William Saxby, three agreeing wholeheartedly that racism was stupid, and the fourth half-endorsing not treating black differently from white, though that followed a totally racist claim that blacks shouldn’t be allowed in the country at all (because they immediately get free stuff, etc.): but if they are here, oh well, treat them equally. That was one confused kid.

Mike Noble, still on Zero-X

The merger, which took place in issue 192, appeared to displace Mike Noble from Captain Scarlet, whilst condemning Zero-X to another art change, the result being flat, banal and poorly coloured. Stingray, after a long, multi-phase serial featuring first Troy Tempest then him and Phones as fugitives framed as traitors, was lost, ending the last of the original series, whilst two tv-based black & white series switched over from TV Tornado, in the forms of The Saint (Roger Moore, naturally) and Tarzan (the Ron Ely version).
Thunderbirds and The Munsters survived intact, unfortunately in the case of the latter, which had run out of steam a long time previously, whilst the TV series had been cancelled two years previously.
The case of Captain Scarlet was distinctly odd. There was a clear discrepancy between the artists on the colour cover page and the black & white interiors, and even without his signature, which adorned Thunderbirds every week, the covers to 192 and 193 are clearly by Frank Bellamy. Yet by issue 196, Noble is back again, with an intriguing opening episode in which Captain Black returns to Spectrum, completely human and completely unaware of the Mysterons, Scarlet completely destroys their city on Mars and, after six months peace and quiet, the World President announces that Spectrum is being completely wound up as a separate organisation as no longer necessary, its equipment and personnel to be reassigned among the other services. Do you smell a rattus norvegicus?
Of course it’s a gigantic bluff, and the moment Spectrum is gone (as is Noble again), with Colonels Metcalf and Svenson of the World Security Patrol off on a year-long mission in Fireball XL19, the Mysterons explode out of hiding to take over Earth. But the whole menace is defeated in the third week, as one Colonel Zodiac (aww, they remembered) retrieved Scarlet and Blue and the former faced down the Mysterons in their retrometabolised city by threatening to destroy their retrometabliser and kill everyone, himself included. Three weeks, for a story like that: pathetic.
After the merger, the Project Sword stories grew shorter and ever more trivialised, having no room to explore any of the future scenario. The Saint and Tarzan strips were similarly too short, at a page and a half each. Captain Scarlet continued to be far too short in episodes for a satisfactory story, and was now playing musical artists. A couple of episodes looked like the work of Keith Watson, whilst the colour cover on issue 203 (7 December) was by Special Agent 21’s John Cooper (who got his signature in), but not the rest of the strip.
Meanwhile, Mike Noble popped up back on Zero-X in issue 197 (29 October), with the last of his work for TV21 in any of its guises.
And that was the state of play at the end of 2068. Much of TV21’s distinction was lost in giving it over so wholly to Captain Scarlet and Spectrum, which on the tv screen was not proving to be the onward progression from Thunderbirds that had been expected. The abandonment of the newspaper format, the loss of Stingray, the merger that brought in inferior series that were not in keeping with the SF oriented Anderson-verse, these were all things that slowly flattened the title out. Retaining Zero X was one plus point, but only insofar as it allowed Mike Noble to strut his colourful stuff: the stories, the lack of any discernible character, and the stodgy ship itself did not make for a classic.
Time was limited for TV21. The comic would not survive to reach the 2070s in any form recognisable. The next essay will mark the end of the series.

Peter Tork R.I.P.

Oh dear, this is happening again.

I didn’t get to watch The Monkees when I was a kid, so I saw the shows when they were being repeated years later, and I was in to more serious and worthy bands. I found the antics comic, up to a point, and some of the music attracted me, mainly Mike Nesmith’s stuff.

But I never lost my appreciation for the well-made, well-played pop song, and I don’t care about anyone else’s opinion any more, and about eighteen months ago I bought The Monkees’ contribution to the Original Album Series, the first five albums on unadorned CDs, but glory be they’re the extended versions, with demos and alternate arrangements.

Peter Tork was the dummy onscreen, the bass player and, according to a recent piece I read on the Monkees, was the best musician in the band, or at least a better guitarist than Nesmith. But he was the other one who pushed to be allowed to play on their own records, and to choose their own music.

It needed all four Monkees to be Monkees and it wouldn’t have been the same without any one of them. It isn’t going to be the same without this one now.

Claude Goretta R.I.P.

I have only ever watched one film directed by Claude Goretta, who has died aged 89.

That film was La Dentelliere, aka The Lacemaker, that brought Isabelle Huppert to international stardom, and to my notice.

One such thing in a lifetime is sufficient for immortality.