Person of Interest: s01 e16 – Risk

It’s all in the suit…

Almost wholly straight procedural, and almost entirely a two-hander involving our central characters, Mr Reese and Mr Finch, operating under pseudonyms, John as his usual John Rooney cover, now as an asset manager for an anonymous, one might say private, client, and Harold identifying himself at the appropriate moment as Harold Crane (Finch, Wren, Crane: there’s a theme here).

This episode took us into the world of high finance and Wall Street, the Number of the Week being Adam Saunders (Matt Lauria), proprietory trader with securities firm Baylor Zimm. Adam’s a stereotypical Master of the Universe, flash, arrogant, smug, the complete push-‘im-off-a-rooftop deal that you’re all set to loathe and frankly can’t really warm to, exceptthat beneath the high-living, fast-driving, bombastic exterior, Adam’s got where he is not by privilege, but hard work: diligence, research, hard thinking. His abilities are evidenced by a tie-in to episode 6, ‘The Fix’, as Robert Vertannin’s trial comes to a guilty verdict that only Saunders has correctly anticipated, leading to a pefectly legal short-sale that brings the firm – and his boss and secret lover Sydney Baylor (Noelle Beck, who I mention only because she’s good to look at) – a profit of $100,000,000.

But Adam’s been investigated, unsuccessfully, by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Wall Street Watchdog, and inspector Doug Rasmusseen is still harassing him. The thing is, there is something going on, something illegal aimed at making at least $3000,000,000 off an illegal short-sale, only Adam isn’t involved: as a proprietory trader, he only uses the firm’s money, not clients’, and it is actually illegal for him to even look at their money, let alone advise on it.

But Adam was brought up by his Uncle Bob after his mother died and his father was out of the picture. Bob Sowoski’s a fast food van man who, with Adam’s help, has eexpanded from one to six trucks. His money’s with Baylor Zimm, with one of Adam’s friends, a good broker, but he’s getting concerned at how much of it is being tied into energy firm Tritak.

As well he might be. Baylor Zimm haave invested heavily in the company, where no-one else has. Adam’s acted illegally in even looking at the figures and he’s concerned. Something’s going on that doesn’t add up, except it adds up to someone trying to kill Adam.

Which is where John and Harold come in.

Suddenly, it all starts to accelerate. Sydney is murdered and Adam framed. John hides him in the homeless ghetto where he took refuge until the series started. A Fracking Bill unexpectedly passes the New York Senate, ruining Tritak. Stocks tumble, money vanishes. It’s an insider trading deal, a set-up, between Adam’s ‘friend’, Paul Ashton, and… SEC Inspector Doug Rasmussen. And it’s foiled by ‘Harold Crane’ giving Adam the money to start buying heavily into Tritak, sending the share price back up. The short sale relies on buying the shares back at the bottom of the market, but the bottom’s now rising unstoppably.

Enter the Police. Carter’s been on the scene peripherally already but there’s once again no part for Fusco. She’s there to question Paul, but Paul’s on his own. Apparently, Rasmussen’s been found dead in his apartment, suicide, couldn’t face the thought of prison. But he was arrested, alongside Paul?

And that’s when the episode stepsaway from being an isolated procedural. Carter views the CCTV footage, homes in on the cop who puts Rasmussen in a car, who talks on a mobile phone and dumps it in the trash. the cop’s got a scar on his face, makes it look like he’s smiling. We recognise him, oh yes, we recognise him.

And Carter brings the phone to John, who rings it. A man on a New York street, who wanted$300,000,000 to fnd something big and important, answers it cheerfully. “Hello, John,” says Carl Elias. “It’s been a long time…”


Scott Walker R.I.P.

I won’t pretend that I know anything about the music of Noel Scott Engel, aka Scott Walker above the commercial successes, the Walker Brothers’ singles, the solo singles that charted. I’ve never even tried to move beyond this extended handful of songs, and especially not the experimental, ‘difficult’ albums of the long back half of his career and life.

Scott Walker, as one-third in number of but of far greater significance in The Walker Brothers recorded that incredible trio of singles, ‘Make it easy on yourself’ (lead by John Maus, aka John Walker), ‘My Ship Is Coming In’, and ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’. Ballads all, middle of the road, your mother’s music, yes, but each of them going deep into love, and the shapes it takes. And concluding with a masterpiece of creating space and sensation out of sparsity, and that big voice.

For that alone Scott Walker became immortal, and I salute him in the passing of his mortal frame. Another good man gone.

Film 2019: Pan’s Labyrinth

Of the handful of remaining films in Film 2019’s Phase One, Pan’s Labyrinth is the only one I have seen before and, magnificent film that it is, I associate it with a sense of shame. It was pressed upon me by my younger stepson, when we were still a family, because he’d seen it and loved it and wanted to share it with me. But I was stupidly resistant, a character flaw I’d carried most of my life, a reluctance to listen to the recommendations of others. It was a left-handed arrogance, I was the one who found the esoteric stuff, the out-of-the-way art or music or books, and it fed into the belief that if I hadn’t found it myself, it wasn’t worth finding.

I did end up watching the film, and I was fascinated by it, but I took so long getting round to it, long enough for his mother to tell me off about it, and it was a nail in the gradual estrangement that grew up between me and the family I’d found so fortuitously.

That’s not to be blamed upon the film, written and directed by Guillermo del Toro in 2006, under the original title of El laberinto del fauno, The Laabyrinth of the Faun (del Toro has since denied that the pivotal figure of the Faun is Pan). It’s a dark fantasy, the intrusion of a fairy-tale into a very real and horrible world, the two sides of the story intertwining. There’s been debate ever since as to whether the fantasy world is real or merely a fantasy in the mind of a very unhappy 10 year old girl in a situation she fears and hates, an escape from reality by an imaginative child, a reader devoted to fairy-tales and creating her own that exists only in her own mind.

I’m undecided, though the sequence of events and, particularly, the horrific yet redemptive ending, inclines me personally to the fantasy theory. del Toro has however stated that the story is real and that there are implanted clues to establish this.

The story is set in Spain, in 1944, roughly contemporary to the D-Day landings in Normandy. Spain is not part of the Second World War, having fought its own Civil War that ended in fascism’s victory five years earlier, only a handful of weeks before the declaration of War.

Franco and the Falangists have won, and set about ordering the country on an assumedly Christian basis, rejecting Red notions of equality as contemptible. Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez, until now better known as a comic actor) is in charge of exterminating rebels, the Spanish Maquis, in this unidentified, rural corner. He and his men are based at an old Mill.

En route to join him are his wife, Carmen (Ariadna Gil), heavily and sickly pregnant with their first child, whom Vidal has already determined will be a boy) and his stepdaughter Ofelia (Ivana Baquero, aged 11 at the time of filming). Ofelia appears not to even know Vidal at all, and is silently and stubbornly resistant to Carmen’s wish that she call him Father. Ofelia’s father was a tailor.

But the film has begun with the recounting of a fairy-tale, of Princess Moanna, daughter of the King of the Underworld, who visits the human world, is blinded by the sun, loses her memory and lives and dies a human. Her father refuses to let go of the hope that her spirit will one day return, and builds portals in the form of labyrinths to faciltate this. One last one, overgrown and derelict, stands by the Mill.

The imaginative Ofelia startles an outsized stick insect that she believes is a fairy. At night, it it turns into an actual fairy, and guides her into the labyrinth, where Ofelia is recognised as the spirit of Moanna by the Faun (Doug Jones under intensely heavy make-up, his voice dubbed by Pablo Adan). This is no Mr Tumnus kind of faun – the film appeared not long after the hollywood adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and makes for an interesting comparison – but rather an ancient, massive, almot terrifying figure, with an enormous head and great curled horns. There is nothing childish about this Faun.

In order to restore the kingdom, the Faun sets Ofelia three tasks (three, of course) to complete before the moon is full. First, she must retrieve a key from a giant toad that is poisoning the roots of an ancient, gnarled, dead tree. Then she must use the key to unlock a chamber that holds a golden dagger, which is guarded by a sleeping, eyeless, Pale Man (Jones again), who eats children. Ofelia succeeds but disobeys the Faun’s order not to eat anything from the sumptuous banquet: for two grapes she loses two fairies, and is rejected by the Faun, who nevertheless returns as thereal world approaches its crisis, to offer her the third and final task, to steal her baby brother and bring him into the centre of the labyrinth, where the Faun produces the dagger: the blood of an innocent is required.

But each of these steps are set against the real world. Vidal, we quickly see, is an unredeemable monster, as bad as anything we might see underground. He is Fascism embodied in one person, cold, committed, brutal, demanding absolute obediance. He is intent on exterminating the rebels, all rebels, seeing them as a poison in the blood of the new, clean Spain. He holds no value for human life, in which the local dignitaries agree. The Priest, a good Catholic, states casually that as God has already saved their souls, it is unimportant what happens to their bodies.

But there is resistance going on under Vidal’s nose. The Maquis have a mole at the Mill in Mercedes (Maribel Verdu, of Y Tu Mama, Tambien), the household head, sister to the Maquis leader Pedro. Doctor Ferreira (Alex Angulo), who is there to take care of the sickly Carmen, who develops a serious and life-threatening fever, is also sympathetic, and supplies antibiotics, not to mention an impromptu amputation of a gangrenous leg.

The two worlds mix through Ofelia who, when her mother is stricken by what firstly looks like a miscarriage, accepts the help of the Faun, placing a mandrake root in a bowl of fresh milk to which she’s added two drops of her own milk under Carmen’s bed. The mandrake flexes and cries like a baby, and Carmen begins to recover magically.

That is, until Vidal finds the superstitious rot under the bed, roars his disgust for this unChristian affair this contemptible play at magic. He throws the mandrake root into the fire, where it writhes and burns, like a human baby. And Carmen, equally horrified at her daughter’s clinging to childish ideas of magic, collapses in agonies.

Ferreira cannot treat her: Vidal has coldly shot him for aiding a captured rebel by euthanising him. The Captain has already issued instructions to the Doctor, long before it becomes an issue, that in any choice, it is the baby who must be saved, who will preserve his line and carry his name forward. And it is the baby who survives.

But though we may hate Vidal by every decent instinct in us, nerves set on edge by the Captain’s lack of anything we recognise as humanity, he is not a stupid man, and his arrogance is not based on complacency. He identifies Mercedes as the rebel’s liaison, and prepares to torture her for information. Yet he’s underestimated her, as a mere woman, for she carries a paring knife rolled into the waistband of her apron, andshe uses it to cut her bonds, and to stab him in the back and the shoulder before slicing open his mouth.

Mercedes runs, Lieutenant Garces and his men pursue on horseback but are ambushed and slaughtered by the Maquis, surrounding the Mill and intent on attacking, on killing all the Army. And this is the moment when the Faun sends Ofelia/Moanna to fetch her baby brother.

Sensibly, she doses Vidal’s drink with several times the prescription for her dead mother’s sleeping draught, but despite the evidence, he resists unconsciousness, and follows her into the labyrinth. Though it opens for her and closes for him, he follows her to the centre. He cannot see the Faun, nor hear what it proposes, and so he doesn’t understand that Ofelia is refusing to allow her baby brother, Vidal’s son, to be harmed, no, not even to the extent of two drops of blood. The Faun tells her she has failed.

Vidal steps forward. He takes his son from her. Without thought or emotion, he shoots the little girl through the stomach. Outside the labyrinth, the Maquis and Mercedes wait. Vidal is the last survivor. He is determinedto die a brave man, like his father, the General. He hands the baby to Mercedes and asks her to tell him that his father died a brave man. Mercedes’ answer, bitter, angry, hating, is apposite: the boy will not eveen know his father’s name. Pedro shoots Vidal in the face, killing him.

Inside the Labyrinth, at its centre, Mercedes and the Maquis find Ofelia, still breathing but dying by inches. Mercedes, who is more important to the film than my account has made her seem, who has become a surrogate mother to Ofelia, an active mother intent of supporting her and rescuing her, as opposed to Carmen, a defeated woman, encaged and more concerned with pleasing her captor, Mercedes kneels beside the child and sobs bitterly as she dies.

And is reborn, in a reborn Underworld, Princess Moanna, who has fulfilled her task, who has spilt her own blood rather than let that of an innocent be spilled, who has done what demanded of her and been returned to her real parents, the King who is her real Father, the Queen who is Carmen. A voiceover tells us the end of Princess Moanna’s tale, of a long, fair and just rule, that she left but little and quiet traces of her time in the human world, visible onlyto thosewho know where to look – such as a flower budding on a long dead tree that no longer has a toad at its root.

This finale reminds me very much of Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death, and how the surgeon who successfully completes Peter Carter’s brain operation is also the Judge in his Trial before the Court of Heaven. But it’s also the biggest single factor in the film that inclines me to seeing the Underworld as a product of Ofelia’s imagination. Everything has gone wrong. Her mother is dead. The man she was encouraged to look upon as, and call, father, has coldly shot her. In her final moments, as the blood runs out of her, what other escape has she to bear her final moments with than the dream that what she did was redemptive, and her blood be the key to renewal, and that she is becoming immortal. It’s Brazil, and Jonathan Price’s escape, before the giant heads of Michael Palin and Peter Vaughan appear in the sky.

Though del Toro says otherwise, and he should know, though there are moments in the film that suggest that magic is real and tangible, this sad, heart-breaking conclusion is what impresses itself on me. It wasn’t real, it was never real at all. It was just a young and imaginative girl creating a fantasy of escape for herself, anxious that magic exist in a place of bitter and sordid conflict that held nothing of a future for her. And it led her to her death, not that it was likely she would survive too long. Not with Captain Vidal, not him.

I’m sorry, J, I should have listened to you and watched that DVD as soon as you produced it for me. You were right and I was wrong and I wish I could tell you that, even now. I wish I could hope to one day watch this film without thinking of my stupidity. I don’t think I ever will.


The Infinite Jukebox: The Chi-Lites’ ‘Have You Seen Her?’

Serendipity in musical terms is pretty much out of the window now I no longer have Brian Matthew and the much-missed glory era of Sound of the Sixties. But sometimes YouTube can fill a little of that absence. This morning, a combination of circumstances led me to pull up a track that’s featured in a previous Infinite Jukebox blog. The next track on the Autoplay was The Chi-Lites’ first British hit, from early 1972, ‘Have you seen Her?’
I used to have a friend, a girl, a contemporary from Elysian Street Mixed Infants & Juniors, with whom I played in innocent times. We were separated at age eleven, first by going to different one-sex-only Grammar schools, then by my moving from East to South Manchester. Nearly five years later, out of the blue, I got a letter from her, suggesting meeting.
She’d grown into a long-legged, long blonde-haired fifteen year old who was utterly gorgeous. In my naïve and extremely inexperienced way I fancied her something rotten. Thanks to her, I started going to a Sunday night Church Youth Group, run by the then-Vicar of our old East Manchester Church. I was reintroduced to my oldest mate, met another lifelong friend, met the first girl I ever fell in love with.
My friend left the Youth Group about six months later, and I was not to see her for another decade when, in an ironic inversion of circumstances, I wrote to her after the death of her father, and we formed a firm friendship that lasted nearly twenty years before dissolving in disappointing fashion.
But what this has to do with The Chi-Lites goes back to that brief teenage reintroduction. For some inexplicable reason, given that for all my passionate enthusiasm for music I was still pretty much an ignoramus, come December she decided she wanted to buy herself a single for Xmas and asked me to suggest something.
Eager not so much to please as to impress, and showing my desperation in doing so, I covered two sides of a narrow-feint lined sheet of paper with at least a dozen possibilities: names, title, what they were like as music. Thankfully I’ve no memory of anything I offered, except for one already-dated piece of fluff that I heard exactly once, and which went on the list solely because it’s title was her name. I cribbed my notes on that single from what the DJ said afterwards, only to find she’d heard the same broadcast.
With no more than a day to go before handing my list over, I heard another song on the radio for the first time: The Chi-Lites, of course, and ‘Have you seen Her?’. They were unknown in this country, and had only recently charted in America after a dozen years together. I knew of them vaguely, having spotted in the American chart published in Record Mirror that they’d had a song called “Give more power to the People”, and curious as to how it differed from John Lennon’s strident “Power to the People” (it differed, people, it differed).
“Have you seen Her?” was out of my usual parameters. I was not a soul boy, not by any means, despite a nascent attraction to some of the Motown reissues of the time, and this slow, hazy, lazy, mostly spoken piece was nothing like I had ever liked before. Besides, my sheet of paper was full. But I still managed to cram in a mini-rave, in a scruffy corner, about The Chi-Lites, based on that one play, and predicting it would be a big hit.
For once in that decade, I was exactly in tune with the Great British Record Buying Public, for it was a hit, and it was big, reaching no 3, a placing only reached by one of their other UK hits, six in total, ironically with their last. It was popular enough to get back to no. 5 when reissued only three years later.
Which of my suggestions my friend bought, or whether she bought any of them, I can’t remember even finding out. I suspect I’d be on safe ground in thinking that The Chi-Lites was the one most likely, given that she loved Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. I’m sure I’m on safe ground in thinking it to be the best of my selections and even safer in thinking it to be the only hit. Listening to it again, marvelling in its soft, warm, melancholy glow, connects me once more to those days and someone who used to be one of the very best friends I had.
Yet “Have you seen her?” is a memory of it’s own. It sits in a long tradition of songs about women, girlfriends, who have disappeared, as in “A Day Without Love” or “Carrie”. The singer may sound laidback, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t missing her, isn’t hurt, as that meltingly gorgeous chorus, as much whispered as sung, constantly reminds us. Have you seen her? Oh tell me, have you seen her?
She’s gone and he’s lost and lonely. Nothing holds any value for him. Everything he sees or hears reminds him of her. He tells himself she’ll come back, but each day proves him a liar. What has caused this breach, when he loves her so deeply and needily?
Well, maybe there’s a clue that ears of 1971 were less receptive to than those of our modern age. You know, its funny, Eugene Record muses, I thought I had her in the palm of my hand… But those of us who are in love want to be held by a hand, not in it, where we have no agency of our own. Sometimes it’s necessary to escape that kind of loving.
Did she come back? Did he ever see what was under his nose? With music this soft and sweet, this humble and loving, you have to believe him capable of getting it.

Uncollected Thoughts: Captain Marvel

One point for…

I usually go to a Marvel film expecting an entertaining time without anything exceptional on top and, for the most part, that’s what I get. And for Captain Marvel had not merely the generally good reviews the film has had but the specifically good words the film has had from my colleagues who have already been to see it. It was like that when I went to see Thor: Ragnarok, except that I wasn’t anything like as impressed with that film as everyone else. Hey, guess what?

It’s been a pretty crappy week personally, as I’ve been bordering on ill, and completely drained of energy every day, and I’m like that now. I had a morning appointment in Manchester for which I had to keep my wits about me, and it took a bit of willpower to go outside again, even if it was to enjoy myself. The seats at The Light cinema (screen 4 instead of 10 this time, nothing like as far to walk) are wide and comfortable and they slide out enough that you can practically lie-down in them. Which was not a wise thing to do because I was close enough to going to sleep as it was.

I was irritated to discover that the four trailers to which we were treated were all comic book films, three superhero, one Japanese manga. Ironically, the first of these was DC’s Shazam! which, as any veteran comics fan could tell you, stars Captain Marvel, the original Captain Marvel, that it. It looked good, I think it will prove to be good, and as a purist I hold the original in much higher regard than any of Maarvel Comics’ various trademark grabbers (though that’s a battle long-since won by Marvel, as well as being one DC have no moral right to win.)

Eventually, the big picture started. It was big and flashy, starting on Hala, home world of the Kree, noble space warriors, engaged in a long-standing war with the shapeshifting nasties, the Skrulls. Vers (our Captain Marvel) is a Kree warrior one of a six-person team under Yan-Rogg (Jude Law), possessed of the power to fire photon blasts from her hands, but hampered by her emotional issues, including her complete lack of memory of her past.

Vers and her team set out to rescue a Kree underground agent, but are led into a trap by the underhanded Skrulls. Vers (this is so contrived a name, not to mention one that had to be said a dozen times over before you could hear what it was supposed to be) gets captured, busts out in a long, running fight down spaceship corridors and winds up on Earth, wwhere S.H.I.E.L.D. (in the form of digitally de-aged Agents Fury and Coulson) try to apprehend her.

It’s only at this point, abut twenty minutes in, that the film decides to stop jerking its audience around with a confusing jumble of events lacking structure and starts piecing the actual story together. It’s a viable, indeed admirable story-structure, but paradoxically, this kind of chaotic approach needs to be carefully ordered if it is to hook and intrigue its audience into wanting to find out how the fuck it all fits together and not, as it did one member of the audience this afternoon, bounce them into the state of who the fuck cares how it all fits together?

By that point, the film had lost me and it was never going to get me back.

There’s nothing to be gained by expecting Marvel’s Film Universe to mirror the Comics Universe, nor should it. But after lining up the Skrulls as irredeemable baddies, the way they’ve been in the comics since they were introduced over fifty years ago, then to shift them into being the good guys, the innocents, was a step beyond credibility. There was also a tendency to overload the film with misshaped Easter Eggs, such as Dr Wendy Lawson, Earth scientist (Annette Bening) turning out to be a renegade Kree named Mar-Vell (Marvel’s first trademark securing CM, but a male), Carol’s best pilot buddy being Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), mother of eleven year old spunky girl Monica (Marvel’s second trademark securing CM, but an adult), and Carol’s full name being Carol Dan vers, with her Kree name deriving from a broken USAF pilot’s dog-tags: so ‘clever’ yet so predictable.

As for the acting, none of it particularly impressed me, Brie Larson looked good and hot in her Kree uniform/Captain Marvel colours, though she’s not very convincing when she has to run. Emotionally, to quote Dorothy Parker, she ran the gamut from A to B, and whilst she was mostly better off underplaying as she did, it left an absence not a presence in the centre of the film, and undercut those moments whe she tried to shift into an emotional higher gear.

And the film, like so many others, lost it in the ending by not knowing when to stop, just one conflict after another until they stopped meaning much of anything.

So, I’d give it a B-, most of which being made up of Larson in her leathers, and if the implication for the sequel is that it is about taking the war back to the Kree homeworld, I’ll take the proverbial rain-check. I think I’ll have a lot more fun with Captain Marvel than I did with Captain Marvel, even if I’m only allowed to call him that in my head. I’m preconditioned that way.

Lady Penelope: a good grounding for a Girls’ comic

The TV21 DVD I acquired isn’t solely devoted to TV Century 21, but includes less comprehensive files of the title’s spin-offs, including Lady Penelope and Joe 90, as well as the two unsuccessful ventures, TV Tornado and Solo. These were none of them comics I read in the Sixties, but it’s interesting to take a look at the stablemates, and whether I missed anything in my childhood.

The main one I’m interested in is Lady Penelope. As we’ve already seen, Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, Elegance, Charm and Deadly Danger, and her chauffeur and expert burglar Parker, debuted in TV21‘s first issue and ran for almost all the comic’s first year as a taster for Thunderbirds. Once International Rescue joined the TV21 line-up, and given Penny’s popularity among girls, she was an obvious figurehead to spin-off into a girl’s title.
This won’t be a long or massively comprehensive review: the DVD holds the first twenty issues without gaps, another seven representing the remainder of the first year, and only four other widely-separated issues. Enough for an insight into what this comic was when it began in 1966, but no more.
The first Lady Penelope (22 January) offered us, or rather our sisters, a free fabulous signet ring and the following features: a letters page with details of next week’s free hairband and secret x-ray device: a one page b&w Perils of Parker comic strip: The Man from UNCLE, two pages in colour, both richly drawn and coloured, a two page prose serial, Flinch from Every Shadow with a girl leading character, Sandy Barton, whose life is yanked out of its comfortable routine when she is snatched by jewel robbers: a one page feature on Schooldays – Italian Style: a Beverley Hillbillies one-page cartoon with a familiar artistic style, that turned out to be Paul Trevillion: Lady P herself in full colour across the centrespread – Eric Eden didn’t survive the transition to Penny’s title, with art duties going to Frank Langford: the equally transplanted Lady Penelope Investigates feature, given a full page (but did it have to be not-funny-even-then Liverpool comedian Jimmy Tarbuck?): a one page b&w strip featuring a family of Robinsons meant to invoke the imported American SF show Lost in Space, but going by Space Family Robinson (I don’t know about the rest of the country but Granada gave Lost in Space about eight weeks before dropping it): a FAB Club page equivalent to Contact 21 with a hair care piece, a full-colour fashion page and a competition to design drawing room curtains for Creighton-Ward Manor (this really is NOT a boy’s comic, is it?): a two page Bewitched strip, drawn by the same artist who drew My Favourite Martian: and on the back cover, in colour, Marina, Girl of the Sea, the story of the silent girl from Stingray, and how she lost her voice.
An interesting mix, to say the least.

Penny by Frank Langford

The Schooldays featured turned out, as I’d already guessed, to feature a different country and culture every week, which made for entertaining and informative reading. And the Bewitched/Favourite Martian artist stood revealed as Bill Tilcombe in issue 2, when he was allowed to sign his art.
There was a switch of artist on Space Family Robinson as early as issue 3 (5 February), a more angular style and the initials JB, from which I deduce the presence of John Burns, but more importantly, the last panel included a blatant tip of the hat to the series’ inspiration when the Robinsons found themselves ‘Lost in Space’. But with no sign of any equivalent to the cowardly Dr Smith.
Sandy Barton’s story concluded after seven brief but decent weeks with a deus ex machina rescue by a big-nosed chauffeur and a beautiful blonde aristocrat, making way for a new story from the Creighton-Ward secret files. Penny’s own adventure lasted exactly as long, and whilst she escaped under her own admirable devices, she still needed to call in Jeff Tracy to intercept the baddies.
The new serial starred Cathy Beswick and went by the name of What Did That Dog Say? which was a fair and accurate reflection of the contents of the story. And the first UNCLE adventure ended after eight weeks, with Illya getting the (highly efficient Agent) girl instead of Napoleon. I used to love The Man From UNCLE, both in the Sixties and when repeated in the late Eighties, and apart from the excellent art, the story caught the feel of the show very well.

Issue 8 (12 March)’s Lady Penelope investigates interviewed the not-quite fifteen year old daughter of Viscount Bangor, who’d found some repute as an artist and a poet. She came over as a self-confident young lady, though the aristocratic background and her manner were a bit prejudicial. But this was another of those amazing little coincidences, for the teenager was someone whose name we recognise from something quite different and many years later, she being future actress and Time Lord Romana, Lalla Ward, the former wife of Richard Dawkins. Funny old world.
A dozen issues in and the comic had established its shape admirably. Perils of Parker, whilst not actually funny, had a gentle, domestic aspect to it, dealing with life below stairs. Parker seems to have a good relationship with Lil, the cook and housekeeper, which had me wondering about what went on between episodes, and a good friendship with Perce, the gardener. The art on the UNCLE strip grew more and more impressive every week, with a fine colour scheme and its artist growing in confidence and skill at depicting faces in wonderful detail and not just those of Solo and Kuryakin: even the new creations looked like real people.
Space Family Robinson was beautifully drawn, although Burns’ propensity for greywashed tones makes the pages look dark, but its stories were dull and dragging. Penny’s own strip was well-drawn and made good use of colour, though it suffered in comparison with UNCLE by being inevitably cartoonish in comparison. Marina’s strip was also beautifully produced but felt very slow because it only had one page per week.
The two TV comedies were, in their way, neither better nor worse than any of those that appeared in TV21. The Beverly Hillbillies enjoyed the better art, but the stories in Bewitched were better realised, or am I just more sympathetic to a series that starred the lovely Elizabeth Montgomery, and which I have rewatched since the Sixties, unlike the Clampett family?
And the Lady Penelope Investigates feature I found fascinating, week in, week out, in its choice of people, the things that make them famous, and the contemporary attitude to them, however shallow. Things like Morecambe and Wise, Danger Man, Gerry Marsden on Five O’Clock Club, and even Ollie Beak and Fred Barker, this is my childhood we’re replicating here.
Though the one about Jimmy Saville in issue 15 (30 April), whilst completely innocent, turns the stomach…
Lady Penelope’s second adventure ended in issue 16 (7 May). It had involved an organisation ostensibly set up to promote equal rights and opportunities for women (how depressing that, a hundred years in the future, this was apparently still going to be necessary, what a message to serve to your audience of young girls). This was seemingly to be achieved by training women as super-efficient secretaries, who then stole all manner of industrial secrets with a refreshing lack of morality or honesty, to then manufacture and exploit as from a woman’s industry (no, still insulting to suggest women have to steal men’s ideas instead of coming up with their own). And when Penny completes the rescue of Susan Cliveden and returns her to her mother, the story has the cheek to have Penny warn Mrs Cliveden against letting her daughter join Equal Rights for Women organisations because “We girls should be dominated some of the time by the men.” The reason? “They feel more important that way.”
Ok, I know this was 1966 (I was there at the time), and coming from Lady Penelope it’s a two-edged comment. The trouble is, I’m not confident that it is meant ironically…

Despite this, it was a tremendous shame to come to an end after only twenty issues, especially when the comic ran for 204. Yes, it was a girl’s comic, and it was pitched towards girls, but the comic strips were beautifully drawn and well-written, and I could have stood reading a lot more issues.
As for the remaining handful – eleven examples from the next 175 issues! – the first available, issue 25 (9 July) revealed that I had missed the very thing that the Marina series had been building up to, exactly why she can’t speak (answer: she can, but if she does so, under Titan’s curse, her father Aphony will die).
There was a change of artist for UNCLE two issues later, still accurate on close-ups but far less detail, whilst Penelope went swimming in search of Mr Steelman, flashing her thighs.
By issue 38 (8 October), there’d been some changes. The Monkees had turned up, a two-page strip starting on page 2, and drawn by the ubiquitous Tom Kerr (that lad got around!). It’s months before the show arrived in England, or even the first single, and Mike Nesmith gets called Woolhat throughout, but it certainly was ‘zany’. The serials had switched from Lady P’s files to her ancestors. And Marina too had gotten a new artist, someone I recognise from TV21, with a harder, more angular tone. To make space for The Monkees, the FAB Club pages had been greatly de-emphasized.
Issue 52 (14 January 1967) marked the end of Lady Penelope’s first year and, just like TV21, a revamp was heralded for the next issue, introducing new stories, Daktari, The Girl from UNCLE, Creighton Ward (about a hospital ward) and The Angels, about the five beautiful, glamorous girl fliers from Spectrum. Also the second file series subject, Cathy Thompson, the girl who could talk to dogs, was due back.

Unfortunately, the next available copy is issue 92 (21 October). By then, the Monkees were in colour and Woolhat was now Mike, but Tom Kerr had gone. All the new series were still running. Creighton Ward stood revealed as a Children’s ward and the series appeared to star student nurse Pat Langdon. The Girl from UNCLE was only in b&w but the art was by Agent 21’s John Cooper, whilst Cathy Thompson and What did the Dog Say? turned out to be a one page comic, drawn by Bill Tilcombe. Daktari, based on the popular TV series about an animal doctor in Africa was being drawn in b&w by Eagle veteran Eric Kincaid, and a new series had turned up in the meantime, Jennie Ware, who sniffs a magic potion to go backwards or forwards in time: Jennie had, I assume, replaced Marina’s series. And The Angels got the colour back page, though the art is well below standard.
Three more snapshots: issue 124 (1 June 1968). The comic has now been re-titled Penelope, and Lady P’s series starts on the cover, like Captain Scarlet in the contemporaneous TV21. Bewitched and The Monkees (now in the centrespread) are the only survivors, although Cathy Thompson now has two magic rings, and her strip is What did the Dog (and Cat) Say? Other series are Class Six-Sterndorf, about a spy school, My Pony Blaze, about a girl trying to get her pony back from gypsies that have stolen him (so, no stereotyping there) and To Win a Gold, about a girl trying to get to the ’68 Olympic Games.
Issue 147 (9 November): Lady Penelope is now a pre-teen girl, befriending gypsies and having to deal with tinkers (that’s a bit more balanced). Bewitched, Class Six-Sterndorf and What did the Dog (and Cat) Say? are still going, and have been joined by Challenge of the Blades, about an orphan girl learning how to ice-skate, Up Up and Away, a colour centrespread about a girl in a balloon race and Flying’s for the Birds, a pop group serial about, of all talentless Sixties bands, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich. The comic is a proper girl’s comic now.
And lastly issue 197 (25 October 1969): just seven issues from the end and having outlived TV21, Penny’s now in her late teens and run away from home (all trace of the Twenty-First Century gone) and Bewitched is still going (but without Bill Tilcombe), set fair to be the only feature to last from start to finish. Everything else is just ‘girls’ comics, with all the cliches to be expected under that term.
Everything that formed Lady Penelope when it was launched has been excised and Century 21 Magazines no longer owns the comic. There’s still a contemporaneous 1969 Lady Penelope annual being advetyised, but so many cancelled comics lived on in Annuals for years later…

Lou Grant: s01 e15 – Sports

A self-satisfied man

Due to personal reasons, I couldn’t take this episode at my usual early hour, so for once it’s been an evening slot. And appropriate enough, in it’s way, as I immediately recognised the opening scene and was bac on a Saturday night in Nottingham a very long time ago, with Joe Rossi tossing a football around in the park (not a round football like a football, but the one they ripped off from a rugby ball), roping in a couple of teens to receive a long ball, and watching them receive it out of sight. And it was the City Desk ball too.

That was, however, the only bit I did remember, and it was used to cue into a story about, ultimately, journalistic ethics, played through the LA Trib’s star sports columnist, Sid Locke.

Locke’s a veteran, a star, a legend, syndicated in 102 newspapers and 21 languages, a thirty year veteran and the Trib’s biggest name. He’s also sitting on every manner of negative publicity about any LA sports team, but most notably its Football team, who could go ‘all the way’ this year, under Coach Bob ‘Square’ Deal, human paragon.

The problem is that the NCAA are investigating LA for a variety of dirty tricks surrounding college football: qualificatons, records, academic prowess, even (it turns out) obliterating criminal records. In short, one dirty mess and, even worse than that, all true.

But the Sports Editor is spiking the story that there’s even an investigation, because Sid Locke is sitting on it. And Sid’s riding his far-from-undeserved reputation into his  comfy berth, into the hearts and minds of the readers who only want to see LA win, and regard any least suggestion that it might not be entirely within the rules as treasonous, only not so unimportant.

Lou sees a story going to waste, sees the truth being hidden, sees just how dangerous it is to cross the readers on this. Rossi and Billie dig deep, Animal snaps Belgian gmnasts and hustles for their phone-numbers, there’s a near war between Sports and Metro, but the truth will out, even if Coach Square Deal won’t be found with his fingers in any pie.

In the end, it boils down to a confrontation that, for once, tips too far over into deceent liberal semtimentality. Sid forces a confrontation with Lou in Mrs Pynchon’s office, intent on a him-or-me ultimatum. The lady has to step out to settle an urgent problem in an advertising meeting, leaving the two to firstly stew, then argue. Sid’s scornful. It’s the old Winners and Losers argument: only Winners count, only Winners are remembered, Losers are Losers, and who the hell cares about turth, honesty, good sportsmanship, about what Sport should be about. It’s Cynicism 101, red in tooth and claw.

But Lou counters with his own group of Sports Stories, of men who called fouls against themselves, who insisted on the word of truth, of honour in sportsmanship. It makes Sid sneer at such callow naievete, until (and this was as foreseeable as a fourteen ton rhino charging straight at you in a narrow alley) Lou reveals where he read these stories: in Sid’s column.

Sid, visibly shaken by this reminder of his younger and better self, withdraws his ultimatum, undelivered, when Mrs Pynchon returns. Lou, relieved, comments how lucky it was she had that Advertising meeting just then. She rejoins that he’s lucky he has a proprietor who knows when to invent Advertising meetings…

Lou’s is a fair point and a decent one, entirely in keeping with the series’ ethos, but it’s a bit too blatantly applied this time, which undercuts it, and Sid’s 180 degree reversal of himself, from the soft, self-satisfied, smug and cynical veteran to the idealist of the long distant past is too abrupt and too big a stretch to take in one gulp, so I ended up feeling like I’d seen too much of the strings this time. The soft crusading edge is a bit too blatant and whilst the character parts are their usual well-developed elements, and the camaraderie between people still providing a solid bedrock to enable the sshow to pursue these ends, the episode for once wound up appearing to bea bit too schematic.

Better luck in the morning, next week.