Originally, this was the point where Film 2019 would go over into Phase 2, but a few individual DVDs have come in at a late stage to keep us going for a few extra weeks. Which means that for Easter Sunday I have watched the entirely inappropriate The Blair WitchProject. For the first time as well.
I remember the whole Blair Witch phenomenon at the time, but I was astounded to realise that it was a whole twenty years ago. Then again, in advaance I would have guessed the film to sometime around 2004, so the disrepancy is not that great. But for a film that gained such ubiquity, and notoriety, it’s something of a feat to have failed to see it in two decades.
Nor, now I come to have watched it, do I find it an easy film on which to comment. Some of that is that it is no longer such a divergence from standard film making. The left field it comes out of is no longer so remote, nor is the shift so extreme. And the initial, careful, internet-based stirring up of the film’s possible reality – the film’s three actors, Heather Donohue, Michael C Williams and Joshua Leonard were listed as ‘missing, presumed dead’ on imdb for the first twelve months or so – has dissipated. This is a film, and we know it to be a film, not actual found footage of people who really disappeared.
The film is constructed to appear to be the raw footage of a student film project, investigating the Blair Witch legend (fictional). It’s Heather’s project, and she’s roped in her friend Josh, who in turn ropes in Mike, whom Heather has never met before. The first part is jokey, loose, amateurish, setting a tone for what will follow: the project on the strength of this isn’t going to lead to offers for Heather in the future.
Nor do the film-makers waste much time on the set-up, interviewing random townspeople in Burkittsville – formerly Blair – Maryland, home to the Witch legends. The trio are, with commendable brevity, despatched into the woods with backpacks. Where they get lost.
And that, with wonderful simplicity, is it. Three people, two video cameras, and woods in which no sense of direction can prevail. Heather is over-confident for her own abilities, convinced she is right. Michael rejects the reality of their situation, seeing it as a deliberate piece of bullshit aimed at him. Josh grows intensely frustrated at Heather’s priorities, which he sees as the obsessive pursuit of her project rather than just getting back to the car. A weekend’s hiking becomes hree days, four days, five days.
Weird things happen at night around their tent. Josh goes crazy and disappears, creating an artificial oasis of relative peace and quiet as Heather and Mike turn surprisingly practical about their situation instead of conducting screaming matches at every second. Josh’s screams are heard in the night. Mysterious things turn up outside their tent. One, a bundle of sticks bound with a strip from Josh’s tartan flannel shirt, contains part of a human tongue.
What is actually happening is never explained (nobody would be stupid enough to demolish a film like this by providing an explanation). Heatherfilms a goodbye to her parents. She and Mike discover an ancient, dilapidated house from which Josh’s screams appear. Mike races down to the basement, where something seems to hit him. His camera falls to the floor and stops recordng. A panicking Heather follows him, briefly sees Mike stood facing the wall (per one of the townfolks’ stories of a local child killer) then her recording is abruptly stopped. Given the whole concept of thefilm, this is the only possible ending there can be.
The film didn’t scare me. Being a bright and hot Easter Sunday morning wasn’t conducive to things that go bump in the night, whilst the super-naturalistic tone the film takes led me to concentrate upon things other than the undefined, elusive and illusive horror, but I confess to being far more scared by things like the very old-fashioned Dead of Night than this.
What did interest me in the film was the three characters. The dialogue was mostly improvised, from various scenario, whilst the actors themselves were filmed in the woods whilst being harrassed and chased, to create for them the essence of the film. I found none of them to be people I’d want to spend a weekend hiking in even normal woods with, and the way they fell apart so quickly, retreating into extreme individual responses and showing themselves as weak, unpleasant and self-centred people, left me feeling contempt for each of them in different ways.
It didn’t stop me being fascinated with the process even as I couldn’t help but condemn the self-destructiveness of their reactions and, at times, their complete stupidity.
As I said, once Josh disappeared – perhaps kidnapped but far more likely just cracked up – the scene became calmer. Deprived of a third pole, and growing ever more weaker and despondent, Heather and Mike lacked the energy to attack each other continually, and concentrated more on keeping things together, though when Heather discovered the part tongue, she kept that secret from Mike.
By the nature of it, such a film can’t have a conclusion, only a stopping point. Nor was that a weakness, as I’ve identified with the two most recent Isabelle Huppert films. There’s no other ending, without explanation, denouement or closure. We have to construct what may have happened out of our belief in what is happening, which makes every ending unique to its viewer. Mine? A serial killer in the woods, pure and simple, nothing Witchy. Filter these events into a ‘professional’ depiction in a Dead of Night style portmanteau film and I might not be so realistic. Twenty years ago, in a cinema surrounded by a receptive audience… well, who knows?
As a final note, this film having come out in 1999, I always had difficulty taking it wholly seriously because of its title. Then, and now, there is only one Blair that comes to mind when the film is mentioned, and he’s scarier than anything the film can do.
It’s been five and a half months since my last Expedition, the ill-fated one that didn’t hetme anywhere near Patterdale. Today’s Easter Saturday, the sun is up, the skies are flat blue and I’m awarding myself a day out. This one is to a rather more prosaic destination: I’m going to Nottingham.
Nottingham? Why? The East Midlands is not high on anyone’s list of outings, especually in this sort of weather. Couldn’t I find somewhere better?
Out in those terms, the answer is obviously yes. But I spent two years of my early Twenties living in Nottingham, I’ve written a novel rooted in those experiences, and I’m currently working on the second of two sequels, which includes scenes in Nottingham, so the Expedition is split down the middle between nostalgia and research. I wonder if I could claim the train fare back against my taxes?
The plan is to catch the 9.54am train from Stockport to take advantage of the much-reduced Off-Peak fares. My paranoia about missing trains is under reasonable control these days, but I was on Platform 0 with no mishaps or panics with fifteen minutes to spare. Which is just as well, for what arrives is the Norwich train, which is two coaches only and most of the seats reserved. I quickly found one that wasn’t and stuck to it like glue.
But the train was crowded, and chaotic, and I was on the aisle with no possibility of looking at the green scenery. No room for anything but my mp3 player, my bookand the occasional swallow of Diet Coke.
There was a real shock at Sheffield when, having debouched some of the passengers and taken on thankfully fewer, the train backed out the way it had come in. Nobody seemed fussed and the next stop was still Chesterfield, when the crowds thinned out enough to lose the standing passengers. I was grateful of that: I’d already spent more time with a bloke’s arse rubbing up against my upper arm than I’d budgeted for my whole lifetime.
This was only the third time I’d gone to Nottingham by train. The first was for my interviews (two, at different firms, both of which I flunked) of which I can remember nothing but the excellent instructions on getting there from the station. The other was New Year’s Day 1979, when snow and ice had made the roads too dangerous to risk, and I needed two trains, change at Sheffield, and my Principal was stunned to find me there when I was supposed to be because of the travel problems.
Now, there are direct trains, when once it was nothing but changes.
I’d been travelling backwards since Sheffield, and I wish I could say I was doing so mentally or emotionally. It wwould be neat, appropriate, literary but it would also be untrue, not just a mere exaggeration. But though I used to make regular trips down here, in my car, I haven’t been to Nottingham since the last century, and I have had no contact with anyone here in all that time. Several of them have died, which is understandable: my contemporaries are all in their sixties by now. No, this is not a pilgrimage.
There was not a thing I remembered about Nottingham Station, though it marked the first place that I needed to research. I left onto Carrington Street and immediately turned left, assuming this road would, at some extension, take me to Trent Bridge, Forest’s ground, the Cricket ground and the road to West Bridgeford. But I was wrong. Proving that irony still runs rampant in my life, this was where I was asked for directions by a pretty young womn in car and a very short skirt.
My primitive bump of location worked better in the opposite direction, leading me to and through the Broadmarsh Centre and into Lister Gate. I emerged into my memories, knowing where I was, and that forty years hadn’t wrought enough change for me to possible lose myself.
From that point on, I felt as if I was walking an invisible maze, it’s walls defined by recollection. Names that used to be the network of Saturday afternoon shopping trips. Up Low Pavement, into Bridlesmith Gate, where the original Selectadisc used to be, though I couldn’t spot where exactly. The heat, exacerbated by the jacket I’d insisted on wearing because, you know, drove me into Waterstones, a source of temptations. But I had a list of second hand bookshops I wanted to visit, and I was determined only to buy from any of these.
The Market Square was not too far away on my left but ahead was dear old Clumber Street, where our offices were. I gently weaved through the tide of people, but try as I might I couldn’t work out where we’d been, we being Hunt, Dickins & Willatt, Solicitors, which hasn’t existed for a long time.
I moved on, just as I used to at 5.00pm, when I could go home, but I turned left into Upper Parliamt Street, circling the Market Square. What used to be merely the Nottingham Building Society – and how many mortgages did my customers take out with them? – was still there, recalling ro me their fantastic window displays, one of which was endless Sunday pages devoted to Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland that I would study for ages.
Selectadisc has also gone the way of all things. I passed the front of the Theatre Royal, scene of my third of only three gigs – The Chieftains – in Nottingham in that whole forty-eight months (I saw more in Manchester during that period) and turned down Market Street. I picked up a cheap DVD in Oxfam that’ll soon be appearing in my Film 2019, then visited the legendary Page 45 independent comics shop, where I bought a Lynda Barry hardback, which had my taste applauded. Worryingly, I was one of only three people in there all the time I looked round.
No more shilly-shallying. I made my way down to the Market Square and turned to the narrow end of it. Needless to say, the ABC is gone, a great old-fashioned massive screen cinema where I took my ‘special friend’ to see the first Christopher Reeve Superman, and where I first saw 2001 – A Space Odyssey as it really should be seen.
The main part of the Square was home to a big tent advertising performances by the Lady Boys of Bangkok: yes, well. Instead, I turned up Friar Gate (which has a memory all of it’s own that has my right knee throbbing in sympathy as I write this), into Spaniel Row to St Nicholas Street, where stands my favourite pub, Ye Olde Salutation Inn, est. 1240 AD. Mind you, it was crowded, and full of Heavy Metal music, so the cool atmosphere of the ages had a bit of trouble getting through.
A pint, a burger and a half hour studying the streetmap I’d bught in W.H.Smith’s and I was ready for another go.
I found one of the bookshops I’d marked out the night before, whose address I’d written out then left behind, but it was small, cramped and didn’t have anyting I wanted. I re-emerged on Upper Parliament Street and walked down to the Victoria Centre, which used to be my favourite Shopping Centre for its high ceilings and wide interior, a sense of space that, yes, you’ve guessed it, no longer exists. The Indoor Market’s gone, as has the space it used to occupy. Do I have any tangible memories left?
At least the exit onto Mansfield Road hasn’t been bricked up or anything like that. That was my way home, but I wasn’t going to go up to Woodborough Road or Alexandra Court: that’s a nostalgia that needs no refreshing. Instead, I wandered back to Clumber Street where, after consulting the streetmap, I worked out where the firm used to be.
I also found the second of the bookshops, down a long, quiet alley, but again nothing.
For a while I sat in the sun in the Market Square. There was a Revolutionary Communist haranguing the crowd, starting off on Climate Change but transitioning to a denouncement of Capitalism (and Imperialism, don’t forget Imperialism) with a rapidity that didn’t betoken much real enthusiasm for Climate Change, and then a long and hagiographic spiel holiding up Cuba as the world’s ideal. Frankly, he bored the arse off me, and he wasn’t convincing anyone else, so I moved on.
But I’d seen what I’d come to see, more or less. My next attempt at an extended sit down, with a triple replenishment of my liquid supplies, was disturbed by another Saturday afternoon ranter, this one a God-botherer. Then he was replaced by a blues singer/guitarist busker. Sigh.
When I lived here, they used to say, and may still do, that Nottingham girls were the prettiest in all England. And whilst I am and always will be a chauvinist for my home city, on today’s evidence, the 2019 crop aren’t letting their forerunners down in any respect.
It was all over by now. I’d had the refreshers I wanted, but on top of that I’d demonstrated that there is no continuity to this slice of my past. Nottingham was a city in which I lived for two years, two vital, engaging, educational and essential years, but only the City remains and that’s the lesser part. Simon, Heather, Liz, Richard, Sharon, Jeremy, Alison, Roger, Anne, Gary, Jill, Graham, Rose, Ken, Jane, Murray, Sandy: we will never be in each other’s company again and without the people, Nottingham is only lines in brick.
So I headed back down Lister Gate, and through the Broadmarsh. There was time enough to hunt for London Road and the way to Trent Bridge, to see what Steve and Lottie see when they walk along there, but it had been hot too long and my feet were starting toaching so, like the route round the Boulevards that Steve navigated for Lucy and Pam, it’ll have to come from the streetmap, and the memories that are closer to what I need that the streets now.
I was on the 15.47 Liverpool Lime Street train with time and space to spare, a table seat, facing the way I’m going. except that for the second time today, we set off backwards. At least, it seemed backwards to me, but the ticket-inspector assured me we were going the only way the train through Stockport goes, but I still can’t work out how I got 180 degree arse about face.
Never mind, I just switched to the other side of the table, then again when we re-reversed out of Sheffield. This latter cost me sight of the two attractive young woman (whose collective age was still much too young for me) but enabled me to enjoy the hills as we motor through Edale (which has four separate mmemries of four separate woman). They haven’t distinctive shapes, nor nearly enough rock, but they form a skyline, and they rouse the hunger to walk it. One ridge has two arcs of para-gliders above it.
I was back at Stockport for 5.30pm, straight onto a 203 home when I got down to the Bus Station, and in for six o’clock. It’s not like going to the Lakes, and that’s going to be the next expedition, before too much longer, but a day out is a day out and this was a good enough one.
Once again, this is a walk I outlined a long time ago as a Great Walk, but which now I want to recall as one of my finest days out in the Lake District. This was the second of four occasions on which I climbed Scafell Pike, and of my four expeditions to the highest point in England, by far and away my favourite.
I was still steadily working my way through my diminishing list of Wainwrights in the summer of 1994, in a run of sunny weekends when I went walking on six successive Saturdays. It was a July Saturday and I planned to drive up from Manchester, undertake the longest and hardest walk of my life, and return home all in a day, and a day of sun throughout.
These Saturday expeditions worked to a strict timetable: the alarm clock at 6.00am, into the car at 7.00am and look to be crossing the Cumbria Border by 8.00am on the M6: my record time was 58 minutes one Saturday. From there, it depended where I was going: I could be in Ambleside by 8.30am, but a walk out of Ennerdale took considerably longer.
And when it comes to parking at Seathwaite on a sunny day, you really do have to start early. This is not a scientific assessment, because to be a scientific assessment, I would have had to have hung around Seathwaite counting cars and wasting good walking time, but my estimate was that for every minute after 9.00am, you ended up parking two more car lengths from the farm.
Which is alright at 9.20am, full of the joys of summer, but something different at 4.30pm.
I love Seathwaite on a sunny morning. It’s the gateway to possibility. There is literally nowhere you can go from here that does not lead to a great day, and if you can’t be excited setting foot in the farmyard, you should give serious thought to spending the day with a good book instead.
This was the first of my visits to Seathwaite to see me turn under the square arch in the farmyard and walk across the fields to a little stone bridge over the young Derwent. I’d returned by this route on two previous visits, starting in wildly different directions but ending up in the same place. The last time had been when I took a never-quite-was girlfriend to climb Seathwaite Fell: we’d returned from Sty Head via the Taylorgill Force variation and now I wanted to climb that because it looked a lot more interesting than the main drag.
The west bank of the Derwent was soft and grassy, and in spots a bit damp after I crossed the bridge. I set off brisk and purposeful, taking advantage of both the pleasant ground underfoot and the initially level ground. The main path to Stockley Bridge, and the crowds already progressing along it, were in clear sight after we’d passed the farm. Then the path started to angle uphill, still gently but at an increasing rate, until I was well above the river and looking for that moment when it would turn directly uphill, towards a gate visible on a rocky bluff above. Through the gate and I was inside the gorge.
From our descent before, I knew that to find the path round the ravine I had to duck under the extended tree branch directly in front of me. Ducking wasn’t a problem back then, even with a rucksack. The sun was beating down and there was no breeze at close confines. This was warm enough for me to strip off my sweatshirt and go bare-chested (ooh er, missus!) until I was out of the ravine and into the breeze again.
I worked round to the right, scrambling along the path into the little wooded defile above the falls, and from there emerging onto the long, flat gravel-lands on the lead-in to Sty Head Tarn. I knew from before that the path beside Sty Head Beck, here running in a narrow grassy channel, came and went on my side and all I need to do refind it was to walk on and not slip into the water, but at the first gap I thought, ah, to heck with it (or something similar), and hopped over the beck, scrambled up the bank and settled myself on the main drag.
It was only the mid-morning, the sun was still raising itself, and I had the opportunity to stride out on all but level ground, amid wide green walls, with Great End lazily rearing its massive head before me at every step. This kind of lazy walking is rare in the lakes and should be appreciated. I bowled along happily under the sun, my shirt restored as the breeze was once again decidedly breezy, and before long I was strolling the shores of the Tarn, and coming to the stretcher box at the top of Sty Head.
The official summit is beside the blue stretcher box but the highest point is about a hundred yards further on, at the lip of the downfall towards Wasdale Head. I settled myself down for a bite to eat, a pitta bread crammed with ham and Mediterranean vegetables, crunched happily, and healthily as I savoured the view.
Momentarily replete, I wandered back to begin the next leg. I was really looking forward to this bit. I remembered Mam and Dad talking about the Corridor Route enthusiastically. Neither of them had done it, and Mam had not lasted long enough for me to tell her that I had, and to describe it to her.
I set off in the direction of Esk Hause, keeping my eyes open for the thin track that led right, to the edge of the downfall and beyond it, on a broad, loose slope down which I worked. This didn’t cost me much height, in the scheme of things, and from the bottom I set foot on the Corridor Route.
It used to be called the Guides Route, which is understandable, but why it became known as the Corridor Route when it’s actually a series of linked ledges, angling across the flank of the massif, I don’t know, but it was a brilliant walk in itself, and it could have been twice as long and be twice as great. It was good, rough walking, full of mini-scrambles round corners, hard underfoot, demanding awareness, with the massive downfall of Great Gable over the right shoulder any time you wanted to slow down and just relish where you were. I am and always was summit-oriented, but things like this were worth the day itself.
As Lingmell Col came into view, I was a little worried to see the path apparently turn sharply uphill towards Broadcrag Col, but when I got to the end of the Corridor route, this was actually a long tongue of grey scree, descended the eroded slope, and no official route whatsoever.
To my right was the top of Piers Gill, and a steep glimpse into his forbidding surroundings. The only other time I had been in this place was with my family, when we had somehow turned a walk towards Sty Head via the Valley Route into a full-scale ascent beside the Gill, led by my enthusiastic father, about which I had been very doubtful. And here I was again, looking into that great shattered ravine and thinking myself very glad not to have come up that way again, especially not on my own.
But the continuation of the path looked to be angling up onto Lingmell Col on the Pike side, which I didn’t want. The descent to the lowest part of the Col might be minimal but on a walk of this length and scope, I did not want to lose any height, no matter how minimal. I was looking around for an alternative when I happened to catch sight, on my right, of a path crossing a little dell about ten feet lower, and I quickly dropped down to this to take me onto the Col where I wanted to be, with the added bonus of the first grass beneath my feet since the banks of the Derwent.
There was no path up Lingmell for the first fifty feet, but then one sprung into being, entire, as if it had forced itself up through the ground. The summit had the same magnificent views of Gable and Mosedale, but the spire-like summit cairn had long since been replaced by an untidy, sprawling pyramid of stone. The original cairn had been demolished before we ever came here, but we had seen the rebuilt version that features in The Southern Fells, thicker at the waist, like me, than above or below.
Lingmell was the second, and highest, of three fells my Dad had climbed. I couldn’t not return. A day like this would have been the perfect day to have had Dad accompany me into the high country. It would have meant as much to him as it did to me.
Twenty five years earlier, or thereabouts, I had looked at Scafell Pike from this angle, convinced that we could climb it without difficulty. The adults pooh-poohed me. In the Nineties, I was vindicated. This approach isn’t the most exciting way of reaching Scafell Pike, but I walked up it without the need to halt.
It was the second of four times I climbed the highest peak. Despite the number of people on the path above and below me, I came to that band of stone where the path becomes nothing but scratches on rocks, where I seem always to be crossing alone. It makes the final steps into even more of a pilgrimage, and I not religious. Once the summit is reached, the scene becomes almost obscene with visitors, many of whom are clearly not here because they’re fellwalkers, but all of whom are here because this is where it is, the highest point. There is nowhere higher than here without getting into some flying machine.
You can tell they’re not fellwalkers because they don’t give way for you to visit the cairn, spoiling their momentary image of themselves as higher than anyone in the country. I just walked past them anyway and surveyed that incredible view, in which all is brilliant, but most of all Bowfell. This is the only place from which you can look down on it, and it’s amazing how the fell seems to twist its shoulders in embarrassment.
But crowds like that on a summer Saturday lunchtime are not what I put the effort in for. After making my duty visit, I headed downhill, south east, towards the unoccupied south cairn, with its vista of the wilds of Upper Eskdale and its grandstand seat for Scafell Crag from the gully to Foxes Tarn round to the the shadowed channel of Lord’s Rake. With my back to the masses, and the wind blowing from me to them, I could sit back and enjoy my lunch in the deceptive silence, pretending I was on my own.
Nothing last forever. I angled across the stony top, steering to the right of the cairn to pick up the downhill route to Broad Crag. It was my first close-up sight of the second Pike (as we all still believed it to be then), a rounded, aggressive dome of stone. The path led steeply downhill into the narrow col, and just as steeply up out of it to cross Broad Crag’s Eskdale shoulder. This was challenging walking, hands supplementing feet, no looking at the view below without stopping and anchoring oneself.
I was going to climb it, of course I was going to climb it, despite everything Wainwright said by way of warning. I had nearly thirty years experience under my boots and I was not going to be here often and this day was about cramming in every good and exciting thing on the way.
Once I got close up, it was clear the way was going to be every bit as difficult and dangerous as Wainwright had said, but being being sensible and careful, ensuring each step was firmly anchored before I put my way on it, and balancing every step onto a knife-edge, I got up without difficulty and, after admiring the Pike’s rocks from this previously unseen angle, down to the path again in complete safety.
Next was the drop into and climb out of Illcrag Col, and the turn right for the third Pike. For the first time that day, I began to feel the walk in my legs. Ill Crag lies a long way east of the main ridge, and I was surprised to find that, once I’d crossed its shoulder, the last stage was like a miniature of Broad Crag. By the time I’d got there, the sun was beginning to descended towards the far side of the massif: the light was hazy and golden, the crags dark, and the day started to feel as it time was running. I walked back to the path and down into Calf Cove.
Finally, I’d come to the point of the walk, in Wainwright-collecting terms. All of this was about ticking Great End off the rapidly shrinking list of unvisited summits. The final ascent was gently graded and surprisingly grassy. I arrived on the edge of the top with two cairns in sight.
The further and leftmost looked to be the highest, but the actual top was the nearer and rightmost. I made a careful beeline towards the first top, conscious that Great End is named for what it is and having no wish to accelerate over the cliff-edge. I then worked my way back along the line of the cliffs, as near as I dared step, which wasn’t all that near at all, until I reached the actual summit, and then back down to Calf Cove and the way to Esk Hause.
This was the second time I’d been here, and the third would follow within a matter of weeks. As always, I found it strange that the only direction there was not a path was down into Eskdale, but then the uppermost feet of the valley are so narrow, a path is unnecessary. I looked around, trying to commit routes to memory, then strolled down to the wall-shelter.
All that was left now was return, and I felt tired but wholly satisfied. Nor was the last stretch a disappointment: Grains Gill is a wonderful route of ascent but it’s not that bad going down.
The final part of the walk, after the last summit, is always some kind of a dying fall. The achievements are usually over and all you’re doing is heading back, and it’s more often than not a trouble-free walk downhill. Grains Gill is a splendid route, but it was winding up and winding down. The lower valley was a long, narrow funnel, with Stockley Bridge in view all the way, getting slowly nearer.
Even arriving at the Bridge didn’t ease things up because that path from Seathwaite might be broad and generally level, but it’s been battered by billions of boots and it’s no picnic stroll. I got back to the farm sore-legged and weary. The farm cafe was still open and, for once I had some cash on me instead of locking my wallet in the glove compartment, I stopped off for some natural, farm-grown food and drink, an entirely natural Mars Bar and a locally-grown Diet Coke (what? You mean these weren’t farm produce?)
And then the stroll back to the car. This was the 4.30pm that was so different from 9.20am. I’d have liked to have been nearer, and got my boots off and into lightweight trainers that little bit sooner, but to be honest it could have been much worse, and the glory of the day tided me over and gave me a glow that lasted all the way down the motorway.
I still haven’t seen Aquaman, and I’m no more likely to watch the first Henry Cavill Superman film than I am to sit through a rewatch of Batman vs Superman (hey, I just realised, if I am ever captured by a supervillain who wants to torture me for the information I have, I have soooo given away what he needs to do to make me spill like a baby), but I’m confident that I have now seen the best DC movie to date.
Outside, it’s still Good Friday afternoon, and it’s sunny, but instead I chose to go indoors at The Light. I was in Screen 3, which is the nearest to the door I’ve been yet, and I was in row C, which is the nearest to the front I’ve sat yet (and which did not do much to improve this series of headaches I’ve been getting for days.
And once again the trailers were ALL superhero movies, one of them for Avengers: Endgame, which caused me to close my eyes to avoid seeing and at least blur hearing any of it.
Last time out, I went to see Captain Marvel. This time I was here for Caprain Marvel, that is, the original Big Red Cheese, the guy created at Fawcett Comics by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck, the guy that National Comics sued for ripping off Superman (he didn’t, you only have to read the comics to see that, but he did outsell Superman, so…) He’s also the guy who couldn’t appear in any comics under his name after DC picked him up because it the interim, Marvel had registered a trademark on Captain Marvel. Now, DC either can’t or won’t call him by his real name inside his comics, so now he’s Shazam (which means that he can’t call himself by his own name). It was a niggle, just a niggle, but a niggle nonetheless.
But it was really my only niggle. The movie took the Captain Marvel story, twisted it a little to branch Dr Sivana into the Shazam legend instead of him just being an evil scientist, but otherwise played that side of things straight. Since Sivana, a wonderfully composed, steel-faced performance by Mark Strong, takes the Seven Sins into him, after being passed over as a potential Captain/Shazam back in 1974, there’s some real darkness: you can just feel Zack Snyder turning up his very slow motion camera.
And that’s what makes the film work. It is serious, it is real, but it doesn’t feel like it. And I’m not talking Marvel-style banter. Sivana is 100% serious throughout. The comedy comes directly from (ah, hell) Shazam himself. Billy Batson (Asher Angel, who’s is a fourteen year old boy. True, he’s a very adult fourteen year old boy in some respects, having become separated from his mother at age 4, with her never coming looking for him, making Billy a determinedly independent kid, a serial rejecter of foster homes, a serial rejecter of any families or relationships, hellbent on finding his mother himself. But he’s a fourteen year old boy.
He gets placed with the impressively loving and concerned Victor and Rosa Vasquez and their existing group of foster kids, Darla, Eugene, Pedro and, most importantly, the crippled Freddy Freeman and the oldest of all, Mary Broomfield (Grace Fulton). This all comes directly from the rebooted Shazam Family but I am constitutionally incapable of seeing the latter two as anything by Captain Marvel Junior, and Mary Marvel, aka Billy’slong-lost twin sister.
Billy won’t get involved. Indeed, he’s running away again whenhe is zapped to the Rock of Eternity by the near-dead Wizard Shazam, and has the powerof being Captain Marvel (dammit, Shazam) vested in him.
And he turns into Zachary Levi, having a ball of fun as this big, beefy guy in a red and gold suit, but still basically beeing Billy Batson, misanthropic and self-centred fourteen year old.
Angel and Levi can’t help being funny, whichever one of them is there at the time, which is what makes this film so good. You believe every second of it as being what a fourteen year old would think and do, from good to bad, and how helpless the Shazam version is when Sivana finds him and starts beating the crap out of him. Shazam can only escape by shouting ‘Shazam’ and turning into Billy.
Who’s all set to run away again once the other kids discover his secret, like Freddy and Darla have, because Eugene’s found him his real mother, who abandoned him because she was just a young single mother and random strangers could take better care of him than she could. But that’s the catalyst for the heart-warming moment (I didn’t say the film was perfect, did I?) when Billy decides who are his real family.
This cues us up for the long, actually slightly overlong fight scene that rounds the film out, which gets particularly daffy when Shazam gets everyone to grab the Wizard’s staff (which has a very large knob on the end) and shout his name. ‘Billy!’ they all cry, naturally, but second time round they all transform into Shazams, in different coloured costumes (in a neat tip to the once and former Mary Marvel, Mary gets red alongside Billy).
And there’s not a moment of slow-motion to be seen, just good honest CGI whirling around until the day is saved.
There was the expected mid-credits scene to set up the sequel, which I’m alredy looking forward to, and that had me laughing tthe hardest at he fact they’re going to be so nuts as to use Captain Marvel’s other archenemy: no, not Black Adam, I’m not counting him, but Mr Mind. Yes, the four inch tall, taking intergalactic worm. I love that they have the nerve to pull Mr Mind off in the 2020s.
I was leaving when someone told me there was a post-credits scene, so I stayed. It was basically a diss on Aquaman and hardly essential, but it summed up the irreverence that made this film such fun to watch. A plague on your Man of Steels, a murrain on your Dawn of Justices! This is what we’ve been waiting for all along.
I’ve already written about Boy’s World once, but that was based on two-thirds complete poor condition paper copies that excluded the first twenty-three issues of the comic that was supposed to replace the Eagle.
Why you should want to replace one of the most successful boys’ weekly comics that ever existed is a matter for speculation, but that was what Leonard Matthews, of Longacre Press, wanted to do from the first moment Eagle fell under his purview. But then again, Eagle was, even after three years in the hands of professionals like Odhams Press, the comic created by the amateurs, the C of E Vicar and the Southport Art Student, and a lot of people were put out by their success and thought it no more than one massive fluke.
So Boy’s World was going to be the professionals showing the amateurs how to do it. It would outshine Eagle, eclipse it and allow Longacre to close it.
We all know what happened. Boy’s World, which lost an editor before one copy was even printed, which had to be substantially revamped in less than six months, failed to last as many as two years, and suffered the ignominy of death-by-merger into Eagle, surviving only as a second name on the masthead of the comic it was meant to replace.
I find that heart-warming, don’t you?
This was my first chance to read the first twenty-three issues, which were missing from my original paper haul. Internally, there are no great differences between the original Boy’s World and the more conventional comic following the issue 24 revamp, but the provision of a full-bleed cover gives the paper a completely different feel. This first six issues featured boys in various, bright, shiny, ordinary circumstances that were more than a bit bland, then the ‘What would you do?’ series took over until the end of the run, dangerous real-life situations in which the participants only had a limited time in which to find a way out, a challenge the reader had to confront before turning page 2 and reading the solution.
The effect of the full-bleed is to make Boy’s World look more like a magazine than a comic, something simultaneously more serious and more parent-friendly, like it’s almost exact contemporary, Look and Learn (another brainchild of Leonard Matthews, its first issue came out six days before Boy’s World‘s).
For a comic, and one intended to usurp Eagle, with its long tradition of great and varied comics series, Boy’s World didn’t half carry a lot of print. An editorial page stretching over two pages, a short story series written by Donne Avenell, from the point of view of various animals, birds and fish, a prose serial, a complete short story AND the Ticket to Adventure series.
This left space for only four comics series, three at two pages, only one of which in colour, the last at one page. Taken in order, these were: Pike Mason, a sea-going adventurer with his Filipino assistant, Quarro, drawn in a dark and moody greywash style by Luis Bermejo: John Brody, science correspondent of the Daily Correspondent, a Dr Thirteen who didn’t debunk the impossible: Wrath of the Gods, a superb colour centrespread featuring all manner of adventures in Greek mythology, written by Jeff Hawke’s Willie Patterson and drawn by Ron Embleton; and The Boys of Castleford School, a conventional boarding school story with a suspicious new boy.
Let’s be at bit more specific about these stories. Whilst the Brody, Wrath of the Gods and Castleford School stories were brought to a simultaneous conclusion in issue 23 (Castleford School in the form of a short second serial), Pike Mason’s adventure, ‘The Sea Ape’, couldn’t quite squeeze into that strait-jacket and needed a final episode in the revamp issue. It was well-drawn although its pages consistently looked dark and murky, but the story relied too heavily on superstitious primitive natives whose Gods could only be appeased by sacrificing white men (and Filipinos) for my liking.
Brody’s ‘What is Exhibit X?’ was about an invading intelligence trying to hypnotise and takeover the country, that could only be opposed by people who could hear ultra-sonics, whilst the Castleford School story featured the suspicions of Tom Bannister and Beefy Paget about their new study-mate, Benbow, about whom there was a mystery. Was Benbow a villain, working with crooks? No, he was the nephew of a British intelligence Agent, aiding Uncle to expose Diamond-Smugglers. The second, six week story, was about proving the local legend of the Phantom Rider true, though he was actually a guise to stop racehorse nobblers.
Both Castleford stories were straight schoolboy serials, neither better nor worse than any of their contemporaries, such as Sandy Dean in Lion, but their big problem was that this was 1964, and the boy’s boarding school story was all but played out. Castleford School would not survive the revamp, at least, not in this form. Boy’s World‘s jewel was ‘Wrath of the Gods’. It starred Arion, a Greek warrior who, on finding his family and friends slaughtered in his absence at the wars, cursed Zeus and the whole rotten lot and found himself appointed a kind of mortal trouble-shooter drafted in by the Gods to carry out fantastic missions. But though Arion’s adventures were gorgeous to look at, the story seemed paper-thin. It had no structure beyond that of the daisy-chain: each week or so a new instruction o seek something else leads Arion into another encounter, with the Furies, the Minotaur, Atlas and so on. Willie Patterson is legendary for writing Jeff Hawke but I’ve always found everything else he wrote to be passionless and static.
The revamp made no difference to the cover except to make Boy’s World look like a comic by introducing a half-inch band of white paper around everything. Inside, however, the number of comics series went up, although as the paper gained an extra four pages, this didn’t diminish the prose features.
Pike Mason, John Brody and Wrath of the Gods remained, although the latter was for some reason ripped out of the centrespread and dropped onto the back pages, with a young and initial somewhat rough and ready John Burns taking over art duties, albeit still in colour, as Arion found himself charged with finding the Nameless God in order to have the plague-carrying Chalice of Apollo destroyed.
For Mason, it was the same again, hired to find a lost civilisation’s treasure protected by the Curse of Zentaca, whilst Brody dealt with the House on Scar island, going ghost-chasing.
Castleford School wasn’t so lucky. In theory, it continued, but it underwent a comprehensive change of style, tone and art by turning into ‘Billy Binns and his Wonderful Specs’, a comedy strip about a useless, fumble-fingered swot who came into possession of a spare pair of glasses that filled him with confidence and overwhelming athletic prowess at every sport he tried. Benbow and Tom Bannister made a few token appearances in the early weeks but were rapidly forgotten as Binns became the target of the jealous school bully, Middleton, and his cronies.
It was undistinguished fare that never developed from one week to another, nor did the supposedly highly-intelligent swot, or anyone else at the school, ever make the slightest connection between his radically differing states of confidence and athleticism depending on whether he wore glasses A or glasses B. It was neatly drawn – far better than the unspeakable ‘Cornelius Dimworthy’ – whilst the stories were generally unexceptionable but I can’t for the life of me understand how it’s supposed to be an utterly hilarious, laugh-a-panel comedy, which was how the comic kept billing it.
‘Brett Millions’ pushed ‘Wrath of the Gods’ out of the centrespread, though only until the stories began in issue 24 finished in the same week, whereupon they swapped back. This was written by SF writer, Harry Harrison, the first tale, ‘The Angry Planet’, adapted from one of Harrison’s own novels. It’s dull fare, drawn competently but to no better standard, and Millions has the personality of a pancake. He’s supposed to be a gambler, but turns into an interplanetary troubleshooter without any real qualifications.
What turned out to be Boy’s World‘s most successful series in terms of longevity was ‘The Iron Man’, who would survive for years once transferred to Eagle. The Iron Man, as I’m sure you recall, was an international crime-busting robot whose mechanical nature was concealed by an amazing suit of plastic skin. He was initially drawn by Ron Embleton’s younger brother Gerry, who gave the robot a naturalistic look that could be mistaken for human. For Robert’s second story, Embleton Jr was replaced by Martin Salvador – Spanish artists were so much cheaper – and the robot’s features slowly became much more, well, robotic.
Harry Harrison had a second string to his bow in the form of ‘Merlo the Magician’. Merlo was both a highly-skilled, internationally famous stage magician and a highly-secret Interpol agent, tackling high power, fantastic crimes and criminals, usually backed by secret organisations. He’d debuted in issue 13 as the second prose serial, but was popular enough with the readers to be retained as a page and a half strip, cleanly drawn, all black lines and white space and no shading, good but not outstanding.
One final new feature was the mild comedy from ‘Private Proon – the Barrack ‘Square”, about which nothing need be said. It was better than Eagle’s ‘Fidosaurus’ or ‘XYZ Cars’ but not as good as Lion’s ‘Mowser’, though equally as repetitive.
A couple of Boy’s World‘s minor features should be mentioned before we go any further, the first being the extremely short prose ‘Mini-Mystery’ starring Detective Inspector Nixon. These were micro Spot the Clues that were Howdunnits rather than Whodunnit, since the villain was almost always the only other person in the story. ‘What’s in a Name?’ was an etymological series in words and pictures about people’s surnames, though the honourable name of Crookall was never featured.
The Hand of Fate was a one (sometimes half-)page real lifestory whose theme was the intervention of Fate in unusual circumstances, usually but not exclusively to save the life of someone who would normally have been expected to die. And towards the end of Volume 1, the great Frank Humphris began a b&w half-page feature on real-life Western tales, ‘The Flaming Frontier’, which once again brought Humphris’ knowledge and enthusiasm into play.
Last and best of these other features was a weekly prose account called ‘Ticket to Adventure’, an historical feature homing in on famous events, written in such away as to place the reader in the middle of the action, all because he’d received his Ticket to Adventure. Week-in, week-out, this was consistently Boy’s World‘s best feature.
There was another general change round in issues 45 to 47, new stories for Pike Mason, John Brody, Wrath of the Gods and Brett Millions, the latter two series exchanging places again to wind up where they first began. Merlo had only just edged into the Army of Crime. Ron Embleton returned to draw Arion’s latest adventure, whilst none other than Frank Bellamy was selected for Million’s ‘The Ghost World’.
It’s probably the least known of all his Fifties and Sixties work. Aside from a couple of his ‘Great Adventurers’ stories from Eagle, it’s the only strip that hasn’t been reprinted, and it’s rarely mentioned in bibliographies of his work, which is not surprising because Bellamy still has no more instinct for SF than he had on ‘Dan Dare’. Boy’s World‘s first volume consisted of 49 issues, it’s second and last of 40, starting from the first week of January 1964. That the title was struggling could be seen when another free gift was given away in issue 18, and there was a mini revamp, with a temporary change of logo box, and new stories starting for Merlo and John Brody. The latter shifted to the back page and into colour, with art by Luis Bermejo, whilst Brett Million was replaced by Raff Regan, a WW2 RAF strip, which didn’t amount to much, certainly not in comparison to Lion‘s Paddy Payne.
A new prose feature debuted, featuring schoolboy dodger Tricky Jones: the name should be enough to clue you in to how awful this was going to be and it was not misleading, though I suppose the kid I was then enjoyed it.
Bermejo wasn’t called upon to draw two series for long, because Pike Mason went back to sea for good after issue 21, being replaced by a weird little series, ‘What is my Name?’, in which RAF Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Pierce is saved by a Scottish shepherd known only as the Nameless One, and in repayment has to find out the Nameless One’s name. The story soon started to get involved with supernatural stuff, drawings forecasting doom appearing in a blank book, and ultimately an ancient curse, little of which made any great sense, but which lasted until the somewhat abrupt decision to merge Boy’s World into Eagle.
Another, and final new series started alongside ‘What’s in a Name?’, Dr What and his Time Clock, which was a parody of Dr Who, In fact, the first ever parody of the classic BBC series. Sadly, nothing else distinguished it.
Other than some minor art changes – Frank Langford soon replaced Bermejo on John Brody, Eric Kincaid filled in on some Flaming Frontiers, Humphris drew one in colour – there was little else to the story. Boy’s World ended on 2 October 1964, after only 89 issues: the comic that was to replace Eagle was swallowed up by it. This was an unpopular decision in one boy’s household because I was getting both, and I was not best pleased that two of my weekly comics were merging to one, especially as I didn’t get a new title to replace it. Gone for good were Merlo and Inspector Nixon, John Brody, Tricky Jones, Private Proon and Dr What. Billy Binns, Wrath of the Gods, Raff Regan and Th Iron Man carried over, although only The Iron Man lasted. Boy’s World continued in Annual form, running parallel with the Eagle Annual, for far more years than the comic lasted, ending only in 1972.
I had a few of those Boy’s World Annuals too, and kept one longer than I would normally have done for some Frank Bellamy art, illustrating a short story about an ageing Matador. Browsing it, I happened to notice that writers of these short stories were credited, and one of them happened to be credited to Michael Moorcock! When I met him for the only time, going to a signing session for his novel, Mother London, I took the Annual along, asked if he minded signing the story. I didn’t actually write that, he told me: he’d been commissioned but hadn’t the time, so he’d passed it to Barrington J. Bailey, who needed the money. He still signed it, mind you, but with a proviso that Barry Bailey had written it!
Moorcock is reputed to have written a lot of small features for Boy’s World, including the ‘What’s in a Name?’ snippets, etymologising surnames: here was one instance when his name was taken in vain. Not that the editor knew…
In the end, a comic stands or falls upon one thing: the strength or otherwise of its comics series. It’s what we buy them for. What failed Boy’s World more than anything else was that its stories just weren’t good enough. They had strong artists, but none of the characters were memorable in themselves and, with the exception of the entirely too prosaic Merlo, everything went too far overboard into fantasy. Even John Brody, supposedly a Science Correspondent, dealt only with the irrational and unreal.
And where it should have all have fit the best, in Wrath of the Gods, the stories were thin and lacking in any structure.
On top of this, Boy’s World was the wrong type of comic for an increasingly anarchic time, a time exemplified by the much ballyhooed Wham! (with which it shared Billy Binns) launching in the last three months of Boy’s World‘s life. It launched in a declining market, with a stodgy, stilted name, and it just wasn’t good enough. It lacked a strong editorial figure who could, perhaps, have imposed a greater vision on something that was largely conceived as a copycat. In short, it was the only one not to benefit from the editing of the Reverend John Marcus Morris.
I’ll just leave that one there.
This really feels off, to be watching and blogging a BBC4 Scandinavian series on Thursday, but I only have myself to blame for missing the first two episodes when actually broadcast. A midweek session on a few days of leave is necessary for me not to be permanently a week behind.
The first part of this double bill swung from dull to interesting (for a given value of interesting, that is). It’s all three separate stories and things not going well. Alf’s leadership of Task Force Norrebro isn’t going well: in the absence of Moeller, on petulance leave, they blow the chance to follow someone from the Bureau de Change due to incompetence, at which Alf overreacts: it makes a change from standing around looking pained all the time.
He’s missing Isa. Things have gone serious for him on their casual affair, serious enough for him to make the colossal mistake of turning up at her house one night when she’s put her daughters ahead of him, and talking to her politician husband, just because he needs to see her. The outcome is inevitable: she breaks it off.
Nicky’s not happy either. He’s cranky, thinking about little Milas. He turns up, unannounced, at Milas’s grandparents, with whom he’s settled, but doesn’t get to see him, nor leave the teddy bear he’s brought. He applies for custody but has to deal with a dispassionate and reasonable Social Worker who is determined to do what’s right for the boy.
As for Anna, her husband is still a boor and her would-be career as a criminal isn’t going well. Her first client thinks she’s a bullshitting amateur. Her second is more appreciative but his habit of going off half-cocked, punching people in the head and throwing Play Statuions through widescreen TVs convinces her they can’t work together. Mind you, Hingo the driver has another contact for her, someone quieter.
Then things start to look up. Alf’s team capture their man, and over half a ton of hash. Nicky successfully pulls off a bluff that doubles his sales to one of his arrogant client’s, when they’re trying to throw their weight about.
And Anna’s third potential client is… Nicky. Who Alf then sees going into the basement of the Bureau de Change. Whoa, this is only episode 3! That’s an incredibly early moment for a SkandSeries to start tying its separate threads together.
And tie it yet further it does in the back half of the bill, with Alf getting the arrested suspect, who he’s convinced isn’t big enoough to be the drugs-runner or the Romanian slayer to ‘fess up off the record to his contact. Doesn’t know his name, but can identify him from the photos on Alf’s phone.
So Nicky is now the hinge connecting Anna and Alf, who are as yet unaware of each other. She’s going great guns on her infant career as a white-collar crook: she starts episode 4 with a flash of bush and a very wide cleavage to Soren, her miserable git of a husband, only for him to not even notice, and ends with a new wardrobe, bottling out of letting a complete stranger take her to his hotel room and shag her brains out, but with her new found confidence she goes home, silently demands Soren’s attention, and instead gets her brains shagged out officially (after the credits run, but still).
As for the other two, Alf’s still got it rough. His commander, Storm, shuts down the surveillance at the Bureau, but a chance meeting with the Chief of Police whilst Alf’s buying water with which to take his illegal sleeping pills gets our man a lever to get storm re-open it. On the other hand, the lovely Stine (who has a wife and two kids but till finds time to wear a sports bra) toicks him off for his Benso/Ritalin diet.
And Nicky’s business takes on a new and profitable client, plus he meets this Muslim girl who clearly fancies the idea of getting his bleached-blond head between her… sheets.
The problem is that the whole thing is still basically dull. It’s standard. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. It could be a British series for all it’s doing, stodgy, unimportant and routine. I’ll stay the course, because this is one of my things on this blog, and I may yet be pleasantly surprised, but crappy as Follow the Money 1 and 2 were, they had some vigour and distinction to them, even if it was only the distinction of being bulllgoose looney.
This was something of an oddball episode, with a prominent but slightly out-of-place guest star, elements of spoof, an emphasis on Joe Rossi (who, despite being the second-billed cast member, has been more of a background character for most of the series so far), and an uncharacteristic downbeat ending. It also included one of the sharpest individual reminders of how this series is shaped by being made in 1978. Let’s pull all this together.
We began in slightly pantomime mode, with mildly OTT spooky music, shots of shoes walking towards the camera, pans around an almost empty parking garage, oh yes, we’re going All The President’s Men here, people, but with a twist, because this is Rossi meeting the clearly nervous Larry Kean, aide to ex-Senator, now County Supervisor Archer Corwin (James Olson, note the spelling, this is not the red-haired one). Corwin’s up for re-election, Rossi’s digging, Larry’s his source but he’s not giving up much because he’s not got much to give. The story’s going nowhere.
Enter Liz Harrison (Gail Strickland). Liz is a hotshot reporter from Sacramento, who’s been brought to the L.A. Tribune by the efforts of Lou Grant. She’s the new star, made welcome by everyone, especially Bilie, who loves the thought of a successful, and widely-respected female reporter. Charlie pushes to have her replace Rossi on the Supervisor story because he’s going nowhere, and despite Lou’s reluctance, eventually the move is forced.
Rossi takes it well: he packs his things, he’s quitting. Thank Heaven for a new hot story Lou can direct him to, about a DA’s investigation into badly run Nursing Homes for the elderly (which gave me an unwelcome reminder of a former boss: don’t ask). We don’t yet know, but we ought to suspect that the two stories will end up meeting.
Liz is a success. She impresses everyone but Rossi (the hatred is mutual). She refreshes the Supervisor storry, gets great leads. All is going well. Until…
But before I go there, I have to record that the show slipped, and in my opinion badly, in how it handled Liz Harrison as herself. She’s introduced early on, much celebrated, not just by Lou and Charlie. And yes, she’s a guest star, here today, gone next week, so we don’t expect her to instantly fit into the established dynamics of the show’s regular cast. But from the moment of her first appearance, Liz felt out of place, and awkward. There wasn’t even the beginning of integration. Strickland played the character as aloof, and shallow, with no personality or characteristics, and given what her role in the episode was to be, this was a serious let down.
And I’m bound to say that her appearance, in how she looked and dressed, didn’t help to bring her in. Strickland wore elegant, almost formal clothes, long sleeved blouses done up to the neck and down to the wrist, calf-length skirts paired with boots, or tailored trousers paired with waistcoats over blouses. It was elegant and stylish, and emphasising that there was no point of contact between her and the paper. It was the living image of 1977/78, and it made Liz stand out like an outsider who not only hadn’t mixed with her fellow reporters, but who never would.
This was important to the episode, negatively. Because where this was going was the combination of journalistic ethics and how vital they are (this is not what made me think sharply about the period) and the inevitable and vile accusations that all female successes attract to themselves as a way of demeaning and controlling them.
It started, inevitably, with Rossi. His Nursing Homes story was leading back to Corwin, who has investments. Suddenly, Corwin announces an investigation. Rossi’s convinced that Liz has fed the story back to Corwin. Her pieces on him certainly don’t sound politically balanced. It comes over as paranoia, and sour grapes, and Billie is furious that yet again an ambitious, talented, successful woman is being accused of only getting to where she is by sleeping with someonee.
That’s not where the episode is going though. Because Liz is indeed sleeping with Corwin. Ultimately, Rossi finds out, by following Corwin and staying out half the night when the Supervisor doesn’t come out of Liz’s apartment. This is serious enough for him, Billie and Donovan to take to Lou and Charlie – if Liz is slanted towards Archer because she’s screwing him, not only will her reports not be believed, but neither will everybody else’s – and for Lou and Charlie, despite their blythe dismissal of the allegations, to investigate.
Liz, when questioned, admits it. She’s started an affair, she actually loves him. It’s an absolute (this is so 1978), she has to go, though when Lou reluctantly tells her, she takes it well because she still doesn’t see what a foolish thing she’s done, thinking first she’s just being taken off the story, then fearing she’s being taken off politics, and only lastly realising she’s being canned.
And that her career as a reporter is over.
It’s all reminiscent of the Tommy Docherty story, when he was sacked as Manager of Manchester United for sleeping with one of his staff member’s wife. Docherty fell in love. That’s not the crime, for him or Liz. It’s what they did around it, or in Liz’s case didn’t do, that had the consequences. Liz could have gotten herself taken off the story by telling Lou, and she’d have saved her career. She tried to get off the story, but she tried a feeble excuse that Lou brushed aside, and even then she didn’t tell the truth. In 1978, on a show that is painting an idealistic picture of journalism, only half a decade after Watergate, that was fatal.
As for the moment that reminded me sharply of the times, that was a Watergate reference, out of the back of the hand. Remember Rossi’s contact, Larry Kean? Started as a disgruntled, put upon staffer, willing to leak but with nothing to leak about, got promoted and all we’re-not-virgins cynical about tossing staffers to the wolves to protect the Supervisor, and with an irony you could see coming from Saramento, tossed to the wolves over the Nursing Homes thing. It was in that Press Conference called to announce Larry’s ‘resignation’, when Archer spoke of ‘in these times’ and how the mere appearance of malfeasance was as bad as actual malfeasance, and I flashed so hard back to post-Watergate syndrome, to Jimmy Carter, only just a second-year President when this was made, elected on a tide of post-Watergate cleanness, and what an utterly different world it was back then, before Reagan and Thatcher.
And how utterly hollow those ideals were in the mouth of Supervisor Corwin.