Sunday Watch: The Singing Detective: e02 – Heat

Episode 2 begins to place a structure upon this story, letting us see it as something composed of two levels and three corners. The levels are, of course, the past and the present, and the corners are two pasts and the present, two pasts, one fictional and one that, in the absence of any indications to the contrary, but without any actual confirmation, we assume to be real.

We also see a massive influx of new and major players: Bill Patterson as the psychiatrist Dr Gibbon, Jim Carter as young Philip’s Dad, Alison Steadman as his Mum and Janet Suzman as Marlow’s estranged wife, Nicola.

We’ve seen two corners already, in the first episode, Marlow’s present as a hospital patient with a severe and incapacitating skin condition, and the unreal past of a detective story he once wrote, now replaying in his head in a fantastic manner that we intuitively understand is not how it came out on the previously printed page. This progresses through Mark Binney’s unpleasant and sick encounter with the Russian ‘hostess’ Sonia, with whom he has sex: Binney’s contempt for Sonia is less for her selling sex than for having sex in the first place. His entire manner, even before we see that he has sex with his shirt and vest on and his shorts only pulled down as fas as his knees, so he can quickly cover himself up afterwards, whilst she is naked but for stockings and her black bra pulled down to her waist, is nothing but disgust.

The two trench-coated men are watching his house. Sonia panics and flees, only to disappear. The police suspect Binney, who protests his innocence to Philip Marlow, The Singing Detective. Gambon plays the fictional Marlow, all cleaned up and sharp-talking, a fond play on Chandleresque quips and stylistically constructed sentences. Detective Marlow must find Sonia but, just as we realised in the first episode, she is the naked body fished out of the Thames. And the trench-coated men effectively force their way into Binney’s house at the end, pausing only to comment upon a painting of Sonia, bare-breasted, showin that they, too, have a twisted attitude to sex.

Make no mistake, no part of this series is ultimately free from a problematic attitude, no, a loathing and disgust for sex as sticky, unpleasant, lubricious, farcical, life creation in a messy squirt. It’s there in too much of Dennis Potter’s writing, it comes from his own responses, but The Singing Detective is where he treats it to the most rigourous examination.

We see that start with Marlow being wheeled – the wheelchair squeaks, naturally – to his first meeting with Dr Gibbon, whose first step is to leave Marlow alone, able to see a copy, bent and twisted, of The Singing Detective, Marlow’s original paperback. Marlow is rude, dismissive, sarcastic and offensive, we already know that. It’s never been more obvious a defence mechanism, deflection, roadblack, the lot. Gibbon can easily see it as such, but he easily gets under Marlow’s skin, despite the patient’s urgent desire to avoid being exposed in any way, by reading to him a passage from the book, a passage about sex.

It’s a bullseye. Without having the book to check, I’m convinced Potter stole the passage off himself, his first novel, Hide and Seek, but it’s the same passage of disgust, even hatred. And fear.

It opens up the third corner, the real(?) past. The young boy at the top of the tree in the Forest of Dean (where Potter was born and raised) is Philip aged 10, and we open up to see his childhood. The cramped little miner’s cottage that Mr  Marlow and his wife share with his parents, with no room and no comfort. Marlow is, and his Dad was until coal dust in the lungs crippled him, a miner, but his beautiful wife is a cut above him, not of the Forest with its accent and sometimes impenetrable dialect. She’s highly-strung for one thing, though then again in those conditions who wouldn’t be?

But Marlow’s a beautiful singer (mimed of course) to his wife’s piano accompaniment, singing at the pub to wild applause, whilst she plays a complex piano piece to respectful silence. The compere, Raymond, is Patrick Mallahide again, a second mixing of the separated elements.

All of this is released in the skin-diseased Marlow’s head, his defences punctured, the flood of memory overwhelming as he develops a high fever. Coming late to the dining room argument and taking the blame onto his own head because it was he who was late. Showing off in class, supplying all the answers, teacher’s admiration and his classmate’s revenge on him (flaming hell, that went close to home, because I did that once: once only), delusions about the future at the top of the tree. And discovering his Mum lying in the gass of the forest, her dress up to her waist as a man lies on top of her, his bare bum bouncing. We don’t see who he is this time, but we don’t need to. We know who it’s going to be.

Marlow’s in a fever. The new patient, replacing Ali, is an obstreperous old bugger. But then he has a visitor, Nicola. We don’t exactly know her status but again we know who she must be. Marlow’s asleep, for which she is grateful. She’s horrified by his appearance, horrified but not disgusted, a point that’s not belaboured. She won’t stay, doesn’t want him woken, he’d only abuse her, and yes he does when he wakes, as she’s leaving the ward. Bitch. Whore. Slag. Who’s she spreading her legs for now?

Yes, you take the point. It will be developed further in succeeding episodes.


All-Flash and All Green Lantern: Part 2 – Green Lantern

Just as the Golden Age Green Lantern followed the Golden Age Flash as Chairman of the Justice Society of America, Alan Scott followed Jay Garrick into a solo quarterly title, so swiftly that Green Lantern 1 carried a house ad for All-Flash Quarterly on the same page as the ad for GL’s only tale as JSA Chairman, in All-Star Comics 7.
Once again there were prominent creator credits on all four stories, as well as mini biographies for writer Bill Finger and artist Marty Nodell (no relation to Naydel). The formula was adhered to strictly, with a two-page re-run of Alan Scott’s origin and four single stories, though as the Lantern came ready made with his own comedy sidekick already, it was a surprise, and a pleasant one, to see Doiby Dickles only turn up in the last story. Alan Scott’s early sweetheart, producer Irene Miller, appears in all four, more happily, and gets an (off-panel) kiss from Green Lantern when she asks him how he wants to be thanked…
But there’s an immediate distinction to be drawn between this and All-Flash and it’s the art. True, issue 1 is sourced from a poor original, dark and blurry, but that doesn’t obscure the essential fact that E.E. Hibbard was a much better artist than Martin Nodell. He may be unsophisticated by modern standards but Hibbard was clear, concise, his figure work proportionate and his layouts very readable. In issue 1, Nodell has none of this.
Since GL’s power rested on Will-Power, there was a short feature on the subject in issue 1, which continued into the next issue. The writer was a member of Detective/All-American’s Advisory Board, and a closet writer: Dr William Moulton Marston.
Green Lantern followed the formula of All-Flash by going to novel length stories with issue 2, as well as giving Alan Scott his promotion to Radio Announcer but it was the next issue that showed originality. Alan, Irene and Doiby, sent to Australia, are shipwrecked by a Nazi raid. They and an objectionable family of selfish snobs wind up in the Sargasso Sea (which unaccountably seems to have shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean) where they discover a Utopian civilisation of multiple cultures who have learned to live in peace and community. Unfortunately, the Nazis discover it as well and both Alan and GL embark on an extended fake-out, pretending to back the Nazis until the whole community can be raised to throw them off.
Of course it’s naïve as all get out, but it’s equally heartfelt, and I can forgive naivete for the right message, delivered to young boys and girls. It’s just a pity that a similar message wasn’t given to the next generation, the ones who grew up to back Trump.
On a less important note, it was confusing to have Doiby refer to his beloved cab as ‘Esmerelda’, not ‘Goitrude’…

Green Lantern and Doiby Dickles

Green Lantern hit the war head on in issue 4, in a sprawling tale pitting Alan Scott – facing the white feather off Irene for not joining the Armed Forces despite being classed Reserved Occupation – and his alter ego against the Nazi Captain Cortz, leading a raid against America’s West Coast meant to coincide with the Japanese one in the West. Our boy ended up a doughboy but it was GL who got to practice tonsil-tickling with the lovely Irene this time. And I note that Bill Finger’s name has already dropped off the credits.
Unlike All-Flash, Green Lantern concentrated on War stories now Alan Scott had enlisted, even if the link was a bit stretched at times. GL got a bit forgetful with his Oath in issue 6, proclaiming that ‘The Light of Green Lantern pierces darkness and mystery, and it’s radiance will strike at the heart of Evil’. And my comments about Nodell’s art were further demonstrated in the same story, first with the Ring switching from hand to hand in mid-fight, then GL talking about a villain getting a straight left – even as he’s punching at the guy with his right hand!
With issue 7 there was a sea-change. Firstly, Private Alan Scott was discharged from the Army – Honourably, of course – to use his skills troubleshooting radio communications across America: there was no mention of Irene Miller’s reaction. This was accompanied by a massive increase in art standards, which continued into issue 8, where the novel length stories were abandoned.
Some of the upgrade comes from a change in source on the DVD: the issues are smaller on the screen but substantially clearer. I don’t recognise the compositions, making me wonder if, despite his being the only name appearing, Mart Nodell is no longer drawing the series only writing it. Certainly, whoever is writing the stories is dipping his pen in the purple inkpot, with florid and overblown narration. Incidentally, issue 8 had only three GL stories, the space made up by a Hop Harrigan short and several of Bud Fisher’s ‘Mutt and Jeff’ half-pagers.
Having said all that, issue 9 was the worst kind of reverse, another blurry, almost colour-free source, a deterioration in the art back to stiff and ungainly, and three silly stories that made the ones with the Three Dimwits look sophisticated. Against that, in two of the stories Green Lantern uses the famous Hal Jordan oath of later years, suggesting that the stories were being scripted by its creator, SF legend Alfred Bester. I hope not.
Unfortunately it was. But Bester turned in a wonderful two-parter next issue, introducing Vandal Savage, the Immortal Villain. For once, here was a villain who was smart and sophisticated, a wielder of power, confident and with an undertone of amusement underlying his measured speech, instead of some stereotypical gangster speech. But for me the finest bit was Savage’s recounting of his origins. When first I encountered him, in The Flash 137, in 1963, the third team-up between the two Flashes, Savage gave an account of his history, and was said to have an old headquarters in a certain place. And now the same themes, even the same words, rolled out again, and the headquarters was exactly where Gardner Fox had it, echoing Alfie Bester. It was wonderful. Even Doiby Dickles couldn’t undermine the higher seriousness of this story (though he was given the back-up story to turn into total nonsense).

Green Lantern and Vandal Savage

War-time paper restrictions struck at issue 11, reducing the package to 48 pages. The space given to Mutt and Jeff, and Hop Harrigan, left room for only two Green Lantern stories, both of which were crap, the first of these – drawn by Paul Reinman? – particularly badly drawn, by someone who seemed never to have seen a hand pointing a ring at anyone.
It was back to three stories next issues, the last of which, introducing The Gambler, being the only serious one and the only one worth reading. At this point, let me declare that the Green Lantern solo series is awful. Between the poor and ugly art, the overwhelming presence of Doiby Dickles – far more toxic than Winky, Blinky and Noddy – and the generally clumsy writing, I am seriously disillusioned. Autre temps, autre mores as they say, but even the Star-Spangled Kid was better than this.
The All-American severance phase started with issue 14 and ran until issue 17. There’s nothing to say about the stories in this sequence that isn’t a repetition of what I’ve already said so far. It was, however, interesting to note that though Nodell is always the only name credited, Bester was still writing the stories, as was made plain in the last one of issue 16, in which a gang boss’s face shows itself to be covered in tattoos… every time he is affected by anger or dread.
I’d noted in advance that, where All-Flash got promoted to bi-monthly very quickly, Green Lantern stayed a quarterly until issue 18. I’m tempted to put that down to the quality of the stories but in fairness it was probably the War effect that kept it from any earlier elevation. However, two issues after coming under National Comics’ aegis, GL’s solo vehicle was increased to six times a year. One story didn’t feature Doiby and one about a Jonah with bad luck had half a dozen pages in the DVD duplicated, but apart from that it was business as usual.
The Gambler made a second appearance in issue 20, one of the more distinct characters in the whole run, and Mutt and Jeff took a powder at the same time.
It’s not just the presence of Doiby Dickles that makes Green Lantern’s stories so awful to read – much worse than I remember him being in All-American Comics – but there’s the repetitivity in which GL gets clonked over the head with something wood – his Nemesis! Every story he’s knocked out, to the point that concussion and premature dementia must be inevitable. I know that, structurally, it’s no different from Hal Jordan in the Sixties, when things used to turn yellow as soon as he crossed a panel border, but there was room for more variation with that weakness. Here it’s just clunk, clunk,clunk, and if it’s not a crook taking him by surprise and sneaking up behind him (you’d think he’d have the intelligence to wear some sort of metal helmet, wouldn’t you?) it’s some inanimate wooden object falling over or whirling round to smack him one on the bonce until it appears Alan Scott has some super-secret enemy imbuing wood with malevolence against him.
On another tack, it was getting to be noticeable how many covers plugged stories that would be scheduled last in the pages on each issue.

Green Lantern and The Harlequin

Cotton-Top Katie, who’s cropped up in a couple of series I’ve read, turned out to have been introduced in Green Lantern, in issue 23, which also introduced her friend, the Professor.
In an era where superheroes didn’t rely on supervillains returning again and again, Nodell broke with the consensus by throwing in several villainous characters, though quite a few of them didn’t carry forward into the Silver Age with him. Amongst this number were characters such as The Dandy, and the Fop, though in the latter’s case his suicide by overdose when exposed was an insuperable barrier. In any case, neither of these one-note villains had the staying power of The Gambler, who made his third appearance in issue 27.
There was an abrupt change of image next issue, with the Green Lantern logo greatly diminished in size and the introduction of The Sportsmaster, the splash page for which story doubling as the cover. The Sportsmaster had already debuted as ‘Crusher’ Crock in All-American but returned from death via a fall to take on his nom-de-crime before dying from a fall. The same issue also saw the debut of a villain who never appeared in All-American, The Fool, who committed crimes by doing foolish things and repeatedly saying how foolish he was or was doing in damned near every panel, thus wearing out a not that strong idea long before the final page.

The Fool – which one’s the bigger one?

The biggest change however was in the artist, with Mart Nodell replaced by someone with a much lighter and less intense touch, less detailed without becoming cartoony,and the colour palette brighter. Add to that a de-emphasis of Doiby Dickles – absent from one story, not getting into the fight in either of the other two – and it was a welcome, if belated step. Would it be at least semi-permanent, however?
Either way, there was a triple treat in issue 29, with all three stories featuring GL’s red-headed enemy (and Alan Scott’s secretary) Molly Mayne, aka The Harlequin, who loves him and keeps trying to make him see he loves her by committing crimes, whilst he steadfastly and wooden-headedly ignores that she’s a bombshell and refuses to see beyond the fact that she’s a criminal who, significantly, never gets away with a crime. Hmm.

Who in their right mind wouldn’t want this woman chasing them?

We’re into that part of the Forties now, when superheroes start slipping away, and adverts start appearing for new comics adapting radio series like Gang-Busters. Green Lantern kept going strong for the moment, enjoying another upgrade in the art in issue 30 – if it’s not Alex Toth it’s someone who copies his style well – and another visit by the Gambler, looking more like his traditional portrayal in the modern era. Doiby made a return in the third story, as did Knodar, the criminal from the 25th Century was was also introduced in issue 28.
There wouldn’t be much room for Doiby in future – the same issue introduced GL’s new crime-fighting partner, Streak the Wonder Dog (all this time and he still can’t rely on just the ring?)
Suddenly it was raining super-villains. A two-part Harlequin adventure (yay!) in which the blond and the redhead face off without their weapons, and a reappearance by The Fool (boo!) wearing out somebody else’s welcome, having already done his own. There was more of The Harlequin in issue 32, still trying to get into GL’s thick head, along with some no-mark calling himself The Juggler.
By now, you could almost call Harlequin a co-star since she was appearing in every issue, next time taking advantage of Leap Year to propose to GL, but the clown hasn’t got the smarts to accept when he has the chance.
Those of us who’ve read up on our Golden Age characters have long been aware that it was eventually retconned that The Harlequin was actually an FBI Agent, posing as a criminal to gain information on the underground, just as Black Canary was very rapidly retconned from jewel-thief to heroine in Johnny Thunder’s strip. It has all the hallmarks of a Silver Age invention, maybe even as late as a Roy Thomas story. I was completely wrong about that in issue 34, as Green Lantern is asked to partner up with FBI Agent H-9, aka our red-headed friend. No exchange of secret identities, however, and no change in their public rivalry, but who knows…?
Streak was back in the same issue, this time in a solo story, with Alan Scott in a bit part. If I was wrong about Alex Toth earlier, I was right about him here, and possibly on the final story too, a second Western-oriented tale in five issues, echoing the fate of All-American Comics.
Of course, the moment she was revealed to be a good girl, Harlequin disappeared, except for a one panel cameo by Molly – with brown hair! – in The Gambler’s fifth appearance. Streak’s solo series continued, this time signed by Toth. But he also got the cover, alongside a redesigned Green Lantern logo.

It was the same in issue 36: Streak gets the cover and the middle story – Toth’s art is predictably superb but does it have to be about a bloody dog? – and a Molly supporting role, a bit longer this time but now she has blue-black hair. Is anyone editing this thing? In fact it’s not Sheldon Mayer by now, he’s gone back to freelance cartooning and Scribbly has his own comic. Just as with All-Star, Whitney Ellsworth has taken over.
But the sands are running out very rapidly now. Issue 37 managed to fit in four stories, the extra being a Sargon the Sorceror tale. At least GL got the cover back for his penultimate issue, which contained the first Alan Scott story I ever read, back in the Seventies as a repeat.
But the last cover went to Streak, All three stories in the final issue bore tags about Green Lantern and Streak appearing in every issue of Green Lantern Comics, but there wasn’t an issue 39 until Hal Jordan hit that mark in the Sixties. At least Molly Mayne reverted to her real hair colour for her final appearance.
So there we have it. Green Lantern’s solo comic took far longer than The Flash’s to get out of quarterly status, but it went on for longer, running to 38 issues instead of 32, and finally being cancelled, apparently at short notice, under the cover date May/June 1949. The series splits into two phases, firstly issues 1-30, drawn and developed by creator Mart Nodell, with various writers including Bill Finger and Alfred Bester, but dominated boringly by Doiby Dickles. The art and the direction changes over the last eight issues, several of them drawn by the great Alex Toth, with Doiby sidelined and costumed villains all over the show, especially the Harlequin. Despite the decision to feature the blasted dog, this short run was fun and far more entertaining than the rest of the series put together.
Overall, however, and despite Winky, Blinky and Noddy, and especially Martin Naydel, I have to give the palm to The Flash as the better series, just as ultimately Flash Comics was better than All-American.
Something different next time, I think. Something Silver Age…

Lou Grant: s05 22 – Beachhead

The enthusiasm is all but gone and shapeless episodes like this, with very little sense of conviction to them, don’t help:  this is dead man walking stuff.

There’s three stories going on here, two of which in different ways exemplifying the episode title, the third next to invisible. Going for his early morning jog down near the beach, Lou sees a surfer nearly mow down a swimming kid. The surfers are a bunch of fanatics decorated over with SS signs that stand for ‘Surf Soldiers’. They have nothing to do with Nazis, the gang are too empty-headed for that. They’re just very possessive of ‘their’ beach space, with which I was mildly sympathetic: there’s a case for arguing that when an environment is particularly suited to a specific activity that it should be reserved for that and not disrupted by general stuff that can be done anywhere.

That’s not an argument that gets a hearing here. Lou’s not convinced it’s worth that much space but Charlie wants to jump all over it, the result being chaos and a riot as the story provokes tensions, rivalries with another gang, extreme hassle for Lou and tension between him and Charlie.

The other beachhead involves Billie and Ted, Cliff Potts making his last appearance in the series. They’ve just bought a house in a nice suburban environment and on their first night they’re interrupted by a small-minded neighbour wanting them to sign a petition against the house two doors down that’s introducing lunatics and dangerous madmen into the neighbourhood. In reality, it’s a halfway house for young men from emotionally disturbed backgrounds, discharged from mental hospitals, being gradually reintroduced into the community and into looking after themselves.

Billie’s sympathetic – she’s a cast member on Lou Grant isn’t she? – but Ted, who’s protective of his wife and unable to escape feeling guilty about being on the road so often, is more hostile until he visits the place to see for himself and is completely converted, mainly because they love his baseball stories.

The third story may have a foreshadowing element to it, I’ll know in two weeks time. The Denver Record has folded, dropping a lot of good reporters on the market. Lou’s enthusiastic, and so’s Charlie, offstage, until Mrs Pynchon hits him over increasing overheads: no new hires. Lou spends the episode fielding calls from reporters that he can’t take on until the end when Mrs Pynchon interrupts his argument with Charlie to tell them they were right and she was wrong: she’d tried to sign a very highly-regarded columnist only to be too late, she’d already been picked up. She wanted to tell Lou and Charlie how much she relies upon them and their instincts, and what a good team they make.

So. Not much in any of it, and certainly no conviction in either programme makers or this corner of the audience. Dead men walking.

‘The Second Best Dan Dare Artist in the World’

It’s not been made the subject of any public announcement that I’ve heard or seen, but I’ve just learned from John Freeman’s ‘Down the Tubes‘ that Don Harley, Frank Hampson’s most skilled and reliable assistant on Dan Dare, has passed away earlier this week. It comes as no surprise as Harley was in his nineties – this year would have been the seventieth anniversary of his joining the team at Bayford Lodge – but any loss of a man so talented, and who brought imagination, colour, life and, most important of all, pleasure into the lives of so many diminishes us all.

It’s not to demean Harley that I quote Frank Hampson’s own words of tribute to him. There is no shame to being ‘The Second Best Dan Dare Artist in the World’ to Hampson himself. How many times, during the Man from Nowhere trilogy, did Hampson co-sign Harley’s name to his own as the artist of record? Who stayed on to assist Frank Bellamy? Who took over the strip himself, supported by Bruce Cornwell?

The good do not always die young, but they always leave a gap that cannot be filled.

For Children, About Children, By Children: Kathleen Hull & Pamela Whitlock’s ‘Oxus in Summer’

The third and last book of the Persia series came out in 1939. By the time it was published, in November, England had declared war on Germany again, and the world would not return to normal for a very long time. If Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock had plans for another adventure in the valley of the Oxus that they had created for themselves – as well they might, since Oxus in Summer would only be half a summer – these were among the many things changed irrevocably by the advent of War, and far from the most important.
No elaborate schemes to get the Hunterlys from London to Exmoor were necessary this time: Bridget, Anthony and Frances leave their schools in the morning, receive their holiday cases from Aunt Angela whilst passing through London and, by the early evening, are back at Cloud Farm. Maurice is already in residence in the hut at Peran-Wisa, but the Clevertons are in France with their father and will not be back until the last three weeks of the holiday. They will not appear until the last forty pages of the book.
It’s summer: not the summer when the Hunterlys may be going out to Sumatra, but summer following the Easter of Escape to Persia, a year on from their absorption into the Persian tribe under Maurice.
This time round, the girls give some minor clues about their children. We still don’t know much, if anything, really, about Maurice the Mystery Boy, but in the very first paragraph we’re told that he is tall, ‘over five foot’. That jarred me. Rightly or wrongly, I read that description as being only just over five foot, which did not accord with my mental picture of him as aged fifteen.
But not too much further on, Anthony Hunterly, who has not long since passed his twelfth birthday, complains about being a month nearer his elder sister in age than he is his younger sister in age. Fourteen, twelve, ten? But that’s more or less the ages I assigned the Hunterlys when they first appeared…
It’s not just in lapidary inscription, but in the ages of children in their fiction, that no man or schoolgirl is on oath.
Oxus in Summer plays out in three distinct acts. The first has the Persian quartet just being children, enjoying their holidays in a place they love. The Oxus is about them, the Indian Caucasus above, they have Peran-Wisa and their ponies and nothing in the world could be better for them. Whitlock and Hull introduce nothing that is particularly new, nor which is of any longer-term significance. It is literally more-of-the-same-only-different, but it doesn’t feel repetitive, or tired, or unimaginative. The writers are still young, they are writing in an unforced and enthusiastic manner about what, to them constitutes a holiday that excites them.
Their own youthfulness invests every incident with a breath of fresh air, as we used to say. We see the story with eyes of wonder, because they are the same eyes of wonder that Maurice and the Hunterlys bring to bear on them.
The same thing goes for the third act of the book, which sees the Clevertons arrive back, alone, to pick things up where they left off. I’ll have more to say about that final act in due course, but it’s the middle of the book, the decidedly different and disturbing middle act, that demands extensive attention.
It begins innocuously. In the first act, the Persians join a Scavenger Hunt in Cabool, each pairing up with a local youngster. Maurice is the easy winner, not for his merits but because he pairs with Gillian Deptford, who sources most of the treasures to be found from her own home, in no more than a half hour.
Gillian is part of a large family, half a dozen strong, up to and including 19 year old Keith.
The second act begins with the Persians visiting an auction, the contents of a house called Lackbarrow being auctioned off. Bridget gets caught up, bidding way beyond her means for a grey pony, until Anthony has to break her out of her competitive reverie – she’s up to £150 when she only has two shillings and seven pence, half of which is back at Cloud Farm.
But Maurice has disappeared, completely. The Hunterlys search frantically for him, afraid he’s abandoned them. They eventually see him coming out of the furniture room, talking to Gillian and her brother Jeremy. He’s a bit offhand with them, then he goes and disappears again.
This disturbs the three siblings. Has he gotten tired of them? Has he abandoned them permanently? What will they do without him? They head down to Peran-Wisa but there’s no sign of him. They search the hut, trying to find some clue as to where he might have gone. They find two books, one battered, the other Maurice’s diary…
No, he’s not abandoned them. One of the lots on auction, very late in the day, is a jewelled Persian dagger, that Maurice wants for himself and his tribe. He’s determined to win it, but he doesn’t want to say anything to the Hunterlys in case he is outbid: it wouldn’t do for Maurice to be seen to fail, would it? Gillian wants the dagger too, but in the end Maurice just beats her to it. He’s riding back to show the Hunterlys his prize when he finds then with heads bent over his diary.
Maurice goes crazy. He jumps on them, swearing and shoving. He knocks over the candle, which burns Peran-Wisa to the ground and everything in it, including the diary, and rides off furiously into the night.
Ok, up to this point it’s an interesting twist. Chuck the cat in among the pigeons, see what feathers she comes out with. Only that’s not the case. It’s actually disturbing.
The Hunterlys want to find Maurice and explain they never read his diary (how unBritish of them it would have been to do so). They’d only just picked it up. It’s the anxiety, no, more than that, the desperation with which they want to find him. Because without him, everything is empty. He is their leader but he is the only source of adventure, of plans and discoveries. They are helpless without him.
And as for Maurice… In an instant, he has gone to the extreme of hating the Hunterlys, even though the diary only has initials and codewords, they might find something out about him, or they might find something out whilst hunting for him. This is so deadly a possibility that Maurice hires the entire Deptford tribe – who he openly tells are to become his slaves – to cover his tracks. They’re to delay and divert and deflect and, what’s more they’re to get everyone in Cabool, especially all the tradesmen and women to pretend they’ve never seen Maurice – and the Deptford’s can do this: I’m glad I don’t live in Cabool, it’s a bit too much like the Village. The monomania this displays is astonishing. Maurice may be the Mystery boy, and Whitlock and Hull clearly believe that his secret is essential, but there are degrees beyond which things become decidedly unhealthy, and this sequence leaves that point invisible in the distant rear.
How can something like this end? By the Hunterlys chasing Maurice on their ponies until they get close enough to yell that they didn’t read his diary. And all is well and good again.
Yet I like this book, despite the turn it took in the middle. And it returns to normal, to the same things it concerned itself with at the start. Assisting taking Mr Fradd’s carthorses to be shoed. An overnight stay in a dingy hotel in a storm. Greeting the Clevertons off their train, belated as they are. Rebuilding Peran-Wisa.
And lastly the tribe decides to split up into Persians and Tartars to have a polo match in the Cleverton garden and using its two grass tennis courts. Of course Mr Cleverton agrees, heedless of the damage six ponies’ hooves might do. The sides line up facing each other.
And it’s over. The abruptness of the ending disconcerts many. It is as if the book ends in the middle of things, as if pages, a chapter, whole chapters are missing. There is no return to school. There is no explanation of Maurice and why he has to be such a mystery. Did the girls just lose interest, suddenly? No, of course not.
Yet to me, abrupt and unusual as it is, it’s an ending that I find fitting and dignified. Maurice, Bridget, Anthony, Frances, Peter and Jennifer, they don’t end. Instead they fade, as if a flurry of rain sweeps across our vision, or a cloud crosses the sun. They will never grow old, not like those whose August of 1939 was both beginning and for too many end. They are still there, preserved: Kings and Queens of Cair Paravel, and one day we might cross into the world in which they await us, in the valley of the Far-Distant Oxus. Things don’t have to be real to be real.
In another world, almost a decade later, after the War, children no longer, Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock would reunite to write one more book. A copy of that, surprisingly cheap, came under my eye. I will read it next.

Danger Man: s02 e09 – Yesterday’s Enemies

It gets a bit confusing, the way my box set of Danger Man leaps around in time and space when compared to the order of transmission of the series as laid out in imdb. According to the latter, ‘Yesterday’s enemies’ was not the ninth episode of the series but the first, the return (after three years) of the series, expanded to an hour slot and with John Drake completely revamped.

And an excellent ‘first episode’ this would have made, establishing effortlessly what this series would be about and especially that the series, and especially John Drake, would be the anti-Bond, and thank heaven for that.

The plot is superficially simple and routine. A British businessman in Beirut, John Brett (Peter Copley) is discovered to be passing British trade secrets to the ‘Opposition’. The Admiral (Peter Madden, equally as cold, austere and deeply cynical as in his previous appearance in ‘It’s Up To The Lady’) despatches Drake to investigate. Drake is promised all assistance from M9’s section chief, Mrs Jo Dutton (Maureen Connell) only to find her overworked, hassled and understaffed. For a time, he gets limited co-operation from the Lebanese Police under their chief, Attala (Anton Rodgers), only for that to be withdrawn when they decide the information retrieved should be reserved solely for their Government.

So far, so plain. It’s espionage as it really is, underhand, dirty, with a faintly unclean atmosphere. Untilnow, the story is only complicated by the sheer number of British ex-pats introduced. There’s the slightly dotty Mrs Curtis, played wonderfully by Joan Hickson), the journalist and lush Edwin Carter (Howard Marion Davies) and his wife Catharine (Patricia Driscoll), Brett’s gorgeous blonde secretary Mary Wilson (April Wilding) and the self-important Second Secretary Harries (Aubrey Morris, who, along with Madden, who plays the undertaker in the opening credits, makes a total of three future Prisoner alumni).

But that is to underestimate the show. Drake and Mrs Mullen confront Brett, who doesn’t understand what they’re accusing him of. He’s working for British Intelligence, passing on informtion at request. His contact? Edwin Archer.

And indeed Archer is an M9 agent, or rather a former Agent: recruited 1939, dismissed 1942, classed as Unreliable. Drake tries to get him into the embassy, from where he can be controlled. Archer refues to go. He admits he’s been operating solo for ten months, a private network, him and seven agents. He has a box-folder of information that he intended, once he had a year’s worth, to present to British Intelligence as a bundle, for M9 to take over his network entire, with him installed as its Chief.

What motivates Archer? Some of it is resentment, for a dismissal he regards as unjustified, a triumphal see-you-were-wrong return, but a lot more of it is the money he’ll make. Either way, when Drake is held an gunpoint and refuses to talk, he’s well prepared to have his men stick a lit cigarette in Drake’s eye, a fate from which our man is saved by the unexpected return of Catharine, with Mrs Curtis and Harris. It’s a somewhat bathetic rescue but who cares.

Attala confirms Archer is to leave the city for Baghdad, but supplies Drake with allthe information for Drake to intercept him, disable him with a nerve pinch, fake a stroke and kidnap him to the Embassy. Where the jovial Archer offers his network to ‘London’, in exchange for his freedom. London accepts.

It’s dirty, it’s underhand, it’s two wrongs making a right. Drake doesn’t like it but it’s a done deal. His job is done, he’s preparing to go home. But before he does, his path is crossed by another Agent from London, Bernard (Ivor Salter). Quiet, undemonstrative, regretful Bernard is recognised by Drake for what he is,in part because he knows nothing about Bernard’s arrival. Bernard is an assassin: Archer dies in a car crash and Bernard leaves Beirut almost as soon as he gets there.

Drake bears the brunt of everyoe’s reproaches, from Jo Mullen to Catharine archer, to whom, at last, he breaks cover, to tell her a white-washed tale that Edwin was killed after completing an intelligence mission, that he died a hero. The Admiral tears him off a strip for that: he had no authority, though what he did secured Catharine’s silence: she willnot now stir up an inquiry. Indeed, as Drake leaves, the Admiral confirms that they will be giving Archer a posthumous award…

Yes. As in Madden’s previous appearance as the Admiral, we’re seeing unreliable, underhand and deeply cynical practices that were meant to do no more th n show espionage in a non-fantasy fashion, and to distinguish Drake as not merely the hero but, in relative terms, the man Raymond Chandler envisioned in Phillip Marlowe: down these mean streets a man must go who is not in himself mean. No-one imagined Number Six and The Prisoner in 1964, but the man who resigned casts a long and unexpected shadow backwards.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Tymes and The Mighty Avengers’ ‘So Much in Love’

‘So Much In Love’ is not a case of two different arrangements by two different groups of the same song, but rather two different songs in two different contexts, by two different singers, coming out within twelve months of each other.
The song by The Tymes, which I heard long after the one by The Mighty Avengers, was their debut single in 1963, the title track of their first album, and an American no. 1 single that reached no 21. in the UK charts.
The Tymes were one of that almost unending supply of American vocal groups, the same group that had a UK no. 1 in early 1975 with ‘Ms Grace’. Their ‘So Much In Love’ was an unequivocal, idyllic love song, too light for gospel and soul but not quite categorising as pop.
I say ‘idyllic’: to use the term Wilfried Mellers adopted for the early and simple Beatles’ tracks, it’s an eden-song, it’s words as lightweight and inconsequential as anything McCartney the sentimentalist produced, anchored by no more than the paper on which they’re written. As we stroll along together, holding hands, walking all alone. Love as state of being, detached from everything else but the presence of the loved one, walking beside you. Not even walking, but strolling, inconsequential.
To emphasise this, the group take on practically all the musical duties. It’s their voices, their harmonies, their call and response we hear, to little more than what we’d now call a click-track at first and then, after the first chorus, a bass and percussion buried deep below the voices.
And yes, it’s about love. The lovers stroll along the beach, they stroll down the aisle to their wedding. So in love are (these) two, no-one else but me and you, reality doesn’t intrude on this and the group sing smoothly and happily out of a world of pure fluff. But a fluff we would all love to wrap around us when we are in love and nothing else matters, or exists, come to that.
So much for ‘So Much In Love’: what of ‘So Much In Love’?
I’ve known the other song for a lot longer than the one by The Tymes, having discovered it in the late Seventies on Annie Nightingale’s Sunday afternoon request show, in her Daisy Chain feature. Each week, she’d play an obscure song, without announcing its title or the artist. The challenge was for listeners to write in to, first, identify it correctly and secondly, nominate a similar obscurity for that week’s Daisy Chain. This went on for years, and rarely did I identify her selections.
‘So Much In Love’ was a plain and simple song, distinguished only by a bit of a plinky-plonky piano, the guitar, bass and drums being limited to the point of negligibility. The melody in the song was sustained by the vocals, a straightforward verse-chorus structure without a middle-eight to break it up, and a ‘guitar solo’ that consisted of duplicating the melody of the verse in single notes.
To be honest, it’s pretty amateurish all told. But from somewhere, I found I liked it, and made a point of being there the following Sunday to find out what it is. The Mighty Avengers, who’d clearly ripped off their name from Marvel’s superhero team, were from Coventry. This song was the first of a few singles the band recorded, no albums, not even enough tracks to justify a retrospective LP, and it was their only ‘hit’, reaching no 44.
Judging by the other singles, none of which I heard until the 2000s, the band’s limited musical abilities never developed.
So what makes this ‘So Much In Love’ different from the other one? If I tell you that it’s written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, could you guess?
No use crying now, The Mighty Avengers’ lead singer sings, trying to bland the spite out of the words and make this into a chirpy singalong. You’ll get by somehow. Yes, this is a break-up song, but the sting is swift in coming. You thought that you had me right where I oughtta be, you thought I was so much in love with you, do what you wanna do, but now you know, I’ve changed my mind.
Yes, we are here where we expect to be with the Glimmer Twins, at the heart of misogyny central. ‘So Much In Love’ is not so powerful a song, nor so deep a melody as ‘Out of Time’, but it’s telling the same story.
We don’t know the story. She’s wanted a time out, a break, for reasons we are not told because they don’t matter. Whatever it was for, however genuine they may have been, is irrelevant. It’s never been the same since you played your game is the verdict, and there is only one in this relationship who is allowed to play games and it’s not her. Anything that is less than complete and constant devotion is read as an attempt to take control, and only one person is in control and that’s Michael Philip Jagger.
No matter how The Mighty Avengers try to soften the blow, this is a poison pill of a song, and it’s jauntiness conceals a heart of vitriol that is the complete opposite of the other ‘So Much In Love’. Being in love is a weakness so far as Jagger and Richard are concerned. And they are not and will not be weak.
You thought I was so much in love with you, well, think again.
Two songs. The same name. Twelve months. Two worlds. I like them both. Explain that.

Eagle 1964: A Mystery Half-Solved?

Some years ago, whilst reviewing the Eagle of 1964, I touched upon the mystery of the short-lived ‘Junior, Reporter’ series, two stories running over 40 issues, one excellent, the other far less so. The series wasn’t credited, though it was clear from just one look that it was a European import.
Not only was ‘Junior, Reporter’ not credited but, most unusually, it did not appear in ‘The Complete Book of Eagle Strips’, which provides comprehensive details of every series and feature to be printed in Eagle between 1950 and 1969. Unless I’m overlooking something, it’s the only Eagle feature to be missed out.
Nor could I find anything about the series on the Internet. A Google Search turned up no reference to ‘Junior, Reporter’ whatsoever. All I could do was go on my own impressions, and these led me to compare the art to the legendary Albert Uderzo, of Asterix fame, only a rather more angular version (exact words: ‘it’s a bit like a more angular Albert Uderzo ‘).
A couple of months ago, for no better reason than impulse, I repeated the Google Search. This time, the answer was absurdly easy to find, and I had my answer. ‘Junior Reporter’ was really ‘Luc Junior’. The artist wasn’t just influenced by Uderzo, it was Uderzo. And the writer was, with wonderful appropriateness, his partner in Asterix, Rene Goscinny.
I knew that Goscinny had teamed up with Uderzo at least once before coming up with their little fighting Gaul, on a Western series known as Oumpah-Pah the Redskin. Oumpah-Pah was a Red Indian in American Revolutionary War times, a proto-Obelix in terms of his size, strength and simplicity, though lacking the big Gaul’s genial lack of perception. I’d even had three or four Oumpah-Pah albums translated into English, slim volumes showing his meeting with eager but inept British Army Officer, Lieutenant Hubert Brussels Sprout.
Oumpah-Pah was interesting mainly in the sense of its status as an Asterix forerunner, and now I had discovered a second series by Goscinny and Uderzo. What’s more, from the article that identified that old Eagle series for me at long last, it was an easy step to discover Luc Junior Integrale via And as well as the complete Luc Junior, I also discovered a third pre-Asterix series by Goscinny and Underzo, also available in ‘Integrale’ fashion, Jehan Pistolet, a Pirate.
Thus the mystery was solved, with a pat on the back for my not-always-reliable ability to recognise an artist from his art. I ordered the book as a self-Xmas present, even though it is, naturally, in French, and my French-reading abilities do not go much beyond a Grade 4 O-Level which will be fifty years old this year. And thereby did I discover that only half a mystery has been cleared up, and half a mystery remains.
The first of Eagle‘s two reprints was the first ‘Luc Junior’ story: of course it had to be, the series starts with Luc’s first assignment as a journalist. It starts at the daily newspaper, ‘Le Cri’, whose editor. M. Bonbain is berating his staff because nobody has a story. Office Junior Luc Junior suggests a feature on a Day in the Life of a Press Photographer. M. Bonbain thinks the idea is wonderful and assigns Luc to to follow his top photographer, M. LaPlaque, around all day.
M. LaPlaque is less impressed with the notion and decides to be benignly uncooperative: his big photo is of a window box of begonias. But when developed, the photo captures a safe being cracked in an apartment building across the street.
Eagle took the story, in black and white as opposed to colour. It anglicised the newspaper to the Daily Globe, Luc to Junior (no other name) and LePlaque to Len Lenns (Junior’s big floppy spotted dog, Alphonse, remained Alphonse).
From such beginnings, the serial was reprinted complete, except for the final panel (which included a background cameo of Goscinny and Uderzo that no-one would have picked up on at the time), which was to become the traditional closing image for all seven stories. ‘Luc Junior et le Vole’ (Luc Junior and the Thieves) had run from 7th October 1954 to 3 May1955, nearly a decade before its appearance in English. And before I was on this Earth, too!
The second ‘Junior, Reporter’ story was nothing like as good. Junior and Mr Lenns are assigned to win a competition to be the first to get to Texas spending no more than 6d. First, they travel by raft then, when it sinks, they’re picked up by a millionaire’s yacht on which a rival is serving as drinks waiter, then they’re boarded by pirates and set adrift before hitching a lift off a rapidly melting iceberg that finally gets them there.
It’s a thin story that gets thinner as it goes along, as does the art. Intriguingly, despite the fact I cannot see more than a single page of the first story that I don’t recognise in the French edition, there’s clearly been some serious editing going on. ‘Junior, Reporter’ ran for forty weeks in Eagle, issues 6-45 of Volume 15, whereas Luc Junior et les Voles runs for thirty five weeks alone. And the race to Texas is far more than a mere five episodes.
It’s a mystery. But the real mystery is something else entirely, namely that the second story is not in Luc Junior, Integrale.
So only half the mystery is solved after all. Looking at the art of the Texas story, it’s immediately clear that, although the characters of Junior and Mr Lenns look the same, overall the art is much simpler, lacking backgrounds, especially as the strip goes on. The detail of the first story has vanished, yet Uderzo was always an artist who thrived on detail, and the absence of a realistic world around the characters emphasises that they are cartoons. Perhaps the series was continued after Uderzo (and Goscinny?) moved on, by lesser hands?
Maybe the other half of the mystery lies in the text of the book, in which case I need to educate myself past the standard of a fifty-year old Grade 4 O-Level to discover it.


And maybe you just need a bit of perspicacity. A little bit more Googling and an answer presents itself. ‘Luc, Junior’ (later simply ‘Junior’) did not come to an end in October 1957, when Goscinny and Uderzo moved on but was transferred to ‘Greg’, the main pen-name for Michel Regnier, Belgian cartoonist and scripter (who wrote for Franquin’s Modeste et PomPom better know in the UK as ‘Jinx’ in Valiant).
Greg continued ‘Luc, Junior’ until 1965 when the series was finally cancelled, adding another fifteen stories to the seven from Goscinny and Uderzo. I found a list of ‘Luc, Junior’ titles online, with no description of the contents, but one was a 1961-2 story called ‘Junior, Globe-Trotter’, which seemed a definite possibility for the story Eagle turned to next.
And… There’s quite a few pages of Greg’s ‘Luc, Junior’ to be examined online through Google Images, and one of them is the cover for an album collection of ‘Junior, Globe-Trotter’ which I recognised instantly.
So the mystery is solved in it’s entirety, except for need to learn enough French to read Luc, Junior Integrale and fully enjoy the stories that weren’t translated into English for the delight of an eight year old boy with a long memory that stretches all the way back to 1964.

Sunday Watch: The Singing Detective e01 – Skin

Boys from the Blackstuff is not the only landmark BBC series from the Eighties that I’ve picked up in boxset from the invaluable Vinyl Exchange and have not yet sat down to watch (and I still have Edge of Darkness to come to). The Singing Detective, the late Dennis Potter’s undisputed masterpiece, was first shown on BBC1 in November and December 1986. I watched it then. It has been repeated, but whether I watched any repeats I can’t remember. This is certainly the first time I’ve seen it this century.

My rule of thumb for series with hour long episodes was meant to be two for a Sunday morning, but a single episode of The Singing Detective, even the opening episode, is intense enough in its own write to want to let the experience sink in. So we’ll be here for the next five weekends as well.

As always, the question is, what can I say about a series that has produced millions of words of critical comment? Let’s just take this a step at a time, try to pretend this is something entirely new, and view the initial episode in that light.

The series stars Michael Gambon, Patrick Mallahide and Joanne Whalley, and was a breakthrough for each of these. Gambon is Philip Marlow (the choice of name is deliberate), a patient in a London hosital who is suffering from psoriatic arthritis, a condition he has had for twenty to thirty years but which has risen to a peak: Marlow’s entire body, all muscles and joints, are affected and he is in constant pain, practically incapable of doing anything with his body. It’s exactly like fibromyalgia, but the psoriatic aspect means that simultaneously, his skin is flaking, his body covered in lesions and sores. Everything hurts him, even the touch of his pyjamas. In case we don’t get it for ourselves from Gambon’s performance – and he is superb beyond belief in a first episode in which he is confined to a bed, unable to express himself with anything but his eyes and voice – in a rare example of a bad line, Potter has Marlow tell us that he is a prisoner in his own body.

Marlow is a writer, a washed up writer who, apart from his inability to even hold a pen, has seen all his books go out of print. Inevitably he is – was – a writer of detective fiction, although the young and sympathetic Nurse Mills (Whalley) doesn’t understand the significance of the name. She has the task of greasing his skin, to cool him down, to try to ease flexibility and the pain, which leads to her having to deliver the line, ‘I’m going to have to lift your penis so that I can grease round it’.

This is part of a mentally frantic scene in which, in a vain attempt to hinder such penis’s instinctive response to such a situation, Marlow frantically tries to think of boring things, a litany in which we detect Dennis Potter’s own attitudes.

Reduced to near total immobility, Marlow tries to exercise his mind. He mentally begins to plot out a detective story set in 1945, full of theatrical gestures and moods, a composition of fantasy and cliche shot through with a bitter reality. A Detective – Mark Binney, played by Mallahide – visits a night club, Skinskapes, where a band plays the lazy, hazy, sultry music of the period, with a beautiful and husky girl singer (Whalley again). He sits with a hostess in a sailor suit, Amanda, slips away to investigate backstage where he finds his disguised tramp contact dead with a knife in him, and leaves the club with Amanda, and her Russian fellow hostess, Sonia, where he’s going to get something in return for all the money of which he’s been fleeced.

Marlow’s writing this in his head, mixed up with and crossing over into real life. There are little trails being laid, things that we don’t yet know where they will fit it – a repeated scene of a woman’s naked body being fished from the River (Thames?), cut and whipped, watched by a variety of people from the nearby bridge. There’s two sinister men, one little, one large, with trenchcoats, fedoras and pencil-moustaches, lurking around Binney. There’s the other patients in Marlow’s ward, long-termers, their lives in suspension. A Greek Chorus of the irascible but feeble Mr Hall (David Rydell), with some kind of bladder control issue, and Reginald (Gerald Horan), the unwilling audience to his rants, a young working class Londoner trying to read a book, the shaky and incapable Nipsey and Marlow’s next bed neighbour, Ali (Badi Uzzaman), in for heart problems who, in trying to pass Marlow some sweets, suffers another and fatal heart attack.

Ali’s death is heavily foreshadowed in the episode. He’s also the object of some racist comments by Marlow that would be completely unacceptable from a sympathetic character now. It’s made clear that Ali understands they’re not meant either personally or racially: they are the safety valve of a man undergoing great pain without the least hope of it being relieved, a man bitter, angry, sarcastic, taxed beyond endurance by the infantilistic and impersonal treatment he gets from the doctors and nurses (one of them Imelda Staunton), striking out verbally because he’s no other way of striking out. But maybe Ali also accepts the words because he’s had to learn to accept them, because they’ve been the currency of white Britain all his life. We never entirely know what’s inside us, especially those of us brought up when skins that weren’t white were less visible.

Potter also used The Singing Detective to expand upon the format he’d created in Pennies from Heaven, the merger and contrast and collision betwen real life and the soft, sweet fantasies of popular romantic music – Extraordinary how potent cheap music is, as Noel Coward put it. That music underpins the detective noir sequences and it escapes into real life in spectacularly choreographed fashion when Marlow hallucinates the consultant, his staff and the ward nurses going into ‘Dry Bones’.

No, the opening episode is about introducing all these people, about showing us something but not everything about them, laying trails and cross-trails that dig into Potter’s own history: he too suffered from psoriatc arthritis, and he came from the Forest of Dean.

And there’s something else I didn’t mention, two cameos, both of a small boy standing high in a tree, a tree in a thick swirling English forest, the Forest of Dean. In the first he is silent whilst, offscreen, a voice calls his name, Philip, describes him as ‘me old butty’. in the second, ending the episode, the camera moves closer, close enough to hear him muttering, the same thing, over and over, until he looks into the camera and tells us, ‘I be going to find out’. We will.

Lou Grant: s05 e21 – Suspect

When you discover something you don’t want to

Not quite halfway through this episode, I had a flash of insight into how the two stories in this weak and shapeless episode were going to be connected. On the one hand we had the death of Harlan Boyt, a good guy, an environmentalist, killed in a hit and run accident when he was out cycling, but maybe not quite so accidentally. And on the other we had Lou’s relationship with office designer Jessica (Dixie Carter) suddenly going sour when he discovers she’s been ‘involved with’ this big, wealthy, married property developer for the ast seven years and all the time she’s been ‘involved with’ Lou. There wasn’t the least thing to connect these two stories but after nearly five full seasons of Lou Grant, not to mentions hundreds, even thousands of episodes of American network TV, I know how scriptwriters’ minds work. Our environmentalist hero would have been putting obstacles in the way our our developer villain’s latest plans and been killed to remove such an obstacle.

And, ladies, gentlemen and readers, I was talking total bollocks. Though I do think my idea, cliched as it was, would have made for a stronger story.

For the last dozen episodes or so, there’s been a tall, skinny, curly-haired and fresh-faced young reporter hanging around everything, Lance Reineke (Lance Guest). I haven’t mentioned him before because he’s just been part of the newsroom, much as I don’t mention Allen Williams as Adam Wilson: neither are central to any stories. This time, however, Lance takes front and centre stage and uis the principal Guest Star.

Chance brings him to Boyt’s death and he pursues the story, always seeing more to it than does Lou. He’s weirded out by having to break the news to Boyt’s live-in fiancee, who provides the first serious clue. Boyt was an experienced cyclist, with strict self-set rules about safety: he never went out without his cycling helmet. But he died of head injuries and the helmet was nowhere to be seen…

This was where my suspicions were aroused but no. Instead, that side of the story slid into a massive disaster of an idea, namely that fine, upstanding, forever helpful Harlan Boyt, whom everybody loved and respected, environmentalist and all-round good guy… was secretly a well-organised and intelligent pimp. with schedules on a computer.

Not only was that crash and burn time, all hands lost at sea, it also had a painfully nasty racist basis. The hookers were black, their bog standard pimps were black, stuff-strutters and violent with it: it took a white guy, professional and intellient, to run the business on sensible and time- and profit-maximising lines, pimping the little black girls to his white friends and circle.

The story on that side was of Lance’s confusing his job as reporter with that of detective, ordered off the story multiple times, feeding what he finds to the Police but stillsticking his oar in when it looks like they’re not taking the case seriously enough. which leads to him staring down the business end of a switchblade knife before the Cops intervene because, no, they haven’t been as dull and ignorant as he thinks they were.

As for Lou’s side of things, first he dumps Jessica, then Charlie prods him into fighting for her, then the show intimates that she’ll choose him exclusively, but it’s far too much time for a B-story that’s about two molecules deep, if that. Or maybe that’s just me: if I found out someone I was seeing was sleeping with someone else all the time, I wouldn’t take her back, no matter how much I cared about her.

Then there was three.