For Children, About Children, By Children: Katharine Hull & Pamela Whitlock’s ‘Escape to Persia’

The success of The Far-Distant Oxus mandated a sequel, and Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock were only to eager to return to the little world of the Persian Tribe that they had created for themselves. Thus Escape to Persia was published by Jonathan Cape in 1938.
Of The Far-Distant Oxus‘s two sequels, this was the only one of which I knew the least thing about, and that from where it was cross-referenced by Arthur Ransome’s biographer, Hugh Brogan, in relation to the then-unpublished unfinished thirteenth Swallows & Amazons novel that he tentatively but so-aptly named Coots in the North. The most of Coots that was written related to the Death & Glories’ overnight journey in a Rodleys cruiser from Horning to the Lake in the North, in search of Dick and Dorothea. A similar set-up applies here.
With the exception of one paragraph each about Jennifer and Peter Cleverton respectively, the opening chapters of the book are almost all about Bridget, Anthony and Frances. The Hunterlys are staying with their Aunt Angela in London, and being under the unnecessary watchful eye of the unprepossessing nurserymaid, Constance. It’s raining half the time, there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go, they’re bored and boisterous and most of all they’re not on Exmoor. They’re missing the previous summer, Cloud Farm, the valley of the Oxus, Peran-Wisa and Bridget’s mount, Talisman.
Oh, and they’re also missing Maurice, the mystery boy, the Persian chief.
Things get under way immediately. Bridget is reading a book about German prison camps in the Great War, and about two Officers who escaped and got out of the country by train inside twenty-four hours, with only the equivalent of ten shillings each. Bridget strikes up a bet, which Aunt Angela doesn’t comprehend for one second, that the three children, without grown-up assistance, with only ten shillings each, can get 200 miles to Exmoor and Cloud Farm within twenty-four hours. If they can do so, they get to stay there for the remaining two weeks of the holiday.
It’s taking advantage of the poor woman, but that’s alright because they can’t manage it. Unless Maurice organises it for them. Maurice’s plans always work. But Maurice is a mystery. The Hunterlys don’t know where he lives, and they don’t know his last name. But where there are teenage authoresses, there is always a way, and Maurice is almost immediately seen, or glimpsed, entering a tube-station the Hunterlys are leaving after having had a visit to the swimming baths cut short by the disagreeable Constance. He’s in London! Miracles will happen!
The Hunterlys make contact by placing a personal column ad on the front page of the Times (everybody – that matters – reads the Times) asking him to ring them at a certain time. And so the escape to Persia is on.
Maurice assists the Hunterlys to get out of the house in Hilary Street via its coal cellar, but the master-plotter is very much off-form. Maurice’s plan is to take a bus-ride to the terminus, hitch a ride, in the middle of the night, to Reading, take the train as far as they can go on their remaining money (which is Taunton) and them improvise from there. Not exactly water-tight. And he’s not going with them.
Still, it works. The last leg, from Taunton onwards is accomplished by hired bicycles, with Bridget’s gold foxhead badge and Antony’s silver(ish) watch as security for payment, and the Hunterlys arrive at Siestan (the tribe’s name for the Cleverton’s home) out of the blue. Everything is still the same it was, down to Mr Cleverton’s total renunciation of parental responsibility, giving them a lift over to Cloud Farm and assisting them in convincing Mrs Fradd it’s all an above-board booking…
So far, so good. The book has maintained an eager narrative flow, energetic and buoyant, the Hunterlys fully engaged in exactly the same way as Hull and Whitlock. But here is the same principle flaw that Brogan detects in Coots in the North and which he holds up as the main reason that book was never completed. It’s one thing to set Joe, Bill and Pete off on their escape from monotonous reality, but what do you do with them when you get them to their destination? So too Bridget, Anthony and Frances: the moment they get to Cloud Farm, the book loses its impetus, never to regain it, and all that’s left is ‘more of the same, only different’.
The scope is limited by three things: the shorter time available, the frequently wet weather and the fact that you can’t discover the same things twice.
Though the energy sags a little from there, it should also be noted that the girls’ writing abilities have expanded. They are a little older than the children they have created but still completely in touch with the things that concern them, and the things that go through their minds as they move about their world. And there’s an ever-burgeoning strand of poetry amongst the direct, descriptive language.
The things that matter in the short time they have are much more down to earth. Repairs are needed at the neglected Peran-Wisa, Maurice’s log-hut, though the broken window gets no more than a curtain over it.
There are other children in the valley of the Oxus, overlooking the activity at Peran-Wisa. Somewhat patronisingly, the Tribe dub them the pygmies (small ‘p’). When they fail to respond to the kind of come and help note that Maurice delivered the Hunterlys in The Far-Distant Oxus, they’re deemed enemies, but in a deliberately bathetic conclusion, it’s discovered that instead they’re… French.
What adventures there are are episodic. There’s a visit to a Point-to-Point where Maurice is approached by a family friend to substitute as a rider after the man’s son breaks a wrist in a car accident. This is Maurice, we naturally expect… but Hull and Whitlock have grown, and he only comes in second to the favourite.
The hired bikes have to be returned to Taunton. Mr Cleverton comes over in the Bentley to bring everyone back but in pouring rain the car gets stuck in the mud by an unfordable river. Help is needed to haul it out and during this Maurice’s dog, Ellita, pursues a hare and gets lost, to be returned next morning by an old man with a one-sided smile, who happens to be a notorious local poacher.
This leads the tribe to their last great adventure when Frances overhears keepers plotting to trap the old man. Maurice repays a debt of honour, organising the tribe to help get the man clear at night.
Maurice is still the Marvel Boy in everybody’s eyes, and he’s still quite the Mystery, but this time round the girls allow a succession of glimpses into his head. The Clevertons know something but are sworn to secrecy: only the Hunterlys must be excluded. Why is never explained, though Maurice debates letting them in with himself.
But no. He must keep his real identity secret. To let the others know would be to spoil everything. Things could never be the same..
The most plausible explanation, to me that is, is that Maurice, or his family, is somebody. Somebody big and powerful, rich, outstanding, famous: heir to a Dukedom or something like that. Something that would destroy the easy, natural social fraternity with everyone if it were known. Deference to his abilities is one thing, but deference to his status would undo everything, and that can’t be allowed.
Other readers may prefer other explanations, but this guarded opening up of the mystery introduces new and intriguing depths, as well as grounding the mystery boy as someone with a foot in reality.
Still, at the end of the story, the young Persian chieftain slips off into the night, leaving his tribe asleep at Peran-Wisa awaiting the return to dull old London, and School, in the morning.
Maybe he really is Persian?
One thing that this book does possess, that you won’t find in any of the Swallows & Amazons series, is a sense of mortality. That seems an unusual thing to claim about a children’s book written by children, but as Escape to Persia winds down to the end of a truncated and unexpected holiday, there’s a growing air among the Hunterlys, overtly expressed, of the possibility of loss. Arthur Ransome’s books, for all that they are attached to a period of time almost a century ago, are eternal, and the Walkers, the Blacketts and the Callums are eternal children. Holidays will come round every year, unchanged and unchanging: there is no future, just a glorious repeat of what has always been. But whilst the valley of the Oxus will always be here, and the moors and Mount Elbruz, even they are liable to change. The future creeps on. Next summer, Bridget, Anthony and Frances might be back out in Sumatra, with mother and father. Mr Cleverton might be selling Siestan. And who and what is Maurice that he should resist the passage of time? They may never see each other again, this might be the end of all things between them.
We know it’s not, that there will be one more book, but the Persian tribe don’t know that. They understand that change will occur, that the only way a place and a time can be frozen is in memory. This Persia they have created on Exmoor is for now but not forever, and they are old enough, and mature enough, as are Whitlock and Hull, to face that prospect.
Whatever its flaws, Escape to Persia is an infinitely more mature book than even the best of Ransome for containing, and demonstrating that knowledge.

Danger Man: s02 e08 – The Galloping Major

Don’t let yourself get fooled.

This was yet again an intriiguing episode, bringing an unexpected angle to the world of espionage occupied by John Drake. The open signalled the nature of the story, a cat-and-mouse/what is going on? affair, with the viewer having to puzzle things out in real time, alongside our friend.

The open consisted of Drake arriving in a foreign country. He’s clearly expected, as a routine involving a pound note with a triangle cut out of it demonstrates. Drake’s in Africa, where he’s to be Major Sullivan. There are a lot of African actors in this episode, all of whom are given decent, respectable roles, none of which are demeaning, though some will say the set-up is that by definition. Let me make things a little clearer for you.

Drake has been asked to intervene by the Prime Minister, K.W. Kamunga (William Marshall). The un-named country has not long since won its independence from the British and is holding its first General Election in two days time. The Election will be a close run thing, and there is a distinct likelihood of the Leader of the Opposition, Dr Manudu (Edric Connor) taking power. There was been an assassination attempt on the Prime Minister’s life, and he believes Dr Manudu is capable of a coup to otherthrow him if he loses (whee, we are talking contemporary, aren’t we?). On the other hand, Chief of Security Kassawari (Earl Cameron, a Danger Man regular and another Prisoner stalwart), believes Drake is unnecessary, but is co-operative).

Drake reports to Army Chief General Powers (Geoffrey Lumsden) and meets the second-in-command, Colonel Nyboto (Errol John), a native of the same tribe as Manudu. He gets himself lodgings with Mrs Manningham, a gin-dependent elderly widow who’s stayed on, but who has some opinions about native rule and socialists that are slyly funny but also accurate representations of the times, and not just those times as the recent events in Washington prove. He’s introduced to Belgian exporter Pierre Lasalle (Arnold Diamond), who’s also quite chummy with Manudu, and his wife Suzanne (Jill Melford, this week’s glamour girl) who wants the handsome Major to ‘take her to the movies’, private screening, no doubt.

The episode winds on. Drake moves about, gathering little pieces of information that point to a planned coup, by Manudu, financed by Lasalle, headed by Nyboto providing military resources. Drake is attacked with intent to kill by a soldier wielding a knobkerrie. Kassawari is murdered. It all points one way, in a piecemeal, dense and slightly shapeless manner. You keep expecting a twist, something to turn the story on its head, but it doesn’t happen. Drake’s arrested but he outwits his guards, escapes, alerts General Powers and the three conspirators, Manudu, Lasalle and Nyboto are arrested.

Don’t let yourself get fooled. Without being chauvinist, this has been a very masculne episode. Suzanne adds a bit of glam, but seems to do nothing else, a decent actress wasted on a cheesecake role, albeit one who’s smarter than she pretends to be. But she pops up as Drake is packing to leave, demanding to know why her husband has been arrested. He can’t have been planning a coup, he’s very friendly with Kamunga. Only last night he was having drinkks with the Prime minister, him and Colonel Nyboto…

You should have heard me cackle. It wasn’t simple and straightforward at all. Kamunga conspired to set up his more popular opponent, tempting him with pre-organised coup, and had Drake flown in to discover it for them. And our friend John is not the type to take that kind of manipultion lying down, another moment in which we see the underlying independence, decency and sheer bloody-mindedness of Number 6. Drake applies his own test, offering to switch sides to support Manudu if sufficiently bribed only to be rejected in anger as scum. Then he springs Manudu, intercepts Kamunga’s national TV broadcast and turns it into a public debate on the eve of the Election. Whence, having re-routed everything back to the democratic ideal, he leavesquietly.

Of course that last bit, the twist coda, is reliant upon a bit of flim-flam. No matter how much wasset up to tempt him, Manudu still agreed to join a plot to overthrow the Government. And he told the ‘Major’ that sometimes democracy has to be bypassed, though you could interpret that as an attempt to justify his actions to his guilty conscience. but then all Drake did was to ensure the election took place in the most open of manners. What more can we ask?

Incidentally, I’m not sure how many people significantly younger than me will understand the episode title. It’s a reference to a popular Music Hall song written in 1906, borrowed for a quasi-Ealing comedy crime caper film in 1951, and still played on the Light Programme from time to time during my childhood. It had exactly the kind of catchy chorus that appealed to kids and I remember it instantly to this day.

The Infinite Jukebox: Tim Hardin’s ‘Reason to Believe’

Not many who weren’t there in the late summer of 1971 will remember, or even know, that Rod Stewart’s ‘Maggie May’ was originally the second half of a double-A-side single, and that originally the primary track was Stewart’s cover of the Tim Hardin song, ‘Reason to Believe’.
Much as I liked ‘Maggie May’, then and, despite Stewart’s later career in all it’s… meanderings, even now I always liked ‘Reason to Believe’ better for the simple reason that it was the better song. Though it was a couple of decades and maybe even more before the chance came to acquaint myself with the original and learn by how much Hardin’s own, simple performance was the best version there possibly could be.
If I listen long enough to you, Hardin sings, with a note of wistful regret in his quiet, resigned voice, I’d find a way to believe that it’s all true. Knowing that you lied, straight-faced, while I cried, still I’d look to find a reason to believe.
There’s nothing hidden, nothing fancy, no ornate words or pretence Just the plain statement that she’s lied to him, lied no doubt about cheating and betraying him, but for all of that he will try everything he can to believe what he knows isn’t true. Why does he even think of doing this? Because he loves her.
And as Shakespeare put it, Love is not Love which alters when it alteration finds. Even when it bloody well should.
Tim’s not listening, or rather he’s listening because he knows and he will do everything in his power to unlisten. Someone like you, he admits, makes it hard to live without somebody else: not just somebody else, for it’s not somebody like you, it’s only you, who makes it easy to give and never think of myself.
If I gave you time to change my mind, I’d find a way just to leave the past behind. And he wants that excuse, he wants to give her that time, even when she can’t even pay him the respect of trying to construct a plausible lie, something he can at least pretend to believe in. No, it’s nothing but the straight-faced lie, because she knows she has him, that she has to do nothing and he will do everything within his power to jump back into her arms. All he wants is a reason to believe, and it doesn’t even have to be a good one.
A question needs to be asked here. Tim Hardin was a heroin addict, who died of an overdose in 1980. Is this a woman to whom he sings or is she merely a symbol for the drug that overruled his life? You can read it either way. But if the love song is merely the surface, then it is nevertheless one of the most beautiful and painful love songs ever written, and in the hopelessness of Tim Hardin’s singing, in the plain, unadorned, almost rudimentary piano and acoustic guitar of it’s arrangement, it stands on its own feet as the deepest admission of just how much love can mean, and how much we can fall in on ourselves when someone becomes the lodestar of our life.
Is love worth it if it means the total abnegation of ourselves? Only the lover, the addict, can answer that with any knowledge, but it is knowledge that few, if any of us, would have to have.
Rod Stewart extended the song, gussified up the arrangement, introduced a stop-go element, sang with more range in his voice, more overt emotion and made a fair fist of it, the direct melancholy of his version appealing to me more than the jauntiness and sexuality of ‘Maggie May’ – or was it just me running contrary from so far back?
But Tim Hardin’s burnt-out weariness and lack of resistance moves me more. This song is the very embodiment of the saying that less is more. And by its token, nothing is more powerful than anything.
If I listen long enough to you…

Breaking the Wall of Sound: Phil Spector R.I.P.

He was 81, and he’s died from that supposedly non-existent virus, COVID19.

He was apparently one of the nastiest persons ever to enter a recording studio, and he ended upconvicted of murder, which seems to support the point.

His wife, Ronnie Spector, lead singer of the Ronettes, couldn’t wait to divorce him.

And no-one who ever heard a Phil Spector Wall of Sound production will ever forget how it made them feel.

Sunday Watch: All The Kings Men

Last year, when I won the DVD of A Month in the Country off eBay, I had to take it as part of a package of three DVDs. One of these, the box-set of Alan Bleasedale’s The Monocled Mutineer was a welcome bonus. I had watched and enjoyed it when it was first broadcast, and look forward to a rewatch. But the third, All the King’s Men, a BBC Production, was something I had neither seen nor heard of and which, given that it stars David Jason, I would probably have avoided in the first place.

But I am a fair-minded man (oh yes I am, don’t believe everything I tell you) and I am ready to give the film a fair trial, before I see if it has any re-sale value.

The film is based upon, and purports to resolve a famous Great War myth, the disappearance of the Sandringham Company. This was a ‘Pal’s Battalion’ comprised of worker’s – grooms, gardners and the like – from the King’s estate at Sandringham in Norfolk. They were originally trained into disciplined soldiers by Estate Manager Frank Beck (Jason) who despite being substantially over-age for active service and against the direct wishes of the King (George V, played by David Troughton), goes as Captain of his Battalion to the Dardanelles to participate in the Gallipolli Landings, one of the most ineptly handled and destructive actions of the whole War. when they go onto the attack, thecompany is seen to disappear into a low-lying miss, after which all but a tiny handful are never seen again. Both during and after the War, the disappearance becomes a mythic event, a denial of the probable and crushing truth,in part to spare the feelings of the King and Queen or, as the film makes blatant, more those of Queen Alexandra, the Queen Mother (Maggie Smith, demonstrating her fitness for the much later Downton Abbey whilst also showing how much more talent she had for stuff like that).

The film was co-produced by Nigel McCrery and was based on his 1992 non-fiction book, exposing the truth of ther matter, albeit a truth that appeared to have been known since 1918 but withheld in order not to distress the Queen Mother.

Anyway, these are the facts as known, but what of the film itself? It’s a decent effort, complete with the usual lapses into dramatic licence. It goes straight for the portentous, with music to match,both at the start and as a relapse over the end, a long, slow, much-overextended end. In between, the film’s two major failings are that it’s structure is completely unconventional, without an original thought to its head, and, partly in consequence of this,and despite from some excellent performances from the likes of Patrick Mallahide and Phyllis Logan, not to mention lesser known figures such as William Ash (Sgt. Grimes), Stewart Bunce (Lt. Radley) and Emma Cunniffe (Peggy Battersbee), I found it hard to care for any of the characters. Cliches dropped into place with monotonous regularity.

We start with the company advancing towards the brow of a hill before a low cloud comes down and they are gone: as I say, portentous, especially when taken slowly.

Then we transition to Sandringham, a paradise on Earth (this is 1915, and the workers are the sons and daughters of previous workers, heirs to roles and places. so not the slighest murmer of discontent nor anything smacking of the least dissent. This is our chance to get to know the people of the Battalion, to see them as people, to try to remember their names. There are two main stories in this bit, the first being about David Jason, and Beck’s wish to lead his men into combat.The king more or less states directly that his place is here at sandringham,managing the Estate. Beck is torn between his duty to his King and Master and his obsession with going to War. Jason, or rather the script, imbues Beck with a number of undelying motives, though the final and simplest word goes to his wife Mary (Logan) late on, acknowledging that if he had not gone he would have no longer been the man she knew as husband.

The other story is of gardener Ted Grimes (Ash) and his courtship of the Queen Mother’s handmaid, Battersbee (Cunnife), leading to marriage and one night of passion before he sets off to war.

So the next stage is to cut to Gallipolli and the landings, where Beck and his Battalion see for themselves that the British War Effort is not so precise, controlled and efficient as it ought to be considering it’s British. Most adapt to that as is necessary, most not including the ramrod-disciplined Beck who, in the face of a catastrophe being set in place, one day at a time, insists on being as British as he can be, as if they were still back in training.

Then we wind back to the day of the battle. We get a slightly longer approach to the mist and then the story jumps back to England, the myth of the Sandringham Company already established, and Queen Alexandra’s concern to discover the truth,driven by concern for employees she saw as her ‘family’ of sorts. And we alternate between that, and what could be the only truth to the matter: that the Sandringham Company was shelled and shot at, that men died like men died in that most bloody of slaughters and that the survivors were eventually surrounded, forced to surrender and them massacred by troops who did not have the mentality or the facilities to take prisoners.

Everyone died. It’s the only possible answer and McCrery’s book was apparently the first to give that explanation though, short of the supernatural or the fantastic, no other exlanation could be possible. We see a high Church figure go out to Turkey after the War and discover what was apparently discovered in 1918. Ted Grimes survived to come home, because he was found by a German officer. He brings with him the myth and the Churchman refuses to cpntradict him, sparing Queen Alexandra the truth. The film also leaves dangling an appallingly stupid sub-plot aout Peggy Grimes going off the rails and screwing a despised pacifist, to which I say, immensely sloppy scripting and Thank God because the very idea stunk the place out.

So there we go. Well-made but ultimately unable to escape above cliche. Apparently, the film was controversial at the time, arousing protests from the Turkish Ambassador and one of Frank Beck’s grandsons for being unfounded in evidence. Certainly it appears considerable dramatic licence was employed to make the group that suvived more numerous than in real life, and also including Beck, shown to be shot last, when there’s some evidence that he was probably killed in battle. It also got criticised by the Friends of Norfolk dialect for setting up a company of Norfolk natives but having them speak in generic bumpkin/Mummerzet voices. You’d think they could get that right at least.

On the other hand, if I have piqued your curiosity about the film, it’ll be starring on eBay all week.

All-Flash & All Green Lantern: Part 1 – The Golden Age Flash

My first realisation that it was possible to get complete runs of Golden Age comics without starving for several years was with Flash Comics, starring Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, and many others. The ice having been broken, I went looking for, and found, a similar DVD of All-American Comics, starring Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern, and many others. My only disappointment was that these collections didn’t contain the solo issues of each hero in their own titles. It was quite clear that certain of the heroes’ renowned villains only appeared in the solo series. That left a considerable gap as far as I was concerned.
Not any more. I now have, and am going to write about, those very solo titles. So come back with me again to the early days of the Golden Age, starting first of all in Keystone City, with a look at All-Flash Quarterly.
The series started as a quarterly, in keeping with the existing two solo books, over at Detective Comics, Inc., Superman and Batman. A 64 page comic, four Flash stories, all by Jay Garrick’s team from Flash Comics, Gardner Fox and E.E Hibbard, who were introduced with their pictures in AFQ 1. Nothing out of the ordinary, just because this was Jay’s solo vehicle: a two-page recap of his origin, the one where the fumes he inhaled sped up his reflexes and everyone seemed to know Garrick had superspeed yet made no connection with The Flash.
And Joan Williams, ‘lifelong friend’, in on the secret from the start, forever trailing in Jay’s wake, determined to be in on the action but never fast enough to catch up. Oh, it’s goofy enough stuff, raw and energetic and stupid in places but with an overpowering eagerness to please and a relish in the fun of superpowers. The only moment of true note in issue 1 was the debut of the Monocle, a crook who got his name not from what he could use his monocle for, lasers or hypnotics, but simply because he wore one!
But there was a genuine upgrade in issue 2, in the form of a full-length novel, a single story – in four chapters, of course – a story starting years before the Flash existed, featuring a convicted crook swearing revenge on the DA who got him sent down, kidnapping his baby son and raising him as his own, to kill the boy’s real father, whilst the crook became an international mastermind as The Threat. At each turn, the Flash foiled the Threat’s plans until, with the truth coming out, the Threat committed suicide by poison, leaving the deluded Roy Revenge to serve his time and then marry Ann, his sister (not in the blood, they weren’t relations physically but they’d been brought up as brother and sister for twenty-five years so, yeah, icky).
There was another book-lengther in issue 3, using the same four chapter formula to give the story regular lifts but I was most interested in an offhand comment, early on, about why nobody can see that Jay Garrick is The Flash. The idea first surfaced in the Sixties, sounding like the archetypal ex post facto rationalisation, namely that Jay was always vibrating his face lightly so that nobody saw anything but a blur. But that explanation did date from 1941, though instead of vibration of molecules, which only came in with Barry Allen, it was Garrick constantly moving faster than anyone could see.
I don’t (yet) know if any of the other Quarterlies took advantage of their vast amounts of space to tell such long stories, but they were certainly a great way to use a solo title. Sheldon Mayer, All-Flash editor certainly thought so.
And Mayer was on to something right, for issue 5 was the last Quarterly, the series going bi-monthly with the following issue and becoming simply All-Flash. However, he gets a black mark from me for introducing the infamous Winky, Blinky and Noddy, stupid hands at a racing stables but en route to such an unlimited range of stupidity. They’re underdeveloped on their debut, but not enough to be dropped.
It seemed that Mayer wasn’t sure of the direction the series should be taking for in issue 6 he set up a Poll: did the readers want more book-lengthers, did they prefer individual stories and did they want more Winky, Blinky and Noddy (short answer, A and C, oi vey).

Winky,Blinky and Noddy

At least issue 7 was prepared before the poll results were in so we escaped the Three Dimwits. In fact the story was a hoot, as Joan gets taken in by a pretentious crime/horror writer who sets up a set-up murder weekend with actor friends to scare Jay Garrick, only for one real-life gang and one revengeful killer to intervene after Jay had sussed things out. It didn’t make a bit of sense but it moved with lunatic energy and even when Joan was being her silliest, there was a tangible affection between the pair.
Of course, that meant we had to put up with the Nitwits, still nominally criminals, in a silly but touching story that dragged everyone into Fairyland for a tale that helped a blind boy survive an operation that gave him his sight. Meanwhile, however, the kids had spoken. It seemed that they wanted book-length stories AND they wanted individual stories. (They also wanted the Dimwits). So the unique, ingenious, never-tried-in-the-annals-of-comic-history solution unveiled in issue 9 was… two 32-page stories. Both with the trio.
The outcome was awful. In some psychological manner, two stories with the comedy relief threesome appeared to stretch out even longer than a single story of the same page total, though the absence of Joan Williams from one of these might have something to do with it. I’m starting to question the wisdom of going this deep into The Flash’s career.
But then again I can forgive much for issue 10, a freewheeling, pinballing, goofy story about a cat that could grant wishes by magic, but which was deliciously told by Gardner Fox in a perfect Damon Runyan pastiche style. And I love Damon Runyan.
That though was a mere interlude before a truly awful story about duplicates of Jay, Joan and the Dimwits arriving from another planet. The story made no sense, throwing in indiscriminate twist after indiscriminate twist at a rate of about two a page and, whilst still credited to Hibbard, was clearly drawn by a much more cartoony artist, setting a seal on the nonsense.
By now, America had been at war for over eighteen months, and paper rationing was starting to bite. With issue 12, All-Flash reverted to a quarterly status, but Hibbard was bad and a much better story introduced the flash’s old-time foe The Thinker, aka former DA Clifford Devoe, who turned his keen intelligence to crime, plotting watertight jobs.

Enter the Thinker

Now the idea of a solo series was that it should be a solo series, so it was some surprise to see All-Flash picking up that much-derided series, The King, in issue 13. The master of disguise and his persistently crooked enemy the beautiful the Witch, who he keeps foiling only to set her free on the last page to scheme again, may be silly beyond belief, but I still enjoy it better than many a more well-respected Golden Age series.
The King interrupted the latest story, slipping in between chapters 3 and 4 of an intriguing tale in which, for once, the Three Dimwits weren’t completely irritated. Jay Garrick retired as the Flash after a crook slipped an article into a magazine accusing him of being a menace. Winky, Blinky and Noddy joined Joan in trying to get Jay to reconsider, including coming up with two more mystery men, Muscleman and The Djinn, to complicate the picture further.
But despite the ‘appears in every issue of…’ blurb, The King’s appearance was a one-off. Issue 14, again presented two novelettes. Deuces Wilde was back to pepper one with his Runyanesque dialogue – did I say I love Damon Runyan? – as The Flash’s efforts to take Joan to a movie keep being put back whilst he breaks up crimes, but it was the front of house story that stood out. Once more we have a prefiguration of meta-fiction (were these metafactionalists reading the same comics I’m catching up on?) as the Three Dimwits break into a deserted All-American Publications office, find the pages for All-Flash 14 and edit them in their own manner. Thank god it didn’t last the whole book because it’s exhausting enough at half-length, with people slipping in and out of panel borders – Doiby Dickles attempts to interfere at one point until hauled back by Green Lantern because he’s in the wrong comic – and self-awareness, placing ads and getting answers inside two pages, you name it, it’s got it. And the Thinker back as the villain.

Cover by Martin Naydel

By now, paper-rationing had gone a coupler of steps further. All-Flash was now down to 48 pages, so when it was decided to present individual stories in issue 15, there were only three. The real story was that, despite E E Hibbard being billed on all three stories, each of them was drawn by Martin Naydel, and if you think he was bad on the Flash in All-Star, he’s an offence to the eyes here.
Hibbard was back immediately, albeit for a book-length story that was curiously flat, or not so curiously since it had the Three Dimwits as lawyers, but issue 17 was once again all-Naydel. In a way I feel sorry for the guy: he was a perfectly good cartoonist, especially on funny animals, but asking him to draw an action tale is pure cruelty. He cannot draw a semi-realistic human bing, let alone convince anyone that a character is in motion. His Jay/Flash and Joan have no necks, their shoulders level with their ears, their mouths are open permanently and his Flash is so bulky in his upper torso, with the shoulders of a steroid-using wrestler that you cannot imagine him being able to run at all. Everybody is continually standing at an angle with one shoulder six inches higher than the other and looking deformed. And that’s before we get on to his panel compositions, which are ugly, confusing and littered with figures and objects at odd angles to one another. Reading thirty-plus pages of this hurts the eyes and it’s impossible to take a moment of the stories at all seriously. It’s just plain awful.
Suddenly, the pleasure, and to be honest the interest, is sucked out of reading All-Flash. All I can say about the next issue was that no. 18 was the first to bear the AA symbol as Charlie Gaines’ eruption against Messrs Donenfeld and Leibowitz struck. But nothing could excuse describing the Three Dimwits as ‘those gay goons of giddiness’. Sheesh!
By issue 21, Charlie Gaines was gone, All-American Publications were gone, Superman-DC 10c was back and Martin Naydel… was still there. At least the issues are quicker to read if your eyeballs insist on not resting on any of the panels. The issue also introduced The Turtle, the world’s slowest man, though he looked like no Turtle ever drawn in the Silver Age or after.
With the War over, All-Flash was allowed to resume bi-monthly publication with issue 22. Gardner Fox slipped in another Deuces Wilde tale the following issue, still with that wonderful Damon Runyan patter, but his time was running out as well. His name disappeared from the masthead after issue 22, though he continued to write The Flash for two more issues but, just as with All-Star, Fox was out, and the remainder of the series would be written by John Broome and Robert Kanigher. I wonder if the two are connected…
If it was for the same reason, the first Fox-less issue didn’t bear it out, the first story being about Joan’s jitterbugging cousin, Ally Gates, coming to town to compete in a jitterbugging contest and pressing her as his new partner. Jay and The Flash want nothing of it – Jay’s only interested in classical music, which is a bit square even for then – but ends up winning the contest through his actions mopping up a gang trying to rob the takings.
Nor were the other two stories anything to shout about, though the formula is very clear now: three stories with Winky, Blinky and Noddy in only the middle one. But all three are still being drawn by Naydel, who does not improve one bit the more you see of him.
Of course, the moment I identify the formula it’s switched in issue 26 to have the Dimwits who, incidentally, have started to act more aggressively towards one another, rather like the Three Stooges, it’s switched so they appear in all stories except the middle one. Cotton-Top Katie makes an appearance biut the most significant aspect is an ad for All-Star 32, Fox’s penultimate JSA story, thus showing that his defenestration from the Flash came first.

Joan the Jitterbug (nice legs)

Things looked up a tad for issue 27, with the first story seeing a return visit for the Thinker, and even though the Dmwits appeared in both the other stories, this was as a two-pater narrated by Deuces Wilde, to whom I am always partial more than somewhat. This time, something called Gangplank Gus rounded things out, but it is not such a thing as I wish to see more of.
Rockhead McWizard, the Stone Age genius stunk out issue 28, but once more the end of the run was drawing close. Suddenly, the Flash was constantly being knocked out by things falling on him or by being shot with bullets that his his helmet, nowhere else. Indeed, both happened in the Dimwits story in issue 29. Of happier moment was the replacement of Naydel for the cover and first story… by Carmine Infantino. It looked so good.
I’d swear it was Infantino, but I may be wrong. All three stories in issue 30 were drawn, and signed by Lee Elias (and no Dimwits in sight!). We’ve also reached the time when stories were being tagged as to the issue they’re intended to occupy. So the putative Infantino story was marked FL85, and two of Elias’s FL92.
But this was the late Forties, and as we’ve seen so many times already, the audience had turned its back on superheroes. All-Flash 32 was to be the last issue. It was cover-dated December-January, leading most retrospectives to date the series’ end to 1948, but it would have come out at least two months more, at any rate still well within 1947.
It introduced the Fiddler for his only Golden Age story. The Shade had one, in Flash Comics, the Thinker three in All-Flash. Never until now did I realise that Jay Garrick’s old enemies, there to plague him and Barry Allen in the legendary ‘Flash of Two Worlds’, that I read so early on as a reprint in The Flash Annual 1, had a grand total of five appearances between them.
I knew the Fiddler story of old, from a Seventies reprint in one of DC’s Dollar titles, and that’s where the version on the DVD comes from, albeit with a page missing. Amazingly, this final issue introduced a second longer-term villain, in the original Star-Sapphire, no relation to the Carol Ferris Green Lantern version in the Sixties. It re-introduced the beautiful lady-scientist Dr Flura, who’d shared an adventure with The Flash in All-Flash 30, visiting a ‘Secret City’ that got a continuity following mention herein.
But that was it. Flash Comics would survive into 1949, and Jay Garrick to the very end of 1950, but Jay Garrick’s solo title ended here. He was the first hero with a solo title after Superman and Batman, who endure to this day, over a thousand issues later, and he was the first hero to have his series cancelled.
Looked at in general, All-Flash was disfigured very early on by the presence of Winky Boylan, Blinky Moylan and Noddy Toylan, once again demonstrating that comicbook histories that suggest the comedy relief sidekick was a post-War phenomenon, propping up declining series have it arse about face. It was truly disfigured from issues 15 to 29 by replacing E.E. Hibbard by Martin Naydel, but showed signs of a real revival when Lee Elias took over and the Three Dimwits took a powder: not necessarily too little but certainly too late.
So that was All-Flash. Let’s take a break and in the second part we’ll look at the comic that was all Green Lantern.

Blog Stat

I started this blog without meaning to.

Once upon a time, nearly ten years ago, a bunch of us broke away from the Guardian‘s general comment thread, ‘What Do you want to Take About’, or Waddaya for short. We’d turned it into something of a social thread, especially on Friday nights. The Guardian didn’t like that and we saw the way the wind was blowing with som unsympathetic moderation, so we made the decision to jump before we were banned. To move to our own forum – which exists to this day with some of the original members – we each had to sign up to WordPress and we automatically received an amount of free blogspace.

I named mine Martin Crookall – Author for Sale because I had no intention of using it as any kind of blog other than the desultory, indeed only promotion of the books I had written, and would go on to write, self-published via the then handy and convenient

From the very start I was an administrator on our forum. I had the Monday slot, opening the daily thread. Needless to say, before too long, after we’d all worked out how to import photos, I put up one of the Lake District, my favourite ever shot, of Scafell Pike and Ill Crag rising above Upper Eskdale, with a short paragraph explaing where and what this was. It became my theme: every Monday a Lakeland scene and a short, but slowly growing longer, essay in explanation.

Unfortunately, things don’t last forever. Details are unimportant. Something happened in contravention of the only serious rule we had, aimed at me. I canvassed my fellow admins but found I did not have the majority opinion with me. I resigned as an admin, and took a break that shortly afterwards became a breach.

I still had more photos and essays I wanted to publish but I no longer had a venue. but I had a blog…

That’s how it all started. I’m writing this short piece to celebrate a stat I never envisaged because I never intended to write a blog. I used to celebrate anniversaries but, being idiosyncratic, I would number these in ‘Nelson’s: 111, 222, 333 etc. After 999 that became impossible to maintain and I stopped checking my Stats in that aspect. This little reminiscence is to celebrate that this is now the 3,000th post on my unintentional blog and to say thank you to those who read, not just the pleasurable number of regulars, and especially those who have become friends without me meeting you (excepting Charlotte, who I have met and who is as delightful as she looks) but everyone who has looked in here however occasionally, to the extent that in December 2020 I recorded the highest number of visitors in a single month, ever. And who, if they keep going as they are doing now, might just beat that this month.

Thanks people, guys, gals and everyone in between. Have I got another 3,000 in me? Only one way to find out.

Lou Grant: s05 e20 – Unthinkable

The girl on the right has a significant part to play in this episode, but this is the last shot we see of her

I’m in a bit of two minds about this episode. On the one hand, it’s a reversion to the more solid stories of the past, a themed episode that, in its time, may well have been something of a revelation for its audience. On the other hand, and by the same token, it’s one of the most badly-dated episodes the series contains, locked into a history that is now dead, or at least mutated out of all recognition.

The open is misleading. A High School Choir, returning from a singing competition, all fresh faces, clear voices (singing ‘Up, Up and Away’), is in a terrible crash as their School Bus swerves to avoid a collision. One girl, Sarah Baldwin, suffers 70 % burns over all her body, and spents the rest of the episode in head-to-toe bandages. This is Billie’s story, with guest star Lane Smith as burns specialist Dr Lawrence. Sarah is our microcosmic example, the only victim of the episode, standing in for what we are asked to imagine in the macrocosm of the A story.

Which is the prospect of nuclear war.

There’s a revolution in the Middle Eastern country of Kular, prominent supplier of oil to America. This is 1982: Kular immediately becomes another proxy war between the USA and the USSR. And like all such proxy wars, the possibility of escalation into a thermonuclear exchange is right on its heels.

What the episode did, in pretty one-sided terms, was spell out, from multiple sources, what the effect of nuclear bombs would be, and it wasn’t pretty. Heavy-handed and didactic though it was in places, making clear that the most optimistic estimation of a nuclear attack on America would be 20% of the population: that’s 20 million people, Joe Rossi pointed out.

We had all sorts of sources: Charlie Hume’s sister, Clair (Bonnie Bartlet), LA’s Civil Defence chief, a retired US General (Warren Kemmerling). And we had Sarah and a lecture on the effects of burning, the long term treatment of even the most successful case, and the girl’s own desire to stop the non-stop pain by being given a shot that would just cause her to die. This from, as you can see in the image above, a pretty sixteen year old, with friends constantly wanting to know how she was, her best friend a Japanese girl, Judy (Lily Mariye), who taught their friends origami, folding a thousand paper cranes to make her wish come true. And Sarah contracting a pneumosis (spelling?) that is the classic way that burns victims die.

So it rocked out, over six days, evoking the Cuban Missile Crisis, ratchetting up the tension, then running out on one of those endless endings. The ray of light, which was meant to imply the inevitable resolution the episode couldn’t show, was a message from Dr Lawrence, taken down by Lou because Billie had gone home, about the thousand cranes, and the pneumosis brought under control. The guy reviewing this episode at imdb seemed to think this was a subtle tip that Sarah had died or would die, but to me it was the opposite, microcosm to macrocosm. Kular would not turn into World War 3 (not that it ever would anyway).

Good then, on an impersonal level, diminished by its refusal to supply a resolution, next week it will be as if nothing happened at all. That, as much as the notion of Nuclear war over a Marxist revolution in a Middle Eastern country that hasn’t even hard the word jihadist, ties it to its time, less than a decade before the Wall came down and the world became different.

For Children, About Children, By Children: Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock’s ‘The Far-Distant Oxus’

‘For children, about children, and by children’ was the tag-line Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock came up with for themselves, and one doesn’t have to read too much of The Far-Distant Oxus to know that the last part of that almost-too-good-to-be-true piece of self-promotion is certainly correct.
By that, I don’t mean to be dismissive of the book, and certainly not of the achievement it is: a marvel of clear-headed thinking, instinctive sense, innate professionalism and an energy and directness that could not have come from any but teenagers themselves.
But the book, for all its plentiful merits, does contain more than a few things that show the authors’ naivete, and despite Arthur Ransome’s disclaimer of it being any kind of pastiche of his Swallows & Amazons books, it can’t have escaped his notice that the story structure bears a clear resemblance to Swallowdale.
But we’ll look closer at such carping when we’ve got the story established.
There are six children of differing ages in Swallows & Amazons, split among two families, and there are six children in the Oxus series, also divided between two families, allowing, that is, for the cuckoo child in the nest, Maurice.
We’re first introduced to the Hunterlys, Bridget, Anthony and Frances in descending order of age. Ages are not given but left to be guessed at from behaviour, which is difficult as there’s not that much difference between Bridget (14?) and Frances (10?). As to appearance, the two sisters are cut from the same cloth, both with long dark hair falling in sweeps either side of their faces, Bridget with long legs and Frances much sturdier. Anthony in contrast is never described, and we can only infer that he is different in looks and hair-colour.
The Hunterlys are staying at Cloud Farm, in a small Exmoor valley, for the summer, under the care of the elderly Mr and Mrs Fradd. Like Penny Warrender they are the children of parents who are something overseas. They used to live in Borneo, where they had native servants, but the children were sent back to England whilst the parents are now in Africa. And that’s all we get of background, negligible as it is. Where they live, who they live with in England, is irrelevant to the summer holiday this pony-loving trio will share. Note that the influence of parents, and any check that they may place on their children’s gallivanting, is wholly absent.
The second family are the Clevertons. Peter and Jennifer are fair and slight, but no less pony-freaks. They live across the valley from Cloud Farm. Unlike the Hunterlys, they have a parent in stock, a father (wot, no mother?). And Mr Cleverton is an unbelievably complaisant father, who makes not the slightest attempt to regulate his children’s activities, who trusts them to be as responsible as the next grown-up: not him, the next one, since he shows no sign of understanding responsibility at all, he’s even prepared to write a letter that’s a complete lie because his children ask him to, without questioning the purpose of the lie. No, Mr Cleverton is one big signpost as to the tender ages of the writers.
And then there’s Maurice. Maurice the Marvel boy. Maurice without a name, without a background, Maurice the Cuckoo Superboy. Maurice is something of which there is not a trace in a Swallows & Amazons book, because Arthur Ransome was not a pair of teenage girls. Can you tell what Maurice is, yet?
Maurice is the drive, like Captain Nancy. But he’s much more than that. He provides the imaginative structure of Persia, taken from Arnold’s ‘Sohrab and Rustum’, on this Exmoor valley, the valley of the River Oxus, bordered on one side by Siestan (the Cleverton’s home) and on the other by Aderbaijan (Cloud Farm), and the watersmeet that becomes the children’s private place, is Peran-Wisa, home to the log cabin that six children build in a single afternoon, from base to roof including sawing out space to fit a window exactly, AND with time left over to build a three-hammock treehouse.
And Maurice is the inspiration, the brains, the genius. He’s the best rider in the world, he can knock out a seventeen year old village boy with a single blow, He can learn a part in minutes and act everyone else offstage. He brings the two families together and binds them to his will, which is appropriate for a worshipper of Ahura-Mazda. He goes to the same school as Peter but even in this single point of contact with reality, he’s an enigma. He loses his temper with Frances when she asks him a direct question about his name and where he’s really from, screaming that no-one must ever know.
Maurice has dark hair and dark eyes. He’s here on Exmoor alone for the whole summer, camping out with his pony, Dragonfly, who is black, and his faithful Labrador, Ellita, who is black, and he couldn’t be a bigger symbol of the enigma of burgeoning female sexuality if the young ladies had written from here until they were both twenty.
None of this is overt but on the other hand it’s obvious, never more so than in the depiction of Jennifer Cleverton. We can only guess at her age, but she’s a shy, quiet girl, with less confidence in herself and what she can do than everyone else, which means that her besottedness with Maurice goes unremarked. It’s a real indication of Hull and Whitlock’s abilities that they present several scenes of Jennifer just looking at Maurice without drawing attention to it.
As for Bridget, the only girl who is the same or similar age to Maurice, her attentions are divided between Maurice and her treasured pony, Talisman, the only pony to come close to Dragonfly. Perhaps because of her height, she comes closest to being an equal to the boy wonder, which gives her a level-headedness around him that doesn’t conceal that she quite clearly fancies him.
But in all of this, don’t think for a moment that there is anything remotely overt or sexual. These are two teenage girls, writing for children like them, in the mid-1930s. Despite Ransome’s injunction not to allow anyone older than themselves to interfere, anything too clear of that nature would, I’m sure, have been ruthlessly purged from the book.
I mentioned above that The Far-Distant Oxus has a similar structure to Swallowdale, by which I don’t mean to say that they’re identical. The second (and longest) Swallows & Amazons book is a mainly land-based story in which Swallow is ship-wrecked and the Walkers have to make a new camp in the eponymous secret valley. There’s no melodrama such as the stealing of Captain Flint’s trunk, or any of the later, and much better handled climaxes, just the building up of the expedition to climb Kanchenjunga (commonly agreed to be Coniston Old Man), a secret from the adults.
In the same manner, the first half of the book is a succession of episodes, light, insignificant, taking place not just against the natural background but entirely of and within it, mini adventures. The creation of the camp in Swallowdale is paralleled by the building of the log cabin they name Peran-Wisa, their secret headquarters. And for the second half of the book, the sextet take off, unknown to all the grown-ups, to follow the course of their far-distant Oxus down to the Aral Sea, or the English Channel to you and I.
It’s a lovely demonstration of the fact that this group of children are full of common sense and practical skills to go with their Arnoldian fantasy. And in case that seems too good to be true, it’s alleviated by the realisation, when it’s far too late to do anything about it, that poling a raft downstream is one thing, but poling it back against the current is another entirely.
To get out of it, the girls fall back on improbable, but convenient coincidence. Down at the Devon coast, the children happen to bump into Mr Harold Fradd, brother and near-twin of the owner of Cloud Farm, who happens to be sending his donkey and trap to his brother, making it available to Maurice and Co. to ride it up there for him.
So everyone gets home, albeit very wet from incessant rain over the last day, and whilst Mrs Fradd is displeased at the Hunterlys sneaking off like that, there’s no comeback on them and, quite unfairly, it’s Jennifer who ends up catching a cold.
The only comeback is that the holiday is almost over, and packing is beginning for the return to School. There’s one final flourish, the gathering of brushwood and it’s piling on ‘Mount Elbruz’, highest peak in the ‘Indian Caucasus’, guarded by an impenetrable bog that only Maurice (of course) knows the secret way through. So the story ends with the lighting of the beacon at the coming of night, followed by the sudden and flurried departure of Maurice on horseback, crossing the moors and setting other beacons on other tops, all across the moor and into the night, like that brilliant scene in The Return of the King, as the flames leap forward across the wild mountains, until the summons arrives in Rohan.
And the Hunterlys and the Clevertons wait for their leader’s return but this is Maurice’s farewell, an enigma to the last.
It’s easy to nitpick about certain aspects of this book, those points at which the writers most clearly reveal their age. An adult knows that six children, none older than fourteen, can’t build a log cabin in four hours, even without the other things they do in the same time. An adult wouldn’t make Mr Cleverton into so conveniently complaisant. An adult would have foreshadowed Mr Herbert Fradd instead of making him so complete a rabbit out of a hat.
I’m on less secure ground in suggesting that maybe an adult author wouldn’t have made Maurice into so complete a fantasy figure, so superior to everyone around him, especially in modesty, but that’s to suggest a change that might possibly go against the girls’ intention. It’s quite certain that in all other aspects, this story is controlled by them, and completed according to their deliberate intentions, plotted in full before a word of Chapter One is penned.
Beyond these matters, and in the context of The Far-Distant Oxus as a whole they are nit-picking, Katharine Hull and Pamela Whitlock produced a book for which they can only be applauded. The concentration, the focus, the energy and the naturalism of their writing, and their ability to invoke the thoughts and impulses of youngsters their age, not to mention their ability to shape a story that, for any similar pony-enthusiast, would make a brilliant summer holiday, gives them the right to have all the good things they did emblazened.
Of course there had to be a sequel. Thirty odd years after first reading this book, I can now discover what happened next…

Danger Man: s02 e07 – That’s Two of Us Sorry

According to imdb, this episode of Danger Man is an extended version of a story told in the 1960 half hour version, series 1. Without any knowledge of that earlier effort, I’d venture to say that the series 2 effort goes into considerably more depth. Once again, there was the feeling that the episode had more going on than it’s 48 minute length could possibly encompass, without feeling in the least crammed.

There was an interesting open, undershot by a vein of comedy introduced by having the young Graham Crowden (of A Very Peculiar Practice and Waiting for God fame) playing Commander Braithwaite, chief of an Atomic Energy Plant in a very remote area of West Scotland, who has had some very important, top secret papers, go missing from his briefcase. Which, when dusted, turns up a fingerprint that John Drake, in London, identifies. As being someone who’s been dead for twenty years! Nice set-up.

We’re not going ‘overseas’ this week, not unless you count a trip to Hirta, one of the Western Isles, with some attractive location footage and a profusion of Scottish voices, some of them – especially that of community leader and separatist Magnus Sutherland (Nigel Green) – sounding a bit on the forced side.

Drake is now Mr Preston, a National Auditor. The fingerprints belong to one Jock Lawson, who worked in a Glasgow Dockyard and who was about to be picked up for passing information to the Russians when he disappeared, presumed dead. He’s not at the plant, where Braithwaite’s attitude to security borders on the lacksadaisical, prompting a bit of anger from our leading man. But it’s the arrival from Hirta of Sheila Sutherland, daughter of Magnus (guest star the lovely Francesca Annis, then aged 19) that alerts Drake to the fact that people from Hirta do visit the mainland. With the plant staff eliminated, he goes back to Hirta with Sheila (who languishes for him but isn’t above signalling local fisherman Donald McKinnon (Brian Phelan) to meet her in a secluded bay for a vey serious snogging session).

Here’s where the fun starts. Hirta is a close-knit community, only 50-60 people. Mr Preston’s arrival evokes differing responses, from Angus McKinnon (Duncan Lamont) offering the tradition of hospitality, to the hostility shown by Mackay (Duncan McIntyre) to a stranger in their midst. There are undercurrents aplenty: Angus McKinnon is the calm, respected, utterly solid community leader, Magnus Sutherland a would-be firebrand (definitely pre-SNP), a haughty orator, Sheila an attractive young woman looking for a bit of romantic fun, Mackay hostile to the invader, the Landlord played by another future Prisoner face, Finlay Currie, with his slow, rounded speech, more Scottish than anyone.

And there’s the Russians. Don’t forget the Russians. They’re supposedly fishermen, not supposed to land except when needing shelter from the weather, but mingling easily and openly with the community, trading their vodka for whiskey and tweeds. And what else? And somewhere on the island is Jock Lawson, his fingerprints present on a bottle of vodka.

There was some real fun in seeing Drake doing everything he could avoiding getting trapped in a corner by the eager Sheila who, in that era, would definitely have been described by the young chauvinists as a ‘dead cert’.

In a way, the episode is like a miniature Twin Peaks first season. The figure of authority comes to town to investigate a crime and uncovers a host of secrets under the idyllic surface. One by one, they come out and they have nothing to do with the investigation. Sheila’s signalling to sea is only for Donald to come in and kiss her. The Russians are fishermen. Magnus Sutherland is operating a secret still, producing a fine whiskey, illegally and the islanders reject Preston as a gauger, an Excise Man.

And, as was obvious from the moment he mentioned being born off Hirta, Angus McKinnon admitted that he was Jock Lawson. The sting was too obvious. In his youth he’d been fired up by Socialistic ideals, but he has no time for them now, and has been a pillar of the community since coming to Hirta, long years before the Atomic plant. If he sees the Russians, he nods to them, and walks on.

Nevertheless, his fingerprints are on Braithwaite’s briefcase and the papers are still missing. Angus has to go to the mainland with Drake, where he will be arrested and investigated. Which leads to the deliberately bathetic ending, shot through with a comedy that’s very black. Braithwaite knows Angus. Indeed, he visited Angus on Hirta about ten days ago, when Angus carried his briefcase for him… Sudden realisation, followed by Braithwaite remembering the missing papers were in his house desk drawer all along: he’d taken them out of the briefcase to make room for his weekend things.

It was all a waste of time, a spectacular undercutting of the entire episode. Drake’s been chasing a chimera. But the comedy is black. Jock Lawson has been found. He’s still wanted for what he did twenty years ago: he will not be returning to Hirta very soon. Drake asks Angus to believe that he’s very sorry about what’s happened. Aye, says Angus. That’s two of us sorry.

As an aside, after my comments at the start about the ‘glamour’ guests being women of a very different build to those we recognise as attractive today, the series seems to have reverted to more universally good-looking ladies. As well as Francesca Annis, slim, lithe and with a air of freshness, there was also a brief, silent cameo, two very short scenes, from Braithwaite’s secretary, Miss Montgomery, played by Sara Branch, a blonde who was just flat-out, all-eras gorgeous.