Diana Rigg, R.I.P.

How can days turn into such downers because you hear about the death aged 82 of someone you never met?

But only the physical shell of Diana Rigg has died: she is a light that will never go out, and we will remember her long beyond the years.

Lou Grant: s05 e02 – Execution


The strong start to the final season continued in a diametrically opposite manner with a well-written, well-acted and above all well-thought-out dramatic story that played fair and decent with some strong material.

‘Execution’ began with a flashback to September 1978, making it contemporaneous with ‘Pills’, the opening episode of season 2. Tom Pepper, a Trib reporter, and an unnamed photographer have stopped off at a corner store to buy cerea when a hold-up occurs, two youngsters, one male, one female. When he, naive and uncertain, says her name, she, Kitty Lester (Terri Nunn, she of the band Berlin), orders the four people in the store into the back room, where they are all shot. The killers are quickly caught and they are sentenced to Death. It will be the first execution in California for fourteen years.

We move to the present. three years later. Jimmy Lee died in prison, knifed to death. Kitty’s latest appeal against execution has been denied by California’s Superior Court. All that’s left is the Supreme Court. The story is that Kitty, against the advice of her attorney Jeff Benedict (George Wyner, soon to be a regular on Hill Street Blues) wishes to waive her right of Appeal, and an execution date be set within sixty days.

And that after seeing Joe Rossi at a Press Conference, she wants to talk to him.

Nunn is a genuinely beautiful blonde, small and slight. As Kitty, she acts demurely, thugh not without a certain cynical sense of humour. She makes her position plain: she accepts her guilt and regards her death as the proper penalty, and she does not seek forgiveness. It’s honest, it’s straightforward, but is it true?

That’s the question that underlies everythng that happens. Rossi, despite his initial scepticism, starts to see her as a person, and becomes emotionally involved. Others orbiting Kitty are less convinced: her past behavious militates against her being this sweet, understanding, rounded person. Rossi argues she’s changed, and Nunn has us wondering throughout whether this is true.

To present the opposite pole, we have Lou. Lou pulls Tom Pepper’s file, reads his cuttings, muses sadly about the fact he was just hitting his stride, showing his potential. A good writer lost, maybe a damned-good writer – and as we learn late on, a reporter brought to the Trib by Lou himself – britally murdered, leaving a wife and a son.

Lou’s as much emotionally involved as Rossi. Though the reporter accuses him of wanting revenge, Lou’s mindset tells him that justice will be done if Kitty Lester, who took Tom Pepper’s life, should have her own terminated.

If you’re going to ask me my position on this question then I’ll say that I have never supported the death penalty. Something deep and visceral inside me instinctively opposes it. To put it at its most basic, I don’t trust myself with the power of life or death over anyone so I’m sure as hell not going to trust you with it. This principle has been tested very sorely by multiple things over the past twenty years, things that make you automatically want to see the perpetrator put to death, for why should we suffer such people to walk among us after what they have done. Tested, and stretched, but not yet broken.

The Kitty Lester case becomes a circus, the most disgusting aspect of which is the London Publisher of cheap, tacky cash-in books about deaths and murders, Peter Whitter (played by that distinguished actor, Christopher Cazenove). It’s an early example of what would become a flood of portrayals of Brits as baddies, because Whitter, handsome and smooth and well-spoken, is a slimeball. Not overtly, at least not until he’s signed up everyone connected to the case to exclusive deals and offers an exclusive to the Trib that Mrs Pynchon takes a righteous delight in refusing.

Of course, this means Roissi is cut out, and he getting obsessive about the fair Kitty. And a story ‘leaks’ to a San Francisco paper about the secret love-trysts between the beautiful, blue-eyed convict and the ‘whip-thin’, supersmart journalist.

Once the final plea for a stay, raised by an Anti-Death-Penalty pressure group, is denied and a date for execution is set, Kitty decides to give her final interview to Joe. He understands by now by just how much he has been manipulated, and he has words for her about what has motivated her, an analysis of how she pushes people to do things they hate doing – like asking Joe to be a Witness to her execution – and how she was herself compelled to do things just to prove she wasn’t afraid of doing them, like the murder.

The episode ended in downbeat fashion. We are at San Quentin to see things being set-up, and then we cut to Rossi on a phone, dictating the facts of Kitty Lester’s execution to a copy girl, in flat, professional, factual tones before hanging up. It may well have been Roert Walden’s finest performance.

So, was Kitty Lester sincere? Or was she trying to manipulate her way to ome advantage that failed? She went to the Gas Chamber, just as she wished, when there were chances she ciould have taken to stop the process. But these were chances she would have had to take. She became a huge story for wanting to die. Was that to stimulate a late rescue, a commutation of her sentence, through the activities of others that she could then ‘resent’, an attempt that failed. Terri Nunn didn’t let you decide and neither did the writers. A good story.

All i can say for certain is that Nunn should never have gone back to Berlin. And i don’t mean that just because I can’t stand ‘Take my breath away’.

Person of Interest: s05 e02 – SNAFU


Step two in the latest and last reconstruction of Person of Interest. The Machine’s existence has been saved physically, and it is now in the room, down in the Subway, where Ms Samantha Groves is currently a permanent resident, shorn of cover identities that will keep her alive overground.

But the Machine may have been saved in ‘body’ but what about its mind? In short, is it still sane?

This was the subject of this episode, which broke itself down into ill-fitting parts, comic and dramatic, in order to illustrate the confusion in the mind of the Machine as Harold Finch brings it back online. There’s a tinkering with the monologue – not for the last time – as Finch’s words blur and crash and reverse, and a frenetic sequence where facial recognition goes decidedly out of kilter. Heads get swapped, or appear multiple times over, a blur of silliness linking Finch, Root, Reese and Fusco, as the cast play each other in changed heads.

But there’s a serious point to be made. Reese is super-frustrated, they’ve been out of the game for two months now, lives have been lost. In the Police world, Homicides are down but Suicides are up. Beware the foreshadowing line. The Machine responds by offering thirty numbers at once, giving Reese and Fusco something to do whilst they catch up.

But there’s something seriously wrong. The Numbers include a kid who phoned in a bomb threat to get out of a school test, an actor in a Victorian play, a long-dead Mafia boss, an ex-con painting a house. Beware the foreshadowing moment.

Only two – is it only two? – Numbers on that list are valid. One’s a guy with massive gambling debts who earns Fusco special praise when he saves the man’s life. The other is Oklahoma tourist Laurie Grainger (Paige Patterson), who walks into the Precinct and straight up to John ‘Riley’. One’s a Victim, but the other’s a Perpetrator. Nice looking Laurie, the pretty girl with the big smile, is a hitwoman, a professional, hired to take out Reese. Has Samaritan penetrated his identity at last?

Of course it hasn’t, as a moment’s thought would tell you, if the episode stayed still long enough for that moment of thought. (They’d have come in truckloads of men in dark suits, none of whom can shoot straight, you know that).

So who did hire Laurie? The same one who locked Finch and Root in the now-wired-for-sound Subway carriage: the Machine.

Because the Machine is full of glitches still, the biggest one being that it is lost in time. Everything it has ever seen is happening Now, because the Machine can’t distinguish one day from another. It has re-uploaded its memories, including Finch’s original teachings about things that are unforgivable, such as murder and assault. By it’s current lights, John Reese is a monster. So too are Harold Finch and Samatha Groves.

Whilst John fights off his assailant, Finch fights off his (Root is too vulnerable, the Machine is literally in her head so, to remove herself as a bargaining chip, she places herself under anaesthesia). How to persuade a Machine that he has personally ‘killed’ 42 times, each one of which said Machine is reliving in its eternal Now is a hard task, and it is done by resetting the parameters of Good and Evil by reference to the common condition of all of us: trying to do the best we can. And the history of multiple Numbers saved helps establish a viable context.

So all is well, so well that our quartet can enjoy a picnic in the park (and Amy Acker can wear a modestly short skirt: mind you, Reese turns up in the violently yellow polyester of a Police Bowling league team). It’s a moment of sunlight marred only by the remembrance that these four are in an underground war that no-one around them could understand if they knew. Let them enjoy the respite for a moment.

Thirty Numbers and only two that were valid. Or was it two? I recognised the ex-con as soon as I saw him, Jeff Blackwell, played by Josh Close. The Machine was unmoored in time but no-one thought that it might be detecting a future threat that belongs to more than just the immediate future. Jeff Blackwell needs a job. An employment agency has one for him, ready-made, no application, no HR meetings, just start straight away. A Samaritan-style box appears round his head: Asset 702. Potential for Violence: 70%. Something is coming towards us.

The Infinite Jukebox: Focus’s ‘Love Remembered’

A minor element of my musical education that I don’t believe I’ve mentioned before was the tastes and conversation of my classmates at Burnage High School. My Fifth and two Sixth Years coincided with the development of the Progressive music era – we didn’t call it ProgRock back then, not at my School at any rate. I was an eavesdropper on these conversations about music, short of close friends and completely ignorant of the music they would talk about: Pink Floyd, ELP, Genesis and Focus. Nor, without any LPs to lend, was I included in the circle of borrowing, and my nascent but un(in)formed enthusiasm for Lindisfarne wasn’t going to get me far, not when one lad described them as a poor man’s version of the Incredibles and I had to ask him who this lot were: I’d never even heard of The Incredible String Band.
One way or another, I got to hear more than I now wish I had of most of these bands. Genesis were one exception and so were Focus, the Dutch progressive band formed by guitarist Jan Akkerman and organist/flautist Thies van Leer.
That was just the quirk of people’s tastes. Akkerman came with a big reputation that got thoroughly trashed by one lad who saw the band live and reported back that Akkerman literally didn’t know what he was doing, he was looking at his hands and wondering what was going on.
I knew, and liked, the two British hit singles, and the earlier acoustic guitar/flute instrumental, ‘House of the King’ but that was the beginning and end of my knowledge.
Jump to 1978, May maybe, or possibly June. I was still new to Nottingham and to looking after myself. There was a Bank Holiday and the firm’s tradition was to stay shut for the Tuesday as well: if the Courts didn’t open, why should they? It was a hot day and I had nothing planned, I was still suffering the after-effects of dislocating my right knee instead of playing cricket, and someone knocked on the door.
At work, I shared a bottom floor room with three others, two Articled Clerks of similar age to me and a Legal Executive aged about 28, called Liz. It was her. I was surprised to see her (I don’t remember how she knew my address). But she knew I hadn’t really formed any friends outside the office, and it was a gorgeous day. She was off but her husband was back in work, she’d just dropped him off, and she fancied going for a swim at Papplewick Lido: did I want to join her?
I was flabbergasted but grateful. Left alone, I’d have mooched round my little flat all day. The City Centre would have been too far to limp for my sore knee, especially coming back up the long hill. And I liked Liz, so I said yes. She waited outside whilst I washed and dressed, then took me over to their house first, where there was some work needed doing outside before she was free for our swim. I could put on one of their records whilst I waited.
There was nothing unusual or unexpected for that time. I was getting into punk/new wave, losing all my old unwanted progressive influences, and there wasn’t much to suit me so I decided to try a Focus album, Focus 3 to be exact, because I’d heard very little by them but I’d liked what I’d heard. It included a short track with the beautiful title of ‘Love Remembered’.
Like the singles I knew, this was an instrumental, a beautiful, elegiac tune played on van Leer’s flute, with a gentle, subdued picked guitar from Akkerman, fragile and sweet, to underpin it. Bass and drums were even more subdued, used as punctuation points only, and there was some sweeping sounds akin to strings that probably also came from van Leer.
It was simple, it was plain, it was beautiful. There wasn’t an ounce of the Progressive to it, just a bit less than three minutes of someone playing music that meandered through their memories of love, and evoking for anyone to listen the sweetness of that feeling. Liz was happy for me to borrow the album and tape the tracks I wanted, of which there were more than just ‘Love Remembered’, but of which this was the standout I wanted to be able to hear.
At the Lido, Liz changed into a pale blue bikini that suited her slim figure and made me wish, not for the first or last time, that I wasn’t so short-sighted without my glasses. Even so, I can remember her emergence to this day. Some months later, filling in her replacement just before leaving to follow her husband to a South Coast job, she was talking about how she thought her thighs were a bit too fat,and called me as witness. The other woman smiled and asked if this was some relationship that shouldn’t be spread about, but between my obvious embarrassment and Liz’s cheerful explanation of the circumstances, the true story was established.
I’ve often wondered… but I’d have been far too unconfident to try anything on, however gently – I mean, she was married, right? Anyway I got a lovely, relaxing afternoon of cold water and hot sun, friendly conversation with a woman in a pretty skimpy bikini, and a beautiful piece of music that reminds me of a friend who was kind to me all those many years ago. Love is not all that is remembered in these notes.

Film 2020: No Surrender

This is the first of two Channel 4 films being used to extend this series as far as it will go. Written by Alan Bleasedale when he was at the height of his powers, the film saw theatrical release in other countries but was confined to broadcast over here by the relatively new Channel. I am convinced that I watched it on the evening of New Year’s Day, probably 1986, but I can find no evidence for this. I could give you its release date in Canada, mind.

I remember loving the film. I remember being deeply affected by its ending. I answered a letter condemning it in the Manchester Evening News that demanded the writer not be told to switch it off as he had a right to watch TV, defending the film but, more importantly, reminding him he was not obliged to like it or even watch it but that there were three other Channels broadcasting at the same time and he had no right to demand that television only show what he wanted to watch, which brought forth a third letter from someone else basically slandering anyione who liked No Surrender, and you can’t answer those.

And I never saw it again, or if I did maybe once, a repeat one night, maybe in the Nineties. I have not seen it again until today. I remembered so many vivid moments and lines. I was moved again by the ending, whose quiet power will only ever lose its effect if we finally learn not to hate each other so irrationally. But I forgot something. I forgot how absolutely brilliant Alan Bleasedale was as a writer, to make a film about pain, and despair, and pathological religious hatred, about inadequacy and ineptness and violence, and make it so abso-fucking-lutely funny.

You’re going to have to excuse the language because this film is set in Liverpool in the mid-Eighties, when the City was simultaneously dying, being killed and refusing to recognise that it was dead, and they just talk that way and Bleasedale, a Liverpudlian whose best works came from his home ground, isn’t going to strike a false note by sugarcoating anything.

The film takes place on New Year’s Eve. Michael (Michael Angelis) is starting his job as Manager of the Charleston Club, a prefab nightclub in the middle of a post-industrial wasteland where you can see the Police coming from miles away but can’t see the crooks, the thugs, the crazed and the kids with no future at age 12 until they’re under your nose. The club is owned by Mr Ross (Tom Georgeson), who turns out to be a leading figure in organised crime, who insists on Michael being the perfect, seemingly-ignorant front for the money flowing through the club, which acts as a wash-tub to make it clean. It has a bouncer, Bernard pronounce Ber-nard, who claims to be ex-Foreign Legion and whose IQ is somewhere down in the Liverpool 7s (Bernard Hill, reuiniting three of Bleasedale’s Boys from the Blackstuff).

In the backroom, Michael’s predecessor as Manager is undergoing a fairly ruthless beating. He’s tried to steal from Mr Ross. Michael wants nothing to do with this: he’s a nobody, he knows that, he accepts it, but he won’t be anybody else’s nobody. Unfortunately, Mr Ross doesn’t care and his on the ground henchman Frank (Vince Earl, the future Ron Dixon of Brookside) is gently persuasive about how misguided it would be to let Mr Ross down. Frank also views himself as a comedian, and Earl is perfect as that guy who can’t help but come out with what he thinks is wit, without accepting any deflection.

So far, so thriller in its construction, set upon a very definite picture of Liverpool of the time, the football club still riding mighty but everything else about the City sliding down the pan. But what embodies this film is the other thing the unfortunate McArthur has done, and what he’s landed Michael with.

He’s gone and booked the Charleston out with three Pensioner’s Parties. Nowt wrong with that, you might think, it’s New Year’s Eve in Liverpool. But one party comes from the 12th of July Memorial Club, meaning that they are hardline Protestant Loyalists, who look up to former hard man Billy ‘The Beast’ McCracken (Ray McInally, who has never been better) and one party comes from St Joseph’s Social Club, meaning that they are hardline Catholics, who look up to former hard man Paddy Burke (James Ellis, unrecognisable from his long-standing role as Sgt Bert Lynch in Z-Cars), ex-boxer, blind but still full of aggression, determined to get Bily the Beast.

And the third party is a small group of seriously elderly men and women, suffering from senile dementia.

You think that’s bad? That that’s playing with cigarette lighters in close proximity to a serious petrol spill? McArthur wasn’t finished. For entertainment he booked a seriously unfunny comedian who’s overtly gay and hasn’t got anything remotely resembling a funny line (even Frank has more going for him), a useless magician who suffers from stage-fright and whose white rabbit, stuffed pathetically visibly under his top hat, has chosen this moment to die on him, literally, and a punk band of stunning ineptness including a McGann brother and Andrew Schofield, another regular Bleasedale player as a compulsively ‘witty’ little scrote you’d pay to watch being stuffed through his own guitar strings.

As recipes for chaos go, this is already Cordon Bleu and that’s before you complete the mixture with a Loyalist gunman on the run, Norman Donoghue (Mike Mulholland), a ‘pal’ of Billy the Beast from forty years ago, blackmailing Billy for shelter by bringing up his daughter in Ireland, the one who married a Catholic, to whom Billy never has nor never will speak, and Cheryl (Joanne Whalley at the height of her loveliness), kitchen assistant, would-be singer andOrange Lodge hater, delaying the Protestant’s food because it’s not cold eough yet.

No need to stir this mix because it’ll stir itself.

In the middle of all this is Michael, so far out of his depth he could be halfway to Wallassey without a Ferry, but determined to survive all this, intact and detached.

Bleasedale was a fantastic writer in that decade, one of the few people capable of depicting pain whilst reducing you to tears of laughter. I always had a problem with any kind of ‘don’t know whether to laugh or cry’ set-up because I would always cry, the jokes never being funny enough to cross over to the other emotion, but Bleasedale had the knack. It’s funny, very funny, but it’s also deadly serious, and increasingly so. The hatred flattens itself against your screen and leers at you. As an atheist, I watched both then and now in bemusement that the details of how to ‘properly’ worship the same God, a God of Love, generates such hatred, such venom.

The film gets more intense. The disturbing expectation of danger from the outset becomes real threat. Remind yourself that these are all old men and women. Everybody is over 60, every man over 65. You want to tell yourself that they’re old enough to know better, but they are not.

Is one side better than the other? Does Bleasedale favour Protestant or Catholic? Much as he tries to portray both sides as impossible to favour, there is a slant. The drama requires one to produce an ending and the Protestants have it. There are three reasons. Cheryl, one of the three stars, hates them and acts maliciously over their food, plus when the Loyalist Marching Band bring in their instruments, she starts the Catholic counter-singing. And there are Billy the Beast and Paddy Burke.

Ray McInally was a bloody good actor. Thiough he protests to Norman Donoghue that his father left him three things, his faith, his loyalty and his football, and they’re all true blue, it’s equally clear without words that Billy is reconsidering all the things his life, his past has been. Paddy Burke, his opposite, has gone blind, physically as well as mentally. Deprived of his sight, deprived of the chance to grow as Billy may, at long last be doing, he sees only the past, the rivalry with Billy McCracken. Paddy intends to start one more fight, to batter Billy the Beast.

Billy doesn’t want it. Everyone around him, with the exception of a sceptical old woman who won’t go on the Marches any more because she never liked shouting ‘Fuck the Pope!’ in public, are on his side, ready to back him, ready for war again at any moment. Billy wants no trouble. No trouble any more.

But Billy finds that trouble is unaoidable. First Norman, seeing the Police arrive for Michael’s scheme to drive Mr Ross clear, accuses Billy of betraying him, threatens his daughter. Billy does what he has to do, his old comrade, his old pal, a man after his own heart, once, and strangles Norman in the toilet cubicle where he’s hiding. It’s brutish, but unavoidable.

Then, tricked into a trap by Tony (Michael Ripper), made ready for paddy’s assault, with both parties trying to cram into the toilets and a hell of a lot of them achieving it, Billy has to face Paddy. He’s had a beer bottle smashed over his head, he’s been kicked in the stomach, but the Beast rises and he beats Paddy Burke, hard. One man smashing punches into the face of a blind man yet we suspend the automatic moral judgement, not overturn it just suspend it, until Paddy goes down, crashing through a cubicle door onto the lap of a dead Loyalist gunman.

It’s over, it’s all over. Billy walks away alone. The pensioners celebrate New Year’s Dave. Michael and Cheryl share a New Year’s kiss that is not going to be extended to Ber-nard. Afterwards, after one final drink in peace in a cleared but not cleaned club, Ber-nard goes home to his mother. Cheryl makes it plain she wants Michael  to go home with her for the fuck she’d proposed in the middle of the film. Michael points out he’s a happily married man. Cheryl tells him it won’t last. He puts his arm round her waist (lucky Michael Angelis) and they go off together.

But that’s not the ending, not the ending I remember, the ending that was so moving. Billy McCracken returns to the 12th of July Memorial Club alone, lets himself into the deserted office, dials the telephone. He calls his daughter Elizabeth, the one in Ireland, the one who married… They wish each other Happy New Year. Then, to her surprise, he asks to speak to Brendan. Yes, Brendan. His son-in-law, identified as such for those who are hard of thinking. He asks Brendan if he may be thought to be sentimental to wish him Happy New Year?

And the music takes over and credits run and the camera stays at a distance as Billy settles into his chair for an unheard conversation, and from the smile on his face a opleasant one, with the son-li-law, the Catholic to whom he mever will speak, and we fade away, marveling at how it is ever too late to go against your lifelong beliefs and to learn what your religion truly means.

This may seem like a fairly detailed synopsis of the film and certainly I’ve spoiled all spoilers, but there are layers and depths and individual stories I haven’t even begun to hint at. Alan Bleasedale writes like a dream and the best thing you can say for the cast is that they rise to the level of his script. There are distinguished actors and familiar actors in here and from beginning to end they cease to be actors and become the people you watch.

The film’s only failing is the gimmick of having Elvis Costello play his first acting part as the magician, Rosco de Ville. Aside from a silent entrance, crossing the background, Costello only appears in two screens and it was very noticable that whilst he said his lines adequately, both scenes were monologues, played to Angelis and Hill, who remained silent, to protect Costello. But that’s a nitpicking.

So, a TV film, but an extraordinary film whichever way. I wonder what they made of it in America? Did it have to be subtitled? There’s now very little time left for Film 2020, but I’ll try to post a little earlier next Sunday.

Lou Grant: s05 e01 – Wedding

When you make up your mind…

As one series enters its fifth and final season, so does another. The circumstances are very different: Lou Grant was renewed for a full season of 24 episodes with the same prospect as always of renewal the following summer as it had always had: as long as it remained sufficiently commercial. When cancellation came, it would be argued by some that that was the only reason the show didn’t get a season 6. It would be argued by others, including Edward Asner, that this was far from the cause.

But we’ll look at that in a bit more detail at the other end of the season. For today, we’ll celebrate a strong opening episode that concerned itself with personal stories to which the underlying newspaper business was once again suitable McGuffins, and the show benefitted from that.

Remember Ted McCovey (Cliff Potts)? He was Billie’s boyfriend, Baseball catcher turned scout in season 4. We haven’t seem him since because he’s always on the road, but he and Billie have been having a whale of a time when their schedules coincided. Ted’s back in town now and wants to see Billie, he has something to say to her. Unfortunately, her new story, about the Smog Board and how it is conducting the business of protecting Los Angeles from its perma-smog, gets in the way and she can only stay about five minutes. Ted would rather wait for a more propitious moment but Billie insists he says what he has to say. Which is, Will You Marry Me?

Billie’s in shock. Of course she’s in shock, we wouldn’t have a story without it. Much of the episode is taken up with her working out how much sense marriage works. She’s been married before, and not just to her job, she hadn’t really bargained on marriage at his point in her life (that’s the job coming in again) she’s immediately uncomfortable around Ted and especially his baseball pals who are crude and rough and very masculine in their frame of mind.

Of course we know she’s going to end up acepting him, it’s right there in the episode title, not to mention inherent in the show’s ethos. In the meantime, the show has an underplayed B story that really deserved a little more air-time, along a parallel line.

This is Lou’s youngest daughter, Janie (Barbara Dirickson), in town on business, setting up a meal with her Dad but real nervous and awkward with it, as is Lou. It comes out at dinner, Janie determined to be honest with her Dad. It comes down to the job – as Janie knows, she being an editor and writer herself, albeit on a trade paper – and how it constantly pulled Lou away from family events. And Janie is more estranged from her father thaan her other sisters because she was affected most, as Lou’s professional life got more intense.

Lou’s both accepting of his failure and defensive about it. It’s a conditon of the job, nothing more, nothing less, and whether it ought to be is not going to be discussed, especially when it’s playing into Billie’s fears about a permanent set up with Ted, and doubly especially when you know it’s going to bugger things up for an ending.

So it goes. The Smog Board story, which is actually a substantial issue in its own right, treated seriously and given multiple angles is finished two hours ahead of deadline on the day before Billie and Ted’s wedding, only for the computer system to crash and dump everything. Billie has to rewrite until 3.00am, Lou has to reorganise the paper and let Janie down by cancelling his flight to Chicago where all three daughters are meeting up.

But there are happy endings. Billie and Ted marry. Mrs Pynchon makes a late appearance, acknowledging her stroke by limping, slowly, on a cane. And when Rossi drivesLou home, there are three gorgeous young women waiting on his step for him, Janie and her sisters, switching to LA for a soppy, sentimental ending.

I liked it. It was as light as a well-cooked Victoria Sponge Cake, but life is entitled to variety and light is sometimes good. The final season starts. We’ll be here until February with it.

Person of Interest: s05 e01 – B.S.O.D.

[beep] If you can hear this, you’re alone. The only thing left of us is the sound of my voice.

I don’t know if any of us made it. Did we win? Did we lose? I don’t know. I’m not even sure I even know what victory would mean anymore.

But either way, it’s over. So let me tell you who we were. Let me tell you who *you* are… and how we fought back.

It begins at the end, the very end, twelve long weeks from here. Root’s voice, in darkness, coming from a telephone message to an abandoned, almost destroyed Subway. No equipment, no people, a demolished wall… no train. Then we pull back to start the full story of how we got from, here to there. And where there is.

BSOD stands for Blue Screen of Death, that fatal error screen that suddenly screams out of your laptop. I didn’t know that before starting to watch this episode so I didn’t know its appropriateness to this episode. Originally, this was not broadcast until almost a year after the final episode of season 4 and though it starts almost immediately after that, it doesn’t fel like it. There’s a massive urgency to everything and this is because the name of the game is now survival. Reese, Finch and Root are classified as Enemy Combatants, assassins and death squads are tracking them, the Machine is a set of RAM-chips in a damaged briefcase and can offer no aid let alone protection. Run rabbits, run.

Manwhile, Fusco is investigated by IAB  Detective Soriano (Ned Eisenberg) and FBI Special Agent LeRoux (David Aaron Baker) on suspicion of killing Dominick and Elias. He idn’t, we know that, but nobody believes him about the rooftop sniper, Reese asks him to pay this down and an FBI ballistics report that LeRoux won’t let Soriano see, ‘confirms’ it was Fusco’s gun: he stopped  major crime figure fleeing custody: he’s a hero.

He also finds the sniper’s casing on the rooftop afterwards. And the dissatisfied Soriano, re-classified by Samaritan as an ‘Obstructionist’, dies of a heart attack. We understand that it wasn’t natural.

But what of Reese, Finch and Root? And the Machine, compressed into a supposedly indestructible briefcase whose battery has been damaged and is dying. The first two team up and make it back to the Subway after a couple of adventures: a trip on the East River Ferry brings flashbacks to Harold of Nathan Ingram’s death and the vending machine that, Batman-style, conceals their access to the Subway is being serviced. Reese drives forward, obsessed with restoring normality, getting back to the Numbers. But once ‘home’, the problem of saving the Machine arises. And they are too late and they don’t have the equipment…

Root’s on a different path, much more of a chase sequence, that leads her to an old client who really doesn’t get what’s going on. He thinks it’s a better deal to sell her out to Samaritan. Is there no honour among thieves any more? Because everyone knows from Second One that the price he’ll be paid will be measured out in lead, not gold. Still, John’s here for the deus ex machina rescue, but Root wants to take a little souvenir back with her: 300 games consoles.

Finch’s though is the loneliest path. He has to try to save his child. There are flashbacks, to 2006, steps in the creation of the Machine or rather reservations and limitations leading to the dumping of all the Machine’s memories every night. Nathan protests the step, warning that if Harold doesn’t create the first free and unhindered AI, someone else will. Grace Hendricks tells him to follow his heart. The Machine in its last moments, reminds him that losing its memories is the same as the ‘death’ of Harold’s father, longer than its 25th Anniversary of the death of his body, but rather when the Alzheimers took his memories. Alea jacta est: the die is cast.

And in 2015, Finch tries to save the Machine by reviving its batteries. It gets iut, it tries to decompress but there is no room Finch pulls the plug. But 300 games consoles can be wired up to create a super-computer big enough to house the Machine. Finch apologises to her, saying that he would not make certain decisions the same now. It comes on-line. “Can you see me?” he asks.

More next week.

The Infinite Jukebox: Lush’s ‘Ciao!’

By far the most common subject of pop and rock songs is love. Love that lifts, love that hurts, love that frustrates and, to quote my recent Warren Zevon essay, love that brings heartbreak. Ah, the break-up song, in all its myriad forms. This, my friends, is a break-up song. But it might not be quite what you’re expecting.
Given that, by the early Nineties, I was drifting away from listening to contemporary music, I’m not sure where or how I came across the term ‘shoegazing music’. I’d stopped listening to John Peel, I’d stopped buying the New Musical Express, I’d given up on Top of the Pops, I could barely recognise a Radio 1 DJ’s name, let alone their voice. But I knew the term if I had my own impression of what it sounded like.
Lush, consisting of guitarist/singer Miki Berenyi and guitarist Emma Anderson, plus a male rhythm section, had been a shoegazing band but, for their third and final album in 1996, made the leap towards Britpop. And they invited Jarvis Cocker to duet with Berenyi on one of the latter’s songs on the album.
Three singles were released off the album, all of them Top 30 hits but no higher. I don’t believe I heard any of them, but I heard that song with Jarvis Cocker, the one called ‘Ciao!’, and loved it, and I still can’t understand why that was never issued in its own right.
The idea of the song is simple but genius. Berenyi and Cocker are a couple who are splitting up, have split up, acrimoniously. Maybe they were married, certainly they lived together, and from the lyrics, though it’s never said, it’s obvious that they were passionately committed to each other, deeply involved and that when it went pear-shaped, it went pear-shaped in a very big way. Only love can spawn hatred like this.
From the very first line, the contrast in Berenyi’s and Cocker’s voices are perfect. She’s full of sarcasm and spitting fury, he’s the deadpan Jarvis we know and love, the most infuriating response to her energy and sense of resentment. Oh, I’ve been happy, they duet on the first verse, since I walked away, I never thought that I could feel as great as I do today, cos you were nothing but a big mistake and life is wonderful now that I’m rid of you.
Ok, right we get the picture, and if we didn’t, here’s Jarvis to explain a bit more, about how he must have been crazy to think he was in love with her, telling her to go to Hell, because that’s where she took him, and Miki responds with claims of how brilliant her life is, a non-stop party since she flew the coop, can’t believe that she fell for a loser like you.
You can hear it behind the words, the absolute desire to prove that each of their lives are better alone, are better than yours, you couldn’t possibly have a good life because of who you are. There’s a split verse, two lines each, bouncing blame back and forth.
The music’s unexceptional, you might almost call it functional, because this song’s about the words, and the backing only has to frame it, a brash, brisk acoustic guitar, a metronomic beat, a well-mixed bass. There’s a brief melody played on a melodica that resurfaces in the brief instrumental break and at the end of the song, and a curious middle eight where Berenyi sings in the background about how she bets Cocker still misses her and he’ll never get a girl like her again, whilst he talks through a mini-fantasia about her sitting at home in the kitchen with the curtains drawn and eating meagre meals.
Oh, but this is glorious! The invective, and the two singers’ respective approaches to delivering their lines is heartfelt and vicious, but at the same time it’s sufficiently OTT that you can’t help the feeling that both of them are trying to convince two people that they’re telling nothing but the unvarnished truth, and themselves is one of that audience.
It gets better in the second half because the pair are desperate to let the other know that their life is so much better, and especially when it comes to love, romance and, well actually, just sex. He’s met a girl who’s wonderful, really beautiful, dedicated to making him happy (without any thought of her own wishes and needs), in fact she’s fifty times the person his ex will ever be. Good luck mister, she replies, in individual words delivered through gritted teeth, she’s got it coming at her from all angles because it’ll hurt him more to know that not just every guy wants to get into her knickers but that she’s going to let them. A million guys lining up for her, her life is ecstacy, if nothing else from all those orgasms she’s going to be getting.
To end the song, Berenyi and Cocker duet again on the first verse, with a couple of minor changes, calling each other a waste of space, and ending by saying that ‘I’m over you’.
Do you believe them? I half and half do. The anger is unmistakable, even if it’s so desperately exaggerated. They’re taking their disappointment out on each other, in a near cartoon manner, but the true sadness in the song is not that what was good love has gone so bad but that the intensity of their strikes at each other are serving to ensure that the last and deepest feelings that might, in another way, be the basis for reconciliation, are being stamped out, washed out and thrown out.
There will be no Wait Till Tomorrow for this pair, no matter how much it might have been best for them. They have only themselves to blame.

Film 2020: Thunderbird 6

Returning to the Thunderbirds boxset so quickly, for the final and less successful attempt to take the puppets to the silver screen is a choice forced on me by the combination of a Working Sunday and, for the first time in ages, the lack of available leave to avoid it.

Thunderbird 6 is the end. Series 2 had been cancelled when America wouldn’t buy the show – this is a common theme among series commissioned by Lew Grade – and the Andersons’ next notion, Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons was already in motion. But United Artists were prepared to fund another film, and Gerry and Sylvia had taken on board the criticisms of the script for Thunderbirds are Go and tried to write a more integrated, full-length story with fewer assembly sequences.

The plot breaks down into two parts. In his capacity as a renowned designer, Brains approaches the Airspace industry to discuss the future of commercial aviation. When he suggests a revival of airships, they laugh their puppet heads off but, two years later, Alan Tracey, Lady Penelope and Tintin are guests on the maiden flight of Skyship One. A flight subject to piracy and hijack by the Hood, still after International Rescue’s technology.

(Actually, though this is nowhere mentioned in the film, Sylvia Anderson maintained that the Hood himself was actually killed in the first film and this ‘Hood’ – given the name Black Phantom – is his son. Given the number of times Scott of Lady Penelope shot the Hood down in the series to stop him getting away with his microfilm, I and, I’m sure, most of the scanty audience just assumed he’d got away again.)

The other element of the film is Jeff Tracey’s stubborn conviction, backed with no rationality or concrete reason, that International Rescue will shortly, and urgently need a Thunderbird 6. Which is where the film collapses full-frontedly in its own length.

Thunderbirds are Go had its flaws – Cliff Richard Jr? – but one thing it got right was a sense of scale. It went for magnificence, for gloriousness and, when it couldn’t hit either of those it at least scored for expansiveness. Thunderbird 6 trivialises itself from the off: the aircraft designers laughing their heads off at the idea of a slow airship sets a tone the film never loses.

And what attempt at gravity the film wants to take is lost beyond recovery when Alan chooses to spend two weeks flying to England for the launch – in a garishly painted, yellow and red striped Tiger Moth biplane. It’s meant to be light-hearted and it is in keeping with Alan’s character but the effect is bathetic.

The Tiger Moth launches from Thunderbird 2’s storage bay. The palm tree’s flop to each side. But the plane is out-of-proportion small to all these efforts and what’s meant to be a joke is turned into a dismal appreciation of just how limited the plane is. It’s also a mistake on that it looks too much like what it is, a model, a real plane that you could have bought as an Aitfix kit model and glued together yourself.

There’s another piece of undermining it that Tintin is going with Alan. Jeff Tracey decides a two-week flight in a Worrld War 1 biplane is no place for a delicate young woman (bollocks: he just doesn’t want the pair shagging their way to England for a fortnight) and buys her a First Class jetliner ticket only she sneaks out and stows away any, plus she puts on a stunt flying exhibition above Creighton-Ward Manor in order to put the fear of God into Parker, who, as the only non-middle class figure in the film, is the butt of all the jokes.

The serious plot is about Skyship One. About half an hour before (fully-automated) take-off, a gang of men enter a security-heightened base, shoot and kill the Captain and stewards and take over the (fully-automated) ship. Their objective is to obtain recordings of Lady Penelope saying verious things that can be edited into a message instructing Jeff Tracey to send Thunderbirds 1 and 2 to a deserted airfield near Casablanca where Scott and Virgil will be killed and Brains and the vessels taken on behalf of Black Phantom. The International Rescue lot are already suspicious of the less-than-fully-knowledgeable crew (they’re not fully-automated) when Penny discovers the first bug. Nevertheless, the message is compied and broadcast and the boys on their way before Penny sends a real message of warning.

This is where I have a moment of pause to reflect on a contradiction. International Rescue exists to save lives. They go to extraordinary lengths to do so. And instead of getting out and falling into the trap, Scott and Virgil just draw their weapons and blast the entire airfield into blazing rubble, killing everyone there. It’s of a piece with the climax where Alan shoots and kills three of the imposters (three? There were five. Where did the other two go?) For International Rescuers, the Traceys were never too concerned about leaving a trail of dead bodies behind them. Snoop on us, would you? Pow pow pow.

The need for rescue arises when Alan confronts the hijackers in the Gravity Compensation room (a bewildering, eye-tricking array of revolving metal circles that the eye cannot keep straight). A stray shot smashes the controls, switching them off. Skyship One loses height and crashes into and becomes stranded on an Early Warning Tower above a Missile Base: yikes! What’s worse is that neither Thunderbird 1 nor 2 can get close enough to carry out a rescue because the turbulence from their jets will unbalance the airship and cause disaster.

But we’ve got this nonsense about a Thunderbird 6. It’s unfounded and unfoundable. Jeff Tracey wants a new machine capable of multiple rescue missions to fill a non-existent gap left by Thunderbirds 1 to 5. Brains is working to an impossible brief because the brief is as vague as the one I’ve given above. He’s spending weeks on models that are rejected, getting himself worked up in frustration. But he will have a brainwave and, even if you’ve never seen the film before, you’ve probably already guessed what it is.

However, the first brainwave comes from Gordon. Gordon Tracey. You know who he is, he”s the one who got shafted for screentime in the first film as well. They’ve got a ready-made slow air-speed, lightweight craft that can land on Skyship One and ferry people off and yes, it’s that bloody Tiger Moth.

So, we kids have gathered together to watch this large-scale last ever representation of our favourite and most imaginative TV show and what we’re going to get or the last twenty minutes or so is not the Thunderbirds but a bloody yellow and red Tiger Moth biplane. All right, we get a classic Thunderbirds explosion as the missile base blows up in the grand manner, but we also get this tiny little archaic plane flying around the Engish countryside. And even at the age of 12 and still unable to distinguish one American comic book artist from another, I could tell the difference between puppet scenes and real-life flying Tiger Moth scenes and it just felt wrong, and disappointing. I came here to see Thunderbirds!

It destroyswhat little merit the film has, and franky even when I saw it at our local cinema, the Burnage Odeon, in 1968, I was disappointed. It felt as if the heart had gone out of it, as if the Andersons had lost conviction. The Shark had been Jumped. Because Brains’ newly-revealed Thunderbird 6 was, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, the Tiger Moth.

That was the end of it. Lew Grade had cancelled the TV series, no more films would be commissioned. Only mesmerised kids like me still dreamed of future stories and how could this Thunderbird 6 fit into those? But then I’d never bought the premise: a Thunderbird 6 was never necessary, it couldn’t be more than the specialised rescue machinery Thunderbird 2 transported to the rescue zone, another Firefy, another Mole.

It was such a let down as an ending. Fifty-two years later, it has gained nothing. An adult perspective perceives no hidden depths, no subtleties that went over my pre-teen head then. Thunderbird 6 is still what it always was, a bust, and a bust I recognised for myself in 1968.

A Southport Expedition

It’s been a while, since Derby in january in fact, since I went ahywhere further than Manchester City Centre, so the time seemed ripe for a day out on Friday. Even so, having survived six months of the pandemic, I’m a little twitchy about venturing further afield, especially given how much time that’s goimg to mean breathing through a facemask.

Nor did the lead up on Thursday make me feel calmer. I’d been encouraged by my manager to give myself a treat, take a day off to do something I wanted, and I wanted to do this anyway: a Friday off work, especially one that balanced out a Woorking Sunday I hadn’t been able to get out of, was tailor-made. I was up for it, psyched, ready, except that the leave hadn’t been put through. My manager works from home: I e-mailed him. No reply. Time passing. Oscillating between rising frustration and the fury I’m going to feel if it falls through.

It’s not as if I’m not worked up already. I got home Wednesday to a letter asking me to phone in to make an appointment for my flu jab this year except that they told me to ring an obsolete number then the transfer option kept telling me  it had failed and cutting me off. I don’t need any more aggravation.

Eventually, I go to another Manager and between him and my very sweet Ops Manager, who’s an absolute darling, it’s agreed – but still not booked into my schedule when I leave at 9.00pm – and I am spared the horrendous Friday I would have inflicted on everybody within socially distanced reach.

Standard Operating Procedure gets me to Stockport Railway Station with only half an hour to spare, which is ample time to steady and serious rain to set in. This is August, isn’t it? The Friday before the Bank Holiday weekend? Of course.

There are two changes in the outbound journey, Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Oxford Road. There used to be direct trains to Southport but no more. The journey will take nearly two hours. I could cut that down to eighty minutes and save 80p on the return fare if I spend ages on the bus and walking to travel from Manchester Victoria, plus have to get home from the City Centre on top. I am lavish, I spend the money.

As far as Bolton it’s a familiar journey, one I made five days a week for most of the 2000s, so I turn immediately to my big heavy book: there are few happy associations with that journey.

It’s a long, slow, stopping journey that stops everywhere but still manages to outpace the rain, if not the overhanging cloud. I get in a good long shift of reading as we cross the plains of lower Central Lancashire, the wet fields to each side, the numerous level-crossings in our favour, but my bum is sore from sitting by the time we reach Southport and I can stand up, shuffle and, once out of the station, full down my facemask: the fresh air is a heady wine.

I have a long history with Southport. My parents hated Blackpool for its noisiness, its brashess and its crowds so this was the first experience of a seaside resort, with its long beaches and invisible seas. Here was where I played with my first camera, getting great shots without pointing. Here was where Dad and I spent one early morning before breakfast waking a mile out across the sands without reaching the sea. Here was where Mam would occasionally take my little sister and I to the seaside for the day: in 1968, the year I discovered Test Cricket and watched the Ashes avidly, we visited on the last day of the series, the one at the Oval, when hundreds of volunteers mopped the field dry to give England a chance of the draw, ten fielders crouched round the bat. At least every third bloke on the Fronty had a transister radio tuned to the Test pressed to his ear and I flitted from one to another, never more than thirty seconds away from the next update, until Deadly Derek Underwood took the last wicket. Was that the one where we got back to Victoria and found Dad there, straight from work, to run us home, the perfect end?

But I’m not in Southport for any of that, not today. I’m here because Southport is where the Eagle was created between Marcus Morris and Frank Hampson, and where Dan Dare was created at the latter’s kitchen table. It’s the 70th Anniversary this year, albeit not this time of year, and there’s an Exhibition. I head straight for the Atkinson Gallery to visit it.

The Dan Dare part is very small, far smaller than previous Exhibitions I’ve visited, basically one little room and an additional glass case as a component of a larger Exhibition dedicated to the Sefton Coast: Dan’s contribution is the ‘Inspirational Coast’.

There’s an array of books and comics, many of which are laid out in a bit of a jumble, all but a handful of which I have in my own collection. My copy of Eagle no. 1 is is far better nick than theirs though I can’t say the same for Annual no. 1.

But as always it’s the original art that makes the journey worthwhile and though the pages are few, they are especially wonderful. To my enormous glee Hampson is represented by a page from ‘The Man from Nowhere’, the cover of the issue of Eagle published the day i was born!There’s original art of Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell’s ‘The Platinum Planet’, misidentified as its sequel, ‘The Earth-Stealers’. And Keith Watson, on whose art I grew up, is represented by the last Dan Dare page he drew, the page that was the foundation for Spaceship Away.

Hampson’s pages intrigued me. Usually,  Hampson took the cover page and divided the several panels of page 2 between his assistants, but this is a paste down of individual panels in ones and twos. I’d love to know why.

But there’s more than just Dan Dare. There’s a Martin Aitchison horizontal ‘Luck of the Legion’ strip next to a Thelwell ‘Chicko’ cartoon, a superb Ashwell Wood Cutaway of the Naval Vessel St Kitts, Frank Humphris at his glorious best on ‘Riders of the Range’ and Frank Bellamy with a back page true story, ‘David – The Shepherd King’.

There’s another Bellamy original that troubles me deeply. Immaculately framed, it is the first page of ‘Frasier of Africa’, all yellows and sepias, and it disturbs me because I cannot work out how to steal it and get away with it.

It’s magnificent but it’s too scanty. The one I came to for the 40th  Anniversary was nearly ten times as big and was so good I visited twice, once on my own then with a bunch of mates to whom I’d raved: four hefty fellers in a Volkswagen Polo that needed me to start braking a loooong way before usual.

After leaving the Gallery, I check if there’s still a Pizza Hut in Southport. There is, but it’s no longer on Lord Street, instead it’s way out to Hell and gone on the Front, which means a long walk, starting off along the pier, which forms a bridge over the Marine Lake – there has to be a Marine Lake or else the only water you’d see in Southport would be out of a tap – and through a shpopping estate dominated by Matalan.

This is my first sit-down and eat-in Pizza Hut meal since before lockdown. They’re still operating on limited ingredients, no tuna for my favourite tuna’n’onions, no sweetcorn for my second favourite chicken’n’sweetcorn so I have a Hawaiian with garlic bread side.Nice and tasty and filling. And amusing to note that i finish five minutes before I would have logged in for Friday’s shift.

I have neither the weather nor the inclination to walk on further to see the beach, and neither would you in this early October greyness, so what is left is how much of awander I feel like having. Today would have been an ideal time to pay a visit to the Bakehouse, the little lean-to where six artists crammed in tho draw Dan Dare and the three other pages the Hampson Studio was committed to, but I didn’t think of that in time, and haven’t got the address on me, nor anything more than  vague idea where it is: another time then, again.

So I stroll back to Lord Street and wander northwards under the old-fashioned continuous glass canopy that accompanies the shore-side shops. A couple of times I wander into Charity Shops to fruitlessly peruse the cheap DVDs and every time i come out it takes ages before I remember I can pull down the facemask.

I went as far as a sign for Stockport Samaritans, which was apt: the Samaritans were created by the Reverend Chad Varah, who wrote adventure stories for Eagle, and Dan Dare himself for all but the first two weeks of ‘Marooned on Mercury’.

But there’s not much to look at, or smell, except cafes, restaurants and feeding places: no shortage of these in Southport. So I turn round and walk back an equal distance south but there’s nothing to attract my attention. Southport has always been an old people’s resortand whilst I might be an old person myself now, i’m not that kind of old person. The one i seem to be is the one with the arthritic right knee and hip and the lower back pain on the same side that’s exacerbating both and putting a severe crimp on how far I can walk.

So I slowly limped back to the Station. I’d tentatively identified the 15.43 for returning, a long way round via Liverpool so, with an absence of suitable attractions, I advance an hour and settle down for another long read. That’s actually been one of the best parts of the day. The isolation of a train is an ideal situation for taking a good big bite out of a long book, and I don’t get to do that kind of sustained reading as often as I used to. The train tracks down the coast, stopping everywhere, until Liverpool South Parkway interchange where I hope on a norwich train and off again in Southport, though by the time I limp heavily up our street I’m absolutely shattered – and it’s still only halfway through my shift…