Pale, Male, Stale: The Old Tired Trope

I’m getting sick of it. Old white male who has spent thirty years doing a job reaches pensionable age and is pensioned off. Not because it might be welcome to have a change after thirty years, not because it might just be that his attitudes and approaches have gotten into a bit of a rut, after thirty years, and maybe just a bit out of touch with now instead of 1992. No. It’s because he’s a white male, and it’s all down to ‘Woke’, whivh he promptly demonstrates he doesn’t understand.

The latest of this self-obsessed ilk is former Liverpool footballer and BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson, aged 65. I’ll be frank, I never had much time for Lawrenson. His schitck was pessimism, coupled with sarcastic humour that I never found funny. His being a Liverpool player didn’t stand him in good stead with me, and he was a notorious laugh for the years when he used to predict the Premier League results on the BBC website and never, not once, no matter how poor their form, did he ever predict a Liverpool defeat.

So thirty years was a good run for someone with a fairly limited range of opinions, and the BBC didn’t exactly commit any capital crimes in pushing him out at the end of last season, especially when this was being coupled with a new format for Football Focus.

And with weary predictability, Lawrenson produces the tired trope, in fact he makes a tryptich out of it. Firstly, he’s been gotten rid of because he’s a ‘White Male’, and everyone knows there has never been a time in the history of the world when anyone was more badly persecuted than white males. Secondly, he condescends to and patronises the new Focus presenter, former footballer Alex Scott. I mean, she’s neither White nor Male and therefore has been given her job for totally illegitimate reasons. Of course, he does speak ‘in fairness’, to say that she’s ‘a lovely girl’ and is ‘still learning’, no, Lawro’s not prejudiced (but everybody else is. Against him).

And thirdly it’s all down to ‘Woke’. Woke, in the mouths of those who feel that their former hegemony, their right to exclusively dictate who and what should prevail, is an elastic buzzword meaning whatever they want it to mean. It’s actual meaning, of senstivity to racial prejudice and intolerance can go hang. Lawrenson proves he has no idea what he’s talking about by coming up with a ‘woke’ moment from the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death when Gary Lineker was told not to use the word ‘wall’ when describing a defensive formation. Sensitivity to an exorbitant degree, I’d go with, or just plain stupidity, but ‘Woke’? Go away and fucking read until you understand what you’re saying, you stupid ****.

I don’t like the epithet ‘Pale, Male and Stale’, which is increasingly frequently being used to castigate a culture based on the tradition of Western Culture. It’s offensive, and deliberately so, for all that it carries with it a strain of truth. But it fits Mark Lawrenson and his band of pompous brothers to a T.


Dan Dare The Audio Adventures: e01 – Voyage to Venus

Dan Dare Audio 1

They’ve been around for quite a while, since 2016 in fact, and they’ve been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra as well as being issued in rather expensive triple CD boxsets. The pair of these, each comprising three full-length episodes, have been around my compacted dwelling space for quite a while too, albeit measured in months rather than years, awaiting time amongst all the other things I do for me to just sit down and listen undistracted. Now I have begun and, late though it may be, I’m going to set out my response.

The Dan Dare The Audio Adventures Project was set up by B7 Media, using a team of scripters, with Andrew Mark Sewell as Director and Simon Moorehead as Producer. B7 have a lot of experience in SF Audio books, having done a number of Dr Who projects beforehand. However, I have to give them massive black marks for Volume One for claiming that Dan Dare was created by the Reverend Marcus Morris and only ‘written and drawn’ by Hampson. Dare was entirely Hampson’s work and Morris gave him full credit for creating everything about the character. It got my back up a long way.

Six stories have been produced, each taking their titles and at least the shells of the subjects of Frank Hampson’s original Eagle stories in mostly chronological order. I remember reading brief synopses of the planned stories, which had been freely adapted. Indeed, there’s a charmingly self-congratulatory note from episode 1 scripters Richard Kurti and Bev Doyle about the sterling ways in which they’d not just updated Dan Dare to accomodate changes in scientific knowledge and technology in the years since his debut, but how they’ve revised the whole thing to put female characters on a par with male and to remover ‘all traces of cap-doffing class deference’ out of the Dan/Digby relationship. I reserve making comment.

Anyway, what of the actual adaptation? Let me credit the good things first. The acting is generally excellent throughout, though I have reservations about Geoffrey McGivern’s portrayal of Digby, though much of that has to do with the writing of the character. Ed Stoppard (son of playwright Tom) is very good as Dan himself whilst Icelandic actress Heida Reed plays Professor Peabody. These three are the central characters, alongside Raad Rawi fighting his way through several effects as The Mekon and Bijan Dameshmand arriving late as Sondar but clearly intended for a more major role in the ongoing series. The acting is good, the production very clear and precise and the effects effective.

Those are the good things.

You all know me as a lifelong Dan Dare fan, wedded inextricably to the original Frank Hampson version of the character. Richard Kurti and Bev Doyle say the character had to be updated. I say that’s not necessarily true. BBC Radio once did a four part play, which I also have, that adapted the first story pretty closely, so it can be done without dipping into satire and cynicism about older and simpler ideals. But I’m not so stupid as to imagine that most attempts at a modern Dan Dare will be of a modern Dan Dare. That means changes.

There are three principal types of change that have gone into this episode. Advances in scientific knowledge and technology have been catered for. They preserve the science of the original stories from seeming foolishly outdated. These I am ok with. The other two types, changes of character and of plot, which are inter-related, are much more serious and for me, only Dan Dare, of the central cast of characters, remains a fair representation of the character worthy of the name. He’s solid, he’s intelligent, he thinks quickly, he is an inveterate optimist, free of cynicism. Overall, he tends more to the flippant that the original, but he never goes OTT with this, and at least one of his quips is laugh-out-loud funny, if rather obvious. In the comic, these lines would have come from Digby, but we don’t have that Digby with us.

However, cynicism is the word I would apply, in spades, to both Professor Peabody and Lieutenant, not Spaceman, Digby, though both of them would prefer it if you called them pragmatic. I’ll go into these interpretations in a little more detail shortly, but their ‘remaking’ is part and parcel with the overall episode.

It’s the same old story. This is a perfectly good, in fact probably very enjoyable radio SF series crucified by having Dan Dare and other quasi-random names attached to it surgically when these names lack the associations they’re earned. Dan is the only character to remain properly true to his original: everyone and everything else is no more than a label.

As for the story, it is, naturally, about Earth’s first contact with Venus and the first encounter with the Treen (not Treens, the name is here plural instead of singular) and their Supreme Leader, the Mekon (whose title is Supreme Leader, not Mekon, making the name by which he is known illogical). That’s all the similarities, though. As for the set-up, where do I begin? Practically every detail has been changed. Let me try.

Ten years ago, due to a spaceship crash on Birmingham, for which the Pilot, William Dare, left on life support ever since, was scapegoated, the ISF (Interplanetary Space Fleet) dissolved. His son Dan, a Colonel and a Test Pilot (Colonel in what? Test Pilot for what? Never explained) is committed to clearing his father’s name (resemblances to Geoff Johns’ revised origin for the Barry Allen Flash, written 2009, 100%). He also applies to be transferred to ISF every year on the anniversary of the disaster even though it no longer exists, because he believes it will once again.

He is unaware that seven years previously an alien spacecraft crashed in Lancashire, chock full of advanced alien technology and instructions from Sondar on Venus, explaining how to build a spaceship to travel to Venus and meet him. ISF was revived, secretly, still under Sir Hubert (we assume Guest, his surbame is not mentioned) but supported by private enterprise – the Eagle Corporation, natch – whose leading scientist and premier free-market worshipper and all-round corporate shill is Professor Peabody (Jocelyn, mentioned once). Dan will pilot both the ship to Venus and the massive publicity campaign over the return to space, because he has a pretty face.

Meanwhile, very much against Dan’s wish, the final member of the crew is Lieutenant Digby (we assume Albert, also not mentioned, probably too old-fashioned). What Digby is Lieutenant of is never mentioned: we assume it’s of ISF since Sir Hubert sends him to fetch Dare, but then Dare is disgusted by him because he represents military brass, and is the warmongerer and weapons master on the mission.

I think that is enough to demonstrate just how different the audio adventure is to the original story. Only the shell of the latter is preserved. Nevertheless, I have one more serious example to put before you, and that’s The Mekon. Yes, he’s the Supreme Intelligence behind the Treen but he is portrayed as almost a benevolent dictator. He runs everything and everyone along lines devised by himself and which guarantee an orderly and peaceful environment for his subjects. He has no desire to take over Earth, not yet anyway. He is content where he is. As for Sondar, he’s a terrorist.

This is a much-diminished version of the Mekon, and I have to say that he loses traction by being only heard and not seen: the brilliance of the character and his true menace lay, like the Daleks over decade later, in his being simultaneously an easy shape/design to recognise yet by that being utterly unhuman. And it is painful to listen to both Peabody and Digby calling him ‘Supreme Leader’ (Christ, no!) and the former sucking up to him and talking about corporate mergers, sharing his technology and off about ‘No profit, no freedom’.

Yes, true colours come out at the end. The Mekon intends to send the Earthmen back home infected with a disgusting, fatal, rapid-spreading virus that will trigger as soon as they’re in Earth orbit and basically kill off the entire population, leading Peabody to flutters of self-disgust at how she could even have thought of collaborating with him, but by then she has touched pitch.

And as for the Mekon, once he’s forced into flight off-planet by Dare’s ingenious trick that raises the Treen mindlessly against him, he decides on revenge by taking over the entire solar system: better late than never. Meanwhile, he’s taken the only virus antidote with him, so Dare, Peabody and Digby can’t go home and are forced to go chasing after him, thus setting up the sequel.

So, overall, the same old story. A potentially good audio adventure crippled by tagging it to an existing creation with only minimal and superficial connection to the original, mostly in name only. Why do that? The audience that knows Dan Dare will only be offended, the audience that doesn’t won’t know the difference. Give the characters new names – if you have a spark of originality in you. After all, based on the first episode at least, this is substatially the best effort I’ve seen, read or hurt – in its own terms.

So I’ll make a point of listening to the test of the series, and I’ll drag out the BBC radio series as well, of which I think I’ve got two DVDs. I shall keep you posted.

Walking Coast to Coast

In 1972, Alfred Wainwright, who had had little enjoyment out of walking and mapping the Pennine Way, published a book about a long distance walk he had devised himself, taking advantage of public rights of way to walk and map a route from the west coast of England to the east, crossing three National Parlks en route.

Known simply as A Coast to Coast Walk, linking St Bees Head on the Irish Sea with Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea, the route became an immediate favourite and has remained immensely popular ever since, supporting the economies of all the places en route. Which was not what Wainwright wanted, since he never asked for people to walk his routes, and indeed part of his intention in producing such a personal and unofficial routes was not encourage people to follow his example, not his footsteps, and devise their own long distance walks, using their imagination, not his.

Some people have done so, but none have been remotely as popular, nor been walked so many, as Wainwright’s route.

Which makes it particularly pleasant, if contrary to the Blessed’s every instinct, to read that in its fiftieth year the Coast to Coast Walk is to be adopted as a National Footpath, with similar status to the Pennine Way. He’d never have seen it that way, but what a fitting tribute to the man who saw what was possible so long ago.


Grease is no longer the word


I almost paused to reflect on the death of Judith Durham such a short time ago, but now it’s been followed by her fellow Australian singer, Olivia Newton-John, news I have only discovered a few minutes ago.

Truth to tell, I enjoyed Judith Durham’s music, or rather that of The Seekers, far more than I did Olivia Newton-John’s, or ‘Livvy’ as we used to call her. I certainly heard far more of Livvy’s singng than I did the Seekers, throughout most of the Seventies, and for the same reason that I heard most of the Progressive Music I endured at the same time, though this time from only one source.

I had a mate from school who lived just rund the corner from me. Our tastes in music weren’t all that similiar but he listened politely to my albums as I did to his. With me it was Lindisfarne, 10cc, The Moody Blues. With him it was ELP, Yes, Pink Floyd. And Livvy.

A lot of it was that he had one almighty crush on Livvy, and let’s be fair, tall, blonde, slim, long-legged, with a sweet face, she was eminent cr ush material. I never minded looking at pictures of her, or seeing her on Top of the Pops, and some of her Seventies’ album covers were absolutely gorgeous. Girl took a good photo, certainly.

Musically, in this era, I had no means of classifying what she sang. Country-influenced MOR, I’d say now, with a hefty slant to the MOR side of it. There was nothing wrong with it, I didn’t dislike it, the way I did Tales of Topographic Oceans, but, with the odd exception here and there, I didn’t like it. I accepted it as a necessary hazard of life, like the way my mother never stopped telling me to be careful crossing Kingsway, no matter how old I got.

You’d think that, given all his other tastes, my mate’s obsession with Livvy’s music must have been something of a come-on, but no such thing. He genuinely adored her music. ‘he was so reverent to it that, every time she brought out a new LP, he would carefully wipe it with an anti-static dust remover, touching the vynil by the edges of the disc only, lower the needle onto the run-in groove as gently as a falling leaf, and would record the album onto cassette. And never ever play the vynil again.

Our friendship more or less died in 1978 when I left to go live in Nottingham for two years. That didn’t get me away from Livvy, not at first, for 1978 was the year of Grease and a combined seventeen weeks at Number 1 for her singles with John Travolta. But long before I came back we had stopped talking to each other. So after that I got to hear less and less of Livvy, which I never regretted. A friend of mine once played me a VHS tape of the film Xanadu, in which she starred, and which I thought was one of the most crass, soul-destroying, lumpen and demeaning films I ever saw. My heart bled for Gene Kelly, reduced to playing in shit like that, and subjected to almost on-stop degradation. I hope to God the poor bastard got paid shedloads for having to go through that.

I don’t remember hearing anything else by Livvy after that, and that now means nearly forty years.

This is not precisely a remembrance of Olivia Newton-John and it’s certainly not a tribute to her. A photo of her in tank top, long-sleeved blouse, hot pants and knee length boots, from 1971 would be how I’d choose to remember her, because yes, she was absolutely gorgeous, but she and her music played a big part in my life for a long time, and I know Alan will be devastated tonight, for his were feelings that would never be eroded by time. Sorry news, mate. Raise a glass to her for me whilst you’re at it.

The Best Albums of 2022 so far

Proving that it has difficulty in reading the calendar, The Guardian has started a series of ‘Best of So-Far’ articles selecting the best in each category for the first half of the year, a first half that has three and a half unused weeks to it. Yesterday, it was TV Shows, today it’s albums.

I decided to read the list out of curiosity, nothing more, and a very small sliver of wondering what I might be missing. It made for interesting reading, in one way. Out of a list of thirty albums, I have heard of only six artists and out of those six I have only heard two, and one of them over fifty years ago. Unsurprisingly, he – reggae star Horace Andy, singer of ‘Black Pearl’ in 1970 – is the only one I’m interested in hearing more from.

The other act I’ve hear is Wet Leg, whose music does nothing to excite me, although hester Chambers is a very nice looking woman.

From my perspective as a 66 year old, it would be very easy and extremely predictable to turn this into a rant about music being better in my day. I mean, generally I do think it was: most of us think that about what we heard when we were young, enthusiastic and impressionable. It connects us to our memories of when we were every bit of that. Modern music will never be able to do that and even the rare ones that set the fires blazing have too many years to overcome.

But I can’t and won’t do that. How can I say that this is crap, shit, unlistenable or any of the words my generation learned from our parents when it came to what we liked, when I’ve just admitted never having heard fourteen fifteens of the list? I could easily remedy that by clicking on the Spotify playlist provided, which includes all thirty, and more, that is if I ever listened to Spotify. Which I don’t and never have and aren’t interested in doing so.

The point of all of this is to illustrate two things. The first is that I am more completely out of touch with modern music than even when my only radio listening was Junior Choice for the comedy records. And the second is that I’m not in the least bothered by my ignorance and sam prepared to confess this to anyone who hasn’t run away fast enough.

It’s inevitable. It is now closing in on forty years since I made a conscious decision over two albums and went for the one representing the past I’d flown past, instead of the one that meant still being obsessed with what was new. I didn’t turn my back on new music, not by a long way, not for a very long time yet. But I changed my focus to exploring what I had missed. For the last twenty years, near enough, my principal fascination has been the obscurities of the back half of the Sixties, and the still-not-ended flow of gems from that time that I have yet to hear.

If I were to listen to these Best Albums So Far, I might be surprised by what I find, might find riches I’m deliberately choosing not to discover. There’s a very sad aspect to that but in all honesty, I would be surprised to find one that did it for me in any way, apart from Horace Andy that is, who’s older than I am, so that would be like cheating. And I don’t mind. In fact, if I were to discover that as many as ten of these people were making music as great as the reviewers say, I would start to seriously worry about music in 2022. Because this music is not beding made for me, and it damned well shouldn’t be. Music is a wavefront that should continually be moving forward, beaching generation after generation in order to accomodate present and future generations. It’s great that, out of nowhere, people are suddenly latching on to Kate Bush again, and more power to them, but the gorgeous Ms Bush has always transcended eras and, well, just about everything. If it started to multiply, I’d enjoy it, seeing other stars, like Bowie perhaps flash back across the heavens. As long as they started inspiring the youth of today to develop new sounds from them, and not just recycle what they hear.

Otherwise, long live lists like this that are strange and impenetrable, and shut your mouth about how shit/awful/noisy/stupid/horrible music is today. They’re making it for themselves, not you, just as we did when it was our time. Let them do so.

Or else fold your arms, scowl at them and rant about how this is far better than that trash they call music… You might be right, but when they tell you to piss off, they’ll be even righter.

The Ultimate Artist: Neal Adams R.I.P.

Very little comes as a shock any more. I woke up late, checked my e-mails and found an alert from downthe tubes: In Memorium, Neal Adams. Another of the ‘gods’ of my youth goes from us. It’s only to be expected: I am now 66, and the men and women whose worl stirred me were all older. They will go before.

I asume I don’t need to explain Neal Adams for you. He was comics’ premier artist, drawing the most real and dynamic of scenes, in demand from the fans. He took Batman back to the night. He redesigned Green Arrow. Dealers in back issues would flag comics he’d drawn and these would be more expensive, often twice as much as the issues either side of a guest pencilling. I remember finding two Adams’ Batman or Detective in Dave Britton’s comics shop on Peter Street whose name I’ve forgotten, at 45p each, buying them, and walking down Deansgate almost trebling at my audacity in buying two comics that were 45p. Each.

Adams was a fan favourite alright but only to the fans. The general audience comics then had were less enthused. Adams only drew a dozen issues of Green Lantern/Green Arrow and it was cancelled for low sales (admittedly, the comic was in trouble before he and Denny O’Neill took it over).

The run is probably the most famous run of Adams’ career. The art’s superb but the comics haven’t weathered well, their earnestness too blatant. Now we have neither of the creators, nor its editor, Julius Schwartz.

I’m not the person to speak of Adams’ career. After those days at DC in the Seventies, and some memorable work at Marvel on The Avengers and X-Men he took advantage of the independent boom of the Eighties to take control of his work, most of which he also wrote. He wasn’t half the writer as he was the artist.

But he was yet one more who was there when I needed stimulation, and my head expanding, and my eagerness satisfying. He is, once again, another good one gone.

P.S. Reading other’s tributes has reminded me of one thing on Neal Adams’ list of credits that I should not have forgotten. In 1978, he went in to bat for Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, the creators of Superman but then two old men, living in impoverishment and virtually forgot. Thanks to Adams’ energy, determination and advocacy, there is now and for over forty years never has been an interation of Superman that does not have his creator’s names indelibly applied, and whilst they were still not party to the uncountable billions their character has earned, Adams’ efforts secured for them an easeful and comfortable old age. Without him… it doesn’t bear thinking about, and I should have said that without needing to be prodded.

Not wishing to speak ill…

I’ve just read a report on the death, aged 88, of television writer Eric Chappell, a successful writer of sitcoms, most notably celebrated for the 1970s series, Rising Damp, starring the late and brilliant Leonard Rossiter as the mean, miserly, prejudiced landlord, Rigsby.

If you follow the link, you csan read the many tributes being paid to Chappell and his work. The praise is high. I wouldn’t normally go around raining on anyone’s parade, especially not at a time like this, but the level of praise being accorded Chappell surprises me. Because I have a completely different opinion.

Let’s go back, firstly, to Rising Damp. In its way, it was a very strong sitcom. Rossiter was, of course, the star, a true monster, in his way only little exaggerated as a cheap landlord of cheap accomodation, but the strength of his three supporting members can’t be stressed enough. Frances de la Tour played Miss Jones, a spinster, Richard Beckinsale was Alan, a long-haired, naive medical student, and Don Warrington was Philip, smooth, suave, self-confident and more than a match for Rigsby’s cheap and pathetic racial prejudice.

I loved the series. It was very funny. Until, for some reason, perhaps obeying a subconscious concern, I experimented with one episode. I forced myself to ignore the performances and instead focus only in the dialogue. My stars, the contrast was explosive. There wasn’t a funny lkine in the entire episode. Nothing ingenious or unexpected, nothing with wit in it. Just cliched comedy lines, lowest common denominator stuff, punchlines you could see approaching from a rooms-width away. The whole bloody show was obvious, in the worst way. It was all in the acting.

Unfortunately, a thing once seen can no longer be unseen. Rising Damp was spoiled for me, irreversibly. And Chappell’s next, and wholly inexplicably successful sitcom, Only When I Laugh, set in a hospital ward, horrified me. It lacked a Leonard Rossiter to fuill it with pent up energy and so relied solely on its dialogue, which was even more predictable and dull than Rising Damp. After that, whenever a new sitcom appeared on ITV, I checked for who was writing it and, if it was Eric Chappell, gave it a wide berth. And if it came from Yorkshire TV, it was invariably his work, they didn’t seem to have another writer.

To be honest, Chappell was perfect for ITV in those decades. The commercial channel, dependent upon advertising, had to pitch for the largest possible audiences, which in the field of sitcoms meant broad, unoriginal, full-of-cliche comedy. It was significanmt that the BBC sitcoms were always far better, more sophisticated, more individual, better written.

I read the praise for Eric Chappell’s writing and I can’t believe it. It’s praise far beyond any of his comedies were worth. He was the archetypal ITV writer of the time, who would give the audience what they wanted and only what they wanted, namely everything they had heard before. The truly great writers don’t do that. They don’t give the audience what they want, they give them what they don’t know they want until they get it.

Apologies to anyone offended, but I had to get that off my chest.

Averagely dumb Journalism

Yes, it’s the idot Stuart Heritage again. Pontificating today on Netflix’s Anatomy of a Scandal which, if his summary is only 50% exaggerated, sounds like the creative equivalent of the Gobi deserts having the DTs. I mention it because, in describing the end of episode 3, he refers to ‘…that Aimee Mann song from Magnolia‘.

Dear, ignorant little fellow, the whole point of Magnolia, to which I can attest because I’ve got the soundtrack CD, its that it’s full of Aimee Mann songs. The one in question turns out to be ‘Wise Up’ which, if you check it below, is far superior to Heritage’s usual strain-for-effect writing and, probably, the entire season itself.

I’m assuming she got paid well, though.