Good Omens: e02 – The Book


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Good Omens is very much a discursive book. It builds slowly, it follows diverse paths, it has multiple criss-cross elements that havbe no seming relation to one another but which we know are tributaries that will eventually come together into one major river of story. You can do that in books. It’s a lot harder in television, especially when you’re dealing with an exaggerated reality that exceeds normal expectations. There’s a a lot of it about in episode 2.

Last week’s opening episode was mainly linear, keeping everything going in a straight line so that the audience knew what they were getting: Armageddon and an Antichrist who comes over as a less sullen Just William. With the train on the tracks, episode 2 decided to devote large parts of its running time to the branch lines, and a whole horde of new characters we didn’t get to in the opening episode.

First up was a plot reminder. The Angels Gabriel and Sandalphon visit Aziraphale’s Soho bookshop to check all is well, and make a holy show of themselves in ‘fooling’ the simple humans into accepting them as material beings, whilst Hastur and Ligur (I do so relish Ned Dennehy’s performance and look as Hastur!) replace a Breakfast Show hosting pair to demand the same of Crowley: neither angel nor demon admit they’ve absolutely no bloody idea where the Antichrist is.

So the narative drive this week is set upon finding him, except that it’s not being done with any urgency and without any great plan, and in the meantime, enter the following: Agnes Nutter, a Lancashire Witch (Josie Lawrence) to be burned by Witchfinder General Thou-Shalt-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer (Jack Whitehall): the first of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, War, aka National Weekly News War Correspondent Carmine Zuigiber (Mireille Enos), and an outsourced summoner, a delivery driver (Simon Merrells): profesional descendent Anathema Device (Adria Arjona), carrying the only copy of the #nice and Accurate Propheies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, dressed from head to toe to wrist in heavy, faintly archaic, form-concealing clothes, the way Melanie Safka always did: professional failure Newton Pulsifer, who’s ‘not good with computers’ (Jack Whitehall again, of course): Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell (Michael McKean with a Scottish accent that keeps nipping back up to the Highlands, leaving him floundering) and his landlady, Madame Tracey (Miranda Richardson, still looking pretty good). That’s a lot of characters to take care of in one go, and they need time which detracts from Aziraphale and Crowley’s presence and kee[ps us from getting to the Them, the Antichrist’s little gang, until well down the running time.

And Gaiman does insist on keeping as much of his and Pratchett’s amusing little asides as he possibly can, like the wyt Crowley talks to his plants.

These are all well and good in the book: in the book they’re more than good, they’re hilarious. But this is the difference between books and television/film. In any kind of decent television series I’m eager for this kind of multiple strand approach, setting up theaudience to guess, and red herrings are fair game. But I didn’t think it worked here. That’s because, after setting things up, and that reminder of what this story is all about, the episode went all over the place, at some length, to avoid taking the next step. When are we going to get on with it was the prevailing response.

Which leads us to the matter of the writing. Thgis is very much Neil Gaiman’s project. It adapts a book of which he is the co-author and it is driven by the desire to do seriously right by his co-author and his very dear friend, the late Terry Pratchett – is it really six years? On the one hand, the teleplay writer knows and understands the material and can be alert to it and its nuances in a way no-one else can. On the other, how detached can he become? How distanced can he be to carry out the essential task of the adapter, which is to reconstruct the book in a medium alien to the original work?

Episode 2 shows Gaiman to be perhaps a bit too determined to get in as much of Good Omens as he can, which isn’t necessarily the best thing to do.

Mind you, I had fun with it. And we’ve four more episodes in which to draw things together even tighter.

Danger Man: s03 e01 – You’re not in any trouble, are you?


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It’s still 1965, but now we’re into Danger Man‘s third and last series. As we might expect, nothing has really changed since the second series was completed: why change a winning formula, especially when you’ve got the highest paid male star in British television, and one of the most charismatic actors around in your leading role?

But there were a couple of things that caught my eye, that suggested that the spirit of the times, that Swinging London might just be catching up with the series, and I’ll be very interested to see how things develop over the next twenty-three episodes.

It’s the first of the series and it’s a strong start, reminding me very much of what the show can do when it’s firing on all cylinders. There’s a long and intriguing open, a man, Bill Ellis, in a hotel room in Rome, recording a report onto an electric razor that conceals a miniature tape recorder. He’s categoric that Robin Garwood’s death was not an accident. He starts to give instructions about contacting an organisation when he’s interrupted by a friend, Dave. When Ellis’s back is turned, Dave clubs him into unconsciousness with a double-fisted punch to the back of the neck. Then he drops him out of the window, from the sixth floor.

Enter John Drake, or writer Clive Harris. Drake’s dressed slightly differently in that opening scene. He wears a raincoat, a light, white raincoat. Not much of a thing to pick upon, except that Drake’s look will change in series 3. The raincoat will be paired with a white cap, a characteristic look. Remember ‘The Girl Who Was Death’, from The Prisoner? That deliberately echoed Drake’s ‘look’.

The contact details Ellis has left, albeit interrupted, reveal the existence of a murder-for-hire organisation, a European version of America’s infamous Murder Incorporated. But before Drake can retrieve the shaver from its place of concealment in Ellis’s room, he has to get access to it. Which means dealing with Lena.

Lena is supposed to be from South America, doing an extensive tour of European capitals, places of culture, hotspots. Lena is also the lovely Susan Hampshire belying her background with her cut glass English accent. Lena is flat out gorgeous – Susan Hampshire was probably the loveliest actress from Britain in the Sixties – and my second point of interest is that the episode introduces her with a slow pan from her feet and up her legs – and she’s wearing an above-the-knee skirt! Whee, this is the Sixties at last!

Lena is fascinating. She’s just coming down off a fourteen week affair with an Italian Prince and begs a sleeping pill off ‘Yorick’, as Drake teasingly calls himself. Lena is bright and bubbly, a Sixties Dolly Bird, but with a solid core of practical intelligence not that far below the surface, and a concern for ‘Clive Harris’ that quickly starts to worry him. She’s here, she’s there, she’s everywhere, an unwanted nuisance, but a very nice one. In real life, any man would be flattered and delighted to have the attention of a blonde who’s not only slim and beautiful but devoted and eager company.

This being Danger Man, we know that John Drake is going to remain consciously resistant to her charms whilst trying not to hurt her, which would be like destroying a butterfly. This being Danger Man, we are constantly swondering what deep and sinister role Lena will play in the story. Indeed, once Drake has engaged this organisation to dispose of Clive Harris, and has drawn Dave to him intent on the same method of disposal as with Bill Ellis, Lena turns up unexpectedly just as Drake’s anticipated the attack and, when he grapples with Dave, Lena intervenes, screaming ‘you’ll kill him!’, allowing Dave to run. And never be seen again.

I see, I see, I get the picture.

Resolution comes via a stroke of fortune, a little man, claimung to be knowledgeable about international crime because he was once involved, until a Lottery win that allowed him to remove himself. This is Ernesto (John Cazabon). We, and Drake, suspect him of being the assassin, but the gun he pulls in empty: it is merely a souvenir of killings past, in his old life. But Ernesto knows who is behind the murder-for-hire organisation, and for a price, albeit with much trepidation for his own safety, he tells Drake: Enso Bandone.

But Bandone (future Number Two Andre van Gyseghem) is utterly respectable. He’s 80 years old, a man who emigrated to America in 1912, made a success there in the American dream tradition, and who returned to Italy in 1959, to die in his own land. Drake goes to his villa, beards the lion in his den. With so much known or deducable, Bandone admits all. He is 80. He cannot sleep, he cannot digest his food, drink makes him ill. Only his hand-made cigars remain. And the vicarious thrill of being responsible for deaths, of course.

Drake coming here will give Bandone a singular pleasure. Drake will be killed, and Bandone summons a young man of cold eyes and chinese features, a master of swords, to cut up Drake, very slowly, in front of Bandone’s eyes. The young man, Masan, is played by the inevitable Burt Kwouk (could he have ever realised that he would grow up to be a star in Last of the Summer Wine?). Masan is the better swordsman, but Drake the more ruthless fighter. He dumps Masan on Bandone’s desk. Bandone retrieves a revolver from a drawer but, before he can bring it to aim at Drake, he has a seizure, fires all six shots through the drawer bottom, into the floor, and collapses. The excitement has been too much: Bandone has had a heart attack and died. The head is indeed cut-off.

So Lena had nothing to do with it at all, was nothing more than a giant, delightful distraction. But wait…

Drake has completed his assignment. It’s been suggested that it was actually a very big failure on his part. Dave, who killed Bill Ellis, got away, presumably scot-free, whilst Bandone died without revealing who hired him to kill Ellis, or Robin Garwood. But I am sanguine, I believe that once the Police got their hands on Bandone’s records, such things would be dealt with. Drake did his first and most important job, he brought the organisation down. He’s leaving to fly back to London. For a moment, he lifts his hand to knock on Lena’s door, to say goodbye, but he doesn’t. On the other hand, there she is in the lobby, all packed up and ready to go. She’s taken ‘Clive’s advice to resume her itenerary. In fact she’s going to London. On the same flight as ‘Clive’. ‘Hurry up, we’ll be late for the plane!’

This was just a gloriously fun episode. It would have been stroong and clever without Susan Hampshire, but the lady made it special. Suddenly, the Sixties are here. The last series was too redolent of the atmosphere of the Fifties, its greyness, its drabness. There’s an instant lift now. New times are coming, in fact they’re here. Let’s live it up, let’s swing1

Good Omens: e01 – In the Beginning


Sometimes, a bit of fun is what you want, without necessarily the scope for too much serious thinking. You can have a bit too much serious thinking, and not always enough fun. Not that Good Omens is necessarily a case for leaving out serious thinking, nothing that comes from the word processor of Terry Pratchett can be entirely free from that, and this Neil Gaiman bloke isn’t exactly behind the door for that kind of business, what with his ‘There is room for things to mean more than they literally mean.’

I got ‘Good Omens’ the book as soon as it went into paperback. My battered old paperback, much read, in fact as recently as the week before last, is signed by both authors. I love it to bits. Well, not every bit of it. There’s this line, early on, where the demon Crowley, listing his demonic feats in causing horror and confusion on Earth, states that ‘he was particularly proud of Manchester’. I’m bound to resent that.

Adaptations of any of Terry Pratchett’s work, and I’m not slighting Gaiman here by putting Pratchett in the frame, are exceedingly difficult to make successfully. Partly that’s because the worlds he writes in are fantasies, impossible to reproduce as live action, or indeed visually at all, without an extremely expensive special effects budget, but primarily because the humour in the books is skewed to the narrative, not to mention the footnotes. The characters don’t say the funny lines, the author does. Getting those lines on screen, in any kind of convincing form, is the real difficulty, because putting them into someone’s mouth to say onscreen is next to impossible to do without it sounding like the character is reading the narrative.

Fortunately for all concerned, the adaptation, and the screenplay, is being done by Neil Gaiman himself, and more than authorial pride is involved here because Neil was doing this in tribute to Terry, his friend, his much-missed friend, with a ferocious determination to do right by him. Gaiman knows the book. What’s more, he knows what wasn’t in the book, and how much of that to fold in. And he is key to visualising what happens on the page and putting it on the screen, backed with a very expensive special effects budget where necessary, in a way that both dazles and satisfies every reader’s internal vision of what’s going on.

The mini-series is by far and away the most recent tv series I’ve blogged other than live. It appeared in 2019, when I watched it weekly, and I watched it again when I bought the DVD. I would expect most readers of this blog to be familiar with book or series or both but for those who are not aware of it, a short background is necessary. Good Omens is about Armageddon, the coming of the Antichrist and the final bettle betwen Heaven and Hell. It is also a comedy. This is brought about primarily by the principals, Aziraphale (Michael Sheen), an Angel, and Crowley (David Tennant), a Demon.

Aziraphale was originally the Angel with a Flaming Sword who guarded the gates to the Garden of Eden, who gave his flaming sword to Adam and Eve when they were expelled because, well, there are beasts out there, it’s going to rain and she’s already expecting. And Crowley was the Snake who tempted Eve because he was told to get up there and cause some trouble, but who’s a bit worried about why God made it so easy.

The point is that this pair of opposites have been on Earth ever since, some 6,000 years of tempting and thwarting. They’ve been the only consistent face either sees and they’ve become sort-of friends, each having been among humans for so long that they’ve more in common with each other than with either respective Head Office.

These are the pair who get involved when the Plan unfolds. Satan’s child, the Antichrist, is brought to Earth eleven years ago. Crowley delivers it to the Nuns’ Hospital where it will be switched for the American Ambassador’s new baby.  He would rather not get involved, and his wish to distance himself as fast as he can combines with the unfortunate coincidence of another, this time English and utterly ordinary couple turning up with her contractions every four minutes and a Chattering Satanic Nun who’s a bit of an airhead. The baby switch ends up being a threeway, and you can guess who gets the Adversary (hint: it’s not the Ambassador).

The big problem is that, in their entirely separate ways, Crowley and Aziraphale like the Earth. Neither wishes to see it end in eleven year’s time. So they work together to frustrate Armageddon…

As the title indicates, this episode is about setting all of this up, as well as our two principal characters. Gaiman makes a superb job of parcelling out information sensibly and intelligently, and he gets round the problem of animating narrative by limiting the use of dialogue, keeping these bits brief and as natural as they can be (not everywhere but at this sort of thing a 90% success rate is damned good) but mainly by hiving the job over to a voiceover narrative (by Frances McDormand) as the voice of God.

She’s good. The whole cast are good. Jon Hamm as the Angel Gabriel and Nick Offerman as the Ambassador, appearing by iPad, are perfect in cameo roles. And in his brief appearance at the end as Adam Young, the Antichrist, Sam Taylor Buck gives a brief but wonderfuly naturalistic show.

But the series stands and falls on Aziraphale and Crowley. David Tennant as Crowley is a given. I mean, David Tennant, demon, you’re wrapped up. It’s Michael Sheen who has the infinitely harder job, playing an Angel who’s basically, just, well, Good. How do you play that? Good and innocence – or as much as is left after 6,000 years of human beings – we’re just talking bland aren’t we? Nothing to work with. And he’s brilliant, bringing to the role a degree of effeteness that comes over as otherworldly as opposed to faintly gay, coupled to an underlying worry. Aziraphale is in earnest, but under everything he does he’s not entirely certain he’s doing the right thing. It’s a brilliant performance.

I look forward to more. Next wek, the story really starts. It’s Wednesday afternoon. The World Ends on Saturday.

Danger Man: s02 e22 – Parallel Lines Sometimes Meet


Whatever the confusion over the running order of episodes between the DVD boxset I’m watching and the imdb listing, everyone agrees that ‘Parallel Lines Sometimes Meet’ – an abstract title rather than a seemingly random line from within – is the last episode of series 2, or of season 1 of Secret Agent, the show’s American title.

I ended up not just enjoying the episode but liking it as well for the bold step it eventually took. For a long while it seemed to be bitty, throwing in short, choppy scenes that took the episode in dofferent directions that didn’t really cohere, as well as a certain self-induced reservation on my part that detached me to a degree. However, everything fell into place as a well set-up story with an intriguing motivation that still could have done with being introduced a bit sooner.

The episode began with an intriguing open. Two people, husband and wife, in bathing suits, are out for the day with another, recently-met couple, boating. They are drinking and sunbathing. She (Janet Hargeaves) may be in a rather stiff tartan bathing costume, a bit too staid to properly called a swimsuit but she’s still showing more leg than the last half dozen guest stars put together. She seems to be getting light-headed, perhaps too much sun. He’s feeling the same, though he put it down to the drink. Both collapse. Enter their hosts, the Elliots. She is also in bathing suit, a little more flexible, but then she is Margaret Nolan, noted glamour model and actress. That’s her painted gold in the credits for Goldfinger, not Shirley Eaton.

The Brooks, Vernon and Eirlys, have just been kidnapped. The are both British Atomic scientists. John Drake, using the pseudonym West (the tinned fish company had only been formed under that name in 1964) is in Haiti, which is one of the places the Brooks might possibly have been taken to. A ship, La Reine Noir, is docking at a private port the following day: they may be on it.

The episode is set on Haiti. It’s made in 1965, with a predominantly black cast, on an exotic, faraway island known more for the fantasies woven around it, of voodoo and zombies, than its Twentieth Century realities, and I confess that I, with my Twenty-First Century sensibilities, was on a kind of edge over what the episode might depict. Oh yes, there were cliches, one of them being hotel owner and large-scale flambuoyant Mama Celeste (played by Pearl Prescod), all big black mamma, but the only zombies were jokes about them that you could see were tongue-in-cheek.

Apart from Mama Celeste there were three roles of substance played by black actors. In order of appearance these were Mr Darcy (Earl Cameron), the local representative of ‘World Travel’, Lieutentant Labaste (Clifton Jones), the local Policeman, who came over initially as someone likely to be corrupt and in it up to his neck, but who was ebventually revealed to be a proud Haitian, who did not want his country dragged into the power politics of larger nations, and Albert Desilles (Errol John), local mineowner and the villain of the piece. All thre were played seriously and without any cliches due to the colour of their skin, only to their roles.

More intriguing, and ultimately why I liked the show, was the presence of Madame Coussel, played by main guest star Moira Redmond. A man has been found dead near Philipville, where Desilles operates and La Reie Noir is due to dock, washed ashore drowned. Madame Coussel identifies him as her husband, an attache in Port au Prince. Darcy knows Monsieur Coussel and that is not him. He also identifies Madame Coussel as Major Natalie Tarasova of Russian intelligence: in sort, the opposition.

This seemed at first to be a straightforward set-up, Us vs Them, with treachery and double-dealing on both sides to be expected, as with Suzanne of French Intelligence, in ‘Have a Glass of Wine’ only two weeks ago. But that’s the beauty of this story. The dead man is a Russian atomic scientist who disappeared whilst on holiday at the seaside in Riga, having gone boating with a couple he’d recently met… Drake and Natalie are coming at the same thing from opposite sides, an independent that both want to bring down, Desilles.

Labaste wants them both out, before they do Haiti any harm, but the two agents are working together, and genuinely, towards a common goal that benefits both parties, with no-one cheating or trying to take advantage of the other.

Desilles, we belatedly find, is working for an underground African organisation that wants the Bomb. Everybody and his neighbour Gordon has got it, but Africa doesn’t, and they are afraid of their resources being purloined underr nuclear blackmail. So Desilles has been using the Eliotts to kidnap atomic scientists from all over the world to build it, and John Drake and Natalia Tarasova put aside their deep diferences and, with a kind of mutual respect, rescue the kidnappees and solve the longer term problem by having Desilles under a rockfall when the mine ceiling caves in.

Ultimately, the episode did spend too long on displaying its jigsaw puzzle pieces before showing us the picture on the lid, but for the genuine, unforced and effective collaboration between East and West, without competition or any kind of idealoguery on either side, I give it a gold star. A very good season finale.

Next week, we plough straight on into Danger Man‘s third and, effectively, final series, in which we will get closer to the truth about Patrick McGoohan’s assertions about whether the show had run its course. Will we see hemlines rise as we move into 1966?

The Monocled Mutineer: e04 – A Dead Man on Leave


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I’ve tended to focus on structure in reviewing this short series, and I shall maintain that approach to the end. Alan Bleasedale’s story has broken itself down into four episodes or acts, three of 75 minute duration and this last of ninety minutes. We’ve had establishing Percy Toplis, the Monocled Mutineer of the title, establishing Etaples Training camp, the flashpoint of the Mutiny, and now we have the aftermath.

To my considerable surprise, on finishing watching the final episode, I discovered that John Freeman’s excellent downthetubes site, a fount of up to the minute news about all things British comics related, had linked to this series, comparing it to the appearance of the Etaples Mutiny in Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun’s brilliant ‘Charley’s War’. Though I have some of the hardback collections, I haven’t got that far yet. I must repair that omission. The odd thing was that I was already thinking of the structural similarity between The Monocled Mutineer and a completely different comic series: Dave Sim’s Cerebus.

Cerebus is about a lot of things, not all of them marred by its creator’s eccentric beliefs. Sim chose a structure that meant that Cerebus’s story is, effectively, ended by issue 200, echoing Sim’s recognition that some people’s lives work that way, leaving them to live a long and, effectively, purposeless afterwards. So too does Bleasedale choose to make the climax of the story, it’s reason for existing, the third part, leaving a final episode to take a fatalistic form. Percy Toplis, who didn’t give a bugger about anything, is not yet 21. He’s the whole of his life ahead of him. He’s affected by what he’s seen in the Great War – who who took part in that as a soldier in the field was not, or could not have been? – yet outwardly he’s unchanged. Nevertheless, because of his recklessness in the Mutiny, his couldn’t-care-less-ness, he’s a wanted man: Edwin Woodhall, of the Secret Service, remains fanatically determined to arrest him.

And we see how determined Woodhall is early on. Percy’s socialist friend, Charles Strange, is standing in Southwark as a Labour MP, likely to be elected after a post-War year of ‘a land fit for heroes’ (have there been many more sickening lies from a Tory Government? Including the present one). Percy’s there to blackmail him for £100, to pay his adoptive parents back for all his stealing, to make them safe now his ‘father’s lungs have filled up and he cannot work. But Woodhall’s there, with his men, two of whom are on Strange’s staff: Strange is arrested at gunpoint, told to step down or else he will be publicly exposed for his desertion. Woodhall thinks his ‘masters’ are very ‘very decent’ in allowing that.

As a result, Strange throws himself off a sea cliff to his death. And Woodhall’s ‘masters’ congratulate him for helping to preserve ‘the fabric of decent society’, whilst making cruel jokes about his lack of stature.

Watching all this made my blood boil. All they ever wanted, those men who went to war and came back, was a decent life. After what they did, after the way the ordinary folk of this country have been treated all along, it was the only decent thing to do. It still is, no matter how much it’s sneered upon now, how much Labour have abandoned the merest thought of it. Back then, though, as we saw in Etaples through Thomson and Strachan and the rest, the idea of treating these people as human was unthinkable.

Sorry, bit political, not apologising for it. It’s woven into the series though, inescapably.

Percy Toplis doesn’t want to get involved. He’s seing his rich widow love, Dorothy, once every five weeks or so. He won’t say what he’s doing at other times and neither does Bleasedale, because to get too close to what the real Percy Toplis is doing in these times, including a year in prison for fraud, is to present a version pf the character that not all Paul McGann’s charm could obscure. But Dorothy – and Cherie Lunghi is as superb in this episode as McGann has been throughout – wants more. She’s in love. She will end up carrying Percy’s baby. Thjey both evewntually admit their secrets to each other: Dorothy is as much of a conwoman as Percy. Like him, she comes from a dirty, drab, despairing village. She accepts him for what he really is (though we never see exactly how much truth he tells her and how much he conceals). The only thing that shocks her is to discover that her lover is only 21 (Lunghi was 34 the year of the series: mind you, McGann was actually 27).

But Percy’s life is one long drift, from this to that, the pursuit of money without working for it or caring about anyone he robs or cheats, or himself that much for that matter. But what he did at Etaples marked the end of his life: the effects will follow him to his death.

The episode starts to pick up momentum in its second half. Percy re-enlists in the Army as ‘Johnnie Walker’ – cue much jokes about whisky – the name Dorothy has known him by. He’s recognised by anothe Etaples Mutineer, Tommy Turner, now a racketeer with a petrol scam. Percy joins the business as its front man, its negotiator. Unfortunately for him, he’s dogged by Harry Fallows (Aran Bell), too young for the actual war, a naive, talkative, hero-worshipping idiot. You know he’s a disaster in human form, a stupid bomb waiting to go off. When the taxi driver representative Sydney Spencer (Jim Carter) weasels down the price by threatening to dob them in to the cops, Harry puts a gun to the back of Spencer’s head. Then the stupid git shoots him. With realistic effects that he is completely unprepared for.

And naturally he shops Percy to the Police as the killer, the utter scrote. So begins the endgame. Percy goes on the run, despite Dorothy’s loyalty, to save her from her association with him. He’s chased all over the country, to Scotland and back. He gets wilder and wilder, more violent and threatening. On a lonely country road in Cumberland, on a Sunday afternoon, he is cornered, and shot dead.

There’s a final touch of Establishment cruelty. Percy’s funeral is secret, not even his family allowed to attend, they diverted by a disgusting trick. Only the minister insists of a proper service, pointing out that at his death Percy Toplis had been connvicted of no capital crimes and thus the only judgement he has to face is not here on Earth.

So it ended. I’m reminded of another line from another comic, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s superlative From Hell, the exploration of the myth of Jack the Ripper. I made it up and it all came true anyway. It’s pretty clear that there’s not that much of absolute truth in The Monocled Mutineer. The Etaples Mutiny remains one of the biggest mysteries in British Military history. All records have been destroyed, the series was attacked as unBritish, unpatriotic, as all such things will be. Alan Bleasedale has had to make an awful lot of it up. He never pretended it was anything but a fictional drama. I made it up and it all came true anyway.

Because even if none of it happened the way it was shown, I believe it all to be true. I believe in the underlying truth of everything in the series. I believe this because I have read histories of the period, because I have read writings by J.B. Priestley about that era. I believe because of my entire life and the things I believe in. The Monocled Mutineer was written as a condemnation, and it is a condemnation. And I stand by what it says.

Danger Man: s02 e21 – The Mirror’s New


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My enjoyment of this latest episode of Danger Man – the penultimate episode of the second series – was marred to some extent by the poor quality of the print used for the DVD, which was overly dark and dingy. This was a shame, because this was an intriguing story, with some intelligent use of misdirection and an ending with a twist that took the whole show in an unexpected direction.

Structurally, the story was not a whodunnit but a whydunnit. Two men are having a drink in an opulent French apartment. One wants his money: he was a slight East European accent and a nervous, impatient manner. The other man, florid, wearing a smoking jacket, sprawled on a big bed raised on a dais behind a open arch, the kind of bed on which you can only sprawl, with a confident manner is, unexpectedly, English. One glance is enough to tell you that this is a seducer’s flat.

The Englishman is not here to seduce the other man, far from it. There is mention of papers, Ravel’s Bolero is playing in the background, it’s tempo and loudness increasing. The other man wants it switched off. The Englishman taunts him, asking if the music is too ‘decadent’. He’s going to shoot the other man and drop the body in the Seine. He provokes the East European into running for the door and kills him. Going outside to his car, he places something in the boot. He’s being watched by two young men in identical coats, wool polo neck sweaters and eye-concealing dark glasses. Returning to the flat, the Englishman slips on the stairs, cracks his head and falls unconscious until morning. His plans will have to be changed.

It’s an intriguing set-up: who are these people, why did one man kill the other? Enter John Drake, several minutes into the programme, arriving at the British Embassy in Paris. A diplomat, Edmund Bierce, a fine patriot, a decorated War hero, has gone missing with an important report. He should have been in Bonn, on a regular meeting with his German counterpart there. No-one, least of all his wife, knows where he is. Drake has to find him.

He presses Virginia Bierce (Mary Yeomans) so hard on their personal life that she cracks and slaps him across the face, but she does admit her husband has a weakness, for playing cards: poker, gambling. Strangely enough, the man to whom she sends Drake for collaboration, denies Bierce gambles at all.

This doesn’t seem to matter as suddenly Bierce turns up at the Embassy, large as life and twice as natural. As we expect, he’s the killer from the open. What’s more, he doesn’t seem to think anything’s wrong. He’s due in Bonn to take the Report. But that was yesterday. Edmund Bierce has taken a blow to the head and has lost twenty-four hours to amnesia.

Or has he?

Drake hangs around even though, as far as Bierce is concerned, he’s returned to London. He follows Bierce to Bonn, sees him slick down his hair, change his clothing and arrive at an apartment where he stays the night. In the morning, Drake poses as an encyclopaedia salesman to get into the flat, where lives Penny (Wanda Ventham playing a bubbly blonde kept woman, simultaneously naive and mercenary). Penny is Bierce’s mistress in Bonn. Or rather she’s ‘Nigel White’s mistress.

Back in Paris, Drake trails Bierce further and discovers his seducer’s apartment. The two men in dark glasses are watching but they don’t interfere. One who does is Nicole. This was Nicole Padgett’s first television appearance of substance and she’s a delight, a bubbly chic beauty with shoulder-length black hair, brainless yet perceptive about Drake. She notices a plastic, full-length mirror. She points out that it’s new. Drake has to carry her out.

Nicole’s an oddity. She doesn’t relate to the story, she comes and goes mercurially, and when Bierce admits his weakness for ‘the ladies’, he doesn’t even mention her, nor does Drake. She’s there for her own sake, like Andy Newman’s piano solo in ‘Something in the Air’, a taste of Paris, a lovely ditzy stereotype. But she’s provided a clue.

Or rather a second clue. Drake’s already found out a name and an address: Dupoirier. Dupoirier is a money lender. He’s not at his office but the two men in dark glasses are and Drake is beaten and tortured (in untranslated French) for his connection to Bierce.

You see, whilst Dupoirier was indeed an agent for the ‘Opposition’, Bierce’s connection with him was purely mercenary. Running mistresses in two different capitols is an expensive business. Penny may be lovely (Wanda Ventham certainly was) but she’s high maintenance. It’s not about spying or anything like that. It’s about a man who found life exciting during the War, when he needed all his wits about him, who found ordinary life, the diplomatic life, constricting and cool and who, in Paris, learned how to live again, his senses once again supercharged. He’s going to kill Drake the same way he did Dupoirier. Drake’s cut three notches in the new mirror and found Dupoirier’s body behind it. Exactly the same, the Bolero playing at its loudest for cover. He can’t get away with it. But he can get a few more days of Life, and feed his addiction to it a little longer.

But Drake recognises that Bierce can’t kill a sitting duck, he needs the adrenaline. As the Bolero flares, Drake drags the plug out of its socket with his foot. Bierce is thrown, by the sudden cessation of the music, by Drake treating his to a judo throw. Bierce breaks, runs for it, up the steps outside. The two men in dark glasses are waiting. They shoot him. With his last breath, Bierce asks Drake not to tell his wife about the ladies…

What impressed me most about this episode was, as I said above, the misdirection. We start with a murder, we are left wondering what it’s all about. For over two-thirds of the episode, we’re induced to ask ourselves what does this add up to, with the nature of the series and Bierce’s status pointing to an espionage aspect, before the shor reveals its hand and the motive turns out to be completely anti-political. It’s all about human weakness, the triviality of all our days. About the composed, restricted life of a true, repressed Englishman suddenly exploding when shown something more colourful, like sex with younger, decidedly beautiful women. In short, what would have been called, in 1965, a sordid little affair.

It’s a neat reversal.

It was a shame about the print, especially as I would definitely have wished to see both Mesdamoiselles Ventham and Padgett is a clearer light, but the show rose about such minor details.

And then there was one.

Sunday Watch: The Office – s01 e01&02 – Downsize/Work Experience


Where do I start?

It’s twenty years since Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant brought The Office into the world and I, like millions of others, watched it with my mouth hanging open in an unpredictable mixture of shock, embarrassment and horrified laughter. I was instantly convinced that I was in the presence of greatness, that just as everyone regarded Fawlty Towers with awe as one of the greatest comedies of our times, so too would The Office be seen as one of the undisturbable greats. Given the way Ricky Gervais has conducted his career since, it’s not quite worked out like that, but you should always be ready to draw a line between the work and the creator, and The Office is still a work of genius. Not just because of Gervais and Merchant, but because of everybody, to the least important background figure: sometimes people just get it right.

When it comes to sitcoms on a Sunday morning, my usual aim is three episodes at a go. The Office is so intense that that’s just not on. When the series has your toes curling and your eyes fervently wishing to look somewhere else after the opening scene, you can’t manage more than two at a time.

As everyone ought to already know, the show takes the form of a mockumentary. It’s supposed to be a BBC documentary, a fly-on-the-wall look at life in a medium-sized office. The company is Wernham Hogg, the branch is situated on the Slough Trading Estate, the company manufactures and sells paper, and the theme music was the inspired resurrection of Mike d’Abo’s unforgivably overlooked Sixties song, ‘Handbags and Gladrags’.

The form is followed immaculately. We simply watch the men and women of Slough Branch going about their daily business, intercut with headshot interviews in which they explain themselves. Four figures stand out. In ascending order these are the receptionist, Dawn Tinsley, played by Lucy Davis, Sales rep Tim Martin, a first starring role for Martin Freeman, team leader Gareth Keenan, a similar debut for MacKenzie Crook, and Branch Manager David Brent, Ricky Gervais himself.

David Brent is one of those utterly perfect creations. Basil Fawlty is an obvious example. So too is Alf Garnett. We believe in them completely, no matter how little we want to. They are monsters, monsters from whom we would run, as far and fast as our little legs can carry us if we met them in real life but whom, safe by means of the glass screen between us and them, we watch. Ricky Gervais was born to be David Brent. After twenty years I’m still not sure if that really is a compliment.

The first series introduced its underlying theme, its narrative purpose, quite quickly. Jennifer Taylor-Clark (the lovely, dark-haired Stirling Gallagher) drops in from Head Office for a meeting for which Brent has conspicuously failed to prepare. The company can no longer justify keeping open branches in Slough and Swindon. One will have to take over the other. There will be redundancies. Brent here, and Neil at Swindon, are effectively thrown into competition to see which branch will live to absorb the other.

We already know which manager will be best, even though we haven’t met Neil, and won’t in series 1. It’s enough to see David Brent to know all we need to know. We don’t even need to get to episode 2, in which he lies to Jennifer about firing a non-existent worker, can’t bring himself to apologise for a wholly unjustified accusation made against Tim and pretends to fire his best mate, Finchy, over the phone by dialling the Speaking Clock. We don’t even need to get to episode 1’s hideous final scene when, to impress new temp Ricky Howard (Oliver Chris) with a practical joke, he ‘fires’ Dawn for stealing (post-it notes, of all things). We only need the opening scene to paint a picture of a monster, an empty, hollow man, with qualities or abilities, without the ability to understand a single thing about other people, desperate to stand out because he is a total absence, determined to come over as fun, clever, with-it, intelligent, cool, popular but revealing in every word his complete inaptnress for everything.

David Brent is pathetic. And a monster. He is horrifically embarrassing. You laugh at him in nervousness, you cannot believe what he says and does and you wait in terror for what he will say and do next because you know that whatever it is it will be worse, that it will dig ever deeper the pit into which he has not so much fallen as flung himself into, dioing a triple-salko on the way down, under the impression that he is rising skyward as a beacon in the darkness.

Of course you can’t make David Brent the sole focus of a sitcom: the paper on which the script is printed out would start to crisp at the edges and burn is shame before anyone could read a line. You have to build a world round him and that world has to be simultaneously the absurd exaggeration Brent is and recognisable and realistic. Brent is a real figure, we’ve all met David Brents, he’s just an overload of all their characteristics and no relieving factors. But by making his environment mundane and straightforward, carefully measuring the degrees by which its characters mix eccentricity with human dimensions, Brent is anchored and thus more convincing.

There’s Gareth. Gareth is Brent junior in that he’s equally detached from reality, and convinced of a superiority over those around him that is laughable as the aims at glory that mark his little life. With his pudding bowl haircut, his semi-whining pretence at authority, his complete lack of any sense of humour, Gareth is in his way a monster, except that he will never possess the capacity to harm anyone.

Besides, he has to sit next to Tim. Tim is, of all things, sane. Or as sane as anyone can be, working under Brent and alongside Gareth, whose ‘authority’ he refuses to acknowledge exists in the same Universe. In his own way, Tim is every bit as off balance as anyone else but that’s because he’s been driven to it by the combination of his boredom with his job, his lack of drive to find anything better and the need to torment Gareth that stems from just knowing him. His habit of putting Gareth’s stapler into a jelly is a magnificantly surreal touch.

And then there’s Dawn. Dawn has the dificult role, the straight role. Dawn’s underworked. She clearly hasn’t been at Wernham Hogg anything like long enough to go mental in any way. She expects the office to function like an office, and Brent to function like a manager and tends to wander round with this look of disappointment and disbelief in her eyes at the way it and they don’t. Dawn’s at her best when she’s flirting with Tim, in the most mild manner there can be. You see,

And then there’s Dawn. Dawn has the dificult role, the straight role. Dawn’s underworked. She clearly hasn’t been at Wernham Hogg anything like long enough to go mental in any way. She expects the office to function like an office, and Brent to function like a manager and tends to wander round with this look of disappointment and disbelief in her eyes at the way it and they don’t. Dawn’s at her best when she’s flirting with Tim, in the most mild manner there can be. You see, Dawn’s engaged, to Lee in the warehouse. Lee’s a monster in his own right, we will see in later episodes, but he’s a much more real monster, not an eccentric.

Tim likes Dawn and is attracted to her. Dawn likes Tim, enjoys his gentle company. There’s more to it than that, but not yet in this first two episodes. But without words, indeed inarticulately in an episode 2 scene where Lee is waiting for Dawn, Martin Freeman nails it by his inability to thoink of anything to say to Lee. Tim’s in love. Tin’s a loser. And Martin Freeman is for my money the most real actor I’ve seen in the last twenty years. He is solid and believable no matter who or what he is. And that started here, as Tim. There’s a scene, not in either of today’s episodes but much later, where he is so believable that he will become me in a moment of recognition.

But that’s not for today. I’ll be back at Wernham Hogg from time to time. David Brent will be waiting, a monster preserved in aspic. A bit like Gareth’s stapler, really.

The Monocled Mutineer: e03 – When the Hurly-Burly’s Done


mm

Continuing my comments about structure from last week, whilst I enjoyed the third episode of Alan Bleasedale’s adaptation, I found the episode to be poorly assembled, blurring its own focus.

To repeat my points, episode 1 was about setting up Percy Toplis and episode 2 about setting up the Etaples Mutiny. Episode 3, therefore, should have been about the prolongation of the Mutiny and its ultimate outcome, showing Percy getting involved in the negotiations over the mutineers’ goals and establishing him as a ringleader wanted for reprisals by the military and the Government, with episode 4 concentrating upon the aftermath. About three-quarters of episode 3 was about Etaples, but Bleasedale started early on Toplis’s post-War life and established Secret Service Agent Woodhall (Philip McGough) as his implacable pursuer.

By mingling the two phases in one episode, Bleasedale unfortunately diffused the effect of his primary subject.

We picked up things in the immediate aftermath of the riot/rebellion. The mutineers are enjoying their new-found freedom for what it is, but only a few of them have the sense to realise that this is and can only be temporary. The Army, as represented on the ground by General Thomson (Timothy West, still splendid), are rigid in their defiance: Jack is not, cannot be and never will be as good as his master. Bring in the cavalry, that’s all that’s wanted, regular troops, horses. cold steel will drive the rabble back to their duties under Thomson’s complete contempt.

But though we all know that ‘Order’ will be restored, and the Training Camp will return to normal, and more vicious than before, the mere fact of the Mutiny has changed things irrevocably. Thomson is finished, He’s drinking more, and more often, desperate to try to keep things under control and low-key. There’s a maudlin scene with his Executive Officer, Guiness (Anthony Calf, later of New Tricks) where he explains about once being liberal and ghenerous in his attitude to Officer Cadets, only to berated publicly in front of them, their families and friends, by Sir John French, and transferred almost immediately. This is meant to explain his rigid attitude to us, and I think to make him sympathetic, but in the first instance I found it too ,mechanical and in the second a flop. Thomson is rigid until the last second but is forced, by manipulation, to sign his agreement to the Mutineers’ demands, finishing his career completely, only to learn that, my mere minutes (and the uncooperative Guiness’s refusal to chase after him with a message) that he need not have conceded at all.

Thomson’s the only major holdover from last week’s Establishment trinity. Strachan has been broken completely. We get one scene of him holed up, scared, under his MP’s guard, eating and drinking and obviously uncaring: he transfers out offstage, at his own request. And Lady Angela Forbes is sent home from France, without a chance to say goodbye, just like that. She is the balance: Strachan has gone so a piece of equal size and weight must also be removed from the board as a face-saver, whether she be his equivalent or not.

But what of Percy Toplis in all this? He’s wearing the uniform of a Gordon Highlander, enjoying the mayhem, his usual ‘it’s all bollocks’ self. Percy’s gift, or more likely curse for his time and place, is that he’s much too smart. He knows it’s going nowhere. He knows the Mutineers have no real idea about tactics or strategy so, out of sheer devilment, and the love of stiring things up, the fun of manipulation, he starts advising the lads on what to do and how to handle things. He brings Thomson to the negotiating table, he advises everyone to cover their faces, to avoid reprisals, and he’s the one, when Thomson expresses his contempt of the men as cowards, who pulls down his scarf to show his face.

Which shows more devilry than good sense. Percy becomes a marked man. Why should he worry? He can disappear into being an officer any time he wants. But Woodhall is tracking him down and arrests him, only for Percy to escape from the Glasshouse and eventually to England.

Which is where the episode loses concentration. We jump to Derbyshire in 1918, the month before the Armistice. Percy transforms into an officer again to pick up an attractive woman whose car has broken down. She is Dorothy, a War widow who lives in a big house but who has secrets in her past (probably that she’s flat broke). As ‘Johnny’. Percy seduces her which, as she’s the sweet and lovely Cherie Lunghi, is far from being a hardship. The two have started a relationship, but Woodhall is not far behind…

The freeze-frame is here a bit melodramatic, but it ewill all play out in the final episode, next week.

It’s still a lot of bolloclks and generally, though the standard of performances is high – one of Percy’s mates, Franny, is being played by Jerome Flynn, and I don’t even turn my nose up at him – and I’m biassed in Bleasedale’s favour, now that historical information about the real Percy Toplis, pictured above, and the competing claims about the Etaples Mutiny are freely available, the series loses a lot of credibility over how it plays fast and loose with the facts. Percy himself has been glossed over and made sympathetic beyond his real characteristics and whilst the series as a whole is thematically and dramatically ‘true’, it’s basing in an actual incident that has been so luridly treated dimishes it. Based on a true story? Let Percy Toplis tell you about that.

Danger Man: s02 e20 – Have a Glass of Wine


danger

After an intriguing open featuring the passing of a sealed parcel in a launderette to a beautiful but nervous brunette, followed by our friendly agent, John Drake, to Burgundy, the title of ‘Have a Glass of Wine’ immediately became explicable. Indeed, it became a meme, trotted out several times throughout the course of an episode that saw Drake acting alone for the most of it, in the face of opposition from three comprehensive sides.

After a typical ingenious start, I found myself unmoved for most of this episode. Normally I’d enjoy an episode that throws a lot of angles at us, characters clearly intended to be part of the plot, challenging us to work out their relevance to the story, but not on this occasion. The ingredients failed to properly gel and even the presence of no less than three attractive guest stars could not quite hold things together.

The package collected by the nervous girl, Kathleen Martin, played by Kathleen Breck, later of The Prisoner, contains defence secrets stolen from an aerospace factory. She’s being blackmailed over compromising pictures to act as courier, the handover to be conducted by a clandestine exchange of handbags. Drake confronts her in her hotel bedroom – don’t worry, she’s wearing resolutely untransparent pajamas, properly passion-killing – and gets the story out of her. He’s seen leaving her room, late at night, which will be significant.

At this point we’ve already been pointed in the direction of two other characters. One, who pushes himself into your face and is enjoyably voluable, fanatical about the region’s wine and generally OTT, is M. Lamaze, ostensibly a wine dealer. He’s being played by Warren Mitchell so we know he’s going to be significant: indeed, he is the spider at the centre of the web, gathering information via a system of shifting cut-offs and passing these on to The Other Side.

The other is an attractive looking dark-blonde schoolmistress, Suzanne, played by Ann Lynn, who in four years time would play Amy, the mother seduced by 15 year old Linda Hayden in the infamous film, Baby Love. Suzanne is also obviously not what she seems but we have to wait to see what she is.

Drake, once again using his own name, is there to watch the exchange, carried out by an attractive woman on a bicycle (this one, Annette, is played by Sarah Brackett, an American actress who only gets one line, delivered with a French accent). Drake steals another bicycle to pursue her, both pedalling furiously down country lanes, but is ultimately conned and loses her. She will return however, as Lamaze’s housekeeper.

This is where things should turn exciting, the setting-up done. Drake returns to the hotel to confront Kathleen but finds her dead. He’s just extracting the $500 fee from the handbag when the maid enters and screams. Next thing is that he’s arrested, handcuffed and the Police are confident that he’s heading for Guillotine Row. Over-confident, in fact. Drake escapes, runs to Lamaze as the only possible friend who would allow him to telephone London, have him vouched for. But that’s where Annette comes in with the grub, shortly followed by les flics: Lamaze has sold him out.

Once again, Drake’s too clever for them, but this running and fighting is beginning to feel like needless action, a substitute for moving the story along. Enter the mysterious Suzanne, picking him up, taking him to her cottage, cooking a ham omelette, and revealing herself as the only possible person she could now be, namely Drake’s French equivalent, a Secret Service agent.

I expected Drake to confess his own standing and the pair to work together henceforth, but the episode wasn’t going there. As has so often been the condition of things. Drake wants Lamaze back in Britain, all the stolen secrets still virgo intacta and a complete list of his Network. The lovely Suzanne, who thinks Drake is working for Lamaze, wants Lamaze to stay in business, keep operating, only feeding the secrets to his adopted country instead of his state of origin. In the face of Gaston and Rene, two old Algeria hands with a skilled line in breaking people, Drake plays along, swiftly adapting poor Kathleen’s story to himself. But now he’s got absolutely everybody against him, the Police, Lamaze, the French Secret Service. How’s he going to get out of that?

The answer is by a very weak, and cheap writing contrivance. Drake’s back at the Police headquarters except they’re all bonhomie and have a glass of wine, like everyone else. He’s free to go. He’s not a murderer. Without explanation, someone (alright, it’s Lamaze’s gardener) has confessed to killing Kathleen. It removes one plank, leaving Drake freedom of manoeuvre, and one enemy, since the locquacious Lamaze and the fanatical Suzanne are united in their glee at putting one over on the British. He’s being flown to Paris. But not if John Drake’s in the pilot’s seat…

It’s a bit of aquick ending, though not quite as quick as I’ve made it seem. Drake doesn’t just magically appear in the pilot’s seat, he has Rene and Gaston to decommission first, not to mention stealing Suzanne’s tapes of her conversations with Lamaze, which will no doubt feature in Anglo-French relations in the near future. But it is a bit of a magical ending.

No, overall, though the ingredients were there to be enjoyed, and Kathleen Breck was indeed beautiful, the episode didn’t quite cohere and the result was below the series’ usual high standards. Still, it did contain a laugh-out-loud line from Lamaze, proposing to dope the Frenchies by adding a narcotic to their drink. Mitchell sighed with regret that it was a shame to adulterate a good Burgundy. Why not use a poor one, Drake suggested. There is no poor Burgundy, Mitchell retorted. With loving pride.

Sunday Watch: My World – And Welcome to It – e04-06


My World

It’s long overdue a return to the world of James Thurber’s humour as dramatised in the short-lived 1969/70 sitcom My World… And Welcome to It, starring William Windom as cartoonist John Monroe. For those unfamiliar with the series, which lsasted only one season but deserved much more, the show was a three-hander, the cast being completed by Joan Hotchkis as Monroe’s sensible wife, Ellen, and the wonderful Lisa Gerritsen as his ten-year-old daughter Lydia, an almost completely serious little girl who’s never ever going to understand how a father can be so imaginative.

Each episode is a mixture of live action, during which Windom spends a lot of time talking directly to the audience, and animation from the dePatie-Grelreng studio, in the style of Thurber’s rounded cartoon figures, who are Monroe’s version of reality coming to life around him.

The series was an excuse to mine Thurber for cartoons and stories, and even though the humour is very much that of the Forties, it has an essential core of absurdity that makes it ring completely true not just in the era in which the show was being made but, for at least one member of the audience, the radically dfferent times of fifty plus years on from then.

The first of this tryptich of episodes was entitled ‘Christabel’. Though it had its funny moments, the main impulse of the episode was more to the dramatic, with a heavy dose of the sentimental dolloped on top in a way I’d normally reject. Lydia wants a puppy, a free puppy from her friend Charles’s dog’s litter. Her mother’s in favour but it’s all down to Monroe’s say-so, he being the head of the family, and he says so. Partly because there’s no such thing as a free puppy, the only free bit being the acquisition, partly because they’ve already got two dogs, even if one of them is actually pretty durned old, and partly because he has had experience, when young, of a dog that kept biting him.

As a result, neither Ellen nor Lydia are speaking to him except to tell him they’re not speaking to him.

But Christabel the poodle, the old dog, keeps having to be rushed to the vets. Mingled into this is an argument about whether human eyes gleam in the dark the way animals do and an attempt to demonstrate that they do not which draws in a traffic cop and, ultimately, Christabel’s death. Lydia takes it hard, and holds it against her Dad for not caring but there’s a Thurber piece about the dog’s dignified end that Monroe ‘writes’ that delivers all the sentimentality you could wish for to restore Lydia’s faith. Which is aided by the scrap of black and white fur puppy peeking out of Dad’s sports jacket pocket.

On the other hand, ‘The Night the House Caught Fire’ just didn’t work for me. It started off with Lydia in bed, suffering from a cold, being fed cough medicine and a story by her father, the classic Thurber short tale about the husband who told his wife there was a Unicorn with a golden horn eating the roses in their garden that results in the wife being taken away to the booby hatch. When Lydia doesn’t get that, and I’m not sure I understand the supposed moral myself, he then tells the title story, going back a generation to her great-great grandfather Skinner, the Civil War veteran, staying with John’s family (Windom and Hotchkis playing his parents) whilst his attendant is on vacation.

Granddad Skinner comes over as a nutcase, still fighting the Civil War, telling stories that delight young John, though these turn out to be lies, lies to make him seem more colourful in his old age, and perhaps attract attention from some of his family, to alleviate his loneliness at being the survivor of so many. It didn’t really gel for me, nor was I in t une with another sweet and sentimental ending, as Lydia tells her father she can see a Unicorn, with a golden horn, in their garden, eating the flowers…

Last for this weekend was ‘The Ghost and Mr. Monroe’, a title that was a play on the once-famous play and film about a young widow and the ghost of a sea captain. The story was soun out of a wonderful Thurber cartoon about two hippopotami face to face , one of whom is telling the other that she looks wonderful since she’s lost all that weight. It’s a great cartoon, but Monroe’s editor at The Manhattanite, where he works, Hamilton Greeley (played by Harold J. Stone), rejects it because Monroe can’t tell him which hoppopotamus is speaking.

Monroe quits and goes home, confident in the knowledge that Ellen, fearful of hers and Lydia’s security, will talk him into going and asking for his job back. Except that she supports him… Which then spins into a fantasy about getting financial asvice from a J.P. Morgan who’s losing his shirt. Until Monroe gets so deep in his own imagination that when Greeley turns up to beg him to come back, Monroe thinks he’s fantasising it, and is very happy with his daydream!

Three little unspectacular, silly little exercises, inconsequential in themselves. Something to smile about on an easy, lazy morning.