Rumpole of the Bailey: s01 e05 – Rumpole and the Learned Friends


Though I have already started to have a very different appreciation of Horace Rumpole, Old Bailey Hack, as a character, even before the first series is over, episode 5 persuaded me that at this stage the series is a very strong contender. At first, I thought this week’s case was going to be a middling, not-very-interesting crime – a Post Office safe blowing – in respect of which I’d remembered the twist immediately, but I was to be so dismissive. Let’s look at why.

We are now making haste very slowly to the contemporary period, this episode being set in 1976 (though, frankly, the date is completely irrelevant except for the fact that Miss Phyllida Trant is developing into a very interesting and independent character, learning all the right things from her Learned Friend in Chambers, whilst permitting the intentions of that long streak of piss, Claude Erskine-Brown).

Anyway: Rumpole’s at home in bed with the flu and considering dying until he is summoned into Chambers on a brief to represent professional safe-breaker Charlie Wheeler (Ken Jones, largely suppressing his characteristic Liverpool accent as needs must for a Dartford villain). It appears that Wheeler’s guilt is pinned to the wall by his fingerprints being found on a small lump of gelignite left behind at the scene of the crime. This arouses Rumpole’s enthusiasm – what professional safecracker would do something like that? – which is promptly dispelled by discovering that he is not leading the case but will be acting as Junior to a Silk, i.e., Guthrie Featherstone, QC, MP, struggling to conceal his distaste for the sordidness of the matter, his client and prepared already to concede an open-and-shut case. And he’s the Defending Counsel.

Rumpole, naturally, disagrees. ‘Never Plead Guilty’ is his watchword. Featherstone clearly thinks all this is beneath him, but Rumpole is always alive to the fact that this is a human being, facing the prospect of a minimum eight year stretch in Brixton. Rumpole naturally gravitates to a fight, yes, largely because he enjoys the scrap, but also because he believes that if a person’s liberty, life, reputation is to be taken away, it should only be done in the most certain of conditions. Featherstone is hardly untypical of Barristers, seeing the client as unimportant on every level, and not eager to break a sweat to defend someone who is likely to be guilty, if not of this crime, then of another one.

That’s a vital element of the episode. As I said, I recognised the twist immediately. Charlie Wheeler’s dabs get on the jelly because a crooked copper, Detective Inspector ‘Dirty’ Dickerson (Malcolm Storry) got him to shake hands in the dark of 2.00am at Dartford Nick. Charlie’s been fitted up because he doesn’t pay regular sweeteners to Dickerson. All this Rumpole gleans on his own: Featherstone has been insistent from the outset that the one thing they mustn’t do is attack the Police, especially not before this Judge (Bill Fraser, who I can never ever think of without remembering his as Snudge alongside Alfie Bass in Bootsie and Snudge, making his first appearance as the violently prejudiced Judge Roger ‘The Mad Bull’ Bullingham), who will increase the sentence out of spite for attacking the coppers.

So things come to pass. A journalist, Kim Philbeam (name chosen to echo that of Philby and McLean, notorious defectors?) alerts Rumpole to Dickerson’s habits but cannot produce the vital witness in time. With Featherstone laid up with his flu, Rumpole takes the case over and mounts the attack, on the instructions of his client who, in an egregious breach of protocol, he has seen on his own, without the Solicitor present. This is protocol, of which Horace is no respecter, and there’s also a bloody good reason for it because, when Rumpole attacks Dickerson in the witness box, without supporting evidence, The Mad Bull lifts Wheeler’s sentence to twelve years and he claims Rumpole was acting against his instructions. And Rumpole has no supporting evidence to refute that.

So far as the case in concerned, that all comes out in the wash. Philbeam produces the witness, however belatedly, who does pay Dickerson, and wears a wire to collect Dickerson admitting fitting up Charlie. All becomes well, Rumpole is vindicated, Charlie will be released, his conviction unsafe (that is me, not the programme, but there’s no other course).

In the meantime though, the episode focussed on Rumpole under threat of the Senate of the Bar, judging his case, defended by Featherstone the mitigator. His whole life, which has been dedicated to the Law, is under threat. He could be disbarred. Even if he is mnerely suspended, he intends to retire. The Bar has tried and convicted him before hearing the evidence, which is emblematic of the attitude towards crime shown throughout the episode. Without the least histrionics from anyone except Rumpole, the episode is a savage and thorough denouncement of the Law, especially in the form of the acidly prejuduiced Bullingham, doing his best to convict his Defendant and hinder the Defence.

Rumpole muses on the life he’s led, and the prospect of peace and quiet in the country, growing a market garden. In keeeping wth the comments I’ve made over the past two weeks, he muses about the roles he’s played, and who or what he really is underneath the Barrister’s equivalent of the motley and the greasepaint. Will he now have the chance to find out? In this hour of doubt, the only one to back him, truly back him, is not his best friend George Frobisher, is not his wife of thirty-odd years, but Miss Trant, who tells him: Never Plead Guilty.

Yes, despite my initial doubts, an excellent episode. This really was, for all its flaws I’ve touched upon, a very good series, rather darker and more serious – and melancholy – than our memories tell us it was. A salutory reminder.


Wednesday Morning Sitcom Time: Extras s02 e01-03 – Orlando Bloom/David Bowie/Daniel Radcliffe


The majority of people, myself included, rate The Office above Extras, which suffered from being the how-do-you-follow-that? show. Ricky Gervais hit comedy gold. Even as it was going out I was saying that it would turn out to be the Fawlty Towers of its generation, and I’m not usually all that right about things like that. just by not coming first, Extras was doomed to stand forever in the shadow of its illustrious predecessor.

After re-watching the first half of the second series, I’m not saying that I’ve changed my mind, but in some ways Extras outdoes The Office, outdoes it in being cringingly, hideously embarrassing, outdoes it in its unconcealed savagery, outdoes it in having sheer poison in its veins. I laughed and laughed and laughed, but I also want to scream, I wanted to put my hands over my eyes and my ears, I wanted to beg them to stop, please, no more. I wanted to look away.

The theme of the show has changed dramatically for the second series. It is a series, with a story from start to finish. It was a real shame that time did not permit me to simply watch the whole series, but I suspect that six episodes would have been way too much and I would have been fit for nothing after it.

The series picks up from the end of the previous series. Andy Millman has got his sitcom commissioned but along the way the BBC’s ‘suggestions’ have perverted it out of his recognition, turning it into a ‘broad-based’ comedy, i.e., a shit one, full of stupid caricatures, horrible cliches, racism, homophobia, catch-pgrases, funny voices, in short Gervais and Stephen Merchant have done an incredible job of encapsulating the history of shitty stupid British sitcoms into sample scenes that would drive you from the room if you had to endure a full half hour of it. Jesus, it out-Chappel’s Eric Chappel, and if you emember his Yorkshite TV sitcoms, you will know what i mean by that.

Essentially, Gervais and Merchant are deep into metafiction and self-referentiality. ‘When the Whistle Blows’ is The Office except that it’s what The Office could have been if the pair hadn’t held out against all the conservative, cowardly attempts to conventionalise it, standardise it, be what had always been funny until twenty years earlier but they haven’t noticed. ‘When the Whistle Blows’ is the Earth-2 version of The Office, except it’s actually the Earth-3 version, the world where history was similar but opposite.

And the series creates its own warning about what it might have been like for Gervais. Because Andy Millman is not Ricky Gervais. He’s stupid, ambitious, self-centred and ultimately he betrays himself by giving in, by placing fame, popularity and money about vision and integrity. In the first episode, we’re up to final rehearsals and the show is nothing like Andy’s intentions and aspirations. He hates it, he’s ashamed of it, but when the choice comes his big words about rather walking away and pulling the plug, and shafting himself from the BBC forever don’t last long enough: he’ll put on the comedy glasses, the funny wig, the stupid voice. He’ll seal his fate. Even so early on, we realise that Andy is surrendering all control over his own destiny.

(Orlando Bloom? He’s in Maggie’s separate part of the story, starring in a film for which he plays a Barrister – in a scene that again perfectly encapsulates how ignorant film-makers are of British courts. Maggie’s a member of the Jury. Bloom is up himself, sexiest star in the world, much better than johnny Depp. Maggie’s not interested, meaning he’s doing his best to try to get her to want him which she resolutely doesn’t. I don’t know if he was like that in real life, though rumours I heard suggested that he didn’t need to dig that deep to play the part that way: either way, he was ery generous to send himself up like that. The episode also brought back Keith Chegwin, who was equally generous, letting himself be written as a not-very-closeted racist and homophobe. Grisly to the max.)

By the second episode the sitcom was on the air. Commercially, it was a hit, 6.2 million viewers, which depressed Andy considerably. On the other hand, all the reviews were savagely annd justifiably negative, which depressed him alost as much. The episode played out Andy’s response to becoming a public figure, which was, to say the least, problematic. He and Maggie go for a drink in a pub where a shallow, stupid, unbearable fan recognised him and, having started as the kind of nuisance you would hastily avoid, rapidly escalated from there into an argument for euthanasia.

Andy and Maggie run away, to a celebrity club where, having been admitted to the VIP section, they’re slung out after thirty seconds by the arrival of David Bowie (his final TV appearance). Having discovered that his bad press has followed him, Andy bribes his way back inside the velvet rope, talks with Bowie for a couple of moments, being self-deprecatingly faux-modeste and – a classic scene – is rewarded by Bowie spinning round to a keyboard and composing on the spot a song that takes the right rotten piss out of Andy, until the whole clientele join in. It’s staggeringly good.

So Andy and Maggie end up back at the same pub, where the drooling fan has all his mates with him, including one who’s an even bigger wingnut than him, the kind of guy you wouldn’t just cross the street to avoid, but cross half the city. It’s one of those moments whose elements are so firmly mixed that you could not untangle them in a thousand years, as Andy basks in their worship of him, the genuine but utterly misguided worship of the inept, and Maggie looks on in horror.

The third episode is even… more. The Press are now out to tear Andy down, inflating an awkward, unedifying but mistaken moment into something misreported, inflated, altogether vile. I can’t begin to go into details about it, because I might start to gibber. Meanwhile, Andy’s got two lines in a pseudo-Harry Potter film that also features Warwick Davis and the great and glorious Diana Rigg, who delivers the best line of the series so far and it’s not even an overtly funny one, it’s just, well, perfect.

In fact, I can’t even begin to summarise this episode because there is just too much in it, too much hideousness, too much wanting not to hear what you’ve just heard or what’s going to follow on from it. Radcliffe sends himself up beautifully (Ashley Jensen did well these episodes, being kissed by both Orlando Bloom and Daniel Radcliffe).

Yes, stopping there was probably wise, I’m not sure I could have stood even one more episode of that intensity. At least I’ve now got four weeks in which to recover. And yes, I do still think The Office was better, not merely because it was first, but because it was what ‘When the Whistle Blows’ was tricked out of being: grounded, real, solid. Extras takes the shape of that humour into the fantastic, and its use of its guest stars, though funny, is further emphasis on this not being real. It’s bloody good, though.

Stargirl: s01 e04 – Wildcat


Overall, this was a middling episode. The show is moving forward slowly, developing its world, which makes good sense, but at this early point, overall episode 4 moves far too slowly, and indeed slows the overall story down without ultimately giving us enough in terms of forward motion to justify itself.

Essentially, the episode – written by James Dale Robinson, aka James Robinson of the Starman comic – consisted of three strands of differing weight, by far the dominant of which was finally bringing second lead Yvette Monreal fully onstage. Thus far, Yolanda Montez has just drifted around, sullen, surly, resistant to all approaches, confined to the losers’ table like Courtney Whitmore and Beth Chapel. Now we get her back story. This is a flashback to three months ago when Yolanda is smiling, pretty, outgoing, popular, running strongly for the Student’s Council. She has a boyfriend in Henry King Jr. The night before the Election he teases her into texting him a sexy picture, topless. The next day, Cindy, Little Miss Congeniality, texts it all round the school. Yolanda is slut-shamed, turned into an instant into a reclusive, broken girl, who wants only to be left alone, especially by this crazy blonde girl from California who keeps following her around. Worst of all, her parents, her whole family (except her younger brother) blame her, solely, for the shame, the disgrace, the ruination she has brought upon them. he’s grounded, forever.

But why is Courtney following the athletic, hard-punching Yolanda around, trying to be a friend, standing up for her against her wishes? Because Courtney has a box of Justice Society costumes with the ability to confer superpowers on teenagers and she’s got Yolanda pegged for Wildcat.

We’ll turn away from that for a moment to deal with the other two strands, one of which is hardly long enough to be a strand, more like a gossamer. This bit features Jordan ‘Icicle’ Mahkent descending a mysterious stairway to a mysterious underground comple to meet a mysterious figure dressed in a sort of oriental cape-cum-robe, wearing a mask over his whole head, decorated with a green dragon (if I tell you this gentleman is going to turn out to be the Dragon King, will you be surprised?). Mysterious man agrees to serve Icicle, be loyal completely, not like the Wizard. That’s your lot for this bit.

However, it connects neatly to the other strand. Courtney’s stepfather, Pat Dugan, retrieves an exhaust pipe from a car-wreck site, so that we are aware it exists. He reurns to his garage and to Denise Zarick (Cynthia Evans) whose car has broken down. Last week, Denise’s son Joey and husband William (aka The Wizard) were both killed by Icicle. she returns later, in a panicky state, getting out, going away, never to return, half warning Pat against Blue Valley but clamming up (‘I’ve said too much’) before she says anything useful. At the end of the episode, Pat’s back at the car junkyard looking for caterpillar treads. He happens to notice a wrecked car, clearly been hit from both sides: it’s Denise’s. Cue Twilight Zone music.

But, as I say, the body of the episode is about turning Yolanda into Wildcat and recruiting her to the new revived JSA. I shalln’t go into details about that. It’s rough and ragged, there are plot holes that would require diminishing the world’s stock of Polyfilla to dangerously low levels to resolve and for an episode featuring an attractive and athletic young woman in a skintight cat-suit, it’s just too damned dark most of the time, but the chemistry between Brec Bassinger and Monreal is superb. They feel right, especially in their lack of slickness or professionality.

There’s a sting in the tail. Yolanda’s had fun as Wildcat but hands the cowl and the costume back. On top of what’s happened to her this past three months, it’s too much. She has to get herself back, the self we saw in the open. She speaks to her family, accepts her shame and disgrace, her error, pleads with them for their help in re-establishing herself. In effect, she asks them to accept her error and to go forward from it. A lingering silence. and a refusal. Yolanda’s parents make it plain that to tthem she has disgraced herself perpetually, and them. Her mistake cannot be forgiven or forgotten, it marks her for life and they will never let her forget it. On their deathneds, they will hold it against her and castigate her for it.

So, having been rejected as Yolands, Ms Montez decides to go for it as Wildcat.

But for the performances by Bassigner and Monreal, this episode would be decidedly stodgy. And here’s a bit more to come next week. In respect whereof, two final snippets to mention; Stargirl and Wildcat, in the hospital to check ut the incapacitated Brainwave, discover that Principal Bowen of the High School, is part of the conspiracy, also that she’s a secret violin player (of course she is: we comic book veterans recognise her as The Fiddler). and dumpy, Pollyanna-esque, friendless chatterbox Beth Capel, outside the hospital, sees our two super-heroines and hears the blonde one call the dark one ‘Yolanda’. Oopsie.

Rumpole of the Bailey: s01 e04 – Rumpole and the Married Lady


A most interesting episode on many levels.

We’re up to 1975. Crime is down, Rumpole isn’t getting the briefs, Nick has removed to America, greatly weakening the glue that keeps Hilda with him. In the circumstances, what can he do but turn to Divorce? Not his, naturally.

From very early on I recognised the case and the twist at the end that would ruin the lucrative Brief that would see both Rumpole and his old friend in Chambers, George Frobisher (Moray Watson), representing the husband, profiting by Refreshers over six days (at that stage, a Barrister would receive a fee for the Brief and if the Court case exceeded more than a single day, an additional fee for every extra day in Court: that was the Refresher).

The case as depicted, and the attitudes around it, amplified by the arrival in Chambers of the first woman Barrister, Miss Phyllida Trant (played, mostly as a background figure, by the delightful Patricia Hodge) were true to the era, which was to say that it was almost exclusively misogynistic.There was even a woman judge in the Family Court, giving rise to much muttering about women having no place in the Law, even though or perhaps because the Judge was played straight and sensible and unaffected by Rumpole’s Court histrionics.

And marriage as a concept, especially insofar as it involves letting a woman run your life, came in for a good kicking, most strongly from the determinedly bachelor Frobisher but also, because this is his show, from Rumpole too.

Rumpole is still Rumpole, same as last week, that is to say he is playing the part of ‘Rumpole’, always on the defensive, quick to deflect anything critical with a quip or a quote. It’s clear as daylight that there is nothing left in his marriage to Hilda of love, affection or anything in common, save only Nick, who has gone, driven away by Rumpole’s behaviour. Because his client Mrs Thripp (Phyllida Law) – and what a nasty-minded, shitty little unbelievable name that is to give a character, full of contempt – keeps ringing him at home, Hilda develops the misconviction that Rumpole is having an affair and leaves him to go and stay with her friend Dodo Perkins, who is running a teashop in Hampshire.

It’s not the last time John Mortimer will use the overheard-and-misunderstood conversation, but at least here it is technically proficient and handled with believability: this will not always be the case.

Anyway, the divorce case is bad enough. Just ordinary human cruelty, stretched out over three years, evidence more than sufficient to demonstrate that the Thripps should no longer be bonded together. Rumpole starts off by treating it as Cruelty, until his learned friend Miss Trant corrects him by reminding him that since the Divorce Reform Act of 1969 it is now Intolerable Behaviour. It’s that all right, mental torment from both sides, stuff that would drive you batty.

Of course, the sting is that this is the way this pair express their love for each other, or rather their need for each other as guardian and shield against the intolerable alternative of being alone. And given the interference by an Agent Provocateur, exposed by Rumpole’s knowledge of typewriters as gleaned in the Brighton Benefits Club Case, bang goes the Petition, the trial and the Refreshers: Frobisher does so resent that last factor.

And Hilda comes back for the same reason, that she has always been married to Rumpole and no matter how much of a disappointment he is to her, he is her husband, and she his wife and, well, that’s all there is to it.

The entire episode is a window into a world and attitudes that have now been largely overridden, though the Right want to bring back the idea that Divorce should be made difficult, and that those whose marriage has failed should be punished by being made to stay together. Especially women. The misogynism in this episode is Motorway-wide and I recoiled from it, and I recoiled from Rumpole too, seen making not one iota of an effort to make Hilda’s life any more pleasurable, comfortable or content if it meant curtailing for an intant his self-indulgence. But then, that was what marriage is, a curtailment of the man’s self-indulgence and for what? The indulgence of a woman. Preposterous.

Wednesday Morning Sitcom Time: The Office (US): s02 e13-15 – The Secret/The Carpet/Boys and Girls


Ok, I think I’m past the comparison thing now. I mean, I was 80-85% there already but ‘The Secret’ took me through into the stratosphere beyond, where the American series can fly on its own, unencumbered by chains of reference to Ricky Gervais and company.

‘The Secret’ was a superbly written, superbly performed episode. Yes, it’s almost pure soap opera, being focussed primarily upon the relationship of Jim and Pam, or rather on the public exposure of Jim’s feeings towards Dunder Miflin’s lovely receptionist (yes, I know Pam’s supposed to be a bit dowdy and unexceptional, and Jenna Fischer undestands that and plays on it to perfection but whilst talking with the girls about her forthcoming wedding day, she briefly lets her hair down and wow! Jim looks like somebody has just hit him round the back of the neck with a bag of wet sand and Michael is horribly creepy but, wow!)

The episode feeds off Jim’s drunken revelation at the end of ‘Booze Cruise’ of his feelings towards Pam, the real mistake being that he said it to Michael. Oh dear. Michael with a secret is like a dog with two tails: he has to keep wagging the extra one so people can see it and the same goes for the secret. Nothing Jim can do, pleading with Michael to keep mum, putting up with Michael’s assertions that the two are friends, going to Hooters for lunch and experiencing Michael at his most juvenile and crass (actually, wait until the next episode), can avert the moment when the boss blurts it out.

After that, it’s damage limitation. Jim, showing genuine courage alongside decency, makes sure of telling Pam himself before she hears it from someone else. God, I felt that. Actully, he lies, partly to save her embarrassment, partly to save his own, by telling her that he used to have a crush on her, three years ago, when she started, but he’s gotten over that now. A long time ago. She accepts that, says she knew about it. Their friendship is safe. and then Michael blows it all over again, letting slip to her that, no, oh no, that was now, not then.

And what made the episode really ingenious was its B story, or rather its counter story. Oscar phones in sick, with the flu. it’s friday, it’s official cleaning day, an american businesses take a different approach to sickness than we do. Dwight sets out to investigate whether Oscar really is sick or if he’s skiving. It’s a nasty little story and it’s Dwight at his worse (Rainn Wilson is so good by now at obliterating memories of Mackenzie Crook). What makes it genius is that Dwight eventually does prove Oscar was malingering, but that he is so conspicuously blind to the real reason, that Oscar is gay and was spending the day with his boyfriend…

In contrast, ‘The Carpet’ was almost completely lacking in sweetness. It was mean and embarrassing, Michael at his sel-obsessed worst. He arrives at work to find an unpleasant smell in his office (a real one: Steve Carell secretly dropped a stink bomb just before filming, so the cast’s gagging and retching is genuine). Something has been left on the carpet. what it is is not spelt out, but we are told it’s not vomit so…

A juvenile prank, a tasteless story, a premise on Beano level but it’s how you handle it… Michael hasto have the office cleaned and the carpet ripped up and replaced. He is, understandably, obsessed with who has done this, and what it says about his status as the fun boss, the one everybody likes and looks up to (it should have been obvious immediately, it was salesman and all-round offence Todd Packer: oh well then, that makes it alright). Worse though, Michael takes over Jim’s desk, banishing him to he desk at the back, the one Toby abandoned because, well, he was ‘allergic’ to kely’s non-stop chatter.

Jim’s desk used to be Michael’s before he was promoted. Back on the floor, and with Dwight as his willing acolyte and useful idiot, Michael reverts to his schooldays, behaving with complete irresponsibility, trashing the accounts section (interesting that Dwight, after a look from Angela, does not trash her desk: hmm). It’s complete toe-curling-up time, running the line very ragged. But the episode gives us a wonderful finale. The day over, Jim last to leave, he checks his messages back at his desk. There are seven off them, all from Pam. There is nothing remotely romantic about them but they are sweet and heartbreaking, full of complicity and the way their minds meet, and what they talk about, and how they support each other in the workplace, that she’s missed today. he smiles exactly as I would smile if I were him (as I have been, more than once) and received such messages (which I never did).

‘Boys and Girls’ did so much in barely twenty minutes that the only way I could talk about it all would be to quote every line with commentary upon expressions and implications, with diagrams, until the whole thing would take three times as long to read as to watch. It was a miracle of compressed writing, with barely a line that was not significant in some manner or other.

The idea was put forward by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, and consisted of Jan Levinson from Corporate flying in to hold a seminar on ‘Women in the Workplace’, from which men, and especially Michael, were excluded. Of course he tried to butt in. When ordered out, he organised an impromptu Guy’s seminar, immediately outside the Conference Room, disrupting Jan’s talk, until ordered to go down to the warehouse and carry it out there.

Both settings were a disaster. The one in the warehouse, with Michael trying to be boss and pal simultaneously of the two sides, white- and blue-collar, was the overt one, the slapstick one. It almost beat out ‘The Carpet’. There’s Roy, Pam’s fiancee, approaching Jim about the rumours, but being cool about it, it having been over so long ago, that is until Michael lets it out… And Mr Scott’s efforts to pretend that the office crew and the warehouse staff are all the same under the skin leads to serious talk aout Unionising.

Meanwhile, all is not doing well upstairs. For one thing, the ladies, with the exception of Angela, do not appear to have career ambitions, only personal ones, mostly domestic. Angela finds the whole process insulting personally and if Jan is practicing dressing for the job she wants, concludes that she is practicing to be a whore. Jan’s admitting that to a large extent, this caring, sharing approach is mainly about identifying and potentially head-hunting women who might be useful to Corporate.

The only one to bite is Pam. Pam wants the domestic bliss, the loving husband, the unrealistic dreamhouse, but she is interested in drawing. There are pportunities for that, courses that Corporate can sponsor. Though she shies away from it, Pam responds to Jan’s persuading, takes the leaflet, considers it. She’s interested. She tells Jim, who is encouraging. She talks about it with Roy. We don’t hear what he has to say about it but it’s not encouraging. she gives up the idea, it’s impractical, there’s no guarantee it will lead to anything, is Jim criticising her career choice as a Receptionist? It’s what weve seen in Slough, but in not so concentrated a form.

As for Corporate and their concern for their workers, we see what that’s worth. As Michael is too cowardly to do it, Jan makes it plain to the workers: Unionise and we close the plant completely, and take you to Court. Yes, well. It’s symbolic as well as practical that, having caused physical, emotional and mental chaos down in the warehouse, Michael leaves them to clear it up. And that’s barely scratching the surface.

I’m now fully into the US Office, and I already want to view the next three episodes. There’s a strong risk of me taking this series out of the Wednesday Morning rotation, three episodes only every four weeks, and just having a good old binge without individual commentary. Let me see how things go, try to last out season 2 if nothing else. I’ll keep you posted.

Stargirl: s01 e03 – Icicle


Starting to put a bit of flesh on those bones.

Writing a story arc for television requires different skills, notably in the area of pacing, from writing the same for a comic book series. Stargirl runs for thirteen episodes, and whilst it isn’t straying so far from the template as to present a single story from premiere to finale, it knows it can rekly more heavily on its audience’s patience – patience! from a television audience! ironic, isn’t it? – than it could from the comics fans.

So we’re three issues in and we’re still building things up. And not until the end do we start to see a shape coalescing out of the mists.

What we got here was, in an overall sense, the development of the theme that this is all about children. The villains, the Injustice Society, their number already reduced by two, have some great over-arching plan, Project America, to be realised via the public front of it, the revitalisation organisation, The American Dream. It’s about safe-guarding the children. It’s headed, in both respects, by Jordan Mahkent/The Icicle (Neil Jackson). Mahkent is driven by the death of his wife who, literally on her death-bed, told him to destroy all opposition to it. Which he’s perfectly willing to do. Having failed, in the one fight scene, to kill Stargirl or S.T.R.I.P.E., he causes the death of the nice kid, Joey Zarick, who imagines himself to be a magician and then, when Joey’s Dad William, Councilman Zarick, aka The Wizard, comes after him, he freezes his ally to death. Some kids, such as Cameron Mahkent, are clearly more important candidates for saving than others.

Fifteen year old Courtney Whitmore, aka Stargirl, is also not on the preservation list. Courtney’s headstrong, over-confident, blazing with the light of her destiny, which is to succeed her ‘father’ Starman as a superhero. She’s naive, stubborn, aggressive, almost self-righteous and doesn’t have a fucking clue about what she’s up against, and seeing Joey killed, the first kid in Blue Valley High who was nice to her, doesn’t alter her resolve one little bit. Courtney is the light to her stepfather Pat Dugan’s shadow. He’s the wise one, the experienced one, well aware of the dangers of this life and especially of an over-confident know-nothing like Courtney setting herself up against the villains who killed all the Justice Society of America: powerful, dedicated and above-all experienced heroes. He knows that a teenage novice can only get herself killed. He even shows her the now-closed JSA HQ, a monument and a museum to the past, the artefacts of power.

So what does Courtney do? She steals everything. Courtney’s going to revive the Justice Society, using her classmates – why do you think Angelika Washington and Yvonne Monreal have been spinning their wheels in the background this long? – to ecome successors.

Meanwhile, not that this has anything to do with the overal story, we have Trae Romano doing a sterling job as Courtney’s stepbrother, Mike, who’s effortlessly sailing into becoming the Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for ‘Obnoxious Brat You’d Drown At A Moment’s Notice’.

And, closer to the story, Courtney’s mother Barbara is already establishing herself at The American Dream.

This was one of those episodes where being an old-school comics fan gets you more out of it than the mundane audience. We know who these people are. We’ve already recognised the ones who haven’t yet been expose. We know what lies behind the hints. We know which names have been changed, that William Zarick was William Zard and Jordan Mahkent was actually Joar. We’re watching because it’s the Justice Society of America. Not necessarily as we know it, but this is 2020, not 1940 and things change. More of this next week.

Rumpole of the Bailey: s01 e03 – Rumpole and the Honourable Member


This was a very different episode to the one I watched in 1978. By that, I don’t mean to suggest that the episode itself had changed, been modernised or updated or edited in any way. That, of course, would be impossible. What I do mean is that I and we and everything around it have changed and it cannot be watched as I and its audience watched it back then.

The time has moved on to 1974. Rumpole’s hair is now greying and is longer, and he sports a pair of mutton chop whiskers that mark the era. He’s even more Rumpole than before, quoting and spouting, roaring and laughing, orotund and dominating. He’s constantly in performance mode, playing the part of ‘Horace Rumpole’, Old Bailey Hack and character. You start to wonder what it is he’s hiding, or maybe hiding from.

There are three stories playing off each other. Albert, Rumpole’s friend and confidant, Senior Clerk, dutiful laugher at his jokes for forty years, is found out as having embezzled money from Chambers for a long period. Even though some of it was invested in ‘grubbing for briefs’ for the Barristers, he is asked to leave forthwith, despite Rumpole’s objections (themselves a bit of a reach). Centrally, there’s Rumpole’s case, in which he plays up to his strengths, demolishes the Prosecution witness and is on the home stretch to acquittal when the client betrays him by giving in.

And, amplifying the first and feeding out of the second, there is his son, Nick, Nick who is the brains of the family, highly intelligent, with a job at Warwick University lined up, with an American fiancee who wants to know about his family and what Rumpole does: Nick who will close the episode by telling his father he will be taking a job in Baltimore, instead.

The case is the key. The client is Labour MP Ken Aspen (Anton Rodgers) and the charge is rape, rape of his young political assistant, Bridget Evans (Elizabeth Romilly). Aspen’s defence is that he genuinely believed the sex to be consensual, and that the charge has been brought up out of hatred and an urge for revenge. Mortimer sets things up that this is not only entirely plausible, but also, on the balance of probabilities, true. But, as the case is literally her-word-against-his, in order to ‘prove’ Aspen’s innocence, Rumpole will have to attack Evans in no indirect fashion: her morality, her mental stability, her sexual history.

It’s vile. It is everything we read about in such real-life cases, it is the deliberate destruction of another human being in public, dragging out everything that can be portrayed or misinterpreted as ‘dirty’ about them to undermine their word and discredit them. Mortimer holds nothing back. For a woman who has been raped, or sexually assaulted, it is an extension of the defiling. The lawyer in me asks how else can a case be conducted, the accused be given a fair chance at proving his innocence, and I have seen this very thing done in Court myself. But, and this is the difference between the 22 year old Articled Clerk of then, seeing only the legal battle and the 67 year old human being of now, now I hated every second of it.

Of course, for the purpose of the episode, Rumpole had to lose. To achieve this, Aspen had to be a weak man, a vacillator, driven by a more determined, forthright and stronger wife, Anna (Judy Parfitt), who had pushed him into politics, into Parliament, up to Parliamentary Private Secretary, none of which he wanted, all of which he hated. Aspen was a weak man, and instinctive compromiser. Interestingly, on a subliminal basis, the casting of Romilly as Evans, a woman who at the crucial moment had taunted him, accused him, ranted at him, was an unsettling touch: she looked quite a bit like a younger version of his wife.

Did he do it? We don’t know, any more than Rumpole did or was supposed to. Aspen had acquittal in his grasp but, weak, tired, anxious to escape responsibility, he threw away his answers, all but convicted himself.

And because Nick’s fiancee Erica (Deborah Fallender) had heard Rumpole going on in his usual exaggerated fashion, celebrating his work with his usual overblown relish – rape, something meaty to get his teeth into – and witnessed his cross-examination, and because when she remonstrated with him over what he’d done, he wouldn’t even take her seriously (after all, she was a Sociologist and there will be more to come, much more, to show that Mortimer has no time for Sociologists), Nick ended up going to America and Baltimore, and leaving his father behind, just as Albert had been excised from Rumpole’s daily life.

I can’t remember how I responded then. Most likely, I was taken with the legal point of view. I’m still very aware of it now. Yes, any accused has to be defended. Yes, a rape or sexual assault accusation cannot be taken as read simply because a woman says it. Yes, there are cases where the accusation is malicious and untrue. These are minimal, vanishingly few. But what is Justice if you cannot question your accuser? But it should never be like this. Nowadays, having watched Rumpole both in ‘character’ and determinedly and defensively sinking even deeper into character the moment he is challenged upon anything, seeing that he cannot be truly honest, even with himself, I’m with Erica, I’d put an ocean between us.

And suddenly, watching all these episodes all over again, takes on a darker aspect.

Wednesday Morning Sitcom Time: Last of the Summer Wine s01 e04-06: Spring Fever/The New Mobile Trio/Hail Smiling Morn Or Thereabouts


You would never, in all your born days, call Last of the Summer Wine ‘edgy’, though if you were to compare the first series, from 1973, with anything from, say, the tenth series onwards, the outline of a case begins to form. The series got softer and softer the longer it went on. The process began as early as the third series, when Michael Bates’ ultimately fatal illness forced a last minute replacement and re-writing to introduce Brian Wilde. The development would likely have happened anyway, at the same time, but not in quite the same manner, perhaps.

In any event, it would have been inevitable. The longer a series goes on, the more and more sympathetic it becomes. Part of this is life: the longer we know people, the more we accommodate them, the more we understand them, the more situations occur that throw people together, force them to co-operate and from which contempt starts to turn towards respect.

The early Last of the Summer Wine was based on the precept that there were three middle-aged men, all single, all unemployed, all having nothing to do during the course of long empty days, forced to seek amusement. They’re very different as people. They shared a childhood and schooldays past but have had little to do with each other until now, when they’re effectively forced into each other’s company. They are dependent by circumstance, not choice.

Michael Bates, as Cyril Blamire, is a retired public servant, unmarried, high working class Tory. Peter Sallis is Norman Clegg, a redundant Co-op linoleum salesman, recently widowed, comfortably established, but no particular leanings. And Bill Owen as Compo Simmonite is a scruffy, idle, working class herbert resenting authority, whose wife has run off and left him. The three roles are chosen to represent the basic class structure as filtered through the working class and Yorkshire.

This aspect remained for a very long ime but eventually only through inertia. It underlines everything this early on, in arge part thanks to the authoritarian Blamire. That Michael Bates was actually very High Tory and Bill Owen staunch Socialist amplifies their roles and gives a real edge to their quarrels, making the first two series much more political than anything that followed, without every turning overt. Like the cast-against-type of Arthur Lowe and John le Mesurier in Dad’s Army, you can’t go wrong – or at least you couldn’t – with a bit of class strife in a British comedy.

What’s also obvious, and somewhat strange in light of the show’s later history, is that the series is egalitarian. Take the three episodes here, forming the back half of the first series. Each one spotlights a different member of the trio. In ‘Spring Fever’, Compo is moody and unsociable, causing the other two to wonder about him. It’s the spring, and Compo’s missing a womans touch: someone to do his washing and cleaning, someone to, well, let’s not go into that, someone to shout at him. The feeling of companionship, of being important to someone else in whatever degree. A pre-I Didn’t Know You Cared Li Smith guests as an unn,ed would-be housekeeper from Bradford who never comes near being the answer to Compo’s annual prayer, and runs off with his new suit and tam o’shanter.

In contrast, ‘The New Mobile Trio’ is inspired by Clegg who, after making a hash of things on a Road Safety Exhibition Driving Simulator, gets to hankering to use his barely-touched Driver’s Licence to make the Library Mob mobile, spread their wings, extend their horizons, run into tractors. It involves cheap cars being held together by cardboard and string (no-one would waste baling wire on these clunkers) and a guest role for Ronald Lacey, who could do whining sleaze in his sleep.

Lastly, ‘Hail Shining Morn Or Thereabouts’ centres Blamire. A photography exhibition at the Library, bringing Bloody Wainwright and Mr Partridge back into the background limelight, inspired Cyril back to his old hobby of photography. He gets out his old box camera, Cleggy’s cleared out his old camping gear, reminiscent of one utterly disastrous camping holiday with his unsympathetic wife, and this leads to an overnight camp, in the pouring rain, to enable Blamire to take a shot of the sunrise.

Each in their turn, and it’s each in their turn in each episode. They really are three not-really friends, thrust together by circumstance. Everybody is fair game. Everyone, and the point can slid around with extraordinary rapidity, can be the butt of the joke, the point of the catcalling. There is no Clegg-Compo alliance against the Third Man. In that sense, it’s a very different show.

Of course, in every other respect, it’s the same thing, just more down to earth. The humour is still 95% verbal, all in the dialogue. The trio don’t do more than just wander around.You could do it all on radio and lose very little. And in tremendous contrast to all post ‘Uncle of the Bride’ series, the cast is basic. Bates, Owen and Sallis. John Comer and Jane Freeman as Sid and Ivy from the cafe, Kathy Staff as Mrs Batty, not even glorified as Norah yet, bit parts used as staging points. An anonymous and barely-glimpsed extra being hauled out of a pub by his ear is all we see of Mr Batty, no Joe Gladwyn yet.

Last of the Summer Wine‘s first series went down well. I watched it every week, and laughed at it. I laughed at it again, several times over, fifty years on, with all its history behind it. It was not edgy, it never would be, but at first it contained a genuine abrasion that it put aside in exchange for surreality and daftness. In that it introduced a strong strand of female comedy and characters, better things lay ahead. But it’s not only nostalgia that makes me think that it was at its best in its embryonic form, and if it could have kept that…

Stargirl: s01 e02 – S.T.R.I.P.E.


As second episodes go, this one was fairly standard. Unsurprisingly, it did not have the same resources lavished upon it as the pilot (the sequence with Pat Dugan testing out his robot, S.T.R.I.P.E. was meant to be funny and was, but it looked like Thunderbirds without the strings), and it was very much a more-of-the-same, build things slowly without giving anything away yet deal, topped off with a superpowers fight that wiped out the show’s first and most overt – and dangerous – villain very early whilst suggesting there was worse to come.

It was a pleasingly personal episode, showing the new Dugan-Whitnore family settling into their new life in sleepy, friendly Blue Valley, Nebraska. There were roles in it for most of the family, though not so much yet for Courtney’s new younger step-brother Mike (the bulldog got as much time and was much more likeable), whilst the series’ second and third stars were again withheld to the background, albeit Anjelika Washington got a bit of time to start to flesh out Beth Chapel’s irritatingly gushing personality whilst Yvonne Monreal just looked moody and had one defensive line.

What we did get was a reinforcement of the show’s depiction of its heroine, Courtney Whitmore. Her fixation on the wrong-headed belief that the former Justice Society hero, Starman, was her father, her aggression towards her unwanted stepfather, Pat, who’s ripped up her old life, her pig-headed refusal to see that what she’s getting herself into is stupid and dangerous and that she’s way too inexperienced to get into it: typical fifteen year old girl in many ways. On the other side is Pat, the fomer superhero sidekick, preserving what remains of the former JSA, trying to track down the schemes of their killers, the Injustice Society – one faithfully preserved legacy of the Forties that only sounds ridiculous now – and horrified to find they are based in Blue Valley. Pat loves Barbara, and is desperately protective towards her, and also to Courtney, insofar as she’ll let him, which is to say not at all, although the episode softens on that attitude very quickly as the pair team up as Stargirl and S.T.R.I.P.E.

The immediate foe, the mind-powered Brainwave, played to the hilt with sinister self-containement by Christopher James Baker and given an absolutely fantastic costume of a long green wraparound leather coat, was neutralised as a matter of necessity. He was too good, too powerful and too malevolent to be allowed to continue: leave him in play and the series lasts three episodes, tops. Still, his defeat was done in perfectly comic book fashion, the equivalent of a stroke leaving him incapacitated but alive to be brought back later in the series.

So: slow-moving, festina lente as Molesworth would tell you, keeping its cards close to its chest. I’ll let you into a secret you’ve probably guessed for yourself. We have already seen all but one of the Injustice Society onscreen in this episode. I can pick them out and not just because I’ve seen this season before. Geoff Johns is being faithful, by and large, to the Justice Society I know and love. We will learn more next week.

Rumpole of the Bailey: s01 e02 – Rumpole and the Alternative Society


Having initially resorted to YouTube, I ended up watching this episode before the first, which was even more dislocating – especially with regard to the forgotten historic setting, this week 1969 – than the previous effort.
Rumpole‘s second episode turned out to be an intriguing and very solid affair on a number of levels, although I had reservations about aspects of it in the first act that the overall course of the script overturned very solidly. The first interesting thing was that, in only the second episode, the show rejected the Old Bailey and the supporting cast entirely, sending Rumpole out to the Western Circuit and a case in the South-West coastal resort of Coalsands, with a supporting cast featuring Jane Asher, Peter Jeffrey and Liz Fraser.
The second was that there was a profound darkness to the episode, an underlying melancholy that contrasted with the memory/image of Rumpole the Irascible, the buoyant, the extrovert equipped with a quip and a quote. The episode started flippant and morphed into a painful seriousness that, in hindsight, you could see winding through the story from almost the outset.
Basically, Rumpole is down in the South West to defend Miss Cathy Trelawney, a very pretty young woman (she’s Jane Asher, it goes without saying) accused of Possession and Dealing Drugs, to whit, cannabis resin. Rumpole’s defence is going to be what Joyce Davenport would loudly proclaim as entrapment: a Police Sergeant disguised as a hippie got Cathy, a member of a collective living in a large suburban house, peacefully, quietly and thoroughly stereotyped by the middle-class neighbours, to get the drugs. Rumpole intends to stigmatise him as an agent provocateur, a totally unBritish and unfair tactic, and have his evidence – which is the whole of the case – excluded on the basis that the crime would not have been committed if not for him.
Horace has several advantages: a young, attractive and very presentable client, a Judge of the same mind as him as to agents provocateur and an inept local Prosecuting Barrister who seems to be unaware that his job is to seek a conviction.
Needless to say, there’s a catch.
But before coming to that, Mortimer builds a strong story on characterisation, attitudes and the contrast between the suspicious, narrow-minded, drunken and resentful older generation and the peaceful, content, gentle miniature society the commune has created, and not in any favourable way towards the Establishment.
This latter comes primarily in the form of a nosey neighbour, who knows criminals and perverts when she sees then – men and women, blacks and whites, sitting at tables together – but more pertinently in the form of two of Rumpole’s oldest friends, from, his RAF posting during the War. These are Sam Dogherty (Jeffry) and his wife Bobby (Fraser) who own a bar named The Crooked Billet, with whom he is to stay rather than put up at the Hotel the Bar usually uses, which he dismisses disdainfully.
Jeffry was never a star unlike Asher or Fraser, but he was a familiar and reliable actor in parts requiring him to be middle-class respectable and abrasive. Where Rumpole was groundstaff, Sam was a bomber pilot and a bloody good one too, whilst Bobby was a dazzler whom Horace almost loved but felt was not for him.
Sam’s problem is that he had a good War, and everything since has been a come-down for him. He’s still living his war, the raffish moustache, the cravat, the heavy drinking, the rituals, the WW2 music Bobby rolls out on the piano for a crowd of regulars who are swamping themselves in the same past as him. It’s exaggerated and overblown, and Sam himself, especially in his attitudes to the ‘hippies’ and his truly repulsive attempts to get off with Cathy, is a monstrous caricature, which is where I had my reservations.
But only Sam was the caricature. Bobby loves him and has a secret she shares with Horace: the Doctor has told her, very strictly, that Sam must get out of the Licensing trade, and give up all alcohol, or he will be dead within the year. How to tell? And should it be her or will Rumpole do it?
Things settle down a bit when we start to concentrate upon the case. The Solicitor is useless (very few Solicitors in the series are anything but) but Rumpole is very taken with the fair Cathy, and is indeed attracted to the lifestyle she and her friends espouse, a far cry from his life in the Law and with She Who Must Be Obeyed. Cathy in her turn likes him and is affectionate towards him. It’s a totally implausible May-December but the actors give it the faint air of possibility necessary for such fantasies. It’s given ballast by Cathy’s terror of going to prison: her brother Pete is currently suffering twelve years in a Turkish prison for the same offence.
The fly in the ointment is Dave (Nigel Gregory), who seems to want to conduct the Defence and have Cathy make his statement in the witness box. Rumpole won’t have it, he won’t even hear it. He is in charge of the Defence and his approach will mean Cathy doesn’t even have to open her mouth. He spends an evening at ‘Nirvana’, with good food and wine, poetry and dreams of becoming a beachcomber.
And his tactic is in the final straight, a hundred yards ahead of the field when Cathy and Dave blow it. She admits that she did it. That she got the cannabis last year and was looking to sell it, to raise £10,000.00 for legal fees to get Pete out of prison, make his case heard, even change the ‘archaic’ drug laws.
It’s the torpedo. The moment Rumpole is told this, he cannot pursue the Defence. He cannot, it is the central tenet of his profession, it is impossible for him to present a Defence for a client who has admitted their Guilt. Either he must withdraw, ‘for personal reasons’ even if that raises the inference he’s gotten involved, or he must persuade her to plead Guilty. In the end, he does this, angling for a suspended sentence, but the inevitability has been there since she blurted it out: she will go to Prison for three years.
It’s dark and depressing. It’s what Rumpole’s entire career has been dedicated to averting. Cathy accuses him of being heartless, of thinking only of his legal career. Stone-faced, facing away from her, Horace admits that that is what he has thought himself.
The episode ends at the bar, as opposed to the Bar. Everyone’s revelling, Sam is smashed out of his brain, living his fantasy of it being what it was, not what it is, which has left him more than just twenty-five years behind. Bobby confesses to Rumpole that she has decided not to tell him, let Sam die living as he wishes instead of a life for which he is completely unfit. Is she right to do so? In voiceover and in the closing seconds, Horace Rumpole agrees that people should not tell other people things.
Yes, even with the caricatures that were both Sam and the suspicious and judgemental Mrs Tigwell, this was Rumpole of the Bailey being as good as it can be. Though times and attitudes and laws have changed, they have not changed by so much as to render the episode a caricature or nullify Mortimer’s points. The series and the character didn’t just take the country by storm because it was funny. It was at its best that special kind of funniness that is not and cannot be detached from the misery of people’s circumstances and, watching it at a time when I expected to be solely reliant on YouTube, I seriously regretted having access to only one more episode from this first series.