For once, I was ahead of everybody else. Not everybody: nobody in the world, it seems, was ahead of John Peel. He had it first, an unusual, nine-minute long song on a 33rpm import single from New York, by someone none of us had heard of, by someone who wasn’t even a musician or a singer, but instead a Performance Artist. And what was one of them when it was blackleading the grate?
Her name was Laurie Anderson, and she had written/created/performed a gigantic multi-media piece entitled United States Live Parts I-IV that was so long it could only be performed over four night. The single that caught Peely’s ears was a section of Part II, a quasi-spoken word piece performed to a background of ‘hah-hahs’, running continuously throughout the number, as well as various electronic effects, rising to crescendos that marked three separate phases.
It was extraordinary. I had never heard anything like it before. The record was only available as an import from New York’s One-Ten Records, released in a limited edition of which most sales were orders from the UK, like me. I didn’t care. I loved it, and I didn’t want to rely on taping it off the radio.
But the remarkable thing was that the influx of orders from us lot in Britain led to Warner Brothers buying the rights to release ‘O Superman’ officially over here, as well as sign Anderson up to a seven album deal. The main thing was that ‘O Superman’ was now available in this country, to buy in Virgin Megastores, HMV Shops, and even in Woolworth’s.
It was still a nine minute long track, with a minimal tune and flattened, electronically processed vocals, an incomprehensible, symbolically-expressed storyline and no commercial element whatsoever. Radio 1 would never play it (not in the daytime) and no-one would ever buy it.
It entered the UK Top 40 at no. 16.
The following week, though it was October, cold and clear, I went away to the Lake District for a few days holiday, on my own for the first time, in my first car. I didn’t set off until the Tuesday of that week, and made a slow journey of it, up the A6, eventually winding up in Ambleside. By lunchtime, I was passing through Preston and looking for somewhere to get some sandwiches. I had the car radio tuned to Radio 1, for Tuesday was still the day the new Chart was announced, pre-computerisation, and I was still directly interested in such things.
I was waiting to hear where ‘O Superman’ was, this week. I waited a long time. Unlikely though it was, the single was basically selling as a novelty song, and though such things almost never happened, maybe it had dropped straight back out again.
It hadn’t. It had shot up to no. 2. No. 2. It hadn’t displaced Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s execrable cover of ‘It’s My Party’ and there was many a record inferior to ‘O Superman’ that I would have relished seeing do that, but this was ‘O Superman’, the most odd number 2 single in history until ‘Ding Dong The Witch is Dead’ was mass-streamed to celebrate Margaret Thatcher’s death. And Radio 1 daytime was playing this extravaganza, and I heard it several times those few days I was away, even if they were fading it out after about six minutes.
Of course it didn’t last. The single slipped one place only, to no. 3, the next week, then plummeted to no. 18, after which it disappeared from the radio, and from our lives after only one more Top Forty week.
But for a week in our country it was the second best selling single, all nine-minutes, 33rpm that it was.
Yes, of course it was a novelty. Not a novelty song as such, but rather a serious composition that was at a ninety degree angle from anything traditionally thought of as ‘pop’ music. The shock of the new, the appeal of the new: this is novelty. But it was a novelty in the sense that Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’ was a novelty, yet that had more the structure of a song to it, and a more distinct melody. ‘O Superman’ was dry, minimal and excessively repetitive. It had nothing to strike a chord with the Great British Record Buying Public, yet it still went out and did so, and even now, almost thirty years later, I cannot understand why.
I mean, I loved it. I’d gone out and bought the import months before it was released over here but, well, I was weird enough to like things like this, and I was really not used to the idea that ordinary people could like something outré like I did in such massive quantities. It was a contradiction in terms.
And looking back from now, it seems all the more an act of collective, but glorious madness.
It’s almost frightening how quickly we reach halfway, but we reach halfway with the first inklings of what might lie behind the story in Gidseltagningen‘s second series.
Up to this point, the third and fourth episodes were almost purely thriller, long on tension, short on development, but not in any way less engrossing. Episode 3 saw the ferry arrive in more-or-less mid-Oresund Sound, when it was allowed to stop, out of shoooting range of both countries. That with its engines off it would then become subject to the tide does not seem to be a factor anyone has considered and by this I mean kidnappers and writers: the ferry is just sitting there, not going anywhere.
Meanwhile, on shore, two lots of Police are preparing to deal with the situation, but as this still isn’t The Bridge, we only get to see the Danish side. Everyone’s in the dark, especially Darnov, the current Commander of TTF during Philip’s gardening leave. and it’s obvious from his immaculately cut beard and his elegant suit that he is not an action-oriented leader. Indeed, he can’t cut it when it really needs cutting.
We’re not up to that point yet. Nobody knows anything, not even that Philip is on board, though as the situation intensifies overnight, intelligence is gathered until TTF know almost as much as we do about the hostage takers.
Most of episode 3 is spent in hunting down June, who’s using all her paramilitary expertise to stay ahead of her hunters. One of the two truck drivers, the wimpier one, the driver, gives her away to the terrorists, but of course she’s no longer on the truck. He becomes the first hostage to be killed, as June ignores his plight in her efforts to escape.
Unfortunately, the second isto be a double-header: mother and six month old baby. Philip tries to talk June in, but her intransigence – which we see develop through a series of flashbacks of her advancing radicalisation – remains absolute. She constructs home-made bombs, chucks one at the wimpy terrorist Mahdi, brains him with a fire extinguisher that she brings down with skull-crushing force only for it not to even give him a headache, and is only stopped by pointblank machineguns as she leads a hostage fightback that forces her to drop her weapons.
Philip spends most of these two episodes out of action. He starts unconscious, spends most of episode 3 under armed guard, gets lockd in the freezer, frees himself once but goes straight back inside where, as his paraallel flashbacks with the sympathetic Beate illustrates, he gives up, helpless.
Onshore, the Minister authorises a raid, in force, covertly. Unfortunately, it’s not covert enough: the boats of armed anti-terrorist Police are seen by the moron terrorist and a trap is left. Unfortunately for him, he’s the bait, left to be gunned down to guide the attackers into the lounge where six hostages are wired to C4…
The attack’s a flop. Yusuf gives them thirty seconds to get clear or the rest of the hostages die. Garnov wastes ten of them being unable to decide what to do. TTF pull out. New impasse.
What is all behind this? The terrorists want a number from June, a mobile phone, and Yusuf is prepared to waterboard her for it. Rami, Mahdi’s fanatic brother and the one you’d most enjoy seeing be gut-shot and bleeding out over the whole of episode 7, gives her ten minutes to write it down or he’ll slit her throat (without recognising the self-defeating aspect of that threat). June writes it down.
Onshore, Military intelligence Chief Bulow once again has a cryptic meeting with his Russian diplomatic opposite to tell her that Denmark won’t hand June over. Meanwhile, the mobile phone number June’s written down leads us to the dog-grooming salon, where a mobile phone is stolen. And handed to Russia’s diplomatic representative. Well, well.
Despite the couple of slipshod moments in the writing, which I found somewhat depressing after the absence of them in 2017, I’m still on board (as is Philip) to find out where this is going, and how many more get killed along the way. The third week is when we usually start to see more of the shape of things…
First of two parts, this Sunday and next, this is my only Box Set to consist of just two films, and the last but one of my foreign films (you are going to be so surprised when I get to the last one). Like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, this film and it’s other part, Manon des Sources are really a single film, divided into multiple parts due to its length.
The two films, which were shot together over seven months after a year of careful preparation bearing ample fruit, are classics, not merely of French cinema but of cinema itself. Jean de Florette stars Yves Montand (in one of his last roles), Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteil, in a role that transformed his career. The cast is small, the only other parts of significance taken by Depardieu’s wife Elizabeth, and Ernestine Mazurowna as the nine year old girl, Manon.
Originally, the story was created by Marcel Pagnol, filmmaker, dramatist and novellist, as a four hour film in 1953, under the Manon des Sources title. Unhappy at how it was treated, Pagnol turned the story into two novels, with Jean de Florette as an extended scene-setting. Director Claude Berri treated rhe books faithfully and the outcome is worthy of all the praise that’s been heaped upon it since the films appeared in 1986.
When I was at School, in the Sixties, and studying Death of a Salesman in English, I was introduced to the classical definition of tragedy as the fall of aperson in a high posotion. Tragedy, true tragedy, could come only from the lives of Kings and Gods and Heroes, for only in the descent from elevation could tragedy be found. Willy Loman was the antithetis of a high person, and so his story had to be qualified as a ‘domestic’ tragedy. Jean de Florette is characterised as a ‘period’ tragedy, set in Provence in the South of France, in a meticulously recreated early Twenties, after the Great War. Nobody in it could be characterised as High in any way, save perhaps, in an ironic manner that is not realised until the very end of the second film, the character of Le Papet, or grandfather, Cesar Soubeyrand, played by Montand, paterfamilias of a dying family whose ambition to restore his family’s local prestige, its honour, and its life is the driving force of both stories.
But the films are tragedies on any level that the human heart operates, in their depiction of human failings: love, greed, obsession, hope, ambition, pride, insularity and the insistence upon seeing what one wants to see.
Jean de Florette begins with the return from the war of Ugolin Soubeyrand (Auteil, cast against his previous superficial, urban type and a revelation). Ugolin is, we slowly understand, the last of the Soubeyrand family, his only relation his Uncle Cesar, Papet. He’s a youngish man, but an ugly one, and slow of thought. Yet he’s smart enough to com up with the idea of making his tiny mountainside farm pay by growing carnations. Papet, intially dismissive, is convinced by Ugolin’s sales that the affair can be profitable. And with profit comes pride and, most important in Papet’s eyes, a wife, and children, and the continuation of the Soubeyrand line.
Ugolin is less concerned. He has an account at a local brothel, half an hour a month and choice of all the girls takes care of all his needs. But Papet knows that to ensure the continuation of the line, Ugolin needs to expand. For this he will need water, and there is a spring on the neighbouring land of Pique-Bouffige, half-choked though it is. But Pique-Bouffige has his own pride, and a spite towards the Soubeyrands, and will not sell. Angered at the insults, Papet drags him from a tree, throws him and accidentally kills him.
This is the opportunity. With peasant wiliness, Papet and Ugolin plan to block the spring, to render the land next to worthless and buy it cheap when, as it must, it comes up for auction. But their plans are thwarted. Pique-Bouffige’s only relation is Florette, his sister, with whom Papet was once close. She married when he was in military hospital in Algeria, moved away. Papet has never married.
Florette, we learn, has died the days news came of her brother’s death. She leaves a son, a tax collector and, what is worse, a hunchback, against whom there is instinctive prejudice, believing them to be cursed by God. He is city-bred, he will sell. But he does not: Jean Cadoret, who in the local parlance would be called Jean de Florette, John of Florette, John of the Flowers, has a dream of living in the country, of providing for himself and his family, his wife Aimee, a former opera singer, and their daughter Manon, named after her favourite role.
Jean is Depardieu, and one look at him signals to you that tragedy is inevitable. Jean is honest, open, enthusiastic, ambitious, but he is a dreamer who has not a morsel of the practical knowledge of the Provence peasantry, the farmers who tear their living out of the land. But Jean has hope and manuals and calculations that will make him self-sufficient and rich.
Just one look. The city clothes. The bowler hat, the long, buttoned down town coat, the cane, the gloves he wears to carry out the repairs, the digging, the planting, the tending of the kitchen garden that he knows will feed them, the ambitious plans for a rabbit farm that will not be allowed to get out of hand and strip the country, like Australia.
Oh, Jean is a comic cut, with his honest belief in the goodwill of his neighbour, Ugolin, who encourages him and helps and watches him carefully. Ugolin, whom Aimee does not like, nor does Manon, whom Jean gently reprimands. It is not Ugolin who is ugly but Manin’s thoughts when she says so.
And the Soubeyrands watch and gloat. The spring is dammed, they have dammed it. No-one will tell Jean because they have isolated him from anyone who might tell him, isolated beyond what he has already done, bringing in food from outside, being an outsider, bearing that hump.
It takes two years, but the inevitable has patience. A heatwave. The constant trips to the distant spring in the heat that is an even money bet will kill Jean or the mule first. The increasing dependece upon wine. The decreasing inheritance. Ugolin, who despite himself and Papet’s sneers, likes Jean, softens to the point of offering to buy the farm, only for Jean to use the valuation as a basis for a mortgage: money to dig a well, to revive the farm, to pay things off in twelve months. Fatally, the mortgage money is offered by Papet.
It cannot be postponed forever. The well hits bedrock. Jean dynamites the rock. in his eagerness to see the water gush forth like some Arizonan oilwell, he runs in too soon and is hit by falling rock. He dies on his kitchen table. Ugolin reports the dath, the culmination of the plot to Papet. He insists that he is not crying, it is only his eyes that are crying.
The mortgage is foreclosed. After repayments, fees and interest, Aimee will have 3,880 francs on which to bring up Manon. They leave the farm. But the Soubeyrands are impatient, Papet is impatient. They unblock the spring too soon, the water bubbling up, not gushing but still intense. Manon has followed them into the brush, has seen the water, has understood. She runs away, shrieking, a sound Papet mistakes for a buzzard killing, a metaphor that will return most aptly. Little Ernestine puts something in her face you wouldn’t imagine a child could know. Fin de Premiere Parte.
The story is incomplete, but it has drawn up lines and, like railway tracks, the people are not free to go where they choose. These lines will lead only to one place, driven by a family’s name and the risks attendant upon cunning and an overweening pride. Jean de Florette died upn the altar of his own pride, too blind at his ambition to understand just how ill-suited he was for his chosen future, yet such a simple thing as access to water could, no, would have seen him reached his own romantic ideal of the promised land.
And before this story plays out to a conclusion whose dimensions have already been concealed in the details we already know, we will understand just how much of a tragedy this already is.
I can’t praise this film highly enough. It is acted beautifully, naturally, with a total conviction in all its parts. The Provencal countryside is both beautiful and harsh, and the film’s extended shooting time enabled all aspects of it to be seen, even to the golden duststorm of the sirocco. Though this was made in 1986, it is so exact as to its period that there isn’t a sense of age to it: it owes nothing to the time of its making and is as immediate as it was so long ago. Time cannot touch it, it cannot wither or stale.
And this is only half a film. I am already eager for next Sunday.
I’d like to highlight a comment in the Guardian to this piece by Gaby Hinsliff (a mostly sane and intelligent writer with far fewer chips than most Guardian writers and immeasurably fewer idiotic attitudes).
Among the comments is this from Tim Neal, rightly highlighted as a Pick:
“my partner and sole mate of 32 years recently said to be that time is waging war on her. I simply told her that time has not changed her one bit. She is and will always be the woman I meet and feel in love with .
Real beauty is what’s under the skin and wrinkles of time.
besides, I’ve also had 32 years and she still looks at me every morning and night like she did on the very first day we meet.
And I hope that continues to the end of my days”
Mate, good on you, good for you, and good on and for her too. Here’s to another 32 like that.
I still haven’t fully processed last month’s unbelievable Cricket World Cup Final success by England. There are so many emotions tangled up in those events, and not merely that last hour of play when absolutely every indication there could be was of the inexorable sliding of the trophy into New Zealand’s deserving but ever-so-frustrating hands.
And then something unbelievable upon any level except the least likely one, that it happened. Boult treading on the boundary, Stokes’ accidental deflection of the ball for four overthrows, two run outs, a super over, and the final decision going on the one factor that nobody in their right mind would ever have believed could be brought into play.
Nothing like that could ever happen again. Nothing weirder than that could ever happen at all. Or should we not be so sure about that?
So many different streams of thought run into that conclusive moment when Joss Butler ran out Martin Guptill. I’m old enough to have watched the first Cricket World Cup, in that long ago hot summer of 1975, the final between Australia and West Indies. I watched the end of that at my mate Alan’s. We went out on Saturday night to the Oaks, a big pub on the edge of Chorlton with a Saturday night disco, but we refused to leave until the final was over, that determined last wicket stand between Lillee and Thompson, the great fast bowling pair, crazily threatening to keep the Ozzies in contention and getting far closer than any sane man would have dreamed.
Forty-four years ago, and forty-four years of waiting to see if England could ever do that, through three finals of defeat that looked like becoming four. I’ve no vivid memories of 1979 or 1992, but in 1989, at my girlfriend’s, I remember coming downstairs on Sunday morning to see England doing well, looking good, until Gatting threw his wicket away to Alan Border and England died in that instant (and I don’t care what bloody excuses you keep coming up with to justify that god awful, stupid shot, Gatting, it was a colossal fuck-up and you carry that on your shoulders. Own up for once, will you?)
Forty-four years and Sunday. Hunting round for ages to find a workable livestream. Finally getting one. Having it, Cricinfo’s Live Score and the Guardian’s Over-by-Over (going to Ball-by-Ball) open simultaneously and flicking from one to another. The stream starting to go a bit shonky. Buffering delays, until the pictures were a delivery behind, until they gave way altogether, with two balls left. Knowing already that NZ had got one, and needed two off the last delivery to win, one was not enough. And the plain, flat entry: England have won the World Cup! Who? How? What? What happened? The crucial last ball and I missed it. Many of you may say it serves me right.
So already I had a personal pall on the moment, a distance from the instance, that I didn’t see it, didn’t feel it, didn’t experience it like everybody else, and had to be told about it.
But we had won the Cup. By the narrowest of all possible margins. We had tied the 50 over game. We had tied the Super Over. We had won because, over our respective 50 overs, England had scored more boundaries than New Zealand. I hadn’t known that about the conditions of the Super Over. I hadn’t known anything about the conditions of the Super Over until we had to play one, but I knew before it began that if that were tied (hah-hah, fat chance of that), England would win.
Almost immediately the game was over, it began, and it’s just got more persistent ever since. So far as I can tell, it’s come from Englanders mostly. The New Zealanders were as gracious and uncomplaining in their acceptance of defeat as their skipper, Kane Williamson, as admirable a man as is on this Earth now.
There was a welter of disagreement, of denigration, of denial that England have legitimately won the World Cup. Some point to the luck going England’s way: Trent Boult, a solid and reliable boundary fielder, catches Ben Stokes but makes the one mistake of his tournament, stepping back and standing on the rope. No catch, no new batsman in the final over, but six runs and a colossal step towards England maybe doing it.
The next ball, Stokes again, desperate to run two, hurls himself full-length towards his ground, no idea where the ball is, only that it’s hurtling in… and incredibly Guptill’s throw strikes Stokes’ out-stretched bat. How the hell could that happen, what possibility fraction had to be overcome that in Lords, two objects travelling in different directions, at different speeds, should for a fraction of a second occupy the same physical space? And the ball skids off and runs to the boundary. Four overthrows, six more, Stokes still on strike. Completely unintentional on the batsman’s part, or else it would be out, Obstructing the Field. These are the margins.
How can all this be happening? Then a Super Over that ends up tied, and England win on a technicality.
And people start demanding that it not be as it is. That the four overthrows shouldn’t be counted (they were completely legal). That the umpires cheated to help England. It should be a New Zealand win, or it should be a tie, or it should be replayed, or there should be an asterisk placed against it in the record books to permanently denote it wasn’t legitimate, it shouldn’t be recognised. The England team shouldn’t celebrate, their ‘win’ is dirty, they should hang their heads in shame.
A day later, TV footage confirms there was indeed an Umpire error over Stokes’ four overthrows. The Law stipulates that the overthrows should be added to the completed runs on the field. At the time Guptill launched his throw, Stokes and Rashid had not crossed. The score should have been 1 + 4 = 5, not 6, and it should have been Rashid facing the next delivery.
A mistake, an honest to goodness mistake. The Umpires assumed the batsmen had crossed. New Zealand assumed the batsmen had crossed. And if there had been an objection raised at the time, there was no provision for DRS to investigate something like that anyway.
But the naysayers eizsed on that. England didn’t win after all. The result should be overturned retrospectively, the Cup given to New Zealand, despite the fact that no Umpire’s decision has ever been retrospectively overturned.
This tide of negativity, this demand to tear down the result, depresses me. Like I say, it’s not the New Zealanders, who have every right to feel aggrieved, who are calling for this, it’s the English.
But that seems to be part of things today in this godawful country. I first saw this, in virulent force, ten years ago, and it seems only to have proliferated. Much of the attack on England’s win is an attack on the rules of the World Cup itself. For most of One-Day Cricket’s history, a tied game has been decided in favour of the team losing fewer wickets. On that basis, New Zealand would clearly have won, no Super Over necessary. They finished on 241 for 8, England were 241 all out. Simple, logical.
Except that those were not the rules of the competition. The Super Over rules were decided o before the tournament began, they were accepted by all the participating Countries, they were the same for everyone and no-one gave a damn, until they were needed. But since England won under a new system, the naysayers argued that the rule is stupid (maybe it is), unnecessary (possibly so) and introduces a new and unfair criterion for victory overthrowing longstanding and sensible methods (which it does). So the rule should be chucked out now and the Cup should be awarded to New Zealand.
To which the only possible answer is, Bollocks. This was the rule under which the tournament was played. You cannot go back and change it just because you don’t like the outcome.
I mentioned something ten years ago. I’m talking about the 2009 series of University Challenge. The final that year was contested between Corpus Christi, Oxford and the University of Manchester. Corpus Christi were the overwhelming favourites, having steamrollered all opposition, largely due to their captain, Gail Trimble, who seemed to know everything about everything. Trimble had become a social phenomenon.
But Manchester knocked Corpus Christi out of their stride, getting off to a flying start, running up 95 points without reply, until Trimble’s team-mate Sam Kay intervened to answer a tricky question, and get them off zero. You could see Corpus Christi visibly relax. The inevitable happened, Trimble got going, Corpus Christi ran out comfortable winners.
And were then disqualified and the trophy awarded to a much-embarrassed Manchester, who didn’t want it in those circumstances.
Corpus Christi were disqualified for fielding an ineligible team member, as it happened the same Sam Kay who had changed the course of the final. University Challenge rules require every participant to be a student of their University or College at all times up to and including the final. Kay had graduated and left Corpus Christi between the second and third rounds.
There was no two ways about it: Corpus Christi had cheated. Whether they had deliberately set out to pull the wool over the BBC’s eyes, or whether it was an innocent mistake was irrelevant.
I had quite recent experience of that, when it came to Droylsden FC. This was in the infamous FA Cup Second Round tie with Chesterfield in 2008 that took four games, two of them abandoned incomplete, to settle.
The sequence was an away tie abandoned at half-time due to fog, a new game drawn 2-2, during which Droylsden defender Sean Newton got a yellow card, a home replay abandoned after 70 minutes due to floodlight failure after 70 minutes and a final game won by Droylsden, 2-1, both goals scored by Newton.
The problem was that Newton was ineligible to play in the winning game. His yellow card at Chesterfield took him to five, invoking a one-game suspension. Droylsden received notification of the same on the day of the replay, consulted their fixture list and confirmed that the suspension – for the first game played after seven days from the FA notice, would be the Boxing Day notice.
That night’s game was abandoned and the next match rescheduled for the following Tuesday. As such, that game became the one to which Newton’s suspension must apply. By an understandable but devastating oversight, no-one realised this. Newton played, scored both goals and Droylsden were expelled.
There were protests, heartfelt pleas, an unsuccessful appeal to the FA but, as I had known from the moment the news broke, nothing to be done. However innocent the mistake, Droylsden had played an ineligible player and there was only one punishment: expulsion. That this was the first (and only) time Droylsden qualified for the Third Round only made it more painful.
But the Rules are the Rules, as my lawyer background insists. Whatever you think of them, they must be applied. As with Droylsden, so too with Corpus Christi. The outrage was instant. Gail Trimble had become a media darling and everyone was insistent that her story end according to the pre-determined script. Some way had to be demanded to let her win.
That Corpus Christi had broken the rules was undeniable. What therefore had to be denied was the validity of the rule. It was stupid. It was idiotic. It was nonsense. The rule should be stricken out. Or if it stood, it shouldn’t mean Corpus Christi should actually be punished for breaking it. Or not punished that way. Over and over again, until I watched open-mouthed in astonishment. Everything had to be undone so that Trimble should win.
What was so astonishing to me was that not one person seemed to consider the situation more than molecule deep. The rule was that a competition for University students should only be open to those who were students throughout: that seemed to me to be not merely fair, nor reasonable, but the whole bloody point to begin with.
And what of the other Colleges and Universities who had entered? All had agreed to abide by the rules, on pain of expulsion and, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, every one of them had observed the rule, except Corpus Christi. What is that a textbook description of if not cheating?
By keeping to the rules, Manchester University had crippled themselves. Everybody had crippled themselves. How many Trimble-like candidates had been turned away because they did not qualify? How many more didn’t even apply because they knew they didn’t qualify? But these considerations were irrelevant to those who had had their expectations overturned.
Put in its least polite form, it was a mass exercise in stamping ones feet, holding ones breath and screaming, “Waaah! It’s not fair!”
Exercises of that nature accompany almost every decisive moment. England’s win at Lords is just the latest. “It’s not fair!” Tear it down, don’t allow it, I don’t like it, and if the rules say so, then the rules are an ass and should be thrown out the window so I can have my way.
It’s just one more way in which my once-beloved country is turning into a joke, a mess, an embarrassment. And it’s throwing a shadow over that astomishing game to see so many people whining about it, asking for any other outcome than an England win, anything but that. Forty four years of waiting, from an extended sunny Saturday evening to an extended sunny Sunday evening, and the sound of babies crying.
All-American Comics was the flagship publication of the newly-formed All-American Publications, the company founded by M.C (Charley) Gaines in partnership with Detective Comics’ Harry Donenfeld, who put up the capital in return for a 50% silent partnership and a role as Business Manager for Detective’s Business Manager, Jack Leibowitz.
Though Detective was making its waves on the back of its two masked men characters, Superman and Batman, and though Gaines had sought the money to set up his own company because of the success of Donenfeld’s titles, the new series did not at first feature any superheroes. That would not come until issue 16, and when it did the new hero would be All-American‘s mainstay for the rest of its run.
The first issue, from April 1939, is very much a thing from a bygone age. All-American led with Red, White and Blue, three American boys who’d grown up as friends, entered different branches of the services in the war and, thanks to their chivalrous impulses towards a beautiful woman in a tight situation, found themselves transferred as a special unit to G2, America’s secret service. There were Mutt and Jeff reprints, Sunday pages from Bud Fisher’s classic newspaper strip, and the same from Percy Crosby’s highly acclaimed but largely forgotten Skippy. Gene Byrnes’ Reg’lar Fellers was another newspaper strip, one I’d never heard of before, and not hard to understand why.
Hop Harrigan, by Jon L. Blummer (credited as Jon Elby), a future phenomenon as America’s air pilot hero of the airwaves also debuted. Editor Sheldon Mayer contributed his quasi-autobiographical Scribbly, Adventures of a Boy Cartoonist, of which more would come. Adventures in the Unknown, the Mystery Men of Mars, by Carl Claudy, started off like the crassest and stupidest of SF. Edwin Alger’s Ben Webster started like a continuation of an ongoing series, which it was, a pretty bog standard juvenile adventure newspaper strip.
Harry Lampert, of The Flash fame, produced Spot Savage, about a news reporter and there were more from Gene Byrnes and Bud Fisher, half-pagers featuring Daisybelle and Cicero’s Cat, respectively, which appeared as ‘header’ series on the newspaper Sunday pages. Tippie, by Edwina, was a silent strip about a dog. Fontaine Fox’s Toonerville Folks was yet another reprinted Sunday strip, as was George Storm’s Bobby Thatcher, though that strip had been defunct two years when All-American 1 came out. Lastly, there was Wiley of West Point, by Lieut. Richard Rick.
It’s hardly an impressive line-up. Superman had been in existence since April 1938, and Batman was brand new. All-American offered very little new material and was overloaded with newspaper strip reprints of varying quality, making it almost a premature throwback to the very first comic books of the early part of the decade. Mutt and Jeff is legendary, but it’s humour is tilted to the age, Skippy is more of a cult than anything else, and Scribbly has potential it certainly doesn’t use in issue 1.
This is an eighty year old comic book with an amateurish logo. And it looks it.
Weirdly enough, Red Dugan developed ‘mental telepathy’ in issue 2, which was an altogether cheaper issue, with limited colouring of the kind you used to get in the Victor and the Hornet in Britain in the Sixties. And in issue 3, Scribbly Jibbet met Huey Hunkel and, what’s more important, his Ma, Ma Hunkel. And there was a very familiar opening line to Huey’s Great American Novel (5 pages with every other word crossed out because Huey kept thinking of a better one). It was a dark and stormy night. You just know someone’s going to use that!
The first addition to the line-up was an adaptation of the renowned play starring Fredric March, The American Way, a patriotic play about German immigrants learning to be American. The title also added Popsicle Pete, the Typical American Boy (have you noticed something of a theme developing around here?), though that was based on a real contest winner from the Popsicle Company.
So far, with the exception of Scribbly, so not much, but the first quasi-superhero hit the front cover on issue 8, introducing Gary Concord, the Ultra-Man. Concord, who took over the lead slot from Red, White and Blue, is the High Moderator of America in 2239 but to begin with he had to play second fiddle to the life story of his father, a 20th century worker for peace carried into the future in suspended animation. Spot Savage dropped out, unnoticed. And to keep pace with what was going on around, issue 9 carried a full page advert for All American Publications’ new title, Flash Comics. The true superhero was arriving at the company.
It only took until issue 10 before Red, White and Blue were back in pole position, and Gary Concord moved further within. The perpetually stiff Wiley of West Point disappeared without warning after issue 12, in mid-cliffhanger, which also saw the last Toonerville Folks, but the unspeakably worthless Adventures into the Unknown was kept.
All of this, however, was but a generally unmemorable prelude to issue 16. All-American gained a new, and much more professional logo, a new cover character and a new leading feature, the one the comic is known for: enter the Green Lantern.
It’s a well-known story: young railroad engineer Alan Scott (who was originally going to be called Alan Ladd – as is in Al Ladd-in’s lamp – before the famous actor appeared) should have died when a bomb sabotaged the new line he’d built. Instead the mysterious green railroad lantern saved him and granted him power over metals, from the Green Flame of Life. Green Lantern was the creation of artist Martin Nodell (going by Mart Dellon), fleshed out by writer Bill Finger, to whom Nodell was far more generous than Bob Kane had been. GL’s far from green costume only appeared in one panel, but it was the start, of something very much bigger.
The classic history has Scott moving to the city (not named as Gotham until issue 91) and becoming a radio announcer so as to be ahead of breaking news of crimes, but he doesn’t even join Apex Broadcasting until issue 20, and then as a radio engineer, a status he retains for ages. In later issues, Scott would work for Station WCMG (once) before settling at WXYZ, and he would bounce around various roles like Special Events Director, Radio Announcer (see!), Program Director and Presenter.
As an employee of Apex Broadcasting, Scott would work for, alongside and in charge of Irene Miller, his Producer, Broadcaster and eventually secretary until, one day, the young lady with a crush on Green Lantern just drifted away, completely forgotten.
Green Lantern’s immediate success quickly emboldened Mayer to commission another costumed hero, The Atom, in issue 19. Written and drawn interchangeably, I believe, by Ben Flinton and Bill O’Connor, this was 5’1” tall college student Al Pratt, looked down upon for his height, who was trained by boxing trainer Joe Morgan to become a fighter, but instead used his scrapping abilities to become a hero, to rescue his fellow student and would be date, Mary James. Whichever man drew at any time, they were both lousy, as in barely better than I can draw.
Gary Concord’s run came to an end in issue 19, only for Adventures into the Unknown to return after an all-too-short breather. Sadly, Percy Crosby’s Skippy and its header also left the scene, though Bud Fisher and Gene Byrnes hung around. For a short time: Reg’Lar Fellers was the next to depart, leaving its header strip, Daisybelle, behind.
Suddenly, they were everywhere. In issue 20, the Green Lantern’s fame spread as far as Scribbly’s series, prompting Ma Hunkel to put on red longjohns and a saucepan with eyeholes cut out to rescue Dinky Jibbet and Sisty Hunkel as The Red Tornado, the first parody superhero and, beating Wonder Woman by a clear year, the first superheroine. A couple of issues later, the feature was re-titled Scribbly and The Red Tornado. By issue 24, Sisty and Dinky had joined in the fun as the Cyclone Kids. And the Red Tornado’s name kept getting bigger, and Scribbly’s kept getting smaller…
All-American was now accelerating towards its remembered shape. Ben Webster’s stout-hearted adventures came to an end in issue 24, to accommodate the debut of blinded surgeon-turned-superhero, Charles ‘Dr Mid-Nite’ McNider, created by Charles Reizenstein and Stan Aschmeier. He was followed two issues later by Sargon the Sorceror, the work of John B Wentworth and Howard Purcell. This latter made All-American a fully-fledged superhero comic, like Flash Comics. Of the newspaper strips, only Bud Fisher’s work remained, and weirdly some of these were reprints from earlier in the run.
I’ve refrained so far from substantive comment, but I do have a two pennorth to put in about Red, White and Blue. Though it’s supposedly about the three friends, Marine Sergeant Red Dugan, Army Sergeant Whitey Smith and Sailor Blooey Blue, most stories see them operating as a quartet, at first under the orders of, then usually with established G2 agent Doris West. Doris is a beautiful woman, of course, and winds up, in the background, becoming Red’s girlfriend.
There’s a visual dichotomy from the start in that she and Red are drawn realistically, but that Whitey and Blooey are cartoon figures, one big and blonde, the other small and dark. Whitey’s the brawn, Blooey the comic relief: well, both of them are, but he’s the overt one, the put-upon one, the Johnny Thunder.
It’s very noticeable that, as time goes on, Red forgets that Doris is the experienced one who arranged for him to join G2. Increasingly, he starts getting macho on her, leave it to the men, stay at home with your knitting, sneering at her ideas. Thankfully, the series doesn’t: Doris is always right but Red never learns. This really is a boy’s comic, because the some thing goes on in Hop Harrigan, whenever Gerry, aka Geraldine, crops up, no matter how competent she shows herself to be, and Gary Concord was equally snotty about women.
It’s annoying because it shows itself widely across several series. It’s not like Flash Comics, where The Flash and Hawkman have girlfriends who insisting on getting involved in their game, where the misogynist elements are only a reflection of the times, and the attitude of the men is mainly one of humouring. There was a genuine anger, almost a foot-stamping aggression, in Red, White and Blue and the other series at this point.
Green Lantern was the title’s flagship character, its cover star and first feature, almost throughout the entire run, though his hold on that role would be shaken as All-American neared the end of its life. By rights, this should have been a top-notch Forties series, but with issue 27, Nodell and Finger permanently crippled the series by introducing a full-time comic relief character in scrappy little taxi-driver Doiby Dickles.
Doiby, who took his name from his trademark derby (or bowler) hat as pronounced in his Brooklyn accent, was a constant drag on the idea of taking Green Lantern seriously. There was some decent amusement to be had from his outlandish speech patterns at the first, but that was forgotten before too long. In issue 35, Doiby was allowed to see Green Lantern without his mask and, being Apex Broadcasting’s official cabbie by then, recognise him as Alan Scott.
On a lighter note, Bill Finger demonstrated a penchant for knocking off crooks in the course of climactic fights, by knocking them off gantries into vats of acid. Everywhere criminals went, they kept vats of acid under gantries. No wonder the Health and Safety Laws had to be toughened up. Even The Atom got in on the act in issue 29, but to be fair he only dropped Nazi saboteurs into molten steel, whilst Red, White and Blue burned their spies to death.
There was a nadir to come, that thankfully passed. Bill Finger left the series at issue 41, with the stories now credited to Mart Nodell (under his real name) and Irwin Hasen. Sadly, the new regime got the idea of putting Doiby Dickles into a Green Lantern costume (greugh! Bad sight!) and calling him Devastatin’ Doiby (come back Bill Finger!)
Hop Harrigan had early on developed a supporting cast of veteran flier Prop Wash (not a nickname), and big, red-headed mechanic Ikky Tinker, which confused me as I knew the latter as Tank Tinker from the prose stories appearing in All-Star Comics. Now, issue 32 revealed his full name to be His Grace Tutankhamen Anastasius Angustora Ichabod Tinker: you know why he immediately became Tank, but just what was so wrong with Ikky (apart from the obvious)?
Flinton and O’Connor stayed with The Atom until they were drafted, and never returned to comics. Replacements, in the form of Joe Gallagher (art) and Ted Udall (scripts) had to be found. Matters improved, marginally at any rate: at least the Atom’s cape looked like a cape, and not a hand towel. And Al Pratt finally managed to get a date with Mary James! Who started switching, inconsistently, from brunette to blonde and back again.
The War arrived with a vengeance in issue 42. Hop Harrigan had already gone into Air training and we got a piece of utter nonsense masquerading as a Dr Mid-Nite story involving the Germans and a rather more serious, and better story for Sargon the Sorceror, foiling the Japanese.
Continuity was not due to be a thing in comics for nearly twenty years but there were changes galore in Green Lantern over issues 41 to 45. On the other hand, The Red Tornado was consistent: consistently funny, silly and, in issue 45, gloriously metafictional, with Ma Hunkel and the kids getting fed up of the same old malarkey every month and getting Mayer himself to come down and argue with them! Mayer would play about with the strip again, re-imagining its characters in historical times and as funny animals, but always wonderfully.
Enthusiasm for the War led to Hop Harrigan replacing GL on the cover of issue 47, with The Atom sitting out to make room for the Story of Joshua, the Bible tale. Charley Gaines had a thing for educational comics and had started a half-yearly title, Picture Stories from the Bible. The Joshua story probably came from that, but if it was at all representative of Gaines’ new project, then it was a bust in comics terms: undramatic, weak, perfunctory cartooning that was probably much too respectful of its source to be of the least value as entertainment or education.
Just as wartime paper-rationing affected All-Star and the Justice Society, All-American came in for its share of pain from issue 51, reducing from 68 to 60 pages. The drop was quite easily accommodated by taking the comic’s junior feature with it: farewell Sargon the Sorceror.
Two issues later, Alan Scott’s Oath, the one he’s used in every post-Golden Age appearance, was replaced with a new one used in every remaining story in the series, a familiar but incongruous verse beginning “In Brightest Day, in Blackest Night…” It looked so strange coming from the ‘wrong’ GL. It’s recognised that this Oath was composed by future SF legend Alfred Bester, though his name wasn’t credited, not on this or any other Green Lantern story.
Hop Harrigan’s series, now supported by a five days a week radio programme, had always been a more or less realistic air ace adventure, especially when Hop was going through Air Force training. Suddenly, it added a silent pageboy-bobbed young lad called Hippity, who carried a machete and acted daft, and the strip spiralled into idiocy. The annoying thing was that I was sure I recognised Hippity from something else, but I have no idea what. Hippety would eventually disappear in favour of more serious, if still at times fanciful stories, but the little bugger would keep coming back and crashing future episodes every time.
Interestingly enough, Dr Mid-Nite’s adversary in issue 57 went by the name of The Shade. He was no relation to the Flash’s villain of that name in Flash Comics (who was no relation to any version of the character who appeared in that legendary issue, The Flash 121, in 1961).
The further All-American went into 1944, the more noticeable it was that the stories were getting sillier, as if the writers had run out of conviction in what they were doing and could only maintain series by starting to make fun of them. Admittedly, more and more of the better creators had been drafted into the Army now. Paul Reinman was drawing Green Lantern, Sheldon Mayer was getting increasingly metafictional within The Red Tornado, nobody knew from issue to issue what colour Mary James’ hair would be, and that was before she started hiring would-be crooks to unmask the Atom. Red White and Blue got dafter and worse drawn, until everybody, Red Dugan included, looked like cartoons. Suddenly, the three fighting men, and Doris West, were split up into solo stories, told as letters amongst them, which rendered the whole series pointless. It was as if the entire comic was undergoing a nervous breakdown.
Paper rationing had reduced All-American to 52 pages, and bi-monthly publication alternating with Flash Comics. More changes had to be made. The first of these was the cancellation of Scribbly and The Red Tornado after issue 59. Such a shame. It had been All-American’s most consistently entertaining series from day one.
Better was on its way for Green Lantern, at least for the debut, in issue 61, of Solomon Grundy, though it was a shame that this should be one of the relatively few issues on the DVD available only in fiche form. Unfortunately, this was a one-off, with the decline into asininity resuming immediately. The same issue was the last of The Atom’s continuous adventures to be published in All-American. His place was taken by Picture Stories from American History, which was being shared in Sensation Comics and Comics Cavalcade, but he would be back after a nine issue hiatus, for three further stories, the first being as childishly drawn as anything Flinton and O’Connor had ever perpetrated, before going for good.
The intention was cancellation, and replacement in the Justice Society, but this fell foul of a fluke circumstance, and the Mighty Mite would re-emerge in Flash Comics.
The Green Lantern story in issue 64 featured a horse that liked to sit on eggs. The only other place I’ve heard that referred was Alan Plater’s TV serial and novel, Oliver’s Travels. Was this some sort of contemporary gag, an in-joke for 1945? I found a Google link, but the page refused to open, so I remain ignorant.
Wars, however, do not last forever. In issue 66, Red White and Blue were reuniting separated German families whilst Hop Harrigan was still fighting in the Far East. On the other hand, a month later Whitey was still writing fighting letters from Berlin and Hop and Tank were heading home to Hippity (I’d rather have stayed bombing the Japanese).
We’re now at the era of the All-American/Detective Comics split, ended after six months by the merger of the two companies and the dissolution of All-American Publications. Issue 70 saw the old DC logo return to the cover. The increasingly dismal Red White and Blue strip was put out of its misery in issue 72, in favour of The Black Pirate (and his son Justin), transferring over from his old berth in Sensation Comics.
The Atom’s second departure was in favour of The Flash’s Three Dimwits, Winky, Blinky and Noddy in a solo story. The Black Pirate lasted two stories but was soon back on a permanent basis, The Flash turned up in the second Three Dimwits story. And Alan Scott was broadcasting for Station WXYZ in issue 76.
The quality of All-American had now become so poor that a fiche that was next to unreadable was a relief, since it was the best excuse not to read an issue. Was there ever going to be a decent issue again? Only Dr Mid-Nite attempted to offer straight stories any more. Green Lantern’s stock had fallen so far that he was displaced from the cover for two consecutive issues, first by Hop Harrigan, then by Mutt & Jeff, with the latter also displacing his position as lead feature. They were a reprinted newspaper strip, remember? They were the lead.
Mutt and Jeff took the cover again, and the lead, in issue 83. Green Lantern dropped Paul Reinman from the art and Doiby from the meat of the story for once and came up with a perfectly decent, neatly drawn tale, and The Black Pirate dropped back in, albeit to meet blue-skinned aliens: sigh, why can’t they get things right? But the same issue had a surprisingly good Hop Harrigan story, the first in months worth reading, as Hop received letters from the past from his mother, and went searching for her in Colombia. There he found that she was long dead, but that he had a sister, who returned with him to America.
The Forties were not a great time for supervillains, unless you were Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. With the exception of that solitary Solomon Grundy tale, Green Lantern had gone without in All-American (his regular villain, The Fool, only ever appeared in GL’s solo title).
Suddenly, the series had a rash of supervillains. ‘Crusher’ Crock, aka The Sportsmaster, the World’s dirtiest sports player, debuted in issue 85, only to die at the end of it: did the editors have no idea? Similarly, The Icicle was killed off in his first story, in issue 90. Don’t worry, both returned from their apparent deaths, The Icicle in issue 92 and The Sportsmaster as The Sportsmaster in issue 98.
More notable, and sensible, was the debut in issue 89 of Green Lantern’s ‘friendly’ enemy, the red-headed Harlequin. Alan Scott was back at the radio station for the first time in ages, as Program Director, with a new secretary, a Miss Maynne (Molly), who rather likes the crimefighter and, after years of being starved of beaus because of her athletic prowess, decided to become a villainess in order to attract Green Lantern’s attention. It was a silly notion, especially as a redhead who looked like that would be fighting them off in droves in real life.
The Harlequin, who made no secret of being in love with Green Lantern and wanting to marry him (this was still years before the Comics Code but even villains couldn’t have sex without a Marriage Licence). She and Molly Maynne made five appearances, including three consecutive ones, in seven issues of All-American only to disappear completely but for two back of the head cameos by Molly thereafter.
One of those stories did not show Green Lantern up in a particularly good light, when he decided to ask Molly out on a date to play on The Harlequin’s jealousy. What effect this might have on the ‘innocent’ Miss Maynne was not in his thinking, the asshole.
The Harlequin’s debut was accompanied by the first appearance by Cotton-Top Katie, a cartoon feature about a young girl with fluffy white hair, and her idiotic classmate the Perfesser. Cotton-Top ran for ten issues and was All-American’s penultimate new feature.
The Harlequin’s streak was brought to an end in issue 96 which introduced Streak the Wonder Dog. Actually, the story was more Streak, assisted by Green Lantern than the other way round, though having Alex Toth on the art made up for a lot. But it was a sign that the Golden Age was entering into its dog days. Where Flash Comics displayed a late burst of strength, its senior was collapsing in upon itself with a whimper.
After 99 issues, and a return bout with girl pirate ‘Jolly’ Roger, Hop Harrigan’s strip came to an abrupt end. It’s replacement was a western series, Johnny Thunder, no relation to the former JSA member with a magic lightning bolt. It was a foreshadowing, a foreshadowing of a future rushing towards All-American’s readership faster than they would have expected.
The comic reached issue 100 under a cover date of August 1948, suggesting it went on sale two months beforehand. Johnny Thunder, a strange mix of sharpshooter and costumed hero rubbed coal dust in his hair to disguise his ‘real’ identity of blond schoolteacher Johnny Tane, the Sheriff’s son. He also took over the cover, denying Green Lantern the landmark that he deserved. The series looked good, because it too was drawn by Alex Toth.
But Johnny was the future. All-American Comics 102 was a fiche copy: Johnny Thunder, Dr Mid-Nite, The Black Pirate, Green Lantern and, for the first and only time, no Mutt & Jeff, and it was over. When issue 103 appeared, a month later, it was as All-American Western Comics. Time was up for Green Lantern and Dr Mid-Nite, except for two more years in the Justice Society and All-Star Comics. The Golden Age was all but done. Westerns, Crime comics, Comic comics, but not superheroes in the way they’d been.
Much as I enjoy Lou Grant, and much as I’m on board with its impeccable liberal orientation, I do confess to finding a certain amount of earnestness in such stories to be too visible. Which is why this episode, a straightforward crime story, was so much stronger for being an unequivocal drama.
We went straight into the action with a bravura section showing, first, thesetting of a fire in a dilapidated basement, complete with appropriately discordant music – a theme reintroduced as a shorthand clue to the viewer for later incidents – followed by the firefighters attempting to get the fire under control (including the inevitable cliche of the mother evacuated from the building screaming that her child is still inideand trying to get back there).
There are three personal strands linking theTrib to this otherwise routine incident. Animal, out on a date with his new girlfriend, Debbie, hears the story on his police scanner and races to the scene to take photos. Lou’s new racketball partner, Frank Durning (Tom Atkins), works in the Fire Marshall’s office. And the building was built by Mrs Pynchon’s father: her interest in whether the building can be saved leads Lou to assign Billie to follow up.
This was the entry into a nicely detailed plot, as Billie, Rossi and Lou work towards finding out what is going on. This is the twelfth such fire in this area in the past nineteen months, six times the average elsewhere in LA. In Frank, Lou finds a willing but unhelpful source who, Deep Throat-esque, will indicate a direction without providing direct evidence.
Slowly, the team builds up a familiarly rancid picture. A local businessman places properties in the hands of dummy owners who let the same lawyer manage the buildings for them. Frequent sales and re-purchases between the dummy owners, at increasing prices, artificially jack up the ‘value’ of the buildings, until, they being insured for a purchase price way above their real worth, pouf! The building goes up in flames, tenants’ lives are devastated, but the ultimate owner makes a massive profit. I admit I thought of certain people I met in my old career in the Law.
The problemm is sufficint proof. The Fire Department won’t act, so Frank breaks his own cover briefly to let Lou read – or rather copy – a 400 page internal report that’s acting as a cover up. Unfortunately, having only 40 minutes in which to do this, Frank’s deniability is blown when the back cover goes missing and has to be replaced by one in a slightly different shade, and five of the pages that go back in the binder are xeroxes, not originals.
But the story is out, even though Frank gets the cold shoulder treatment. It’s an important story, well-received, among firemen if not the Department. It’s not enough to convict anyone. Rossi is seen talking with a professional arsonist, setting up a trap, but the arsonist has another job tonight, another one in Newton, for the same businessman.
And with an appropriate dramatic unity, this building in where Animal lives, and where he and Debbie have been eating. Animal receives the ‘get out’ warning phonecall, since the target is the building, not the people, and he and Debbie get everyone out. But one elderly man is asleep… This time, someone’s killed. The stakes go up. And the story provides no easy, satisfactory answers. Justice is not seen to be served, an unusual state in prime-time TV in 1978, when the ground-breaking Hill Street Blues was still three years away. It made the story stronger by not allowing such a well-constructed conspiracy to be overthrown with babyish ease.
The investigation will continue, both in the Fire Department and the |trib. In the short term, Lou and Frank return to their racketball game…