Things you couldn’t say on the Radio

The random access butterfly of memory has flapped its wings again, stirring up another remembrance of times past. Gather round me, my children, whilst I relate to you another tale of when things were Not As They Are Now.
I speak of The Kinks, and their classic hit single, ‘Lola’. I have mentioned from time to time that I literally discovered pop/rock music ten days from the end of the Sixties, and ‘Lola’ was the band’s first big success of the new decade.
I’m pretty sure that I was vaguely aware of the band’s existence but not their history. I knew ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ but was under the impression that it was a novelty song, and therefore not by a ‘name’ band. I was certainly not aware that the band hadn’t reached the Top Ten since 1967, nor the Top Twenty since the following year.
It was a strange time. The Sixties were over, no-one knew what the Seventies was going to hold, and all the currently surviving Sixties pop bands were going ‘heavy’ to one degree or another. The Kinks weren’t immune to that, in fact they, in their idiosyncratic way, had begin the process somewhat earlier than most.
‘Lola’ was a glorious revival, but there was a point, early in its existence, where it could all have gone wrong, for the BBC were on the point of banning it.
Perhaps banning is too strong a word, and I’m not aware of what negotiations were being carried  out, but there was a distinct reason why the song, in its original form, was not going to get any airplay on Radio 1, and it was serious enough that, in order to get the record on the air, Ray Davies had to break off an American tour, fly back to  England, and record an overdub.
Let’s consider that opening verse, shall we?
I met her in a club down in Old Soho
Where they drink champagne
And it tastes just like Coca-Cola
C-O-L-A, Cola
I walked up to her and I asked her to dance
I asked her her name
And in a different voice she said “Lola”
L-O-L-A, Lola
Already Ray Davies is signalling that things are not quite of the ordinary, and indeed he quickly follows up by signalling openly that Lola is a transvestite and that ‘she’ and the singer are entering a sexual relationship.
Not exactly the lightweight, family-friendly, boy meets girl and shares nothing but sweet, innocent kisses until three years after the wedding that was the kind of thing decent, honest, hard-working parents expected their kids to be listening to on Radio 1 in 1970.
You may now think that you understand why ‘Lola’ was in such danger of a radio ban, but you would be wrong. Go back to that verse: the clue is right there. In order to make The Kinks’ new single playable, Ray Davies had to overdub a single word. Can you guess which it is?
That’s right: it was ‘Coca’.

The BBC was, and still is, an organisation set up, and operated by Government Charter. Though primarily independent (this is talking about 1970, when the Beeb really did hold itself separate from most Government influence and was incredibly better for it), it was still  the National Broadcaster. As such, it was barred from throwing the National weight behind advertising in any form. Even when it came to a pop song’s lyrics.
The Kinks could not be allowed to sway public opinion towards the Coca-Cola Corporation, and to the clear detriment of Pepsi-Cola, and all the other small brewers of Colas the world over. So Davies had to criss-cross the Atlantic to record a radio-friendly version that referenced the fictional Cherry Cola.
The single, of course, was unaltered. All those innocent thousands who bought it after hearing it on Radio 1 found themselves subjected to the most pernicious and insidious advertising.
Of course, the irony is that now, and for many years, the BBC has been perfectly happy to play the Coca-Cola version – always a jarring experience for those of us as old as me, conditioned to expect Cherry – and the forgotten radio version is just as much as advertisement as the original, Cherry Cola being a very popular drink.
This wasn’t the first, nor the last time that product placement would radically affect a record’s chances with the BBC. Let us go back a dozen years, to 1958, and the single ‘Beep Beep’, recorded by The Playmates.
I have a vague, and clear illusory memory of hearing this song on Juke Box Jury, but the more factual version is that I became familiar with ‘Beep Beep’ from its regular appearances on Junior Choice throughout the Sixties.
That alone should tell the young folk that we are dealing here with a novelty song. Let’s delve deeper. According to Wikipedia, this is a perfect example of accelerando, meaning that the song gets faster and faster as it goes along. It begins at walking place, with this guy driving along in his big, flashy, powerful, status symbol Cadillac when he gets beeped from behind by a guy who  wants to pass him: the guy in back is driving a Nash Rambler. Oh dear.
Whilst driving in my Cadillac, much to my surprise (beep, beep)
A little Nash Rambler came right behind, about one third my size (beep, beep)
The guy must have wanted to pass me out, cos he kept on tooting his horn (beep, beep)
I’ll show him that a Cadillac is not a car to scorn (beep, beep).
You get the picture. This may be a novelty song, but its subject cuts deeply to the heart of the psycho-sexuality of the American male. The beep beep, incidentally, is a cheap and tinny car horn, and it is beeped at the end of every line.
Naturally, the Caddy-driver speeds up, which is echoed in the accelerando, but instead of leaving the little Nash Rambler behind in the dust, the silly little car stays right on the Caddy’s tail, still beeping its horn at the end of every line, determined to overtake. Which would be a big disgrace.
Now we’re doing a hundred ten, as fast as I can go (bip, bip) – the horn has got faster too
The Rambler pulled alongside of me, as if I were going slow (bip, bip)
The fellow rolled down his window, and yelled for me to hear (bip, bip)
“Hey, buddy, how can I get this car out of second gear?” (fusillade of bips up to abrupt cut-off)
But this isn’t the song with which my infant ears became familiar. It was decades, and decades of forgetting The Playmates even existed, before I ever heard of Cadillacs and Nash Ramblers.. The song I recollected was about the driver of a generic ‘limousine’ being pursued by an equally generic ‘bubble car’ (and if you’ve ever seen a bubble car, you’ll know why that made the song even more of a goof).
Yes, the BBC had even required a novelty song to record a radio-friendly version that excluded references to specific makes of cars, even though neither of the cars or their rivals were available to buy in Britain. Even though not one Briton in one hundred thousand could have recognised a Nash Rambler if one ran him over (very slowly). The airwaves could not be defiled by commercialism.

Nor did this attitude die out any time soon. Fifteen years later, three years after ‘Lola’, Paul Simon had a massive world-wide hit with a song called ‘Kodachrome’. Kodachrome did not exist in Britain, but the single was never released here anyway. Not only would the BBC not play it, they wouldn’t even allow it to be referred to by name.
To return to the subject of ‘Lola’, you still may find it strange that, even after the invention of Cherry Cola to make the track playable, the BBC did not have any qualms about playing a song so clearly celebrating transvesticism and homosexual relationships, subjects all but designed to set the crusading heart of Mrs Mary Whitehouse a-fluster (look what a fuss she made about Chuck Berry’s ‘My Ding-a-Ling’).
In answer to that I can only point to another single that came out in 1973, Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, which improbably reached no. 10 in Britain. Where Ray Davies spoke in rather guarded, albeit unambiguous terms, Reed let it all hang out, especially the line about ‘But she never lost her head/even when she was giving head’ (which got censored like a shot on American radio – the ‘coloured girls’ didn’t survive either).
But the song was on Radio 1’s playlist, meaning that you’d hear it at least three to four times every day, Monday to Sunday. The DJs knew what it meant. The Producers knew what it meant. Everybody knew what it meant (except for a rather naïve, innocent seventeen year old with practically no experience, over whose head it passed like Concorde, and at a similar distance).
The BBC didn’t. They really did not get it. They seriously did not understand the words.
So ‘Lola’ was never in any danger , not even with the lines:
Now I’m not the world’s most masculine man
But I know what I am
And I’m glad I’m a man.
And so’s Lola.
L-O-L-A, Lola.

A Bit of a Gloat

Gloating is an ugly emotion, and I get so few chances to indulge in it.

Having jacked Doctor Who in after a series of increasingly disastrous and nonsensical episodes, I have to confess to finding myself amused to read that the series is apparently in trouble.

If the reports I have been reading are to be believed, last year’s ratings – the first series to feature Capaldi – tanked it big time, and the first two episodes of this season – the ones to which I took such exception when I watched them – made last year’s audiences look like a major success.

Add to this the by-now confirmed fact that Jenna Coleman is leaving and the new rumours that Peter Capaldi wants to quit to spend more time with his wife and children, and the waters are seriously mounting.

But what astonished me most was the rumour that the BBC are considering radically reformatting the programme by cancelling the 2016 series and substituting a short series of films, a la Sherlock.

This isn’t without precedent: there was a year under Russell T Davies where the same approach was adopted, but I don’t think that had anything to do with audiences.

We shall await developments with interest. This is but one report and may have no truth to it whatsoever, but in case it’s on the money, I just wanted to bring this up. Needless to say, I believe I have the solution: it should be Stephen Moffat who leaves. Time for fresh minds and ones that can combine imagination and wit with plots that actually make sense.

New Tricks: The Crazy Gang

Au revoir

And so it ended, with neither a bang nor a whimper. New Tricks came to an end after twelve series, condemned by the BBC for a dip in ratings that followed the departures of Amanda Redman and Alun Armstrong, and probably prematurely, given that the series has clawed back a couple of million viewers this series and was still the most watched programme last Tuesday night.

Attention was paid to the series’ termination in no less than the Guardian this morning, though since the piece was by Stuart Heritage, with whom I have issues, it was full of condescension, metropolitan superiority and the kind of snidery that Heritage thinks raises laughs.

Some people just seem to have an issue with certain series’ being popular.

The finale had two stories to tell. One was the cold case: mental health campaigner Greg Collins, knifed to death on Millennium Eve, his case coming to UCOS after his daughter Rose found ominous words in the final page of the Journal that spoke of a forthcoming meeting with someone with whom he had been disagreeing.

The nature of the death suggest a crime of passion, and attention naturally turned to widow Vicky, to whom Greg had been unfaithful, especially after investigation turned up Toni, a woman with her own mental issues, who had been sectioned for many years.

I won’t spell out the twists and turns, but whilst the team were correct in their eventual theory that Toni, not Vicky, was Rose’s mum, Greg wasn’t the father, but the grandfather: Toni was his daughter by an earlier relationship. But the expected outcome that it had been the damaged Toni who had killed Greg, in her illness, did not materialise. In a scene of abiding emotion, Vicky, who had kept Rose from Toni in the belief that Rose was not safe, accepted from the calm Toni that she had mastered herself, that she had healed herself. Vicky, who had hated and withheld for fifteen years, sobbed at the mistake she had made  and the relationship she should never have tried to prevent.

How it might fall out now that everyone knew the truth was not the subject of the episode: the audience were left to contemplate that, but the emotions were both raw and complex.

And the murderer fell where those of us who share the same political tendencies as I secretly hoped it might, with Meera Syal as Baroness Shamira, the campaiigner who sold out to found a charity supported financially by the manufacturers of the dangerous drug Greg was opposing. All smarts suits and Westminster smoothness, despite her Lancashire accent, the Baroness expected to avoid all problems whilst going on about ‘the greater good’.

She even called in our dear friend, Assistant Commissioner Kline, to help smooth the way, but in the end Sasha pressured her into a confession that not only brought closure to Rose and her two mothers, but which neatly upended the headlong rush to disaster UCOS was undergoing.

For, twenty minutes in, Kline appears, announcing an Enquiry into the balls-up of the Hemway case of last week and the instant suspension of Steve, Danny and Ted. Except that the boys refuse to quit the investigation. Despite knowing their jobs are at stake, the Crazy Gang decides to go out in a blaze of glory, sticking to their principles to the last. Even Sasha ends up tacitly approving.

Unfortunately, it’s only too clear that the boys are still on the case so AC Kline steps in to disband UCOS completely. Never mind that it’s actually a powergrab on her part, seizing UCOS’s budget, and Sasha can still take the promotion to the Honour Killing Unit, the whole thing stinks.

But the gang produce the rabbit out of the hat one last time, and the fact that it was the Baroness – Kline’s close friend – leaves the necessary amount of wiggle-room for restitution. Kline moves on, Strickland moves up, UCOS is reinstated. Only…

The seeming end of UCOS has altered everybody’s plans. Danny had, heartbreakingly, turned down following Fiona to Aberdeen because of a final, residual sense of duty to his wife: the marriage is over, but Holly will never see her mother again and, whatever his own wishes, he is all she has. Not that that prevents him from taking on an investigative job that, being desk-bound, can be done anywhere, even Aberdeen.

Steve’s discovered his son is in Australia, so he’s heading out there, intent on becoming a P.I. and doing some bonding. And Ted has capitulated to Pat’s desire to travel: they’re off to the Amazon.

Even Sasha’s moving up: now that AC Kline has had her smooth arse elevated, DCI – I’m sorry, soon to be Detective Superintendent – Miller can take the Honour Killings post after all.

And so it ends. UCOS continues, unbowed, but it’s four members of staff all have new roads to travel, new destinies to pursue, and we get the decided feeling that things are going to go alright for them. Back at the ranch, a new, no doubt high-flying female DCI will recruit three cantankerous old buggers who used to be cops, and old cases will continue to be dug out and culprits brought to justice. We’ll just never see it or them.

I feel very much like I did when Last of the Summer Wine was choked off, a light entertainment that amused regularly, and sometimes did more than that, ended because of disdain and sneers from those who were not its audience anyway. What will replace it? You can bet that the gap this leaves will remain unclosed, that whatever next appears will be considerably more edgy, trendy, dark and cool.

Nothing wrong with that, but yet again the idea of television as a broad medium, with something for potentially everybody will get kicked in the balls.

So, thanks to those who have been following this series of blogs, thanks to Amanda, James, Alun and Dennis for starting it off, and Tamzin, Denis, Nicholas and Larry for being there at the end. More people swill miss you than the BBC could ever possibly imagine.


New Tricks: Life Expectancy

New Tricks 4

Ted Case

At last, a flicker, a story that didn’t end with a simple win, or a a cut-and-dried solution. Indeed, in a sense, you could say that the story did not have an ending at all, not in this life-cycle, to adapt the wording chosen by guest star David Haig, in his final moments.

There was an odd sense of deja vu about the start, as for a second successive week, the ‘boys’ turned up to meet Sasha at the site of some diggings, but the circumstances were very different. The scene was a graveyard that had been affected by a sudden sinkhole, exposing the grave of Gwen Morris, who had died of cancer in 2008. The reason for UCOS’s presence was that it had also exposed a murder weapon – a phrenology bust – used to kill Douglas Hempsey, an alternate medicine practitioner who had been treating her.

Prime suspect had always been Alison Morris, a freelance journalist on scientific issues, who had loudly blamed Hempsey for persuading her mother to cease chemotherapy that could have preserved her life. But Alison had a water-tight alibi.

This was an intriguingly structured investigation from the start, with the usual dissension between Steve and Danny over which subject to pursue, and with very little by way of clues to let the seasoned watcher anticipate who the eventual murderer would prove to be.

And, this being the penultimate episode, it was time to start dropping in little hints as to the possible fate of UCOS this time next Tuesday evening.

On the one side, there was Fiona, offered a Head of Services post that represented a golden chance for her, except that it was in Aberdeen.

On the other, in marched Assistant Commissioner Cynthia Kline to offer Sasha a promotion, to head a Task Force dealing with Honour Killings, and an uplift to Detective Superintendent. All very nice, if a bit steely, and with the underlying assumption that of course Sasha couldn’t refuse, giving AC Kline another elevated female Senior Officer owing her something.

Steve was the aggravated one, fearing getting a bad boss in as replacement, Ted was all encouragement and belief that Sasha should take thre plunge, despite her fears over her own lack of experience, whilst Danny was warning her against the game player AC.

This was generally allowed to rumble quietly in the background of an investigation that was struggling to make its mark. As well as the pale and nervous Alison, there was Hempsey’s ex-friend and business partner, Evan, who’d turned their alternative medicine practice/supply into a very nice little earner, and there was David Hempsey (Haig), who’d been an early part of the business along with his wife Rebecca, but who, after Rebecca’s death, had gotten into cryo-preservation.

As the scientific Hempsey Haig was all quiet smiles, sweet reasonableness, in deep regret for his loss and full of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, Rebecca’s favourite music. You wanted to suspect him, but couldn’t see where he could possibly fit in, especially after Steve’s bull-at-a-gate tactics browbeat Alison into confessing to Hempsey’s murder.

But it was far too soon for a conclusion, and we’d already been set-up to understand that it was a legal disaster: with Sasha not about, Alison panicked and insisted on leaving her questioning, but collapsed into confession when formally arrested by Ted. Except that neither he, Steve, nor Danny are serving Police Officers and have no rights to arrest. The confession was illegal, was promptly withdrawn the moment the Solicitor got there, and the next morning Alison slit her wrists.

Thankfully, the team had gone to visit her and saved her life, but the cock-up was now beginning to spiral. Needless to say, Kline was happy to protect Sasha and ensure none of this farrago touched her.

But by now, little pieces were finally coming together. You see, Gwen Morris and Douglas Hempsey had both died in the same week but, in a superbly held-back piece of information, we learned that Rebecca Hempsey had also died the same week. And was frozen in cryo in California.

The moment Fiona came up with evidence that Rebecca had been subtly poisoned, the case came together. David had poisoned his wife when she refused to end her affair with Douglas: indeed, he killed her when he found she and Douglas had signed up to cryo together. As for Douglas, Alison Morris had indeed fractured his skull with the bust, but it was David who had finished the job with a monkey wrench, ensuring the body could not be accepted for cryo. Rebecca might wake up in some distant future when her bodily ills could be cured, but it would not be to Douglas.

Instead, it would be to David, killing himself before UCOS’s unwilling eyes once it was clear he had been exposed. To David, it wasn’t so much dying as de-animation, the end of a cycle that had disappointed him so much, the inner confidence of a life hereafter, in which Rebecca would love him again, if only because there would be no-one else for her to wake up to.

In some tiny part of me, I had an inkling of what was in his heart, though not what was in his head.

But though Kline tried to smooth it over a a success for UCOS, for which difficulties Sasha would be insulated, it was a different matter when Sasha refused the promotion, went against Kline’s wishes. That wuill carry over into next week’s final episode.

As for Danny, I know of plenty of long-term New Tricks fans who see him as the spoiler who ruined their programme. Needless to say, I don’t agree, though there are times when, especially in questioning, he’s unnecessarilly supercilious. But in his relationship with Fiona this season, we’ve seen a different side of him, a loving, devoted, very rooted side that, delivered with his characteristic dryness, has been marvelous to follow.

And in perhaps a foreshadow of next week, Danny came through: if Fiona takes this chance, as she so very much deserves, he will go with her, to Aberdeen and god know’s what, because she is simply that important to him and ego will not stand in his way.

A quiet, complex episode, with conundrums at the heart of it. Unorthodoxy looks to have invited serious problems, all aimed at forcing Sasha to do AC Kline’s bidding. But it’s that numinous moment, of the killer happy to die in pursuit of the ultimate romantic longing, that is to be taken away.

Dr Who series 9: Uncollected Thoughts part 2

Actually, I forgot this was on.

I’ve watched the second episode via the i-Player. It wasn’t as frenetic as the first part, nor, quite, as silly. Instead, it was tedious and long-winded, and boring, and I only stayed to the end out of duty, which for the few of you interested in my words about Dr Who, I’m going to betray anyway.

It just wasn’t worth talking about. It was dull. And Capaldi was as hammy as a ton of hickory ham.

If Moffat ever leaves, someone nudge me. And please, please let Mark Gatiss have the major influence on Sherlock.

New Tricks: Lottery Curse

Sasha Miller

A gently downbeat episode as we close in on the end, with not a lot of depth to comment about, and refreshingly free of the soap opera interludes that have passed for personal life sub-plots this series.

Lottery Curse started in situ with the team called out to a house where a body had been discovered under the patio, which was rapidly proved to be Cheryl Sheekey (what an odd surname to choose), Lottery winner in 1997 and disappeared, suspected murdered in 1998.

UCOS  set out to unravel a pleasantly convoluted back story involving the other members of the four-person Pub Quiz Team/Lottery Syndicate who’d scored £900K each and who’d set out to use their winnings in the differing ways that seemed best to them.

Cheryl had been the original Spend, Spend, Spend girl. Chris, the team leader, had bought a Garden Centre, with his wife Liz, who Cheryl had had forced off the team. Her childhood mate, Eleanor, had opened an Animal Welfare Shelter, and her besotted husband, Terry, had turned to drugs to cope with the strain of their suddenly public life.

Indeed Terry had been, and still remained chief suspect, though the case had ended up being dropped due to lack of evidence, especially after Cheryl’s car had been found abandoned at Dover, her passport gone.

Though he ended up back at the forefront of the investigation, Terry came over throughout as someone who’d just loved his wife too much. He’d spent seventeen years apparently convinced she was still alive, and undertaking missing persons searches trying to locate, which was an awfully big act to have carried out for someone seeking to establish plausible deniability.

But as the pieces were shuffled about, suspected affairs turned into scams by the money-greedy Cheryl, and when push came to shove, Eleanor tried too hard to frame Terry and undid herself in the process.

As I said, pleasingly low key and mostly unemotional. In the only subplot, the boys set Sasha up to get her end away with a handsome forensic scientist, colleague to Fiona, but that was at least handled with minimal fuss.

An easy way to spend an hour, but ultimately forgettable. Only two more.

Doctor Who Series 9: Uncollected Thoughts

Go away. Please. Just go away.

Well now, that was embarrassingly bad, wasn’t it?

After the announcement that Jenna Coleman was leaving Dr Who, thus removing from the series its single, most glaringly awful annoyance, I made the last-minute decision to rescind my personal ban on watching the series. That was an awful mistake.

‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ was a perfect example of Stephen Moffat’s increasing tendency to throw it a lot of brightly coloured bits of jumble, whirl them around a bit and pretend that the outcome was a coherent story. So, we had, in short order, a fourteen year old boy wandering into an explicable war scene, the Twelfth Doctor all set to help him out of a forest of hand-mines (so much effort for a very weedy, nonsensical pun) and learning that freckle-face’s name is Davros, some guy sliding around on roller skates under a monk’s cowl, looking for the Doctor, Missy freezing aircraft all over the world to attract UNIT’s attention, the Doctor partying in 1128AD with an electric guitar and more anachronisms than you could shake a stick at, a conversation with a very low-key, non-shouty Davros who’s due to die in the morning and the Daleks destroying Missy, Clara and the TARDIS.

That none of it made the least amount of sense, and will make even less after part 2 finishes the story off next week, is exactly why Moffat has, with unbelievable rapidity considering how well he handled the Fiftieth Anniversary, fallen out of the bottom of the dustbin and needs to be removed from control of the show. It has already become unwatchable, and that’s without Clara.

Take Missy’s return. When last she was seen, the Doctor was killing her, permanently, no regenerations, no flowers by request, so as to ensure that Clara, who was intent on doing it out of revenge for the death of Danny (you remember, the guy who got run over by a car when she announced her undying love by mobile phone whilst he was crossing a busy road: talk about Displacement) wouldn’t have to live with blood on her hands.

Nobody believed for a minute that that was the last we’d seen of the erstwhile Master. So, how do they get over this hurdle? What ingenious little story lies behind this latest resurrection? Six words: ‘Not dead. Back. Get over it.’ with one might bound, Moffat frees himself from the curse of rationality forever. He can do anything he wants, and then just flip it without explanation. The last link to reality is this shattered and Dr Who becomes literally meaningless.

Then there’s Clara. She’s in the classroom, teaching badly as always, Jane Austen, brilliant writer, and totally great kisser, and then suddenly, without anyone batting an eyelid, she’s shooting off to UNIT HQ at the Prime Minister’s personal request (which no-one finds in the least bit strange), and it’s not because she’s the Doctor’s current official companion, it’s because UNIT, and Kate Stewart, desperately need Clara’s superior knowledge and understanding of A) how to recognise an alien invasion when you see one and B) what to do about an alien invasion.

Seriously, I am not kidding. Moffat has gotten so totally involved with his jumped-up companion – who is so fucking ignorant she actually tells the Daleks, the Daleks, that they can’t destroy the TARDIS – that he thinks he can sell the idea that a 29 year old teacher knows more about planetary defence than the whole of UNIT.

After that, the bit with the Doctor in the Twelfth Century was basic-level inanity, and not even Clara being exterminated could raise a smile because we know it won’t take.

What made everything exponentially worse is that this fifth-rate, amateurish tripe was based on a supposedly serious idea. Admittedly, it’s a very old idea, one that was explored back in Tom Baker’s day and, what’s more, taken directly from dialogue of a higher standard that this dog.

We saw it all a very long time ago in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, the moment when the Fourth Doctor held up two bare wires that, it touched together, would destroy at source the entire Dalek race, removing them from history before they entered it. It was a moral dilemma of epic dimension. Moffat even had the conversation replayed, as Baker posed the question of what if you had the life of a young boy in your hands that, by snuffing him out, you could avoid untold dearth, destruction and carnage?

That’s exactly what the opening scene did. And the Doctor, the Twelfth Doctor, left Davros where he was as soon as he learned the boy’s name.

The cliffhanger is that the Doctor returns, directly from Skaro, where he’s seen Clara evaporated, mad with grief, toting a Dalek exterminatory arm and ready to save Clara’s life by exterminating Davros to little pieces.

Cheap, inane, moronic. I shall submit myself to watching next week’s second part, then wash my hands of things until Moffat walks. Please, please, please let this colossal abdication of writing standards not have crept into Sherlock as well.

New Tricks: The Russian Cousin

Danny Griffin

It’s looking increasingly clear that, having decided that this will be the final series, the BBC has told the team behind New Tricks to forget all about this ambitious stuff and settle for going out in a blaze of carpet slippers. There are few things more annoying in any form of the arts than to watch potential being deliberately ignored.

‘The Russian Cousin’ was slightly better than it might have been in taking, as one of its underlying stories, the issue of a very decent, very brave man, dying of cancer, deserving of both respect and sympathy, victim of a crime that had robbed both himself and the daughters on whom he doted, of financial security, of hope, and revealing him to be the murderer in the latest cold case.

Having him played by Dean Andrews, Ray Carling in Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes, was an astute piece of casting, designed to bring the audience alongside for the whole episode and even through the revelation that he was the killer of private investigator Mike Hooper. Even at the end, the viewer was led to accept Barry Warnock as a good man, who would be spared prosecution for his crime because his cancer was so far advanced that he could not be tried before his impending death.

Where the episode fell short on what could have been an excellent episode was in loading the scales too heavily on Barry’s side. In order not to threaten the audience’s respect for the man, his victim, Hooper, was retrospectively revealed as an out-and-out bastard, crooked, double-dealing, cheating his own client.

The Russian Cousin of the title was a very rare and valuable stamp, of which only twelve were known to exist. Warnock had inherited it from his Grandfather, and kept in with a box of the old man’s letters, diaries and memorabilia. At first he pretended not to know the worth of the stamp but later it transpired he did indeed know it was a ‘nest egg’.

The box was stolen by some no-mark toerag in a spate of burglaries and sold to a pawnbroker in ignorance. Later, it had come on the market in mysterious, ooh, alright, dodgy circumstances and been bought by an Internet billionaire in full knowledge that it was stolen and complete confidence that the Police would never find anything that small, no matter how many Search Warrants they obtained.

But the ultimate point was that, after Warnock had hired Hooper to find the missing stamp, it was Hooper who bought it from the pawnbroker and masterminded the sale to private collectors. It was his working pattern, he had done the same with the red herring suspect who’d stolen £30,000 off his girlfriend and vanished: Hooper found him and demanded money to keep quiet.

In making Hooper an utter shitbag who’d double-crossed a decent man with a terminal condition, the episode played it safe and easy, and missed its chance to navigate deeper waters. If Hooper had been someone equally decent as the unfortunate Warnock, the episode would have been far better, grappling with the moral ambiguity, but it wouldn’t have been so easy to write. Last year’s New Tricks was in the frame of mind to tackle things like that.

Otherwise, the soap opera elements of the series bimbled along. Ted was resisting going to the Doctors for a health test in connection with Life Insurance renewal, which concerned Danny greatly: Ted’s family was genetically prone to a rare heart condition and he was resisting the risk of learning he had it. But he didn’t.

As for Steve’s money issues, this week he tried renting his flat out as a Shortstay, £300.00 for 48 hours to a pair of Italian ladies who turned out to be scam artists planning to strip the place. But a nosy neighbour tipped Steve off, so no harm was done there either. Typical.

So, with only three episodes of its life left, New Tricks has eschewed the possibilities it showed and reverted very thoroughly to being Insubstantial Airfill. Which was what I originally praised it for being: decent, inoffensive, modestly entertaining. Once upon a time, that would have been sufficient to see things through, but after seeing what the programme could be, when it put its mind to it, all it can be now is disappointing.

New Tricks: The Fame Game

New Tricks 3

Steve McAndrew

After the praise I lavished on the genuinely excellent two-part series opener, New Tricks seems to be going out of its way to refute my opinion that it had reached a new level and was no longer the Insubstantial Airfill that I’d categorised it as being at the start of series 11, last year.

The latest episode, The Fame Game, once again decided to sideline Tamzin Outhwaite, by confining her to a comedy relief role, a bit of filler with no relation to the plot. Sasha Miller is on a course about European Community Policing that, conveniently, happens to be taking place upstairs, allowing her to come in at regular intervals and huff and puff about the way her son Alex is using his supposed ‘Study Leave’ to do bugger all about his ‘Project’.

So once again it’s a boy’s own show, which automatically diminishes the series.

This week’s set-up once again ducked any moral grey areas and kept well away from any excessive emotional involvement. Thirteen years ago, professional look-alikes and married couple Anna and Jim Briggs jointly committed suicide by drinking champagne laced with liquid valium. But now a concealed mobile belonging to Anna has come to light, full of explicit texts indicated she was having a wild affair with an unknown male. Was it therefore suicide?

Interestingly, whilst Anna’s look-alike was the internationally renowned Cher, Jim’s speciality was fictional ex-footballer and general all-round tabloid bad boy, Mikey Bishop, which told us that Mikey, who’s turned into something of an unlikely recluse controlled by his calm, collected, tv agent wife, was going to be all over this like a cheap suit.

The major problem was that, from the moment Claire Bishop insisted that any future UCOS enquiries be directed to her because she didn’t want her husband disturbed by having the past brought up again, I worked out the solution. This was little more than a quarter hour in, which made for a very frustrating experience watching the clues slowly trickle in whilst Ted, Steve and Danny bent their joint and several heads around them the wrong way.

Not that I’d spotted any clues myself. It was just that if you’ve ever seen a reasonably sophisticated detective series on tv, the circumstances of the crime in themselves were sufficient to direct an enquiring mind to the only possible dramatic solution.

It rather spoilt the plot for me.

There were some good points in the soap opera aspect. Not so much Steve’s ongoing issues with debt and with letting his (unseen) son down but Danny’s growing relationship with Fiona (always happy to look at Tracy-Ann Oberman). The pair are increasingly staying over at each other’s homes, though Danny was still clinging to the past, to his daughter’s home and his memories, in a short-sighted and selfish fashion, only to realise in the end that the future meant more. It was deftly and drily done, but I’m a sucker for romance that demonstrates an increasing understanding between people, and this was the goods.

So: we are over the hump of the final series, six episodes down, only four to go. I’m beginning to suspect that, given the combination of the complete replacement of the cast and the decision to end the series, the BBC has decided to make this a low-key affair so that there will be no awkward demands for more. If this is to be the standard of the remaining episodes, I shalln’t be grumbling at the end.

It rather reminds me of Blake’s Seven and the Beeb’s decision to make absolutely certain they wouldn’t get any pressure to bring it back for a fifth series by producing this deliberately shitty episode to end series 4 by killing absolutely everybody off, in complete contravention of the style and trappings of the series all along (oh, how clever darling, we’ll shut it down by having the fascist bastards slaughter every last vestige of opposition…).

Hopefully, there will be better in the few last slots: the show has certainly proved itself capable of it and deserves to go out on a high.


New Tricks: Prodigal Sons

                     Never say no to a nice photo of Tamzin Outhwaite

A bit of an odd episode this. For a start, the underlying theme was associated with cricket, but we didn’t get any cliched jokes – though, of course, we weren’t on ITV, were we, where the only thing ever associated with the greatest game on Earth was rain.

The case was a nicely intricate one. The re-examination of a crap pathologists’s cases leads to UCOS being brought in to look over the death of highly skilled professional cricket, A J de Silva, whose proud father had always maintained had been murdered, not committed suicide a decade ago, just as England were celebrating the 2005 Ashes win.

It turned out that everyone had hated A.J., who was a self-centred, self-indulgent git, thus setting up motives by the score, but no evidence whatsoever of murder. What was eventually uncovered was that several of the team, including and at the direction of the captain – now a management bullshit consultant using cricketing terms – were engaged in match-fixing, and A.J.’s refusal to countenance this, his intention to go to the authorities, got him killed.

For most of the way, the procedural part of the story was going nowhere, but as usual it’s Danny Griffin who sees the vital clue, sparked off by a chance remark on a different subject.

It was a curiously uninvolving crime, for all that it hung around the edges of cricket, and it did not approach any emotional depth until the final, almost unimportant detail was explained. A.J. came as a package with his younger, much less talented brother, Sanjit, who’d acted as his minder, clearing up his messes and ensuring their doting father – doting on A.J., that is – never cottoned on.

Sanjit had been the one to find his brother dead, dead and left to be humiliated. He had changed the crime scene in order to preserve his brother’s dignity at the last, an act of love to which the appropriate blind eye was turned.

Apart from that, the episode was buttressed up with a few personal notes. Sasha, back to full fitness with surprising speed, enrols the team in a forthcoming dinner-dance with a notorious reputation for breaking up relationships. Danny and Fiona’s relationship is getting closer (I really like the dry, intelligent way it’s being presented, with a minimal overt romanticism pointing cleverly to the genuine depth between this pair) but Danny needs to explain things to his wife, Sarah, who, as we recall, is committed to a mental institution. Sarah’s approval is needed, and from the way the vital scene is omitted, I suspect it hasn’t been forthcoming, though Danny claims this is so.

Steve’s financial problems are uncovered by Danny, who organises him and sets him a budget, but whether Steve’s sticking to it…

And last, but not least, Ted turns up at the dinner-dance with his other half, Pat. Or Patrick, if we’re being formal…

A good but not great episode, and definitely an improvement on last week. It may even contain a bit of foreshadowing, as Sasha thanks Ted for staying on after Gerry, as that could have been the excuse the Met has been looking for to shut UCOS down. After all, they’re the awkward squad, and Strickland has to fight for them nearly every day.

Sounds like a plot to me.