23/04/2017

Maigret - Night at the Crossroads




A lot of comic performers graduate to serious roles later in their careers, perhaps feeling that advancing years are not appropriate for pratfalls and silliness. Rowan Atkinson though is not especially old and also has a history of gurning his way expressively through comic situations so you can imagine in the past this is exactly the sort of thing he’d spoof. Watching him play a detective in a period drama is odd because every time he walks in the room you expect something funny to happen. Perhaps he’ll light his pipe and it will burst into flames? Maybe he’ll get his long trenchcoat caught in a car door and struggle to excavate himself from it? No or should that be “Non”. In what is a melodramatic production in need of a little light relief there is not a laugh to be had- luckily the results are intriguing enough anyway.

19/04/2017

Smooth Operator



Here’s my theory on why the UK General Election to be held in June might actually be good news for Labour. They would never have won a 2020 election and they certainly won’t win this one so in a way we may only have another five years of Conservative government instead of the further eight years we’d have had if Theresa PM had allowed this Parliament to run its full course. `In a way` means that if Labour really, really want to win the 2022 election (and there are some in Labour who’d rather be an opposition than a government) then they need to come up with something with which to win it. 
Theresa May...or she may not...

17/04/2017

Top of the Pops 29 April 1982



Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Richard Skinner: "Good evening. You are very welcome to Top of the Pops. The best pop programme on television. These are Hot Chocolate, a song written by Errol Brown, me old mate, and they're in the charts and they are girl crazy."

[26] Hot Chocolate: Girl Crazy. Zoo and the Top of the Pops audience cheerleaders are all doing aerobics. Why? It's a year too early for it to be the baleful influence of the Green Goddess on Breakfast Time. Has Michael Hurll been at the Jane Fonda Workout VHS? Richard Skinner disappears to wherever the hosts go while the acts are on so we don't get to see him performing knee raises and elbow thrusts in his chunky lumberjack shirt.

[2] Bardo: One Step Further. "It's been a great week this week for Bardo," lies Richard Skinner. If it had been a great week they would have won the Eurovision Song Contest instead of coming seventh. Bardo has half the number of members of Bucks Fizz but somehow only 25% of the charisma and they perform exactly the same dance routine that they did on their two previous Top of the Pops outings, and Eurovision. Does the universe end if they vary the steps? (Fact John- The couple married and had a son now called Max Milner who ages later was a contestant on The Voice)

12/04/2017

Top of the Pops 22 April 1982



As watched by Chris Arnsby. Peter Powell: "Hi folks! Welcome to Top of the Pops! A great big party tonight! Stacks of interest, lots of bands, lots of interest, and lots of action! For openers it's Pig Bag, hit three and Mama's Got A Brand New Pigbag!"

[3] Pig Bag:  Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag. Yes Peter Powell gets the title wrong. He's mixing up his Mamas and his Papas. The people who do the BBC4 subtitles correct his mistake because apparently they value getting the title right over accurately transcribing speech. The song is great. You might remember the nineties remix with a video featuring a then state of the art computer generated skeleton riding a trumpet. Heather Gilder is on Vision Mixing duties. At the end of the song she cuts between shots and gets the visuals to match the pace and intensity of the drumming. Watch out for the first long camera pull back across the Top of the Pops studio. It ends with the stage later used by Kim Wilde coming into view. The stage is occupied by a trio of dancers from Zoo who half-heartedly shuffle along to the song and do some warm up stretches unaware that they're appearing on tonight's show earlier than expected.

09/04/2017

Dodecagonic!



Yesterday I got one of the new pound coins and someone said if it was a 2016 one it could be worth about £40. Some people are already selling them on ebay for as much as £250 even though there are lots of them at the moment! My one is a 2016 one so I’m reasonably sure of my long term fortune. All I have to do is keep it for about 150 years and then it will be worth hundreds of thousands of credits or whatever currency they have in the future. I suppose we should enjoy the launch of new coinage while we can because before too long- or so we’re told- coins and notes will no longer be used. It’ll be all contactless payments. While the latter are quick when they work - which is by no means every time- they lack the feeling that you are spending anything. This is probably the idea!

07/04/2017

Harry styles an audacious debut solo single



For the past two weeks the media has obsessed over which direction One Direction’s Harry Styles would take with his solo material. With the hugely successful 1D on a hiatus each of them has ventured out into the world alone like a parade of wobbly ducklings but there’s only one of them that people are really interested in. Harry Styles is back! Back! BACK!! as Smash Hits would put it if they were still around. They’d have a nickname for him too, probably Hazza. Anyway the song has dropped today and its called `Sign of the Times`. Such is the white heat of attention it’s mere name has caused the media to ask former associates of Prince whether they thought he’d have minded. I’m not sure anybody asked The Belle Stars if they minded when Prince came out with his song did they? 
Someone fell asleep and left the bath running..

05/04/2017

Ghost In The Shell



Visually colourful live action version of manga classic lacks something.
Confession first- I’ve never seen the original Ghost In The Shell. However from what I’ve read this live action version is reasonably faithful visually but simplifies some of the knottier cerebral issues to create more of an action movie. The big issue of course- which unfortunately this film draws attention to- is that despite the Japanese setting and imagery most of the main characters are not Japanese. While the scenario might theoretically explain this away with the engineered characters- after all they could wear any face- it still sits awkwardly in a film otherwise suffused with Eastern imagery. 

03/04/2017

Sulphur or Sulfur?



As a writer I’m aware of the shape of words and how strong (or otherwise) they look. If I were penning a tale of mysterious goings on in some underground cavern I’d probably include Sulphur because people expect there to be Sulphur and because Sulphur looks like a word we’d associate with the dark side (whatever the element’s actual qualities). Now though I couldn’t do that- or at least not without having an incorrectly spelt word in my text because Sulphur no longer exists. Welcome instead to Sulfur. 

31/03/2017

A shop with no staff and no checkout!!



There are some pretty strange ideas floating about as to how we’ll be doing our shopping in the future most of which appear to involve using as few staff as possible. In fact it seems the ultimate aim is for us never to leave our screens (says he typing a blog!). However a sort of compromise may be round the corner to enable those who don’t want to shop online to still do so in a retail environment albeit without any contact with employees. The concept is not totally new; there are gyms that allow access without any staff present but until last year it had not been tried in conventional retail. 

26/03/2017

Where exactly is Electric Avenue?



By the time his single `Electric Avenue` was released in 1983, Eddy Grant had already had a long career which began in the Sixties when he was a member of The Equals who had several UK hits including `Baby Come Back`. He was also a songwriter for artists such as Prince Buster. After leaving The Equals in 1971 he began a solo career during which time he also worked as a producer. `Electric Avenue` arrived after a string of hits including `Walking on Sunshine`, `Do You Feel My Love` and `I Don’t Wanna Dance`. The sound on these is unusually sparse for a successful artist of the Eighties when bigger and bigger production was the order of the day. `Electric Avenue` is especially tightly produced- in fact there’s a sound that could easily be a piece of elastic stretching that re-appears several times! The controlled, minimalist feel of the song enhances its lyrics which reference life in the London area of Brixton. However when he declares “we’re gonna rock down to Electric Avenue” where are they going?

22/03/2017

Kong Skull Island



With a King Kong movie nowadays the issue of whether the giant ape itself can be convincingly rendered is no longer relevant because of course it can. The question is – what do you do with a brilliantly realised enormous animal? Peter Jackson had a fair go at it a while back but his film was overlong and took half an hour to even set off to sea. Kong Skull Island is brasher, less arty, certainly more tongue in cheek but definitely more to the point. Our first sight of Kong is within five minutes of the start and after half an hour we’ve made landfall on the lost island after getting through the perpetual storm that surrounds it. This intensity is maintained throughout with thoughtful reverie kept to bite sized exchanges and no character safe. Ones you think will obviously make it to the end don’t and vice versa.

Raaarrghhhhh Spoilers will bite your head off after this point! 

20/03/2017

Does Twitter now do more harm than good?



The recent case in which journalist Katie Hopkins was successfully sued by food blogger Jack Munroe after a Tweet making false allegations has again raised the issue of the impact social media in general- and Twitter in particular-has on our society. Of course anyone is entitled to their opinion – as advocates of social media keep reminding us – but the problem with Twitter is that followers of someone automatically seem to believe whatever the celebrity they are following says. The problem may be as much with the format as anything else. Being limited to so few characters means that any sense of nuance is impossible resulting in a form of communication that more often than not eschews any diplomacy or tact. . However many emojis you may deploy is still difficult sometimes to tell if someone is being humorous, sarcastic or just plain nasty. And often followers simply believe it- or else misinterpret it -meaning it is very easy to defame someone without any recourse to those little things like `fact` or `context`.

19/03/2017

Mrs Tyrrell and the huge block of cheese



Mrs Tyrell grew increasingly grumpy at the prospect of having to carry a large heavy wedge of cheese to work each day. Her husband did not even offer her a lift as he travelled to work early by gyrocopter leaving his wife to struggle with the cheese on public transport. This was in the 1950s when cheese was of course much heavier than it is now. She did try to use a taxi but in those days cheese was banned from taxis so unwilling to jostle for position on the tram and risk the cheese falling on the floor, Mrs Tyrell started to walk to work. Accompanying her were two friends Mavis and Alma who would each take it in turns to lug the block for a while. 

30/01/2017

The Best of This Way Up Book

The Best of This Way Up 2002 -2014
Articles, features and episode guides from the archives of the acclaimed fanzine/ blog This Way Up are collected together in a unique volume.
Includes: Classic children’s TV: The Ghosts of Motley Hall, Watch with Mother, The Feathered Serpent, Sky, Tom Grattan’s War, Richard Carpenter, Children’s and post Watch with Mother serials. Telefantasy: Strange, Firefly, Invasion Earth, Out of this World, Virtual Murder, 1990s telefantasy. Films: Alien, Handmade Films, Jaws, Duck Soup. TV: Nigel Kneale,  Second Coming, Phillip Saville, The Comic Strip Presents, Lives & Loves of  a She Devil, Adverts. Theatre: War Horse, The Pillowman, RUR. Miscellany: Pluto, La Machine, The end of record shops and much more.
Written by Tim Worthington, Sean Alexander, OJ Wake, David Rolinson,
Matt Salusbury, John Connors

Available in print or Kindle ebook formats from Amazon
 

29/01/2017

Top of the Pops 21 & 28 Jan 1982



Watched by Chris Arnsby
21 Jan 1982
David "Kid" Jensen: "Hi there. David Jensen here welcoming you to another Top of the Pops. Mike Read can't be with us, but we do have an excellent line-up and records for you to listen to, and watch as well. And we're going to kick of with Gillan. Restless."
What's wrong with Mike Read? Is he ill? Why -after his no show here- does he only present three episodes of Top of the Pops in 1982? Has he fallen out with Michael Hurll? Or, could the BBC be worried about overexposure? In addition to Top of the Pops Mike Read also has the Monday to Friday Radio 1 Breakfast Show, and on BBC1 Pop Quiz and, later in the year, Swap Shop's replacement the weekly Saturday Superstore; oh and in March a one off called The Battle Of The Bands which he co-hosts with rock goddess Rula Lenska.  Is it possible that someone at the BBC wanted to minimise his hosting of Top of the Pops to stop him becoming the BBC's face of pop music.
Gillan: Restless [36]. Top of the Pops has a new set element. The programme logo has been rendered in neon. It looks expensive. Thunderflashes abound when Gillan starts to play and the stage is showered in sparks like the bridge of the starship Enterprise when it's attached by Romulans. This song has no connection to Rebel Rebel by David Bowie but every time Gillan sings "Jimmy Jimmy," I expect the next line to be "you've torn your dress."

27/01/2017

Donald and the Wall



“If you build it, they won’t come
I had a vision the other day (and I imagine President Trump says this regularly) that for some reason the specifications of the famed wall to keep out Mexico were incorrect and when it was finished the thing turned out to be only two foot tall! Or perhaps the ground is not really suitable for the construction of a wall (isn’t it semi desert?) meaning that a decent push would send part of it falling over. Will this wall – or as it’s now called “large physical barrier” -be the symbol of Trump’s Presidency? 
A wall, yesterday

20/01/2017

Top of the Pops 7 Jan 1982



As watched by Chris Arnsby

Peter Powell: "Hello and welcome to the first Top of the Pops of 1982! We've got a show stacked full of good stuff including the number one band in the studio! But right now, for starters, new at 25 Philip Lynott and Yellow Pearl!"

Phil Lynott: Yellow Pearl [25].  Philip Lynott? That seems very formal. Anyway, never mind that because here's Zoo to whirl like dervishes and at one point execute a complicated manoeuvre which looks weirdly like the first ever sighting of a human centipede on prime time television. It's a terrific energetic performance. Peter Powell joins in with the Top of the Pops cheerleaders -who line the podium behind the dancers- with a simple arm swinging routine which he manages to carry off without ever a)losing his place or b)looking massively self-conscious. Oh and new for 1982, here are the Top of the Pops bodybuilders who grunt and strain and strike assorted poses. I'm not sure how I feel about the Top of the Pops bodybuilders. Whenever the pair of oiled up muscle men slide across the television screen I suddenly feel more aware than normal of the top deck bus passengers who keep passing by my window.

16/01/2017

Sherlock The Final Problem



`The Final Problem` is an awesome piece of television drama that twists, turns and grips in equal measure. It’s packed with surprises and thrilling incident while it also plays with televisual formats brilliantly. Yet rarely – even though it apparently does draw aspects from three different Conan Doyle novels- did it seem like anything much to do with Sherlock Holmes. Despite the references and the nomenclature it just seemed like something that would be even better if it were not tied to the legendary detective
Major, major spoilers past this point…
 

10/01/2017

Sherlock The Lying Detective



In which the series finally over reaches its melodramatic tendencies creating a fascinating but flawed mess yet also inspiring a magnificent performance from Martin Freeman. 
The thing about Sherlock has always been in the presentation. Much like the detective himself the programme is always several steps ahead of the viewer so as to produce those OMG moments that people get excited about. It’s a trick they have successfully navigated for some time even though we may well be at the point where we start to second guess things adding a further convolution to the narrative. In this fascinating episode we have a different presentation again. The serial killer is hiding in plain sight, indeed he is a hugely famous businessman and philanthropist who is engaged in a cat and mouse game after Sherlock- somewhat worse for wear after the events of last week- calls him out publicly as a serial killer. Is he or isn’t he? It’s all in the presentation.

Spoilers ahead. Or are there? Yes, actually there are.

09/01/2017

David Bowie The Last Five Years



Documentary shrewdly focusses on the music and ties Bowie’s final output with aspects of his earlier career
One of the things we never quite have when an artist’s career is ongoing is an overall perspective. While a year may be rather a short time to begin to tie together such a lengthy evolving career as that of David Bowie, Francis Whatley’s documentary has started the process. Though ostensibly focussed on the singer’s final burst of activity which produced two albums and a stage show the narrative links the themes of these back to earlier triumphs finding recurring motifs and concerns all over the shop. This may be slightly irritating to those who enjoyed the director’s previous Five Years film as there is quite a bit of repeated footage but it does a great job in profiling some of Bowie’s interests and enthusiasms. Plus of course it’s great to see all this footage!

05/01/2017

Peter Pan Goes Wrong



Mischief Theatre’s hit play crammed into an hour of fast, simple, glorious fun! 
Sometimes the simplest things are the best. Sometimes someone falling over, being hit on the head, flying the wrong way up, getting stuck in a door or even reaching for an absent prop is just hilarious. For all the theorising about comedy sometimes all you need is something really brilliantly silly and Peter Pan Goes Wrong is exactly that. Shown on BBC1 earlier this week, this version is truncated from a two and a quarter hour show and amended to make the best use of the medium with added celebrity presence in the form of David Suchet. It was the best thing on any channel over the whole festive period!

02/01/2017

Sherlock - The Six Thatchers



Blistering first episode of the fourth series
Still minutes after the events of the mind palace escapades of `The Abominable Bride` the fourth series kicks off with a superbly liberating sense of fun before dovetailing into darker matters. There’s no doubt that Sherlock has become a different series than the idea of updating the old stories to the modern day that it started out as and I think it’s because that’s happened over a comparatively short number of episodes some people are less keen. “It’s just about them now” is a common complaint but when you’ve got a cast like this and a chance to sculpt something more inventive than merely a contemporary update why not run with it? 
Spoilers beyond this point…