23/11/2020

His Dark Materials S2- Theft review

Sometimes when stories open up as they have to after their initial stages we veer off the main path into unnecessary side alleys but the impressive aspect of this story is that each of the plot strands is intricately connected to the others even if we don’t exactly know how. The mysterious Boreal makes a welcome return to the centre of things this week and remains an impressive presence in a series packed with them. His casual menace is matched by deeds this time as he uses his brief acquaintance with Lyra to steal the altheiometer. The way it is done is a bit clumsy but nonetheless sets up an impressive scene at the end of the episode. Arlyon Bakare is one of those actors who can make a point with economy and the character’s controlled ambition is a highlight in a week that ups the game for all concerned.


 

20/11/2020

Space 1999 - The Mark of Archanon & Brian the Brain

The Mark of Archanon
A more thoughtful and considered episode akin to much of season one, `The Mark of Archanon` sees a rare exploration of the lunar underground by Alan Carter and hitherto unseen mate Bluey (who turns out to be called Johnson so I’m not sure where the nickname comes from). Quite why a pilot is undertaking this particular expedition is as odd as why Koenig and Maya have taken an Eagle to go on a space exploration- surely these tasks should be swapped? Perhaps they just decided to have a Do Something Different Friday. Anyway what Carter and pal find are two frozen alien beings who turn out to be alive. The viewer will have known that already as we spot them swaying while trying to stay still.


 

17/11/2020

How to Build A Girl review

The trick to making a film about a writer is to visually enhance it or else you end up with too many scenes of people sitting at keyboards. This boisterous adaptation by Caitlin Moran of her own novel succeeds triumphantly in doing so with the superb direction of Coky Giedoryc and a sparkling cast to bring this “true-ish” story to life. In the Eighties bookish sixteen year old Johanna Morrigan yearns to escape her humdrum life in Wolverhampton where she resides in a noisy, crowded house and finds solace in great figures of the past. Pictures of them adorn her bedroom `God Wall` and spring to life to offer advice from their historical perspective. On the suggestion of her fanzine making music loving brother Krissi she expands her horizons into popular music about which she knows nothing and starts submitting gig reviews to one of the big music papers. When the staffers dismiss her polite scribblings she re-invents herself as Dolly Wilde, an outrageously styled critic who has no mercy.

 


16/11/2020

His Dark Materials S2- The Cave review

A low key but frequently tense episode is packed with a certain amount of exposition that some may find drags but which does a good job in expanding the storyline and squaring some circles. With last week’s cliffhanger unresolved- just what did happen with that looming Spectre?- Will takes Lyra to his Oxford for an extended trip that sees them become more proactive trying to solve the mysteries. On the advice of the alethiometer Lyra finds a “scholar” courtesy of the picture on her office door. 

SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT...


 

13/11/2020

Who lives in a TikTok House?

Decades ago people thought The Beatles lived in a house together because they were seen co-habiting in one of their films. More recently the contestants in series like The Apprentice or The X Factor shared a house yet only for the duration of whatever reality show they were in. Now though social media influencers are actually properly sharing a house all in the cause of TikTok. If, like Claudia Winkleman and I, this platform is something you view with bewilderment or whether you are TikToking away regularly the idea of actually moving in with fellow TikTokers seems a bit bizarre. It’d be like deciding to live with five other people you work with.

 

The Wave House TikTokers

12/11/2020

Top of the Pops 31 Oct 1985

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Janice Long: “Hello. Nice to see you. It's Top of the Pops.” Simon Bates: “Hello, welcome, it's Elton John's video a little later on but we've got a cast of thousands over here. Have a look. Feargal Sharkey and A Good Heart at number twelve.” 

[12] Feargal Sharkey: A Good Heart. I've written before about my pathetic claim to fame, that in 1997/98 I worked in an office* next to Feargal Sharkey. (John- Was he just stood outside the building then? Or was there a Feargal Sharkey Office dealing with the world’s Feargal Sharkey things?) I would once again like to apologise for the fact that he had to work in the vicinity of a room full of ignorant 20 year olds who knew nothing of Teenage Kicks, or The Undertones, but who used to quietly sing A Good Heart in quavery voices after he'd been spotted in the lift. Tonight, Halloween the most evilest night of the year, Simon Bates can only speak the truth. Feargal Sharkey's stage is indeed packed; there's Mr Sharkey himself, three backing singers, a keyboard player, two drummers, and a saxophonist who appears to have jammed a torch down the bell of his instrument.



09/11/2020

His Dark Materials S2 - The City of Magpies review

The opening episode of this second season is something of a slow burn affair which courtesy of a lengthy prologue and a whole new locale might bombard newcomers with just a bit too much information. The issue with the lengthy reprise at the start is it tends to overwhelm the viewer in one crowded rush. Better to gradually call back than dump it all at the start I’d say especially as the episode is slower than most were last year and therefore could have been designed to contain flashbacks at different junctures. Some of the clips included are not particularly relevant to this episode so could have been left aside altogether. The one key thing the scenes don’t really show is the full horror of what happened to Roger and why which informs Lyra’s mood as the second series dawns. The episode boasts high production values with the impressive city set as well as plenty of airships and a speedy attack on the Magisterium’s submarine but is generally light on action and more focused on atmospherics. 

 


05/11/2020

Space 1999 - The Rules of Luton

After 892 days Alpha has only got as far as Luton? You’d imagine that some of the British contingent on the show would have pointed out the name was well known over here for its association with hats, cars and an airport. In fact we’re on the planet Lu-ton as it is pronounced where the judges are trees and anyone caught picking flowers or eating berries is subject to the traditional tv sci punishment of trial by combat. Star Trek did something similar back in the Sixties which even had the same denouement (though not the trees). By a bizarre coincidence the following month after this episode first went out, Doctor Who saw the Doctor battling a foe in a wasteland environment. With this sort of affair it is tricky to get the tone right. How do you make what is essentially two parties chasing each other round scrubland interesting when they can’t properly meet till the final ten minutes? Additionally they are shorn of the usual tech and have to resort to making things out of whatever is about, eating berries and making catapults.

 

The episode features a guest spot from The Bee Gees.

01/11/2020

Top of the Pops 24 0ct 1985

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Dixie Peach: “Good evening and welcome to another edition of Top of the Pops and tonight, as usual, we have a great line up for you. Live in the studio we've got Jan Hammer and Level 42.” (John- Slight contradiction there, Dix, mate)  Mike Smith: “And we start tonight with a man who's been living for this night ever since he was a kid, will you welcome with St Elmo's Fire at number six, John Parr.”
[6] John Parr: St Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion).
Tonight's Top of the Pops (retrieved from the Sutton Hoo horde https://mega.nz/folder/h0snQACa#uiNNqosfbdrfzODHsE1clw) is quite bad for the eyes. It's a digital conversion of an off-air VHS copy. It turns out that if you want to be really cruel to an MPEG encoder you should force it to convert something with massively variable light levels, rapid camera moves, and lots of smoke and fine detail. (John- Honestly I have no idea what he is talking about here!) Throw in Mike Smith's suit, charcoal grey with a sort of tartan pattern overlay, and a VHS tracking error at the bottom of the screen (how nostalgic), and it's probably a miracle this edition exists at all; frankly I'm amazed it wasn't rejected by the internet.


 

25/10/2020

Space 1999 - Journey to Where & The Taybor

Journey To Where
There is a certain sheen with this series that allows the cast to often sail through an episode with the minimum of acting effort. The dialogue offers them little meat to bite into but sometimes a story comes along with something more. This episode’s big twist may be the worst kept reveal ever (just check the title again) but the idea feels more like a proper sci-fi one than some of the fanciful notions we have seen so far this season. Alpha suddenly receives a communication from Earth in 2120 suggesting that technology has leapt forward so much it is now possible for them to transport the crew back home. Even though that home is substantially different after pollution has ravaged the landscape and everyone lives in protected domes, it is still an enticing offer for our lost crew. The catch is they only have a limited time window to make the journey.


 

20/10/2020

Top of the Pops 17 Oct 1985

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Peter Powell: “Hello! Welcome one and all to another edition of Top of the Pops! On the show tonight we've got Elton John, we've got Jennifer Rush, we've got Colonel Abrams, and who else!?” Mike Read: “Well, one of the biggest risers in the chart this week heading towards the top ten. We're going to kick off with a bit of Rock and Roll, it's Shaky and Lipstick, Powder, and Paint.”
[18] Shakin' Stevens: Lipstick, Powder & Paint. Gather round children and I'll tell you again of the remarkable story of Shakin' Stevens. Now in the sixth year of his pop career, he's released 18 singles and all bar one have reached the Top 20 (Hot Dog, 24 in March 1980), and 11 of those singles made the Top 10. Lipstick, Powder, and Paint will not be one of those Top 10 songs but if you were to draw a graph (with Pop Success on the X-axis and Shaky Factor on the Y-axis) I think this might be the performance to come out right in the middle. I'd describe it as mean Shaky, but that makes it sound like he's had a Billy Idol bad-boy makeover. If you listen to the song it's nothing remarkable. It's another Shakin' Stevens cover of a fifties single. It's the performance that elevates it, and it's a great example of how Top of the Pops is able to work its magic.


 

15/10/2020

Catch-22 mini series review

It is not every novelist who can claim to have introduced a phrase to everyday life but Joseph Heller is one such example. His 1961 novel Catch 22 introduced a phrase describing a paradoxical situation in which "the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule." The most commonly used example these days relates to unemployment wherein people find they can’t get a job without experience but it is not possible to get that experience without a job. Rules like this can be also be used to ensure compliance in any work situation. In H’s novel set in the final months of World War2, it applies to a clause wherein you can be exempt from flying missions if you are crazy but if you report your condition this makes you sane and therefore you have to fly - "anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy," as a character explains.

 


13/10/2020

Space 1999 - One Moment of Humanity & All That Glisters

One Moment of Humanity
Vegans! Lionel Blair! A computer with large balls! Alpha’s critical systems are knocked out in a second and everyone seems to freeze where they are. Into this grand game of statues arrives Zamara from the planet Vega. Yes, they’re Vegans! Played with boggle eyed enthusiasm by Billie Whitelaw she wants to take two people with her and she chooses Helena (who happens to be sporting a pink party dress) and Tony (who thankfully isn’t). As the increasingly desperate Alphans struggle to find power to keep life support going, their two crewmates find themselves on a planet that seems to be populated by dance drama students with robot servants that resemble members of Nineties dance outfit Altern8. Incidentally they transport there simply by thinking about it! If you think all this is bizarre it is nothing compared with what transpires.

09/10/2020

Ad Break#21 Bulls, Cars and Phones

Moneysupermarket- “Be like the money calm Bull”
This just has to be the best advert of 2020! Having utilised the silky tones of Matt Berry (or perhaps Steven Toast?) for a while now telling us to stay “money calm” the latest Moneysupermarket ad involves the Money Calm Bull. Still voiced by Matt Berry the ad shows a large bull standing calmly in a variety of scenarios each of them more extreme than the previous one yet the animal remains calm. This bull has become quite the star, pictured on the side of buses and on billboards while the advert itself is brilliant.


 

04/10/2020

Top of the Pops 12 Sep 1985

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Steve Wright: “Here's Mike Read!! I'm Steve Wright!! Good evening!! Welcome to Top of the Pops!!” Mike Read: “Oh you're Steve Wright” Steve Wright: “That's me!!” Mike Read: “Number 12 we have Amii Stewart with Eddie Floyd's Knock On Wood.”
[12] Amii Stewart: Knock On Wood. [Just for the record, I have a post-it note stuck to my monitor reminding me not to spend all my time whining about the Mike Read/Steve Wright combination. Let's just take it as read, they both have a much higher opinion of their hilarity levels than I do.] Amii Stewart returns to Top of the Pops almost nine months after her previous song Friends peaked at 12. If this re-release of Knock On Wood was intended to cash in on the success of Friends (described on this very blog as, “an amiable enough song,” ho-ho, eh readers!) then it's very oddly timed.
A look at the Official UK Chart website reveals some of the backstory. Friends was released by RCA Records. Amii's next single, a cover of That Loving Feeling which spent one week in the charts at number 95, wasn't released on a record label*. Then Knock On Wood is released on the Sedition label. It looks as if Amii's absence from the charts was caused by behind-the-scenes business.

 

02/10/2020

Space 1999- The Exiles

Helena’s start of episode voiceover suggests everything is fine yet moments later what look like fifty missiles are seen approaching Alpha! Koenig will be stopping her doing the ship’s log soon. Come to think of it why do they bother with a log? It’s not like they’ll be getting home like the Enterprise any time soon. Anyhow they nab one of these apparent missiles, prod and probe it before slicing it open with a laser only to find Peter Duncan, future Blue Peter presenter, inside! He’s playing Cantor a seemingly reasonably friendly alien whose been exiled from his planet along with a number of others and unless they are rescued from their space tombs the atmosphere will destroy them in thirty six hours.

 

    Helena just couldn't stand their clothes.

29/09/2020

Us review

This four part adaptation of David Nicholls’ popular book opens with an extended middle of the night discussion between Connie and Douglas Peterson who have been married for nearly twenty five years. With their son Albie about to leave for Art College, she says she thinks they should separate, he is shocked by this declaration and herein begins an intriguing first episode which pulls at the tiny things that could make or break a marriage. Connie wants something different but she’s not sure what. “I want…change” she says, while Douglas seems content with what they have. It’s certainly an intriguing opening gambit for a series that appears as if it might tell a familiar tale. It does but not necessarily in the manner you’d expect. There’s been some criticism of the pace of the first two episodes (the whole series is on the iPlayer) but I promise you it is worth staying with as each episode has a tone of its own and the splendid cast develop a script that is filled with recognisable things. 


 

25/09/2020

Top of the Pops 5 Sept 1985

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Peter Powell: “Hi everybody! Welcome to Top of the Pops and our new time for the whole of the autumn!” Mike Smith: “All the climbers, all the breakers, and a new number one to come this evening, and let's start off with a real wang-dang-arooga. It's that Tarzan Boy, Baltimora. This week's number three.”
[3] Baltimora: Tarzan Boy. No gorilla this week, disappointingly, and no loin cloth either (see the 22/08/1985 and 29/08/1985 editions respectively). Baltimora is still doing that thing where he throws his coat backwards and accompanies the momentary glimpse of his bare torso with a shocked Kenneth-Williams-at-that-moment-in-Carry-on-Camping face. It occurs here at exactly the same point it did on the 22/08/1985 edition, so it's an established part of the routine rather than a spur of the moment topless-protest at BBC old maids and their loincloth embargo. (Fact John- There’s a rather sad story about this song. Jimmy McShane who does all the promo performances like this one was a former paramedic from Londonderry selected to front the Italian based `group` more for his dancing- and presumably coatography- than singing. Despite the huge success of the song, follow ups flopped and he was soon back in regular life. He died in 1995.)


22/09/2020

Space 1999 - The Metamorph

Much has been said about what was lost with the change in producer for season 2 of Space 1999. Fred Freiberger as his name seems to suggest preferred the `fast food` style of television. Having boiled Star Trek down to primary colours in its third season he has been accused of doing the same with the second series of Space 1999. This opener certainly sets it stall as one of the livelier excursions for Koenig and co with so much colour and action it is almost as if the production team wanted us not to notice the changes. The results are engaging for the intended audience and there is an undercurrent of seriousness lurking; after all if someone like Brian Blessed can give a mostly understated performance then it can’t all be bad can it? The trouble is the disconnect between scriptwriter Johnny Byrne’s darker ideas and the extremely colourful manner in which they are portrayed.

14/09/2020

Top of the Pops 29 August 1985

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Janice Long: “Hi thank you for joining us. Welcome to a very, very live edition of Top of the Pops. We're standing here right now, aren't we?” John Peel: “That's right. We can say really controversial things like bottom and they can't do anything about it.” Janice Long: “How controversial. He just wants to be in the newspapers. At eighteen this week, it's Mai Tai and this is Body And Soul.”
[18] Mai Tai: Body & Soul. Next week Top of the Pops is on the move again. The programme started 1985 in a 40 minute slot pinballing between 6.55pm, 7.20pm, and as late as 7.50pm when Paul Daniels wanted to play Odd One Out. Michael Grade dragged BBC1 kicking and screaming into the future (ie Wogan three times a week) with his February channel revamp and Top of the Pops briefly nestled between Eastenders and Tomorrow's World at 7.30pm. In April Top of the Pops
and Tomorrow's World swapped places. A clever bod in Programme Planning worked out that shaving five minutes from the end of Tomorrow's World and starting Top of the Pops at 7.55pm created a variable length slot which could be telescoped from 30-40 minutes; depending on how much future news Tomorrow's World had to cover, and if you sneakily delayed the 8.30pm programme to just past the half hour. And that's how the schedule stayed until the autumn leaves start to fall.


 

09/09/2020

Declan McKenna- Zeros album review

 Sometimes what you need in life is a large helping of music influenced by various decades filtered through the modern viewpoint of someone generations younger than the legends of old.  Welcome to `Zeros`, the second album from Declan McKenna an artist who defies expectations and adds a bit of fizz to 2020. This is far more than homage, instead he has taken some of the sounds from the early Seventies and moulded them into something else. It does sound both timeless and very Now. When it’s at its very best- as on the awesome `Be An Astronaut` or `Beautiful Faces` or `The Key to Life on Earth` - it is every bit the equal of those he is inspired by. So to amend an old Bowie ad – there’s Old Music, there’s New Music and there’s Declan McKenna. 

 

06/09/2020

Midsomer Murders- Shot At Dawn

A sure fire way of knowing whether a Midsomer Murders episode is going to be enjoyable is if you can imagine its key characters in a sitcom. A splendidly playful episode that deals with a serious issue in macabre manner, `Shot at Dawn` opened series 11 and definitely fulfils that criteria. It features a couple of old troopers in the form of George Cole and Donald Sinden in what was one of the final roles for both of them playing, well, old troopers whose military families have been at war for ninety years. 

02/09/2020

Tenet review


I saw a trailer for Tenet, the latest headscratcher from director Christopher Nolan, earlier this year since which we’ve had the You Know What and suddenly it feels much more a film suitable for 2020 than it did back then. It’s tricky to review without giving away the glue that holds it together so all I’m saying before the break is that it likely fulfils expectations both for those who enjoy the filmmaker’s world and those who don’t. So if you were baffled by Inception, irritated by Intersteller or put off by his Dark Knight trilogy he hasn’t radically altered course this time. If you loved them then this is exactly for you. Course there is a risk he may become this generation’s Tim Burton replaying earlier successes ad infinitum but it’s not happened yet. Tenet is a wildly ambitious, satisfyingly told knotty tale and if you’ve seen it or want to know more, click below….

Spoilers past this point

30/08/2020

Top of the Pops August 1985 mega-post!


All reviewed by Chris Arnsby
01/08/1985
Mike Read: “Hello. [to Mike Smith] You've just got time to change... too late.” Mike Smith: “Thank you very much. Thank you very much indeed. What has got style?” Mike Read: “Peter Powell?” Mike Smith: “No, no, no, come on. What has got style? What's got good looks?” Mike Read: “Steve Wright?” Mike Smith: “No, no, no, what has got a record in the charts at the moment?” Mike Read: “Me? No.” Mike Smith: “No... with all those things welcome Five Star.”
[18] Five Star: Let Me Be The One. The new Top of the Pops title sequence is rubbish. It's just rainbow colour bars and a piercing electronic tone. No, actually this episode (downloaded from Tutankhamun's tomb https://mega.nz/folder/h0snQACa#uiNNqosfbdrfzODHsE1clw ) is digitised straight from the BBC master tape; first we get two minutes of VT colour bars, then the countdown clock (generated on a BBC Micro to judge by the chunky pixels), and finally the real title sequence. I wonder how this escaped from the archives? It's a night of two Mike's, and an exercise in clashing host styles. Mike Smith wants to be silly, and Mike Read doesn't (or can't). Or maybe I'm being unfair as I find myself liking Smith more than Read. This is the last time the two Mikes host Top of the Pops together although they both stick around for a few more years. Mike Smith would present his final show in early 1988, and Mike Read could be seen until February 1989.
Regardless. Here's Five Star. Drilled to parade ground perfection and fully coordinated in movement and clothing. They're dressed in soft versions of American Football shoulder pads, with a numeral 5 on the front in a different colour for each person. This is how the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers would look if they formed a pop group in their spare time. It's a tribute to branding, before branding was a thing.  

28/08/2020

Troye Sivan- In A Dream EP review

If you’ve not heard of or heard Troye Sivan then now is the time. He’s already been around a while releasing two albums and he also has history as both an actor and YouTuber. Born in South Africa, raised in Australia and till lockdown resident of the US, he’s hardly a new artist except to the likes of me way off the zeitgeist these days! The great thing about that though is that sometimes you discover someone and there’s a lot of music to listen to. `In A Dream`, released last week, showcases six songs that take regret, sadness or reflection but channel those emotions in interesting ways. It’s won serious critical attention in places where someone like him could be ignored and that’s an indication that this music is seriously good. In fact its some of the best new music I’ve heard this year.


31/07/2020

Top of the Pops 25 July 1985

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Dixie Peach: “We've got a fabulous show. We've got people on like Trans X, Feargal Sharkey, and Madonna. But we're gonna kick off right now with something to get you into that holiday mood. Here is Arrow with Long Time.”
[36] Arrow: Long Time. The start of tonight's episode of Top of the Pops has been slashed by the BBC4 Psycho-style editor. There are a couple of clues; Gary Davies is rendered oddly mute throughout Dixie Peach's introduction (although I'm fine with an overall reduction in the Davies word count); Dixie Peach's speech fades in abruptly after the audience cheer; and here's the real smoking gun, the font's all wrong on the hosts caption. It's not properly bolded and the drop-shadow isn't strong enough. It's obviously Bring Your Child to Work Day in the BBC4 Caption Faking Department.


26/07/2020

Top of the Pops 18 July 1985


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Peter Powell: “Hello, welcome to Top of the Pops! Good evening to you!” Mike Smith: “Let's not hang about. Forty minutes of the latest chart tunes. We start off at number thirteen with Simply Red and Money's Too Tight, and Mick is going to sing live. Aren't you Mick? [13] Simply Red: Money's Too Tight (To Mention). This episode of Top of the Pops comes from Smaug's horde at https://mega.nz/folder/h0snQACa#uiNNqosfbdrfzODHsE1clw Excitingly, it's an off-air recording which means the recording starts with a nostalgic blast. A glimpse of the (then brand-new) BBC1 computer generated globe. Even more exciting, this is a 40 minute edition of Top of the Pops . We haven't had one of those for a while. (Not since 03/01/1985 according to BBC Genome). Let's hope they use those extra 10 minutes wisely. What celestial conjunction has caused this change to the schedule? The Little and Large Show has come to an end. Don't worry, it's not permanent. They'll be back next year. And the year after that. And after that. And again for a couple more years. Meanwhile, once Eastenders finishes at 7.30pm, Top of the Pops and Tomorrow's World luxuriate and spread themselves out across the evening.First up is a 40 minute Tomorrow's World. It's the 1985 Prince of Wales Award for Industrial Innovation and Production, from Highgrove House in Gloucestershire. Then comes Top of the Pops, and then... Points Of View ? What? But that's a Wednesday night programme. What celestial conjunction, etc, has untimely ripped Points Of View from its usual slot. A Party Political Broadcast by the Labour Party. Oh no.
Speaking of Labour, here's Simply Red. Another band I can't watch properly because of passage of time. However, attempting to put aside years of accumulated prejudice, how do they do on 18 July 1985? Well, I don't much like Mick Hucknall's grey slacks.

23/07/2020

Review round up- Q magazine, TikTok, The Durrells Series 1


Q Magazine publishes its final issue this month ending 34 years of music coverage, a victim of the pandemic lockdown which made it impossible to sell the last few issues though it had falling readership even before this happened. In some ways, Q was like the Top of the Pops of magazines showcasing whatever was popular.  While it never had the bite of the old style weekly music press it made itself an indispensable successor as those papers fell away one by one.  It was less inclined to push new artists onto success as the weekly papers had done, rather it watched established acts develop. With excellent access even to the most elusive stars they were able to remain across the pop axis with aplomb adopting a breezy but often forensic approach that both informed and entertained. They even got an interview with Prince once, albeit one in which the interviewer was not allowed to take notes. 

20/07/2020

Top of the Pops 11 July 1985


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby.Janice Long & John Peel: “Hi! It's Top of the Pops!” Janice Long: “Have we got a show for you?” John Peel: “Have we got a show for you?” Janice Long: “And it is live!” John Peel: “And it is live!” Janice Long: “And they are The Conway Brothers!” John Peel:”Which one's Russ?”
[18] The Conway Brothers: Turn It Up. Top of the Pops used Turn It Up as the backing track for the host introductions on the 27/06/1985 edition. The mix of disco pew-pew effects and frantic Rawk guitar was irritating, until the introduction to Ben (a charity single raising money for seriously ill children) at which point it veered into inappropriate but that was an out of context clip. The high concept of the song appears to be a parade of people (neighbour knocking on door, old lady, etc) who you'd normally associate with asking for a record to turned down, instead (and this is the clever bit) asking for the music to be turned up. Except the stream of inspiration ran dry after neighbour and old lady, and that's your lot. Let's repeat the chorus until the end of the single. 



17/07/2020

Ad Break#20 Magnum, SEAT and, erm, the UK


Magnum- “True to pleasure” 
Last year on this blog we looked at the new Ruby chocolate and now it has made its biggest foray into the confectionary world with the new Magnum Ruby ice cream. The advert certainly portrays it as a luxury item so much so that it has its own shop which serves one customer at a time. This is not social distancing however, this ad was made before the lockdown, and is simply to illustrate just how exclusive a taste this ice cream is. The ad shows a young woman – played by South African model and actress ChloĆ© Hirschman - drawn into an ornately appointed shop that looks like a cross between a casino and a bank. Greeted by a smartly dressed doorman she is shown the creation process which seems to involve a lot of models looking at the ice cream inside glass containers or handling chunks of ruby chocolate with tweezers as if they are valuable fossils. This is probably not how it’s actually made.


15/07/2020

Lockdowned


So. The pandemic is not over by any means but we are starting to venture outside for a while at least and it seems an appropriate time to summarise the fifteen (is it?) weeks we’ve spent inside. Well mostly inside. In some ways for me it wasn’t hugely different as some of the things people were moaning about not being able to do- go to events, go on holiday, spend hours socialising – have been unavailable to me for the past five years due to my ongoing caring responsibilities as well as working full time. So forgive me if I can’t get too concerned for people wringing their hands about not being able to take a holiday “this year”. Plus I could shop and you soon got used to the queues. What did take me by surprise though was how much I had beforehand. If I thought my life was restricted before then this was something else.

02/07/2020

Top of the Pops 20 & 27 June 1985


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Janice Long: “Hello, may I be the first to bid you a fond welcome to Top of the Pops.” Gary Davies: “Er, in other words Janice is basically saying, hi how you doing? What's on the show tonight Jan?” Janice Long: “Well we've got Harold Whatis..er.” Gary Davies: “ Faltermeyer.” Janice Long: “Yeah, we've got China...err.” Gary Davies: “Crisis.”Janice Long: “And we've got Mai......”Gary Davies: “Tai.”Janice Long: “And we've got Sting as well and a fine bunch of young upstanding men first.” Gary Davies: “In other words to get us underway here are the Fine Young Cannibals.”

[15] Fine Young Cannibals: Johnny Come Home. I remember the Fine Young Cannibals first time round but I don't recall them making much of an impression on me. This was clearly a mistake judging by this barnstorming performance of a very good song. I think Janice Long sums it up best when she shapes her words carefully like clay in the hands of a master potter and reveals “I think Roland Gift's voice is just...like...brilliant.” Despite all this praise, there is no way to describe whatever the hell it is the bass-player thinks he's doing. And he looks stupid doing it. Fred Wright is still on Lighting duties this week but Michael Hurll has had a word. The purple studio lighting has been dialled back from last week's visual cortex burning levels to a less strident shade of magenta. Week two of the new main set, for those keeping track, and someone has found the button that makes the neon tubes flash on and off. There's also a new addition, a row of round white lights that flash on and off to no obvious pattern. If you translate the flashes into Morse code they spell out “help I'm being held prisoner in the BBC lighting department,” but that's probably a coincidence.

29/06/2020

When your friends are in a band...


Subjectivity about music is one of the great things about discussions with friends. Whether it’s the crazy who’ll shout “Chooooooooooon” each time a dance banger is mentioned or dusty audio academics discussing the merits of obscure King Crimson tracks, we rarely hold back when it comes to expressing our opinions about music and of course we are always right. However what happens when friends of yours start to write music, record it and give you a copy. Or start playing live and want you to go. Do we then continue to maintain subjectivity in the same way we might normally? Course not! Instead we resort to obfuscation or vagueness unless of course your friend’s music really is amazing. And what are the chances of that happening? Besides do they expect unadulterated praise? Wouldn’t they prefer you to say, “You know what, Jez, it’s a crock of ##**!!” Actually they probably wouldn’t.

 
"It went really well, mate"

23/06/2020

The Boy Who Won The Pools


Unusual Sunday kids TV serial from 1983 remains elusive- but you can read the book.
Before the National Lottery was invented there were the Football Pools (actually I think they’re still going). This was a palaver that involved densely printed forms listing all the scheduled football matches across four Divisions and Scotland from which you’d select about 12 and predict which would be a score draw or something. Anyway some people used to take this very, very seriously studying form and previous matches whereas others would randomly put crosses in squares knowing next to nothing about football. Either approach was as likely to win you a cash prize. Pools entrants would then sit glued to the football results as they came in on the `teleprinter` to see if they’d scooped a fortune. Writer Gerard McDonald used the Pools as the basis for a book later adapted into a 10 part Sunday afternoon tv series shown in 1983 whose title explains exactly what it was about- The Boy Who Won The Pools. In this case 16 year old Rodney Baverstock was the lucky recipient of £758,000 (and 27p) courtesy of his Aunt. As money is now something like three and a bit more times the value it was in 1983 this would be like winning about two and a quarter million now.


19/06/2020

Top of the Pops 13 June 1985


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Mike Read: “Welcome to Britain's best loved serial, Top of the Soaps. You've seen him on Radio 1, for the first ever time on television a natural life-sized effigy of Dixie Peach.” Dixie Peach: “Thanks Mike. I've been laying in the sun in anticipation for this big event. Tonight I'm going to kick off with Scritti Politti, Word Girl.”

[8] Scritti Politti: The Word Girl . The Top of the Pops studio has been refurbished. The walls around the main stage used to be fitted with neon tubes that flashed in basic geometric shapes; circles, triangles, and squares (alright settle down Pythagoras). The new neon shapes are more complicated and don't flash quite as much. The effect is to increase the overall light levels and form a more definite boundary to the set. The higher light levels make it easier to spot the hosts sneaking off when their introduction is complete. They used to escape from the main set through a secret gap in the scenery by the neon Top of the Pops logo. The redesign has given them a proper set of stairs with a Health and Safety approved handrail. 

16/06/2020

The Personal History of David Copperfield review


This charming film is not entirely what you might expect from Armando Iannucci whose reputation was made with dark comedic satire. Yet he has breathed life into this venerable tale giving it a contemporary spin only inasmuch as to show how identifiable a story it actually is. If for some reason you had no idea this was based on a book you might think it was penned recently as there’s nothing here that smells musty or old. Quite the contrary in fact- this adaptation is as fresh and enjoyable as run on the Yarmouth beach which provides one of its locales. But don’t accuse the director- who also co-writes with Simon Blackwell - of going soft as there is always a harder edge where Dickens is concerned.

11/06/2020

Top of the Pops 23 May & 6 June 1985


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. 23 May 1985: Mike Read: “More exciting than Dynasty, more fabulous than Dallas, even better than Eastenders.” Steve Wright: “It's true!!” Mike Read: “Top of the Pops.” Steve Wright: “Top of the Pops!! And here we're going to start with Go West and Call Me!!”
[17] Go West: Call Me. Go West's Wikipedia page claims the band only has two members, lead singer Peter Cox and Richard Drummie, guitar and backing vocals. This must be a bone of contention for all the other people on stage performing Call Me. I only discovered the non-person status of the drummer, guitar player, second keyboard/guitar player, and backing singer because of an unfortunate moment just after the first chorus when the backing singer forgets how to dance. She's doing fine and then the rhythm just abandons her and she is left staring at her malfunctioning feet for a moment before getting back into the groove. Maybe it's best that she is not named by Wikipedia but using an impersonal pronoun feels rude and reminds me of my nan asking “who's she, the cat's mother?”
Go West- Call Me (or I'll kick your cat)

09/06/2020

What to do about Liverpool's shameful history?


The headlines of the past few weeks made me think about my home town Liverpool which played a significant part in slavery in the past. In fact the city’s wealth and expansion was built on it. There were more slave ships running in and out of Liverpool in the late 1700s than there were either in London or Bristol. So is it now time for the city to follow the lead elsewhere and remove evidence  of those people responsible?  Or should we continue to acknowledge it as an example of wrong doing.

02/06/2020

Snowpiercer (film) review


Imagine the worst train journey ever and you’ve got Snowpiercer. This 2013 film has generated new interest lately partly due to director Bong Joon-ho winning a handful of  Oscars for his latest feature Parasite and also because a tv series is in the works. Somehow the original release of the film passed me by and I can’t remember it getting a massive publicity drive at the time. In some respects it is a typical post- apocalyptic movie- grim, unrelenting and painted in muted tones. In fact it is one of those films you start watching and then think- am I really going to stick with this for two hours? Well do stick with it because, while not perfect, Snowpiercer is an imaginatively presented thrill ride packed with claustrophobic action and not without strands of thoughtfulness.

31/05/2020

Top of the Pops 9 & 16 May 1985

2 eps for 1 reviewed by Chris Arnsby. 9 May: Janice Long: “Hello. Welcome to a live Top of the Pops. I'm auntie Janice.” John Peel: “And I'm uncle John. And we're going to play you some songs from the hit parade. Aren't we Janice?” Janice Long: “They're smashing, like The Style Council and Walls Come Tumbling Down.”
[13] The Style Council: Walls Come Tumbling Down. “You don't have to take this crap!” Tone it down a bit Paul. Knock off the casual swearing or we'll lose the audience. Or maybe that's the plan. BBC2 is showing The Moonraker (1958) against Top of the Pops. Perhaps the schedulers are hoping casual viewers will switch over, thinking it to be Moonraker (1979). (John- I’d have thought the opposite would be true!)


27/05/2020

Spaced Series 2 review


From the TWU Archive Pods, part 2 of this 2004 appreciation of Spaced. Words- Sean Alexander. Episode 1: Back 
In which Daisy returns from Asia to find changes at homeand the interest of two familiar agents. 
Between series one and two of Spaced, an important cultural change took place.  A generation of fans raised on the original Star Wars trilogy had - like Simon Pegg himself - seen The Phantom Menace and decided, once and all, that George Lucas was just a great fake who’d got lucky three times. Actually, two great cultural changes had taken place: The Matrix, released the same summer as The Phantom Menace, had become the most successful and influential piece of pop-culture since Star Wars. So into this cultural miasma arrives the second series of Spaced.  And it’s hard not to dissociate these changes in nerd culture from the resultant opening half-hour of the show’s sophomore year.  There’s no denying it’s back with a bang: refreshed, revitalised and freshly engorged by the ever-expanding media landscape on which its original success was hewn.  Spaced no longer just makes do with cannibalising every film and TV show going; it now has its own cultural heritage to draw on.  Not bad for a show only one year old!  What’s so good about ‘Back’ is how easily it slips into the old routine - with even a voice-over refreshing for first-time viewers - without seeming staid as a result.  Into this is mixed a poignant discourse on the fear and isolation of losing touch with one’s domestic familiarity.  Daisy, absent for six months, returns to a world familiar yet strange on her return from the far east, not least of which is her replacement in Tim’s immediate sphere by new flatmate Mike.  That the episode ends with things - largely - back to normal is as much a relief to the watching viewer as it is to Daisy herself.


19/05/2020

Top of the Pops 2 May 1985


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Richard Skinner: “What a show we've got for you. We've got Chris Rea, New Model Army, U2, Paul as well, and you.” Mike Smith: “And a lot of noisy people as well. Seven new chart entries this week for you. So lots to come tonight, plus this lot, first time since Christmas 1983. Would I tell a lie? Welcome Eurythmics.” [25] Eurythmics: Would I Lie To You? Eurythmics. You know Eurythmics right? Two of them. A dour lady and bloke who always wears sunglasses indoors. Lots of parping synthesisers and attitude. Well this week Eurythmics have been replaced by the pod people. Everyone is smiling. No one is wearing sunglasses. There are about 4000 people on stage. It's hard to get an exact count because the studio's all smokey and atmospheric, and everyone keeps moving around and... what's the word I don't associate with Eurythmics? Dancing... that's it everyone keeps dancing and being all happy.
I'm possibly overstating how much of a change of direction this is for Eurythmics but it comes as a surprise when you compare it to their last single, Sex Crime (1984).


17/05/2020

Spaced Series 1 review


From the TWU archives, Sean Alexander looks at the series Spaced. First published in the print zine in (gasp) 2004. 
British TV comedy experienced something of a renaissance in the late Nineties.  Reeves and Mortimer, Alan Partridge and The League of Gentleman have all left a rich legacy for future historians to analyse and deconstruct in years to come.  But arguably even the overwhelming success of ‘modern’ sitcom The Office papers over today’s comedies’ credentials for inheriting the classic sitcom mantle.  Because the nineties were when sitcoms grew up, becoming more comedy drama than broad situational farces.  The evidence of The Vicar of Dibley’s sole inclusion underlines this.  While comedy, by nature, has always run a fine line between the funny and the sad, modern shows like Little Britain and Nighty Night are continuing the nineties trend for tragic comedy.  However, there was one sitcom made in the past five years that did uphold the cosy traditions of halcyon days.  With a twist.  It depicted an eclectic group of friends and their struggles to find happiness and meaning in an increasingly hostile world.  But it added a post-modern, pop-culturally obsessive and occasionally surreal style to its familiar template.
Its name? Spaced. It ran on Channel 4 for two series between 1999 and 2001.  Written by comedians Simon Pegg (previously best known for the slightly dark and twisted sketch show Big Train) and Jessica Stevenson (hitherto the downtrodden - and eternally weight-conscious - Cheryl in The Royle Family) it tells the story of twenty-somethings Tim Bisley and Daisy Steiner’s attempts to find purpose and fulfilment in the occasionally scary world of pre-Millennium North London.  Posing as a ‘professional’ couple, they are joined in their illicit co-habitation by a variety of colourful housemates.  There is their landlady, Marsha, a woman for whom the pursuit of the opposite sex is matched only by her capacity for a bottle of red or three.  Downstairs is tortured artist Brian, forever carrying the pain - and the paint - of his endeavours on his sinewy torso.  Elsewhere, Mike is Tim’s gun-loving, ex-territorial army best friend, as likely to bring some small arms to any house party as any beverage.  While Daisy’s best friend, Twist - with her lisping voice and day-glo ensembles - is as terminally vacuous as she is self-absorbed.

14/05/2020

Slade In Flame review


Viewed from this distance the success of Slade in the early Seventies seems unlikely yet a series of hit singles, several of which topped the UK charts, made them the period’s top homegrown pop act. Unlike their peers they never tried to be cool or distant, in fact their appeal was partly based on likeability. They were four ordinary blokes from the Midlands whose catchy, if repetitive songs, struck a chord. They saw their chance and donned glam rock sequins with enthusiasm even if their stage wear sometimes looked like it was run up the previous night on a sewing machine. By 1975 however their appeal was waning and they would subsequently make one of the classic UK pop star errors by going off to try and make it big in the United States at the expense of their established British audience. Before that though they made a film. 

08/05/2020

Top of the Pops 25 April 1985


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Mike Read: “Hi, and welcome to Top of the Pops with Gary and myself. USA for Africa are on tonight, and the RAH Band, David Grant, Jaki Graham, and also Phil Collins.” Gary Davies: “In fact if you want to know how to get 17 hits in 33 minutes just stick around. To get us underway a song that's gone up 17 places to number 7 in the charts this week. Bronski Beat and Marc Almond, I Feel Love.”
[7] Bronski Beat & Marc Almond: I Feel Love.17 hits in 33 minutes? Yes, it turns out Top of the Pops has been given extra time. When Only Fools And Horses finished, Top of the Pops and Tomorrow's World swapped places on Thursday. Now Tomorrow's World has lost five minutes and is scheduled from 7.30-7.55pm, and Top of the Pops slots in between that and repeats of The Lenny Henry Show at 8.30pm.
I Feel Love is a study in contrasting performance styles.  Jimmy Somerville is a natural on stage. He dances like a club veteran and looks at home and completely unselfconscious. Marc Almond looks more awkward, and dances like... well, like me. Fair play to Marc. He's doing his best but he's got the wry self-conscious smirk of a man out of his element. Clearly he would rather be back in suburbia writing poetry about how ghastly it is to live in the suffocating bourgeois embrace of the provinces where no one understands him, and all his real talents go unappreciated. Marc Almond is wearing a small gold star pinned to his blazer lapel. Is it his badge for mathematical excellence? This is an oddly structured song with two false endings, put there to frustrate any DJ with the temerity to play the song on the radio. The first one shifts abruptly from I Feel Love to Johnny Remember Me. The pair continue to sing as Lighting Director Fred Wright uses this moment to cut the main studio lights leaving the stage lit by a spotlight, against a backdrop of neon tubes. The studio lights are then slowly raised again as the song builds. It looks great. Both false endings get big cheers from the studio audience.

05/05/2020

Licence to Drive (1988) review


You could probably fashion a film around most things provided you can create some form of excitement and interest. So if the obtaining of a driving licence may seem too trivial a topic to turn into an interesting film Licence to Drive proves otherwise.  A lively narrative manages to explore every option this subject might suggest while also sticking to the tried and tested tropes of the US high school movie. The first half in particular - as sixteen year old Les Anderson takes his test and things go wrong - is incident packed and amusing in a sort of Eighties way. Apparently John Hughes was initially attached to the movie though it eventually enabled Greg Beeman, nowadays a well- known American TV producer, to make his feature film debut. 



03/05/2020

Chewy!


Nougat!? Even the name is tricky. Is it pronounced “noo-gaa” or “noo-gatt”? It is a substance that can be difficult to make ending up either too soft or, more likely, too hard. Some nougat resembles the sort of material used on white washed walls and can have a similar consistency. Yet it endures, one of those foods that people generally love or loathe like Marmite or sprouts.  Still if you can’t manage to chew or even cut it, nougat can make a handy table leveller if you’ve an uneven floor.


30/04/2020

Ad Break#19 Lockdown Adverts


As the UK lockdown is now in its sixth week, an increasing number of adverts are acknowledging the time we’re living through. That multi screened view we're familiar with from social media or Skype is now becoming a go-to look for ads many of which have segments filmed from people’s homes. These adverts all look of the moment and when an older one shows people in close proximity or in a restaurant they suddenly seem weird now. Its amazing how quickly we’ve become familiar with the so called `New Normal`. One ad claims to be the first ever made entirely in private homes. Debuting last week, the latest spot from Voxi – the wing of Vodaphone aimed at younger customers- features a teenager showing how you can stay connected during this unprecedented situation. Called `Stay Connected, Stay Endless` the advert was shot entirely on a Samsung Galaxy S20 phone using its 4K front and rear cameras as well as the device’s internal microphone all of which provided “high quality footage and manageable file sizes”. The teenager is seen taking part in a various social media trends such as baking, hosting an online quiz and going on a virtual date. It has the energy of a hyperactive YouTube vlog, slick but without losing that homemade feel.