02/04/2020

Ad Break#18 Fashion, Success and Phones


Argos - “I’m holding a duck” 
One of the things about lockdown is that more people might see some of the great adverts around plus you at least have to watch five seconds of them on YouTube. In fact the inspiration for this  irregular feature is that I realised the ideas and cleverness that go into ads often outshines the programmes they are in between. Here’s a case in point- a surreal Argos ad that pushes their established `so good you can wear it` concept to absurd new heights. Fronted by model and actress Suki Waterhouse it takes the company’s already established theme of ` so stylish you can wear it` to even more surreal places by taking the rise out of pretentious fashion ads. 

30/03/2020

Skins Season One

Lockdown archive! As we're all spending more time at home during the lockdown- and because everyone's doing this - I thought I'd post some archive material from the vast vaults of This Way Up (it's an enormous golden pyramid in the garden) starting with this review of the iconic first season of Skins from 2007. Wonder what happened to this cast then.....


On the criminally overlooked third Thrills album, there’s a line “I harbour doubts I didn’t live my youth with sufficient recklessness” and you’ll probably feel the same after watching a few minutes of the fascinating series Skins. Before you clock a second though, it’s worth checking out Maxxie miming to the Chipmunks song on Youtube because it’s funny and because it reminds us that this is a series about teenagers enjoying themselves in whatever weird way that teenagers do. Don’t expect to understand why, just laugh because there’s an askew enjoyment to be had from seeing a modern character dancing to such an ancient cutesy song from decades back. Its only one of a series of internet treats lurking for fans hooked on the TV show- the most notable of these is the ten minute “digger party” episode that’s positively surreal. It’s a good preparation for a show which will climax with- yes- a song. 
 Launched first on the minority channel E4 before getting a repeat on proper Channel 4 and now available on DVD (series 2 starts soon on E4 if you’re one of the 27 people who has subscribed to it), Skins is one of those once-in-a decade telly shows about young people that gets Mrs Putey from Basingstoke irritated and critics rhapsodising about how it’s speaking to the young generation. Cleverly trailered with exactly the sort of crazy party that parents will shiver their timbers about, the show seems designed to upset anyone older than 16 while simultaneously giving the under 16s their own show. It bothers me that they watch Hollyoaks which is a plastic, gift wrapped portrait of adolescence which I refuse to believe mirrors anyone’s experience except for well off thritysomethings with wine bars and lofts and designer furniture. As they say in the fab Corsa adverts, Come On!!

27/03/2020

Space 1999- Mission of the Darians & Dragon's Domain


Mission of the Darians

An episode that treads in well worn tv sci-fi footsteps, Johnny Byrne’s story paces to a slow reveal meaning its heavy going for the watcher. The Alphans encounter a huge city in space emitting an emergency call for help. Inside the vast place the mission crew variously discover two separate scenarios. As Koenig and Bergman chat to Joan Collins and learn of a race on a centuries long mission to find a new planet, Helena encounters the somewhat larger, hairier and sacrifice types who inhabit level 7. You can sort of see what’s coming though Byrne laces his script with some nasty incidents. These level seveners, led by a hysterically hammy Aubrey Morris in eye popping splendour, fillet out mutants and put them in a box that kills them with noise. Judging from the looks of the tribe that noise is Black Sabbath at maximum decibels. 

25/03/2020

Top of the Pops 21 Mar 1985


Top of the Pops 07/03/1985

[FX: TOP OF THE POPS THEME. RECORD SCRATCH, AND MUSIC STOPS]

Top of the Pops cleared out a lot of the old presenters in 1984. Tommy Vance was shown the door. Andy Peebles left with head held high and feet held higher, in this position he was thrown out (© Spike Milligan). Also off were the two forbidden hosts J**** S*****  and D*v* L** Tr*v*s. Unfortunately this doesn't mean that 1985 magically becomes the year when BBC4 can show every episode of Top of the Pops with a clear conscience because 1985 is also the year that Mike Smith becomes the BBC's Mr Ubiquity. He's on Breakfast Time, he presents a show called Friday People, and another one called Speak Out (an international link-up between teenagers in Britain and other parts of the world), he hosts The 1985 Royal Tournament and Live Aid, and he also becomes the main host of Top of the Pops; presenting 16 of the 52 editions of Top of the Pops. He also withdrew permission for the BBC to repeat his editions of Top of the Pops, before his death in 2014.
On top of missing one third of the 1985 repeats, my digital box has thrown a wobbly. The next edition of Top of the Pops it has recorded is 11/04/1985. This is plainly unacceptable given that the last one I wrote up was 21/02/1985. Still, nil desperandum and all that. It's time to use my initiative, and see what's available via other sources**YouTube. (John- Can we actually get on with it now please?)(FX: TOP OF THE POPS THEME RESUMES] 
Top of the Pops 21/03/1985. Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. 
Steve Wright: “Hello, good evening, and welcome to another Top of the Pops!! Tonight you can see Sarah Brightman!! You can see Loose Ends!!  And!! You can see some of Prince's greatest speeches!! Mike Read: “I love you. You're so enthusiastic. Kicking off tonight's Top of the Pops we have Nik Kershaw, just about to embark on a world tour. This is Wide Boy.”

24/03/2020

Home.


I’m working from home, or WFH as people call it. Wfhuh. I managed to sneak in the decision before lockdown because in the end if the world is ending there’s no better place to be. Or even if the world is only temporarily stopping. That will be this year’s definition in history forever won’t it-  2020- The Year the World Stopped. You may or may not know that I’m a part time carer for my mum so am here with her (well she’s not literally sitting next to me at this moment) which is sometimes nice and sometimes irritating. I suppose there are other people whom I’d like to be here now too but that would make the house rather crowded and break these new laws of lockdown. Incidentally Boris did not use the word `lockdown` at all.  Of course what I am trying to say is that should I have this virus it would almost inevitably pass to my mum as well. So every day is also a risk for her despite me being a carer. Don’t the ironies just pile up at times like this? Course I may not have the virus, no symptoms yet so fingers crossed. If I don’t get it we’ll just get on each other’s nerves every day which is a more than acceptable substitute for the virus I’d say. Somehow your priorities do change at times like this.

20/03/2020

Distance.


Yesterday morning as I was walking past the increasingly small number of fellow pedestrians headed for work, the song `Everybody Hurts` was playing through the speakers of the adjacent shopping centre. The song swirled quite loudly around us and I had a sudden filmic moment. I imagined people stopping and acknowledging each other aware that hugging was out of the question due to social distancing but at least everyone understanding we were all in it together, a powerful moment of empathy in the midst of a crisis. Perhaps everyone sang together. It didn’t happen, instead we all just carried on walking our separate ways. Obviously I do not have the power of Richard Curtis.


16/03/2020

Pause.


Soon we will be able to watch the world without us being in it. There are only a handful of things most of us live through that could be called world altering and the coronavirus scenario is one of those. For once it seems like the more extreme tabloid headlines of recent weeks such as `Virus Mayhem` are actually not too wide of the mark. I’ve kept having to re-write this post due to unfolding events as matters escalate so it may well be out of date when you’re read it but I just wanted to record what its like at this time, at this moment.

13/03/2020

Space 1999 - Space Brain & The Infernal Machine


Space Brain
An opening montage of various crew members completing jigsaws of all things should be a warning that this is going to be an unconventional episode. From its schlocky pulp sci-fi title in there is nothing subtle about `Space Brain`. The puzzles incidentally are meant to be symbolic of the puzzle to come. The latest threat to Moonbase Alpha comes via strange patterns on the screens and then the disappearance of an Eagle investigating their source- a huge entity sitting in space. It appears to be trying to communicate with them and when this doesn’t work takes over an astronaut called Kelly via whom it talks to Computer. I still feel Computer should have an actual name rather than everyone just calling it “Computer”. What about Carl? Anyhow what transpires is a decently poised adventure in which it becomes apparent that the so called `space brain` is trying to survive what will be a collision with the Moon by any means it can. The one problem with the episode, atypically for this series, are the special effects. 

08/03/2020

The Greatest Dancer / Dancing On Ice


When I tell some people I watch these shows they look disapprovingly as it somehow they’re not interesting or cool enough when of course dancing is the coolest thing ever. I don’t dance (don’t ask me), well not now, but back in the day I cut a rug sometimes. It had to be a very special piece of music that would make me though. Both these series reached their latest final at the weekend and both pulled surprise winners out of the hat because of that modern thing they share. However much the experts or judges can influence the progress of acts to the Final when it comes to the last week it is the viewers who have the power. I hardly need to tell you that once things are thrown open to the general public you get some unexpected results!

04/03/2020

Top of the Pops 21 Feb 1985


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Mike Read: “Hello, another great edition of Top of the Pops lined up for you tonight. Bruno Brookes and myself have escaped from Radio 1, just for the night.” Bruno Brookes: “Right, and we're going to get going with Howard Jones at number 6, and Things Can Only Get Better!”

[6] Howard Jones: Things Can Only Get Better. Tonight's episode of Top of the Pops went out at 7.30pm, between episode two of Eastenders ('That baby don't come into this house. Either you get rid of it, or I get rid of you'.) and Happy Returns the first episode of series four of Only Fools And Horses. Howard Jones is back with his ever-growing entourage. We're up to eight people now; a guitarist, three backing singers, a three-piece brass section, and drummer Trevor Morais who is unfashionably hirsute for 1985. There's lot of placeholder “whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,” lyrics in this song but just as they are getting repetitive a surprise guest appears. Charlie Chaplin, who looks good and moves well for someone who died in 1977.
It's actually Dancing Jed, who you may remember from 1983 and New Song, the Howard Jones debut single. He does a creditable impression of Charlie Chaplin and capers well. I can't actually work out why he's here but, why not? Maybe the Three Stooges will appear later to liven up I Know Him So Well. Dancing Jed takes Howard Jones' entourage up to nine. I hate to think what his band on-costs are like.

02/03/2020

Space 1999- The Last Enemy & The Troubled Spirit


The Last Enemy
As the Alphans check out two planets separated from each other by a Sun, one of them launches a mega battleship which cuts out Alpha’s defences and communications easily leaving them defenceless. However in an unexpected turn it is using the passing Moon to launch a surprise attack on its neighbour. We get an early glimpse into the Bethan planet which resembles nothing less than a chic 70s sitting room with white leather sofas and colourful adornments. It soon becomes clear that all the inhabitants of the planet are female something of an undermining of the traditional warrior type this and other series regularly show. The original idea for the story was apparently a literal battle of the sexes but thankfully this is all but excised from the final episode with no acknowledgment of the divide remaining in the finished production, This makes the production look somewhat forward thinking with Dione dressed more like a biker than in any floaty long dress of the sort most female aliens the Alphans met normally sported.

26/02/2020

The Extra Day!


How will you spend 2020’s Extra Day on Saturday? Leap years have to happen every four years (with the exception of centurial years like 2000) otherwise we’d lose six hours per annum and eventually end up with no time at all! Well, not literally of course. This addition ensures the Gregorian calendar remains in alignment with Earth’s revolutions around the Sun and was originally the idea of Julius Caesar.  So we have this extra day of 29 February though presumably it could be any day and you could have a June 31st or July 32nd. People whose birthday is on 29 February usually celebrate in the intervening non Leap Years either on 28 February or 1 March. And they endlessly think that saying they're only 8 or something is funny. It’s a bit odd we call this a Leap Year as it has an extra day in it rather than one day less but the name refers to the fact that other events `leap` over a day.


21/02/2020

Top of the Pops 14 Feb 1985


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Janice Long: “Hi funsters. Tonight you can rave with Killing Joke, we've got The Colour Field, and also The Smiths.” Simon Bates: “And also we've got, to start with, Dead Or Alive and you spin me round.”

[19] Dead Or Alive: You Spin Me Round (Like A Record). Check out Pete Burns, the old snake hips. He's wiggling his body and arms to create an effect like a human sine wave. Occasionally he also spins round (like a record baby). Also watch out for the BBC camera operator with the most boring job in the world. He's assigned to crouch motionless at the side of the stage and point his camera at drummer Steve Coy. The sum total of this work is three brief shots. Disappointingly we don't get to see the camera operator hobble off stage with a dead leg after contorting himself uncomfortably for three minutes. He leaves before the closing wide shot of the performance, presumably to stand behind the scenery and wait for the pins and needles to fade.

19/02/2020

Space 1999 - War Games


You can tell from the title that this episode is not going to play quite as expected but in terms of resolution it cleverly keeps the viewer guessing until the very last scene. It opens in terrific fashion with an attack on Alpha seemingly coming from a nearby planet which the Alphans have been considering for potential colonisation. The attack devastates the base and the production team obviously must have had a lot of fun blowing everything up. There are explosions galore, collapsing joists, falling cables spitting sparks, the whole caboodle. We’re later told that 128 people were killed in the attack which must be something like half the crew. The effects team have a field day with the devastation caused by the attacks during the episode, most impressively when the structure of the buildings is breached personnel are pulled out into space without any trace of how this is done. Some people have spotted cut out Eagles and shots taken from other episodes but the impact of the whole thing together is really powerfully done. 



12/02/2020

Birds of Prey review


The colourful adventures of Harley Quinn continue in this sort of sequel to Suicide Squad which paints a familiar yet still entertaining picture of the criminal underworld of Gotham. As a narrative it works hard to disguise its similarity to sundry other movies with time shifts and rather a lot of narration but succeeds largely due to a winning performance from Margot Robbie. Given that Harley is not exactly the most law abiding of people it is her spirited acting and the film’s sense of anarchic fun which enables Birds of Prey fly.

10/02/2020

Top of the Pops 7 Feb 1985


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Richard Skinner: "Welcome along to Top of the Pops, and it's truly action-packed to capacity." Gary Davies: "If you want to know how to fit in 21 songs in 40 minutes just stick around. We've got hit after hit after hit." Richard Skinner: "Starting with this one. This is King and Love And Pride."
[2] King: Love And Pride: 21 songs in 40 minutes sounds like a disaster in the making. That's *counts on toes* 1 minute 54 seconds per song. Love And Pride runs 3 minutes and 20 seconds so if they play that in full it leaves only 1 minute 49 seconds for each of the remaining 20 songs.
I should stop whining about the new format. The Top 40 Breakers and Top Ten Countdown are obviously not going anywhere. What lingers is the memory of the terrible first week when the Top Ten Countdown so imbalanced the programme that it took up 85% of the running time. (All figures have been verified by the department of hard sums at Heidelberg University.)
To Michael Hurll's credit, the new format has been tightened up considerably. Tonight's edition features four studio performances and three full videos, which is comparable to the good old days of 1984. However, tonight's edition also runs for 40 minutes. In a couple of weeks the programme will be crammed into a 30 minute slot as part of Michael Grades' relaunch of BBC1. Is it going to start feeling rushed?
King get a very positive response from the studio audience. 1985 is clearly going to be a good year for them, and a quick search of BBC Genome shows that Paul King will be cropping up across assorted BBC programmes; most notably King at Hammersmith Odeon on BBC2 on 9th July.

07/02/2020

Ad Break #17 Ridiculous 5G Graham


First Choice- “Ridiculous”

You know how on holiday you sometimes see Queen Cleopatra feeding prawns to a dummy that looks just like her? Well, it is now represented in a great new ad from holiday company First Choice. Part of TUI, they were previously known for offering all- inclusive deals covering all costs including meals and drinks but have now repositioned themselves as a low-cost holiday provider. The ad focusses on that low price and starts conventionally with a sunbed reclining couple commenting on how cheap their holiday was. “It’s ridiculous!” says the wife. Cue a succession of `ridiculous` sequences.  A boy blows a blast of sound from a conch causing doves to fly outwards; a man rises out of the swimming pool playing a drum kit made of water melons. A woman dressed as Cleopatra feeds prawns to a ventriloquist’s dummy version of herself while something is carried by a parrot in the background. A merman is shot out of a cannon; and two sumo wrestlers have a pillow fight while suspended in mid -air by helium balloons. All this takes place against the introduction to the old Tight Fit version of `The Lion Sleeps Tonight` It’s my new favourite ad!


05/02/2020

Top of the Pops 31 Jan 1985


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Janice Long: "Hello and welcome to Top of the Pops. Tonight it's a wee bit shorter than usual but there's loads and loads of stuff in it." Peter Powell: " And for starters a band who you must look out for in 85! They're going to be so big! They're called the Big Sound Authority and this is This House!" 
[36] Big Sound Authority: This House (Is Where Your Love Stands). A 30 minute edition, as opposed to the standard 40. Top of the Pops is cut short by evening coverage  of the Benson and Hedges Masters second quarter-final of boring old snooker. But that's not all! The unbreakable back-to-back pairing of Tomorrow's World and Top of the Pops has been broken asunder. Top of the Pops has come adrift and is currently going out as late as it ever did; 7.50pm in the evening! Paul Daniels' quiz Odd One Out is awkwardly inserted between Tomorrow's World and Top of the Pops. In this schedule Paul Daniels is the odd one out. And what's going to happen when the six week run of Odd One Out comes to an end? Stay tuned! Big Sound Authority are destined not to be as big in 85 as Peter Powell predicted. I'm surprised this song hasn't been used as the soundtrack to a building society advert.

02/02/2020

Space 1999- The Full Circle & End of Eternity


The Full Circle 
A curious and atypical episode that teeters on the precipice between being interesting yet unintentionally amusing. While you can sense the big reveal a long way off the journey there sees the series abandon much of its usual technology dominated sequences for some basic running around and screaming. It is bold and sometimes gripping but also bizarre. You do have to feel sorry for Koenig and co though as every planet they encounter gives them nothing but trouble and Retha is no exception. As the episode opens there’s already a reconnaissance team down there on the promisingly Amazon like surface but they’ve vanished and Koenig, Helena and others go down to look for them. One by one they disappear till there’s only a somewhat terrified Sandra huddling in an Eagle in what is a great performance from Zienia Merton. Of course in ignorance of horror film etiquette she only goes and opens the door.


31/01/2020

31 January 2020 - UK's Day of Shame


Today at 11pm the UK leaves the European Union something that I’m still shocked is actually happening. It flies in the face of the way the world works but there you go. All I wanted to do today in this post is re-iterate what I said back in 2016 during the referendum which is that, while by no means perfect, the EU as an organisation is far more interested in people and need than our own government – whichever party is in power – has ever been. They understand better the social and economic disparities that exist and they are prepared- and able- to do something about it. As I said back in 2016 the EU basically saved Liverpool from the Tories idea of “managed decline” which is political shorthand for abandoning a place. No government should ever chose to write off swathes of the country and even though the actual policy was never officially taken up it was essentially followed simply by lack of investment or initiatives.

29/01/2020

The Other Side of the Coin


It says something about this country that there is more fuss about the grammar printed on the commemorative Brexit fifty pence coin than there is about the existence of the coin itself. What is slightly more interesting however is that this relatively low denomination was chosen to mark the occasion. The way Leavers go on you’d think nothing less than a £2 coin would be sufficiently prestigious. Or perhaps we should re-work all our currency to include the message, sans Oxford comma and all? The ultimate irony is that coins themselves are on the way out so what we have is a symbolic if fairly meaningless gesture on a low value coin in a format that is fading out.

27/01/2020

Good Omens review


A 1990 collab by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman Good Omens has been described as un-filmable and had resisted previous efforts to do so. Apparently due to a dying wish from Pratchett, Gaiman himself wrote this miniseries adaptation which first appeared last May on Amazon, was then released to buy and is now showing on BBC2. If, like me, you never read the book, then it is an unexpected delight for the most part. Fronted by two superb performances and packed with quirky takes on familiar imagery plus sparkling dialogue it is a dense but enjoyable story.

Spoilers past this point


24/01/2020

Top of the Pops 17 Jan 1985


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Gary Davies: "Hi. How you doing? Welcome to Top of the Pops. Hope you're warm. Hope you're well. We've got a very busy show for you tonight, haven't we, Pete?" Peter Powell: "We have indeed. To start us a Dutch duo called The Limit, who've got a record which is at 19 going up 18 places. And it's called Saaaay Yeah!
[19] The Limit: Say Yeah. There are four people in The Limit. Maybe the technical term for four people is a Dutch duo, like a Baker's dozen, in which case I bow to Peter Powell's superior knowledge of numerical terms.
Peter Powell turns in a very low energy introduction that, and his inability to count to four, might be because he is distracted by microphone problems. Literally as the show starts he's fumbling discretely with the cable running out of his back trouser pocket, and behind him an unfashionably dressed middle-aged (gasp) man tries to sneak out of the secret DJ exit by the neon Top of the Pops logo. I'm guessing this chap is part of the studio sound crew; maybe it's Bob Foley the appropriately named Sound Supervisor, or Technical Co-ordinator Ray Hider. The Limit is a Dutch duo of three men and one women. The men are all weedy looking fashion disasters with bad hair. The lead singer needs to do something about his straggly neckline. (John- The singer is Gwen Guthrie who will have a hit in 1986 called `Nothing Going on but the Rent`)
 

15/01/2020

1917 review


This is an awesome, powerful and very exciting film which its trailers can’t really encapsulate simply because of the way it works. Shot to look like one continuous take 1917 brings the audience into trenches, across No Man’s Land and beyond in an immersive narrative following two soldiers on a vital mission. The thing is after a few minutes you start to forget the camera trickery because it feels like you are there. OK we don’t have the stench and the risk and the mud but as a cinematic experience of another time and place this film comes closer than most. 



Some – but not all -Spoilers beyond this point

13/01/2020

Top of the Pops 3 Jan 1985


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Richard Skinner: "Just when you thought the party season was over we've got another reason to celebrate. Top of the Pops is 21 years old today and we're going into a new year with a brand-new shape to the programme." John Peel: "Yes, we'll tell you more about that later on but we've got a great start to this programme. This is Police Officer, Smiley Culture."
[34] Smiley Culture: Police Officer. "A brand-new shape to the programme". That sounds bad. It reminds me of reading "Exciting News for all Readers Inside!" on the front of a comic. The news was always that my favourite comic was merging with a bigger selling rival, and none of the strips I liked would survive the transition. (John- Plus the price was going up) Starlord we hardly knew ye; looks like you were finally caught by the satanic forces of the INSTERSELLAR FEDERATION.
Richard Skinner makes a big deal of the 21st anniversary. No one else does. Unlike last year there are no archive clips or old DJs. Michael Hurll normally takes any excuse for a party; in 1982 Top of the Pops marked 15 years of Radio 1, in 1983 it was the 1000th edition, in 1984 we had the 20th anniversary and the Bank Holiday live train special. Maybe everyone's just partied out. 1984 started with Frankie Goes to Hollywood. 1985 starts with Smiley Culture. It's not really my type of song but I've got to admire its prominent placing, use of the word ganja straight after the 6.30 regional news programmes (It's the North, Scotland Now, South Today, Lake District in Focus, Up the West-East, East Anglia the Hard Way, Wales Kept Where It Belongs, No Sex Please We're the Midlands, and so on), and the backing line-up of brass playing rozzers makes for a memorable image.

10/01/2020

Kedgeree?


Imagine for a moment you’re staying in an enormous country house with its minarets, pillars and polished floors. Rooms are the size of tennis courts and the foyer is dominated by a grand richly carpeted staircase. Its breakfast and your host asks if you’d like “Kedgeree”. “Er no thanks, just coffee and toast, mate” “Oh but cook has spent the last two hours making it”  (Incidentally nobody knows the name of `cook`) “Have you got any porridge?” “No but we have got kedgeree!” “Bacon? “ “Kedgeree!” There’s an edge to their voice now making it clear that this is all they have! So you acquiesce and moments later the sound of the approaching squeeeky wheeled Kedgeree Wagon is audible…

04/01/2020

Space 1999 - Collision Course & Death's Other Dominion


Collision Course
We enter the action right away as the Alphans prepare to blow up an asteroid that would otherwise collide with them. Worryingly the Alphans go-to solution for most problems appears to be to break out the nuclear charges which have a rather neat B&Q look about them. During the mission Alan Carter’s Eagle malfunctions and at first it looks as if he doesn’t make it back before the blast. However for reasons that are not initially clear John Koenig goes out on a limb to find him only to uncover a second and more serious collision course. A massive planet it headed right for them. And this makes Prentis Hancock, already simmering, even more irritated.