Star Wars The Force Awakens

Iconic, generational and influential the original Star Wars and particularly the very first 1977 movie have had so much said about them and so much love (and hate) aimed towards them that it is nearly impossible for the makers of this new series to match expectations. Yet the omens have been good. The trailers looked like Star Wars- in a manner that the prequels just did not- and the return of three key characters has generated excitement. However JJ Abrams has already rebooted the Star Trek Universe by sweeping away old time lines and inventing his own. Some people had a bad feeling about this- would he dare do the same here? The answer is No. Instead he has done something much more pleasing – he has made a Star Wars film. A big, rollicking, action packed, exciting, visually arresting Star Wars film. 



Top of the Pops 18 Dec 1980

Shown on BBC4. Reviewed by Chris Arnsby
Simon Bates: "Hello and welcome to Top of the Pops. It's gonna be a great night because we've got some great live acts for you. We've got Gary Numan, and we've got stacks more because it's the last Christmas Top of the Pops before the Christmas Top of the Pops, if you see what I mean. We'll also have the top three selling records in Britain today and to kick us off with, here's The Beat. Over there!"
The Beat: Too Nice To Talk To [31]. The top of the show preview of tonight's bands has gone. Is this a permanent change to the format or was there no time to edit one together? When Simon Bates says "over there" the camera cuts to a wide angle of the studio and the lights are faded up on The Beat, who begin to play. The crowd rushes across the studio in what looks like a dangerously uncontrolled way. Still there's no harm done, except for the sound of several balloons popping on the soundtrack. 


Blogmas#6 The Spirits of Christmas

Once upon a long time ago I wanted a fort for Christmas. Not a full sized one of course, that would be a tad impractical but a model one. And I got it. It was a simple enough affair; four walls that slotted together to enclose a decent sized area in which there was a building a bit like a sheriff’s office. The fort had swing doors that could be sealed against invaders and each wall had a narrow shelf inside to be the battlements. Though clearly designed to please those who’d watched films like The Alamo on TV during school holidays ( and it was on every holiday) it actually doubled fairly well as a medieval fortress or indeed any other type of fort or castle you wanted it to be. Children’s imaginations being much broader than adults’ this fort was the setting for numerous adventures over the years. Amongst its inhabitants were Cowboys, Indians, Knights, various farmyard animals, a bison that was out of proportion to the other characters and even a giant rubber crocodile. Cars mingled with horses in various battles and however many times the fort was attacked its four walls- made of some sort of treated wood- remained as robust as the day I first got them. It was no less than the best thing I’ve ever been given in my whole life.


Blogmas#5 Christmas Carols

Long before Christmas pop songs (see previous Blogmas) there were Christmas carols which are altogether more serious. You can feel the weight of ages in these creaky edifices which is perhaps why their use is mostly confined to the echoey churches and cathedrals in which such hymns work. Backed by the melodramatic sounds only a church organ can pipe out, they are supposed to be a communal celebration of the season. Things is that mostly they don’t actually sound very celebratory; indeed most start up like a heavy mammal attempting to stand.  Hark the Herald Angels Sing for example feels like pushing a heavy object up a hill! The merrier ones just seem to be irritating though; have you ever enjoyed working your way through Ding Ding Merrily On High? 


Top of the Pops 11 Dec 1980

Shown on BBC4 / Reviewed by Chris Arnsby
Richard Skinner: "Welcome to the Top of the Pops studio where today we are celebrating Christmas a little early. We've got a fascinating show with some good music, some great live bands as well, and if you're looking for clues as to what we've got on today's Top of the Pops... well how's about this for a start."
Adam & The Ants: Antmusic [16]. The studio looks more like a pop warehouse than normal. Wide shots reveal a dark cavernous space with a small crowd huddled in front of Adam & the Ants for mutual security. Top of the Pops must have been allocated one of the larger studios at Television Centre and gives the impression that this programme is being recorded in a black wasteland haunted by the angry ghosts of failed music acts. On the plus side the extra space allows for some lovely sweeping crane camera shots. Then, in a new development, the camera cuts to the Eidophor screen and the Antmusic lyrics can be seen. Was Top of the Pops experimenting with karaoke? Finally, as the song ends, we get a lovely wide shot of the studio, but what's that sitting on the studio floor to the right of the picture? It looks like a mop and bucket.


Blogmas#4 Christmas Songs

One of the things we often forget is that most Christmas songs are recorded in the summer so it’s a miracle that any of them manage to evoke snow, tinsel or indeed figgy pudding, whatever that is. So let’s take a look at some well known festive ditties and see how they fare nowaday. (NB This was first posted in 2015 but I repost every year with the odd amendment because Christmas is all about tradition...)

Slade- Merry Xmas Everybody
The quintessential Crimbo song started out with a different lyric before Noddy and co decided to amend the earworm of a tune to encompass the festive season. It is timeless because it describes the sort of Xmas that is of its time; the 1970s.  Now more than forty years old it seems as much part of the tradition as mince pies and Xmas lights. The lyric is masterful; conjuring up crowded rooms, homemade decorations, party hats, big dinners and embarrassing relatives while tied to a bouncy tune that would translate into other genres if someone tried. Imagine a dance version? It’d be fantastic. This is the yardstick against which all post 1973 Xmas songs must be measured and few have matched it. “It’s Christmaaaaas!!” yells Nod at the end in case we hadn’t quite got the message. And as soon as you hear this, it is.


Blogmas#3 Classic Victorian style Christmas figures

Some people reckon that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost and that it’s all about commercial things nowadays but that’s an issue that may never be satisfactorily resolved. My less pressing thing today is that one thing which definitely has been lost is a bit of Christmas class. The other day I took a look at the Christmas shop in a well known department store which shares it’s surname with a TV detective, Yes, I was in Taggart’s department store! Seriously though, the latest festive decorations are just too glitzy for words. Covered- no, smothered- in glitter and painted in neon pink some reindeer are the first thing to catch the eye. This seems to set the tone because everything I saw was the sort of thing that is expensive, which people think is classy but is actually not. Sort of like those big golden cherubs you can buy but shouldn’t ever buy. Whatever happened to traditional Victorian style Christmas decorations?


Blogmas#2 So, how do reindeer fly then?

About three Christamsses ago there were reindeer in the city centre. Not running wild because they were so quiet that would be underwhelming; actually had the fencing around them been taken away they wouldn’t have really run wild they would just have mooched about mildly. Reindeer you see don’t really seem to get excited about anything much. Perhaps they were overwhelmed by the number of people looking and pointing at them saying “ooo, reindeer” as if they didn’t already know that. Perhaps they were biding their time waiting for a slight gap in the fence and they’d spring into life charging at the gawping public nostrils flaring, teeth bared, antlers ready to kill. Or they could just have flown away. Or probably not. Had the barrier somehow become they probably would have meandered down the road gratefully accepting the food people would inevitably offer them. And therefore become very fat and unable to fly.

It’s a fairly established fact that reindeer can’t really fly and if you look at them how could they? A brisk flapping of hooves is just not going to provide the necessary momentum to lift them off the ground is it? So where did this idea come from? Santa Claus (as opposed to the very real Father Christmas) is based on two Dutch folklore characters called St Nicholas of Myra and Sinterklass who used to travel about a on a white steed. The first reference to flying came from the author Washington Irving in 1812 who described St Nicholas as riding “over the tops of trees” and this seemed to become an established iconic seasonal image.
Nobody has really come up with a suitable explanation for how it could happen but they might be looking at the puzzle the wrong way round. Supposing it is the sleigh that flies not the reindeer? Supposing that the sleigh is powered by a special battery that uses lunar energy which is similar to solar energy but scientists don’t want to tell us about that yet…The power encases the sleigh and the air around it in a protective bubble hence the reindeer are running on the equivalent of a treadmill on the invisible platform. This would also explain how it can speed around the world in one night. In the spirit of Christmas that makes perfect sense. 


Adam Adamant Lives Season 1 Eps 9-11

Ep 9 Sing a Song of Murder
The real star of this tightly produced episode is director Moira Armstrong who uses a range of inventive camera techniques, some ahead of their time, to frame each scene uniquely. Rarely does a tv show of this vintage benefit from such strong direction which has the added advantage of making the plot somewhat more credible in realisation than it would seem on paper. Armstrong makes full use of light and shadow, her fight scenes are the best in the series this far and her use of zooms and close ups keeps matters fluid and interesting. She is also very good at suggesting brutality without showing too much. Apart from the sometimes less than smooth glide of the cameras it could easily have been made much more recently.

"Scuse me, is that Instajob? Yes, I'd like to be a pop star this week"


Top of the Pops 4 Dec 1980

Reviewed by Chris Arnsby
Peter Powell: "Hello! And welcome to another edition of Top of the Pops! You're very welcome as always on a Thursday! Got a great show lined up for you, not only musically but also one or two personalities popping in! But for starters let's just take a look at some of the personalities on the show tonight!"
Eddy Grant: Do You Feel My Love? [9]. A repeat from a D*v* L** Tr*v*s presented edition originally shown on 20/11/1980. Eddy Grant spends a lot of time flicking his head from side to side and generally giving the impression of someone who has spent a lot of time in front of a mirror working out how to get the most out of his dreadlocks.
Neil Diamond: Love On The Rocks [27]. Bland. A poor choice of camera angle means that Neil Diamond spends a lot of time obscured behind a giant microphone in this promo film. The BBC's powerful new caption generator is put into overdrive and the word Diamond flies onto screen at the end, in a diamond shape.


Doctor Who Hell Bent

BBC One, Saturday 5th December 2015 / Starring: Peter Capaldi, Donald Sumpter, Ken Bones, T’Nia Miller, Malachi Kirby, Clare Higgins, Linda Broughton, Martin T Sherman with Maisie Williams and Jenna Coleman/Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Rachel Talalay
Reviewed by Sean Alexander

“At the end of everything, one must accept the company of immortals.”

Like the Doctor, Steven Moffat doesn’t like endings.  But it’s high time he started doing so.  Chalking up his fifth successive series as show-runner/chief writer – now free and clear of his predecessor in the seat, Russell T Davies, not to mention clocking up more time-travel miles than the majority of the original series’ producer tenures – and it’s clear that even he is making exit strategy contingencies.  But for a show that pretty much consumes your every waking moment (and when it occasionally doesn’t, then Sherlock fills any remaining gaps) the situation would appear to have arisen that, as of this moment, there is nobody to step into the breach.  Moffat’s tie-in interview with Radio Times this week is telling: he claims to be actively involved with helping appoint his successor but at the same time won’t leave the show in the lurch.  Or, in 1980s speak, he has been persuaded to stay on.  Whether the delay is down to Doctor Who’s previous lustre having been somewhat dimmed this year by a car-crash timeslot and a seemingly disinterested general public finding World Cup rugby or TV karaoke a more tempting prospect, remains tantalisingly unanswered.  But overnight figures of less than five million and consolidated ones well under seven should be setting off all the bells in anyone’s cloister chambers.  And it’s not just those ever so intangible totals that should be of concern, but also the audience share and the fact that even its same channel stable-mates are outperforming it week in, week out.  Given that Christmas Day’s annual outing – its eleventh consecutive one since 2005 – has a far more child-friendly, adult-accepting slot of 5.15pm may in part answer that question.  Because irrespective of falling figures across the board that even bore witness last Christmas Day, if Doctor Who flops again in less than three weeks you suspect there really will be no hiding place.


Blogmas#1 Sprouts for Christmas!

If you’ve watched any of the BBC this week you can’t have failed to have noticed the advert featuring a sprout. Sprout Boy as he is known is the Corporation’s unusual choice for their festive mascot this year and features in an animated trail for the season.  In a Christmassy mess (a Christmess?) our green hero can’t get anyone interested in him until he stumbles upon a house where all the BBC’s stars live together- I always knew this happened- and is accepted and made welcome. He’s happy, we’re all happy. However one word of caution- surely Sprout Boy is destined for the Christmas table along with other veg and potatoes? He may be celebrating prematurely! I bet an hour earlier the BBC house welcomed Sally Stuffing and now she’s warming in the kitchen!