Dark Nature - new children's novel available now!

Dark Nature - The fifth Heart of the World novel

Deep inside the mountain known as Devil’s Peak, a group of misfit scientists’ amazing plan to solve ecological problems is threatened by an elemental menace with dangerously different ideas. As Tom Allenby tries to stop this new threat to mankind, he faces the most serious peril of his fifteen year old life. Things will never be the same again. In his toughest, most personal adventure yet can Tom save the world and those closest to him? Or will humanity fall to the storm of the century?

Dark Nature in paperback format

Dark Nature in Kindle ebook format



Top of the Pops 17 April 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby. [10] Big Country: Look Away. Gary Davies. “Welcome to Top of the Pops and here to start us off Big Country and Look Away.” A nice enough song, and a good performance, but it leaves me with very little to say. I'm not mad keen on Stuart Adamson's carpet remnant coat. Gary Davies. “What a great way to start. Big Country and Look Away. So, all on my own in the studio tonight, well not exactly on my own, also in the studio we have George Michael, we have A-ha, and It's Immaterial but first here's this week's Top 40 over this video from Falco and Rock Me Amadeus.”



School's Out Forever

If I’d seen this film a year ago, I might have freaked out! Remember that time when there was enormous uncertainty about the nature and scope of the Covid pandemic and nobody knew quite what to expect? That it could even be the end of the world..? It is that unsettling unknown that is evoked in this lively and frequently thrilling adaptation of Scott K Andrews’ book.  Writer and and also director Oliver Milburn homes in on the fear and chaos that could easily have become reality in 2020 though this film was made back in 2019 when no-one had heard of Covid. Thankfully such prescience only adds to the sense of tension running through this movie which explodes in a series of incidents.



Top of the Pops 10 April 1986

 Introduced by Chris Arnsby. [25] Bronski Beat: C’mon C’mon. Mike Smith. “Good evening and welcome to Top of the Pops. We start this week with Bronski Beat, C'mon C'mon.” 
Bronski Beat have invoked the spirit of Fiesta. The stage is filled with balloons; tinsel has been nailed to every surface which doesn't already glow, spin, or rotate; and every pot plant from the production office has been dragged on stage to stuff the background with greenery. And, what is lurking at the front of the stage? We never really get a proper look but it appears to be a weird cairn of potted fern, balloons, and a stuffed snake posed in mid-strike. It's all very odd. Is it is an anthropomorphic representation of the Top of the Pops Animus of Fun? Fortunately we're a couple of months away from Midsummer so I think we can rule out human sacrifice.



Last Days of Debenhams

 “Do a bit of Debenhams” was one of the more recent slogans used by the ailing high street chain in an attempt to relaunch itself a couple of years back. Now Debenhams is nearly done, the brand bought by online retailer BooHoo for £55m, the physical shops due to all be closed by mid - May. About 12,000 people are being made redundant. On 21 January a court issued a winding up order against Debenhams and appointed the Official Receiver as liquidator. On 25 January the name and website only were snapped up by BooHoo but the shops were not part of the deal. After so called non- essential retail shops were allowed to open last week Debenhams stores started a closing down sale with some items being offered for as much as 70% off.



ESL- Football's Worst Own Goal?

 Anyone who has watched the evolution of our national game should not be too surprised at the latest development. Our so called Big Six clubs are joining a European Super League (ESL) to play the cream of the continent’s teams in mid-week matches. As well as appointing themselves to this elite they have declared somewhat unilaterally that they will continue to participate in existing domestic and national competition. The move has resulted in a barrage of criticism from fans, senior figures, celebrities and politicians suggesting that, despite its distinctly pro-European approach, this is nothing less than Football’s Brexit. The idea has been swirling around for years though and simply confirms what even the most ardent supporter really knew- that those who run big football clubs are more interested in money than sport.



Midsomer Murders- Dance with the Dead

This episode seems to turn up a lot on repeat channels and is well worth a look or even another look if you’ve seen it. By 2006 Midsomer Murders had reached its tenth series, an achievement only a handful of non -soap dramas ever get to mark but was it still as bizarre as it had started out? This series started with a typical PJ Hammond mystery centred around the charms of a wayward girl in a story that mixes wartime nostalgia with modern day concerns and throws in some ballroom dancing as well. Hammond’s characters this time round are a strange lot but all are in different ways dancing to the tune set by Laura who we only see fleetingly at the start in a midnight liaison with a local boy Simon Bright. Next morning his body is found in a fuel filled vintage car at a disused airfield. Though this is initially believed to be suicide it soon becomes apparent it is not.


Top of the Pops 27 March & 7 April 1986

 Presented by Chris Arnsby. 27 March 1986

[4] Samantha Fox: Touch Me (I Want Your Body). “It's the show that brings you Britain's biggest hits. Here's Samantha Fox,” Mike Smith. The off-air copy of Top of the Pops I'm viewing (downloaded from the very heart of Silbury Hill https://mega.nz/folder/h0snQACa#uiNNqosfbdrfzODHsE1clw ) begins excitingly with a glimpse of the old BBC1 computer generated globe. Nostalgia eases the pain.

Less excitingly, Top of the Pops starts with Samantha Fox's hit song which is drearier than I remember. It's... `Kids In America` at the wrong speed, isn't it? The synths, the electric guitars, the bit where the guitarists sing/chant “this is the night” is like the call and response “woh-oh” from Kids In America. This is Kim Wilde's better song fed through a system of filters designed to really maximise the mediocrity.

1986 was a good year for Samantha Fox. The end of her Page 3 modelling career was followed by four singles (although released to diminishing returns the last, I'm All You Need, didn't make the Top 40), and software house Martech released the “erotic” (yuk) video game Samantha Fox Strip Poker for anyone desperate to gawp at her grainy pixels. One of the charming qualities of VHS is the way the picture quality degrades as the tape is rewound, paused, watched, rewound, and watched again. There are a lot of tracking errors as Sam Fox starts singing, suggesting our mystery home taper watched this section a lot to ensure it had recorded properly.



Words don’t come easy according to Eighties singer FR David but he was wrong was FR. There are in fact as many as a thousand new words or phrases added to dictionaries every year as language evolves and develops endlessly. If you were a social influencer you could probably popularise a word so much it would be added to dictionaries. So how does this happen, who are the keepers of the Dictionary (I’m imagining characters in purple robes in an underground cavern chanting each new word) and what are the very, very latest up to date new words? 



 This valedictory documentary about Tina Turner is an absorbing if incomplete attempt to put her amazing life and career into perspective. Time and again we see clips of her declining to answer questions about her abusive former husband Ike Turner yet his presence looms throughout this official film sometimes at the expense of her music. The story is so rich its already inspired a film and a stage play while the singer co-wrote an autobiography. Surely this production is an opportunity to push forward her musical claims and focus more on her voice and also her remarkable comeback in the Eighties? Instead there seems a reticence on behalf of the participants to explore her musical legacy and its slightly disappointing to hear all concerned talk of that comeback in terms of success rather than in terms of the music itself. It gives an impression that Tina Turner wasn’t especially interested in the musical side of things yet the numerous electrifying clips suggest otherwise. In fact her whole body seems to channel the songs resulting in stunning performances. She seems to give her all for every syllable but as to why and how we can only look for clues here.



Top of the Pops 20 March 1986


Presented by Chris Arnsby. (5] Jim Diamond: Hi Ho Silver. Simon Bates, “on Top of the Pops it's Jim Diamond.” Last time Jim and his eight-piece band were crammed onto the thinnest stage in the Top of the Pops studio. This week he's been upgraded to the main stage, and ironically he's brought along one person fewer.
Who's been given the push? There's still two backing singers, a keyboard player, guitarist, drummer, trumpeter and saxophonist. Ironically the person missing from the last performance is the guitarist who kept leaping up and down to be visible on camera.
Jim Diamond is wearing a huge leather coat. The length is fine but the material is all bunched up around his shoulders and arms, and the lapels look way too big. I remember the eighties as being the decade of shoulder pads, but I don't remember this trend for oversized clothing and yet it's something we've seen worn by a whole parade of people.



Once upon a time Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie made movies that zipped along at a million miles an hour punctuated by jump cuts, fractured timelines and casual brutality. In their wake other filmmakers tried to imitate this style yet many only drew attention to the mechanics of film making rather than immerse us in a story. Pixie borrows liberally from this well yet is not without charm and thankfully is less frenetic than many. It also has- courtesy of director Barnaby Thompson and cinematographer John de Borman -some awesome natural landscape shots of Ireland in all its beauty while a good cast work hard to make matters resonate more than they do on the page. 



Space 1999 - The Dorcons

These days we’re used to the `season finale` in which various plots merge together and its all very dramatic. Back in the 70s tv wasn’t really like that- the only people who had conversations about story arcs were tv producers. Most episodic tv was made to be shown in any order so that whatever the peril everyone was fine by the end of the episode in time for some bantz and a jokey freeze frame. It does become a bit of a problem with a series like this. Consider- the half Moon has been juddering about the Galaxy now for 2,409 days according to the opening voiceover. In all that time and given all the adventures we’ve seen the place still looks spotless (we never see a cleaner), all the damage is repaired (where do they get the spare wall sections?) and the uniforms remain pristine (we never know where the laundry is). More importantly the psychological status of all concerned seems to be no more stressed than after a full day at the office. Sure someone occasionally has a meltdown (as happens in this episode) but it never lasts and only serves a plot point. It reminds me of the Star Trek Next Generation episode where someone changed into a different life form but three days later they were fine and back on duty! Really? So as we reach the end of our lunar trek it seems appropriate to point out how much better a series this would have been had the strains taken their toll both on the structures and the personnel. I’d love to have seen a stretch of corridor with a patchwork repair noticeable on it. Or some people no longer in uniform. Or Helena perhaps engaging in some counselling that involves talking about mental health rather than using some medical device that heals instantly. The aesthetic of the series is too clean in every respect.



Top of the Pops 13 March 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby [20] The Blow Monkeys: Digging Your Scene. “Good evening and welcome to this week's Top of the Pops,” at number twenty The Blow Monkeys Digging Your Scene.”FORMAT CHANGE KLAXON! We cut straight to The Blow Monkeys, with Mike Smith in voice-over, instead of the usual Quantel blur from the titles to the two Top of the Pops hosts. This is week two of the All-New Top of the Pops Show which is drip feeding its format tweeks rather than dropping them on the audience in one go. Michael Hurll was presumably afraid of the Max Headroom-style blipvert spontaneous combustion which would result from too concentrated a burst of Pop Power. Michael Hurll? Yes, the King o'er the water has returned after leaving Brian Whitehouse in charge for, ooh ages*. In actual fact he returned last week and I didn't notice, much to my embarrassment.
Michael Grade's big BBC1 relaunch is now just over one year old. Top of the Pops has settled at 7pm between the Regional News Magazines and Eastenders, and someone has suggested a few nips and tucks to keep Top of the Pops looking fresh in the second half of the eighties. Just to keep track, the changes so far are; daft new Top 40 Countdown format; only two breakers instead of three; closing the programme with a video instead of the audience dancing; and now a cut straight into the first song. It's a minor change but it works because it suggests a greater focus on music. Ironically the only thing these format tweeks can do is hint at change, because ultimately Top of the Pops is wedded to the hosts introducing studio performances and videos. It can't shift back to being exclusively studio performances because the audience also wants to see videos, but it also can't shift to just showing videos because they're promotional material and 30 minutes of videos would be too commercial for the BBC's remit.



Space 1999 - The Immunity Syndrome

An unexpected late gem, the series’ penultimate episode packs action and intrigue into a familiar sort of scenario and has the air of a Star Trek episode in a good way not just because it duplicates a title from the other series. Exploring a new planet (which bears more than a passing resemblance to the previous episode’s planet) initial findings of a safe atmosphere and bountiful produce soon start to go awry. First, Tony is attacked by a crew member who has seen some sort of powerful light before he himself is affected and goes rogue. As he is chased down, two other crew die after drinking water, another after tasting fruit. Then when an Eagle attempts to take the injured Tony back, all its metal parts begin to corrode causing a forced crash landing back on the hostile planet from which there seems no escape.



Midsomer Murders - The Sting of Death review

 “Bees have human souls” intones Ambrose Doddington in this delightfully batty season 22 opener. It’s a much delayed premiere in the UK as the episode was shot two years ago and first shown elsewhere in late 2019. Quite why ITV have held onto it this long is a mystery that John Barnaby should perhaps investigate but at least the channel have given it a decent Sunday 8pm slot. We’re in the village of Granville Norton one of those very Midsomer places filled with suspicion and eccentric behaviour. Barnaby and Winter are initially called in when Doddington’s beloved beehives are ransacked and some of their inhabitants stolen but soon there is a local victim who appears to have been stung to death. It is fair to say that if you do not much care for bees this is not the episode for you especially that first death which must rank as one of the more gruesome in the show’s canon of murders. What makes the episode work so well is the cast who appear to be engaged in something of a melodrama competition with highly entertaining results.



Top of the Pops 6 March 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby. Gary Davies: “Well. Hey! How ya doin? Welcome to Top of the Pops, we've got a brilliant show lined up for you and a slightly different show than normal. In actual fact more hits than ever before.” (John- Citation needed)
Dixie Peach: “And we're going to start off with some great music tonight. Mike Rutherford and the Mechanics, number 25, Silent Running.”
[25] Mike & The Mechanics: Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground). Let's pause for a moment to consider Gary Davies’ pastel yellow sweatshirt on which someone has scrawled “Hey! How ya doin'” in large letters. It's not clear if this is something sent in by a fan (the letters have the look of something coloured by hand) or purchased from a boutique. It's horrible on its own terms but Gary Davies has also tucked it into his trousers. The monster. First up tonight is another song for the I-recognise-it-but-I-couldn't-name-the-artist pile; there will be another one later.
It's also one of those songs where I've never bothered to listen to the lyrics. Oh yes, I know the chorus but have you listened to the bits in between? It's the kind of stuff I imagine US militiamen whisper round campfires -all about hiding the children in the cellar, getting a gun and ammunition, and how our sons and daughters will rise up.
The video is endearingly bonkers. There's a kid with a key and he goes in a room containing a glowing science-fiction cube; that contains a hologram of Mike (presumably). At the end the kid's mother sneaks into the room to see her son teleported into space while she shrieks in horror. (John- To be fair this did often happen in the Eighties.)



Space 1999 - Dorzak & Devil's Planet

The most remarkable thing about this episode is that Martin Landau is not in it. Perhaps he read the script? His absence is one of the factors contributing towards this being a somewhat soporific affair which only flares into life occasionally. A large spaceship transmitting the universal plague signal (how do the Alphans find out about these things?) turns up with an injured crew member whose assailant is allegedly a Psychon called Dorzak. Maya knows him and claims he’s a peaceable chap but the leader of the arrivals, Sahala, disagrees. She hates Psychons so much that the first thing she does when she sees Maya is shoot her with a staser sending her into suspended animation. The narrative revolves around who is telling the truth- is it demure Sahala with her tale of a dangerous criminal? Or is it the eventually revived Dorzak? And does the viewer really care? Alan Carter does. He falls for Sahala creating more potential tension but it is all played out too timidly. 

 "You made me get out of bed for this episode?"


Top of the Pops 27 Feb 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby. The observant among you might be wondering why the last write-up confidentially asserted that it covered 13 & 26 Feb 1986.... I don't know. Maybe I was thinking of a different year.
Paul Jordan: “Hello and welcome. A couple of guys up on stage that's me and him, lots of people milling around having a great time, and the music which makes today's hits. It's got to be... are you listening Steve?” Steve Wright: “Top of the Pops!! Hope you're going to enjoy the show tonight!! We've got a good one for you!! This could be number one next week!! Here's Sigue Sigue Sputnik!!”

[7] Sigue Sigue Sputnik: Love Missile F1-11. This is Paul Jordan's last Top of the Pops, so it's also your last chance to say “who?” when his caption comes up at the start. Trying to wring any behind the scenes meaning from these repeats is like using the flight of birds to forecast the weather. However, I notice Paul Jordan hosts three of the first nine Top of the Pops of 1986; which is comparable to Janice Long and Steve Wright, and more than Mike Smith and Mike Read who were all over BBC1 and Radio 1 at the time.  It's possible Paul Jordan's contractual obligation number of shows are being whisked through as quickly as possible, but it's equally possible that he was always intended as a temporary host and he's standing in for people who can't make it; Peter Powell and Bruno Brookes have not yet made an appearance this year, and John Peel takes a mysterious two month break from hosting duties during February and March.


Sigue Sigue Sputnik- Yes everyone was dressed like this in 1986.


Space 1999 - The Lambda Factor & The Seance Spectre

The Lambda Factor
In the Seventies Terrance Dicks was known as a Doctor Who script editor and writer and here he brings his accomplished storytelling credentials to Space 1999 with mostly successful results. Using only the regular sets with events taking place solely inside the base, Dicks employs his fastidious skills to mould a story that is different to many of the regular episodes. While there is a threat outside- in the slightly unimpressive form of a spinning wheel on the screen- it is inside where he makes a virtue out of existing resources. He did this with Doctor Who, penning `Horror of Fang Rock` set entirely in and around a lighthouse. Here, the death of a technician from what seems like internal pressure is the most serious of several incidents that occur when our rotating space phenomenon is in the vicinity. People are getting tetchy, instruments are malfunctioning and yet another nuclear powered device nearly blows itself up. 



Top of the Pops 13 & 26 Feb 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby. 13/02/86
Steve Wright: “Hi!! Hello!! Good evening!! Welcome to another Top of the Pops!! Gary Davies!! Steve Wright!!” Gary Davies: “In the studio tonight we've got Billy Ocean, we've got Shaky Stevens*, plus we've got two acts making their debut on Top of the Pops tonight. Here's the first Belouis Some, Imagination.”

[22] Belouis Some: Imagination. I remember the song but Belouis Some has fallen right down the old memory hole. If you'd played this to me and demanded I name the singer I would have taken a very incorrect guess at ABC. Belouis Some (which it turns out is actually his real name) (Fact John- Actually his real name is Neville Keighley, true fact.) looks very 1986 with his bleached blonde hair and striking jacket. He's wearing almost the same ensemble as Gary Davies, most notably a long red jacket, but he pulls it off better than Gary because his jacket has been properly tailored to fit. Gary Davies has chosen one that smothers him, and once again he manages to look like a tiny child dressed in his dad's clothes for a joke photo.



The Owners

Adapted from a French graphic novel called Une Nuit de Pleine Lune (A Full Moon Night), The Owners is a crisp, compact and often tense film lasting less than ninety minutes without one minute of filler. In the Nineties four young people’s idea of ransacking the large country home of an elderly couple for rumoured hidden riches turns into a nightmare from which they may not escape alive!



Five Old Things with Odd Names!

People loved them-and then they didn’t! But you can still buy them!!

Filet -O- Fish
Not an Irish musician but the pseudo French moniker for one of McDonald’s burgers, officially described as "a fish sandwich" but because the company can't talk properly it has to have a silly name. Like they can't just say Delivery, it has to be McDelivery. I suppose Filet-o-Fish sounds better than Fish Burger and much more high end than Fillet of Fish. It’s not actually French as that would be Filet de Poisson and can you imagine your average McDonalds customer asking for that. Plus from a distance that name looks just a bit too much like Filet de Poison which is just not acceptable in a restaurant. The Filet- o Fish was invented in 1962 in Cincinnati to solve the issue of falling hamburger sales on Fridays due to Catholics not eating meat on that day. Why they couldn’t just call it a Fishburger I don’t know. Or they could have called it Friday o’Fish really. It consists of a fried breaded fish fillet, pasteurised cheese and tartar sauce inside a steamed bun. Mmm. Yum etc..

  Filet-o- Fish uses the famous square fish



Top of the Pops 6 Feb 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby. Paul Jordan: “Hi there and welcome to Top of the Pops. Among other things tonight there's little Paul, that's me, and big Simon, that's him.” Simon Bates: “I shall do my best. We've got Whitney Houston's new video later on but right now here's The Damned and a terrific version of Eloise, on Top of the Pops.”
[18] The Damned: Eloise. Lighting Director Alan Jeffery makes his bid for attention. Eloise is a song with lots of big dramatic beats and the studio is lit accordingly. The overhead lights flare to the rhythm of the song and the whole pattern changes for the faster paced chorus. It looks fantastic. And it gets better.
About two thirds of the way into the song it winds down to a false ending (the studio audience mistake this for the actual end, cheer and give a well- deserved round of applause). Alan Jeffery fades all the colour out of the studio and leaves it lit in blue with a single white spotlight on David Vanian; he's dressed in white and stands out like a beacon in the gloom. The performance ends with a great long pull back as the camera moves all the way across the studio, leaving the band and the audience framed by one of the scaffolding walkways and looking tiny in the distance.



Space 1999- The Bringers of Wonder parts 1 & 2

The only two part story in the show's roster starts alarmingly with Koening acting out of control in an Eagle. Has Martin Landau finally had enough? Is Tony’s homebrew more potent than we thought? The Alphans have no time to puzzle over their commander’s wayward behaviour when an Earth spaceship turns up- a Super Swift that is travelling faster than light. On board are a coterie of relatives and friends of many of the senior crew. What’s more they claim they can get everyone back to Earth in record time. While they mingle like it’s a cocktail party, Koenig is having his brain massaged. Now you and I and everyone who ever watches this episode knows full well that obviously these arrivals are not really the people they say they are but aliens of some sort up to no good. The trick with these types of stories is when and how to make the reveal.



Top of the Pops 23 and 30 Jan 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby. 23/01/1986.
Paul Jordan: “Hello and welcome to another Top of the Pops and tell me something, have you ever seen this man's face on the television before?”
Mike Smith: “I doubt it very much indeed. A wonderful line up coming your way tonight and a new number one. We start off with a band who have flown back specially from Germany, from Hamburg, to be with us tonight. The Alarm. The Spirit Of '76.

[22] The Alarm: Spirit Of '76. This is a fallow edition of Top of the Pops. I nearly skipped writing it up because none of the studio performances are great*. Nana Mouskouri's going to get Performance of the Week so you can stop reading now, if you want. The Alarm make their second return to Top of the Pops in three years (that's how popular they are). I note The Alarm's last appearance on 22/09/1983 edition was also introduced with a story about the band's globe-trotting ways. Simon Bates launched into an unlikely story about the band being stopped by a US cop wielding a telegram summoning the group back to the UK to appear urgently on Top of the Pops. I suspect The Alarm don't actually travel anywhere. They just make up these globe-trotting stories to sound cool. The Alarm's last song was called 68 Guns. Are they only allowed to release songs with numbers in the title? And what is the spirit of '76? Is it something to do with those swarms of ladybirds that got everywhere?



The Carpenters - Goodbye to Love

An antidote to Valentine's Day!
Yes, its that time of year again when single people feel left out and socially inadequate. Even in our lockdown world there is no escape from Valentine's Day despite everything else being cancelled. So enough of that stuff, here’s a song that provides an antidote! `Goodbye to Love co-written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis came to prominence in 1972 when it charted highly around the world bringing The Carpenters to even wider attention and gaining them a little musical respect. It’s sombre lyric is given additional emotion by Karen Carpenter’s vocals and there’s a surprisingly rousing guitar solo that tips the song into being a classic. I’m no fan of guitar solos but this is one is definitely welcome. This is a song that reaches beyond melancholy and could be interpreted as the thoughts of someone who is depressed. Inevitably in view of Karen Carpenter’s own ultimately tragic life it has been seen as something of a cry for help but this was earlier in her career and she was always a singer who could isolate the very essence of lyrics to maximum effect. This is quite simply (and it sounds simpler than it is) one of the best songs of the Seventies. Let’s face it, more of us feel like this on Valentine’s especially when faced with that sea of pink cards and balloons everywhere.



Space 1999 - A Matter of Balance & Space Warp

A Matter of Balance
This rather uninvolving episode takes ages to get going initially leaning on the already tired running gag of Tony’s homebrew. Barely funny the first time we saw it the series seems to return to it constantly as if this is the only personality it can give the security officer. He is popular with hydroponics technician Shermeen though, in fact she has a crush on him and this makes her the best candidate it seems for the attention of a transparent alien from the planet Alpha is circling. He is called Vindrus and his people suffered some sort of accident which turned them into anti matter beings who plan on using Alpha to help restore them one by one to the universe of matter. As the title of the episode suggests for each one of them to transfer over means an Alphan must replace them. Why exactly?  That such a transfer can be achieved in a couple of perspex pyramids hooked up to one of Alpha’s handy portable nuclear generators makes the process look as unlikely as it sounds. You wonder what they would have done had a travelling half Moon not handily passed by.

Lynne Frederick moments after reading the script.


How Can You Mend A Broken Heart- The Bee Gees review

Released late last year, Frank Marshall’s film explores the remarkable career of The Bee Gees. It’s a story with all the requisite peaks and troughs though they are best known for the remarkable success of their late 70s disco material. However this documentary takes us through a period of success in the 60s first. The pace is breezy with archive interviews and interesting footage though much of it is clipped to make the story more manageable. While it is a solid enough account of their lengthy career it is interesting what makes the cut and what doesn’t. There is certainly a case for an extended version at some point and this could do with having been at least two hours long as there are notable omissions.



Now We Are Ten!!

The weird thing about me reviewing stuff is that the first time I was ever asked to do so, back in school, I wasn’t even sure what a review was. Did I just explain the plot to people who perhaps hadn’t seen it? How could I say anything much more than “that was good, I enjoyed it” or “That was rubbish”? How did reviews work? What was the point of them? I was only about ten at the time though. I finally realised their worth several years later when I would hear a new album or song and for some inexplicable reason if I really liked it I wanted to read other people’s thoughts about it. This still happens today, though I now wait till I’ve written my review before I see what other people say. So how did it all start….how do you learn to review if indeed it can be learned. After all it’s just your opinion and everyone has one. So where was I inspired to start putting mine into the public domain?



Top of the Pops 16 Jan 1985

Presented by Chris Arnsby. Mike Read: “Welcome to Top of the Pops even more exciting and thrilling than EastEnders, and Dixie has borrowed a new jacket just for the occasion.” Dixie Peach: “Lots of great stuff and we're going to start with a song that was a hit for Elvis Presley back in 1969. Suspicious Minds. Fine Young Cannibals. At number 17.”
[17] Fine Young Cannibals: Suspicious Minds. Mike Read is wearing his tie in a low slung loop. It looks like he ran to the studio while still getting dressed. I've got a nagging memory of this trend which I think it started in a commercial; probably featuring some bright thrusting young Thatcherite washing their clothes in a new type of laundry powder or using their Dragon 32 to hack into the Pentagon.



Space 1999 - Seed of Destruction & The Beta Cloud

Seed of Destruction
Sooner or later most sci-fi tv shows get round to the doubles episode wherein one or more of the regulars are somehow duplicated and it takes ages for anyone else to notice even though they are behaving out of character. This is one of those episodes and it is Commander Koenig who is copied when he goes exploring a mystery asteroid that is causing Alpha’s systems to malfunction. The place is largely covered in ice except for a crystalline cave in which he himself describes as like a hall of mirrors. This gives director Kevin Connor the opportunity to play some visual tricks with reflections which also forms the basis of the plot. For this is the resting place of what remains of a race called the Kalthons whose own world perished and who are cryogenically frozen waiting for an unsuspecting traveller to show up. Handily they speak English though we never really see them.



It's A Sin review

By a strange coincidence Russell T Davies’ latest arrives in the midst of global pandemic and it’s undercurrent of fear and ignorance plays even more strongly in the world of 2021. Yet when Aids arrived in the early 1980s we were definitely not all in it together. The attitudes that caused the condition to spread and different reactions towards that spread are essayed in a drama that can be both rousing and subdued, happy and then sad. The first episode is as low key as someone like Russell T Davies can be but the drama builds as matters progress and there are some powerful moments along the way. Though I think the narrative is even handed, some may find the subject matter too unsettling or the presentation too biased one way or the other.

There are major Spoilers in this review after this point



Top of the Pops 9 Jan 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby. Mike Smith: “Welcome to the weekly meeting of the BBC hand-clapping society. Good things tonight, including...” Steve Wright: “...oh, including this band down here. Wonderful Feargal Sharkey, You Little Thief. Go ahead.” Mike Smith: “Nice bunch of boys.”

[26] Feargal Sharkey: You Little Thief. This is the song previously seen on BBC1's Noel Edmonds Live Christmas Day Morning Up The Post Office Tower (working title). The reasonably famous cockup involving Feargal Sharkey and band performing in a 747 flying at 2500 feet over London. It was billed as the World's First In Flight Pop Performance but actually became the world's first in flight footage of a band enthusiastically miming while Feargal Sharkey shrugs and silently mouths something (presumably a variation of “I can't hear anything”) at an off screen peon. They had a second go later in the programme and got it right, and that's the story of how Noel Edmonds saved Christmas 1985. You Little Thief may be the jauntiest angry pop song ever. It's essentially a list of insults to the unnamed person who appears to have stolen Feargal's Good Heart. That relationship clearly didn't end well.

 “Looking so much like Michael Heseltine,” is Steve Wright's oblique comment. The Westland helicopter affair (ask your grandad) was reaching a climax at the time and this episode of Top of the Pops was recorded on Wednesday, but broadcast on the day Michael Heseltine resigned from cabinet (also ask your grandad about the days when politicians resigned on matters of principle; little bit o'politics there, etc). (John- Chris, nobody who reads this blog is as young as that! If they were I’d be posting Bernie Sanders sea shanties and not splling props innit)



Midsomer Murders - Crime and Punishment

Isn’t it weird how small a social circle both Barnaby’s have had? Basically any time they host a shindig at home the only people who get invited are Barnaby’s assistant and the pathologist. One can only image the table conversation once the wine gets flowing. Most series would at least include a couple of non speaking extras to share some food or relatives you only meet once however long the programme runs but in Midsomer social gatherings are only for people from work. The other thing they always do is have Barnaby’s wife seeming to like the assistant more than Barnaby does. 



Space 1999 - The AB Chrysalis

That old novelty hit `Star Trekkin` included the line “We come in peace- shoot to kill” which adeptly summed up the attitude of many a big sci-fi series of yesteryear and Space 1999 was often one of them. Yet not always. `The AB Chrysalis` flips that over and has any attempt at resistance proving futile yet once Koenig engages in a little more conversation the results are positive. Tony Barwick’s interesting script centres around a series of ever more dangerous explosions emanating from a distant planet. Each creates a shockwave deadlier than the previous and as the episode opens the Alphans are waiting for the imminent arrival of the next one. Concluding that any further shockwave could destroy the base, Koenig, Maya and Alan journey to investigate. Tony is presumably brewing beer somewhere.



Top of the Pops 2 Jan 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby. John Peel: “Our researchers have discovered that this is the first Top of the Pops of 1986.” Janice Long: “They earn their money. And it's live. We are live tonight. Aren't we?” John Peel: “This is right yes so come in for nudes, knees, and knockabout.” Janice Long: “And which one are you? Over here a band who've got two singles in the Top 40. A-Ha and The Sun Always Shines on the telly.

[27] A-ha: The Sun Always Shines On TV. The 2nd January seems too early for the first Top of the Pops of the year. 1986 has barely got underway and the charts are still full of the Christmas overspill. Own up, who drove We All Stand Together back into the Christmas 1985 charts? I know your aunt always gives you a £3 Boots voucher but that's no reason to get your revenge by giving her this single. Still, pity the residents of 1987 who will gaze at Gary Davis through the fug of a barely clearing hangover on New Years Day; between a repeat of The Russ Abbott Show* and Eastenders. 

Anyway, it's sayonara 1985 with your rubbish inventions like Pictionary, Hobnobs, and Albion Market. Here's to groovy, funky 1986 which will bring us futuristic consumer items like.... oh Wikipedia doesn't have a page for things invented in 1986. What am I supposed to do, rely on my memory? Fine, then here's to groovy, funky 1986 with it's fabulous inventions including the the Sony Walkman, those car stickers that read “don't follow me or you'll end up at my house”, and Babbage's Difference Engine.  Here also is A-ha. With one of their songs that fell between Take On Me and The Living Daylights. A chance to gaze once more on Morten Harket's cheek bones, and remember the days when it was cool to wind loads of cloth and leather straps round your wrists. 


Worst President Ever!!

Tweetin’ and bleatin` till Biden beat ‘im!
Until 2020, I thought 2016 was the unlikeliest year I would see and one of its unexpected happenings was the election of Donald Trump as US President. Supposedly part of a populist wave that would overturn the old order of politics the implication was that this would be change for the better. Four years on he has left a trail of havoc that has done the US no service at all. In fact, as umpteen people have already said, he made America grate again. It would be wrong though to label Trump as some sort of maverick outsider- look at the numbers of people who still voted for him after a Presidency that even impartial experts believe will turn out to be the worst in history. The really strange thing is that there are clearly millions of Americans who think as he does, who refuse to engage with the factual details and see things only from the narrow minded parameters of their own interests.



Doctor Who- Terror of the Autons@50

“I am usually referred to as The Master”. With just eight words a new classic tv villain made his debut appearance fifty years ago yet nobody could know just how defining a performance Roger Delgado would give and how enduring the character would become. The Master has re-appeared in many guises over the subsequent half century yet the benchmarks are all laid out from the start. Generously afforded the role of (increasingly un-surprising) enemy in each of 1971’s stories enabled both character and actor to develop a popularity to rival that of the Doctor. Yet there was nothing complicated about The Master really. Clad in black and sporting a Mephistophelian trimmed beard the only way he could look more evil would be to sprout a couple of horns. In another actor’s hands it could have been unimpressive but gifted a role he was totally suited to Roger Delgado makes it his own. So much so that every Master since has used it as a template either to copy or develop. As an example of how in thrall the Eighties version of Doctor Who was to its past when they recast the part they made the actor look as similar as possible to Delgado. Nowadays writers like to pry into the psyche of the main characters but this version of the series never went too deep. They didn’t need to. The Doctor versus The Master is clear good versus evil and kids at that time were happy with such escapist adventure.



1987's most unexpected hit single!

In 1987 a remarkable piece of music arrived in charts that were filled with epic chords, big drum sounds and power ballads. `Jack Your Body`by Steve `Silk` Hurley was a breath of fresh air like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers compared to a troupe of elephants. Sparse and spare it skated over the lumpen competition reaching number one while everyone was still wondering just what it was all about. How does one, erm, jack? “Ooo, Ethel that sounds a bit rude.” Those magazines that printed song lyrics probably hated it as the official lyrics go something like this: ”Jack, jack, jack, jack your body..”. Repeat many times. It wasn’t really something you could singalong to. Yet the further we travel from that year the more and more it seems like a pointer to the future.



Space 1999 - Catacombs of the Moon

A curious episode that doesn’t quite put across the point it is trying to make that faith is stronger than we think. With his wife Michelle dying of a heart condition, mining engineer Patrick Osgood is understandably out of sorts though this manifests itself in fire filled visions of Alpha being consumed by an inferno. For the viewer’s benefit this sees his wife stranded in a four poster bed surrounded by flames looking rather like a spoof of some early 80s pop video. That she is played by a very young Pamela Stephenson is even more odd. Meanwhile Helena keeps making artificial hearts for Michelle and when one doesn’t work she knocks up another one about an hour later! Of course had Victor been here with his mechanical heart he may have been able to help but- hang on – Victor no longer exists. Instead we have to be content with a lot of soft focus medical meandering as Pat goes loopier by the minute. Koenig meanwhile goes to see what is causing waves of heat driving the temperature up.



The Great season 1 episode 1 review

 At the end of Channel 4’s showing of the debut instalment of this series the continuity announcer provides information for any viewers who have been affected by anything in the episode. Presumably he means viewers who may have recently had their bear shot or been chucked in a lake whilst inside a trunk or maybe if it’s in case any unhappy empresses are watching? Otherwise it’s hard to see what effect the episode might have on viewers other than to make them laugh. Hugely entertaining and quite mad at times, Tony McNamara’s  apparantely partly true origin story of the woman who would become Catherine the Great is cut from the same satirical cloth as shows such as The Thick of It though at times could be called Carry On Catherine! It’s frequently amusing and once or twice will make you gasp at the fact that you are finding a violent incident actually rather funny.



Doctor Who - Revolution of the Daleks review

Made over a year ago this is the first new Doctor Who we’ve seen since the world changed in real life and thus comes over as somewhat odd now. Despite some fortuitous resonances with scenes of a prime minister talking about safety and security the episode has the feeling of being made much longer ago in a different world. This is definitely not the fault of the production but shows that programmes like this may suddenly seem outdated now we’ve had a taste of something an episode might actually depict (of course aliens would be responsible for the pandemic). We now know what something that potentially threatens our whole world is actually like and I’m not sure you’d ever stretch to call it entertainment however many Chris Whitty memes try. I suppose the time will come when there are dramas made about the pandemic but I don’t know if that’s the sort of thing I would ever want to watch. When you’ve seen the real thing, drama can’t compete.