Liverpool River of Light 2023 Pix

 This week is the annual River of Light festival with displays dotted around the River Mersey waterfront and here's some pictures and videos from the event...


War and Peace (1972) Parts 8 to 11


Episode Eight- A Beautiful Tale

It is not just battles that this series stages impeccably. This episode’s centrepiece is a lavish ball which is the most impressive example of such an event I have seen done in a tv drama series. Usually with this sort of thing you get a handful of dancers shot close up to avoid revealing the limited number of extras or space available. It is meant to give the impression of there being many more participants but often you can tell there aren’t.  Here we have dozens of dancers gliding about in a vast room and just to ensure we know it, we see the shot from all angles. Sometimes the camera is ceiling height looking down on the symmetry of it all, other times we’re deep in the dance following people round. There’s no stinting on the soundtrack either with a large set of musicians playing what are presumably authentic period pieces. As a way of making you feel as if you are there it is superbly constructed. Yet the finished scenes do not feel over organised or placed; instead there is still the feel of people enjoying themselves despite the formal nature of the dances and the bright lights. In fact not even some movies can marshall such an impressive display.


Top of the Pops 13 October 1988


Words: Chris Arnsby.
Bruno Brookes: “Good evening. Thursday night means Top of the Pops. Europe's number one TV pop show.”
Gary Davies: “We've got a knockout show for you. We start off with a great record. It's been twenty one years since PP Arnold first appeared on Top of the Pops. This week she's the highest climber together with the Beatmasters. At number sixteen, this is Burn It Up.”

 [16] BEATMASTERS WITH P·P· ARNOLD: burn it up. Brian Whitehouse is still clinging in there as Producer, but Tony Newman is back for a second go as Director after his first try on 29/09/1988 was deemed acceptable. Burn It Up starts off with a voiceover from PP Arnold and Tony Newman gets Vision Mixer Carol Abbott to combine a wide shot of the studio with a big close up of PP Arnold, which makes her giant head loom over the audience. It's a simple effect but a good one.



War and Peace (1972) Parts 4 to 7

 Episode Four- A Letter and Two Proposals

It’s easy to imagine the narrative of part 4 re-worked for a sitcom as it deals with two young people whose elders are attempting to push them into marriage which, in different ways, neither is ready for. Yet in the end the choices they make are unexpected. The intelligent Pierre is ultimately railroaded into an engagement proposal he doesn’t even actually make; rather it’s Vasili Kuragin who congratulates him and his own daughter Helene on it! He is less successful though with his son Anatole whom he tries to interest Maria Bolkonskya in only for the marriage to be rejected by her. While the episode starts with alot of material that seems like old fashioned frippery, it’s very cleverly constructed contrasting the two situations and held together by Basil Henson’s wonderfully arch expressions.


Top of the Pops 6 October 1988


Words: Chris Arnsby. Simon Mayo: “Hello. Welcome to Top of the Pops. Back in our proper time slot on Radio 1FM and on BBC1. Featuring the return of Radio 1's new night time merchant.”

Richard Skinner: “Yes indeed Simon. Including in today's programme we have Erasure, we have Rick Astley [Simon Mayo plays with Richard Skinner's hair]... mmm, lovely haircut,  and this lot, The Pasadenas...”
Simon Mayo: “Yes.”
Richard Skinner: “...Riding on a Train.”



My Latest Book...


Aintnoway. I’ve somehow managed to write another novel. I know it is of limited interest to most people who view this blog as its aimed at the so called young adult market but other people might like it. And if you know any young adults who like to read. Anyway its taken about a year which considering what sort of a year I’ve had is really surprising. Then again while writing may tap into your own life but it can also provide a refuge from the worst parts of it. It’s a book about grief, loss, loneliness, giant swordfish, the Moon and a three hundred and twenty year old Cardinal. This is the cover created from my concept by the talented Glendon Haddix of Streetlight Graphics, an image which I hope the target audience would describe as “fire”.


Available on Amazon in print and Kindle ebook format  HERE


War and Peace (1972) Parts 1 to 3

Let's get epic...

Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace has become shorthand for a story that is almost impossible to get through. It is the sort of enormous novel you start reading with intent multiple times but never finish. I’ve never even tried to read War and Peace so I decided to watch an ambitious attempt to bring the epic to life that was shown by the BBC across twenty episodes totalling fifteen hours weekly from late September 1972. It took several months because this is not some eight part Netflix sensation to be binged in one night that’s for sure!

Three years in production including twelve month's location filming the serial includes battle sequences, a large cast, a zillion extras and a timespan to match the novel. Shot in what was then Yugoslavia (using members of that country’s territorial army) and the UK it is nowadays best known as featuring Anthony Hopkins in his breakthrough role. The adaptation is by Jack Pulman and has a theme tune of the Russian Imperial anthem yet everyone speaks English of course! The serial was prestigious enough to even get its own Radio Times Special magazine (a rare honour) clips of which are scattered amongst these posts. 

It’s a series like no other with a considerably larger budget than other historical dramas of the day- compared to say Elizabeth R’s tight direction which hides a small number of extras, War and Peace literally has armies at its disposal. The scope of the outdoor scenes and the battles is immense, as well mounted as any feature film of the day. If some of the interiors can seem a tad stagey there is a rich cast to draw on and some sparkling performances to enjoy

For all its ambition the series wasn't an instant classic receiving a mixed critical reception at the time. It’s been called too slow or even dull and criticised for casting some actors who were too old for the characters they were portraying. Poor Morag Hood came in for particular criticism as the then nearly thirty year old had to initially appear as a thirteen year old. It is said the battle sequences plod – though some have pointed out this is a more accurate representation of the realities of warfare. At a time when a prestigious production like this might be expected to pull in ten to twelve million viewers it drew half of that and some episode fell below two million. It probably didn’t help that the first episode is largely talky and frivolous and it may have been advantageous for the events of part two to be shown first.

So how does this epic, now more than fifty years old, pan out? Only one way to find out..

Scans from the Radio Times Special publication which accompanied the serial.


Film Review: Living (2022)


Bill Nighy always gives a good performance and sometimes an exceptional one and this 2022 film directed by Oliver Hermanus is one of those occasions. He plays Mr Williams, a senior official at the Public Works department at London County Council in 1953. Long widowed with an adult son, he is deeply embedded in his job yet it is one he undertakes without passion. Indeed, the entire department seems hidebound by procedure shown in the example of a group of women trying to get permission and funding for a children’s playground. In a sequence early on we see their application being passed from Mr Williams’s department through several others before ending back on his desk to be “kept here.” In other words, nothing will come of it. The women are persistent enough to keep returning but is seems to make little difference. I think we can all empathise with that sort of bureaucracy even today!



Top of the Pops 29 September 1988

 Words: Chris Arnsby.
Gary Davies: “Hello. Good evening. A very good evening to you. Welcome to Top of the Pops. Not only on BBC1 but also in stereo on Radio 1.”
Mark Goodier: “And a special hello to you if you're in south Wales, or the south west, because you've got Top of the Pops in stereo for the first time tonight on 98.7. That's your frequency. Check it out”
Gary Davies: “And what a show we've got for you. We start off with a new entry at number thirty eight. I Don't Belive in Miracles. Here's Sinitta.”

 [38] SINITTA: i don't believe in miracles. There's a new name on the credits. Top of the Pops this week was Directed by Tony Newman, appropriate name. Stanley Appel is away. Brian Whitehouse is away. Paul Ciani is not away, but apparently this week he's only got enough time to Produce the show.


Film Review: The Creator


Artificial Intelligence is getting a bad rap of late both in fiction and also increasingly alarmist studies suggesting that the stuff of fantasy movies and books in which our machines rise up and replace us could become reality. Might that happen?  I’ve no idea but it is certainly intriguing enough to make a film like The Creator feel closer to home. It explores a possible way in which our interaction with something we've created can take unexpected paths yet is more optimistic than you might expect.

 Spoilers after the break...


Top of the Pops 15 & 22 September 1988


Double Bill! words: Chris Arnsby


Simon Mayo: “Hi and welcome to Top of the Pops. Live on BBC1 and FM Radio 1 as well. A happy show because we've got some brilliant bands but a sad one 'cause it's Peter Powell's last show. Ahh.”
Peter Powell. “So in that case we've got to make it the best show going! And it's with great delight that on the Pops tonight, they've flown all the way back from Italy to be on! Here's Bros!!”

 [4] BROS: i quit. Paul Ciani is away. And now Stanley Appel is also away. Has he quit? No, he's got two other Light Entertainment programmes to supervise; a new series of Blankety Blank and a new series called I've Got a Secret. Who is left to sit in the chair with Producer and Director stamped, in Helvetica Neue, on the back? Welcome back Brian Whitehouse. Not seen since 17/12/1987.

And what of Mr Powell himself? He's quitting just shy of his 12th anniversary of hosting “the Pops!” His first show was on 03/11/1977 when Abba was at Number One with Name of the Game. This is interesting (wait, come back) because his first stint on Radio 1 doesn't seem to have been until three weeks later, on Sunday 20/11/1977; unless anyone can get more meaningful results from BBC Genome. He's off soon from Radio 1FM as well, 25/09/1988 will be the date of his last show. To be replaced by a Sunday breakfast show with Liz Kershaw and Mark Goodier.