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The Meritocracy Trap

Uncategorised Posted on Thu, October 29, 2020 13:14:50

The Meritocracy Trap by Daniel Markovits, is an eye-opening book which answers the burning question, “Why everything is so screwed up”.

Daniel Markovits is a Professor of Law at Yale University and it shows: The Meritocracy Trap has 100 pages of twin-columned notes which deepen the argument in the text.

The term “meritocracy’ was coined in 1958 by British sociologist Michael Young, as a warning that scientific testing would identify talent at an early age and train children for preordained jobs. Markovits says that Young could not foresee that the meritocracy would favour nurture rather than nature – train the children of the rich to develop desired skills and, “bend the arc of innovation to favour the skills that it produced.”

It’s best to start at the back and read the Postscript To The UK Edition first. Markovits argues that in the United States, workers without degrees such as auto workers are included in the definition of middle class, whereas the British would call an auto worker ‘working class’. Conversely, many of those who Markovitz defines as the meritocratically educated professional elite would be called ‘middle class’ in Britain. In this way, Markovitz argues that the privilege of the elite is disguised in Britain. “British meritocrats enjoy the privileges without the responsibilities.”

The British left associates meritocracy almost literally with aristocracy and misses the appeal of meritocracy. “By treating meritocrats as skating, rather than grinding their way to the top..it gets the new elite’s back up.”

For Markovits’ argument is that meritocracy excludes the ‘middle class’ and harms the ‘elite. “The young rich today diligently study and doggedly train” for the opportunity to “work with grinding intensity“. for absurdly long hours. “No-one need weep for the wealthy. But ignoring how oppressively hard the rich now work is equally misleading.”

Elite schools can demand five hours of homework a night. Once they have achieved an elite job, the meritocratic worker is expected to work long hours. Exploiting their human capital, “they are expected to become an asset manager” of their own skills and knowledge.

Markovitz tracks how middle-class life has been gutted and the idea of moving from production to management is now implausible. A firm like McDonalds which, in the 1960’s, employed 70 to 80 workers at each franchise to make the food they sold now has less than half the workforce – deskilled because food is now pre-packaged. The only skill now lies in developing new systems and equipment. Similarly, at a supermarket chain like Safeway the chance to progress from bag packer to chief executive is now non-existent. Middle-managers were eliminated by consultants in the 1980’s following leveraged buy-outs in search of the kind of manager who could squeeze further money out of the business in order to pay off the cost of the buy-outs.

Markovitz paints a picture of a society which is poisoning itself – allocating unequal rewards to a self-perpetuating elite which has no chance to really enjoy those rewards – and denying fair reward or fulfilling employment to the deskilled middle class. Markovitz attributes the success of Trump and Brexit to this dispossessed middle class. “When these voters heard the bipartisan elite condemn Trump as boorish and unfit for office, they knew that the elite thought the same of them.”

The Meritocracy Trap by Daniel Markovitz – Penguin 2019 ISBN 978-0-141-98474-2



Bitter Harvest (1963)

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, October 18, 2020 09:40:17
Janet Munro and John Stride in Bitter Harvest

Bitter Harvest stars Janet Munro and John Stride in a compromised adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky. Updated to the 1960’s, the movie tried to have-its-cake-and-eat-it by promising X Certificate Sex in the advertising while downplaying the grittiness of Hamilton’s novel. It would be 40 years before the BBC could mount a more faithful adaptation.

Bryan Dick and Zoe Tapper in 20,000 Streets Under The Sky

However, the story behind Bitter Harvest is a fascinating one – a story of passion, betrayal and thwarted ambition. You can read more about it here.



UFO Annual 1972

Uncategorised Posted on Mon, September 28, 2020 00:32:17
The UFO Annual 1972

As Personal Assistant to Commander Straker of SHADO and guardian of his cover as head of the Harlington-Straker Film Studios, I am always alert to potential security breaches.

I recently became aware of something called The UFO Annual 1972. Alarm bells rang immediately because until now there has only been one UFO Annual. Published in September 1970 by Polystyle publications to coincide with the first broadcast of UFO, it was re-released the following year to cater for regions like Yorkshire and London which didn’t screen the series until 1971.

When I got hold of a copy of the new publication, I was relieved to see that it is actually produced by Fanderson, the official Gerry and Sylvia Anderson Appreciation Society. It’s a very convincing pastiche of the annual Polystyle might have published back in 1971. It has eighty-four pages, packed with colour photos and features. There are background interviews with Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and Ed Bishop. There are also detailed features in which SHADO operatives explain how our organisation works. These are balanced out with two text fiction stories, profusely illustrated with stills from the TV show.

I do recall that one of the disappointments expressed by readers of the original UFO Annual was the lack of TV21 style cutaways – and Fanderson has responded to this by including three cutaways by Graham Bleathman – the Markers Universal Transporter, the Lunar Module, and the Interceptor Launch Silo’s. This last cutaway answers a lot of questions that were raised 50 years ago about what happens after the Interceptor Pilots jump into their launch chutes.

Because UFO was set in a future that is now our past, there is also a very useful article looking forward to the technical and political developments that might have been expected for the 1980’s. This puts the whole project in context. It’s a piece of guesswork – what might have been – but no-one can deny that it will be very collectible in its own right. Unfortunately, under the terms of their license with ITC, Fanderson can only sell their products to club members. But you can find out how to join here at https://fanderson.org.uk/



A Kind of Magic – making the original Highlander

Uncategorised Posted on Thu, September 24, 2020 17:08:05

Jonathan Melville’s A Kind of Magic covers the making of the 1986 movie Highlander, from the moment fireman Gregory Widen developed his UCLA screenwriting project ‘Shadow Clan’ to actor Clancy Brown’s return to Scotland for the screening of a 30th anniversary restoration at the Edinburgh Film Festival.

Melville’s book is an entertaining mirror image of the Highlander myth. In the movies and TV shows, the Immortals battle each other, the victor taking his opponents’ head and absorbing their knowledge and experience in a mystic quickening until in the end there can be only one. In real life, Highlander won the prize through collaboration, as an army of creatives brought their expertise and understanding to a common cause.

Screenwriting is about working with others,” Widen’s UCLA teacher advises in the chapter where screenwriters Peter Bellwood and Larry Ferguson explain how they put detail on Gregory Widen’s original draft. Melville outlines that first script of Widen’s which impressed enough to win him an agent and a cash offer from producers Peter Davis and William Panzer. And then he shows what Bellwood and Ferguson added. In a way, it’s a little unfair because we’re looking back at the creation of something we’re already familiar with. Favourites like The Kurgan…The Quickening…There Can Be Only One..come from Bellwood and Ferguson, but it’s building on the concepts Widen has created out of thin air. It’s as if Widen is a sculptor who has created the body of Connor Macleod, and Bellwood and Ferguson are tailors who have created a magnificent costume for him.

The book is written with the pace of a thriller. For a film with an epic span of time and place it’s incredible just how little time it took to get the film to completion. Three days of Sean Connery’s expensive time (expanded to five to do it all again after a camera failure). Fight scenes begun in London and finished in New York. Sometimes – as in the make-up for Macleod’s aging wife played by Beatie Edney – it doesn’t going according to plan. There’s always an ongoing battle to shave time from the schedule and money from the budget. “Can we put subtitles, ” prosthetic designer Nick Maley asks, “I know this isn’t very good but they only gave me three weeks.” And yet, when the completed sequence (with some re-shooting) is screened for Queen it moves Brian May to the extent that he composes Who Wants To Live Forever on the car journey home, singing it into a small tape recorder. “It was the most uncanny thing. It doesn’t happen often in your life.”

At over 300 pages, this is literally Everything You Wanted To Know About Highlander But Were Afraid To Ask. An epic with a cast of thousands. Not just the stars, but the people who were there on the ground winning unique insights. Like Campbell Muirhead, who took on the job of stand-in for Christopher Lambert without knowing who he was (“..about 2.30 in the morning it suddenly dawned on me..”), and make up supervisor Lois Burwell (“Not everyone can say they got rescued..by Sean Connery.”)

A Kind Of Magic: Making The Original Highlander by Jonathan Melville. Polaris Publishing Ltd, September 2020. RRP £16.99 ISBN 9781913538057 For more details go to http://www.polarispublishing.com/book/a-kind-of-magic



Looker (1981)

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, September 20, 2020 17:37:08

Sometimes it seems like a movie has to wait for its time to come – and for Looker (1981) that moment is now. Industrialist James Coburn explains that it’s the politicians who cause all the trouble – “Multinationals want peace and stability. Governments are recklessly out of control.” It’s up to private industry to save society.

In Looker, Albert Finney plays plastic surgeon Larry Roberts. Four of his actress patients have come to him with a shopping list of minor adjustments to their bodies, and when they start dying in mysterious circumstances, Larry has to protect the survivor Cindy Fairmont (Susan Dey – The Partridge Family, LA Law) and convince the police that he’s not killing off his patients.

Written and directed by Michael Crichton, (Westworld, Coma) the movie is a lighthearted thriller in the vein of North By Northwest which deals with concepts that seemed like science fiction in 1981 and seem like science fact now. On initial release, Variety called the movie, “silly and unconvincing”, partly due to the choices made in the original edit. The Blu-Ray currently available from Warner has a deleted scene in the extras which was apparently added to the TV cut, and which makes the plot clearer (while hinting that additional material might have been cut from the cinema version).

Finney discovers that the millimeter-accurate list of plastic surgery corrections have been provided by a firm called Digital Matrix which is involved with the production of TV adverts. Their next step is to ask Cindy to submit to a computer scanner in exchange for a lucrative lifetime contract. The scanner is the size of an electricity sub-station and Cindy has to descend naked on an illuminated platform in the roof. Once inside, the computer scanning effects are a combination of trick lighting and animation, as a digital copy of Cindy is created to serve the company.

When Finney uses a stolen electronic pass to visit Digital Matrix at night, he discovers that the firm has developed a light gun which can both create the illusion of invisibility and put victims into a trance so that an hour can pass in the blink of an eye. The scene in which Finney flicks through the technical manual describing the gun shows just how long ago the movie was made. Today, you’d be able to buy both the gun and the manual as part of the merchandising, whereas in 1981 the camera skims over the detailed schematics in seconds.

The ability to create the illusion of invisibility points to some of the inconsistency detected by critics. The fact that the gun can ‘freeze’ its victims explains some of the early plot points but would make the later extended fight and chase scenes impossible. If you’re in a trance, there’s no way you can resist your assailant.

Albert Finney in Michael Crichton’s tribute to Poe

When I first saw Looker on TV (11 September 1990) I remember I wasn’t paying attention at first and thought during the title sequence that it was a TV movie – the photography has that smeary pastel 1980’s look, combined with a minimalist electronic score. It was only when I realised that Albert Finney was in it that I knew it couldn’t be a TV movie.

Once the titles have finished the movie kicks off with an intriguing, eerie, hallucinatory scene which grabs the attention. Crichton notes in the commentary that he had to keep slowing up the pace of these scenes so that audiences could grasp what was going on. Ironically, one of the themes of the film is that by 1980 audiences were willingly giving their attention up to adverts. Crichton compares the punishment of being forced to sit in a prison cell for most of the day as punishment, with audiences willingly shutting themselves in with a a box for entertainment. In the commentary (which seems to have been recorded in 2006) Crichton notes that audiences could use a Tivo to skip TV adverts. But of course, things have moved on in 15 years and we are subjected to a wider range of adverts and clickbait on our laptops and phones. And during lockdown in 2020 much of the population has alternated between Working From Home and being entertained on the same devices.

As noted, there is an intriguing ‘deleted scene’ on the Blu-Ray which appears to have been reinstated for the TV version of the movie. This is a welcome addition, making clear how James Coburn’s conglomerate intends to use the digital technology to put a President in the White House! But comments made in this scene about the detective played by Dorian Harewood, lead to the suspicion that there are further scenes missing. Finney says he has passed one of the light guns on to Harewood, but there is no point in the existing movie where Finney could have done that. In fact, in the existing cut Harewood seems to be aware that Finney has been set up. Could there be an expanded Looker at some time in the future? Who knows.



And this is me….

Uncategorised Posted on Fri, September 11, 2020 18:25:10
Harry Dobermann

In an attempt to bring a little order to the website, I’ve created a separate index to the non-Patrick Wymark related items (book/film/TV reviews) which you can find at this link



Tige Andrews’ Riz-Norma

Uncategorised Posted on Wed, September 09, 2020 20:49:12

Checking out another potential recipe for Silver Screen Suppers’ Murder She Wrote Cookbook, I came across this winner from Tige Andrews aka Captain Greer in The Mod Squad.

Tige Andrews appeared in Family Doctor, a 1991 episode of Murder She Wrote. He played a retired mobster who gets shot leaving a restaurant which he owns. William Windom is called to treat Andrews, but it doesn’t go well. This was Tige Andrews’ last screen role after a long and successful career and Riz-Norma is a fine tribute.

Norma Thornton

The Norma behind Riz-Norma was Norma Thornton, Tige’s wife. They met in 1949 when she was a dancer in the Broadway cast of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and he was playing Schlemmer in Mr Roberts (he would later play Wiley in John Ford’s 1955 film adaptation). As a publicity stunt, the cast of both shows were pitted against each other in a bowling match – and for Tige and Norma the match struck.

While Norma became a member of the June Taylor dancers on the Ed Sullivan show, Tige continued to appear on Broadway in Stockade (the stage version of From Here To Eternity) and The Threepenny Opera (in which he appeared opposite Lotte Lenya, Jerry Orbach and Ed Asner and sang ‘Mack the Knife’).

Tiger Andrews next to Maurice Gosfield in Bilko

During the 1950’s Tige developed a career as a TV character actor and guest artist, becoming Private Gander, a member of Bilko’s platoon in the first series of The Phil Silvers Show. In 1959 he began a three year stint as Lt John Russo, the second lead in Robert Taylor’s The Detectives. From 1968 to 1973, he starred as Captain Greer, the mentor of the three teen undercover detectives in The Mod Squad.

I remember when this series was first screened our family used to speculate where the name Tige came from. But it turns out his birth name was Tiger (family tradition was to name sons after a strong animal) and that’s how he was billed in early shows (including Bilko).

So to Riz-Norma. I had a bit of an issue early on because the recipe tells us to braise some thinly sliced beef. I started out buying some braising steak and then realised it was the wrong sort of beef for this recipe because it would take too long to cook. So I switched to The Saint’s Vache Espagnole which uses many of the same ingredients and returned to Riz-Norma after I’d got hold of some beef suitable for stir fry.

The recipe calls for us to peel and slice an aubergine (or eggplant) and put it to one side after squeezing lemon juice over it. We then sear the beef or lamb in olive oil and then add the aubergine. Top this up with garlic, bay leaf, green peppers onion and a tin of tomatoes.

Add green beans or asparagus, then cover and simmer until all the ingredients are heated through. I have to say – this kind of recipe induces the type of suspense I associate with The Mod Squad – how long is enough? Have I cooked the meat enough? Should I have left it longer?

But I trusted the implication of the recipe – this reads like a quick meal – and it was ! Twenty minutes to simmer – the meat was tender and the sauce was beautiful. Served over basmati rice, and it went down a treat.



The Simmering Saint’s Vache Espagnol

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, September 06, 2020 18:23:05

Faced with the urgent need to dispose of an aubergine and some braising steak, I seized upon the chance to try out Simon Templar’s Vache Espagnol – a French dish, despite the name.

The Saint tells us, “This recipe was given to me by the head chef of Hotel Le Provencal in Juan-Les-Pins. It was a family recipe but he renamed it La Vache Espagnol in memory of an incident my biographer recorded in The Saint In Europe.

To serve two, skin and dice one aubergine, dust with salt and put to one side. Put 0.300 kg braising steak in a casserole dish and sear in a tablespoon of olive oil for 10 minutes. Remove the meat, and brown the aubergine in the juices, then set that to one side too. Saute a chopped onion and four cloves of garlic until glistening.

. Add a small tin (around 227g) of chopped tomatoes and a cup of Spanish red wine. Add the meat, cover and simmer for two hours. After the first hour, top up the juice with a large tin (around 450g) of chopped tomatoes and half a cup of Spanish red wine. After another hour (two hours in total), check that the meat is tender. When it’s ready to go, add the chopped, browned aubergine for another five minutes, then turn out and serve artfully with boiled potatoes

He said, serve artfully

Well, my technique may not be anything like the head chef’s – but much of the pleasure in this dish is just smelling it as it cooks – the wine and the garlic infusing the meat and scenting the atmosphere every time I checked the pot. The big gamble was whether the beef was soft enough – but in this case it worked, and the meat and the sauce tasted every bit as good as it smelt. I may not be able to eat like a king, but I can try and eat like a Saint.



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