Blog Image

The Dobermann Always Rings Twice

Dangerous Visions and New Worlds

Uncategorised Posted on Fri, November 26, 2021 07:06:24

Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction 1950-1985. Edited by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre.

I’d only had the book in my hands for an hour before I threw it across the room. Metaphorically. I’d anticipated this book for too long to actually throw it across the room, but the final two paragraphs of Lucy Sussex’s article on James Tiptree Jr had me spinning in disbelief. I was loosely aware that Alice B Sheldon had passed herself off as Tiptree, writing science fiction under conditions of heightened security. And the facts are even more amazing – the article delivers a great deal of fascinating detail. But what happened to Tiptree/Sheldon 32 years after his/her death is unbelievable. Or rather, all too believable. Proof that however perceptive science fiction writers were, they still couldn’t foresee the absurdity of the future.

Dangerous Visions and New Worlds adopts the titles of the anthology, and magazine which provided a shop window for the “New Wave” science fiction of “the long Sixties,” when progressive authors moved the subject from space wars and technology to mass media, state control and sexual liberation. Now that the unacceptable has become accepted it’s sometimes hard to appreciate just what a risk the “new wave” took. In a section dealing with the first publication of Norman Spinrad’s Bug Jack Barron, Nicolas Tredell quotes from Hansard as Arts Minister Jennie Lee is questioned by a fellow Labour MP over the arts council grant given to New Worlds . Specifically whether public money should be spent on a magazine that distributor W.H.Smith had refused to handle.

At over 200 pages, this anthology covers a lot of ground. The first thing I did was flick through the book. It’s eminently flickable. Almost every page has a luscious colour photo of at least one paperback. I felt a deep rush of nostalgia over the New English Library cover for Christopher Priest’s Doctrinaire, or the original Penguin edition of Quatermass and the Pit, or Theodore Sturgeon’s Nerves . But there was more I’d not seen before – like the Fawcett paperback of Day of the Triffids (retitled Revolt of the Triffids) or the two bleak covers for Mordecai Roshwald’s Level Seven or the early 1960’s Philip K. Dick paperbacks.

After I got tired of flicking, I checked out the index. Graham, David Down to a Sunless Sea, The Great 24 Hour THING (Offut), Greatorex, Wilfred, The Green Death (Hulke)! So Dr Who‘s in there? Yes, a big spread of Target Dr Who novelisations. Right next to an article on Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, who were writing science fiction in the era of Kruschev when “sticking it to the Man” could have serious consequences. One of their novels, The Snail on the Slope was suppressed for satirising Soviet society where people, “live in chaos and turmoil…engaged in aimless, unnecessary busywork…carry out stupid laws and directions.” Which, ironically, sounds like the 21st Century western society described by David Graeber in Bullshit Jobs.

This eclectic mix answers old questions and introduces us to treasures we might have missed. Back in 1974, Mayflower published the first in a series of books about QHE, written by the mysterious W.W. The covers were by Richard Clifton-Dey – who was also responsible for the powerful visualisations of Martin Caidin’s Cyborg novels and Philip Jose Farmer’s Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life – and the headline promised an explosive new superhero. QHE was tapping into the same vein as some of the more edgy Marvel Comics – a ruler of a hidden kingdom using occult powers to defeat the schemes of super-capitalists. But the series never quite took off. Perhaps because it seemed slightly inaccessible. Who was W:W for instance? The pseudonym always made me think of B.B., the author of Baldmoney, Sneezewort, Dodder and Cloudberry, but the truth – revealed here – is even more astounding!

The collection also introduces us (or introduced me) to Andra, the 1971 debut of Louise Lawrence (Elizabeth Holden) in which a teenage girl, two thousand years in the future, has a graft fromthe brain of a young radical male from the 1980’s. “her hair colour changes from fair to dark and her eyes from blue to brown. But more significant are the changes in her personality…her IQ is higher, she is questioning and rebellious and she shows no deference to her elders. She attracts a following of young people, much to the growing concern of Sub City One’s rulers.”

Andrew Nette relates that the British novel was adapted into a TV serial by Australia’s ABC in 1976. “It appears to have aired only once, in mid-1976, and while the ABC claims to have copies in its archives, there are counterclaims that the series was accidentally wiped.”

With 38 chapters, the collection has a vast range. I was fascinated by the article on Damnation Alley – a novel I was only familiar with as the inspiration for the Judge Dredd sequence The Cursed Earth. Like Logan’s Run, the Roger Zelazny novel was the subject of a film adaptation which seems to have spectacularly missed the point. There are also articles on J. G Ballard, Essex House (short-lived publishers of “erotic, speculative fiction”) and Ira Levin. There is also a comparison of The Moons of Le Guin and Heinlein (“so closely related, so superficially similar, and so different in thrust”) by Donna Glee Williams. And a career article on Octavia Butler by Michael A. Gonzales which delivers its own back-handed slap to the New Wave (“Butler’s work lacked the experimental styling and intellectual hijinks of her peers…Butler wrote in a way that was more wise than intellectual and could be grasped by a working class person on his/her lunch break at the factory.”)

An ideal Christmas present to yourself, something to soothe you through the delights of the season.

Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction 1950-1985. Edited by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre. 220 pages. PM Press 2021. ISBN: 9781629638836. $29.95 Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950 to 1985 (

Sam Kydd’s Unpublished Memoirs

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, October 31, 2021 12:44:19

Sam Kydd is probably best known now as “the actor who was in everything” or “the patron saint of Talking Pictures TV” – although in our house, he was always known as “Orlando” after the character he played in the 1960’s thriller series Crane and the childrens TV follow-up Orlando.

In the 1970’s, Sam Kydd published For You The War Is Over, a memoir of his time as a prisoner of war in Germany. Unfortunately, his publishers declined to pick up the sequel, which tells how – only a few months after being repatriated – Kydd talks his way onto the Ealing movie, The Captive Heart (1946) as a technical advisor with a speaking part, filming in Germany!

In some ways, it’s just as well that the book wasn’t published in the 1970’s. As Jonathan Kydd relates in the introduction, he found his father’s typescript in the loft, 33 years after his death. OCR technology failed to translate the faded pages so Kydd was forced to retype the manuscript. This allowed him to, “verify a lot of my father’s facts…cross reference all his diaries, financial records and letters…(adding) information from these sources which I found amusing…or told a more dramatic truth about an incident he’d glossed over.” The result is that this is only the first of four volumes – although packed with illuminating details.

It’s interesting to contrast this book with Who’s That Guy? Marcus James Heslop’s biography of Guy Standeven, the trained actor who accepted any non-speaking part as long as he could keep working on film sets. Sam Kydd, who started out as a dance band MC and impressionist, is forced to resist his mother’s aggressive offers to find him a proper job in a department store, embarking on a constant round of agent’s offices with, “indigestion, wet arm pits and tired feet but no work. My having to be constantly enthusiastic was exhausting.” After a season as stage manager and supporting actor at the newly re-opened theatre of Butlin’s Skegness Holiday Camp, Sam’s luck improves and he begins picking up work with BBC radio and the odd speaking parts in films such as Scott of the Antarctic (1948) and Passport to Pimlico (1949).

However, this isn’t just a list of engagements. Sam Kydd recalls a Britain still recovering from the effects of war (“I’d survived the war, with albeit five years of my life having disappeared into limbo; and a new set of teeth from where a German guard had smashed the others out with his rifle butt…on the positive side…my new gleaming dentures had got rid of the gap in my front teeth.”) and sleep-walking into the cold war. An encounter with a glamorous woman in a darkened cinema leads to a meal at the Dorchester and a fascinating thread in which former private Kydd is summoned to the War Office and shown his service file, being told: “We have detailed dossiers about most people we’re interested in.”

Quite apart from the general day-to-day detail of film-making, some of Sam Kydd’s memories may become invaluable as technological change robs us of the ability to remember how things used to work. His comments on telephone acting, for instance: “You obviously need to use 7 numbers as in WES 9150 or it’s not authentic. And don’t use 111 111 as it’s clear you’re not dialling a proper number. Having said that, when you have to dial 999 you dial 999! If you don’t there’ll be some Herbert who will write to you via your agent…telling you that you dialled 776.” (Twitter makes it so much easier to pull actors up on errors like this).

Sam Kydd: The Unpublished Memoirs volume one: Be A Good Boy Sam. Edited by Jonathan Kydd – ISBN 978-1-905912-79-7 Available for £17.99 via Renown Pictures

Vworp Vworp: The TV Comics

Uncategorised Posted on Fri, October 01, 2021 13:25:35

YOU MAY KNOW VWORP VWORP! as a lavish fanzine about Doctor Who comics – but issue 4 (September 2021) is much more than that. Off the record, on the QT and very hush hush, it delivers an exclusive insight behind the front page of TV Century 21, under the control panel of Countdown and even sneaks past TV Comic‘s commissionaire.

Doctor Who is the thread – of course – but editor Colin Brockhurst uses it to link the great photogravure comics of the 1960’s and early 1970’s – TV Comic, TV Century 21, Countdown and TV Action. I was going to list some of the people interviewed or written about here, but every time I thought I’d got something definitive – another name pops up – I just noticed a contribution from Len Deighton for Pete’s sake.

There’s a fascinating and comprehensive article on Alan Fennell – founder-editor of TV 21 and Look-In, which delivers a lot of previously unreported more detail about his life and career – and has some lovely family photos. And who would have guessed that he actually wrote some Dr Who comic strips?

There’s also an article on Dennis Hooper (art editor TV21, editor Countdown) by his daughter Beth, which again fills in a lot of blanks and gives an evocative picture of Hooper as both a family man and employer.

Colin also managed to track down Pete Corri, lettering artist and logo designer on TV21 and now, as he says, last man standing from a partnership with Fennell and Hooper to produce the Bump the Elephant cartoon series in the 1990’s. And Richard O’Neill, who succeeded Angus Allan as script editor on TV21.

But really, there’s an amazing level of depth and breadth of detail here – articles on Gerry Haylock, Harry Lindfield, Dick Millington, Martin Asbury, Frank Langford, John Canning, Bill Mevin ( a friend of both Barry Gray – the Thunderbirds composer and comedy scriptwriter David Climie – first editor of the British edition of MAD), Roger Noel Cooke, the enfant terrible responsible for Ken Dodd’s Diddymen, And I’ve only stopped there because my fingers were tired. Who would have thought that Roger Protz of CAMRA and the Good Beer Guide wrote some Doctor Who strips? And there’s even an illuminating article on Tom Woodman, the mysteriously credited author of the Adam Adamant Lives annual .

It would be wrong to say this is all about the comic strips. The anecdotal life stories come together to create a picture of a generation – raised in the insecurity of war and poverty – coming to adulthood in the 1950’s and 1960’s, balancing the need to ensure a secure income with the urge to express themselves. However important their work was, you get the impression that their main aim was to ensure that their own disrupted childhoods would not be repeated – the articles written by family members are done with true affection.

The lead article by Simon A Brett deals with the members of The General Illustration Company , the art studio which helped Terry Nation realise the 1976 Doctor Who and the Daleks Omnibus, published by Marks and Spencer. Once again we experience the dying of a true golden age, before computers eroded the need for physical art. “Typesetting became an everyday process now handled by one person at a desk. The skill of the paste-up artist was replaced by software and sadly illustrators weren’t needed in quite the same way anymore.” Pausing to reflect that a publication as rich in type and images as VWORP VWORP! would probably have been impossible to put together in the old days, there’s still a sense of sadness as illustrator Ivan Rose is asked to advise a new generation of artists. “It’s not the same now. What I came through has nothing to do with the industry now…who does book jackets, who does film posters? They’re all done by computer.

Vworp Vworp! Issue 4 £9.99 but selling out fast

Ruth Roman’s Caesar Salad

Uncategorised Posted on Tue, August 24, 2021 17:59:05
Jessica and Loretta

I couldn’t resist trying another test recipe from the Silver Screen Suppers’ Murder She Cooked project. What I spotted was a Caesar Salad, attributed to Ruth Roman, who played gossip and beautician Loretta Spiegel in three episodes of Murder She Wrote but will always be associated with her role in Strangers On A Train (1951).

I’m quite fond of Caesar Salad. The bottles of special dressing with the picture of Caesar Cardini on the label made it seem a bit more exotic than some other salads. I came up with my own variation a couple of years ago when everyone was shrieking about the new Joker movie. Of course – there will only ever be one Joker and I made the Cesar Romero Salad in his honour.

There’s a compelling air of myth and mystery about the origins of Caesar Salad. In the 1920’s Caesar Cardini operated a restaurant in Mexico City to get around the alcohol prohibition laws. The salad is supposed to have been pulled together one weekend when they were running short of ingredients. Another story says his brother Alex invented it as Aviator Salad when entertaining pilots from a nearby airbase. Not only The Untouchables, but also Only Angels Have Wings. Whatever the truth, back in California it was Caesar Cardini who popularised the salad, preparing it at patrons tables and later branched out into bottling and merchandising it. You can find out more about the legend of Caesar’s Salad here.

What I like about Ruth Roman’s Caesar Salad, is that it seems like a step back to 1950’s California when Ruth had just made that big hit with Hitchcock. These days, you often get Caesar Salad as a main course fattened out with chicken and bacon and even anchovies ( I remember getting Caesar Salad in the cafe of the Globe Theatre back in 2006 with a side plate of anchovies, as if they were somehow illicit). It turns out that anchovies didn’t feature in the original Caesar Salad recipe and the hint of anchovy came from the Lea and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce* which was part of the original dressing. But what Ruth (or her agent) has given us is much more of a classic side salad.

*If you have concerns about anchovies, you can always substitute Sheffield’s Henderson’s Relish for Worcestershire Sauce.

It cost me about £7.50 to get all the ingredients together for Ruth Roman’s variation on Caesar Salad (obviously some of the items like the mustard powder and wine vinegar can be used many times). Rather than buy a packet of croutons, I tried making some from a couple of slices of wholemeal bread. I made half the croutons in a healthy fashion on a baking tray in the oven, and the other half I fried in oil and salt. I’ll let you guess which tasted the best.

Most salad recipes will tell you how to mix up all the ingredients of the dressing beforehand – and a lot of Caesar Salad dressings even sidestep the eggs. By contrast, Ruth Roman’s recipe harks back to the original Aviator Salad and brings back the drama of the last minute preparation at the table. I thought that a salad would be less fraught than some of the other recipes I’d tried out, but as it turned out this still generated the frenzy of trying to get all the steps in the right order,

What it comes down to is coddling two eggs – boiling them for precisely one minute – and then – as Ruth doesn’t mention – running under cold water so you don’t burn your fingers! before breaking them over the Romaine lettuce. (For concerns about runny eggs, the British Lion Mark means the eggs have been laid by hens vaccinated against salmonella. although some unvaccinated eggs did slip through last year. ) You then “stir and toss vigorously” – the original Cardini recipe suggests “rolling, rather than tossing, to emulsify the eggs” but I didn’t know that at the time and guess my tossing was close enough to rolling to thoroughly coat the leaves. After that, the recipe suggests you sprinkle 4 tablespoons of grated parmesan intermittently with olive oil flavoured by a garlic clove. At the same time adding in “a touch of Worcestershire sauce, a small amount of wine vinegar, a pinch of dry mustard and the juice of half a lemon” (I admit I mixed these together beforehand and just tipped them in).

So, what was the verdict? Surprisingly close to a proper Caesar Salad. The fresh made croutons are definitely better than those out of a packet, and the dressing was a passable imitation of what you might get out of a bottle (“Where were the eggs?” was the comment I received, which I guess confirms that they emulsified convincingly). As for all the effort and tension, whether it was worth it to produce what is effectively a side salad is another question entirely. I guess that’s why we pay chefs to prepare our meals.

Previous Murder She Cooked try-outs’ – Tige Andrews’ – The Mod Squad and The Detectives – Riz Norma

Mark Rolston’s Red Eye Eggs Benedict

Richard Johnson – Four Time Chicken

Devil’s Advocates: Repulsion

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, July 18, 2021 17:09:39

Repulsion by Jeremy Carr is the latest entry in the Devil’s Advocates series from Liverpool University Press. It deals with the 1965 release starring Catherine Deneuve (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg ) as Carole a paranoid manicurist in swinging London. The other stars include Patrick Wymark, Ian Hendry and John Fraser, all of whom reputedly settled for a lower fee in order to work with the trendy young Polish director Roman Polanski. * Wymark and Fraser would work together again on the Australian premiere of the play Sleuth in July 1970.

*Wymark had been awarded a BAFTA as best TV actor for 1964

Repulsion has been written about so often that the book’s bibliography is wrapped around it like a black lace shawl. There is probably no opinion about Repulsion that has not been written and Jeremy Carr has done his best to pull them into order. However, he starts by acknowledging that, “Roman Polanski probably wouldn’t care for much of what is contained in this book.” He acknowledges that Polanski has played down attempts to read personal meaning into his work, even though, “films like Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant would be forever linked to what befell Polanski’s personal life in the years prior and those following.” (page 88). Ironically though, Polanski himself was not immune to reading hidden meanings into pop art and Carr quotes Barbara Leaming saying that, “although Levin later denied it, Polanski thought that the novelist must have seen Repulsion and been influenced by it. How otherwise account for his own feeling of familiarity.”

The book breaks Repulsion down into themes of Isolation , Sex and Paranoia pulling out an astute reminder from Kate Hagen that while the imagery may seem obvious today, “to present such an imagistic look at a modern London woman’s fear of sexuality and men in 1965 was truly radical.” Any, “what about…” comments are swiftly headed off when Carr includes an eight page section entitled, “Rape and the Polanski Dilemma.” Again marshalling a backlog of comment, Carr suggests that, “there is little to add to the insightful, considerate comments of these female critics.”

With regard to Carole’s paranoia, Jeremy Carr notes that, “for all her aversion…Carol almost seems to seek out these points of revulsion in a form of masochistic torture..” in almost the same way as a modern horror film audience. Similarly, Polanski provides the audience with knowledge the characters do not have (“the unsuspecting landlord who accosts Carol as she stands with the razor blade behind her back for only us to see,”)

After three chapters exploring Carol’s internal landscape, the final section examines the methods by which the inexperienced director and low-budget producers put together the movie. Much like Nigel Kneale in The Quatermass Experiment, Polanski was forced by budget constraints to act as his own special effects assistant in the sequences where the rooms and passages of Carole’s flat shifted shape. “Polanski often handled the contraptions himself, acknowledging, ‘they took longer to set up than expected.'”

After leading us through the journey inside Carol’s mind, Jeremy Carr concludes by saying that in the final moments, “We step outside Carol’s madness to bear witness to the horror of others, a horror that presents the disconcerting notion of what anyone – anyone we know – may be capable of. It’s a curious associative process that Polanski, better than most, could understand and illustrate.”

Jeremy Carr – Repulsion (2021). Auteur – Liverpool University Press £19.99 – ISBN 978-1-80085-933-3

‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood: A Novel by Quentin Tarantino.’

Uncategorised Posted on Fri, July 16, 2021 10:03:16

I don’t think I’ve ever watched a Tarantino movie all the way through – I may have seen some of Pulp Fiction – but I couldn’t resist the paperback, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

For a start, the size and format reminds me of paperbacks back when they were something you could put in your pocket. Back in the days when buying a paperback novelisation was the closest you could get to seeing a film like Enter The Dragon because you were too young to get in X Certificate films. But in execution, it reminds me of Ellery Queen’s 1965 novelisation of A Study In Terror. I say that because – without having seen the movie – the book seems to contain huge digressions which can’t be part of the movie – in a similar way to Ellery Queen having his modern day namesake review Dr Watson’s account of Sherlock Holmes’ encounter with Jack the Ripper and investigate the background of the manuscript.*

*In its page count and behind-the-scenes gossipiness it also reminds me of William Peter Blatty’s Bantam paperback on The Exorcist from Novel to Film

All I really know about he movie Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is that the final new issue of Mad magazine ran a “time warp” black-and-white parody of Bounty Law, the 1960’s TV series which forms the back story of the movie’s “Rick Dalton” (Leonardo De Caprio). The picture I get from the novelisation is that Once Upon A Time in Hollywood centres on Dalton, now reduced to guest shots in TV westerns starring up-and-coming actors. Tarantino has an agent draw a J.G Frazer type analogy with the young stars feasting on Dalton’s reputation every time he plays a villain. “What the audience sees is Bingo Martin whippin’ the guy from Bounty Law’s ass…another coupl’a years playin’ punchin’ bag to every swingin’ dick new to the going to have a psychological effect on how the audience perceives you.” The agent offers Dalton a chance to reinvent himself playing roles in European movies and the story follows the next few days as Dalton makes up his mind. Meanwhile, Dalton’s driver, a former stuntman and psychopathic killer called Cliff Booth is drawn into an encounter with the Manson family, and Manson himself accidentally calls on Dalton’s neighbour Sharon Tate while chasing up a record producer who promised to listen to some of Manson’s songs.

For the most part the novelisation concerns itself with Hollywood tall tales and the characters (or Tarantino’s) musings on 1960’s pop culture. I found most of this entertaining although I’m not sure whether this is because I’m a similar age to Tarantino and can remember Dean Martin and Sharon Tate in The Wrecking Crew. Tarantino has Tate drop into a cinema that is showing the Matt Helm movie and explores her memories of the moment when she performs her first slapstick fall. Even in the 1970’s when I saw The Wrecking Crew on TV, Tate’s character seemed patronising and misjudged, so it’s poignant to have Tarantino illuminate Tate’s pride at pulling off ‘the Jerry Lewis’ role. He leaves us with a sense of Tate truly (and forever) ‘living in the moment’ – enjoying her success with no thought of a future permanently excised.

Wayne Maunder in LANCER

But the novelisation is dominated by the filming of The High Riders, the pilot episode of Lancer (1968). According to the novel, Lancer was designed as a vehicle for up-and-coming star James Stacey. The novel outlines the process by which Stacey was tested out in a two-part episode of Gunsmoke. In the televised pilot, the series almost seems like a Western precursor of The Persuaders with autocratic rancher Andrew Duggan bringing together his estranged sons to fight off the bandits threatening his property. Aristocratic Scott Lancer (Wayne Maunder) is a former army officer, while Johnny Madrid Lancer (James Stacey) is a former gunfighter and mercenary.

Tarantino has his lead character Rick Dalton playing the villain Caleb DeCoteau- a character who was named Day Pardie and played by Joe Don Baker in the actual TV episode. In the UK, Lancer was screened on BBC 2 in May 1969 – like The High Chaparral – a high-profile series to attract viewers to the new colour service. To be honest, the only scene from Lancer that ever stuck in my memory was from the November 1972 BBC 1 repeat of The High Riders. In the opening sequence a Pinkerton agent tracks Scott Lancer (Wayne Maunder) to Boston with a summons back to the Lancer ranch in California. Maunder is dressed in a top hat and opera cloak, set against a gas lamp. And I guess the reason why it rooted in my memory was because it was the first time I comprehended that America had cities at the same time as the cowboy lifestyle – or perhaps because I realised that cowboy stories were taking place at the same time as Sherlock Holmes stories.

Tarantino goes into a lot of detail about the Lancer pilot, which was directed by Sam Wanamaker, founder of Shakespeare’s Globe and actor in films like The Criminal. That’s important because Tarantino has Wanamaker as a character trying to convince the frankly thick Rick Dalton of the Shakespearean overtones of his character. Whether this happened or not – who knows – Wanamaker was reputedly quite an unworldly director (Harry Robertson told a story about him booking a bunch of jazz musicians to record the score for his movie The File of the Golden Goose (1969) and expecting them to just improvise against the rough cut). But Tarantino’s version of The High Riders is different in many ways from the TV show – almost as if it’s an abandoned treatment for a Tarantino Lancer movie. Perplexingly, Elizabeth Baur’s adult character of Lancer’s niece Teresa, is replaced by a young daughter played by an eight year-old, professional-beyond-her-years actress who becomes Dalton’s mentor.

Despite a creepy chapter featuring a home invasion by the Manson family, the looming horror does not form a climax and is only alluded to in a throwaway paragraph. Tarantino outlines the stepping stones and ranks of Hollywood – the events with which people define themselves and the constant struggle for success. In the novel at least, Rick Dalton finally reaches a kind of satisfaction, realising that it’s better to live in the moment than to constantly berate himself over an imagined lost success. The novelisation is certainly entertaining. Does it give a true impression of the movie? I doubt it. Like all novelisations it lives best in the imagination.

Strangers and Brothers (1984)

Uncategorised Posted on Mon, July 12, 2021 17:59:46
Gareth Thomas as Mountenay expresses his misgivings about the atomic bomb to Eliot (Shaughan Seymour)

Strangers and Brothers, BBC2 1984). Produced by Philip Hinchcliffe, and adapted by Julian Bond, the 13 part adaptation of C.P. Snow’s novels (also known as ‘The Corridors of Power’) only really comes to life with the episodes based on ‘The New Men’ – a fictional account* of Britain’s wartime race to develop an atomic bomb. Shaughan Seymour (below right, with Stephen Riddle) is solidly convincing in the poisoned chalice role of repressed narrator Lewis Eliot who has to spend the entire series observing other characters getting all the best lines

*details were still covered by the Official Secrets Act, so Snow’s atom bomb project is not just fictionalised but disguises actual details such as the location of the project.

The early episodes trace Lewis Eliot (Seymour) making his slow progress from law student to University don. Eliot encounters some lively characters, a rogueish barrister played by Neil Stacy, and radical solicitor George Passant (Tom Wilkinson), But the marriage of repressed Eliot and depressive Sheila (Sheila Ruskin) runs like a flinty core through the early episodes until her heart-breaking suicide. Episode 5 adapts ‘The Masters’ which had already been a West End stage play and is entertaining in its own right (John Carson and Clifford Rose vying to be next Master of their college.)

STRANGERS AND BROTHERS only catches fire with episode 7, adapting ‘The New Men’. During World War 2, Eliot Getliffe (Paul Hastings) and Rose (Edward Hardwicke) are tasked by the Minister (Geoffrey Chater) with setting up Mr Toad – Britain’s atom bomb. Made at the height of 1980’s nuclear paranoia, director Jeremy Summers casts a bleak tension over the fictional British atomic bomb project, as scientists slowly pour heavy water into the pile.

When Project leader Luke (Paul Hastings) and idealistic scientist Sawbridge (Nigel Leach) are accidentally exposed to the plutonium, the depiction of radiation poisoning is matter-of-fact but unsettling. Through swollen lips, Luke confides to his wife Nora (Vivienne Ritchie) that no-one really knows what the consequences will be.

Unlike Sawbridge, physicist Mounteney (Gareth Thomas) has always taken a matter-of-fact approach saying he enjoyed science for its own sake without thought of the consequences. Appalled at the thought of the atom bomb he’s helped develop actually being used, he leads the project scientists in demanding that Eliot take their fears to Government. But Elliot’s dilemma is resolved by the Americans, who have developed and dropped the first atom bomb.

Major Darling (Simon Oates) suspects that the idealistic Sawbridge ( Nigel Leach) has leaked atom bomb secrets to the Russians. Darling tries to get a confession but admits he likes Sawbridge. It is Eliot’s ambitious brother Martin ( Stephen Riddle) who finally pushes Sawbridge to confess. Martin confesses to Lewis that while Lewis hides his feelings, Martin really does not care about other people. “Sometimes it’s only the cold who can be effective.”

My Brilliant Career as a Ghost Hunter

Uncategorised Posted on Tue, May 18, 2021 18:05:21

The great thing about the late 1980’s was that everything was marketable – even the afterlife.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of being a magician like Doctor Strange, using spells from ancient tomes to prise open the locks of nature. But the 1980’s revealed that the true magicians were the accountants – their ancient grimoires were ledger books, the mystic incantations were Ponzi schemes. Instead of fracturing reality with a Steve Ditko special effect, the true sleight of hand was a leveraged buyout. In days gone by it took a fraudulent medium with cheesecloth and floating tambourines to relieve the credulous of their cash. By the 1980’s, all that was needed was an investment promoter with a video presentation and slick prospectus.

But it took my pal, Mickey Cavicci to bring the two together with Para-Psych Investigations. His electroplated tongue convinced investors that there was a hungry market out there waiting to be serviced. On the hamburger level of the supernatural was the equivalent of Pay Day loan customers, willing to enter into a financial commitment to satisfy a deep-rooted need. Moving up to the smaller, but more financially rewarding core of Berni Inn customers, were those who in later years would divert their disposable income to nailbars, Botox injections or cosmetic dental work. And then there was ultimate goal of some company or educational establishment willing to squander its resources on a search for the afterlife.

Considerable thought was put into our office. We ensure our doorway was not too intimidating for the Hamburger clientele, but not too ‘common’ for the Berni Inn crowd. Ceiling to floor curtains over the window – thin enough to let the light in, but opaque enough to create an aura of mystery and confidentiality. Subdued purple mood lighting in the corners, pre-fitted strip lights overhead. Contemporary desk and chairs on hire, and a state-of-the-art Amstrad word processor providing a reassuring note of modernity to offset the gothic photographs on the wall.

The business strategy was to aim for a 40% clear-up rate for the sake of credibility. Reassure both the clearly deluded Hamburger customer and the neurotic Berni Inn client as quickly as possible, getting them out of door on a cloud of conviviality so that they could go out and spread the word about our unbiased service as quickly as possible. It was a bit like seduction ; only the customers who knew what they were letting themselves in for would be strung out into a long-term relationship.

As far as “haunted houses” went, I soon found that it paid to sub-contract to an experience builder. Every building has a life-cycle. Or as J.E. Gordon put it, “All structures will be broken or destroyed in the end – just as all people will die in the end. It is the purpose of medicine and engineering to postpone these occurrences for a decent interval.”* Far too often the inhabitants give the building the equivalent of plastic surgery but neglect the structure. The ancient reproach and laments sensed by the dwellers of haunted houses were often the result of the decaying soul of the building. A quick survey by an experienced builder would often identify the source of the discontent.
* J.E.Gordon, Structures (Penguin 1978) page 324

I’ve laid this all out in pretty cold-blooded terms. You’re probably coming up with objections and there’s probably nothing I didn’t say to myself over the three years until the bubble burst. There were, and probably still are, a lot of people who want to believe there is something on the other side of the door. How far was I helping them? How far was I exploiting them? I some ways, I was no different from a bookie, responding to a need. But then the limit of a bookie’s interaction was taking money off people over a counter – I was having to interact with them on a deeper level, trying to read what they really wanted out of our service before deciding whether to consign them to the 40% clear up quota or string them out for longer. And, I forgot to mention that Mickey employed a team of telesales girls from his other activities to field any phone enquiries and promise them the universe.

The case that really sticks in my mind is one of the first. It ended up being part of the 40% clear-up cases, but that was nothing to do with me.
Mickey was excited because It looked like it might be the big one. A chemical plant up north was having trouble in one of its new labs. People were feeling disturbed and had even started seeing things. It had been low key so far, but the management wanted to clamp down while it was still summer. They didn’t want hysteria to spread into the dark winter afternoons.

I drove over with Bronco, our tame builder, the next Saturday. It was a dull overcast day, and although there were only maintenance shifts in the plant, there was still a constant howl of processes in the background. The important thing is that no-one was working in the pre-fabricated buildings that held the haunted lab, so we could do our checks in secret. We were met by the production manager who was clearly under orders to get this problem sorted, whatever he might have thought about our competence. “One thing you can be sure of. It’s nothing to do with chemicals from the plant. The lab windows are sealed and we’ve done belt-and-braces checks for that kind of thing.” Even so ,this was the 1980’s, so the health and safety induction went as far as the instruction to run in the same direction as everyone else if an alarm went off.

As Bronco ran his checks over the main structure of the lab, I applied my limited knowledge to the office section where most of the sightings had been reported. It was stuffy because the windows had to be sealed shut, and even with the primitive air conditioning going full blast, I became aware of a sense of oppression. As if I wasn’t alone.

Towards twelve, Bronco moved into the office area and after a couple of minutes I could tell he’d found something. With a look of sly satisfaction, he looked at his watch and said he was going to drive into town and fetch some fish and chips. I knew it was pointless trying to ask him what he’d found. He preferred to let me spend a good half-hour trying to guess the answer so that his expertise would be unchallenged when he whipped the silk scarf away to reveal the rabbit. I reminded Bronco that the production manager had said we could eat free at the staff canteen, but Bronco pointed out that if we did that we wouldn’t be able to claim the expenses back.

Even so, I was feeling both chilled and sweaty and still had the sense of being observed. I certainly didn’t fancy staying in the lab on my own, so as Bronco drove off, I stopped outside the prefabricated buildings to get a bit of what passed for fresh air. As I traced the yellow lines marking the “safe pavement”, I turned the corner and spotted something incongruous. Behind the metal pipelines and beneath a cooling tower, there was a small Victorian manor house. I couldn’t help stepping over the yellow lines, onto the pitted tarmac to get a closer look. It was an old house with no sign of life. The only sound was the drone of the factory. I got the feeling I was being watched, but couldn’t see any faces in the uncurtained windows.

Suddenly, I glanced behind me. There was a worker in overalls and hard hat, his eyes fixed on me. I was embarrassed to realise I’d been caught breaking the rules, walking in the process area, but he didn’t seem too bothered. I tried to excuse my breach by babbling on about how remarkable the sight of the building was.

He laughed and explained the “big house” was used as offices. It had once been the home of the local Earl. The story went that the post war Labour government had done a compulsory purchase on the surrounding land to build the much-needed chemical plant. Although others said the Earl’s family were absentee landlords down in London by then, and had squeezed a good price out of the company for the house. But if the government had expected the chemical firm to eradicate this last trace of the aristocracy, they had mis-judged the executives who thought the “big house” would make a fine setting for their offices. It had been that way for 30 or 40 years but now the management consultants eviscerating the company had decided it was better to flatten the house and use the space to expand production facilities. So now it just stood empty, condemned, awaiting the bulldozers.

When Bronco returned, he explained his theory over pie and chips. He put his spirit level against the wall of the office space. The bubble trembled slightly. There was some kind of vibration coming from the air conditioning. It was an effect that had first been noticed in the 1970’s – infrasound (or low frequency noise as I believe we have to call it today) – too low to hear, but generating feelings of unease and hallucinations.

It was likely the fan in the air conditioning unit had been thrown off its centre of gravity. A build up of dust could do it. Of course, it was just a theory. The scientific approach would be to test it with specialised equipment. And we knew Micky would want to spin this out into an exhaustive and expensive investigation. We met the production manager in the foyer. As we walked toward the door, I spotted a framed black and white photo of the “big house” under the pipelines.

Thinking to start laying the groundwork, I nodded to the photo and said, “Most people would expect the root of the problem to be in there.” The production manager pulled open the door, “Just as well we dropped it then.”

As we stepped out onto the yellow-lined pavement, I tried to process what he’d said. We turned the corner and I saw that he was right. There was nothing ahead except the pipelines, cooling towers, and a two-tone expanse of tarmac, darker and fresher in the distance where something had once stood.

Next »