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Dead Heat On A Merry-Go-Round (1966)

Uncategorised Posted on Fri, May 07, 2021 07:22:54

The movie Dead Heat On A Merry-Go-Round haunted me for years. But it was a different kind of haunting. For a start I couldn’t remember the title. In fact, all I could recall was being disappointed by a James Coburn film I saw around 1968 on a double-bill with a Jerry Lewis comedy.

I knew I was disappointed because the film was nothing like the spy movie In Like Flint (1967), but the passing years made it more and more difficult to articulate why. Grasping at the opaque memory, it seemed that James Coburn did nothing except sit around an airport dressed like an old man (I later realised that was how my eight year old psyche interpreted Coburn’s disguise as an Australian detective). And there wasn’t even an ending – the movie just seemed to stop.

Camilla Sparv in the enigmatic final shot

Years later, I researched the double bill and realised that the film was Dead Heat On A Merry-Go-Round , which had become best known for the story Harrison Ford told about his movie debut. Ford plays a bellboy, and was later told by an executive that, “Tony Curtis delivered some groceries and you could tell he was going to be a star. Kid, you aint got it!”

Harrison Ford – You could learn a lot from a life like mine

But, a couple of weeks ago, I was reading what Christopher Wicking and Tise Vahimagi had to say about the movie and its writer-director Bernard Girard in their ground-breaking reference The American Vein (Talisman Books 1979). “That splendidly tight, austere, elliptic thriller…”

Does that praise suddenly shed light on Wicking’s head-scratching script for the movie Scream And Scream Again? Perhaps. Dead Heat On A Merry-Go-Round really is one of those movies that fares better on DVD, where you go can go back from the ending, back to the beginning and start to think maybe you understand where it was coming from.

In some ways, Dead Heat…is like a Richard Stark novel with the violence taken out. Coburn plays Eli Kotch, a recently-paroled con-man who is offered a scheme by a fellow convict to rob the bank at Los Angeles Airport. In order to buy the plan, Kotch ( who is wanted by the LA police for parole violation), crosses the country from Denver to Boston, seducing housemaids so he can steal their keys and burgle their wealthy employers.

The title Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round comes from a manuscript which Kotch shows servant Inger Knudson (Camilla Sparv) when her marries her under the guise of struggling writer Henry Silverstein. But it may well sum up Kotch’s efforts during the movie. Inger unwittingly serves the same function as Parker’s girlfriend Claire, setting up a home in LA, where he can hide while putting the final phase of the heist in place.

Putting aside Harrison Ford’s scene, the movie features some other familiar faces. Fourth-billed Nina Wayne, from Camp Runamuck (1965) plays Monroe-voiced housemaid Frieda Schmid , who meets Kotch more than half-way when it comes to seduction. Wayne would later play Charisma Beauty (“real name Gladys Weems”) in the TV movie The Night Strangler (1973).

Put a beard on this guy and you’ll recognise him

Part of the plot includes preparations by the State Department’s Milo Stewart (Robert Webber) and the LAPD to receive the plane of the Russian Premier. And Stewart’s aide, Alfred Morgan is played by Todd Armstrong . from Jason And The Argonauts (1963), sounding slightly different when not dubbed by Tim Turner.

And in the scene where conspirator Michael Strong is trying to get through passport control, the airline attendant is played by Abel Fernandez, who had been agent Youngfellow in The Untouchables (1959- 1963). Strong, plays Paul Feng, a movie bit-part player, reminiscent of the actor character Grofield in Richard Stark’s Parker novels. Feng is pleased to see that the costume he wears in the heist was last used by Jack Lemmon! Michael Strong, like most of the cast, was prolific TV guest star, immortalised in the original A&BC Star Trek bubble gum cards for his role as Dr Korby in What Are Little Girls Made Of?

Since part of my original dissatisfaction was down to the fact that this movie is nothing like In Like Flint, it’s doubly ironic that much of the movie takes place around the still-modernistic Los Angeles Airport – architecture which stood in for the futuristic enemy base in How To Steal The World ( a Man From UNCLE movie).

Remember the UNCLE stuntmen tumbling off those walls?

LA airport’s Theme Building by Langenheim, Pereira and Luckman

So is the movie, “Spendidly tight, austere, elliptic?” Certainly, watching the movie a second time, things begin to fall in place. That memory I had of Coburn ‘doing nothing’ during the robbery is physically accurate. Coburn and his sidekick Aldo Ray have set the situation and laid the trail for their escape, but it’s their associates Michael Strong and Severn Darden who actually carry out the robbery while Coburn strolls around the airport.

Severn Dardern and Michael Strong

Coburn, as Kotch is a master manipulator. At one point, still posing as an Australian detective extraditing Ray, he arranges for policeman Larry D Mann to escort them through the airport. Mann offers to carry the bag full of heist money and when he says the bag is heavy, Coburn replies, “It should be – all the bloody evidence is in there!”

Coburn, Aldo Ray and Larry D. Mann

It would have been interesting to see what William Goldman made of this movie – especially given his thoughts on the construction of heist movies in Adventures In the Screen Trade – the movie still feels like it could be tightened up in the first half. But perhaps it succeeds on its own terms. Maybe they should have billed Dead Heat On A Merry-Go-Round as The World’s First Zen Heist Movie!

The Aweful Mr Goodall

Uncategorised Posted on Tue, April 06, 2021 01:10:39

Friday 5th April 1974 saw the debut of two ITV spy series – both limited to only six episodes – which have a strange resonance on Monday 5th April 2021. ITC’s The Zoo Gang saw former WW2 resistance agents Lili Palmer, John Mills, Brian Keith and Barry Morse teaming up in modern-day France to bring miscreants to justice. And at 9pm, Robert Urquhart (test pilot Henry Forbes in The Plane Makers) starred as a DI5 troubleshooter in London Weekend Television’s The Aweful Mr Goodall.)

Produced by Richard Bates – who had once been involved with The Avengers but ominously declared in pre-publicity that he couldn’t take plots seriously and said this series was, “more about people than espionage.” 55-year old widower Jack Goodall was on the surface a retired civil servant living the quiet life in Eastbourne. A former Lieutenant-Colonel and Malaya veteran, Goodall had spent 15 years in MI5 as a spycatcher. Due to his aweinspiring talents he would be drafted in as a consultant to DI5 (Military Intelligence now repositioned as Defence Intelligence) by former colleague Millbrook (Donald Burton – who had played a Czech fixer in The Power Game episode The Outsider).

Goodall was a lover of Turner, Elgar and all things English. In the first episode, A Good English Breakfast by Roger Marshall, he is introduced to hotelier Alex Winfield (Isabel Dean) who can provide him with the cherished meal of the title. With that need satisfied, his next challenge is to track down the son of a former colleague, who has gone AWOL from the army. Goodall finally corners the absent officer on a ferry to Sweden, where he orders him to stand to attention before lecturing him on his responsibilities. Goodall offers him the choice of returning voluntarily, rather than being escorted back to camp under close arrest. Elizabeth Allen, who reviewed the episode for The Stage observed that, “the pace is gentle, if at times almost sleepy…no-one is bruised or battered, either physically or mentally.”

The series explored Jack Goodall’s straightforward patriotism in A Day to Remember by Roy Russell. With only three characters, the episode saw Jack taking Alex to lunch at the estate of an old army friend James Connelly (David Waller). Alex is appalled by Connelly’s fascist views and her open dislike of Goodall’s friend tested their relationship. Isabel Dean made the series at the same time as playing the British Ambassador’s wife in the film Ransom . She flew back from Oslo to record her final scenes with Robert Urquhart among the war graves in Normandy. “We found it utterly depressing. Thousands and thousands of graves, and beyond them the sea, “ she told the TV Times, “We didn’t have to act: those graves said it all.”

Mr Goodall used his “sixth-sense” in a variety of cases. Jacqueline Pearce appeared as Madame Prigent, in Clara involved with the murder of a British agent over in France (ironically, she would appear in The Zoo Gang, the following week although at least she actually got to film in France for the ITC series). In The Good Samaritan Goodall tackles a passport smuggling racket. Indiscretion finds high ranking civil servant Peter Jeffrey hospitalised having attempted to commit suicide and refusing to say why.

Despite scripts from the calibre of Roger Marshall and Trevor Preston, The Aweful Mr Goodall never seemed to take off. Screened opposite Fall of Eagles the costume drama about the Habsburg’s on BBC1 and World Cinema on BBC2, ratings for the first couple of weeks saw it placed at number nine, doing particularly well in Scotland, Lancashire and the North East. But by the 18th of May it had sunk to number 14. The Coventry Evening Telegraph admitted that the series had, “attracted a fair share of devotees but never developed into compulsive viewing.” However, Alan Browning in the Liverpool Echo wrote that, “Mr Goodall seemed quite a promising character on paper, but hasn’t lived up to expectations on the screen. He’s turned into a typical civil service bore.”

Richard Bates had been involved with the ill-fated attempt by LWT to bring Tinker,Tailor,Soldier,Spy to television and it’s tempting to speculate whether this series was born out of a desire to prove that LWT’s approach was right. If so, the answer would seem to be no. With only six episodes and no compulsive following, Mr Goodall seems to have drifted back into the obscurity he desired. Update 7 April: Thanks to Joseph Oldham for pointing out that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was published June 1974, therefore Jack Goodall preceded, rather than followed LWT’s attempt to televise Smiley.

That Old Black Magic

Uncategorised Posted on Sun, April 04, 2021 18:44:39

That Old Black Magic (2018) by Cathi Unsworth. This is not going to be a long review. I was completely beguiled by this book. I got into it very easily and had to ration the chapters after I got half way through because I didn’t want it to end too soon.

It’s set in 1940’s Britain and follows Detective Sergeant Ross Spooner as he hunts a German agent in wartime Birmingham. At the heart of the story is the mystery of a murdered woman whose remains were found inside an old wych elm tree in 1943. Although she was never identified, mysterious graffitti began to appear a year later asking, “Who put Bella in the wych elm?” Spooner also encounters Helen Duncan, a real-life medium and the last person to be tried for witchcraft in Britain after she revealed the secret news of the sinking of HMS Barham at a seance.

This isn’t one of those Harry Potter of Scotland Yard thrillers that are popular now. It’s solidly grounded in the real world, with a lurking question of whether the supernatural really exists. MI5 gives Spooner a cover as a theatrical agent and this gives him an excuse to roam the pubs and theatres of blackout Britain. Cathi Unsworth conjures a convincing sense of time and place. It wasn’t until page 293 that I came across something I questioned as anachronistic. I actually wrote it down because it made me realise how completely I’d been taken in until that point.*

Unsworth says in the acknowledgements that she felt Dennis Wheatley had been an “avuncular spirit guide” – a comment that brought me up sharp because a couple of times, I had thought That Old Black Magic was like a Dennis Wheatley thriller without the patrician lectures. That does create a dilemma. The question everybody asks about crime thrillers is, “are there any plans to turn it into a movie?” But really, it would take Terence Fisher and the Hammer Films of The Devil Rides Out (1968) to do That Old Black Magic justice.

*It was the use of the term “gig”, which research now tells me was first documented in Melody Maker in 1926 and therefore could have been used in the 1940’s. It was the curse of 21st Century neoliberalism that threw me. But it also indicates how convincing the book is in general .

That Old Black Magic by Cathi Unsworth. Serpent’s Tail/Profile Books £12.99 ISBN 978 1 78125 727 2

Thunderbirds: Canal Zone Catastrophe

Uncategorised Posted on Sat, March 27, 2021 17:15:32

The accidental blocking of the Suez Canal in March 2021 by the Evergreen container ship Ever Given has stirred memories of the Thunderbirds strip by Alan Fennell and Frank Bellamy which was first published in July 1967 in TV Century 21. In the comic strip it was a new Nicaraguan Canal which was blocked by the atomic liner President.

The comic strip opened on the centre spread of issue 130 with a stunning splash panel of the atomic ship President leaving New York on its maiden voyage on 15 July 2067 . Frank Bellamy underlined the scale of the vessel showing a jet plane streaking beneath the prow of the liner. As the President sets sail for Australia, Scott and Jeff Tracy fly overhead in Thunderbird 1. Keeping high to avoid air corridors and recognition, Scott suggests they take a look at , “The new canal…another piece of engineering genius.” Jeff agrees: “The old Panama would never have been big enough to take ships as large as the President.”

The continuity informs us that, “past troubles in the Panama Zone forced the World Government to order the building of a new canal across friendly Nicaragua….three times the size of the Panama…and less trouble to control and navigate.”

In the real world, the U.S. control of the zone around the Panama canal had been challenged by nationalists, culminating in fatal riots in January 1964. Control of the zone would not be ceded to Panama until 1977, and it was only in 2014 that construction of a Nicaraguan canal was approved!

Frank Bellamy’s opening spread

As Thunderbird 1 flies over Nicaraguan towns and villages, Jeff comments: “Not thirty miles from here, millions of dollars have been spent on a new seaway, yet those hovels haven’t been touched in one and a half centuries! ” The timescale invokes Nicaragua’s Somoza dynasty, dating back to 1937 with the third member becoming President on 1st May 1967.

In a village below, three Nicaraguan’s gather: “While the government grows fat from the dollars paid by the ships on the canal, we starve in misery.” They agree it is time to make a big noise and in the final panel, the leader Juan delares, “I have it! The new ship. The President! We will blow her up.!”

In the second installment, Juan gathers supporters in his bid, “to tell the world of our poverty and the way our government is turning its back on us!” One of the villagers objects that destroy the big ship is wrong, but another responds, “Is it not also wrong for people to live in squalor like we do? Have we not tried everything else?” Gathering explosives experts and former construction workers, “Juan does not include bloodshed in his plans.” He tells them, “We will stop the President by blocking the canal. All the passengers and crew will be ordered to leave…then we will blow up the ship.”

But unknown to Juan, his plans are about to be disrupted by Casta and Golan, very much in the XL5 and Stingray vein of villainous duo’s. Fearing the troops will kill them, Casta argues, “We must form an army to protect ourselves.” Golan says he knows men “who think as we do.”Casta is engineer of a small tanker which rams the President. As the liner begins to take on water, it drifts blocking the canal. Juan gives orders for the ship to be abandoned but now, Casta and Golan threaten to shoot any passengers or crew who leave the ship.

With the President damming the canal, flood waters spread, threatening rural villages. The captain of the liner radios the World Maritime Agency saying his passengers and crew are under threat from armed men. The Nicaraguan government prepares to send in troops to put down the revolt. Jeff Tracy intervenes: “this calls for diplomacy, not guns” and International Rescue is given 24 hours to resolve the situation. “If you have not succeeded by then, the rebels will be put down!” In Thunderbird 1 Scott begins to rescue villagers as their homes are engulfed.

While Thunderbird 2 uses mechanical grabs to repair the breach in the canal, Thunderbird 4 examines the damage to the President. But then the liner keels over, trapping Gordon and Thunderbird 4. Juan dives into the water to help free Gordon while Thunderbird 1 and Thunderbird 2 attach cables to the liner and pull it upright.

Seeing Juan’s example, the rebels agree that co-operation is the best policy. Casta and Golan realise that, “this rabble will no longer hear us,” and make their way to the massing army where they tell the General that, “the rebels have been joined by foreigners in heavily armed aircraft.”

The army opens fire on Thunderbird 2 and the rebels. Scott blinds the army with a smokescreen from Thunderbird 1 while Gordon and Juan race across the firestorm to convince the officers that they’ve been misled by Casta and Golan. As the President resumes its voyage, Jeff tells Gordon that, “Juan and his men have been pardoned by the Government. The shattered villages will be rebuilt – and not as slums this time.”

The President storyline is one of the most ambitious of the Thunderbirds comic strips in TV Century 21. The contrast between the engineering marvels of the 21st Century and the poverty of the Nicaraguan region is dramatically rendered by Bellamy. The trigger for the action is unique – I can’t think of another story that directly referred to the real world this way. The undermining of Juan’s relatively peaceful plan by Casta and Golan is also quite bold. In some ways the two viewpoints are reminiscent of the peaceful Aphony and aggressive Titan in Marina, Girl of the Sea but again much more realistic.

The storyline ran from issue 130 to 136 of TV Century 21, and was reprinted in March/April 1992 in issues 11 to 13 of Thunderbirds The Comic. If you want to read the strips it’s probably easiest to get hold of the 1990’s Fleetway comics although you should bear in mind that the litho printing reproduces the art in a smaller size. To see Frank Bellamy’s art at its best (even yellowed by age) you really need to try and get hold of the original tabloid photogravure comics. However, issue 13 of the Fleetway comic does have the bonus of a cover by Graham Bleathman depicting the Thunderbird ships trying to right the President and an original centrespread cutaway by Graham Bleathman, based on Frank Bellamy’s design but showing all original interiors.

The Sheffield Gang Wars

Uncategorised Posted on Tue, March 23, 2021 15:00:27

During the 1961 movie The Frightened City, there’s a moment when detective John Gregson’s sergeant (Frederick Piper) muses that they’re never going to find anyone willing to testify against the protection rackets. What they need is a strong man to break up the gangs, “like Percy Sillitoe.”

Sir Percy Sillitoe had retired as head of MI5 nine years earlier, but his memoir Cloak Without Dagger had been published in 1955, consolidating his reputation as the man who broke up the razor gangs of Glasgow and the street gangs of Sheffield. But J. P. Bean’s The Sheffield Gang Wars makes it clear that life is not as straightforward as a newspaper headline.

First published in 1981 by D&D Books, The Sheffield Gang Wars was reprinted every other year up to 2009 (when I bought my copy) and stayed in print for at least 30 years. J. P. Bean told the Yorkshire Post in August 2011 that growing up in working class Sheffield, he’d heard tall tales about the 1920’s gangs from his grandfather, a racecourse bookie, and decided to research the facts.

At the root of the 1920’s gang wars was illegal gambling based on Pitch and Toss – one of the simplest forms of gambling – which took place on four sites in Sheffield including Sky Edge, “an elevated expanse of wasteland high above the city,” near the site of the present-day Park Hill apartments. Luckily, Val Guest recreated the Pitch and Toss rings in his 1960 movie Hell Is A City which helps us get an idea of a simple pastime could inflame passions.

As Bean explains, “Three coins (the film shows only two) are placed on the ends of the first two fingers and tossed, spinning, into the air. Bets are made on the proportion of heads to tails – or vice versa – as they fall to the ground.”

The rings were run by a toller, who collected a toll on each bet made. Out of this he paid the ponter who kept order and the crows or pikers who kept watch for police. “Sky Edge…its ideal position and strategically placed pikers making it virtually immune against police raids- meant that the Skyring, as it was known, attracted big money gamblers from miles around.”

It was a dispute over control of the ring which triggered the bloody gang wars. The Mooney Gang under George Mooney had inherited the ring from a local bookmaker, but Sam Garvin, leader of the local Park Brigade believed that as it was in their territory the profits should be theirs. Razors, bricks and broken bottles were some of the implements used, although there was always room for improvisation with a child’s scooter being used as a blunt instrument in one fatal encounter.

Quite apart from the struggle for control of gambling, there was a general increase in lawlessness. Gangs demanding free drinks from publicans, general muggings, and youths (teenagers hadn’t been invented yet) “influenced by, and attempting to emulate the behaviour of the Mooney Gang and the Park Brigade.”

The Chief Constable of Sheffield, Lt.Col John Hall-Dalwood warned that his force was becoming unable to fulfil its main purpose of crime prevention due to the increasing additional duties being imposed on the police. Even if they could get criminals to court, magistrates were granting bail too readily and convicting less often. “You have to produce more evidence for prosecution in a Sheffield court to get a conviction than in any other town in the country.”

In the end, it was the murder of a Glaswegian ex-soldier called William Plommer which was the turning point. Plommer had intervened in a fist-fight between two opposing gang members to see fair play. The loser had threatened, “You’ll get a tanning for this, Jock,” and the following evening had appeared with five associates outside Plommer’s house. Plommer offered to fight them one-by-one, but after he took the first out with one punch, the others piled in with a variety of implements including a bayonet which in all probability struck the fatal blow. Two brothers were hanged at Armley Prison for the murder, but the publicity also brought about the end of the Sheffield gangs.

Word had come down from the Home Office that Sheffield had to be brought under control and on May 1st 1925, Hall-Darwood formed a Special Duties Squad. Led by ex-Guardsman, Detective Sergeant William Robinson, the “Flying Squad” was made up of three constables, all transferred to plain clothes. Their method was targeted disruption. “Not waiting to quell trouble when it occurred, they combed the city looking for it…The razors and life preservers much favoured by the gangs were countered by fists, boots and regulation truncheons...Unconstitutional such methods may have been, but…the Flying Squad had been created because normal methods of suppressing prevalent lawlessness had failed.”

Despite the success of the Special Duties Squad, Chief Constable Hall-Dalwood was irked by what he saw as ineffective magistrates and lack of support from the watch committee (predecessors of today’s Crime Commissioners). Bean asserts that Sheffield City Council was controlled by a coalition of Liberals and Conservatives “becoming increasingly concerned at the upsurge of support for the Labour Party.” Labour meetings were disrupted by thugs alleged to be part of the Park Brigade. When a new Corporation housing estate at Walkley was opened (“to those living in the slums, a Corporation house with bathroom, inside toilet and garden was almost beyond the realms of imagination..”) Sam Garvin, leader of the Park Brigade, was one of the first to move in.

In January 1926, Hall-Dalwood resigned on health grounds, and in May 1926, Captain Percy Sillitoe became the new Chief Constable of Sheffield. Sillitoe beefed up the Flying Squad, and appeared at court hearings to plead with the magistrates to take a hard line. “There has been a series of outbreaks of hooliganism in this district and I feel the police must be protected. The only way is by exemplary sentences so that other people cannot think they can do this kind of thing.”

Is it the case that Sillitoe was the better manager, willing to fight for the resources he needed while Hall-Dalwood could only complain about being undermined by, “an insidious influence from outside”? Or had Hall-Dalwood already been worn down by twelve years of conflict with the Watch Committee? Bean looks at both sides of the argument although unfortunately much of the evidence was already lost.

Within twelve months of Sillitoe’s appointment, the gangs had disappeared, although Bean notes that when Sillitoe arrived they were already fragmented and lacking leadership due to the war of attrition initiated by Hall-Dalwood. The issues surrounding the Sheffield Gang Wars have their parallels today. As Bean notes, the gangs did not carry out their activities in middle class areas. An undermanned police force and lack of political will to tackle the problems resulted in a reign of terror for the law-abiding poor. When the murder of William Plommer resulted in national headlines, the Home Office sanctioned an immediate (if unconstitutional) solution.

The Sheffield Gang Wars by J.P. Bean. 135 pages. D&D Publications. 1981

Ultraviolet (1998)

Uncategorised Posted on Thu, March 11, 2021 09:01:23
“Our Free Range days are over…”

Proving you can never underestimate the ability of the British entertainment industry to shoot itself in the foot, the 1998 TV series Ultraviolet looks even better today than it did in its original 6 episode run on Channel Four. Written and directed by Joe Ahearn (later to direct Dr Who and adapt James Herbert’s The Siege of Crickley Hall) the series about a secret Vatican-funded agency hunting down highly-organised vampires, rarely puts a foot wrong and is lent an extra veneer of prescience when viewed in Lockdown Britain .

Susannah Harker

The opening episode Habeas Corpus (15 September 1998) kicks off like a stylishly night-shot episode of The Professionals .Detective Sergeant Michael Colefield (Jack Davenport) drops his drunken partner Jack Beresford (Stephen Moyer) home on the eve of his wedding and then agrees to meet an informant at a late-night amusement arcade. The informant is shot, and Jack pursues the killer into the underground but walks past him when the killer pauses at the corner of a tunnel and shows no reflection in the safety mirror at the entrance.

Jack fails to show for his wedding and two internal investigators from CIB2, March and Rice (Susanna Harker and Idris Elba) question Michael about Jack’s disappearance. Jack contacts Michael and begs him to keep quiet, saying the CIB officers are part of a death squad. Michael initially believes Jack when he sees Rice lead a machine gun attack on the man who killed his informant. In a remarkably assured first hour, Jack Davenport convincingly moves from incredulity to belief as he learns from Father Pearse Harman (Philip Quast) that March and Rice are part of a Vatican-financed group hunting vampires. Immortal and well-organised, the Code Fives (Code V’s) or Leeches are working behind the scenes to control society. The future of our descendants is in battery farms, Pearse tells him, “Our Free Range days are over.”

The Undead Store

Even though the Code Fives can be atomised by guns firing wooden bullets, they are capable of regeneration, and their ashes have to be stored in a high-tech prison. March, a doctor specialising in blood diseases, tells Michael that the Jury’s still out on crucifixes and holy water. “A bit like Homeopathy – A matter of faith on both sides…they can be superstitious too.” Although the Leeches burst into flame when touched by sunlight, the more audacious ones are able to drive around in daylight if their cars have UV tinted windows. While they can’t use mobile phones (for the same reason they’re not captured on CCTV) they can communicate with digital voice communication systems. And they also have plenty of human collaborators. “They have a way of finding out what you want…The mid-30’s are the prime recruiting ground. It’s when we start to realise it’s all going to end.”

Rice, a former soldier who survived a vampire attack during Desert Storm, tells Michael that, “They’re obsessed with virus’, diseases, anything that messes up their food supply.” The Code Fives carry out medical research into Sickle Cell Anaemia, Cancer, but their motives aren’t benevolent. As Pearce reminds Michael – “When we first identified BSE we didn’t look for a cure – we just culled the threat to the food chain”.

Viewed from the perspective of COVID 2021 and initial arguments over “Herd Immunity”, Ultraviolet has a renewed irony. The show portrays a secret, hyper-efficient alliance between the Church and State but anyone with concerns about civil liberties can be assured it couldn’t happen here. Certainly the less-than-efficient Track-and-Trace alliance between the State and Serco would seem to support that.

Each episode of Ultraviolet is fast-moving and engaging. It was written at a time when actors were still given dialogue that progressed ideas and emotions rather than smart-arse one-liners. But if I had to single out one moment of sustained suspense, it would have to be the fifth episode Terra Incognita . It is an episode that builds, in an intelligent way, on Bram Stoker’s Dracula – specifically the sequence where Jonathan Harker tracks the audit trail of coffins which Dracula has imported into England. But a moment of vivid originality comes when Vaughn Rice is whacked on the head, and wakes up to find himself trapped in a warehouse with four of the coffins he’s been searching for.

Electronic Timers countdown the minutes until the coffins will automatically open. Rice still has his mobile phone, but that only tells him that help will be too late. He still has his gun – but it only has one wooden bullet. Ahearne ramps up the tension with cross-cutting as Rice phones March to make a last phone call and then hangs up with nothing to say. What would you do? What WOULD you do?

In a just world, there would have been more than one series of ULTRAVIOLET. But no, this is England, after all.

The Puritan Princess

Uncategorised Posted on Mon, March 01, 2021 07:17:57

I would guess most of us have an imprecise image of Oliver Cromwell – We might think of the Airfix construction kit perhaps (discontinued 1980), the cinematic portrayals by Richard Harris or Tim Roth, or of course Patrick Wymark’s cameo in Witchfinder General (it’s ironic that, although Wymark played Cromwell three times, only the briefest performance survives).

Patrick Wymark as Cromwell in Royalist and Roundhead

Some may think of Oliver Cromwell, not as a man, but a mood; A stern and disapproving cloud that hung over Britain until the monarchy was restored. It’s probable that few of us think of Cromwell as a husband and father. And although we know that he ruled Britain as Lord Protector, how many of us know what that really meant?

The Puritan Princess by Miranda Malins is written in the voice of Frances, Cromwell’s youngest daughter. This gives us an insight we know is going to be biased, but at the same time very different from the standard ‘objective’ portrait. Although Cromwell refused Parliament’s offer to make him King, his family find that his position as Lord Protector means they are treated as if they are a kind of royalty, They divide their time between Whitehall during the week and Hampton Court at weekends. People curtsey, servants open doors and call them ‘highness.’ We know this will be a brief taste of elegance – the book opens with a framing sequence, based on the vindictive exhumecution in 1661 of the enbalmed Cromwell by the returning Monarchy. So we don’t begrudge the Cromwell’s their tapestried chambers. In any event their lives are touched by peril from the opening chapters, with attempts to assassinate Cromwell a vivid threat.

It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t an adventure novel. There’s a threat of violence, but not much skirmishing. At the same time, this isn’t a Dr Who-style retro-wish-fulfilment with a 21st Century sensibility imposed a 17th Century character. As Miranda Malins notes in her afterword, “the upheaval of the Civil Wars had given women new opportunities to show strength, and Cromwell’s daughters were widely admired for their staunch characters.” Frances becomes a witness to the life of the Protectorate, reporting the arguments in favour of making Cromwell a king ( the people understand and trust what a king is, whereas, “they don’t understand the role of Lord Protector, they don’t trust it, don’t know where they stand.”) and Cromwell’s reasons for refusing. She also provides a daughter’s view of the feared leader, watching him laughing and carry out drunken practical jokes at a party, and recalling the “ruddy, rustic father..” of her childhood as he works late into the night at a paper-strewn table.

But while we’re given an insight into the court of Cromwell, this is definitely Frances’ story. The early part of the story concerns the various suitors for the ‘puritan princess’ and Frances’ identification of her ‘preferred bidder’. One of the most striking pieces of ‘what if’ comes with the bid by Parliament for Frances to marry Charles Stuart, exiled son of the executed King. With Stuart desperate to regain his throne, the suggestion is that, “your father and Parliament could set him any terms, any limitations they wished. Terms which his father was too stubborn to accept.” What a concept. Charles Stuart married to Cromwell’s daughter. A peaceful transition. How different would the history of Britain have been, if Cromwell had agreed to the match?

As I’ve admitted that I know little about Cromwell, it would be wrong for me to say how accurate The Puritan Princess is. Certainly, it is convincing. There’s never a point where the dialogue seems anachronistic and the passages dealing with death and mourning do remind us that these were people who thought very differently from us. At the same time, the view of Cromwell trying to hold the republic together in the face of self-interest from both Parliament and the Army makes it seem contemporary (perhaps not for the United Kingdom, but certainly many other 21st Century states). In the final chapter, Miranda Malins takes us into the realm of myth and speculation, but it does provide a satisfying climax to a compelling novel.

The Puritan Princess by Miranda Malins. Orion Books £8.99 ISBN 978 1 4091 9481 1

Ted Lewis rarities – The Rabbit and All The Way Home…

Uncategorised Posted on Mon, February 01, 2021 18:46:54

The Rabbit and All the Way Home and All the Night Through are two of the earliest novels by Ted Lewis, author of Get Carter. Long out of print, the two novels are now available in new editions from The Ted Lewis Centre, set up in his home town of Barton-upon-Humber.

While neither are crime stories, the sharply autobiographical novels give an insight into the character of Lewis and a foretaste of the world to which Jack Carter would return.

First published in 1975, The Rabbit is one of Lewis’ later novels, but takes place in the 1950’s and draws upon Lewis’ experiences as a student working through the Summer holidays for the quarry managed by his father. Set in a small backwater village that will always be behind-the-times, The Rabbit has an authentic timelessness – only the sexual explicitness of one particular sequence clues you in to the fact that this was written in the 1970’s, rather than the early 1960’s. Otherwise the atmosphere is more Stan Barstow than Raymond Chandler, as Lewis’ alter ego Victor Graves tries to win the acceptance of bullying workmate Clacker Harris.

All The Way Home and All Night Through is Ted Lewis’ first novel. Published by Hutchinson in 1965, it recreates Lewis’ life as a student at Hull Art College. We’re lucky now to have Nick Triplow’s Getting Carter which allows us to see just how closely Lewis exploited his early experiences. That’s probably what’s so remarkable about the book. Lewis makes no attempt to portray the central character of Victor Graves in a good light. He is both exploitative and self-destructive, intent on seducing and discarding female students at the art college, but also intensely jealous of their new relationships. Like Lewis, Victor seems to be something of a ‘golden boy’ at college, but the sheen wears off when he tries to find a job, and he endures living back with his parents, being ‘subbed’ by his father.

A Black and Tan

All the Way Home and All the Night Through certainly presents a fascinating picture of a late 1950’s way of life that is – in some ways different and in others not so. The sexual excess is a bit of a surprise – the head librarian of Hull University told us that sex only started in 1963, after all. But the drinking possibly not. Victor is constantly drinking Black and Tans in the novel, which I’d never heard of, but it turns out to be a quarter of stout poured on top of three quarters of light ale (above). Could there be a more noir drink than that?

The Rabbit and All the Way Home and All the Night Through can be ordered from the online shop of The Ted Lewis Centre at this link

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