Archive for the ‘TV & Films’ Category

And so this was Christmas…
December 29, 2010

And so this was Christmas …

The festive season began with a blanket of snow and the mercury dipping as low as -12˚C over the Christmas weekend. There had been concerns that the weather might cause problems for those travelling to the Shire but thankfully not so.

During the last two days the Wintersmith has released his icy grip and overnight rain has all but erased the Christmas card backdrop against which the Yuletide festivities have been acted out.  

December 2010 may turn out to be the coldest since records began but comparisons with the long hard winters of ’46-’47 and ’62-’63 may have been a trifle premature – all will be revealed over the next few weeks.   

As always, I was pleased to find that Santa had left me a couple of books beneath the Christmas tree:

The Shadow of the Sun, by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, has been hailed the greatest modern work on Africa and a dazzling literary masterpiece. It contains the correspondent’s work covering a forty-year period, following his first visit to the Dark Continent in 1957, and was first published in English in 2001.

I have already dipped into it. The author has the easy style of an accomplished story-teller coupled with a reporter’s eye for detail.  His evocative writing will resonate with anybody who has spent time in Africa.            

For obvious reasons I was immediately drawn to the piece entitled A Lecture on Rwanda. In seventeen pages Kapuscinski manages to distil the historical complexities of the Rwandan crisis, leading up to and including the genocide, in an account that provides greater clarity than any I have previously read.     

Duncan Hamilton was a Nottingham sports journalist. Last Christmas I received his first book, Provided You Don’t Kiss Me: 20 Years with Brian Clough, an honest, sensitive and extremely personal biography of the great man.

This year I was delighted to get a copy of Hamilton’s authorised biography of another Nottinghamshire legend, and the world’s fastest bowler, Harold Larwood.

I’m already well into it and the author clearly deserved to pick up the 2009 William Hill Sports Book of the Year  award for his moving portrayal of the Nottinghamshire miner who later became synonymous with the controversial Bodyline bowling tactics used by England to nullify Donald Bradman and his Australian team mates in the 1932-3 Ashes series.  

England won the series 4-1 amidst a huge diplomatic row that threatened Anglo-Australian relations. Larwood, a working class national hero who had merely bowled in line with captain Douglas Jardine’s orders, was made the scapegoat. When requested,  by the MCC, to apologise he refused effectively bringing his international career to an end.

Ironically, Larwood later emigrated to Australia where he was welcomed, respected and held in high esteem for the rest of his days.         

I didn’t watch a great deal of TV over the holiday period but couldn’t miss the annual Christmas Day helping from the Royle Family. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with Christmas Specials, material that would have made a good thirty minute show was over stretched to fill an hour slot, compromising its overall quality.

Along with 10 million viewers nationwide, I also tuned in to the latest offering from Mat Lucas and David Walliams, Come Fly With Me. I found this spoof documentary, set in an airport, mildly amusing but probably less so than the antics portrayed in the Airport series about actual day-to-day life at Heathrow.

Lucas and Walliams have been criticised in the media for their use of racial stereotypes. The blacked up faces and accents were certainly a throw back to 1970’s comic offerings such as It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Mind Your Language.  However I didn’t consider the humour racist, simply a little dated, and I certainly don’t think it warrants a six part series.   

Another Christmas TV highlight had to be the business minister, Vince Cable, temporarily putting his and the coalition government’s problems to one side for a moment, and taking time out to show some nifty footwork dancing a lively Foxtrot with  the lovely Erin Boag, in the Christmas celebrity edition of Strictly Come Dancing.  Well you have to get your priorities right!    

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I crawled out of bed on Boxing Day morning to catch the latter stages of the first day’s play in the 4th Ashes Test in Melbourne.  Australia had been dismissed for a meagre 98 and England were already fifty or so ahead, without loss, in their first innings.

I had been expecting a buoyant Australia, after their recent victory in Perth, to push England really hard for the rest of the series but they have fallen apart. England are now so firmly in the ascendancy again, barring an act of God, they should wrap up a four-day innings victory, and retain the Ashes, some time in the early hours of  tomorrow.   

Jonathon Trott seems to love playing the old enemy, having followed up his match winning century, on debut, at the Oval in 2009 with two more in this series. But, at the highest level, there are fine margins between success and failure.

Trott threw himself full length to avoid being run out, by Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting, when he had scored only 46 of his eventual 168 not out. Another wicket at that stage might have brought Australia right back into the game.

‘Punter’ of course, is having a nightmare series with the bat and is about to become the first ever Aussie captain to lead his side to three Ashes series defeats.

He has been a great player and competitor throughout his career and his current frustration is understandable but his behaviour towards the on field umpires, following an unsuccessful referral, was totally out of order. He was extremely lucky not to receive a ban from the next Test, in Sydney. But then again it’s quite likely to be his final game in the Baggy Green!

Finally, I would like to announce the arrival, at Orchard House, of Christmas Monkey.  He emerged from a seasonal package of PG tea bags  on Christmas morning  and we are now a two monkey family. 

A Monkey is not just for Christmas!

50 years of ‘the Street’
December 14, 2010

Coronation Street has always been my preferred soap. I even remember, as a seven-year old, watching the very first black and white episode!

It caught the public imagination from the outset. The iconic hair netted dragon Ena Sharples, sipping milk stout and trading gossip with Minnie Caldwell and Martha Longhurst in the Rovers’ snug, and the brassy Elsie Tanner with whom Ena enjoyed many a stand off on the cobbles, soon became the talk of the school playground.

I’ve maintained an interest in Corrie, on and off, ever since but admit to having become a lapsed devotee over the last three years or so.

The main reason being that I thought it had started to take itself too seriously, trying to emulate the depressing storylines and grittiness of its London-based rival Eastenders rather than playing to its own strengths, low-key humour delivered with a sharp northern wit.    

On my return from Rwanda I walked straight back into the 50th year celebrations with all the attendant hype and found myself tuning in to watch this TV landmark unfold.

To be honest I was disappointed to find that Corrie had resorted to the Emmerdale school of script writing, a tragic disaster visited on the whole community resulting in the deaths of a few characters who have out grown their usefulness.

Despite that, there can be no argument that the explosion and subsequent tram crash were very convincingly staged. The tempo of proceedings leading up to the inevitable mayhem was impressive and, as someone who has not watched the show for three years, I have to take my hat off to the script writers because I was able to pick up on all the storylines within a single episode!           

Hopefully as the dust settles and the residents slowly come to terms with events the Street will return to relative normality and hopefully a few more of those light comedy moments that set it apart from all other contenders.

What ever way you look at it 50 years for a TV soap is an amazing achievement.

I’m not sure whether it has done enough to hook me back in. Only time will tell.  Now maybe if the tram had taken out Sally and Gail…

Pulp Fiction …… & non fiction!
December 2, 2010

Yesterday afternoon I made my final bus journey to Kibungo, forty minutes up the road, to say goodbye to Cathy and Louise, two young education volunteers who have become good friends during my time out here.

I actually first got to work with Cathy during the VSO pre departure training in Harborne Hall, back in July, so it was nice meet up again in Rwanda.

They seem to really enjoy cooking together as part of their daily routine and are very good at improvising dishes using the fresh produce readily available at Kibungo market. Last night they knocked up very tasty pasta with pesto and peppers dish accompanied with home-made garlic bread.

We even had the luxury of a bottle of cheap red Spanish plonk I had sourced from Simba at the weekend, actually the first drop of wine I’ve had in three months!    

Louise has a huge collection of movies stored on her portable hard drive so after the meal, following a bit of deliberation, we settled down around her laptop to watch Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

It probably wasn’t a good choice given that Louise went ashen at the sight of a syringe and Cathy is pretty squeamish about bloodshed and violence, so between them they spent at least half the movie with their eyes averted!   

Talking of pulp fiction there has been plenty of opportunity for evening time reading, often by torch or candle light, in between power cuts!  I managed to cram four books into my luggage allowance and with a bit of self-discipline managed to eek them out until about a week ago.

I enjoyed them all: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – the final page turner in Stieg Larrson’s Millennium Trilogy,   the latest humorous diaries of Sue Townsend’s, now middle-aged,  Adrian Mole  – The Prostrate Years, a Jo Nesbo thriller – Redbreast, featuring Norwegian cop Harry Hole, and A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks with its cleverly interwoven and satirical storyline, set in contemporary London, having been  described as Dickensian in scope and style.  

With a lengthy return flight and six hours or so to kill in Addis Ababa on Saturday night I went in search of reading material while in Kigali last weekend. I wasn’t spoiled for choice but came up with a copy of William Boyd’s  A Good Man in Africa.

I’ve read a number of his books and remember listening to the author at a Cheltenham Literature Festival event some years ago, coming away with a signed copy of his latest novel at that time, the epic Any Human Heart . I saw recently in the online Guardian that a C4 adaptation, with the screenplay written by the author himself, is currently being screened back home.  

A Good Man  in Africa was Boyd’s debut novel, from way back in 1981, and it won him the Whitbread First Novel Award while he was still an English lecturer at Oxford.

I haven’t been able to resist dipping into it and have enjoyed what I’ve  limited myself to so far. It is set in the fictitious western Africa state of Kinjana  and its descriptive passages appear to draw heavily on the author’s early life out in Ghana and Nigeria.

They really struck a chord with me and in many ways encapsulate my own experiences of rural African life here in Rwanda’s Eastern Province.  

The humorous narrative surrounds the hapless Morgan Leafy, a member of the British High Commission, over weight, over sexed and seemingly over his head in political bribery. I look forward to seeing how it pans out.

Finally, on the non fiction front, I noticed Cathy and Louise have a copy of Long Way Down , the book of the TV travelogue featuring Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s motor bike journey to the southernmost point of Africa.  I managed to read the chapter on Rwanda, an episode I had missed on TV.  

It includes their mountain  gorilla trek in the Virungas, coffee at the Bourbon Cafe in Kigali and a meeting with Paul Kagame in his country residence above Lake Muhazi – all locations that I have mentioned in my postings! It’s well worth a read.

‘High Noon’ at Nyakarambi & Glaws gun down Tigers in Kingsholm showdown!
October 31, 2010

Weekends are the quietest part of the week in Nyakarambi. On Saturday a number of businesses are closed because the owners are Seventh Day Adventists and similarly a lot are also closed on Sunday due to the call of church.  

This Saturday, being the final one of the month, was umuganda so it was even quieter than normal and I had to wait until 12.30 for the first Kigali bound bus of the day.

As I hauled my suitcase up the main street it did occur to me, not for the first time, how similar Nyakarambi is to those out posts of the old wild-west depicted in Hollywood movies.

As the midday sun bore down I had a sudden flash back to the Gary Cooper character in the classic western High Noon (which really shows my age!).

Shop fronts line the main street with their covered walkways, the Auberge Ikirezi does a good impression of a saloon bar, with its fair share of all day drinkers, while the moto drivers coral their machines in the shade of a tree at the edge of the town or cruise around, like latter-day cowboys. There are even, off stage sound effects, with the occasional long-horned steer lowing in the background.

In fact all that was missing, as I waited for the International ‘stage coach’ to pull in, was a piece of tumbleweed cart-wheeling along the road!

Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, it was a tight squeeze on the bus. My suitcase caused a bit of a problem and had to be wedged under a seat whilst I was show horned between a guy snoozing in a window seat and a sister of generous proportions who spread over most of  my seat as well as her own.

The sun soon dissolved into pouring rain and for three hair-raising hours the driver had one hand on the horn and the other clasping a mobile to his ear.

I knew Rwanda had joined the Commonwealth but I hadn’t realised they had switched to driving on the left hand side of the road, which is where we spent most of our time – swerving back to the right at the last-minute to avoid on coming traffic!     

Luckily the rain had abated by the time we reached Kigali and I was soon ensconced in the bar at my hotel of choice, the Isimbi  (where I’m becoming recognised as a bit of a regular) settling my nerves with a much-needed beer whilst watching a similarly edgy Gunners sneak a 1-0 win over the lowly Hammers at the Emirates.   

Game over and I went straight on-line to find that Forest’s recent recovery had stalled as they suffered a touch of the blues with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Pompey, apparently conceding two soft goals and converting just one of 13 chances that came their way!

However in the ‘egg catching’ game Gloucester, who seem to be going from strength to strength, tweaked the Tiger’s tail, to steal the points with a last gasp try from Lesley ‘the Volcano’ Vanikolo.

This type of final flourish is usually reserved for the likes of Leicester, not Glaws, particularly in televised games, but this young Cherry & Whites side seems to have a bit more steel about them than last year and just maybe they might surprise a few people, come the end of the season!

Last of the Summer Wine!
September 4, 2010

It has been a last of the summer wine type of week all round. Glowing late summer days have been followed by chilly autumnal evenings and the nights are certainly drawing in. This year I will miss  ‘autumn days when the grass is jewelled…….’  in more ways than one!

This is the week that was:

The BBC series Last of the Summer Wine took its final bow  after an incredible run of 37 years and 31 series. To be honest, despite its endearing gentle northern humour and quirky characters, I felt its sell by date had passed some time ago but I do look back with some fondness on the early series with Foggy, Compo, Clegg and dear old Nora Batty.

Tony Blair was conveniently away on a journey to the States when his book of the same name became the fastest selling autobiography of all time. Mind you most outlets had it on sale at half price from the outset. Could that be because the proceeds are going to the British Legion not lining the pockets of the author?

I haven’t bought the book but having seen the newspaper coverage and listened to Mr Blair on a number of pre-recorded programmes I feel like I’ve read it!

In a nutshell, the reviews have concentrated on Blair’s difficult relationship with Gordon Brown , who he describes as ‘brilliant’  but lacking ‘emotional intelligence,’ and the  not unsurprising lack of an apology over the invasion of Iraq, despite his ‘anguish’ over the UK deaths in the war.

There has also been reference to Tony’s revelations that he turned to drink whilst in office and his apparent obsession with proving he is a red-blooded alpha male – too much information!      

With the return of the political hacks from their summer hols, Blair was quickly followed on to the front pages by Foreign Secretary William Hague, sporting a tight-fitting, long sleeved white T-shirt and baseball cap. This not a good look when your sexuality is being called into question!

Mr Hague has vigorously denied rumoured accusations, started by Guido Fawkes in his political blog, and claims he has never had a gay relationship. He then rather misguidedly, in my opinion, attempted to back up his defence with reference to several recent miscarriages by his wife Ffion.

I’m not sure what that has to do with anything! He might have done better to have kept his head down (and lost the baseball cap!)   

The tabloids have also been to work on Fabio Capello following his complaint that they had turned him from a god to a monster.

Big mistake Fabio, huge! He was immediately portrayed on several back pages as Frankenstein’s monster, an image (reminiscent of Turnip Taylor) that I’m afraid he will have to learn to live with!  

Never the less Fabio’s new look England team answered his and their critics, in the best possible way, with a 4–0 win over Bulgaria in last night’s Euro 2012 qualifying game.

Jermaine Defoe helped himself to a fine hat trick, Rooney began to find his feet again, Walcott injected the turn of speed that was missing in South Africa, Milner was at his industrious best and in Joe Hart we look to have found a secure keeper at long last.

The only disappointment was seeing Forest old boy Michael Dawson’s full international debut ending on a stretcher.     

The Premiership Rugby  season kicks off today. Gloucester have had a good pre-season beating two strong Welsh sides, the Scarlets and Ospreys, and narrowly losing at Munster.

World Cup winning England centre, Mike Tindall, has been named as captain and if he stays fit will have a big part to play in Gloucester’s continuing development. I’m quite optimistic about their chances of a top four place this season and hopefully they will get off to a flyer this afternoon, away at premiership newcomers Exeter.

Whilst the Pakistan spot fixing saga rumbled on Kevin Peterson, having been rested  from England’s forthcoming one day matches, had to make a public apology for venting his disappointment by tweeting an expletive!  

Meanwhile the Notts cricketers seem to be stumbling their way to the finishing line, having lost fairly emphatically to Durham yesterday. However they are still 22 points clear at the top of the County Championship with just two games to play. Hopefully, this will be their year and they can make the step up from being seemingly perpetual runners-up.

So, that was the week that was! My last in the UK for a while.

Last night there was an enjoyable  last supper, and last glass, at The Railway in the nearby village of Ripple. They do the best home-made fish and chips in the area!   

Thanks to all those who have sent cards, emailed, and called this week with best wishes. Next time you hear from me, internet permitting, will be from Rwanda.

I fly out  from Heathrow at 21.00 and hopefully should be met by a VSO representative in Kigali at mid-day tomorrow.  

It’s time to check my bags, take my malaria tablet, and enjoy a final piece of toast and Marmite before the great adventure begins. Murabeho!

                                   

The Oval and red buses on the Harleyford Road, my dear old thing!
August 23, 2010

Congratulations to Pakistan for winning the 3rd Test at the Oval. It would have been easy for them to have given up on the series following England’s relatively straight forward victories at Trent Bridge and Edgbaston; both played of course at a time of traumatic devastation and loss of life resulting from the terrible floods back in their homeland.

Now a revitalised Pakistan team probably fancy their chances of levelling the series, with the final test being played at Lords (starting on Thursday) where, with the exception of last year’s Ashes test, the home side have invariably struggled in recent series. 

This defeat for England, who appear to be in danger of believing they are a better team than they actually are, has probably provided a timely wake up call ahead of this winter’s Ashes series down under.  

It was good to see Alistair Cook battling his way back into some kind of form and reaching a somewhat fortuitous but confidence boosting century. However if we are to mount a realistic challenge against Australia and retain the Ashes, Peterson, Collingwood and Strauss need to follow suit and rediscover their batting touch at Lords

I always look forward to the Oval Test Match, traditionally the last in an English summer – but why not so this year? This seems to be yet another strange decision by the ECB, hard on the heels of playing a test match on a building site at Edgbaston!      

The Brit Oval, as it is currently called (for sponsorship purposes), has been sympathetically developed in recent years, whilst maintaining its original pavilion, and is still overlooked by the  gasometer, an iconic landmark at this south London sporting venue.

It was the Oval, not Lords, that staged the first ever test match in England 130 years ago. In September 1880 a 3 day match was staged against the men from down under which England won by 5 wickets with Gloucestershire’s, legendary, Dr WG Grace making a top score of 152 in the first innings.       

The Oval will forever, in my mind, be associated with the image of red London buses shuttling up and down the adjacent Harleyford Rd, as regularly referred to by veteran Test Match Special commentator, the bespectacled, cravat wearing, and claret quaffing Henry Blofeld.  

Sadly, forgetful, eccentric old Etonian, Blowers with his trade mark catch phrases such as, “My dear old thing”, doesn’t get too much air time these days, in the ‘new look’ TMS commentary box, more is the pity.

To go off at a tangent, it was Henry’s father, an old school friend of author Ian Fleming, who is said to have been the source for the name of James Bond’s adversary and head of SMERSH, Blofeld, seen here played by actor Donald Pleasance who bears an uncanny resemblance to Blowers!         

Meanwhile back at the cricket, the first test match I recall following with any degree of interest was at the Oval in 1964; the final match in an Ashes series. I watched on TV, in black and white, enthralled as the late great Yorkshire fast bowler FS (Freddie) Trueman had Neil Hawke caught at slip by Colin Cowdrey to become the first English bowler to take 300 test wickets.   

A year later, during a family break in Surrey, my late uncle took me to the Oval for an afternoon to watch England play the final test of a three match series against South Africa. It turned out, due to the anti apartheid sporting ban which shortly followed, to be the last time South Africa would play a test on English soil for 29 years.

A few weeks earlier in Nottingham, I had excitedly visited my local Trent Bridge cricket ground to watch a live test cricket encounter for the first time. The sun beat down as I sat, full of anticipation, perched on a hard slatted wooden bench in the unreserved seating area, at the boundary’s edge, on the Fox Road side of the ground. On any other day splinters in a numb bum might have been all I recalled, but on this occasion I was lucky enough to witness one of the best ever test innings.

South African batsman Graham Pollock strolled to the wicket and treated the crowd to a display of elegant left-handed stroke play which lifted him into the pantheon of all time cricketing greats. He caressed the ball to the boundary 21 times in an innings of 125 off 145 balls in 138 minutes. I was memerised (as were the English bowlers and fielders) and have never seen anything to better it since.

Sherlock – a high functioning sociopath!
July 27, 2010

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and his companion biographer Dr John Watson first appeared in print in the 1887 edition of Beeton’s Christmas Annual.

Subsequent adventures drew popular acclaim and by 1891 a series of short stories and serialised novels regularly featured in The Strand Magazine. By the time the last of these appeared in 1927 the detective consultancy operating out of 221b Baker Street had become a national institution.

Through the stage adaptations, films and TV series that followed, Holmes and Watson have  proved to be the most enduring of literary characters. The Guinness World Records has listed Holmes as the “most portrayed movie character,” having been played by 75 different actors in over 211 films.  

The instantly recognisable image of Holmes as a pipe smoking sleuth clad in frock coat and deerstalker, peering through a magnifying glass, is taken from the original illustrations by Sidney Paget which accompanied the stories.     

In the 1940s Basil Rathbone’s monochromatic Hollywood performances famously drew on these and his portrayal of Holmes set the standard for those that followed, although I don’t recall ever seeing one of these films in its entirety.

When I was young my Mum used to work at the local Byron Cinema and received a weekly entitlement of complementary tickets. I consequently became a bit of a film buff at quite an early age.

My first encounter with Holmes and Watson was therefore through the big screen in Hound of the Baskervilles, a 1959 film in glorious Technicolor, with Peter Cushing taking the lead role.

However as far as I’m concerned the definitive Holmes, to date, was splendidly played by the late Jeremy Brett in the Granada TV series which originally ran for ten years from 1984 and even now is frequently repeated.    

More recently a 2009 film starring Robert Downey Junior received mixed reviews for its unconventional portrayal of the Victorian crime buster and his relationship with stalwart companion Watson, played by Jude Law, but I haven’t seen it and will therefore suspend judgment.   

Each of these actors has brought something different to their interpretation of this most celebrated of detectives but the setting has until now always remained as smoggy Victorian London with its attendant gas lights and hansom cabs.      

On Sunday night we were treated to something different, the first of a new three-part BBC series called Sherlock in which Conan Doyle’s characters inhabit present day London. The show has been created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, both well-known as writers for the highly successful Dr Who series.     

It might be argued that there was something of the Doctor in Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Sherlock; the world’s only consulting detective and a master of modern technology in solving crimes. 

The essential intellectual brilliance, logical reasoning, and aloofness of Conan Doyle’s original character remain but there is an added dynamism and urgency about 21st century Sherlock.

He is very much a man of our times. The three pipe problem has been replaced by the three (nicotine) patch problem, he advertises his services on a website and his favoured form of communication is the text message.   

The dialogue is slick and witty, as illustrated by Sherlock’s riposte to an antagonistic policeman, “I am not a psychopath I’m a high functioning sociopath!”        

Martin Freeman’s John Watson is also seemingly very contemporary, recently discharged as an army doctor  and returning wounded from a traumatic posting in Afghanistan, but amazingly this is exactly the background created for the character by Conan Doyle back in 1897!         

The first episode A Study in Pink was reviewed in the Guardian as being strong on characterisation but thin on plot. It was however quite clearly based on Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet.

Much of that book is given over to providing background information about Holmes and Watson prior to their meeting through a mutual friend. Its title is derived from Holmes’ description to Watson of the murder investigation in which they are involved as his “study in scarlet”.

He explains, “There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.”          

A Study in Pink owes its title, more simply, to the colour of the dress worn by a murder victim and her missing matching suitcase!

However the murderer remains a London cabby (but this time not the hansom variety) with limited life expectancy due to an aortic aneurism. His modus operandi is also faithful to the original. He offers his victims a choice of two pills, a game of Russian roulette, one being harmless and the other poisoned!

I am usually rather a traditionalist when it comes to film and TV adaptations but I thought Sherlock was fresh and innovative whilst maintaining the spirit and integrity of the original.

I look forward to seeing the next two episodes and I suspect a further series featuring the dynamic duo from way down on Baker St.     

‘Hip’Politicians & the Grange Hill Academy?
July 21, 2010

So just what is it with politicians and references to pop culture? They never seem able to get it quite right and invariably finish up with egg on their faces or worse!

The latest in a long line of cringe worthy moments, of this type, came from PM David Cameron earlier this week. On meeting Liverpool born TV producer and screenwriter Phil Redmond, creator of cult ‘80s children’s TV series Grange Hill, DC tried to up his street cred by coming out  as a huge fan and naming ‘Gripper’ Stebson as one of his role models in life!

It might have been a joke DC (it’s hard to tell, you’re not a natural when it comes to stand up comedy are you?) but admitting to hero worshipping a bully and a racist is not too clever is it?

I doubt ‘Gripper’ would have voted Tory, more likely BNP!

But Cameron is not alone when it comes to this particular type of banana skin.

Remember back in 1997, when newly elected PM Tony Blair was quick to tell us he had been in a band called Ugly Rumours, whilst at Oxford, and then went on to embrace Brit Pop by inviting Noel Gallagher to a Number 10 reception and that stage-managed, cheesy photo opportunity?  It certainly wasn’t one of his better moments! 

Not to be out done, Gordon Brown, whilst Chancellor, tried to shake off his dour image by showing off  an eclectic taste in popular TV, and music. He claimed he was a big fan of X-factor and that the Arctic Monkeys featured on his  iPod, along side Cold Play, U2, (and this is where he slipped up) James Blunt!  

He then showed just how un-hip he really was with his famous, “The Arctic Monkeys really wake you up in the morning,” quote. It just didn’t seem right some how!

And then there was Lord Prezza, back in his Deputy PM days, attending the BRIT Awards and getting a bucket of icy water thrown over him for his pains.

Danbert Nobacon, of Chumbawamba, justified his anarchic actions by saying,

 “If John Prescott has the nerve to turn up at events like the BRIT Awards in a vain attempt to make Labour seem cool and trendy then he deserves all we can throw at him.”

Harking back to Grange Hill I wonder if, ‘born again Blairite’, Michael Gove would have considered the North London comprehensive school for academy status? It’s more likely they would have been in special measures I suppose, but then again it looks Gove is a Grange Hill old boy! (right: Gove, far right: Zammo)

Mad, bad and dangerous to know
July 14, 2010

Who needs enemies when you have friends like Mandy?

In today’s extracts from his memoirs (published in The Times), The Third Man refers to the early days when he was, “a particular friend and ally of the party’s rising, modernising stars, Gordon and Tony,” so much so  that they were dubbed ‘The Three Musketeers’.  

I seem to remember the musketeers’  battle cry was, “All for one and one for all!”  There is not much evidence of that in today’s revelations but, rather, a level of self-serving machination that does nobody any favours.

For one who purports to have  always put the advancement of New Labour’s modernised political machine above all other considerations, I fail to see how he thinks his book will serve the party’s best interests.

Neither Brown nor Blair comes out of it well, both apparently fatally flawed.

The wounded and wronged Brown, devoid of interpersonal skills, is portrayed as brooding and fiercely malevolent in his desperation to become prime minister, at any cost, whilst Blair an outwardly confident, charismatic and courageous leader, reneges on his word and backs down behind the scenes when it comes to taking tough policy decisions.

However, for me, a greater indictment of both men is their apparent dependence upon, and persistent faith in the abilities of the Third Man, who like the racketeer Harry Lime in the celebrated film noir of the same title, has now emerged from the sewers to engage in blatant profiteering of his own, at their expense.

By choosing to publish his revelations now it will only serve to re-open old wounds and further lower public opinion of a party still reeling from electoral defeat, at a time when it is seeking a new leader to mount a strong and unified opposition against the coalition government.   

But never mind any of that, the main priority was clearly to get his own version of events on the shelves  ahead of Tony Blair who he quotes as believing Brown to be, “mad, bad, dangerous and beyond redemption,” – a description perhaps better suited to the Prince of Darkness himself!

Leadership contender, Ed Miliband, has attempted to put a positive spin on Mandelson’s  memoirs hoping they will assist Labour, by marking the “closing of a chapter”  in its history from which the party can move on.

Sadly, I think that might be wishful thinking. I’m expecting blue will be the colour for the next ten years!

Watch with Mother…….
July 13, 2010

I bought the Times yesterday, principally to read the first extracts from Peter Mandelson’s  kiss and tell book, The Third Man, which is to be published later this week.

Interesting as Mandy’s revelations were, in terms of confirming what we really already knew, it was a couple of smaller, tucked away feature articles that caught my eye.

I found that one of my childhood heroes is now officially a pensioner and will be applying for his free bus pass shortly.

Andy Pandy, the boy in the striped pyjamas and his co habitants from the wicker picnic basket, Teddy and rag doll Looby Loo, first appeared in fuzzy black and white, on our TV screens 60 years ago in July 1950.   

Pre-school children in the 1950s weren’t spoilt for choice when it came to TV programmes. However I was fortunate and always remember having a TV set at a time when they still weren’t very common.

I recall my Granddad, who didn’t yet have a TV,  coming to our house in May 1959,  just before I was six, to watch Forest play (and beat 2-1) Luton in the FA Cup Final. I wasn’t really interested at the time!

Our telly was a Bush, its tiny screen almost lost in the huge highly polished wooden case which dominating one corner of the room.

I started school in 1958 so it must have been a year or so earlier that I got hooked on BBC’s innovative Watch with Mother programmes, a spin-off  from radio’s Listen with Mother.

Everyday there was an eagerly awaited 15 minute lunchtime slot dedicated to pre-school children. Of course this meant switching on the TV fifteen minutes before the scheduled start and allowing ample time to warm up.

I can remember the weekly schedule now, as if it were yesterday:

Monday:              Picture Book                      

Tuesday:              Andy Pandy

Wednesday:       Bill & Ben the Flowerpot Men

Thursday:            Rag, Tag & Bobtail

Friday:                  The Woodentops  

To be honest the week got off to a slow start. Picture Book was my least favourite and a tad boring, a bit too cerebral for me!

Andy Pandy was a favourite though – I loved the songs. It always started with Andy Pandy is  coming to play la, la la, la la, la and finished, after  the gang had climbed back into the basket, with Time to go home , time to go home, Andy is waving goodbye.

Bill & Ben the flowerpot men were brilliant. They lived in two large flowerpots at the bottom of a garden next to the potting shed and either side of Little Weeeeeeeeeed, who had a big smiley face, something between a sunflower and a giant daisy.

Bill and Ben had their own language, years before the Teletubbies were ever thought of, “Flobbalob, Flobbadob” etc.

When the man who looked after the garden went for his lunch the fun and games began. As a result some minor mishap would always occur. To make sure we children had been watching carefully the narrator asked us to guess ‘was it Bill or was it Ben?’  The culprit owned up, just before the gardeners footsteps could be heard coming back along the path, and the flowerpot men quickly climbed back into their pots to end the programme.

Rag, Tag & Bobtail were a hedgehog, a mouse and a Rabbit, I think, but not necessarily in that order. I don’t remember too much about them – perhaps they were a bit girlie!

I often used to miss the Woodentops, because Fridays always seemed to be quite a busy day. I think we were out and about shopping for the weekend, buying the Sunday joint and that sort of thing. I remember the star of the show was Spotty Dog with his unusual, walk.

In this day and age of digitally produced computer animation, such as the recently released Toy Story 3, these 1950s puppets with their thick strings so clearly seen on the screen, all seem so unsophisticated now, but that was all part of their charm.   

In recent years both Andy Pandy and the Flowerpot Men have reappeared in updated animated versions but, with my grumpy old man head firmly on, I think they are what they are, and of their time and shouldn’t be tampered with in that way!       

Next door to Andy Pandy I found another boyhood hero, Roy Rogers.

For boys, and some girls I guess, the 1950s were also all about Wild West heroes with, flashy wide brimmed cowboy hats, holsters, six shooters and lassoes.  

I was a big fan of the Roy Rogers Show. He was a real life cowboy, who strummed a guitar and sang Home on the Range type campfire songs with his wife Dale Evans.

Roy Rogers had a magnificent golden Palomino stallion, Trigger and a German shepherd, Bullet.  Trigger would rear up on his hind legs and could walk along on them. When Trigger died, Roy had his four-legged friend (who never lets you down) stuffed and displayed in his cowboy museum.

With Roy and Dale long gone and yesterday’s news, the museum has recently closed with  Christie’s in New York selling off the exhibits. Apparently they have been overwhelmed by the response from old fans hoping to bid for a memento of the singing cowboy.   

A Christie’s representative is quoted as saying of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans “they were the Brad and Angelina of their time”.

Trigger is expected to fetch between $100, 0000 and $200,000!