Friday, January 30, 2015

The Other End of The Beach

At the end of a cold wintry week, here's a reminder of Summer.  Another fragment of film from last year's holiday, this takes us to the 'other' end of my favourite beach.  Whilst the opposite end, the road end - which has featured in previous films - borders onto a section of private beach, this end come to an abrupt halt, with a wire fence and 'keep out' signs preventing anyone from progressing further.  Apparently, the fenced off section is a nature reserve of sorts, intended to protect various flora and fauna from us holiday makers.  Of course, if this section wasn't fenced off, it would be possible to walk all the way round to the neighbouring beach, (featured in films such as 'Scenes From the Shore').


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ice Cold in Crapchester

I've experienced two blizzards toady, one whilst driving, the second on foot.  Thankfully, none of the snow settled.  Which means that, despite the low temperatures, I'm still in a reasonably good mood - if there's one thing guaranteed to sour my mood, it's snow lying on the ground.  I clearly wasn't in that good a mood earlier this week, judging by the posts I made here, even though there was no snow.  A lot of my bad mood came down to that bloody course I was talking about last time - I'd been dreading it for over a month.  Not just the early start it entailed but also the nature of the exercise - it's one of those things employers insist you do as it checks a box for them in terms of discharging their duty to protect your health and safety at work.  Even though its actual content was pretty much irrelevant to my job.  However, it's out of the way now and I've been doing my best to get back into a better frame of mind.  To that end, I wrote and published an entirely puerile story involving Winston Churchill lighting his own farts over at The Sleaze.  It's less satire than childish character assassination.  But it's good to indulge one's more juvenile sense of humour from time to time.  Besides, I was heartily sick and tired of all those bloody documentaries and TV commentators trying to make out that Churchill was some kind of political and military genius who single-handedly defeated the Nazis.

Changing the subject completely, Channel Five are relentlessly plugging some new reality TV show they're showing next month: 10,000BC.  It's based around the conceit of getting a bunch of random people to live like Neolithic cave people and seeing what happens.  As soon as the trailers started I could see flaws in this plan, namely the lack of suitable wildlife for them to hunt.  I mean, unless they're going to cover a few elephants and rhinos in fur to simulate Woolly Mammoths and Woolly Rhinos, then let the hapless contestants hunt and kill them with spears, then it is hardly going to be realistic, is it?  The same applies to the threat from rival predators: again, can we expect to see a few tigers with false outsized canine teeth pretending to be Sabre Tooths let loose in the vicinity of the contestants' cave?  I think not.  And speaking of that cave - will they have to fight a cave bear (or nearest modern equivalent) for possession of it?  While we're on the subject of authenticity, will the lack of Neolithic medical knowledge be reflected, with wounds being allowed to fester and even minor injuries resulting in death?  Anyway, the trailers all ominously state that 'things didn't go as planned'.  In what way?  Were some of the contestants eaten by a Tyrannosaurus?  After all, that would be bloody unexpected  - not only are Tyrannosaurs extinct, but they never co-existed with cavemen, despite what One Million Years BC might tell us.  That said, One Million Years BC, with all its inaccuracies, is still likely to be more entertaining than any prehistoric reality show made for Channel Five.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Colour Me Offended

Having got up at five thirty this morning (yes, I was surprised too - who knew there was a five thirty in the morning as well) in order to travel nearly a hundred miles to a four hour training course with an eight o'clock start, and having then driven straight back home, I'm completely and utterly knackered.  The only reason I'm able to function now and write this is because I went back to bed this afternoon for a couple of hours sleep.  While I'm on the subject, I should add that I'm actually no stranger to early starts, previous jobs having frequently required me to get up before the crack of dawn on a regular basis, so I think that I'm well placed to challenge the widespread fallacy that there is something virtuous in getting up early.  Believe me, there is absolutely no virtue in crawling out of a warm bed when it is still dark and nobody else in the world is awake.  Tearing oneself out of one's valuable sleep to stumble into work really isn't something to be proud of.

Anyway, due to today's insanities, I wasn't able to keep up with the news as I usually do, meaning that I came home to find that actor Benedict Cunberbatch was busily apologising for something he said which might, or might not, have been racist.  Which seemed pretty startling.  Upon further investigation, it turned out that he'd used the term 'coloured' in reference to black actors.  Now, the use of the term 'coloured' instead of 'black' is something I've fallen foul of in the past. It all stems from one of those changes in the usage of a word or phrase which occur over time, but which some people remain unaware of.  When I was a child, back in the late sixties and early seventies, we were taught that 'coloured' was a more polite adjective to use than 'black'.  It was considered more accurate descriptively, as, typically, it was used to describe a whole range of non-white people, from Afro-Caribbeans to Asians, very few of whom were, literally, black.   Of course, those were the days when awareness of the apartheid regime in South Africa and its classification of non-whites as 'coloured', was lower.  There was also generally less knowledge of the way US slave owners had classified slaves according to the perceived 'shade' of their skin colour or racial heritage as variously 'coloured', 'octaroon' and so on. 

All of which, clearly, would be pretty offensive to non-whites.  But here in the UK, particularly in provincial market towns of the kind I lived in, we were blissfully unaware of all this and people like my parents, who considered themselves liberal and progressive minded, honestly thought that 'coloured' was the less offensive term.  Although, over the years I, and most of my generation, have accepted that the reverse is true, that 'black' is the term non-white people prefer to have used, old habits die hard and occaisionally we inadvertently use the word 'coloured', instead.  No offence is meant.  But that doesn't stop the media and various other opportunists with their own agendas to push, jumping on instances such as Cumberbatch's use of the word to label the user 'racist'.  Personally, I'm saddened by the fact that we still live in a world where we feel it necessary to draw attention to each other's skin pigmentation at all.  Can't we all just regard each other as human beings?  But, if it isn't race, then the bigots and those with dubious political agendas will find some other trait to seize upon and exploit in their quests for divisiveness - if it isn't religion (witness today's 'Islamaphobia' and the perennial anti-Semitism which plague the world), then its gender or sexual orientation, (just look at the continued assaults on women's rights all over the world and the continued scourge of homophobia).  Even now, some bigot out there is devising new forms of hatred hitherto unimagined.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Private LIves?

Is it any wonder that we seem to be sleep-walking into a 'surveillance society' where our every move, conversation and social interaction, both on and off line - are monitored, when a large section of the UK's population seems to have no concept of privacy, loudly discussing intimate details of their lives in public on their mobile phones.  Let me give you a recent example.  This past Saturday I was minding my own business, perusing the model railway magazines in WH Smith, when I became aware of someone talking very loudly, very close to me.  From the one sided nature of the conversation, it was obvious they were talking to someone on their mobile.  They were so close to me and speaking so loudly that it was impossible to hear that the young man in question was arguing with his (presumably) ex-girlfriend or wife about child maintenance and what he thought were her unreasonable monetary demands.  Clearly she threatened to have his earnings attached via a court order, as he threatened to quit his job to prevent deductions from his wages.  He was still arguing and making similar threats as he finally walked away from me, apparently oblivious to the fact that he could be heard by everyone in the shop.

Or maybe he just didn't care that we could all hear him discussing what is pretty intimate personal business and discussing it in such a way that didn't reflect very positively upon him.  Personally, I can't imagine ever loudly discussing in public my private business. I mean, that's the key thing - it's private, not for public consumption.  But as I say, there seem to be a growing number of people who, these days, just don't seem to care that their entire lives are laid bare for everyone to see.  And it's no good saying that I don't have to listen to them - they talk about this stuff so loudly and freely that I - and anyone else in a hundred foot radius - have no choice but to listen to them.  If they aren't on their mobiles, they're walking too close behind you spilling out their intimate details, or sitting at the next table in the pub, shouting out their business.  Don't they understand - we don't want to know about their lives, we don't bloody care and if they had any sense they'd guard the details of their private affairs more closely.  Of course, the question is whether their lack of care about their privacy helps facilitate a 'surveillance state', or whether the intrusive surveillance we already suffered has so eroded the notion of personal privacy that they have become conditioned not to care?  Either way, they really need to shut the fuck up.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Crude Stereotypes

Having finished work slightly earlier than usual, I caught part of an episode of On The Buses on ITV3 this afternoon.  I remember that when I was eight or nine I thought On The Buses was amusing.  Seen again now it is clearly just a series of corny old gags, rampant sexism and well telegraphed prat falls, all delivered by a cast performing their stereotyped roles as if they were addressing the back row of a music hall.  Which is actually pretty typical of early seventies sitcoms.  Yet, in the years since it was first shown, On The Buses has, in many quarters, become a by word for seventies naffness.  Why, I wondered, as I watched today's episode, has it been singled out for such vilification?  In truth, it was no worse than, say, the BBC's Are You Being Served? or ITV's Love Thy Neighbour.  Indeed, it was infinitely preferable to the latter with its 'hilarious' race jokes - On The Buses might have been sexist, but it certainly wasn't racist.  Perhaps it is simply the fact that it had the misfortune to be a contemporary of the BBC's two slices of working class misery in sitcom form - Till Death Us Do Part and Steptoe and Son - which are generally well regarded and have aged better, which has contributed to the low esteem in which On The Buses is generally held these days.

It also probably doesn't help that On The Buses was followed by several ITV comedies which are now better regarded, most notably Rising Damp. Unlike any of these other sitcoms, On The Buses wasn't really 'about' anything.  Whereas Steptoe and Son could be seen as an examination of a tragic father-son relationship in which the characters' mutual dependency smothers and frustrates the latter's aspirations to rise above the constraints of his working class origins,  On The Buses is just gleefully vulgar slapstick, in which the working class characters have no aspirations beyond bedding 'birds' and boozing.  But, to be fair, Steptoe and Son also frequently focused on vulgarity and slapstick, particularly in its 1970-75 colour incarnation, rather than exploring working class angst.  Ultimately, I can only offer my own reasons for not being a fan of On The Buses. For me it comes down to the way it portrays working class people.  I have no problem with its characters apparent lack of middle class aspirations - it's perfectly OK to be happy with being working class and enjoying its culture.  No, my problem is that it portrays them as being a bunch of idle, feckless bastards who shirk their responsibilities and piss their money away.  Even in the seventies this was a right-wing reactionary view of workers - even though it has been revived by the current Tory government.  Then, as now, the majority of working class people were hard working, toiling through long hours and relatively low pay, most having to scrimp and save to get by whilst, all the while, their alleged 'betters' tut-tutted and disapproved of any luxuries and pleasures they managed to enjoy.  Perhaps I'm reading too much into an ancient sitcom.  Perhaps I've got a chip on my shoulder, coming from a working class background.  Nevertheless, lazy stereotyping of the working classes in this manner is something which always makes me uneasy.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Squeeze (1977)


The first 'Random Move Trailer' of 2015 brings us a taster of the 1977 crime thriller The Squeeze.  Sadly, this one hasn't turned up on TV in many, many years.  Which is a pity as it has much to recommend it.  Not as slickly made as Get Carter, The Squeeze still deserves to be regarded as a minor classic amongst 1970s British crime movies, if nothing else because of its, well, sheer seediness.  The London it inhabits is one of shabby council flats, sleazy massage parlours and dingy bars.  Eccentrically cast with Stacy Keach sporting a hair piece and dodgy English accent in the lead and a pre-sex (unfounded) allegation Freddie star as his sidekick, the film also features some truly vicious and unpleasant villains in the form of Stephen Boyd in just about his last role (and a long way from Ben Hur) and a decidedly non-swinging David Hemmings.

The plot involves alcoholic ex-cop Keach's ex wife being kidnapped by Boyd in order to blackmail her current banker husband into co-operating with Boyd's gang on a security van robbery.  Keach naturally tries to intervene, but, not surprisingly, is treated for most of the film as something of a joke by the villains.  They're right to do so as, in the main, he is an utterly hopeless drunk and totally ineffective.  Rather like Lindsay Shonteff's Clegg, The Squeeze features a private eye hero who doesn't actually seem to do much detective work himself, instead relying on others to do it for him.  Indeed, most people don't even believe Keach is a gumshoe:  as a neighbour remarks when Keach and Starr use her house to watch some villainous activity, "I never realised you were a private eye - I just thought you were unemployed." 

Of course, Keach gradually gets his act together and the film moves toward a violent climax.  Assuredly directed on some really tatty looking London locations by Michael Apted (later to direct Bond movie The World is Not Enough), The Squeeze is an agreeably rough around the edges crime thriller.  Best of all, it depicts London the way I remember it from boyhood trips there during the 1970s to visit relatives: tired, run down and dirty. 


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Daily Nudes

So, The Sun has finally caught up with the twenty first century and is putting its porn online instead of on page three of the print edition.  Setting aside, for one moment, all the arguments as to whether or not the topless models on page three objectified women, my problem with them, in recent years, has been that I'm not clear as to what purpose they served.  I mean, why does any self-respecting pervert need to buy a newspaper to look at pretty tame pictures of women baring their breasts, when they can see much, much more online - for free?  It's continued existence was just another example of how Britain's print media have failed to get to grips with the web.  Is it any wonder circulation of newspapers' print editions are in decline?  The Sun should have realised years ago that people don't want to see soft core porn in their newspaper - they want it in their browser and they want hard core. 

But 'lovers of the female form' - as closet sex pests like to call themselves - need not worry too much.  The Sun will continue to provide pictures of young women on page three - they'll just keep their breasts under wraps.  I can't help but suspect that The Sun will soon be offering a special gift to subscribers to its web site: a pair of glasses which, when worn by readers, will allow them to view the underwear-clad beauties on page three naked.  Not just bared breasts, but bared everything.  A quantum leap forward in smut delivery - full frontal nudity in a family newspaper!  But thanks to the glasses (available only to over eighteens) children won't be exposed to any of the smut!  Yes indeed, this could be the high tech future of page three! 

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Burning Ambition.

All that business in Oxfordshire last week, with that bloke allegedly setting fire to several buildings, including the council office, reminded me that I'd once considered a career in arson.  We're talking about way, way back here, when I was a teenager and, basically, enjoyed setting fire to things. Don't misunderstand me, I wasn't setting fire to buildings and endangering lives.  I was into smaller scale stuff - like setting fire to models of buildings I'd made from cardboard. Another favourite was making model boats out of polystyrene, setting fire to them and sending them drifting down the river.  One particularly spectacular blaze was the result of myself and a friend throwing the inner tube from what looked like a tractor tyre onto a bonfire we found already burning in some woods which were being cleared (we found the inner tube there as well).  The result was huge orange flames and a pall of thick black smoke which could be seen for miles.  I also tried mixing arson with vigilantism once.  One of my brothers and I once torched this sort of den a gang of kids who had pissed us off somehow (I forget the exact details) had built in a disused quarry.  I hasten to add that they weren't in, or anywhere near, the den at the time and all that went up inflames were some old chairs that they had there.  That and the plastic sheeting they were using for a roof.

But some of my best junior arson antics took place at school.  I remember setting fire to the toilet paper in the toilets in the school sports pavilion.  I recall that one taking a while to get back under control.   And I was a demon with the Bunsen burners in the chemistry lab at school.  Actually, it was even better is you lit the gas tap directly, sending a long flame shooting across the bench.  In fact chemistry lessons lay at the centre of my school arson experiments - the drawers in the work benches were invariably empty and the ideal place to set fire to some paper.  The key was to set the fire in the drawers at someone else's bench, when they were away from it, shutting the drawer once it was well lit.  Eventually smoke would start escaping and the person working there would open the drawer and flames would leap out, startling them and attracting the attention of the teacher.  Invariably the person working at the blazing bench would get the blame.  It was a great way of getting bullying bastards back.  Sadly, one of the best school arson incidents was one I couldn't take credit for - someone set fire a waste paper bin during a design and technology class, resulting in the metalwork teacher running around like a maniac holding the blazing bin above his head and shouting: 'Oh my God! Oh my God!'.  Anyway, it was hardly surprising that I should consider a career in arson.  As a teenager it looked like fun.  But as I grew up I realised it wasn't at all glamourous and I decided to leave it to the insane amateurs like that guy in Oxfordshire.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Astonishing Sex Men

Was top British sex offender Jimmy Savile  the result of secret government experiments? This is the sensational claim being made by former Ministry of Defence research scientist Dr Marlon Pook in the wake of revelations that the US military had created the 'Sex Men' a force of sex powered porn stars to operate covertly against America's enemies. “It all goes back to World War Two and the US' attempts to create a 'super soldier' serum, which could transform ordinary weedy recruits into super-powered fighting machines,” he told top tabloid the Daily Norks. “Whilst the US project used a lot of British scientific talent, the White House was reluctant to share the research with the UK, so Winston Churchill authorised the creation of an equivalent UK project at Porton Down.” According to Pook the top secret UK project selected as subjects a number of individuals who had been deemed unfit for military service. Amongst them was a young Jimmy Savile, he alleges. “Back then in 1944, he had just been discharged from his National Service after suffering spinal injuries whilst working in the coal mines as a 'Bevin Boy',” the scientist explained. “When the project offered him the possibility of a full recovery if he became a guinea pig for their experiments, he jumped at the chance.” Savile's recovery was indeed miraculous. “He was transformed from a weedy git into a macho powerhouse,” claimed Pook. “But even then there were signs of his dangerous sexual deviance – one night he broke out of the secure compound he and the other experimental subjects were housed in and ran amok in the local area. Not only were several local women molested, but there were also reports of local farm livestock being horribly molested. Luckily, they recaptured him and hushed the whole incident up – West Indian servicemen who were billetted nearby were blamed and several of them were shot by the Army to placate the locals.”

Undaunted, the War Office still believed that it could harness Savile's depraved sexual energies in service of the war effort. “According to some of the documents I've seen discussions as to the possibility of parachuting him into Berlin to try and penetrate Hitler's bunker and bugger the Fuhrer to death,” Pook told the tabloid. However, before Savile and the other subjects could be deployed, the war ended, leaving the British government with the problem of what to do with Savile and the other 'super soldiers'. “Even then there were worries about the risks a dangerous, super powered sexual predator might pose to the public if released back into society,” Pook claimed. “Euthanasia was briefly considered, but with the truth about the Holocaust rapidly becoming public knowledge, it was felt that this might appear hypocritical.” Instead, it was felt that it would be safe to release Savile back into the community, provided safe outlets for his abnormal energies could be found.  "Initially he devoted his energies to sport, becoming first a noted cyclist, then a professional wrestler," says Pook.  "But he was eventually forced off of the wrestling circuit after numerous complaints from opponents that he was simply using the sport as an excuse to feel up men."  Following his expulsion from the world of professional wrestling, Savile forged a career as a Disc Jockey and secret sex offender.  "Everyone knows what happened from then on," says Pook.  "Obviously, the big unanswered question is whether Savile had latent tendencies toward sexual deviance which were exacerbated by his experimental treatments, or whether the treatments themselves caused the deviance?"     

(This was the original opening to the story 'Uncanny Sex Men' over at The Sleaze, before I decided on a somewhat different approach to the story.  Consequently, these paragraphs were excised.  Never liking to waste anything, I present them here instead).


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Peeping Dave

That David Cameron - he's just obsessed with reading our e-mails, isn't he?  He'll use any excuse to try and bring in new laws to allow the authorities to snoop on our online activities, be it protecting children from online porn and peadophiles or the war on terror.  But we know the truth - he just wants to look at our private communications.  Quite what he thinks he'll find, I really don't know.  Perhaps he thinks that he'll find some links to that internet porn he seems equally obsessed by, (apparently you are simply assaulted by porn sites in search engine results, even child porn sites - which is true, if you keep putting 'porn' and 'child porn' into Google as search terms).   Or maybe he thinks that he'll find all of us nasty proles plotting revolution behind his back.  (Personally, I'm quite openly plotting it).  Whatever he's seeking, Dave has proclaimed that the authorities should be able to crack any form of encryption used online.  Which would, of course, make such activities as internet banking, which rely upon the complete security of the data being transferred, impossible.  But Dave doesn't care, just so long as he can read our e-mails.

Of course, it could just be that Cameron is one of those people convinced that everyone else is secretly having a better time than them.  I've known a lot of that sort, worked with a few of them, in fact.  When I worked in Whitehall some years ago, because I didn't live in London and nobody saw how I spent my time off, I had a number of colleagues who seemed think I was living a life of high excitement at weekends.  Nothing could have been further from the truth: I live a very mundane life and try to keep excitement out of my private life.  I've found that it isn't good for me.  I've also been guilty of making such assumptions myself about colleagues and have always ended up being proven wrong.  So perhaps Dave's life as Prime Minister is just so dull and uneventful that he feels the need to live vicariously through other people's lives by spying on their online activities and reading their e-mails.  I fear that he'll be disappointed and find that most people just live ordinary lives. Then again, that might be what he's seeking - yearning for those pre Downing Street days when he was just an ordinary millionaire PR man living a carefree simple life.  Whatever Dave's reasons for wanting to look at our e-mails, none of them seem to justify such a gross invasion of our privacy - get a life Dave! 

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Je Suis Right Charlie

It occurred to me the other day that if I had somehow known nothing of the events in Paris last week and had simply come across the phrase 'Je suis Charlie' trending everywhere, I might have thought it some kind of belated tribute to the late Charlie Cairoli, the clown who blighted my childhood.  I should make clear here that Cairoli - who died in 1980 - didn't personally harass me: it was worse than that - he blighted every UK child's life in the 1970s.  The BBC back then had this curious idea that children found clowns funny, so persisted in allowing Cairoli and his troupe onto children's TV, culminating in him having his own show, Right Charlie!, for several years.  The problem was, of course, that clowns just aren't funny.  Not even to children.  But being children, we were transfixed by TV and when we came home from school just watched it, regardless of what was on or whether or not we liked it - so we all had to endure Charlie bloody Cairoli.  Once a week, every week, for six weeks at a time (the length of each series of Right Charlie!) we sat unsmiling and unamused through twenty five minutes of his excruciating slapstick clowning.

Quite why the world would want to pay tribute to Charlie Cairoli, some thirty five years after his death, I have no idea, which was where my idle speculations foundered.  However, I did think that my hypothetical Cairoli confusion might provide those who have a problem with the whole 'Je suis Charlie' thing with a solution.  If they were to imagine that they are simply paying tribute to a long dead clown rather than a satire magazine whose content they disapprove of. then they could satisfy their desire to uphold the principle of free speech without condoning cartoons of Mohammed which they clearly find offensive.  I can't help but feel those who are getting so worked up about the idea of being identified with what they see as offensive content if they show any support for 'Charlie Hebdo' magazine are sorely missing the point.  Satire, by its very nature, is always going to be offensive to someone.  I can only judge 'Charlie Hebdo's' content on the little I've seen since the attack on its offices and, to be perfectly frank, some of it does seem to tread a very fine line between satire and outright racism.  Certainly, I wouldn't be comfortable running some of it on The Sleaze.   But the point is that nothing is so offensive as to justify murder and, surely, we should support victims of such over reactions.  Which is what the 'Je suis Charlie' thing is about - not condoning the content, but merely acknowledging that the reaction to it was outrageous and beyond the pale.  We need to show solidarity because who knows what fanatics or lunatics might find something we write so offensive they  might consider using violence to silence us?  We have to show solidarity so as to deter them by showing that such actions won't silence us.  So, 'Je suis Right Charlie'.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Gone But Not Forgotten

It's been a lousy start to the year: first of all we lose Rod Taylor, now its Brian Clemens.  Unless you are of a certain age, you won't necessarily recognise either of those names, but they both played a big part in my TV and film viewing when younger. Arguably, both had their best years in the sixties.  To turn to Taylor first, back in the sixties he headlined a lot of films.  Although now best remembered as a square-jawed lead in action movies, Rod Taylor actually appeared in a wide variety of films, including Hitchcock's The Birds, a couple of Doris Day movies, George Pal's adaptation of The Time Machine and the title role in the Sean O'Casey biopic Young Cassidy.  Despite this, Taylor never seemed to quite be in the front rank of Hollywood leading men and, by the early seventies, had moved back into TV, with limited success.  A likeable leading man, Taylor was often at his best when cast against type, as in The Liquidator, an adaptation of the first of John Gardener's 'Boysie Oakes' espionage novels.  Here Taylor effectively parodies his 'heroic' image, playing Boysie Oakes, an abject coward mistaken by the British Secret Service for a cold blooded assassin.  Despite his inability to kill anyone, Oakes enjoys the glamourous lifestyle which accompanies his new job, so sub-contracts his killings to Eric Sykes' undertaker cum hitman.  Sadly, apart from The Birds, Taylor's films are of the sort of age which means they rarely get TV outings these days.  That said, when I had TCM some years ago, every other film the showed seemed to feature Rod Taylor.

Brian Clemens was best known as a writer and producer of TV series, most notably The Avengers, which ran through the sixties and made stars out of Patrick MacNee, Diana Rigg and Honor Blackman.  Becoming increasingly surreal and bizarre as it went on, (rather like the decade it was made in), The Avengers was packed full of sexual innuendo, wild plots and striking production design.   It probably also resulted in an entire generation of British men thinking that their ideal woman was a black leather clad martial arts expert.  Whilst Clemens failed to recapture the magic of the original with the seventies follow-up The New Avengers, he scored another hit with The Professionals, grittier and more violent and 'realistic' than The Avengers, this show was probably more in tune with the tastes of the TV audiences of the late seventies and early eighties.  But Clemens didn't just work on TV: in the seventies he also ventured in cinema, writing, producing and directing a number of movies.  Personally, I've always had a soft spot for the films he worked on for Hammer Films in this period.  Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, from 1971, was, as far as I know, the first film to apply a gender-switch twist to the Robert Louis Stevenson tale, with he lovely Martine Beswick as Hyde to Ralph Bates' Jekyll.   Clemens' script throws everything into the mix, from Jack the Ripper to Burke and Hare, resulting in a barmy, but highly entertaining film.  Even better was 1972's Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter, which Clemens also directed.  A truly insane, but hugely entertaining, film in which the titular Captain wanders around what appears to be Seventeenth Century Europe hunting vampires and engaging in sword fights (he's also the fastest sword in the West).  Unfortunately, Hammer seemed to have no idea how to handle the film and it sat on the shelf for a couple of years before being released as part of a double bill.

So, there you have it, two more of my heroes gone: likeable Australian leading man of the second rank who nevertheless made some very entertaining films and one of the most imaginative and inventive writers to have worked in British TV.  Also, last, but by no means least, I should also note the passing of comedian and actor Lance Percival.  I best remember him for his appearances in films like Carry on Cruising, although his talents went way beyond British comedy movies.  He was one of those people you always feel should be better known than they are.  Interestingly, his obituaries mentioned him voicing two of The Beatles in an cartoon series in the sixties - which confirms the series actually existed: for years I thought that I'd hallucinated it.   It consisted of 5-10 minute episodes, each 'inspired' (very loosely) by a Beatles song.  Anyway, I've lamented the passing of some childhood heroes long enough. Back to the usual shenanigans next time.

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Friday, January 09, 2015

The War on Risk

So, rather than republish cartoons of Mohammed or tweet 'Je Suis Charlie', I decided that the best response to the recent atrocities in Paris that I could make would be to just carry on doing what I normally do, both here and at The Sleaze.  After all, isn't that what all of this is about?  Refusing to have your choices dictated by terrorists.  Not that you'd necessarily know that from the response of our own Security Service, which simply sees the shootings at the 'Charlie Hebdo' offices as an opportunity to try and gain more surveillance powers to prevent it happening here - although they also admit that this kind of attack is pretty much impossible to prevent.  Indeed, despite all those vague claims of having been able to prevent dozens of undefined 'terror attacks' through the use of surveillance and other repressive 'anti-terror' laws, the reality is that determined terrorists will always be able to mount attacks on us - only truly repressive, authoritarian regimes with no concept of human rights, civil liberties and, well, freedom, are more or less immune from such attacks as they can simply employ the same lack of regard for human life and decency as the terrorists in their fight against 'terror'.  That's the price of total security: total repression.

Conversely, the price of freedom is constant vulnerability to acts of terror.  However, the reality is that, horrendous though such attacks might be, statistically, you still have more chance of dying in a road accident than a terror attack.  Unfortunately, the idea seems to have taken root in official circles that it somehow is possible to create a 'risk free' society where it is possible to use 'risk assessment' procedures to predict every possible risky outcome to an activity or situation and then formulate strategies to 'lower the risk' in order to avoid the least favourable outcomes.  Of course, to carry out effective 'risk assessments' government needs to gather as much intelligence about these situations and the main actors in them, as possible.  Hence the continued push for ever more intrusive surveillance powers for the police and Security Service.  But the reality is that we can't possibly predict all the possible permutations of risk.  It's like those people who prepare for exams by studying past papers and trying to predict which questions are statistically most likely to come up and preparing answers only for those.  I've seen so many of them come unstuck when one or more of their 'guaranteed' questions don't come up.  The past papers can only give you a broad idea of the kinds of topics most likely to come up and a wider, less targeted, revision regime will allow you to respond to the actual questions you get more flexibly. 

Nevertheless, the media has faithfully peddled this idea of a 'risk free' approach for years now.  Just look at the way a public expectation that we could fight 'casualty free' wars (well, casualty free to us) in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.  The public backlash once it became apparent that British soldiers actually were dying and being maimed, in significant numbers, was pretty spectacular.  All of a sudden everybody was an anti-war campaigner.  Anyway, I'm in danger of straying from my essential point, which is that we need to resist these latest calls for more powers for the police and intelligence agencies so that they can 'protect' us from terrorists.  The idea that if only the authorities had enough data they could eliminate the threat posed by terror groups is entirely false.  Not to mention downright dangerous.  Like it or not, risk is an inherent part of life, particularly in a free society - it is the trade off we make for being free.  OK, I've ranted enough and this is all a bit heavy for a Friday!


Thursday, January 08, 2015

An Unprincipled Man

Trying to stay on course with schemes and plans seems to be getting ever more difficult.  There are too many things happening in the wider world to distract us from our intended paths.  Which is what has happened to me this week.  First of all I get distracted by some nonsense at work, then my plans to deal with that are derailed when I'm distracted by the recent events in Paris.  (Although I still intend taking defensive action with regard to work and did find time to engage in some related subterfuge today).  So, to confound expectations further, I'm now going to go off at a complete tangent and take a quick detour into political ranting.  For a moment today I thought that David Cameron was taking a principled stand on something when it was announced that he would refuse to participate in any televised leaders' debates during the forthcoming general election campaign unless the Greens were included along with UKIP.  To put it in context, OFCOM has ruled that the Greens aren't a 'major' political party and therefore shouldn't be included in said debates, whereas they decided that UKIP is a 'major' political party.  Which, on the face of it, makes it seem that Cameron is standing up for 'fair play' and common sense, (after all, until a couple of Tory MPs defected to UKIP, they weren't represented in the Westminster Parliament, unlike the Greens who actually have an elected MP). 

But it's never that simple with Old Etonian PR man and oily bastard Cameron.  The fact is that he knows the main broadcasters can't include the Greens in these debates - if they were to do so, they would face legal action from the SNP, who would point out that they had more MPs than either the Greens or UKIP.  If the SNP were included, then Plaid Cymru and the various Northern Irish parties with Westminster representation would doubtless also take action to be included.  The end result would be to render the debates completely unwieldy and risk having them diverted into discussing purely regional issues.  So, the actual outcome of Cameron's 'principled' stand is to get an 'out' from the debates without actually withdrawing from them, which would look hugely negative to the public, giving the impression that he was afraid to face the other party leaders.  Which he is.  The fact is that Ed Miliband has consistently got the better of Cameron at Prime Minister's Question Time for quite a while now - under pressure Cameron tends to bluster, coming over as the public school bully that he is.  Whilst this fact tends to escape the electorate due to the fact that the right wing press simply don't report Cameron's poor performances in the Commons, in a televised live debate Cameron would be publicly exposed.  No matter how much the right wing press were to try and spin his poor performances, the public would have seen them for what they were.  So, Cameron's stand on the debates is actually as unprincipled as the rest of his policies. 

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Tuesday, January 06, 2015


Despite having planned a post for today and despite also intending to have started writing a new story for The Sleaze,  I find myself unable to write anything creative as I am still incandescent with anger over a work-related incident.  I say incandescent, but that was a few hours ago, now I'm in a state of cold, calculating anger.  Which, I know from experience, is far worse.  It means that I'm likely to do something in retaliation.  I can't help myself when I'm in this state.  It will probably mean having to track down one of those increasingly elusive beasts, a union rep, tomorrow and twisting their arm into doing their job and backing me in making a complaint against a manager.  I have no illusions about actually getting anywhere with such a complaint, but I simply wish to fire a warning shot across said manager's bows. 

These days the public sector is full of over-promoted middle managers with no experience, usually brought in from outside, who think that they can run roughshod over staff.  Due to the government's war against union activities and general undermining of workers rights, they expect us to be supine in the face of their bullying, (and it is bullying, not management - they have no idea of how to actually manage staff and workplaces, instead picking on individual members of staff and trying to intimidate them by seizing on the most trivial of things ('untidy' desks, notices on notice bards out of alignment - I'm not making that up, by the way, being 'too helpful' to the public and thereby 'wasting' time - again, I'm not making this up - and so on)).  But some of us still bite back.  Some of us don't like being threatened and harassed by jumped up, ignorant little pricks.  Little pricks who don't even have the balls to do it to your face and instead use third parties to convey their threats.  Little pricks who threaten me over something incredibly trivial which has nothing to do with my work performance. 

The underlying agenda here, I know, is that I'm one of a significant number of long-serving staff members the department would like to get rid of as part of its constant cost-cutting. (Our experience, it seems, counts for nothing in today's public service). Some have already had enough and have either applied for early departure schemes or early retirement.  Usually in the face of the kind of petty harassment I now seem to be facing.  But I haven't done any of those things and have no intention of doing so until my mortgage is paid off in just over two years time.  At which point, financially, I'll have the advantage.   Unless I'm offered another job between now and then, I'm going nowhere.  So my intent with regard to reciprocating this particular manager's bullying with a complaint is simply to try and make them back off until I'm ready to leave under my own steam.  It's no good little upstarts like this individual getting impatient and trying to harass me into leaving before then.  He and his ilk will just have to be patient.


Monday, January 05, 2015

The Most Depressing Month?

OK, it's January, it's back to work time, so it's also time to indulge what's become an annual obsession for me: the haste with which we turn our backs on the festive season. After all that build up, we just can't wait to wrap it up, it seems.  As I grow older I find myself becoming, if not exactly a fan of the season, more enamoured of it, appreciating more the defiance of the cold and darkness of Winter that it represents.  Which is probably why all those Christmas light displays people put up on the outsides of their houses and in their gardens fascinate me more with every year which goes by.  Whereas I once thought of them as tacky and garish expressions of egotism and one-up-man-ship with regard to the neighbours, I can now see them as colourful fetishes against the bleakness of the season.  Yet, despite decorations like these lights, literally, brightening the dark days of Winter, we can't wait to pull them down as soon as January arrives, it seems. 

Bearing in mind that many people seem to feel that January is the most depressing month of the year, you'd think that we'd be keener to keep the lights burning and the decorations up.  Indeed, at one time people did keep Christmas decorations up until the end of January.  As recently as Georgian times the Christmas season started late in November and carried on until late January - in terms of the decorations, at least.  In terms of celebrations, let's not forget that Twelfth Night, the epiphany, now used simply as the demarcation point for when Christmas is meant to end, was a major celebration in its own right.  Back then they understood the importance of keeping one's spirits up during the cold season.  But then someone came up with the idea that it would be 'bad luck' to keep the decorations up beyond Twelfth Night, thereby ensuring that the celebrations are cut short and everybody is forced back to the misery of work.  Trust me, it's no coincidence that this Twelfth Night bollocks coincided with the advent of the industrial revolution.  The working classes can't be allowed to enjoy themselves - it could hurt productivity and eat into the profits of their capitalist masters.  Yet another good reason for a revolution, I think - and to start it, this year, refuse to take down your lights and decorations.  Keep them up for January.


Friday, January 02, 2015

The Sex Thief (1973)

It's not often that a seventies British sex comedy can proclaim on its DVD box that it's 'from the director of Casino Royale and Goldeneye'.  But The Sex Thief is indeed directed by Martin Campbell - notching up one of his earliest directorial credits - thereby giving the lie to the popular contemporary notion that the genre was simply tacky crap turned out by talentless opportunists.  The fact is that back in the seventies sex comedies were amongst the only profitable films being produced in the UK, playing in regular cinemas to huge audiences.  As far as film industry professionals were concerned, they were pretty much the only game in town if you wanted to work on feature films rather than TV episodes.  Consequently, a lot of these supposedly tacky and poorly made sex comedies are actually very professionally made pictures, slickly shot and often well performed by casts of surprisingly familiar actors.

The Sex Thief is a case in point.  Not only does it feature the talents of Martin Campbell behind the camera, but in front of the camera it can boast cult favourite David Warbeck, (just before he was to find fame in Italian horrors movies), Diane Keane (in an early leading role and a long way from the cosy sitcoms, soaps and TV coffee ads she's known for nowadays), Christopher Neill (later to star in Adventures of a Private Eye and Adventures of a Plumber's Mate as well as writing several hit songs for Paul Nicholas), Christopher Biggins, (in the days when he was still known as a character actor - he keeps his clothes on here) and Christopher Mitchell, (later to be known for the sitcom It Ain't Half Hot Mum).   Also featured in an acting role is Michael Armstrong, perhaps better known as a writer, producer and director, most notoriously on the 1970 horror film Mark of the Devil.  As well as appearing in The Sex Thief, he also provides the script.

And it isn't a bad script at all.  Capitalising on his image as a former 'Milk Tray Man', Warbeck plays Grant Henry, unsuccessful thriller writer turned cat burglar, who doesn't just rob his female victims but also seduces them.  Of course, his performances are so accomplished that his 'victims' give the police false descriptions of the burglar, leaving Scotland Yard baffled.  The attempts of the police and Diane Keane's insurance investigator to apprehend Henry forms the bulk of the film's plot, with a sub-plot involving a visiting American film actress claiming to be one of his victims for publicity purposes, resulting in Henry paying her an actual visit, under the noses of the police.  Another sub-plot involves Armstrong's Detective Sergeant Plinth, who 'helps out' the obscene publications squad by reading seized porn magazines on duty and his attempts, with the assistance of Neill's dodgy tabloid journalist, to illicitly distribute porn films seized as evidence.  This latter sub-plot yields some of the film's best dialogue, with Neill observing, whilst discussing a Scandanavian adult film, that the Danes 'make minge look classy'. 

It all culminates with Keane and Plinth's boss attempting to entrap Henry, using her as bait, with surprising consequences.  Nicely shot on London locations, The Sex Thief moves along at a fair pace, with Campbell providing the viewer with some of the most energetic, not to say inventively shot, sex scenes I recall having seen in a British sex comedy of the era.  One thing that would seem jarring to modern audiences, particularly those too young to have lived through the early seventies, are the frequent jocular references to rape.  The fact is that, back then, rape wasn't treated, in popular culture at least, as seriously as it - rightly - is now.  Indeed, back then, 'rape' was defined, in the popular mind, rather differently than it is now, seen less as a serious sexual assault as being some kind of female fantasy, in which a woman is taken by some masculine fantasy figure, much as in one of those 'bodice ripper' novels.  Although initially unwilling, they actually enjoy it and are, to some extent, a willing participant.  Such a view of rape seemed to derive from the classical definition of rape as being the abduction of a woman (as in the 'Rape of the Sabine Women') rather than the legal definition of it as non-consensual sex.

Provided you are prepared to put aspects of the movie such as this into an historical perspective, The Sex Thief remains a highly entertaining film.  As with the Lindsay Shonteff films I looked at last year, I'm not making any claims that this is some kind of lost classic.  What I am claiming is that it is a well made commercial film in its own right and a good example of an oft-maligned genre.   The snobbery of contemporary film critics frequently prevents them from treating films like this fairly.  To them British sex comedies are all lumped together as poorly made smut with no artistic value, something they'd rather sweep under the carpet.  However, the fact is that they represent a vital part of the UK's film history - without the money they generated and opportunities they afforded film makers, there would be no British film industry to speak of today.  So, think on that next time you are tempted to dismiss Confessions of a Window Cleaner, say, as trash.  


Thursday, January 01, 2015

A New Year

Well, that got the New Year off to the best possible start: Spurs thrashing Chelsea 5-3.  Let's just hope that things continue in this positive vein, not just for Spurs, but more generally.  It's probably too much to ask that in the next twelve months I'll finally find alternative employment, as my current situation has been the single biggest cause of grief in my life during 2014, but I can at least start seeking potential alternatives.  But, as ever, New Year or not, I'm refusing to make any resolutions - they are a recipe for disaster.  Either you lose sight of everything else in your life in pursuit of unrealistic resolutions, or  you end up causing yourself grief over your failure to achieve them.  So, no New Year's resolutions.  Another New Year's tradition I've been avoiding are New Year's sales.  For one thing the bargains on offer are rarely that good - if you wait long enough you'll find the same stuff on sale at lower prices within a few months.  For another thing, I really couldn't be arsed to go shopping today - I went out to buy a newspaper and the taste of the weather that gave me was more than enough to confirm that I'd rather spend the day at home crashed out on the sofa.  Judging by the lack of people about, my feelings were shared by the majority of other Crapchester residents.

Well, that's just about all I have to say on the subject of the New Year.  Hopefully, something like normal service will be resumed tomorrow.

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