Monday, July 31, 2017

Ghosts of Children's TV Past



We all have vague memories of TV shows we saw when younger - show which seemed to vanish without a trace into the mists of time, leaving you suspecting that you actually dreamed the experience of having watched them.  I spent many, many years searching for anyone else who remembered seeing Hope and Keane's Crazy House and Hope and Keane's Crazy Bus on kids' TV back in the early seventies.  Indeed, finding anyone who remembered Hope and Keane, let alone their TV shows seemed impossible.  But eventually I found other people who were also beginning to think that they'd just imagined these programmes.  It was like attending a therapy group.  I was reassured that the Singing, Ringing Tree had actually existed when it was parodied on The Fast Show - I surely couldn't have hallucinated the same TV series as the writers of a TV comedy sketch show I reasoned.  Of course, with the advent of the internet, it has become possible to track down information on many of these old shows, sometimes even excerpts or, occasionally, complete episodes.  Nevertheless, some remain elusive.

Take The Boy Who Won the Pools, for instance.  This was a Sunday afternoon serial from my local ITV station, TVS, which ran while I was in my late teens.  It was the sort of thing you watched because the TV was on and the only alternatives were probably the 'God slot' on BBC1 or some dullsville sports coverage (golf most likely) on BBC2.  There were no other channels back then and literally everything was closed on a Sunday, making going out pointless.  Whilst the title is self-explanatory, I don't recall any of the details of the plot, other than that the titular character spent his time trying to avoid characters such as his wastrel layabout father from spending his windfall themselves.  The above is the only excerpt from it I've been able to find.  I've never met anyone else who recalls seeing it, nor have I found any kind of detailed plot summary anywhere.  I don't know if the show even exists in its entirety in the TVS library anymore.  The programme has no real significance - as far as I'm aware - in terms of TV history, (the only two cast members I remember who were in any other high profile TV series were Don Henderson and Lucy Aston).  But it lingers irritatingly at the edge of my memory.

But at least I can remember the title of The Boy Who Won the Pools.  There's another ITV Sunday afternnon serial from the same era I have only the vaguest memories of - which don't include the title.  I know that it had a period setting and, for many years, I was convinced that it starred Benedict Taylor, when he seemed to be the lead in every TV series aimed at young adults.  However, I can't find any trace of any such series on his IMDB biography.  (He was in another TVS produced Sunday afternoon serial from that era called Barriers, which I do remember seeing, so perhaps my memory is confusing him with someone else on this basis).  I'm also pretty sure that James Cosmo was in some episodes - the closest I can find in his CV was a serial called Midnight is a Place, but I'm not sure this is the series I'm thinking of.  I do recall that some episodes featured a blonde American girl who was played by a blonde English actress whose name I can't remember and who was in something else. the title of which I don't remember, around the same time!  If only I could remember her name, then I could probably identify the series!

In a strange sort of way, it is quite reassuring that thee are still some things you can't just track down with a few clicks on a keyboard.  There is clearly still a place for the human memory and investigative skills.  So, if you have any more details on The Boy Who Won the Pools or can somehow recognise the other show I'm rambling incoherently about (which might or might not have starred Benedict Taylor), let me know in the comments.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Istanbul Express (1968)



So you are asking just why I'm spending time looking at an obscure sixties TV movie?  After all, it isn't exactly schlock in the normal sense that the stuff I tend to write about here is - the closest it gets to that is that it is the TV equivalent of those European Bond knock offs that proliferated in the sixties.  But not as colourful or inventive.  However, it isn't the film itself I'm so much interested in as the whole phenomena of the made-for-TV movie.  To deal with Istanbul Express itself, the film isn't without interest.  The plot itself is pretty straightforward, with US art dealer-cum-CIA spy Gene Barry involved in espionage shenanigans aboard the titular train.  During the journey he is to collect a series of numbers which, together, will give him access to a bank account in Istanbul, whose funds he is to use to try and buy some secret documents at an auction.  Inevitably rivals try to delay or kill him along the way.  Whilst Barry represents pretty conventional casting for this sort of project (he'd previously starred in Burke's Law/Amos Burke - Secret Agent and would later headline ITC's The Adventurer), the casting of the second lead was somewhat less conventional, with the ubiquitous John Saxon playing the train's security officer.  Saxon, a prolific actor with a long career (he's still around today), is one of those 'not quite' movie stars.  Instantly recognisable, although most viewers probably couldn't tell you his name, Saxon is one of those performers casting directors can never quite pigeonhole.

A decent enough actor, he always seems uncomfortable when cast as conventional good guy.  There's an edge and intensity to his performances which prevents the viewer from completely empathising with his good guys - you always suspect that he's about to to do a volte face and do something evil.  Consequently, he's more often than not cast as a villain and has spent most of his career in low budget movies (he's been in everything from B westerns to Italian cannibal movies).  His looks (he's part Native American) have often been used as shorthand for foreign villainy - one of his highest profile TV roles was playing an Arab sheik in Dynasty).  Istanbul Express uses him reasonably effectively - although the narrator of the story, we're never quite sure whose side Saxon's character us actually on.  Indeed, the character himself tells Barry that ultimately he is only interested in the safety of the train and reputation of the railway company operating it and these concerns happen, for the time being, to coincide with Barry's mission.

The other notable feature of Istanbul Express is that, unusually for a TV movie, it features some overseas location shooting.  The exterior sequences in France and the  Venice segment do appear to have been shot on location, with at least some of the featured actors actually present.  By contrast, the Istanbul sequences use a series of long shots to establish the location, with the featured actors only appearing in close up in studio bound interiors.  TV movies were generally shot on the Universal back lot, featuring exterior sets already over familiar from countless movies.  The only location shooting would be on nearby streets or on one of the ranches owned by the studios, which were still within easy driving distance of LA.  Indeed, cheapness was always one of the defining characteristics of the average TV movie.  A cheapness which extended beyond the over used standing sets to the curiously empty streets and buildings the action took place in - extras cost money. 

But Istanbul Express predated the mass-produced TV movies of the seventies.  It was made at a time when the format was still a relative novelty and sanitised blandness became the order of the day.  Compared to later TV movies, for instance, it is notably violent, which wasn't unusual in the early incarnations of the TV movie,  (A 1964 made for TV remake of  The Killers, directed by Don Siegel and starring Lee Marvin, no less, was considered so violent it was released to cinemas, instead).   Production values were generally better on these early TV movies - they were still cheaply made, but there seemed to be a bit more care taken over them.  Which isn't to say that all seventies TV movies were worthless: Spielberg's Duel was originally made for TV, Dan Curtis' Night Stalker was an effective horror movie, as were several Richard Matheson scripted TV films.  Nevertheless, the majority of them were simply cheap and unmemorable, (as a kid, my heart would sink when I saw something labelled as TV movie turned up in a film slot), very much the B movies and programmers of their day.

It wasn't just the re-use of old sets, the employment of second and third string actors and by-the-numbers direction which seventies TV movies had in common with B movies,  The fact is that their very existence was the result of the supply of cheap movies not being able to keep up with TV's appetite for content in the seventies.  In the seventies the TV rights to top line Hollywood movies were still relatively expensive - a cheaper alternative was to produce sinilarly themed, but cheaper, TV movies to keep audiences happy.  Plus, TV movies had the advantage of being tailored to fit a particular time and came with convenient vreaks for ads built in, eliminating the need for editing.  Not to mention the fact that they were made to conform to network standards, meaning that network censors didn't have to go through them snipping out expletives and nudity.  TV movies also provided  a useful format for producing pilots for prospective TV series: even if it wasn't picked up for a series, the network still had a movie it could give repeated screenings of. 

Eventually the TV movie was superseded by other formats, notably the 'Mini Series', often based on a best selling novel and the advent of cable stations like HBO, which weren't subject to network restrictions on content.  The format hasn't disappeared altogether. Nowadays they usually take the form of 'real life' stories of small town family trauma.  These are even blander than their seventies ancestors, despite better production values.

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Feet of Clay?

A brief return to politics.  I've lately noticed a fair number of erstwhile Corbyn supporters expressing concern and dismay with regard to the stance he's committing Labour to with regard to Brexit.  In particular, they don't like his decision to rule out staying in the single market and customs union and his attitude on immigration, which seems to pander to the anti-immigration lobby.  "Corbyn's Brexit would be no different to May's" wailed one social media post I've seen.  All of a sudden, lots of those faux socialists on Twitter are condemning their own man for being anti-immigration.  Now, I could use this as an opportunity to accuse Corbyn of hypocrisy and his supporters finally realising that he has feet of clay.  But I won't.  The reality here is that these supporters are finally having it brought home to them that real life politics involves a lot of compromise.  While Corbyn was seen as an electoral no hoper, he could get away with promising anything, but after the general election result, he is seen as a potential prime minister.  Suddenly finding himself so close to power, he and his advisers realise that if they are to make that final push for power at the next election, then Corbyn has to widen his appeal, which means putting up policies that might find favour with those who didn't vote for him this time.

What these casual supporters have also conveniently forgotten is Corbyn's woeful performance during the EU referendum and his long standing opposition to the EU.  But that's their problem - they have no grasp of history.  If they did, they would understand that the left in the UK has a long history of opposition to membership of the EU, seeing it as a pro-business organisation dedicated to rolling back public ownership.  (They aren't entirely wrong, to be fair),  Trade unions' love of the EU is a relatively recent phenomena, born of the workers' rights and health and safety protections it guarantees.  Historically, there has also been a strong thread of opposition to immigration within the British labour movement, with immigrants being seen as competition for British workers, taking their jobs and driving wages down.  As recently as the 1070s you could still find a fair amount of blatant racism on the part of trade unionists.  So, arguably Corbyn is merely tapping into traditional labour 'values' which is vital if he is to win the traditional working class vote back for Labour.  So I'm neither going to condemn Corbyn or make snide comments about his policy stances at this juncture (although I think he is wrong on his approach to Brexit).  I'll leave that to his fair weather supporters on social media.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Strange Occurrence in the Lounge Bar

A funny thing happened last night.  I walked into my local pub and it was absolutely deserted.  Just me and the barman.  It was all very peculiar.  I know that I got there later than usual, (I'd become engrossed in recording a contribution to this week's Overnightscape Central podcast and lost track of time), but even late on a Monday night the place is usually livelier than that.  According to Tom the barman, it had been quiet all night.  Maybe it's because it is getting near the end of the month and everyone is skint, or perhaps it had something to do with the schools and colleges breaking up for the summer (that at least explained the absences of the usual teacher contingent), but for some reason, nobody was going out to the pub last night.  Even the resident pub bore, Ted (not his real name, but close enough) didn't bother turning out.  Anyway, I stayed for a couple of pints and as I was halfway through the second one and Tom the barman was about to start locking up as we figured no one else was going to turn up, we heard the side door open and this strange figure wandered into the lounge bar.

I say 'strange', because he was dressed in tweeds, was extremely pale and walking with the aid of a stick.  He informed us that he hadn't been in the pub for fifteen years and had decided to drop in  as he was passing (as you do, at close to closing time) and see if this fellow he'd used to drink with was in.  Not surprisingly, he wasn't.  It seemed that his former drinking companion hadn't waited for him.  To be brutally frank, judging by the state of the visitor, I'd be surprised if his friend is still alive, let alone drinking in the lounge bar.  He then asked after a member of staff he recalled and I had to tell him that they had died nearly eighteen months ago.  I was beginning to suspect that he was some kind of time traveler, who had stumbled into the present from fifteen years ago.  He then told us that he no longer lived in Crapchester and was only back in town 'for this!' At which point he briefly removed his cap to reveal a bald pate with some kind of surgical dressing at the centre.  Now, I'm still not sure what 'this' was - maybe he was a member of the local trepanning society and had just had a hole drilled in his skull by a fellow member.  (I must admit, I've never seen the point of trepanning.  If we are to believe the 1969 Mondo movie Naked England, it was very popular in swinging London, when it was apparently very fashionable to have a hole drilled in your skull.  At least, that's what I think the film was claiming, as I've only seen it in Italian, a language I'm not fluent in).  Before I had a chance to ask, he left, as mysteriously as he had arrived.  And without buying a drink.

Following that, Tom the barman locked up and I finished my pint and wandered home, mildly perplexed by what I'd experienced.  But not so perplexed that I didn't finish editing that audio.  My throat still hurts from recording it - for some reason I delivered my piece in the style of a hillbilly.  I say hillbilly, but it was actually more like a bad impression of Walter Brennan in one of his many 'crazy old coot' roles in post war westerns.  Perhaps the mysterious stranger will be back next time I'm in the pub and we'll get to the bottom of his head injury.  Maybe he'll talk if I subject him to my Walter Brennan impression.  Who knows.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Weekend Interrupted

I've just had one one of those weekends which descended into haziness, with time slipping away and little achieved.  My attempts to recover from the work-related fiasco of Friday were rudely interrupted on Saturday morning when, after only a few hours sleep (I'd been catching up with trash TV until the early hours) I was rudely awakened by one my neighbours banging out the back just after eight o'clock.  When I say 'banging', that's not a euphemism.  They were hammering away at something - and it just went on and on.  Trying to get back to sleep during this was impossible, so I  spent several hours listening to the radio, before I got back to sleep, only awakening in the afternoon.   Obviously, this left me feeling completely disorientated and my plans for the day utterly disrutyed.  But never mind, I thought, I've still got Sunday morning to catch up on my sleep.  But yes, you've guessed it, they started again, this time observing the decorum of the Lord's day by waiting until eight thirty to start hammering. Again, it went on for hours. This time I resorted to ear plugs.  My day still ended up severely disrupted.

I'm left wondering what is wrong with some people - don't they understand the concept of the weekend?  You don't have to get up at the crack of dawn to carry out noisy outdoor projects, especially in Summer - you've got all day, for two days, to do it.  Personally, I never start anything that's going to involve lots of noise before ten o'clock on weekends.  I figure that, like me, for most people the weekend is the only chance they have to break out of tiresome work routines and instead relax and stay in bed longer.  Clearly, though, not everyone is as considerate as me in this respect.  I remember that some years ago there was someone in the houses across the back from mine who used to start up all sorts of power tools at nine o'clock every Saturday morning.  Eventually he annoyed me so much that I shouted in his general direction from my bathroom window, calling him an 'evil bastard'.  It might just have been coincidence, but that was the last Saturday he played with his power tools at such an early hour.  It's surprising badly a weekend disrupted in this way can put you out: it isn't just the lack of sleep and general disruption of sleeping patterns, but also the way it interferes with one's plans.  I ended up spending a large part of my waking hours on the sofa, feeling disorientated, rather than actually getting on with things, for instance.  The end result was that i got up this morning with a sense of dissatisfaction, as if I hadn't actually had a weekend, which persisted all day.  Hopefully, next weekend will be quieter.  

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Overcoming Inertia

It's days like today which bring it home to my why I have to quit my current job.  I can't go into details, but I didn't get home until seven thirty, more than two hours after I was meant to finish (I've already worked late all week)  soaking wet after having spent an hour outside in the pouring rain.  But these aren't the main reasons for my discontent.  No. That would be my employer's cavalier disregard for my health and safety.  Once again I and a colleague were placed in a position of unacceptable risk.  Again, I can't go into details, but believe me, the potential for potentially life threatening danger was present.  I'm naive enough to believe that an employer's first duty of care is toward its own employees, but that just doesn't seem to be  the case these days - everyone's safety is put ahead of ours by management.  But what the Hell, I should stop talking about this and do something.  I've clearly moaned about my work situation too much: my friend recently told me quite bluntly, 'Just leave'.  She is, of course, right.  (She always is on such matters).  But, as another friend, who as finally made the decision to retire from his work, was saying to me last night, over a couple of pints in the pub, the problem is always one of inertia.

It's all too easy to convince oneself that, not matter how bad the current situation is, moving on would be time consuming, disruptive and difficult: better the devil you know.  Which, obviously, is completely the wrong approach to take.  I should be celebrating the prospect of a clean break, a new start away from the over-familiarity and comfort of the current workplace.   An uncertain future should surely be preferable to the all too predictable work cycle I'm currently trapped in, facing the same drudgery, day in, day out.  But I need time to think all of this through properly.  I've taken a step toward being able to do that today by booking in my Summer leave - three work free weeks of August beckon.  Hopefully, I'll suffer no distractions in the form of illness, failed boilers or clapped out cars that have marred my previous attempts to take time out this year.  Hopefully a few weeks of walking along beaches and striding through forests will help me think my next moves through properly.  After all, I have no mortgage, no dependents and money in the bank.  I really should be enjoying myself more.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Blind Side of God (1987)


I haven't mentioned the late Cliff Twemlow, (the man who single-handedly created a string of Manchester based low budget action movies in the 1980s), for quite a while now.  So, this time around. I've decided to present a 'trailer' for one of his movies, The Blind Side of God.  I say 'trailer', in reality it is a very elaborately staged show reel designed to be shown to prospective investors and distributors.  Sadly, funding wasn't forthcoming and The Blind Side of God was never made.  Which is a pity, as I would happily have watched it.  I suspect that, if pitched ten years later it might have attracted funding - peadophilia was more of a 'story' in the late nineties, propelled into the public consciousness by the tabloids.  But, back in 1987 is just didn't register with the public in the way it does now.  Nevertheless, his choice of theme shows that Twemlow was as remarkably prescient as ever, (he pioneered direct-to-video releases, for instance and correctly predicted that streaming and downloading onto computers was the future of movie distribution).

Judging by the showreel, Blindside of God would have been a typically action packed Twemlow production, featuring him as a gun-toting vigilante accompanied by lots of explosions and car chases.  The interesting thing is that this type of movie was still being made (albeit on larger budgets) in places like France and Italy throughout the seventies and eighties.  Brutal vigilante cops, usually patterned after Dirty Harry, were de riguer on the continent back in those days.  But in the UK, the nearest equivalent of these genres was to found on TV, in the form of series like The Sweeney and The Professionals.  Frustratingly, outside of a few outings like Get Carter, Sitting Target and The Squeeze, the beleaguered British film industry showed little interest in pursuing this type of subject matter.  It was instead left to low budget operators like Twemlow and Lindsay Shonteff (whose Clegg is an unjustly neglected masterpiece of the hard boiled private eye genre).  It's tempting to think that, with bigger budgets and better distribution, Twemlow could have been producing the equivalent to French policiers or Italian poliziottesch
movies. A man can dream.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Porn Losers

The government's latest knee jerk reaction to the non-threat of internet pornography is more than a little worrying.  They are proposing that, from next year, age verification of some kind will be required to view pornographic sites.  This could involve giving up credit card details (always a good on the web, eh?) as proof that one is over eighteen.  Now, this is worrisome on several levels.  Most obviously, it seems to demonstrate that our rulers have only the flimsiest grasp of how the internet actually works.  They are aware, aren't they, that the overwhelming majority of porn sites are based outside of the UK and therefore beyond the reach of such regulations?  They do know, don't they, that the web is a global thing that transcends national borders?   They don't seem to grasp that any UK porn sites covered by such legislation would simply move to overseas servers, where they can't be prosecuted for not enabling this ludicrous age verification nonsense.  The only way they can make such legislation effective - and here's the next worrisome thought - would be to try and set up something like China's so called 'Great Firewall of China' and attempt to regulate what UK citizens can and can't see on the web.

Such censorship would be an extremely repressive move and a clear attempt to block both freedom of information and free speech.  Of course, they've already tried a variation on this approach by trying to get Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to place content filters on customers' accounts by default, blacklisting 'adult' sites and requiring customers to actively request the filters' removal.  The thing is that these filters and blacklists won't just stop you from seeing so called 'adult' sites - they will block all sorts of innocent sites.  There have been plenty of reports already of sexual health sites being blocked, not to mention sites promoting 'alternative lifestyles' and esoteric beliefs.  I've had personal experience of this sort of thing: I once tried to look at Gav Crimson's blog using the 4G connection on my phone, only to find it being blocked on the grounds of it containing adult material and my carrier demanding age verification (which, I found, would actually cost me money).  Naturally, ny reaction was one of 'fuck off' - I thought then and still feel that it is areal liberty to try and dictate to me what I can and can't see on my personal phone using a data connection I pay for.  Even worse is the fact that the blog in question isn't pornographic, it merely reviews and discusses vintage British adult films and pop culture.  But, it has been placed behind one of those warning screens by Google - which they slap on any Blogger blog if some busybody has complained that something on it has offended them - which my 4G carrier clearly equates with pornographic content. 

As I said, we really need to be worried at this latest attempt at censorship. As ever it is all being justified on the old 'won't somebody think of the children' schtick.  Apparently, repression of the internet is the only way to stop children seeing all that horrible porn (the fact that the same sort of stuff is being peddled as prime time entertainment in the form of 'reality TV' like Love Island on freely available mainstream TV channels doesn't seem to come into it).  The fact is that restricting what children see, whether it be on TV, in print or on the internet, is a parental responsibility, not that of the state.  We really need to oppose these measures, otherwise we won't just be porn losers, so to speak, but also risk accepting an unprecedented and unregulated degree of censorship.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Distaff Doctor?

"It's obvious that Chibnall has only cast a woman as The Doctor so that he and his straight mates can whack off over the character the way gay fans used to cream their pants over the likes of David Tennant and Matt Smith," opines Dr Who 'superfan' Tim Rubbles on his blog, as he addresses the whole issue of new showrunner Chris Chibnall's casting of a woman in the series' title role.  "It's a clear act of homophobia - everyone knows that The Doctor is a gay icon - just look at the number of gay guys who have produced the programme - and this is cruel attempt to deprive the gay community of one of their top masturbatory fantasies.  If they think that they can fob us off with some kind of sex object male companion, then they are sorely misguided."  Other fans disagree with Rubbles' analysis, claiming that The Doctor's gender change is all part of a gay plot.  "It's those poofters at the BBC attempting to subvert normal sexuality again," says rival 'Whovian' Pete Pogg in his video blog, recorded live in his bedsit.  "By turning the character into a woman, they've destroyed another good straight male role model for young men everywhere.  What next, a gay Doctor?  Or a bisexual Doctor who swings between Captain Jack and Billie Piper on a nightly basis? Is it any wonder that so many guys are going gay theses days? "

To return to reality, I was asked today what I thought about the latest casting of The Doctor.  'Totally underwhelmed' was my only response.  I have several concerns about this whole gender change for Dr Who.  Most importantly, this whole 'The Doctor should regenerate into woman' campaign has primarily been advanced by people who are actually not fans of the programme and are interested in pursuing their own agendas, rather than considering what is right for the future of the show.  The fact s that there has never been any demand on the part of fandom for such a development.  They don't care that such 'novelty' casting could undermine not only the fan base, but also the whole dynamic and purpose of the programme, so long as they have achieved their goals.  But once you make a change of this sort, you are in danger of making the programme a vehicle for crudely propagandising a single issue, which, in the long run, can only be damaging.  Plus, I've always had an issue with the idea that you can advance the cause of gender equality by co-opting established male characters and arbitrarily making them female.  (Yes, I know that we've established within the programme's own universe that Time Lords can change gender when they regenerate, but the fact is that this is only a recent re-writing of the show's mythology and, like it or not, The doctor is firmly established as a male character).  When you do this, surely you are admitting defeat and saying that you can only create powerful female role models by co-opting existing male ones, that it is too difficult to establish new female characters who can capture the public imagination?

My biggest worry is the fact that this casting reveals a degree of desperation on the part of the BBC and incoming production team.  It gives the impression that they think that all they need to do revive falling viewing figures is to go in for some novelty casting, that this will be enough to stir public interest in the show.  Which, if true, betrays a complete failure to grasp why the programme has been struggling for the past few series.  Whilst things like erratic scheduling don't help, making it difficult to build a stable audience, the biggest problem has been the very patchy standard of the writing during Steven Moffat's tenure as showrunner.  Now, I'm not one of the 'STEVEN MOFFAT IS SHIT!' brigade, who constantly bellow their bilge on social media, the fact is that during his time at the helm scripts have been hugely variable.  At times writers seem to have had problems in even telling a coherent stories, let alone advancing logical plots.  Character consistency has also been poor. An excessive reliance on time paradoxes and the like to resolve stories also hasn't helped: after a while the novelty wears off and it just seems like lazy story telling.

The reality is that whoever plays the part, regardless of gender, is going to be left high and dry if the writing doesn't improve.  need proof?  Just look at Peter Capaldi's time in role: an excellent actor who, in his first two seasons. was ill served by scripts that were poorly constructed, lacking in logic and which denied him any chance to develop the character properly.  The marked improvement in writing during his final season came too late and couldn't arrest the downward slide in viewing figures.  Sadly, based on his previous work for Who and Torchwood, I'm not confident that Chris Chibnall is the man to give us the needed improvement in the script department.  Just changing The Doctor's gender won't be enough to distract from these problems and I fear that a combination of casting and poor writing will result in the next series being an unmitigated disaster.  I hope I'm wrong, but if I'm not, I'd like to get in first and bellow 'CHRIS CHIBNALL IS SHIT!'

I know, I know, I'm obviously a middle aged, middle class misogynist because I don't welcome The Doctor's change of gender.  At least, that's the reaction others trying to articulate similar views have received. Well, tough.  I'm sorry if I have an opinion different to yours - tough, I'm entitled to it. 
   

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Friday, July 14, 2017

A Touch of Glamour


OK, I've talked about 'Glamour Shorts' here before, usually when discussing those cut down 8mm versions of feature films which, until the advent of VHS, were the only type of home cinema available to most people.  Well, the 'Glamour Shorts' were their naughtier cousins.  Unlike the 8mm feature films, these were original productions and were, I suppose, the logical extension of 'stag movies'.  These shorts could be bought (mainly via mail order) and viewed in the privacy of one's own home.  Provided you had an 8mm projector, of course.  That was the thing about the old days of porn - you had to have a degree of technical competence if you wanted to watch it.  It isn't as simple as shoving a cassette or DVD in the player or, as it is today, clicking on a link.

These shorts could vary enormously in quality and format.  Budgets, or a lack thereof, dictated that many of them were in black and white and silent.  In their simplest form, they just featured a model stripping.  Some, however, aspired to greater artistry and featured story lines and multiple performers. The example presented here is the product of Harrison Marks, a legendary figure in British sex movies who can probably lay claim to having originated 'Glamour Shorts' back in the late fifties.  A Touch of History is from the sixties and presents its story in the form of a classic silent movie, featuring not just inter titles, but also the sort of make up and performances which characterised such movies.  From the care that has gone into recreating this look, it seems apparent that Marks, who also features in the film, was clearly a lover of classic cinema (as, indeed, were many others involved in British sex films).  Marks eventually graduated to directing features in the sex genre, eventually working with the likes of Mary Millington.  I could write reams about his remarkable life and career, but if you are interested in this, then I'd advise you to buy a copy of his biography, which is being reprinted (complete with foreword by friend of Sleaze Diary Gav Crimson).

As for the film itself,, at this distance in time it seems quaintly charming, rather than erotic or titillating.  Even in the sixties, I doubt that anyone watching it would be depraved or corrupted any more than they would have been by viewing a 'What-Butler-Saw' machine on a seaside pier.  Of course, even at the time of its release, shorts like this were rapidly being overtaken by more 'mainstream' media in terms of their content.  the Carry On films and their ilk, for instance, would quickly present similar 'sauciness' as family fun, whilst TV was inexorably pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable to have beamed into your living room.  As it stands, A Touch of History and the many other 'Glamour Shorts' currently available on You Tube offer a reminder of a time when erotica was strangely innocent, when the sight of lady getting undressed was considered sufficient.  It was also a time when the models, although very attractive, all had that non-glamourous, girl-next-door look to them.  Which, of course was the point of these 8mmshoerts: not only could you view them in your own home, but they presented the kind of girls you might realistically meet. 

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Crossing a Line

I see they've banned another advert on the grounds that it is too offensive.  This time it is for ladies razors and the objection seemed to be that it focused too much on said ladies' private area. Which, to be honest, is surely the point of the product, isn't it?  Let's not beat around the bush, so to speak, but one of the prime purposes of these razors (and the use apparently emphasised in the commercial) is for shaving the 'bikini line', making the emphasis on that part of the female anatomy understandable.  I've never actually see the commercials in question (they were only shown on ITV and Channel Four catch up services, which I don't use), so I can't comment on whether they actually were offensive or not.  There is one TV advert, though, which I feel should be banned on grounds of taste, not to mention the fact that it is very badly made, yet it continues to be shown.  This the commercial for 'VIPoo'.  Don't worry if you don't know what I'm talking about here - unless you sit up to the early hours watching obscure digital channels, you probably won't have seen it.  I first encountered it, I think, while watching Quest in the early hours.  I was half asleep at the time and assumed that I'd imagined it, but the ad turned up again, this time on Movies4Men.  Lately I've seen it on Talking Pictures TV.  Disturbingly, it has recently started appearing earlier in the evening, potentially exposing more people to its horrors.

But what, I hear you ask, is so offensive about this commercial?  Well, you remember when they started those toilet paper commercials which asked how clean you felt after wiping your arse and how you felt that this crossed a line?  The 'VIPoo' goes even further over that line.  Basically, it features a young actress at the premiere of her new film, telling us that she is going to 'punish the porcelain' (it is full of such euphemisms), but wants to make sure that the toilet cubicle doesn't stink when the next person - her director - uses it.  So, to cover the smell of her 'devil's dumplings' (I warned you about those euphemisms), she sprays the inside of the toilet bowl with 'VIPoo', which apparently forms a film over the water, preventing the smell from escaping - she's literally making sure her shit doesn't stink).  We are then treated to an animation of some turds (which, for some reason, are depicted as looking like ring doughnuts) sinking to the bottom of the bowl, their pungent odour trapped by the film of 'VIPoo'.  We then cut to the director entering the cubicle and wafting the air into his nostrils (which everyone does when entering a toilet cubicle), inhaling before smiling and nodding.  I mean, this is not only unpleasant (I, for one, really don't want to know about other people's toilet etiquette), but is also trying to sell an entirely nonsensical product.  The water itself in the toilet bowl prevents odours, there is no need to spray it with anything else.  If you are worried about such things, then take some air freshener into the toilet with you and spray it around liberally.

To be frank, more useful toilet-related products would be some kind of instant cleaning spray for those times you pebble dash the toilet bowl after your arse explodes.  Or a spray which can sink those stubborn, difficult to flush, floaters.  Similarly, a spray which shifts those U-blockers would be more helpful that 'VIPoo'.  But I'll stop there.  I don't want to give the bastards ideas for more offensive TV ads.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Seven Murders for Scotland Yard (1971)



To what degree can we ever properly judge the quality of a film originally made in a foreign language and subsequently dubbed - usually badly - into English?  How can we be sure that what we are hearing is, in any way, an accurate translation of the original dialogue?  Is it instead subverting the original intent of the makers?  It is also legitimate to question whether what you are seeing is an accurate representation of the original - different edits of films were often prepared for different foreign markets, sometimes featuring radically different footage.  These are all questions I ponder when watching continental exploitation films and all were foremost in my mind as I watched the London-set Spanish/Italian thriller Seven Murders for Scotland Yard.  Starring Spain's answer to Lon Chaney Sr, Paul Naschy and co-written by him under his Jacinto Molinar pseudonym, the film sits somewhere between a German 'Krimi' film and an Italian 'Giallo' in content, style and format.  Unfortunately, at least in the English language version I recently saw, it demonstrates the virtues of neither genre, instead coming over as talky, stilted and very slow moving.

Which is a pity as, on paper, it would seem to have all the ingredients necessary to create an entertaining piece of exploitation.  The central concept of a modern day - 1971 -Jack the Ripper stalking the streets of London, with Naschy's embittered former circus performer the prime suspect, seem promising.  Moreover, the use of actual London locations for many exterior shots suggests the possibility of an atmospheric production.  Sadly, the execution falls well short of expectations.  To be honest, the opening shots of a very sleazy looking early seventies Soho are probably the film's highlight.   It's all downhill after that, as it settles into a plodding police investigation into the murders with the plot not so much developing as stumbling along, with no real narrative drive or visual flair.  The fact is that Jose Luis Madrid's (a prolific Spanish film maker) direction simply lacks either the flamboyance required to pull off a 'Giallo' or the intensity needed to create the neo-Gothic claustrophobia of the typical 'Krimi'.  He isn't helped by the fact that the script lacks the outrageous twists and sheer bizareness which characterise he best 'Giallo' or 'Krimi' movies.  The 'twist' revealing the murderer's real identity (no prizes for guessing, from the outset, that the limping Naschy isn't the non-limping killer) comes as absolutely no surprise, for instance.  Even the murders are flatly filmed and lack any of the eccentricity you'd associate with a 'Giallo' - they are simply presented as straightforward, albeit bloody and brutal, stabbings, seen from the killer's point of view.

Where the film does score is in its off-kilter interpretation of seventies Britain and its complete failure to grasp UK culture or geography.   Despite the use of genuine London exterior locations, the interiors and some exteriors were filmed in Barcelona and Rome, giving the film a somewhat dislocated sense of time and place. There are a couple of jarring moments when the night time action moves from genuine London location to what is supposed to be a suburban street - a suburban street lined with trees and the clear sound of crickets chirping away in the background, obviously located in Barcelona rather than Camden.   The domestic interiors have a distinctly Southern European feel, while the pub interior bears more than a passing resemblance to the sort of generic tavern you see in many European films of the era. It certainly doesn't resemble the interior of any Soho pub I've ever been in (and I've been in quite a few).  The police offices seem to have come from the Universal backlot: all polished wood, hat racks and wallpaper that wouldn't have looked out of place in a Victorian knocking shop.

Indeed, it is in its depiction of the British police that the film founders most, they all seem to have wandered in from a Sherlock Holmes film, the senior detectives sporting umbrellas, bowler hats, public school accents and alarming facial hair (the main detective, Inspector Campbell has a moustache which seems in constant danger of peeling off), whilst the rank and file coppers all speak with working class accents and behave in a suitably servile manner.  For the film makers 'Scotland Yard' seems synonomous with 'Metropolitan Police', (a pub landlord, for example, calls 'Scotland Yard' rather than his local police station to report a bar room brawl).  When Campbell us seen leaving 'The Yard', late on in the film, it is revealed as what looks like a local police station rather than the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police (the real New Scotland Yard, of course, being instantly recognisable to audiences worldwide thanks to film and TV).  None of which should really be surprising - the film was primarily made for non English speaking audiences, who had only the vaguest ideas (mainly culled from Hollywood films) as to what Britain was really like.  It didn't matter to them that the version of London and the UK here is a caricature, populated by stereotypes - it merely serves as an 'exotic' backdrop to the action.  (The same, obviously, is true of British and US films and TV series set in 'foreign' locations).

The England depicted here is one populated by people named 'Cuthbert' and 'Winston', who live in plushly decorated houses, despite being employed as policemen or teachers and who discuss gruesome murders over tea.  (Indeed, Inspector Campbell's predilection for discussing his active cases with his friend Winston - who might as well have a neon sign over his head saying 'Crazed Sex Killer' - whilst the latter's wife hovers around with tea and cakes, is most perplexing).  Bi contrast, Soho seems to be entirely comprised of truly grotty flats occupied by prostitutes (which, to be fair, was probably still true in 1971).  It's also and England where the journey from London to Rye seems to take hours (which it would if you took the clearly Spanish train boarded by Campbell - one of the sloppiest uses of stock footage I've ever seen).  The dubbing doesn't help - the quality of the voice actors is very variable.  The main characters are dubbed reasonably well (with the artist dubbing Campbell sounding as if he were attempting am impersonation of Nigel Greene, which was actually quite appropriate to the character;s appearance), but the minors characters sport 'Gor blimey' mockney accents which would disgrace even Dick van Dyke.

Which brings us back to the initial question: can we really judge the film based on this version?  Quite apart from the dubbing, this is the 'tamer' UK version, with all the nudity removed, meaning, in practice, that the original murder sequences have been substituted with alternative takes. Perhaps, in their original version, these scenes were more stylishly and dynamically filmed.  Indeed, throughout the film, I kept hoping that this was an inferior alternative version for the foreign market and that somewhere there was a better version, full of verve and style.  The horror films I've seen Naschy in were wonderfully inventive, colourful and insane, full of energy and drive.  In fact the majority of Spanish genre films of this era are similarly lively anf enjoyable.  Seven Murders for Scotland Yard, by contrast, is singularly lacking in pace, suspense or surprises.  Its characters are completely unengaging - Naschy's  Bruno is far less charismatic than his wolfman, Waldemar Daninsky - and left me not caring what happened to any of them. Even the killer's motivation for murdering prostitutes is disappointingly mundane and rather cursorily revealed: he's impotent - in a genuine Italian 'Giallo' his motivation would have had complex roots in long past events and conspiracies.

In the end, the film's main entertainment value lies in the mildly hilarious depiction of seventies Britain and the magnificent seventies styles and clothes on display.  As a thriller, it just doesn't cut the mustard.  Which, as I've said, is something of a disappointment.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Rise of the Sex Robots

So, they want to ban the sale of sex robots made to look like children.  Damn it, do you think we can just have the sex robots, before they start placing restrictions on them?  I know that there are already robotic sex machines out there, shaped like women and capable of having 'sex' with men (they are invariably and depressingly female), but currently they are so expensive that they are only available to millionaire (and heterosexual) pervs in order for them to fulfill their rape fantasies without fear of legal action.  From the point of view of such people, the advent of the sex robot is a Godsend - just imagine: no need to employ shady private eyes and security firms to dispose of those dead hookers, no lawsuits, no potential for blackmail.  But should they only be available to the world's twelve richest would be rapists?  Surely they would of greater benefit to the masses of average men who, far from wanting to legally enact their violent fantasies, are simply too shy, too lacking in self confidence or plain too ugly, to be able to comfortably interact with real women?  Why should they have to settle for the old five knuckle shuffle or, at best, one of those plastic inflatable sex dolls?  OK, I know, these sex robots are actually nothing more than just a more sophisticated version of those dolls and, ultimately, represent the ultimate in assisted masturbation.  But what the heck, aren't the little guys entitled to a bit of luxury in the wanking department now and again?

To get back to the original point, presupposing that these sex aids become more commonplace, to what extent should there be restrictions placed upon their form?  I can understand why many would be uncomfortable with the idea of sex robots shaped like children, but ask yourself: wouldn't it be better if peadophiles were able to expend their sexual proclivities on machines rather than real children?  Perhaps thre could be a compromise: only registered peados could have access to such sex robots on the NHS, as part of their therapy?  I mean, it's either that or they have to keep using the dwarves and midgets dressed as kiddies.  But should we stop at just banning sex bots shaped like children?  What about animals?  Because you just know it is going to happen - mechanical goats, pigs, sheep, horses, probably even dolphins, for all the family to fuck.  But again, we have to ask, wouldn't some sicko into bestiality shagging a robot sheep be infinitely preferable to them going out to some field in dead of night and doing it to the real thing?  I'm sure that animal rights campaigners, farmers and sheep would agree.  But let's not stop there - shouldn't we place restrictions on exactly who adult female sex robots look like?

Surely there would have to be some stipulation that they couldn't be modeled on any real person, living or dead.  (I add the 'dead' bit because, conceivably, it would be possible to commit a form of necrophilia by proxy using a sex robot which looked like a deceased woman).   Not only could celebrity obsessed stalkers fuel their potentially dangerous fantasies by using sex robots resembling whichever female star happened to be the object of their delusions, but regular perverts and stalkers could, conceivably, obtain sex bots looking like that pretty female neighbour they watch through binoculars whenever she takes a bath.  Worse still, they could get a sex robot that looks like that girl at work who rejected their advances and use it to fuel their revenge fantasies.  Or they could have a sex robot that looks like that wife or girl friend who left them, but over whom they still obsess.  Quite apart from the fact that this sort of thing is, at best, simply creepy and, at worst, potentially dangerous deviant behaviour, surely it would also constitute a gross invasion of the privacy of the women concerned?  Shouldn't they have some control over their own image and how it is used?  It's all very perplexing.  Perhaps, in order to avoid all these complications, we should just stick to having one off the wrist.

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Friday, July 07, 2017

Feeling the Heat

This sweltering heat is having some strange consequences.  The other evening, for instance, this girl who lives opposite to where I park my car, with whom I'm on nodding terms with, as you tend to be with neighbours, actually enquired after my health as she passed by my car as I was getting out of it. She was concerned by the fact that I had clearly spent the better part of the day in a car on one of the hottest days of the year (I certainly looked frazzled enough).  Before I got my hopes up - younger women acknowledging, let alone speaking to me is becoming a rarity these days - it occurred to me that her concern was probably akin to that she would have felt if she had seen a dog locked in a hot car, except in this case it was some old geezer.  Perhaps this is going to become a thing, maybe we'll see campaigns being launched to alert people to the dangers of leaving middle aged  blokes in cars on hot days - always make sure they've rolled down a window.

Mind you, there are some hot weather-related things we need to start cracking down on - most urgently, overweight middle aged men taking their shirts off in public.  I dread it every time we have a spell of hot weather: all those beer bellies spilling over their belts.  Really guys, nobody wants to see that.  Nor do they want to see your fucking tattoos.  Believe me, tattoos are not cool.  They are not art.  They represent a regression into primitive tribalism.  And when you get to an age when you realise what an embarrassment they are, you'll be expecting me to subsidise their removal on the NHS.  Oh yes, before I forget, for some strange reason, male nipples are nowhere near as fascinating as their female equivalent.  We don't want to see them.  The most objectionable form of this behaviour, for me at least, is when these exhibitionists decide to drive their cars and white vans without their shirts on.  I don't know why, but this really winds me up.  We need legislation to stop this anti-social behaviour now, before it ruins another Summer for me.

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Thursday, July 06, 2017

Going Pete Tong

It's all going Pete Tong, as the kids say, (although I can't really see 'Pete Tong' being any kind of cultural reference point for contemporary kids, but there you are).  What's going wrong is all the IT stuff.  I was up until the early hours last night trying to solve a problem which temporarily took The Sleaze off line.  It turned out to be the latest update of the 'Jetpack' plugin which was causing the problems, (Automattic, who are behind the plugin still haven't offered any explanation for why the update caused this problem on some sites. In fact, they haven't even acknowledged that there is a problem, in spite of the various queries appearing on their help forum).   The problem, however, was easily solvable: I reverted back to the plugin's previous version (removing it completely would have taken some functionality from the site).  Which is more than can be said for my current problem: my laptop is refusing to boot.  Now, this isn't as crippling a problem as it might have been as, fortuitously, I took possession of my new laptop on Monday.

This means that I still have access to the web and can create content (like this post), but it means that I've lost all of my data, which is now locked down on the old laptop's hard drive.  I say all, I still have some of it stored on other media, including the cloud.  But it is bloody inconvenient - right now I can't access any of the video elements from which I edit together my movies and all of my sound files I use for podcasting have gone.  I know that the hard drive of the old laptop was showing some signs of failure (hence the purchase of this replacement), but there was absolutely no warning of this latest development.  I was hoping for a gradual transition between machines, but right now that is impossible.  Damn it, I hadn't even finished setting this laptop up properly.  The one consolation is that I'm unlikely to have similar problems with this new machine as it has a solid state drive, which is less prone to the sort of damage and corruption which afflicts conventional hard drives.  It also means that it doesn't get hot, which is a real boon.

The old laptop might not be a complete write off.  There is a possibility that I might be able to boot it with a recovery disk, in which case my priority would simply be to recover as much data from it as possible.  We'll see.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2017

The Giant Claw (1957)


As I continue to limber up in anticipation of my return to full fledged schlock movie reviews, I thought I'd do another, brief, 'Random Movie Trailer', this time for what is surely one of the most ludicrous of all fifties monster movies: The Giant Claw.  When I was a kid, this one sometimes turned up in the early evening schedules on ITV, gathering a cult following among us pre-pubescent school boys.  (TV looked very different in the early seventies, most of the 'prestige' films available to the BBC and ITV were usually of considerable vintage, with B-movies and TV movies being used to fill movie slots.  ITV, in particular, were fond of padding out their midweek prime time schedules with such fare).  Even to our uncritical eyes the titular monster looked ridiculous, the script seemed confused and the acting performances perfunctory (although, with that script, they could never be anything else).  Yet The Giant Claw still exuded a certain insane charm.

Presumably inspired by Toho's 1956 giant flying monster movie Rodan - and seemingly timed to cash in on that film's US release in 1957 - The Giant Claw sits several steps below that movie in every department.  Which shouldn't come as a surprise bearing in mind that it was produced by notorious B-movie maestro Sam Katzman, and directed by his house director Fred F Sears.  The lattwe had previously produced the surprisingly impressive Earth vs The Flying Saucers for Katzman's Clover Productions the previous year. That film had boasted excellent stop motion effects by Ray Harryhausen in order to create the flying saucers and aliens.  The story goes that Katzman subsequently approached Harryhausen to provide the effects for The Giant Claw, but had been put off by the price Harryhausen quoted him.  So, he instead farmed the work out to a Mexican effects studio.  The results are predictably dismal, with a laughable looking and stiffly moving monster - its strings clearly showing in most sequences - and some utterly unconvincing miniatures work.  The attack on the train is particularly hilarious as the giant space chicken, or whatever it is, appears to carry off part of a Lionel train set.

But, when all is said and done, The Giant Claw is undoubtedly highly entertaining, although not for the reasons intended by its makers.  In spite of everything wrong with it, the film has that feverish feel characteristic of all truly great schlock movies.  In fact, it is so schlocky that even it's trailer is confused, unable to make up its mind whether its monster is from outer space or some kind of prehistoric survival.  Watch it - I defy you not to like it.  You'd have to possess a heart made of stone not to be amused by its surreal ineptitude.

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Monday, July 03, 2017

Right Ho, Jeeves?

What is it with the British political right these days?  It increasingly seems to be populated with characters from PG Wodehouse.  Take that Jacob Rees Mogg, for instance, (oh, how I wish someone would take him, preferably the grim reaper), surely he's one of those acquaintances of Bertie Wooster who are forever being intimidated by potential fathers-in-law and former fiances of the current object of his affections?  Gussie Fink-Nottle, that famed fancier of fish and newts comes to mind.  Perhaps I'm being unfair to Gussie Fink-Nottle - he didn't after all live in a country mansion inherited from his father and wasn't the sort of person who liked to gratuitously quote the classics in order to demonstrate his obvious intellectual superiority to the plebs.  Then there's Boris Johnson - the very epitome of the sort of bumbling upper class buffoon who used to hang out in the bar of the Drones club in the Jeeves and Wooster stories.  People keep telling me that, despite appearances, Boris has a 'first class brain'.  I can only assume that he keeps it in a jar on his desk. There's a persistent misconception in this country that just because someone has read classics at Oxford or Cambridge, they must be some kind of intellectual giant.  In reality, it just means they've read a lot of stuff in  Latin and Greek and can quote it.

It's rather like that journalistic fallacy which equates dullness with gravitas - that's the only reason that Vince Cable keeps getting held up as some kind of economic guru (completely ignoring his actual track record in government, which is abysmal).  I've had the misfortune to actually hear Cable speak: he is, quite possibly, the most boring speaker I've ever experienced.  Which, obviously, is his secret: he is so dull that  everyone listening falls asleep, then wakes up to hear polite applause as Cable finishes and assumes that he must have said something important.  Moreover, as the press will tell you, important things are always boring. Exciting stuff is just trivial.  Of course, Cable is another PG Wodehouse staple - the club bore, like the Oldest Member, who insists on telling their stories over and over to a captive audience.  But it isn't just the mainstream of the political right which currently seems to be inhabited by PG Wodehouse characters - UKIP (remember them?)has more than its fair share.  We'll just take one as an example: Godfrey Bloom, the loathsome patrician who likes to refer to 'Bongo Bongo land' and to patronise women.  He's surely the outraged retired colonel who is always misunderstanding Wooster's intentions to his daughter and threatening to horse whip him, before the inimitable Jeeves contrives to resolve the situation in a suitable bizarre, yet urbane, way.  It's all very disturbing.  Where is Jeeves when we need him?

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