Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Black Beauty, Towers' Masterpiece and Tenser's Too



The Tigon/Towers Black Beauty has been shown uncut in a children’s TV slot on RTE. Even the mentions of the word ‘bastard’ are left intact. It is despite its reputation as a children’s film, an exploitation movie. Produced by two titans of the genre of Wardour Street, Harry Alan Towers and Tigon’s Tony Tenser, there’s scenes of a young and slightly OTT Patrick Mower sadistically laughing as he whips horses, and German import (thanks to Towers) Uschi Glas (credited in typical euro-Anglicisation style as Ursula Glass) in bondage, having been taken from the horse by a rope looping around her and hanging her in the air before being kidnapped by rival circus men and horse-nappers, fighting fat ladies who are told to lose weight for the circus and a brief Mondo-like scene where a monkey fights a dog at a circus. Thanks to Towers, there are anachronisms. Bearded hippy-ish men with ponytails which date the film to 1971, a graveyard scene features 20th century graves and one of those stylised Victorian funeral carriages that you only see at funerals of old people and in Eastenders. Some of the outfits seem slightly out of place, especially in an odd interlude where Beauty is abducted by the Muldoons, a band of Irish gypsies in caravans who seem to exist in 1970s’ Ireland, and results in a slapstick horse chase full of jumping over burning logs and gates and name-calling ‘blithering idiots’ to the reuse of cheering scenes of Irish travellers cheering, before the horse suddenly wanders into  what is clearly the dustbowls of Spain, where is he then shipped from Spain doubling as the English countryside to Spain doubling as Spain,  morphing into a bad Spaghetti western with ill-handled dubbing and a circus that too seems modern, before it is sold to John Nettleton from Yes, Prime Minister and Doctor Who: Ghost Light who lives in Ireland/England and has as a bratty daughter, Maria ‘Mad Mrs. Towers’ Rohm herself, who apparently broke her leg while riding, and is I think dubbed (I must ask Maria herself) and then her lover (spurned by the racist frog-hating father) brings the horse into battle, makes it a war hero in a violent but bloodless scene, then sold to one of the soldiers, then taken to a coal yard where it encounters the story’s writer Anna Sewell played by Margaret ‘Mrs. Whistler in Diamonds are Forever’ Lacey.

There seems to be about two different films being made, one by Tenser and one by Towers. Mower comes across as a slightly crazed posh hippie with his long hair and top hat, while Lester is just adequate. He’s little to do than plead to keep his horse and ride horses. I hope that the children who do catch this film will realise the charms of Towers and Tenser. I hope that they will also show other Towers family films such as White Fang, Treasure Island and Call of the Wild. They have already aired the anodyne Towers anti-seal hunting vehicle Sandy the Seal and the slow giallo exploits of And Then There Were None ’74.

Apparently, this film was directed by Born Free/A Study in Terror director James Hill, once in line to do a Doctor Who film, but I wouldn’t be surprised to think that Jess Franco (who with fellow euro-exploitation man Antonio Margheriti did ghost-directing duties on Treasure Island) helped along, with the casting of Blood of Fu Manchu’s Ricardo Palacios as a vicious Russian General.

On the whole, it is an enjoyable and yet flawed film. It seems to go from one segment to another, the only link being the horse. It takes us from the story of a boy in an English farm to a race among gypsies to a circus in Spain to an English mansion and the tale of two doomed lovers, the man who dies in battle in Spain, before the horse is forced to work in a coal yard and found by Anna Sewell. It is segmented and plot strands are forgotten. For example, it is said that Lester will see the horse again yet he never does only in the end titles, where he rides around as the credits roll to his riding. Although not the period Masterpiece it aspires to, it is fun!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Harry Alan Towers Month:: Harry's Versions

It is now Harry Alan Towers Month to commemorate the 3rd Anniversary of his death on 31st July. So, we are going to celebrate him by theorising his love of classic novels, and what would happen if he made today's bestseller adaptations.

Edgar Allan Poe’s Phantom of the Opera
Erique, a gifted opera singer and composer goes insane when a rival, Gaston Leroux steals his idea for an opera based on the story of Jekyll and Hyde, ‘The Mysterious Case of the Man and the Internal Beast’, which is a major success in Paris, and is preparing to be taken to London. He storms into Gaston’s chateau, and steals Gaston’s script, only to find chateau in flames, tricked by Gaston. Erique kills Gaston and escapes, to return to his love, Christine, but Erique is unaware that his face has been melted and has repulsed Christine into leaving him, so he is left to wander the streets for eternity, running an Edgar Allan Poe-themed grand guignol show until one day tormented by Gaston’s ghost, a raven on the ghost’s shoulder, he sinks into insanity, and finds himself tormented into reclaiming Christine. He discovers she has been reincarnated into the daughter of a theatre producer who is setting out to restage The Mysterious Case of the Man and the Internal Beast. Erique travels to London to find Christine, on holiday from New York. She hopes to perform the role of Christine, written for her previous self. Erique is love-starved and hops off Tower Bridge onto a double-decker bus to see her face, but repulses the bus driver, causing the bus to crash into the Thames. Christine, the one survivor finds herself in a London hospital, sung to by a hospital-masked Erique, disguised as a surgeon, but she knows that he has lost his singing voice. He claims only love can return it, while he cuts up various doctors and male patients in order to find a suitable male face. Gaston reappears, giving Erique the Masque of the Red Death from Poe legend to hide his deformed features. But Gaston is also tricksy, as he knows if he does not carry out his heart's desire of becoming flesh again, he will perish. He decides to possess Erique, but is grossed out by the fact his great-grandson, Raoul, a half-Latino French dance student at Julliard is dating Christine.
Erique traps Gaston in a bottle that is put in the freezing River Thames. He soon attacks a London opera house, downing the chandelier on an entire audience, resulting in splatter, but Christine is not there. He soon becomes known as the Phantom of the Opera. Raoul tells Christine that her father has planned to relocate the show to the Sydney Opera House. On the plane, Christine meets Erique, who confesses his passion and why he loves her, as he sits on the wing of a plane, staring through an open window. She thinks about it,  but ultimately cannot decide. At the Sydney Opera House, Erique slides down the roof and gives Christine some flowers.. Raoul is not happy, and tries to attack, but Erique flies out on some mechanical wings, taking down soldiers who are machine-gunning him. Christine tells her father that she can’t do the performance at Carnegie Hall, and he brings in the fat, faded Carlotta, but Christine decides maybe that Erique does love her, so she throws herself in at the last minute, whereupon Erique comes in, kills Carlotta and Raoul and grabs Christine, as he flies down. She realises that although Erique loves her, his love for her has driven him into insanity, and when they reach London to collect the bottle of Gaston, at a London dock,  where he dies, revealing his love tattoo. Christine opens the bottle and Gaston turns out to be Gaston Leroux, who goes back somehow to 1909, Paris, where he tells his new love, Christine about the Phantom and what happened to him. She says he should write a book.

Harry Alan Towers: The Puddingmaker

This is about the British God of Exploitation. More daring than Hammer, more prolific than Tenser and Tigon (with whom he co-produced Black Beauty) and more exploitative and fun than Subotsky and Amicus. His name is Harry Alan Towers. A cinematic guru of what some would call trash, but what I would call treasure. He was the master of the cinematic co-production internationally. His empire spun from up my road (literally, Ardmore Studios in Bray, Ireland is literally a mile and a half away) to South Africa and Hong Kong.

He made over a hundred pictures from the early sixties to his death, aged 88 in 2009, he made films, some classics such as the Face of Fu Manchu, which my friend and site originator Matthew Coniam calls ' his best film, The Face of Fu Manchu. For Towers, this was high class indeed, virtually indistinguishable from a sixties Hammer film, and frequently mistaken for one, with Christopher Lee as Fu and Tsai Chin as his sadistic nymphomaniac daughter Lin Tang. Pitted against them is Scotland Yard's most experienced Sherlock Holmes rip-off Nayland Smith, played by Nigel Green in the first film, Douglas Wilmer in the second and third and Richard Greene in the fourth and fifth. (Wilmer's recent autobiography dismisses the films as "preposterous twaddle" and informs us that during production Lee carried his spare change around in a sock.)' The first and third of the series, Vengeance and Face were made in Ireland, at Ardmore, and apparently my grandfather worked on them, according to a friend of his, Cos Egan, while Brides, the second was a British film made at Hammer's home, ironically-named Bray studios, while the fourth and fifth, Blood and Castle of Fu  Manchu were directed in Spain by Spanish trashmaster Jess Franco, and feature tinted stock footage of the Titanic sinking in A Night to Rememeber to convey a sinking ship, and spaghetti western-type Mexican bandits, but Vengeance and Blood do have an asset, Maria Rohm, Towers' dolly-bird wife, 25 years his junior, on an exclusive contract and an regular in his early films. What she lacked in acting talent, she made up in her stunning looks and they had a marriage that continued til Harry's death.

Of course, these are just a sample of a glittering film career yet one that could not be more filthier. In the mid-sixties, having made deals with Anglo-Almaganted and a German company to make the Fu Manchus and a few Edgar Wallace films such as Circus of Fear, he went to AIP to make a spy spoof, Our Man in Marrakech (1966) and a bizarro Spanish white slave film with Vincent Price, House of 1000 Dolls (1967) (both in my opinion are not great, House being one of Price's worse films while with AIP, and apparently had its Spanish backing secured by having an Abe Lincoln on set, so the Spanish backers would think it was an Abraham Lincoln movie, not a white slave film) and then made a comedy film in Ireland, Rocket to the Moon (1967) which was fondly remembered by my grandad, who also worked on it, and helped launch a delibaratetly failed rocket launch. And then there's Shirley Eaton's Sumuru, directed by Lindsay Shonteff, a female Fu Manchu, but it is surprisingly boring.

In Ireland, he also made an adaptation of 10 Little Indians, one of many, the first (1965) has according to my friend Matthew Coniam, 'Shirley Eaton and Fabian (hilariously playing a rockstar called Mike Raven, not the Radio 1 DJ and failed horrorstar, I must note) in the cast, and switched the location to a Swiss mountain chateau; his second (1975) took a sleepwalking Herbert Lom and Richard Attenborough to the Iranian desert; his third and final (1989)tried a jungle safari setting and starred Lom again and Sylvester Stallone's brother Frank. Those who have seen this version assure us it is the worst yet, though God knows the 1975 one takes some beating. The 1966 one, despite a whodunnit break towards the end and a ghastly score, is by far the most watchable, though it has nothing on Rene Clair's masterly 1945 version, from which it unofficially borrows a couple of original plot deviations and character names.' The 75 version is very strange. To call it a giallo would be true, as it is an Italian-West German-French-UK-Spanish-Iranian co-prod with an excellent Bruno Nicolai soundtrack like many contemporary gialli and Elke Sommer strutting about looking like she has just wandered off the set of Carry On Behind, Maria Rohm constantly screaming 'Martino, Martino' her character's surname, Robert Rietty dubbing Charles Aznavour, Alberto De Mendoza, Gert Frobe and Adolfo Celi, while Ollie Reed acts bullish with Elke looking at him doe-eyed, as he confronts the judge-garbed Attenborough, and an audiotape of Orson Welles. It is boring, but occassionally shines, especially the ending, and was passed off as a poor man's Murder on the Orient Express.

The 1989 one is co-produced by Cannon, and was filmed in South Africa, as a kind of chaser/cash-in/followup to Cannon's flop Ustinov Poirot revival Appointment with Death (1988) which has the feel of a Towers film, but isn't. It also has Lom, but with Donald Pleasence as Judge Wargrave, now portrayed as a kind of bloodied slasher monster with judge's wig and cloak, ironic, as this is the man who killed Michael Myers, a bunch of South Africans, Frank Stallone as the hero, paired with a fawning blonde in a pith helmet called Sarah Maur Thorp (a regular in SA-based Towers films) as Vera, rather than Eaton or Sommer,  and is set in period, for the first time, on a train, so it clearly tries to ape Orient Express, but is directed by Alan Birkinshaw, who has gone down into British Horror Infamy for Killer's Moon (1978), but let's not talk about that, as it ain't Towers!
After the Fu Manchus, Towers became a well-known name to those in the industry. After becoming friends with Franco, he decided to chain him to the director's seat, later regretting this 'as he couldn't direct traffic', despite Christopher Lee's claims that Franco's an underrated and misued director. He made films such as the Rohm-starring Venus in Furs (1968) and 99 Women (1969), the Lee-headling Witchfinder General knockoff The Bloody Judge (1970), Eugenie (1970), where Maria Rohm teaches doll-faced cutie Marie Lljedahl with Lee narrating, thinking it is an artsy film about the Marquis De Sade, not knowing it is a softporn about De Sade with him as the guest star and Count Dracula (1970), putting Lee in his most famous role as Stoker not Hammer envisaged him, with Lom as Van Helsing, after Vincent Price could not escape his AIP contract and Rohm as Mina, with Klaus Kinski duped into playing Renfield, thinking it's not a Dracula film, as he refused to be in it initially, though he would later to be one of the few actors to play both Dracula and Renfield. It's a flawed masterpiece, let down by Franco's eccentricties of filming a British-set film in Spain, and other bad things, but there is a nice Nicolai soundtrack and it has Lee as Dracula, and it is better than Scars of Dracula, the Hammer Lee made that year, and feels more expensive than that, bizarrely, and hasn't got Dennis Waterman as the hero!

Harry then made a lacklustre Italian, London-filmed Dorian Grey with Herbert Lom, Richard Todd and Lom, and Rohm! By 1971, after a Mark Lester Black Beauty in Ireland, Towers made aa troubled Call of the Wild attacked by its star Charlton Heston, who thought Towers was mad, talked Paramount out of distributing the film, because he was still a major star but not as big as he still thought he was, and then Orson Welles' long gestating Treasure Island with half the cast of Horror Express, Rohm and Kim Burfield replacing Lester, who had jumped ship onto a rival production, Kirk Douglas' Scalawag. Welles was dubbed by Robert Rietty bizarrely, and had to be filmed waste up due to getting fatter between filming breaks (began in '64 by Franco, finished in 72 by Disney and Hammer vet John Hough, and filled in by Antonio Margheriti). Then, Towers dabbled in porn with films like Teenage Emanuelle (1976, the last acting role so far of Rohm, who retired) and then made King Solomon's Treasure with David McCallum and Pat Macnee, a Star Wars-chasing adap/sequel not based at all of Shape of Things to Come with cute robots and an evil Vader-like Jack Palance, similar to his role in Hawk the Slayer, but without a mask. After success with Klondike Fever, based on the life of Jack London, Harry paid his taxes to the US governments from the vice charges in 1961 and  moved with Maria to Canada. Then, Harry would continue a string of producing porn movies such as Black Venus, as well as Fanny Hill (1983), one of the last British-made sex comedies with Oliver Reed, Shelley Winters and Wilfrid Hyde White having it on with a girl young enough to be his great-grandddaughter!

 This after a slow period for Towers represented a new bloom in production. As he entered his sixth decade, Towers allied with Golan-Globus of Cannon to unleash more and more films. From family films like Lightning the White Stallion (1986) to Mandingo variants like Dragonard (1987, where Oliver Reed participates in an excuse to see women whipped by men in three-cornered hats), he seemed to make more movies. Reed became a fixture, appearing in everything from Skeleton Coast, a Wild Geese imitation with Ernest Borgnine, Herbie Lom (another fixture since the dawn of Towers) and Robert Vaughn to Poe adaptions and Captive Rage, another actioner. Towers also released comedies such as Oddball Hall, made in Africa with Burgess Meredith and Bill Maynard (yes, that Bill Maynard, British comedy acting legend) and DTV sequels like Howling IV, Delta Force 3, American Ninja 3 (with poor man's Chuck Norris, Michael Dudikoff, also star of Towers-produced Indiana Jones-aping Alistair McLean adap River of Death which has Vaughn and Pleasence as Nazis), the sword-and-sorcery Gor films and Warrior Queen, and Edgar Allen Poe's Buried Alive, which has seconds of John Carradine in his last role, Robert Vaughn and Pleasence ruling over a girl's orphanage in a bad wig and a couple of Robert Englund post-Freddy slashers including a rather good modern day adap of the Phantom of the Opera (1988), its semi-sequel Dance Macabre (1994) and the Stephen King adap the Mangler (1994) and Tobe Hooper's Night Terrors. Tony Curtis played a geriatric mummy in the Mummy Lives (1993), doing it seriously, but making it funnier, making me think it was a comedy. Anthony Perkins played Jekyll/Hyde/Jack the Ripper/Norman Bates in Edge of Sanity (1989), with Budapest as London, David Lodge, nylon underwear, Madonna-like Victorian prositutes and post-decimal currency. Chuck Norris appeared in the Hitman (1993). Two Lost World films were made in 1992, Michael Caine appeared in three Harry Palmer revivals that were not based on novels, so they did not need to pay Len Deighton, as Palmer was only the character's name in the films. Richard Harris made Cry, the Beloved Country (1995), and several DTV actioners and Tv movies were wheeled out including an octogenarian Jack Palance in an Isle of Man-shot Treasure Island (2000). Then, after years of still working, at his home in Canada, his wife by his side, in 2009, Harry Alan Towers died, aged 88. This was a sad day for exploitation fans. A true legend had gone, and no longer would movies have such a character among them, such a globe-trotting dealmaker. The world was a lesser place. There will be no one quite like him again, or even before.

RIP Harry!


Big changes at Eccentrica Towers

To be honest, I don't know what to say: But I am changing the focus of this blog, to  not just reflect British culture but foreign culture in Britain. With a bit of fiction, exploitation columns, humour, fun, games, film reviews and stuff! 

So, I'll be starting with the all-star classic story of a man, who you may know or may not know.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Chuckle, Chuckle Vision!


You may not know from the sheer muddled interior of this blog that I'm still a kid, still sixteen, and I like kids' stuff. I like fart jokes. And I like the Chuckle Brothers!
For those not in the know, the Chuckle Brothers, Barry Elliott (born 24 December 1944) and Paul Elliott (born 18 October 1947), better known as the Chuckle Brothers, are British comedians. They are best known for their work on Tv, since winning New Faces 1974 and their CBBC series Chucklevision, running since 1987, and before that, the dog-dress up Chucklehounds. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCJMje871SQ

Barry is the small one, and Paul, the domineering one. Their catchphrase is To me, to you, as well as 'oh dear, oh dear' and 'silly me, silly you'. They hail from Rotherham, Yorkshire and they specialise in old fashioned slapstick.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGZU61k1ibw&feature=player_detailpage
Their enemies in the series, are their real-life brothers, former Black and White Minstrels and panto regulars Jimmy and Brian Patton or the Patton Brothers, who in this 1980 clip dfrom the Good old Days, are also the Chuckles, if you get it. The Pattons are in the middle, Paul left, Barry right,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3S9EpTy02M

They also at their age they lots of stage work, shows like 'Dr. What and the Garlics', 'Indiana Chuckles' and Pirates of the River Rother: In Stranger Tights. It's a secret unfulffilled ambition to go to one of their stage shows.

ChuckleVision I've watched since I were in nappies. It is also cheap, and sometimes had gueststars, like Gruber the gay Nazi off 'Allo 'Allo, or the voice of K9, John Leeson. But I like it.

RTD, the new JN-T

Hello, time travellers, for my next article on Doctor Who, I ask you not Who but why? I've decided to cover the more unusual things in Who, not doctors, companions, monsters, TARDISEs, but studies and criticisms of writers, directors, producers...

There are similarities with Davies, the man who revived Who and Turner, the man who both helped it and then relucantly let it die in his arms, while trying to escape it. Both are gay. There are differences. Davies is a creative mind, a writer more so than a producer, with a writer's background, not a financial budgetary one, like Turner, plus his role was born out of role for the programme.
Russell's got a new boyfriend!



Both have the same sense of show. Both have been criticised for stunt castings, like a variety manager triyng to get big stars for his theatre. RTD did start his career, writing for those mammoths of children's televisual entertainment, Paul and Barry Patton Elliot, alias the Chuckle Brothers. 

I think that's all I have to say, actually, for RTD could do a lot of bad, i.e. the cheap, tacky and ultra-cheesy Christmas Specials, like decorations on a tree with flame-throwing brass band robot Santas and spinning musical Chainsaw Christmas trees, alien threats, yes, but alien threats with novelty value, something both throat-vomitingly sickeningly sweetly terrifying and just plain horrific!
Christmas specials are only suited for comedies, and even then, it seems comedy is limp in Yuletide.
I could also rant on endlessly for the farty Chucklesque exploits of the posh greengangsters the Slitheen, like an alien version of Baby Face Finlayson, and the Fear Her story, a tale of a girl whose drawings came to life, clearly an imitation of a much better episode of US TV kids show Eerie Indiana, by Joe Dante,  was limited by the end-of-season budget, so the big monster of the dad in the closet was now just a glowing drawing!
But that ain't written by Davies, so I'll instead go on about Christmas specials!

The Christmas Only Fools and Horses specials were never that Christmassy, for example. My favourite of them, the Jolly Boys Outing is clearly filmed and set in summer, in its tale of a trip to Margate, and the abysmal Thicker than Water (1992), although wintry was focused more on a bizarre tale of bottled water from drainage, and showed John Sullivan was running out of ideas.

Anyway, back to RTD, I've run out of things to say, just to say at least he revived Who...

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Doctor Who: John Nathan Turner, the Black Sheep of BBC Drama

John Nathan-Turner should be criticised for producing Doctor Who. He didn't ruin Who singlehandedly. There are so many factors. Eric Saward was a peculiar choice for script editor. He had no telly background, just radio. You need experience to be in charge of a show like Doctor Who. John Nathan-Turner had experience. I'm not saying his run of the show was bad. No.

He did good. He cast Peter Davison, who brought us a human, more fallible portrayal of our hero, and he cast Beryl Reid as a space marine (a lot of people think it negative, but trust me, BERYL REID in SPACE, what's not to love?) and he modernised the series, bringing back love and affection, after a period of decrease in popularity. He brought in Nyssa. He was responsible for the Five Doctors. He made the series fresh and yet...

He did bad. He cast Colin Baker. He created Adric (he only cast Waterhouse, because he had a crush on the fresh-faced BBC clerk boy who had a deluded desire to be as good as Olivier by the age of 20, instead becoming as good as a one-legged seal is at sprinting) and his ham-fisted tactics led the Great Michael Grade (a man who knows his entertainment, nephew of Sir Lew, a master of screen SF commissioning, and maker of rather good BBC 4 documentaries) to try to cancel it. Every spotty fan (including me) wanted to kill him at one point, as we thought as bad as Who was, surely it could get better. There was also the stunt castings, Time and The Rani, Doctor in Distresss, the escalating cheapness, the switch to all-video (which made it look like a kids show) and allowing Eric Saward near a scriptwriter. He created the Colin Baker look (popularised by Robin Williams in the film Toys, honestly Williams even said it himself, apparently) and the question marks, even criticised by Lord Barry Letts. He made characters different nationalities as gimmicks to attract foreign countries, which kind of worked with Tegan, as Janet Fielding really was an Aussie, but when your Pasadena-Californian Peri is actually from Guildford, eh...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1yW8FrrXAA&feature=player_detailpage
Unbelievably Oscarwinning composing genius Hans Zimmer was involved, yes THAT Hans Zimmer!

When Sylvester McCoy was cast, oh no... And then it did, with stories like Ghost Light and Greatest Show in the Galaxy, and characters like Ace, who although likeable enough was failed, but an honourable failure, because she looked about 25, as Sophie Aldred was, when playing her, spoke too posh and too stupid (ie don't use your name as an exclamation! George!) yet we came to like her because she was easy on the eye and she convinced us, because we felt a bit sorry for her. RTD must've been scribbling notes.

But as good as JN-T could be, he wasn't as successful as the brilliance of Letts or Hinchcliffe. He didn't have a stable script editor-producer relationship, plus really he was wrong for the series. He was a camp figure, an openly gay man with a relationship with his production manager, Gary Downie. They lived in Brighton together! Downie wrote the Doctor Who Cookbook! He was a Brummie whose real name was Jonathan Turner, became double-barrelled to avoid a mistaken identity and had a style more suited to variety, or maybe a soap opera. Doctor Who is neither. Doctor Who needs good actors, not big stars and style, not colour.

But then again, it is a trap people fall into regularly. Especially when you mix chain, lady blouse and Colin Baker coat.

JN-T never worked on TV again, apart from setting Who-related questions for Mastermind and interviews, where he came across as a big teddy bear coloured pink. He turned down Bergerac. 

He was a great man, though, rather odd, but he let the series continue, and when the series died, he was left holding it, as no one else wanted it or him...

All without mentioning a certain red-haired actress and her Pease Pottage-born character?

Monday, 4 June 2012

Cash in the Attic: Trash in the Morning

I decided to run this blog to freshen it up, to take it off Matthew Coniam and modernise it. I wanted to focus on modern things that are still in the olde Britain, and then there is Cash in the Attic. For those unaware, it is a long-running BBC One daytime antiques 'lifestyle' programme, not like Antiques Roadshow, but with dealers and presenter going to people's houses to find the so-called antiques to be sold at auction. It is an odd kettle, running since 2002, but still stuck in 1997, it is at the same repulsive and addictive, like some Italian cannibal film. The programme's tagline is The show that helps you find hidden treasures in your home, and then sells them for you at auction, which is basically the premise.

It has had about 400 presenters, there's old veterans like Angela Rippon and Jennie Bond (or former BBC Royal Correspondent Jennie Bond, as we are forced to call her), and daytime types like Alistair Appleton and Angus Purden, i.e. soulless pretty boys too fey and camp for primetime. The show itself is really conquered by the dealers, including Paul Hayes, a man so Northern without being Northern (as in Coronation Street, i.e. he's posh-Mancunian, Morecambe, an yet sounds nothing like Eric, as he has this lilting voice) that my grandad insisted he was gay by 'the manner of him' (actually, he's married with kids). It was also briefly the home of trash TV witch Lorne Spicer, the Fairy Godmother of daytime Antiques TV, who also did the awful Car Booty, a show with everything the same but with a car boot sale not an auction, and hilarriously overpriced junk (£30 for a used Cyberman voice-changer from 2007, really?) that has now spread to the minds of old ladies in charity shops. Why did I profile it? It's British Rubbish, All New British Rubbish, and it shows how much the British public loves antiques.

The Worm that Turned: If 2012 could get any worse

Of all the Two Ronnies serials, (The Phantom Raspberry-Blower of olde London Town, Farley and Malone), my favourite is possibly the most dated, The Worm that Turned. It is set in 2012, a world where Thatcher created an all-female dictatorship of England (only England) and women wear men's clothes and have men's names, but still are pregnant, and all men wear dresses, have ladies' names and do feminine things. The Tower of London is now Barbara Castle, the Union Jack is now the Union Jill, which resembles a pair of knickers, and Diana Dors is the State Police leader.


Our intrepid heroes are Betty Chalmers (Ronnie Barker) and Barbara Castle tea-boy Janet Cartwright (Ronnie Corbett) two married househusbands who decide to revolt, after a female spy in a dress and moustache, to look like a man interrupts a showing of male chauvinist films such as John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart flicks at a Sewing Circle, i.e. middle-aged blokes dressed as WI ladies and a search for an Ursula Debenham, tall, balding, with a beard, led by the Shake 'n' Vac lady. It is eight parts, and incredibly complicated, involving a raid on Barbara Castle in order to burn identity files, which involves spraying water on kinky lady-Beefeaters and Neil McCarthy as a fearsome cleaner called Deirdre, an escape to a country house with Barker disguised as a woman (ie not wearing a dress, his tache shaved and with a ginger wig and a Westcounty accent) only to be surrounded by armed women and an escape dressed as a cow, a pet mouse called Herbert, Wanda Ventham as a sexy ex-classmate of Betty's called Jack who turns out not to be as nice as she seems, help by Betty's landlord brother-in-law Diana who plans to smuggle them across the border to Wales, by using an underground organisation disguised in a dress shop for men.


As a serial, it has dated. It's remarkably sexist, with references to Danny La Rue being locked up in Barbara Castle, and Germaine Greer and Pat Phoenix being leaders and Larry Grayson being neither one or the other. And the ending doesn't quite work, i.e. Diana Dors' Controller finds our heroes at the checkpoint to Wales, where men are still men, i.e. it's still 1979, and still called Ianto and Dai, and don't wear dresses. Janet's mouse, Herbert is left to guard the Controller, who is afraid of mice, and Janet and Betty escape to Wales. But there are laughs, and it is really an excuse for men in dresses, including big pink puffy ball gowns that Barker had to wear (and he hated wearing women's clothing, yet doesn't seem at ease, although he obviously looks out of place, Corbett less so) yet what it delivers is at times compelling, at times hillarious, and it's all up on youtube.
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcMd1F1acSo

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Jolly Old England

Now, this is going to be one of the new things about New Eccentrica. Basically, one of my key obessions is the way Americans portray Britain and Ireland in film/Tv. There are too many old Hollywood stuff like Dial M for Murder, How Green was My Valley, Mrs. Miniver, Random Harvest, so I'm focusing on sixties stuff to nineties stuff like Doris Day in Midnight Lace, and Disney things like Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Mary Poppins

. One of my favourite uses of the Universal backlot (also a regular) is the sadly failed Sherlock Holmes pilot, Hound of the Baskervilles (1972) with Stewart Granger as Holmes and Bernard Fox (a regular in things like this, the partly-Britishmade ep of Columbo, doing a Watson-esque turn, Munster Go Home, too many things, but a lot of false England) as a Nigel Brucian Watson. It's hokey, reusing Western sets and papier mache moors that make William Shatner seem right at home in his no-attempt-at-the accent role as Stapleton/dubbed Baskerville, as they look like a Trek Planet. It's so bad it's an opera of hillarious proportions. It is a Victorian London full of 20th century fishing hats, G an Ts, hot chestnut salesman and lots of fog, like in that London-set episode of Get Smart, House of Max.

 Many of the actors, Arthur Malet, the late Ian Abercrombie and Fox reappeared in the 1972 Columbo Dagger of the Mind, which has an odd juxtopisition of real footage of London with Peter Falk, Fox and Honor Blackman running about rainy London with Morrises and Cortinas, John Fraser AND Richard Pearson, two stalwarts of British TV, and then at the UNi backlot with US-based tax exiles like Malet and John Williams (who also appeared in the Baskervilles pilot and even two rather good Brit-set episodes of Rod Serling's Night Gallery) as well as Fox and Blackman and fellow exile Wilfred Hyde-White.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4U_kgDPaLU
Many Universal cop shows had Brit-set eps like Ironside: Shadow Soldiers and The Visiting Fireman, both starring Hedley Mattingly (also in Dagger of the Mind and Get Smart: House of Max) , the latter written by British horror and Hammer legend Jimmy Sangster, and McCloud, London Bridges with Jack Cassidy as an English lord/cat burglar involved in the IRA, and Adam Faith as a ScotlandYard man. Hart to Hart and Magnum both filmed their episodes entirely in Blighty, with the likes of Peter Davison and Gordon Jackson appearing, rather than ex-pats. Most of the above actors appeared in Man from Uncle, which had many British-set episodes, all clearly done at MGM, and Baskervilles stars jane Merrow and John Williams appeared in an odd unusually realistic (ie non-fictional place-set) episode of Mission: Impossible, Lover's Knot set in London.
Tv Movies such as the Shane Briant-Nigel Davenport-Hedley Mattingly Dorian Gray (1973) by Dan Curtis and the Shatner-Merrow reunion Horror at 70,000 feet (1973) both had British settings, as did Arnold! and Terror of the Wax Museum, featuring actors such as John Carradine, Ray Milland, Elsa Lanchester, Bernard Fox, among others. What are your suggestions?  And I haven't mentioned the spoofery of Austin Powers.

Let's start this with Mrs. O'Brien

Here, welcome to the blog. It's basically continuing from Matthew Coniam's sadly defunct blog, Eccentrica Britannica. I'm Irish, I'm sixteen and I'll be reviewing British pop culture and some Irish culture.


Does anyone remember Leave it to Mrs. O’Brien?

It’s Ironic I start this blog about British culture with an article on Irish TV! I live in Ireland, but through my good friend Matthew Coniam, he told me of his childhood recollections of a show on Channel 4, lunchtime filler from Ireland, a sitcom called Leave It to Mrs. O’Brien starring Anna Manahan (My Mammy, Clash of the Titans) as a Dublin housekeeper looking after some priests. Although it may sound like Father Ted, trust me, it ain’t. Written by a Dublin housewife, it is extremely rare and has never been released on DVD or video. It was shown on RTE Two from 1984 to 1986 at primetime, and was heavily criticised. I have never seen it, apart from a few clips that show why it hasn’t been repeated. It’s not very good. It is barely a comedy. RTE are much criticised in Ireland for comedy. Even Manahan, a stage legend and marvellous actress has trouble with the amateurish scripts. In the clips that I have seen, she can convey the eccentricities of the character in a big coat, but is clearly not helped by the ‘talents’ of fellow actors Pat Daly and Philip O’Sullivan. Humour seems to derive from someone singing badly or people sitting about, going mad. It at times resembles a Play for Today, a serious, tough ultra-dramatic thing about the doubts of Dublin priests in hiring an incompetent housekeeper. RTE did other series like Upwardly Mobile and the ridiculous Extra, Extra Read All About It (marketed as a drama, but with silly wigs and dancing in a newspaper office to the Sailor’s Hornpipe, not even the addition of acclaimed actor Norman Rodway from Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight could not save it), all of which were rubbish. Now, there are more comedies on RTE, but I shall speak of them later.