Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Guru of Surbiton

Gently subversive, 'The Good Life' consistently poked and pricked pretensions throughout its run, having the most fun chuckling at the sheer pomposity of suburban life. In 'The Guru Of Surbiton' the storyline satirises the aggressive gentility of 'respectable' people like Margo and Jerry Leadbetter, Tom Good's self satisfaction at his alternative lifestyle and the overbearing seriousness of the students who take him as a role model.

Earnest, sorry, Guy.

The look of love.

At the feet of the Master.
 Tom and Barbara employ two students, Guy and Ruth, to help them with some of their farming work. Over dinner, it becomes apparent that the young man and woman see Tom and Barbara's lifestyle as an ideal, a political and social statement, and that they have adopted Tom as their Guru (and, in Ruth's case, as a potential lover). This initially appeals to Tom's vanity, but he changes his mind when the students suggest they move in and turn the house into a commune.

Tom is generally a genial and amusing character, but he can also be extremely selfish and caught up in his own self-importance: he likes the feeling that he is apart from the world, so has created a universe where everything revolves around him. He hates the idea of others following him and diluting his difference, even going along with the over-reactions of snobby next door neighbour Margo when the students reveal that they are buying the house next door so they can bring even more people in.

The ever watchful Barbara.
 There's an interesting scene where Tom is plotting with Margo to stop the move when he's talking about injunctions and legal rights and suddenly realises that he's fallen back into suburban pettiness and small minded prejudice and, embarrassed, makes a speech about how it's nothing to do with him, none of his business, they can do whatever they like. A previously disappointed Barbara is obviously delighted and, seemingly, rather turned on, by his return to full Tom-ness.

In the end, the students don't move in (Ruth's feelings for Tom make it too complicated), and a relieved Margo states that they will have to carefully vet any new neighbours. When Tom tells her that the house  has been sold to a Banker with a stay at home wife and two children at boarding school, Margo is ecstatic until Tom tells her the buyer's name: Aziz Mohammed Ibn Khan. Her over reaction re-establishes the line between the reactionary Leadbetter's and the revolutionary Good's once again.

Slow realisation.

Sudden shock.


Saturday, 30 July 2011

Oh, The Good Life

In 1984, alternative sitcom 'The Young Ones' mocked the safe middle class comedy of 'The Good Life' for being so 'bloody nice'. Although it's difficult to watch 'The Young Ones' these days without cringing, 'The Good Life' abides: still funny, still entertaining, still clever. It's a dismal, dirty world, after all, what's wrong with 'nice'?

No doubt you're familiar with the premise: 40 year old Tom Good lives in Surbiton with his incredibly sexy wife Barbara. He works as a lead draughtsman for a cereal manufacturer, designing the plastic toys to go in the boxes. He hates being a 'grotty little cog in a whacking great machine' and, in the grip of a midlife crisis, he decides to throw in his job, tear up his lawn and become self-sufficient, living only on what he can grow and make and sell.

(A year later, Reginald Iolanthe Perrin would go through a similar dark night of the middle aged soul but, instead of getting a goat and a rotorvator, piled up his clothes on a stony beach and faked his own death. Reggie Perrin wasn't married to Barbara Good, though.)

Commuter as Dalek.

The fruits of Tom's labour, soon to be rendered in plastic.

Barbara Good, Suburban Fox.  

This ornamental fountain will be one of the first things to go.

'If you'll excuse me, I've got three hundred weight of spuds to put in'

Society looks on aghast as a nice front lawn is destroyed. 
 Highly successful, the show originally ran between 1975 and 1978, but has rarely been off screen for the last thirty odd years. Never attempting to be hilarious, the show relies on strongly drawn characters and intelligent, witty scripts and has aged remarkably well. The self-sufficiency idea, which was very much in vogue at the time, is still a great sit for the com to work around and the central message is brilliantly summed up by the title of the first episode.

It may be 'nice', but it's a quietly revolutionary philosophy.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Friday Night Film: The Magus

Woody Allen once said ‘If I had to live my life again, I'd do everything the same, except that I wouldn't see 'The Magus'.’ Of course, this was some time before he started sleeping with his stepdaughter, so he might give a different answer now if asked, but it neatly sums up most people’s attitude towards the film of the book: it’s shit.

It took John Fowles twelve years to write ‘The Magus’, and he continued to fiddle with it for years after publication. The story of a feckless poet who takes a job on a Greek island and becomes embroiled in a series of increasingly dark psychological games with an enigmatic Greek millionaire, its publication coincided with the dawning of the age of Aquarius, and became something of a key text in its exploration of mysticism and illusion, myth, magic and mind games.

The mysterious Conchis.

Pan's People.
Inevitably, a film of the book was made, but the challenge of condensing nearly seven hundred pages of tightly packed narrative and characterisation proved impossible, even for Fowles, who wrote the screenplay himself and then promptly blamed the lacklustre and really boring end result on the director, Guy Green, who in turn thought it was all Fowles’ stupid script's fault.

Michael Caine plays the young poet, Anthony Quinn* the God like Conchis, and Trigger from 'Only Fools & Horses' is Conchis as a young man. Caine has said that he had no idea what the film was about and what he was supposed to be doing, and it shows – he keeps smirking, ostensibly to convey his character’s superior attitude, but, in actual fact, he just looks embarrassed. Quinn is a pretty awful actor, anyway, and his Conchis is Zorba the Greek and Picasso - with a big hat on, hardly the genius magician and expert game player of the novel. Trigger is, of course, beyond reproach.

An embarrassed Mr. Caine.

He deserved that.

The film is nearly two hours long and you feel every second of it. Even the normally luminous Anna Karina is rubbish in it. That said, like all disasters it has a compelling quality and, in the climactic trial scenes, it becomes psychedelic enough to be quite visually interesting, although ‘The Prisoner’ did this much better on telly a year earlier. File under ‘It was the 60’s’.

Occult Shit.

Jackal Head and Big Hat.

He appears to have misplaced his blindfold.
* Quinn was apparently an egomaniac, and Martin Amis (who, as a child, made a film with him) tells an amusing anecdote about how one of Quinn’s pretensions was to play speed chess with a dozen people at a time, despite the fact that he couldn’t play very well at all, waiting until the point of defeat before suddenly realising there was something else that needed his brilliance and regretfully abandoning the tournament.

Oscillating Wildly

Here's an insanely erotically charged clip from  the 1976 BBC Schools series 'Physical Science'. Even Michael Rodd gets his kit off. I've come to appreciate over the years what a good presenter Michael was (he's still alive, he just makes programmes now rather than appear in them). As a kid, he always seemed a bit stern, occasionally giving the contestants on 'Screen Test' a bit of a telling off. Knowing what I know now as an adult and a father, I admire his restraint.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Fix Your Plumbing?

Despite having no ’adult’* content whatsoever, I think this book cover may very well be the sexiest thing I have ever seen in my whole life. It’s just charged with sexual expectation. It oozes passion. Phwoar, eh?

* Tits, bums and willies

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Alice in Wonderland

Jonathan Miller left the Beyond the Fringe review in 1962 when it transferred to Broadway, and within a couple of years was offered the reins of BBCs arts series Monitor.

He went to on to success in many fields as what the lazy media usually define as a polymath, i.e talented, easily bored, curious and very well connected. But before all that he directed two films for the BBC that are close to the heart of M&C, an adaptation of MR James's 'Whistle and I'll Come to You', and Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland' (1966).

Even Redgrave...
Watching Alice recently was an utter joy, a film that seems to gain more with repeated viewing. The screenplay is fairly true to the book, though some improvised scenes such as John Bird as the Frog Footman add unexpected delight.

A host of English actors contribute, each allowed individual turns in which their talents may shine but nonetheless remain part of the ensemble under Miller's judicious direction, including Johnny Gielgud, a great turn from Peter Cook as the Mad Hatter, Michael Gough, Alan Bennett, Wilfred Brambell as a suitably camp White Rabbit, Leo McKern, and many others (with a young uncredited Eric Idle strolling in the crowd).

The Mad Hatter (Cook), Dormouse (Wilfred Lawson) and The March Hare (Gough).
Even Peter Sellers is allowed to do his schtick without becoming unbearably dominating.

Anne-Marie Mallik gives a captivating performance as Alice, remarkable as her first and only acting role.

Perhaps the most amazing part is that the film was part of the BBC's Wednesday Play series and first broadcast in the televisually barren week between Christmas and New Year on 28 December 1966; a small treasure born of more casual times.

Johnny Gielgud and Muggeridge mug the Lobster Quadrille.
The film captures the nascent psychedelia of the period in lysergic monochrome, rather than the enhanced colour associated with the time, not simply by the choice of Carroll's story, but also through Ravi Shankar's lustrous soundtrack.

Keen viewers will note the late David Battley lurking beneath the executioner's whiskers, more often recognised for his role as Bill the deliveryman from the BBC's 'The Good Life' Christmas special.

It's silly...

...but it's fun.

It's The Orchids

One of my abiding musical passions is for the sixties girl group. Experience has taught me that there are two main types: the smooth, soulful ones, and the less polished, slightly shouty ones. The Orchids are firmly in the latter camp. Three schoolgirls from Coventry, Pam, Georgina and Val were spotted at a local talent show, signed to Decca records and tipped for instant stardom. They never had a hit, but they received lots of exposure (including a comic strip in ‘Judy’) and generally appealed to the nation’s ‘good for you’ ethos. Their musical career lasted about eighteen months and they released three singles, all of which are relatively sought after today.

'Love Hit Me’ (1963) showcases their style, a sort of energetic assault on the ear, all girls singing together, at once - in tune, but not particularly harmoniously. It’s a lumpy, messy sound, but human and immediate, and rather affecting in its own way. Bananarama would later have a twenty year career using this formula - with most of the charm removed.

Girl groups were often treated appallingly by the ruthless male dominated music industry, but The Orchids seem to have had a lot of fun in their brief time in the spotlight. Their records may not have moved pop music forward in its relentless march of progression, but their recordings have an honesty and sincerity that is not in any way cool, but is immensely likeable. They remind me why I love girl groups so much: because girls are so much better than boys at emotion and, after all, its emotion that keeps us listening in the end.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Easy Connections

The back cover says:

Dreams of London's hottest rock group, Easy Connection, fill the hearts of teenage girls everywhere. But when 17-year-old Cathy Harlow accidentally connects with Paul Devlin, the group's lead guitarist. Her dreams for the future are shattered.

Cathy is drawn to Dev's intense good looks, yet she is frightened by a dark side of him that she cannot understand. She vows not to let her attraction to him interfere with her plans to attend a prestigious London art school.

But Dev, captivated by Cathy's beauty, is determined to possess her. And nothing will stop him from getting what he wants.

"... a well-written, interesting novel... Young people will enjoy this closeup of the life of a superstar." - Children's Book Review Service

Monday, 25 July 2011


Lindsay Shonteff was a Canadian based in London who made a long series of low budget genre films from 1964 up until his death in 2006 (literally, he died on the last day of production of his final film). Fiercely independent, he was approached by major studios on at least two occasions but, ultimately, the deals fell through simply because he wasn’t prepared to work on their terms: Shonteff did what he wanted, how he wanted, even if the results were sometimes damaged by his refusal to compromise.

Cool in a tight spot.

Happy Deathday.

Dead Eye Dolly.
Take ‘Clegg’ (1973), for instance. It’s a fast moving, sometimes surreal take on the private eye film. Harry Clegg is quick with his fists, deadly with a gun and cat nip to the ladies. Not bad for a little ginger haired man with a screwed up face. He starts the film by casually killing three men with a machine gun before popping back to his flat for a shag.

Despite his obvious talents, he’s has a hole in his Chelsea boot and a car that has to be started with a crank handle, so he eagerly accepts a job protecting a millionaire who has received a death threat. This leads him into a slightly swinging world of revenge, assassination, lollypop licking girls and a huge amount of killings, punctuated by fairy tame sex breaks. In the end, everybody but him is dead and he is reduced to picking corpse’s pockets for his fee. He’s a terrible bodyguard, but a hell of a guy.

He thinks it's his lucky day. He's wrong.

Good Golly, Miss Lolly.

Dead Eye Dick.

'Clegg’ (also known as 'Harry & The Hookers' and 'The Bullet Machine') is a frustrating film. With a bigger budget and a slightly more (or less) coherent script it could have been something quite special, i.e. the straight parts of the story aren’t straight enough and the odd bits are enjoyable but there just aren’t enough of them. Shonteff seems torn between whether Clegg should be Philip Marlowe or Jerry Cornelius and the uncertainty shows – with a bit more confidence it could have been an out and out classic, either as a hard-bitten detective film or a pop art romp. As it is, it’s a 'what could have been', like so many of Shonteff’s fascinating but flawed films.

Here's the opening credits. They rock. The excellent music is by Paul Ferris, who scored all of Michael Reeves' films.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

George Hamilton the Second

Stigmataist George Hamilton surrenders to Dolly Dolly.

Scotland’s Foremost Stigmataist

Have a good look at this photograph. It’s of a man called George Hamilton. No, Silly - not the acting perma-tanned, Ajax toothed cheese merchant, star of Love At First Bite and big loser of I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! This is a barber dodging, four eyed comb stranger and all round professional loon.

Who he?

Well, he’s Scotland’s foremost Stigmataist. Never heard of a Stigmataist? Well, that’s because I’ve just made the word up. Good isn’t it?


Definition: God bothering nut case who claims to bleed from the palms of the hands and forehead in a imitation of Christ’s wounds on the cross. Has never had a girlfriend. Loves his mother (possibly regularly).

In 1994 tiresome husband and wife team, John and Anne Spencer wrote a book called The Encyclopedia Of The World’s Greatest Unsolved Mysteries or something. Clearly willing to believe any old supernatural tat peddled by any old knuckle dragging, buck toothed liar who said they’d seen a ghost or been buggered by ET they waddled up North to interview the handsome (steady girls!) Mr Hamilton. Our Georgie was happy to talk to the Poundland Mulder and Scully about his hand bleeding, mainly because by the look of him, I doubt he has many friends willing to listen without wanting to run screaming out of the room or battering him about the head with a copy of the God Delusion.

Anyway during the interview the dribbling Hamilton said that he believed that the marks were sign that he was being protected by Christ himself. Cheaper than life insurance I suppose? He also told the not-so dynamic duo that he had suffered several poltergeist-like attacks including having a wood chisel thrown at him when he was alone in the house. Quite what he was doing leaving sharpened chisels about the house is beyond me. Perhaps he liked to whittle in private? As well as that inexplicable mystery he told the gullible pair that he had visions of the Virgin Mary and of Christ’s baptism and crucifixion. Which I imagine was quite handy if there was nothing on the telly.

Cauldron Of Blood

'Cauldron of Blood' (1967) aka Coleccionista de Cadaveres aka Blind Man's Bluff.