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Pathfinders to Mars (1960– )
An improvement
6 October 2019
The story of the first humans on Mars appeared shortly after Pathfinders in Space took our heroes to the Moon. This series is a vast improvement on the first serial, largely by giving us a villain, in the shape of George Coulouris, probably wondering how he had progressed from Citizen Kane to this. The script and plot are tighter, and there is some genuine drama and conflict.

It was sensible to reduce the numbers of children, though Geoff remains as pompous a child as ever flew into space - in his actions and diction, remarkably like Burt Ward's Robin in the US Batman series (except that was played for laughs).

This was an utterly naïve series - especially when compared with the radio Journey Into Space, which appeared seven years before, and which it aspires to imitate. How seriously you take it depends on how you react to the situation in episode 1 - the captain of a rocket breaks his arm a few hours before take-off, and so it is proposed to replace him with a journalist who happens to be passing. Said journalist will only go if his niece comes with him, as he is babysitting, he promised to take her fishing and she would be disappointed. It's OK, as the captain was already taking his teenaged son. No-one seems to mind that, with only a few hours to go, the crew of the ship has increased from four to five. To cap it all, the final member of the crew is late, and only turns up ten minutes before launch, so he is rushed on board without anyone checking that he is not the tall, young Australian with a full head of hair that everyone expects, but in fact a short, fat, bald loony. If you think that is a plausible set of events, then perhaps it is lucky that the British never had a space programme of their own.
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Paul Temple (1969–1971)
Neither Paul Temple, nor very good
4 October 2019
Having read the other surprisingly positive reviews, I feel someone ought to put the contrary position. I remember the show from its original broadcasts, and was intrigued to discover whether it stood the test of time. It didn't.

In the first place, the resemblance to the Paul Temple world is minimal to say the least. The long-running radio series, usually starring Peter Coke as Paul and the incomparable Marjorie Westbury as his wife Steve, was a brilliantly manufactured set of whodunnits over as many as 8 episodes, where the plot twisted and turned and corpses piled up. Paul and Steve were perfectly at home in a (vanishing) world of martinis and Soho clubs, and weekends away at Maidenhead. Great play was made of Paul and Steve's domestic arrangements - we would hear them discussing the case over breakfast, passing the marmalade while theorising, and much was made of Steve's shopping trips. This trademark Durbridge vibe was often transferred to television, for example in Melissa or The Doll.

This TV series - whose production, incidentally, was the direct cause of the cancellation of the radio show - takes Paul and Steve out of that world, into the world of colour supplement 70s glamour. The whodunnit element is played down, and the 50 minute format makes devious plot twists impossible. The end result is more Alistair MacLean than Francis Durbridge (Durbridge had no input into the scripts).

The ever-reliable Francis Matthews makes a decent stab at Paul, but Steve is turned into a typical dolly bird of the time, clearly 15-20 years younger. This was miscasting of epic proportions - the radio Steve was at least as mature as Paul, and impossibly glamorous (think Audrey Hepburn, or Myrna Loy in the Thin Man films). The relationship worked as one of equals, rather than here where the whiff of sugar daddy is amplified by the fact that Steve gets little to say and less to do, other than marvel at Paul's genius. Poor Ms Drinkwater was somewhat out of her depth, as can be seen by a scan of her previous career, and, at least according to imdb, after this failure never worked in the business again (she moved into photojournalism).

This of course might have worked, despite the failure to transfer the Temples' characters to television, had the programmes been any good. But they weren't. Meagre plotting, dull characters, and (later on), incomprehensible accents from foreign actors managed to make most episodes fall flat. Paul Temple was a major brand for the BBC, and they made a lot of efforts to keep the series going, but it thrived in a different world, and the attempt to give it a 1970s update bombed, and to my knowledge Paul Temple never appeared again in a new English-language production set in the present day; the BBC did produce new versions of the missing Coke/Westbury radio serials in 2006, but these were based on original scripts, using the original scores and sound effects, and set in the 1950s.

Paul Temple wasn't murdered, but his disappearance was down to manslaughter, and this series was largely responsible.
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Ripping Yarns (1976–1979)
Fondly remembered, more hits than misses
30 September 2019
Ripping Yarns was a fondly remembered set of spoofs of the Boys' Own Paper stories from the first half of the 20th century, lovingly recreated by Michael Palin with Terry Jones as writing partner, exposing the absurdities and assumptions of the genre. Palin always revelled in this world - at about this time, I remember he did an absolutely straight and very entertaining reading of Biggles Flies North for a Book at Bedtime on Radio 4.

The series was rather disjointed. It began with a one-off production, Tomkinson's Schooldays, was fleshed out into a full series of 5 more episodes, and then, as a cash-in after the success of the Life of Brian, 3 more were added.

There were lots of good bits, all appealing to the Monty Python core support. Several themes were exposed to satirical gaze - the unthinking imperialism, the rigid social codes, the lack of emotional engagement and expression of the 'stiff upper lip'.

The problem was that only about four episodes were actually any good. The pilot, Tomkinson's Schooldays, contained a number of classic Palin/Jones moments, such as St Tadger's Day, and caning the headmaster. The two Yorkshire-set stories, Eric Olthwaite (the most boring man in the world) and Golden Gordon hit the mark. The Curse of the Claw raised a chuckle. But the rest tended to repetition, and plots, even if initially amusing or intriguing, would simply peter out or end in anticlimax.
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Fawlty Towers: The Germans (1975)
Season 1, Episode 6
Perhaps the most perfect half hour of sitcom ever delivered
30 September 2019
In the days before video was widely available, one relied on occasional repeats, but mainly on many conversations with one's friends discussing and reminiscing about great TV. The Fawlty Towers episode where the Germans visit was an instant classic - I remember as a boy at the first broadcast being in helpless hysterics. Thereafter one relied on memory - "do you remember the one with the Germans?"

Only with the advent of video and DVD technology could we properly appreciate that not just one, but three classic Fawlty Towers sequences are crammed into these 30 minutes. This is the episode that also contains the moose, and the fire drill - each of which would have supported a perfectly good half-hour sitcom in its own right. But these were not three separate shows, as imperfect memory suggested; they were woven together to create a perfect piece of comedy, a fugue of chaos as Basil struggles to cope with Sybil's absence (and attempts to micromanage from her hospital bed). Several deathless scenes - Basil's sympathising with Sybil's ingrown toenail, the Major's conversation with the moose, Basil's frustration with the guests assembled in the foyer for the fire drill, and then of course the beautifully timed and choreographed dinner with the Germans, with its sublime climax - will remain absolute classics.
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Bill Brand (1976– )
Fascinating time capsule with contemporary relevance
30 August 2019
Bill Brand evokes a long-gone era of the 1970s when the left pushed hard to take over the British Labour Party - long-gone but relevant, because this is the milieu in which Jeremy Corbyn, since 2015 the leader of the Labour Party, learned his politics.

The series is brilliantly written, from a left wing perspective, but it wears its bias on its sleeve, is not judgmental, and it is a sufficiently honest piece that the contradictions and problems with the position are displayed and wrestled with. Bill Brand (earnest Jack Shepherd) is a newly elected Labour MP, from the party's far left. He is tortured with doubt about the best way to achieve his socialist aims, but has absolute certainty about the correctness of his Marxist theory. But the Labour Party is a broad coalition, in which university-educated theorists like Brand rub shoulders with the working class and trade unions, who have a more pragmatic (and small-c conservative) view of their interests. The Parliamentary Party seems to have its own separate concerns.

Brand joins a group organised around a left wing journal, clearly based on the Tribune Group. A beleaguered Labour government with a tiny minority struggles on under a wily Prime Minister, who suddenly resigns. Can the left take this opportunity to force its own view on the party? Is Parliament a realistic route for socialism, or will it have to emerge from protest outside? Are ideologues like Brand, and pragmatists like his agent Alf Jowett, cabinet ministers like Venables or even prominent leftists like David Last, fighting for the same thing in different ways, or for different things entirely?

This was a highly topical series in the 1970s. It would have seemed arcane and remote in the 1980s and 1990s. Once more, in the 2010s, it is right on topic, as Corbyn has made it to the top of the Labour Party with the help of an extra-Parliamentary internet-based insurgence from a large group of activists later christened Momentum. The split between the working class and the highly educated middle class is evident, for example in Brexit. If anyone wants to get a sense of the nature of Corbynite thinking, this series is as good a place as any to start.

It is also an interesting commentary on the historical events of 1976, with many thinly-disguised characters. Arthur Lowe appears as a Harold Wilson figure - Wilson had suddenly and surprisingly resigned as Prime Minister just 2 months before this series began. Alan Badel plays the ambiguous David Last, Michael Foot in all but name. Ray Smith is a fiery trade unionist. Godfrey Quigley plays the Denis Healey role. The background of the Northern Irish troubles appears once or twice. But it is entirely focused on the Labour Party - there are few trade unionists, and hardly any Tories, Nationalists or Liberals appearing. Almost all the 'ordinary' people are party members.

It is a gritty and realistic series, that places the politics in the context of a deindustrialising Northern town and the febrile environment of Westminster. Brand's tangled personal life features prominently, with the young Cherie Lunghi as his inspiring but difficult teenage girlfriend. Indeed, the 1970s Labour Party was largely blind to sexual politics, but this series is quite ahead of the curve as Brand tries to rethink gender relations. Some well-known directors cut their teeth on the series. It wasn't a comedy by any manner of means, but it brings its politics to life.
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The Avengers: Killer (1968)
Season 7, Episode 17
Fairly poor stuff
23 August 2019
An enormous amount of padding fills this humourless Tara-less episode. She leaves on her holidays, not caring a whit about the undercover agent who has gone missing and may be dead. Several more agents go the way of all flesh, turning up in a graveyard to receive post mortems from Richard Wattis. The repetitious series of agents being elaborately (but identically) lured to their murders quickly becomes tedious. Tara is replaced by super-competent Lady Diana, who fights well, rescues Steed, discovers clues, and has no personality quirks, indeed no personality. Yet no-one appears to notice that she is a far better agent than practically everyone else. Steed patronises Lady Diana a bit at the beginning with weak humour, but then gives up even that. Macnee himself sleepwalks through the story. Michael Ward might have enlivened proceedings, but has very little to do. A general sense that everyone would rather have been elsewhere ultimately kills the episode.
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Interesting, and a bit mad
4 August 2019
Or mad, and a bit interesting, take your pick. Herman Brix/Bruce Bennett is a good, athletic Tarzan, rather oddly at home in Africa, Latin America and England, equally comfortable in a loincloth or jungle fatigues, and even (in the final episode) fancy dress. His Tarzan cry is especially memorable, sounding as if he has just trapped his testicles in his desk drawer.

Unlike many serials, the plot develops in nearly linear fashion rather than repeatedly cycling round, and the Guatemalan locations are fascinating and well-used. The animals that Tarzan fights look less like pyjama cases than usual. There is a lot of evidence of cutting and rewriting, so it would be a stretch to say that it all made sense.

Some of the major characters disappear after Chapter Four for no obvious reason, only to reappear in the final summing up (the serial certainly improves when the cast is slimmed down; they are not missed). George, the comedy relief, degenerates from someone capable of machine-gunning dozens of natives to death early on, into a babbling cretin in the later episodes. He is literally unable to pick up a valuable clue without dropping it into the nearest river, or to walk in a straight line without falling into a cunning trap. And to cap it all, the final scene takes place at a party where everyone is dressed as a Tyrolean gypsy - why?
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The Avengers: Legacy of Death (1968)
Season 7, Episode 9
Bit silly
12 July 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Not the Avengers at their best, not even season 6 at its best. A somewhat unmotivated spoof with nods to the Maltese Falcon, with several ripe character actors hamming away with great relish, and a large death rate even for Steed and Tara. Steed has relatively little to do except play with his nephew's toy aeroplane and fight off overacting assassins.

It's not clear why Henley Farrer bequeaths Steed the dagger (rather than, say, simply murdering him himself). When the true purpose of the dagger is revealed, the already wafer-thin plot falls apart. As the dagger is basically a key to gain access to the real treasure, and as the treasure's hiding place is designed and known only to Farrer, it becomes impossible to understand how the comically large number of fortune hunters have heard of its function. After all, if you hid a treasure somewhere, so well that no-one was able to find it, why would you use a well-known object as the key, and let everyone know that it was the key? Indeed, what was the point of Farrar's plot anyway? What did he hope to gain by any of it that he couldn't have achieved by infinitely more feasible means?

One suspects they made this up as they went along, the pleased-with-itself spoof driving the plot rather than vice versa. The feeble ending lends credence to that thought.
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Lyrical, but too downbeat
9 July 2019
A fascinating idea from Humphrey Jennings, to take a baby boy as representative of a nation soon to face massive decisions, is scuppered by the misguided choice of E.M. Forster as author of the narration.

Young Timothy proved to be incapable of holding the interest throughout a fairly long film, so other representatives were drafted in: a miner, a farmer, a train driver and a fighter pilot, to create an overwhelmingly masculine vision.

But not heroic. Forster's prose might have made a brilliant essay, but his Bloomsbury condescension and contempt for his fellow Britons, particularly the bourgeoisie and the working class, seems glaring in the democratic medium of film. He seems to regret that these very Britons being celebrated were on the verge of winning the war - consistent with his pessimistic statement in 'Two Cheers for Democracy' that "if fascism wins we are done for, and that we must become fascist to win."

The spectacularly downbeat section where the terrible defeat at Arnhem is juxtaposed with Myra Hess playing Beethoven's Appassionata sums up Forster's attitude. His internationalism may seem far-sighted and principled from a distance, but was this a message that needed to be drummed so unsubtly into his audience (many of whom would have been bereaved in battles such as this) at this particular time? "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country", as he famously remarked in 'Two Cheers'. Well, if I was faced with such a difficult choice, I hope I would be less dogmatic about it than E.M.

The narration, contrary to the opinion of most of the other reviews, is terribly ill-judged. Declaimed in a gloomy monotone by Michael Redgrave, the viewer is left with the impression of moral equivalence between the allies and the Nazis. The hope represented by Timothy, that the form of the film forces Forster however reluctantly, to concede, is a slender thing indeed.
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The Hanged Man (1975– )
Different, classy but strange and highly implausible
2 June 2019
A tough, gritty thriller set in the world of the construction business, blessed with two brilliant lead performances from Colin Blakeley and Michael Williams. Mogul Lew Burnett survives an assassination attempt, and stays underground to flush out the killer - who meanwhile has employed hitman Quentin to finish the job. Can Burnett discover the truth before his luck runs out?

Over 8 episodes, oddly given tarot-style names (only some of which are genuine), Burnett and his dapper ally Crowe dodge round the world, finding those who owed him money, or a grudge, or who benefited from his death, swapping sardonic dialogue and leaving behind a large trail of corpses.

Don't get me wrong. It is very good, the scripts and acting are excellent and the production values high. But it is very odd too. Everyone is absurdly tough. No opponent can match the unbeatable Crowe and Quentin, while Burnett has bested everyone in business deals, knife fights, fist fights, battles with unions, governments and competing firms, building dams and pipelines and roads in Venezuela and the Middle East and Africa. Quentin squares up to a whole British Army battalion, while Crowe, together with a gang of about three people, takes on the whole government, army and police force of an East European communist state. Meanwhile, Crowe's unlikely friend Turtle together with the occasional hooligan can break into anywhere, find anything and outwit the police. It is about as realistic as the Iliad.

This is very entertaining, but strains credibility (particularly Quentin, who resembles a psychopathic geography teacher). Perhaps the worst strategic mistake was to make each episode practically standalone. Only two actors, apart from the heroes and villains, appear in more than one episode. This rather undermines the whodunnit aspects of the programme, because suspicion never accumulates, and the viewer has no real idea who the enemies are in each episode, or what they might have to do with each other, if anything. So the series doesn't really cohere, and the only meaningful continuity between episodes occurs in the final two.

Fans of Turtle's Progress will be interested to see the first appearance of Turtle in several episodes of this series, with Gareth Hunt in a couple of episodes in the Razor Eddie role. Turtle is light relief here, but be warned that The Hanged Man is not a comedy at all, and the two series are very different indeed in style and content. James Grout also appears in The Hanged Man, but in a different role from his Turtle's Progress part - as always he adds class.
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Underwear (2009)
Similar Reviews
14 February 2019
3 reviews give 10/10, written within 3 days of each other, by reviewers who don't seem to have reviewed many other films. They all say more or less the same thing, as well as namechecking the Mammoth CA Film Festival of 2009. It's supposedly sweet and poignant and brilliantly made. The word 'heart' features frequently.

I haven't seen the film. Maybe it's great. But it's interesting that 3 filmgoers, who have never shown much interest in reviewing films for IMDB before or since, all suddenly and independently decide to write similar paragraphs in praise of a film less than a quarter of an hour long. The long arm of coincidence, no doubt.
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The Goodies: Special: Goodies Rule OK? (1975)
Season Unknown, Episode Unknown
A smorgasbord of different times
2 December 2018
As most reviewers here concur, this Goodies Christmas special is a bit of a mishmash where the comic ideas come thick and fast, and the narrative (like the British population in the story) bounces out of control, leaving us with isolated memories of iconic moments, most notably Michael Barratt (the genuine presenter of the news programme Nationwide, who frequently appeared as himself in The Goodies) interviewing Sooty and Sweep, the spoofs of 1975's pop stars, and of course the giant Dougal. The flip side is that many sequences don't really work, including the Buckingham Palace garden party, the election (borrowed from Monty Python), the Robin Hood sequence and the celebrities (including Eddie Waring, Patrick Moore and Sue Lawley) who have forgotten how to do their own voices.

The ideas have taken over, and the Goodies' internal dynamic disintegrates as a result. Much of the comedy in the Goodies derives from the conflict between them as much as anything, Bill the deranged rebel, Tim the deluded patriot and Graeme the demented scientist. Here they work as a group moving through the social, cultural and political scene, and hardly ever differ or disagree. The lack of studio scenes in their office, where some of their best and most childish arguments were to be had, also contributes to this alien dynamic.

However, what is fascinating is the way that the plot chimes in with the dire politics of the time, when the country appeared to be falling apart. We had just had two indecisive general elections and a referendum on whether we should remain in the European Community (sound familiar?), while the economy tanked amid strikes galore in nationalised industries (note the reference to the Goodies being nationalised). Britain was known at the time as the sick man of Europe. The election theme, and the theme of a saviour to rescue us from this mess, recurred in many programmes, books and articles of the time. Democracy itself was being questioned, and many on the political right wanted a strongman dictator, while many on the political left would have preferred us to join the orbit of the Soviet Union. If you watch The Goodies Rule - OK? with that historical background in mind, it casts an interesting light. And if you watch it with today's political background of populism and despair in mind, parts of it are absolutely fascinating.

As one reviewer noted, the politicians featured would have dated it immediately. There are plenty of sequences of an impersonator of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who resigned three months later, and also a couple of shots of Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, who resigned at the same time after featuring in a sex-and-attempted-murder scandal (memorably dramatized as A Very English Scandal, with Hugh Grant playing Thorpe). Early footage of Margaret Thatcher gives no hint of the future to come.

For the virtue-signallers, there are also the inevitable problems associated with 1970s British TV failing to meet the retrospective standards of today's political correctness. The Goodies black up, as they often did to comic effect, this time spoofing Diana Ross and the Supremes. Some may feel uncomfortable by the references to convicted sex offender Gary Glitter, when Bill Oddie memorably dons his trademark hairy chest, and Jimmy Savile.
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The inside of Nigel Farage's head
4 October 2018
For an explanation of Brexit, it is extraordinary how much is contained in the Italian Job. A cult classic in the UK, starring icons Michael Caine and Noel Coward (not to be confused with the horrible remake), the film basically sets out what is in the heads of those who think that the UK will cut a swathe in the world, when released from the unimaginative clutches of Europe.

The plot's conceit is that Britain is basically run by a hyper-patriotic gangster from his prison cell (Noel C), who commissions Michael Caine to carry out a massive gold bullion robbery in Turin (English entrepreneurialism versus European organisation), from under the noses of the mafia (English enterprise versus European enterprise) on the night of an Italy-England football match (England win), with some style (Carnaby Street fashion abounds). They do this by subverting Turin's traffic control system (English ad hoc hacking ingenuity versus smart cities technology), and making their getaways in three Minis (superior small British cars) - one red, one white and one blue (the colours of the UK flag) - during a famous stunt sequence car chase through Turin pursued by the police (English flexibility/versatility versus European process). The final scene is an almost perfect metaphor for Brexit.

It is all about England, not Britain (there is a West Indian man in the gang, but no Scots, Irish or Welsh), and about men (the only woman in the gang is sent to Switzerland half way through and never seen again, while most of the other women in the cast are there for Michael Caine or Benny Hill to go to bed with - indeed, at one stage Caine staggers exhausted out of an orgy and immediately goes to bed with another woman - no need to psychoanalyse what that says about English self-image).

This is what the inside of Nigel Farage's or Boris Johnson's head is like, I suspect, and the film does appeal very widely to the English of all classes (it often appears in top British films lists, and "you're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off" was once voted the best line in cinema history). There are many touches to say that this rough and ready combative patriotism is deliberate - for instance, there is a reference to taking the gold to help Britain's balance of payments deficit by taking it from the Common Market (which is what the British used to call the EU then, when they were trying to join and Charles de Gaulle kept vetoing them), and also the gang travels across the Channel in a ferry pointedly called 'The Free Enterprise'.

If you have any European friends or colleagues who are baffled by the British going mad, it is very educational. The answer is that they were always that way.
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Porridge: A Night In (1974)
Season 1, Episode 3
Great stuff
21 August 2018
A splendid two-hander for these two incredibly talented comedians. It never drags, and is as heart-warming as it is hilarious.

I am really adding this review to correct the other reviews - this is not Godber's first night in jail. He and Fletcher arrived on the same day, and over the course of the first couple of episodes of Porridge Fletcher receives a number of different cellmates, and even goes into solitary. By the time Godber and Fletcher spend their first night in the cell together, Godber has already been inside for some time, sharing his cell with a violent prisoner called Banks who has set fire to Godber's mattress during a riot. All this comes out in the dialogue in this episode.
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Hulbert takes the genre seriously
7 August 2018
One of Jack Hulbert's best films, a spoof of the Bulldog Drummond series. There is little point watching Bulldog Jack if you are a fan of neither Bulldog nor Jack, but the USP of this film is that it doesn't play fast and loose with the thriller elements. It works pretty well as a Drummond film, and the first reel could easily have been transplanted from any of the others, as the crooks try to sabotage Drummond's car. Jack Hulbert steps in with his immense amateur enthusiasm and endless self-belief, immune to any doubts about his detective ability despite setback after setback; this confidence was Hulbert's trademark, and in any of his films you knew it would get him the girl, eventually. Smart dialogue peppers most scenes, particularly the early scene in Drummond's flat where Hulbert tries to make sense of the mysterious goings-on: "who is this man Santini, and why doesn't he know what he's done?" Claude Hulbert steps in as Algy, perennial 'silly ass' of the Drummond films, a clever piece of casting which allows brother Jack a confidante who will not outshine him, however dim he is being; Claude's finest moment is in the climactic scenes on the underground. Ralph Richardson is a somewhat eccentric master villain (with bizarre hair and a "filthy hat"), and Fay Wray as the love interest plays it entirely straight, which was probably wise.

For the aficionado of either Bulldog or Jack, this is a great picture. It is one of Hulbert's best (he was always a stage star), and it's better than most straight Drummonds. This is at least partly because the thriller elements are taken seriously. The most obvious sign of this is that there are no songs in the film, still less dancing. Even in Jack's the Boy, in contrast, Hulbert gives himself a couple of charming numbers. The self-restraint pays off in spades here.
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Underrated social satire
7 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
The reviews of 'The Rake's Progress' - the US title of 'Notorious Gentleman' is absurd, and obscures the connection with the Hogarth's famous series - seem to miss the many elements of social satire in this rather political film.

Vivian Kenway, brilliantly played by Rex Harrison as a version of himself, is a risk-taker, and abhors hypocrisy and convention. Apart from the present-day opening, the first scene in the film finds him on Armistice Day 1918, as a boy, having found his way into a crowded pub to celebrate the victory. It is a brilliant beginning; the boy never grows up.

We next see him sent down from Oxford for neglecting his studies and climbing monuments. (He, and especially Guy Middleton, look a little elderly for student hi-jinks, while the fashions and hairdos are resolutely mid-40s throughout the film.) Anyway, he leaves Oxford, and back to his father, who has been re-elected as Conservative MP. This is election day, 1931 - the day the National Government was elected; there is much talk of Tory leader Stanley Baldwin's being in touch with the people. Here we get our first satirical comment - when the film was made in 1945, the National Government was viewed as the weak coalition government that had deepened the 30s recession and failed to deter Hitler's Germany from rearming; Baldwin at that point was seen as one of the most culpable men. It is no coincidence that Vivian's Oxford career ends on that day - at that point, the weak and the conventional take power, and Vivian's brand of devil-may-care risk-taking will only handicap him.

He is sent to South America to learn the coffee trade (sent there by his Aunt, a wonderful battleaxe performance from Marie Lohr, together with Garry Marsh, excellent as her henpecked husband), and here he finds the only enthusiasm in his life. He spurns the easy life of leisure open to him, and throws his energies into working out a system for efficiently growing coffee. The hypocritical company chairman responds by sacking his scientists, complaining about English tea-drinking habits (while drinking tea). Again the satire is just below the surface - coffee wakes you up, just like the tea-drinking English need to be woken up. Vivian is sacked, for drunkenly telling it like it is.

After that, a series of increasingly distasteful adventures. He has a fling with a friend's wife, leading to the divorce courts. The friend, Sandy, has been ignoring her obvious infidelity; again, Vivian feels he is just bringing the obvious truth to the surface.

The inevitable crisis follows a trip to Vienna, when he sees the Nazis in action for the first time, and marries a half-Jewish girl to save her. Now he is in too deep, and tragedy follows; Vivian is a broken man.

His father's former secretary Jennifer offers him a familiar way out; her support as a wife, which she accepts will be a long run of bankruptcies and love affairs. But Vivian has finally grown up. He doesn't subject her to marriage, and instead disappears, reappearing in the present day in a tank regiment where his appetite for risk and excitement are now vital for the defence of his sleepy, hypocritical, but fundamentally decent country. As on Armistice Night 1918, Vivian is back in his element.

A cad and a bounder? Undoubtedly. But hardly the unsympathetic character portrayed in some other reviews here. The script in particular is magnificent, while Harrison's performance is pitch perfect.
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Wild Wings (1965)
Only in England
2 April 2018
This is a very absorbing documentary about wild birds, and the efforts of Sir Peter Scott and the Slimbridge Bird Sanctuary to preserve them; it even won an Oscar. It's not immediately obvious why it is so enjoyable, as birds are quite dull, especially for 35 minutes. The film becomes great fun once you realise that it is not really about birds at all, but rather a fond portrait of a load of wonderful and sincere English human eccentrics, including Sir Peter, his wife, Mrs Pilcher and many others, and especially the chap who chases the ducks into the decoy. The rocket-powered net trap for the geese is perhaps the highlight. If you ever want to understand where Peter Cook got the inspiration for his character Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling, this film is a pretty good place to start.

A very lovely film for anyone who loves England, and its brand of ever-so-slightly-mad.
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The Tyrant King (1968– )
Excruciatingly dull
23 March 2018
As a period piece, this is perhaps beyond criticism. The soundtrack is fascinating to any lover of 60s psychedelia, with Pink Floyd foregrounded (almost every track from A Saucerful of Secrets is sampled at some point), as well as the Moody Blues, Cream and so on. And the lover of London's history gets to see the locations in its 'swinging' period.

But, as a Londoner of the time would say, it ain't half dull. Had the brainwashing techniques of the Ipcress File been adopted by the London Tourist Board, the result wouldn't be too unlike The Tyrant King. Long montages of the three children exploring the Imperial War Museum, or Hampton Court, or St Paul's, are interspersed with dialogue to the effect of how impossible it would be to find the villains in a city the size of London, followed immediately afterwards with the three children bumping into one of them, and then running away. Which makes you wonder why they were looking for them in the first place.

The anorexic plot doesn't help - there is virtually no motivation for the children at all, they just bumble through a series of incredible coincidences, starting with the initial overhearing of a telephone call in an unoccupied house, in which they have no business, at the very moment that someone decided to use its phone. Incredible that this classy production team could create something so spectacularly tedious.
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Seven Keys (1961)
Good thriller, extraordinary cast
16 March 2018
This lower-case parable is a highly entertaining and well-plotted thriller, boasting a charismatic, intelligent and droll lead performance by Alan Dobie that impresses with his star quality.

The film is most notable for having the most extraordinary cast of well-known British character actors and comedians, several of them popping up for a single scene. There are of course many from the Independent Artists repertory company, including Delphi Lawrence, John Carson and Philip Locke. But there are also several familiar scene-stealers from a previous generation, including Robertson Hare, Fabia Drake and Colin Gordon. And eagle-eyed viewers will also spot future stars in impossibly tiny roles, such as Peter Barkworth, Robert Lang and Brian Peck. Virtually everybody is somebody, and for the fan of the British B movie it's a treat.
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Less Anger, More Mild Vexation
1 March 2018
Another dose of Kenneth Anger's film-making, supremely silly of course but entertaining if one is in the mood for seeing minor celebrities prancing about pretending to be supernatural beings.

This is one of the more polished of his efforts, but (perhaps as a result) it falls far below less professional works such as Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome or Invocation of My Demon Brother. Far from being at the cutting edge of the avant garde, this is a much more derivative piece, reminding the viewer of films such as Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii, or even, in some of the sequences featuring Marianne Faithful, the old Fry's Turkish Delight advertisements.

Similarly, the music, recorded by convicted murderer Bobby Beausoleil in prison, might have been expected to add an edge or frisson, but it's pleasant, spacey and bland, like an outtake from the Alan Parsons Project.

Impossible to take seriously, it's enjoyable at its level, and is worth immortality for the priceless credit of Lucifer played by Leslie Huggins.
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Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis: Part Three (1988)
Season 25, Episode 10
17 February 2018
Utter nonsense. A poor story, with the nice characters of Lady Peinforte and Richard as its saving grace, finishes up with a dose of gobbledegook and a convenient end. Luckily, Ace is a far better shot than the cybermen, to an absurd degree.

The DVD making-of extra is worth watching, primarily for writer Kevin Clarke's smug interview, in which he seems to be not only not ashamed of his work, but actually pleased with it. Nothing is explained at any stage, and one feels the scenes could easily be shown in any order and would still make as much sense. Anton Diffring's opinion of this is well documented, but it is still astonishing that any of the actors or technicians could sit around rehearsing and making this nonsense without actually standing up and pointing out that it would be an embarrassment to all concerned and perhaps they had better just stop now.

As an attempt to entertain it is a failure. As an attempt to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a once-brilliant show, it is an insult.
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Good example of early Hitch
5 December 2017
This is a pretty good, entertaining and suspenseful early Hitch, though for some reason it doesn't really stick in the memory. It is mainly feted now for the famous Majestic Hotel ballroom shot, and it is quite clear that after that bit of legerdemain, Hitchcock loses interest and the film is wrapped up unconvincingly in five perfunctory minutes. Lots of other good things though. Nova Pilbeam is charming (Derrick de Marney less so). Edward Rigby is on good scene-stealing form, and Basil Radford's single scene is a masterly tour de force of deadpan comic acting. The two contrasting lunches of the Burgoyne family are also highlights, providing character and comedy while subtly moving the plot along, with Erica's four brothers brilliantly realised. There is lovely photography of the Sussex countryside. The scene where Erica is rescued is genuinely scary, despite being studio-bound. There are some dreadful and wholly unnecessary model shots, but at least they are better than those in The Lady Vanishes. Nevertheless, this feels like a dry run for the latter, rather than its peer.
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A typical misjudgment from John Nathan-Turner
19 November 2017
John Nathan-Turner's time as producer of Dr Who (1980-9) was a frightful mess. Clearly out of his depth, his period at the helm was characterised largely by thrashing around with gimmicks to compensate for small budgets, miscasting, poor scripting and uncertainties of tone, whose accumulation had begun during Graham William's tenure, but which accelerated dramatically from Nathan-Turner's first season (season 18) onwards.

One problem that Nathan-Turner faced was that the audience was ageing, and sci-fi nerds were beginning to define the show to the detriment of its universal qualities. It was therefore potentially a shrewd move to develop the one-off TV movie K9 and Company, coupling Dr Who's favourite companion, Sarah Jane, who still lingered in the memory, with his most asinine, for younger viewers. If this reached fruition as a series, maybe a new younger audience could be cultivated?

Of course, he muffed it. The filming does not appear to have been a happy experience, at least for Elisabeth Sladen, according to her memoirs. But the appalling script, the embarrassing public school nephew Brendan, the weedy attacker Peter, a goodly set of well-known character actors reduced to oo-arrr dialogue, and a set of unintentionally comic pagans all combine to kill it anyway. The wonderful support actress Mary Wimbush is particularly wasted. The execrable title sequence is a microcosm of the failure of the whole enterprise.

Lots of people watched it; I was one of them. I wanted to love it, especially as it came shortly after the very disappointing season 18. I hated it. I assumed I was just growing too big for Dr Who, but, now we can watch these shows again on DVD, it is clear that Dr Who was leaving its audience, not the other way round.
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5 November 2017
Much of the 1970s were spent in TV-land trying to find a starring vehicle for David Jason. Everyone agreed he was very talented and versatile, and he excelled in particular as a foil for Ronnie Barker. But that leading role escaped him. Pathos didn't work with Lucky Feller, and slapstick didn't work with Edgar Briggs.

Not that Briggs wasn't funny. Some of the stunts are wonderful, the timing excellent. The pratfalls and verbal tics come at you bam-bam-bam, Airplane-style. If there is a drink, Briggs will spill it; if there is a telephone, Briggs will get himself tangled in the wires; if there is a hat, Briggs will cram it down ludicrously on his head; if someone else has a line, Briggs will misinterpret it.

The gags are more miss than hit, but most scenes have one or two splendid moments. The verbal jousting is less effective; situations can't build up slowly and hilariously, because Briggs gets absolutely everything wrong. He forgets who he is talking to, he forgets the orders he has just given. A typical scene might involve Briggs ordering Spencer to conceal his identity and pretend to be Smith; Spencer introduces himself as Smith, and Briggs will immediately call him Spencer loudly, and wonder who Smith is.

So it's not, as some reviewers have suggested, a work of genius. Neither is it, as other reviewers have suggested, a childish load of nonsense. In style, it's probably closest to the Piggy Malone and Charley Farley strand in the Two Ronnies. It is easier to enjoy this if you're not feeling sophisticated. Its very amateurishness is quite endearing. I can certainly understand why David Jason was embarrassed to let it out. But it's fun.
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Manhunt (1969– )
Got more stunning as it developed
5 November 2017
An extraordinary series, in turn intriguing, gripping, shocking and sometimes downright mad.

It begins as a piece of superior thick ear, with an odd trio - repressed Victor, extrovert Jimmy, and traumatised Jew Nina - trapped in occupied France, trying to get back to Britain with the information in Nina's head. The series involved a series of writers, whose different strengths led to a great deal of variety among the episodes - a technique used by excellent dramas of the time including The Gold Robbers and The Guardians. One wonders whether the writers competed amongst themselves to outdo each other - most of the episodes included scenes with dialogue of great tension which could make the hairs on one's neck stand on end. Various experiments were tried - one episode in virtual silence, others being practically two-handed plays. There was a lot of violence, and a high death rate, but typically the gunfire only punctuated the complex interactions of the various people trapped in the wartime situation.

We had the leading trio - Peter Barkworth, of dual nationality, who tries to overcome his sensitivity and compassion with cold professionalism, Cyd Hayman, who begins as a beautiful victim and sex object but finds untrained and unmanageable powers of self- protection, resistance and revenge, and Alfred Lynch as the Brylcreem Boy who finds that his cavalier attitude to danger and discipline are not enough to get him through the nightmare - but also the duplicity of the Resistance, and the collaborators, and the fatal rivalry between the brutish SS, the supine French police and the Abwehr, schooled in more military virtues.

As the series becomes more profound and serious, three more characters are dropped into the mix - Lutzig, too subtle for his SS masters but still a thug, Adelaide, of ambiguous loyalties, and the extraordinary Gratz. There is no scene too small for Robert Hardy to steal, in an incredible performance. The three original protagonists are split up, and so in the second half you could never predict which of the six would appear in any given episode. In the extremity of their situation they become so obsessed with each other that passions emerge, love and abuse co-exist, and - as the codeword introduced later in the show has it, 'war is love'.

The show is not perfect. Some of the psychology stretches credibility, and one wonders what languages they all speak. But still, it's a stunning drama which builds up to a giant and profound climax.

The theme, built around the opening motif of Beethoven's Fifth, became instantly associated with the series at the time of broadcast. This was a particularly brilliant idea, as the series was broadcast only 26 years after the end of the war, and many viewers would have memories of the motif being used in allied broadcasts. Why that motif? Because the rhythm, ...-, signifies the letter V (for victory) in Morse Code.
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