I had a bad day yesterday, for various reasons too tedious to go into, but I was cheered up in the evening. First, I read a book I’d picked up at a charity stall earlier in the day; written for children, it’s one of the best books I’ve read for ages.* Then I watched a programme I’d recorded, Let’s have a party! The piano genius of Mrs Mills. How could Mrs Mills not cheer you up? Pre-Beatles, I was young enough to watch The Billy Cotton Band Show with my parents, which is how I remember Mrs Mills. I also liked Russ Conway, who I thought was lovely and greatly admired Winifred Atwell, another former star you never hear about nowadays. I was obviously too old for Bobby Crush when he came along; I had no idea who he was.

The theme of the programme is also a pet obsession of mine: that performers like Mrs Mills have been written out of musical history because they don’t fit with people’s idea of the sixties. She had albums in the charts for years! She recorded at Abbey Road, where she had a dedicated piano, specially tuned for her distinctive honky-tonk sound. It gives you a good idea of the musical overlap in those days to learn that The Beatles used the same piano on some of their tracks, notably Penny Lane. The piano is still preserved at the studios.

Most of the people interviewed were pianists themselves and they were all at pains to point out the technical difficulty of what Mrs Mills did and how well she did it. Typically, the BBC didn’t seem to have much footage left and we kept seeing the same old clips, mostly from The Morecambe and Wise Show. There are quite a few clips on YouTube and I picked this one because you can actually see her playing.

There was much talk of the decline of piano playing as pianos were banished from homes and pubs to make way for television sets. Nevertheless, Mrs Mills still has her fans. I found 113 singles/albums offered on eBay this morning. The album covers are so bad they’re good, collectable because they’re so kitsch. Click here to see young kingofthekeyboard playing the piano Mrs Mills style. How I’d love to be able to do that! I’d like to be the quiet, shy person at the party who can sit down at the piano and knock out any tune people ask for. We also saw young people reviving the pub singalong, with a vamping piano and customers roaring out Roll Out The Barrel like extras from In Which We Serve, then wondering how it is they know the words. Rick Wakeman pointed out that to someone of fifteen, this kind of music would be something quite new. Highly recommended and still available to view.

*Huck and her Time Machine by Gillian Avery
Query: why is poppy sporting unnecessary on HIGNFY but obligatory on Strictly even if you’re wearing little else? Let’s have some consistency here.

Tess Daly looked less good than usual on Saturday. Her dress or her bra was the wrong size, I couldn’t work out which, so she had a rumpled midriff. My boy Harry is still, I think, being let down by Aliona’s choreography. Let him show what he can do, woman! Holly and Chelsee, OTOH, had wonderful choreography to work with. This must be because they have *Russian partners*. What is it with Artem and Pasha; were they in ballet boot camp from the age of five, perhaps? Lulu’s out? Didn’t see that coming, even though I thought she was pretty useless.

Wrong about Downton, too, because I predicted that Cora and Lavinia would both die. Talk about double standards from his lordship! ‘I want you with every fibre of my being.’ Ha ha ha! Hugh Bonneville is such a good actor I wonder he can bring himself to deliver a line like that. Plenty of material left for series three!

‘Enjoy’ was not quite the right word for Paddy Ashdown’s programme about The Cockleshell Heroes last Tuesday. A letter from a young man to his sweetheart brought tears to my eyes. He knew he was unlikely to come back and wrote, ‘Cheerio and God bless.’ After he died the girl succumbed to TB. A good programme to have on near Remembrance Day. There’s a film about the same story. I saw it in the sixties in a double bill with - Yellow Submarine!

First the good news. I really enjoyed Tintin’s Adventure with Frank Gardner on BBC 2 yesterday evening. Frank Gardner followed Tintin’s journey from Brussels to Berlin and Moscow in search of Hergé’s inspiration for Tintin in the Land of the Soviets. He travelled in a number of trains, planes and fantastic old cars and obviously had a good time, even in a wheelchair. A great tribute to Hergé and to Frank Gardner. I’d feel sorry for him but he refuses to feel sorry for himself. Also he's rather cute.

The Everyone Must wear a Poppy rule came in last week on BBC channels. Can’t they wait until November?

Whatever was the gorgeous Alesha wearing on Saturday evening’s Strictly? November 5th is the day for guys, ducks. After weeks of thinking this a dull series full of people I’d never heard of I’ve decided that Harry is the one.

Downton: ha ha ha! It gets sillier every week. How I love it.
Quite a bookfest on the BBC at the moment and I’ve been joining in with some of it. All the programmes are mentioned on the linked page. I started with Faulks on Fiction, in which the curly-haired one began with ‘The Hero’. This plodded along on the lines of : "Faulks is a hero on account of his barnet, his ability to walk and talk at the same time and his excellent ‘noddies’." There was not an original or interesting thought in the whole programme and it was incredibly shallow (BBC2) compared with Birth of the British Novel (BBC4). I’d never heard of Henry Hitchings and he’s less easy on the eye than Faulks but his look at eighteenth century novels was very interesting, particularly on Richardson and Sterne.

Scheduled well after my bedtime was In Their Own Words, a compilation of interviews with British novelists; I recorded it to watch the next day. If you click on the link to the programme it tells you exactly when each piece was recorded and how long it lasted. I disliked the narration but was fascinated by the subject matter. Several of the clips I had seen before, such as Evelyn Waugh being interviewed by John Freeman on Face to Face. Many were quite new to me; I’d never seen or, more to the point heard, Elizabeth Bowen or Aldous Huxley. It was a wonderful glimpse not only of dead authors but of a different culture, one of clipped accents, no holds barred questions (ever seen Mark Lawson Talks To…?) and people smoking while being interviewed. There was no George Orwell, of course, because the BBC wiped all the tapes.

Where today is there a programme like Monitor? You’d think things had dumbed down, perish the thought! (OK, Arena puts out some good programmes.)

A curious feature of these three programmes was that Martin Amis popped up on each one with something to say. I don’t mind that at all; like his father he’s a good critic. Speaking of Dad, here he is. To save you even that trouble, see below for that same 1958 interview with Simon Raven. The presenter is Huw Weldon.

Yesterday evening I watched an interesting programme on BBC 4: 1960 The Year of the North. It turned out to be mostly about films, in particular Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, This Sporting Life, A Taste of Honey and A Kind of Loving. Rita Tushingham starred in A Taste of Honey. Have you seen her in The Knack, with Michael Crawford and Ray Brooks? You should.
I could have done without cultural historians telling me what to think but I liked the comment that when we see Julie Christie skipping along swinging her bag in Billy Liar, ‘it’s the start of the sixties’. The theme was of grittiness; of working class anti-heroes and northern accents becoming acceptable to people in the south for whom ‘The North’ was an exotic location. According to one commentator, these films paved the way for The Beatles to be seen as quirky and amusing rather than people to be laughed at because of their funny accents. Much as I love the films I couldn’t help thinking of Harry Enfield’s spoofs It’s Grim up North and Poppet on a Swing.

After that was an old Monitor programme, Shelagh Delaney’s Salford. This was a complete turn-off for me and I gave up on it. Hearing her praise for the vibrancy of Salford’s markets and the wonderful character of its people, as though it were the only place in the world, just made me think, ‘Never been to London, then, have you ducks?’ Of course, looking at the old film you realize that being a child in Croydon, as I was in 1960, was very different from growing up in Salford. I just get fed up with northerners with large chips on their shoulders. Goes to show how tribal we can all be deep down.

Heads up, Kinks fans. This evening is designated Kinks' Night on BBC 4. It starts with Ray Davies' recent performance at Glastonbury. Next up is Brothers in Arms, not exclusively about the Kinks but bound to be interesting.

I wish they'd show some early film, with the band in hunting coats and Ray saying, "Come on, girls."
Sorry to hear that Alan Plater has died. He wrote so many brilliant TV scripts: just look at the list. I even remember Close the Coalhouse Door from way back. Hard to pick a favourite but it might be the funny, eccentric, confusing and of course *starring James Bolam*, The Beiderbecke Affair. Here’s a sample.

Edit: The IMDb link won't work at the moment, although it was fine just now. Just a glitch, I hope.

Nice Work

Jan. 18th, 2010 10:23 am
Not the book, but researching and making vintage knits for films. It must be quite an industry these days. There's some lovely examples in the TV film of Ballet Shoes.

Here's Posy in a cute and complicated sleeveless top:

more vintage knitwear )

The Richard and Judy effect on book sales has been a phenomenon of recent years. Now here’s a new book chat show, The TV Book Club on More 4 (what a hideous web site!)
This evening’s programme kicks off with The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Titles to follow are:
Blacklands, Belinda Bauer
Sacred Hearts, Sarah Dunant
Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby
Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
The Rapture, Liz Jensen
Brixton Beach, Roma Tearne
The Way Home, George Pelecanos
Wedlock, Wendy Moore
The Silver Linings Play Book, Matthew Quick

Presenters will be Nathaniel Parker, Dave Spikey (who he?), Gok Wan, Jo Brand and Laila Roass. These people are described as 'celebrity reviewers', which would be worrying if you didn't know that Jo Brand is very intelligent. Laila was asked what her favourite books were. She opted for To Kill a Mockingbird because her English teacher liked it and for The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. Help! That was Elvis's favourite book! Here’s a little poll.

[Poll #1512614]

Yesterday I watched the 2007 TV series of The Diary of a Nobody. This is a brilliant one-man performance by Hugh Bonneville, one of the best interpretations I know. The interiors are a delight and watch out for the Pooters' yellow breakfast set: I have a part tea set in the very same pattern!

Or similar.

My copy was recorded off the TV but if you live in the UK you have to wait until March this year to get a DVD. Why such a well-kept secret? Americans can buy it on right now.
My reading and TV watching are linked at the moment. Watching the David Jason version made me re-read The Darling Buds of May; I re-read The Diary of a Nobody last month; the other evening I watched I Capture the Castle and now have a strong urge to read that again.

Note that everything I'm watching is a recording. This is because, just when the weather is at its worst and TV and knitting call, there is NOTHING ON in real time. Another treat has been to start watching my Christmas DVD: the complete series of Outnumbered. Utterly brilliant! And at one point the Hugh Dennis character is channel hopping (with rude remarks) and complains, '47 channels!' and he still can't find anything to watch. Back to the DVD then.

Nuts in May

Apr. 7th, 2009 05:49 pm

There’s been a lot of publicity about the release of the Mike Leigh at the BBC DVD set. Of all Mike Leigh’s films, my favourite is Nuts in May and with good reason. Picture this… )

I’m looking forward to watching Picture Book on BBC 4 this evening, which looks at the history of children’s illustrated books. I hope this won’t just mean picture books, important as they are, because for many people text illustrations in books intended for much older children are just as significant. I seem to have discussed this somewhere before but one can hardly imagine Arthur Ransome without the stick figures or Molesworth not illustrated by Ronald Searle (many people seem to think Searle wrote the books).

Victor Watson describes this effect very well in his wonderful book Reading Series Fiction. (As soon as this book came out, I ordered it from my local bookshop. I see I paid £13.99 for it, so it’s rather shocking that Amazon’s price has nearly doubled.) He writes, ‘At this point I ought to confess that at the age of ten I fell in love with Petronella Sterling, otherwise known as Peter, heroine of the Lone Pine series. …when recently I looked again at the first illustration (in Seven White Gates) …I found I remembered it in such detail as to suggest that as a boy I had studied it with some attention.’

Isn’t that just it? You come across a book you haven’t seen for years and view the pictures with a shock of recognition. With some books, the illustrations are an intrinsic part of the reading experience. Classics like Black Beauty, Heidi and Little Women have been reissued countless times with different illustrations; it doesn’t matter very much because no one artist has made a mark sufficient to link his or her work with the book forever. Beatrix Potter’s books are another matter and children are deprived, in my opinion, if they are given the Ladybird version of The Tale of Peter Rabbit rather than a copy with the original illustrations.
The British Council has a touring exhibition, Magic Pencil, curated by Quentin Blake. The National Portrait Gallery put on an exhibition of Portraits of Children’s Writers . If you visit Newcastle, you can see thousands of illustrations at the Seven Stories Centre for Children’s Books. It’s good to see so much interest in children’s books these days.
Some favourite images )
Recession? Swap a frock! Yesterday evening BBC2 brought us TV swishing with Twiggy’s Frock Exchange. This failed on several counts. Twiggy, however delightful, has a weak voice and is not a natural presenter. There were bizarre attempts at suspense: who will get the Manolos? Who cares? I do find this sort of programme fun, though, and always resolve to make more of an effort with my clothes the next day. It’s interesting to see Twiggy everywhere since she became the face of M & S. Hard to exaggerate just how ubiquitous she was in the sixties. Here, the face behind the keyhole, 1967.

And here on a knitting pattern.

In those days she was a waif and I was a lump but now I think I’m thinner than she is! Who’d 'a’ thought it?

Then I relived my youth watching British Style Genius (more Twiggy). This was slightly schizophrenic as it argued on the one hand that fashion in Britain comes from the street; on the other that true class comes from top stylists and master cutters like Ossie Clark. I really enjoyed seeing all the Mary Quant designs which were just a Honey dream to me at school but so influential.

I’ve always loved this picture

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy by David Hockney

Lost in Austen got even better last week. One feisty twentieth century girl turns up in Austen-land and all the heroes and villains fall for her! Complicated and fun. I wish I could say the same for the BBC’s new Sunday evening serial, Tess of the D’Urbervilles. As the girls danced I thought, ‘Ooh, I was walking on that very spot last Easter!’ As soon as Tess appeared it was, ‘Poor Tess!’ and then, ‘Angel Clare, you bastard!’ because to my mind he is far worse than Alec. Then my attention wandered; alas, I found it boring. As you see, I know the book, so I wonder how it would appear as a story to someone coming to it for the first time?

I was annoyed that the TV Cranford changed the story but it was so beautifully done that you felt you lived there. In contrast, Tess gave no feeling of village life; just a few dim interiors. The promised (or threatened) ‘scenes of sexual violence’ were absolutely nothing compared with what’s going on in The Tudors, and were much less shocking than in the book. It really isn’t good enough to show a lot of beautiful countryside and add Mummerset accents and I wasn’t impressed by the casting, apart from Anna Massey as Mrs D’Urberville. Hardy made Tess a cipher and that’s how she appears. I have fond memories of a 1970s version of The Mayor of Casterbridge, with Alan Bates. Bates made quite a career in Hardy as he also starred in The Woodlanders and in the film of Far From the Madding Crowd. Now no one could find that film boring. It may lack modern attention to period detail but makes up for it in spirited story telling; something lacking from this slow version of Tess.

Noticing that the 1963 film of Tom Jones was on television, I recorded it to see me through a very tedious spell of neckband knitting. I was at school when I first saw this film and watching it again it was easy to see why Albert Finney was one of my teen icons. Not that he had much to do here except look handsome and attractive to women; hardly taxing for him in those days. He was absolutely dynamic on stage and everyone thought he’d be the new Olivier but he didn’t want to be. He’s had a strange career, despising honours and luvviedom; an example to lesser talents, I’d say.

Tom Jones was a brave attempt to film a long, rollicking novel and I think captures the spirit of the book quite well. It almost had two casts: the old one, Edith Evans, Hugh Griffith; the young one Finney, Susannah York and David Warner. He was another we schoolgirls admired, especially in Morgan.

More TV )
There have now been three episodes of Ashes to Ashes : enough to make up one’s mind about it? Well of course I’m glued to the screen every week. I don’t think it quite counts as a sequel, though, more like a whole new programme. For a start, in spite of the references to Walkmen and Breville sandwich toasters and the lack of a rape suite down the nick, the retro angle doesn’t work for me at all. 1981 just doesn’t seem so much of a different planet as 1973 did. And who on earth dressed the way Alex does? Nobody I knew. Then Alex is a less sympathetic character than Sam and her weekly drunkenness, which conveniently allows her to lose all inhibitions, is getting predictable and tiresome.

The big attraction is of course the Gene Genie, in spite of his horrible shoes. Philip Glenister plays for laughs and why not?

Alex: gives lengthy motormouth profile of villain.
Gene: Don’t you ever get brainache?

Alex: Perhaps I should go down to King’s Cross.
Gene: Not paying you enough?

Plus now the man has depth.
Alex: obviously wanting him to kiss her (this could run and run)
Gene. I’m drunk. And you’re very drunk.
Oh, swoon! Just like James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story!

Speaking of swooning, Stephen Campbell Moore, who plays Evan, is extremely handsome. It was killing me to know what I’d seen him in before; it was of course The History Boys.
I had trouble sitting through the first episode of Ashes to Ashes because I was itching to get back to watching a film I had recorded, Cottage To Let . I spotted this in the listings, which gave no information other than ‘black & white, Alastair Sim’. That was enough for me. I was surprised to find a black & white British wartime film I hadn’t seen before and wondered why it was not better known. Apart from the wonderful Alastair Sim, who amazes me every time I see him by his apparently effortless scene stealing, there is a remarkable performance from a fifteen year old George Cole. The film was directed in 1941 by Anthony Asquith and has a lot in common with Went the Day Well? (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1942) as they both deal with the enemy within. Watching these films, made before the tide of war had turned, you can appreciate the need for the ’Careless Talk Costs Lives’ campaign, so brilliantly illustrated by Fougasse.

Both these films star the actor Leslie Banks, obviously good and at the height of his career. Yet today he is hardly known, let alone a household name as I imagine Alastair Sim still is. As for George Cole, it was fascinating to see in his young self facial expressions and mannerisms which would endear him to audiences for the next sixty years. I recorded Ashes to Ashes and watched it all over again the next day, when I enjoyed it more. Gene will have to wait for a post of his own.

Olden Days

Jan. 17th, 2008 06:05 pm
Really, what started as a mostly books and gardens blog is turning into a TV one. A couple of days ago I recorded Verdict on Pop: the Sixties and watched it a chunk at a time. Stuart Maconie chatted to Neil Innes, Tony Blackburn and Eddie Hiller (who?) about whether sixties music was any good, whether music could change the world and other knotty questions. First up they pointed out what I am always banging on about: that the best selling artists of the sixties were not the Beatles and the Stones but Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck and ahem, Ken Dodd. Hiller had never even heard of The Seekers, whose The Carnival is Over was one of the best sellers of the decade.

Some of the chat was rather plodding: Bob Dylan was influential, they opined. Wow, that took some working out. I was slightly dashed to find that I have so much in common with Tony Blackburn, notably a dislike of long, boring guitar solos. At the end of the programme I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe they’re not going to mention The Kinks!’ when Maconie announced that they would finish with another classic track and on came Ray Davies, with that enchanting, naughty smile of his, singing Days.

BTW if you want a real glimpse into life in the allegedly swinging sixties, watch this clip from Juke Box Jury (all right, it's 1959) and check out the suits (and David McCallum). As far as the BBC was concerned, nothing much had changed ten years later.

My Top TV

Dec. 6th, 2007 10:04 am
This is from [profile] mimmimmim. I have never watched a single one of her programmes! Mine are sadly predictable.

a. Post a list of 10 TV shows you love (current or canceled);

The Antiques Roadshow. Never miss.
Gardeners' World when Geoff Hamilton presented it but not since, although I still half watch it.
Have I Got News for You
Life on Mars
Yes, Minister
The Phil Silvers Show (Bilko)
Noggin the Nog
Trevor's World of Sport and anything else written by Andy Hamilton

I've forgotten some and missed out a lot.

b. Have your friends list guess your favorite character from each show;
Go on, then!

c. When guessed bold the line and write a little bit about why you like that character;
I might.

d. Post in your own livejournal.
Sure thing.
Nothing for Life on Mars? Tsk.



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