More musings on Doctor Who and national identity from me have been published at John Connors's Time Lines blog. I've written an introduction with more ideas at The Event Library, and the posts themselves are available at part two and part three.
The first part of a series of musings on Doctor Who and British identity, at John Connors's Timelines blog, originally commissioned by John for the fanzine Plaything of Sutekh which he co-edited with Richard Farrell. A short introduction can be found at The Event Library, too.
On Tuesday night I was discussing broadcasting history with someone and mention was made of Asa Briggs. Within an hour his death was announced. A few hours later, I learned of Sylvia Anderson's death; and now, Cliff Michelmore, a broadcaster who was moving into a retirement phase in my childhood but who still loomed large. The sense of twentieth-century Britain tidying up after itself through the death of people who seemed to epitomise aspects of the mid-late century spirit which animated last year is even stronger this. Some links:

The BBC Archive Cliff Michelmore page

Cliff Michelmore switches off Lime Grove studios, The Late Show, 1991

Cliff Michelmore interviews David Jones (the future David Bowie), Tonight, 1964

The Shadows: 'Lady Penelope' from Thunderbirds are Go - shared by [twitter.com profile] outonbluesix as a tribute to her alter ego, Sylvia Anderson

Sylvia Anderson interviewed for the third or fourth generation of fans of Lady Penelope and Thunderbirds, Blue Peter, 1995

I've not watched this, but here's Asa Briggs in discussion early last year at the University of Sussex

An episode of The Seven Ages of Radio with Asa Briggs, starting with part of one of my favourite broadcasting quotations from David Dunhill, with added Tony Blackburn, though the structure of the series seems somewhat pessimistic.

While I'm making a link post, here's a Kickstarter worth exploring: Duel for Citizenship by Holly Matthies
"Time-serving reviewers, those sensitive registers of the day-to-day changes in current and temperature, no longer invite their readers to sneer at Mr. Leavis, and Cambridge seems to be becoming increasingly aware to whom it owes its international reputation for English studies. The Leavis case is fortunately the rare one of the obnoxious character holding on until in the course of time it has become apparent that he is a great man and must be admitted, however reluctantly, into the fold, if only to avert scandal."
---H.A. Mason, 'F.R. Leavis and Scrutiny', The Critic, 1/2, Autumn 1947, p. 21
A gift in pdf from the BBC Genome team: the Christmas Radio Times of 1923. More is explained at the BBC Genome blog. This is the era of the BBC as monopoly private company rather than autonomous corporation and that's reflected in the business-led feature writing which opens the magazine; but there are contributions too from Ramsay Macdonald, a few weeks away from becoming first Labour prime minister, and Lilian Bayliss of the Old Vic, as well as various broadcasters including several of the uncles and aunts of the regional stations. The adverts are revealing of a vanished time; the listings show that a simultaneous broadcast of Shakespeare recitals by Sir Frank Benson was taken by most stations, intriguingly for me coming from 5NO in Newcastle; 5WA in Cardiff offers A Christmas Carol instead. Although not the modern Woman's Hour, which did not begin until the 1940s, there is a Women's Hour, but it only seems to last thirty minutes. Christmas Day itself is one of a Christmas party and religious messages, including one specifically aimed at children.
For Brasenose, Robert Hewison and Michael Palin produced John Mortimer's radio play Call Me a Liar. A slight school-of-Billy-Liar piece, Philip Hodgson played the anti-hero Sammy Noles amusingly, a compulsive a defensive liar who is finally redeemed by the love of Martha Heinz. Good attention to detail, marred only by a recalcitrant moustache. Ingeniously staged with a three part revolving set.

Of Teddy Hall's production of the third act of Dannie Abse's Fire in Heaven, I hardly know what to say. I suppose the piece was as well-performed as the last death-rattle of a worn out verse convention allows.

---David Wright, Theatre, Isis 20 November 1963.

I cited Teddy Hall as there's a strong possibility Ian Marter was in that production, but I need to research further.
This morning's post brought Andy Davidson's Jaunt: An Unofficial Guide to The Tomorrow People, newly-published by Miwk. In it he recounts the resistance Roger Price and Ruth Boswell faced over the casting of Afro-Caribbean actor Stephen Salmon as Kenny in series one, and then of Elizabeth Adare as Elizabeth in series two. He also quotes an interview Elizabeth Adare gave to Look-In in 1977 (and respect to Look-In, the 'Junior TV Times' for using it):

being black can make getting work quite difficult. The trouble is casting directors will turn you down for a part because putting a black person in a certain role automatically makes the viewers look for special meanings that possibly detract from the plot. (Davidson, Jaunt, p. 56)

Worth thinking about when considering last weekend's panel at Nine Worlds as well as the relevant book, Doctor Who and Race, which I'll be reviewing for the next issue of The Terrible Zodin.

Jaunt is available direct from Miwk Publishing.
The colour film found at this site of London in 1927 is quite evocative for those who at all know the place.
sir_guinglain: (RadioTimesRichardDimbleby)
( Feb. 4th, 2013 02:18 am)
There has been more uploading of archive television onto YouTube than I realised... so following a suggestion of [personal profile] magister I've watched the first twelve minutes or so of episode 1.1 of Colditz. It takes almost a full ten minutes for the episode to reach the multicamera video studio, the fixed abode of BBC drama, the end of a progression from newsreel footage to new footage posing as newsreel, to colour location filming maintaining a cold quasi-documentary realism, to an intense two-hander scene on video. I'll be back to watch the rest.
sir_guinglain: (TVTimes1967Avengers)
( Feb. 3rd, 2013 01:17 pm)
If I were to write a longer post about Danger UXB, now watched, it would include:

- the knack some episodes have of telling a story around a location, such as 'Digging Out''s lengthy factory sequence, or 'The Pier'. The former is particularly effective for the lingering hand-held camera shots of Corporal Salt (Kenneth Cranham) as he follows a voice which may or may not be that of his wife through the ruined works in the afternoon light, his mind adrift in place and with hindsight time as well.

- John Hawkesworth's character arcs, comparable in structure to those in his earlier series Upstairs Downstairs. That concerning the brittle insecurity of Major/Captain 'Fanny' Francis (casting presumably against type an actor then best known to audiences for a long on-off stint in Coronation Street, and more recently a regular in Emmerdale) is memorable and perhaps the most successful

- the disappearance and reappearance of the supporting cast depending on production block. Particularly noticeable is variety artiste Sapper Baines, played by variety artiste Bryan Burdon in just two episodes, 'Butterfly Winter' and 'The Pier'. The former just happens to include a sequence filmed presumably in Chipping Norton Theatre (given where the relevant exteriors are shot) where Burdon/Baines can do his act.

- the timescale of the series is mapped out but left unstated directly, again following the precedent of (early) Upstairs Downstairs, so it can be adjusted retroactively should a second series have been commissioned

- though dismissed as a "potboiler" by one television historian, and "not... an important series" fixed on "nostalgia and noise" according to Nancy Banks-Smith in The Guardian (9 January 1979), the juxtapostion of lectures on bombs with melodramatic elements (largely the male protagonists' rollercoaster love lives) and the substantial special effects budget and extensive location filming make it interesting, and (as suggested above) there is some opportunity for real psychological insight.

- at least two unexploded World War Two bombs were discovered as a direct result of one episode, 'Butterfly Winter', so the series helped boost ITV's public service credentials.

- the question of the second series. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Anthony Andrews and Judy Geeson were looking forward to working on series two when the Imperial War Museum's related exhibit opened in spring 1979, and around the same time Jeremy Sinden and Judy Geeson did some charity fundraising connected to keeping the series' profile up after it aired. However, by autumn 1979 and the ITV strike, Anthony Andrews is photographed at Heathrow by the Daily Mirror moving to Los Angeles to look for work, thanks to the cancellation of filming on Brideshead Revisited, suggesting that any hope of a second series was gone by the summer.

- the series drew attention to a change in fashions in leading men. Anthony Andrews was hailed by Nancy Banks-Smith as "one of those golden lads with sensitive mouths", and the Daily Mirror contrasted him, Patrick Ryecart and later John Duttine with a more brutal machismo personified by actors such as Martin Shaw of The Professionals.

Hmm, that's rather a lot of text anyway...

ETA: Reminded of the chapter title 'Circulating stars and satellites' in Doctor Who - The Unfolding Text, the eclipsing of Norma as the principal female character (I don't think there is a female lead as such) by Susan could show how women are used by the series. Judy Geeson initially plays Susan as tough and unsmiling as if she hasn't seen any of the later scripts (probably the case). She is demure and self-sacrificing, and causes pain by being dutiful, where Norma is introduced as a sexual fantasy turned nightmare, ultimately tamed by marriage into the lower ranks. Susan also expresses Brian Ash's increasing confidence in his roles as bomb defuser and officer; Norma personifies the social and material chaos of the Blitz and has little development beyond the 1940 episodes until her wedding in 'With Love from Adolf'. Norma, and Deborah Watling, fulfil their roles in the drama well enough. Given the publicity boost Judy Geeson seems to have had in spring 1979, one suspects she and her agent were hoping for something more to arise for or from Susan.
sir_guinglain: (TVTimes1967Avengers)
( Jan. 31st, 2013 04:23 am)
As I can't sleep, I will share how much I've been enjoying 1979's Danger UXB, recommended to me by [personal profile] naraht and a matter of curiosity to me ever since it was mentioned in the context of the career of either Deborah Watling or Douglas Camfield or both in one of Jeremy Bentham's Matrix Data Bank columns in an early 1980s Doctor Who Monthly. Thirty years is a long time to wait before getting round to something, and this has been expedited by the availability of the entire series, currently, on YouTube. The run-down London of the late 1970s lent itself to being dressed as the blitzed city of nearly forty years earlier, and while the mixture of characters could have been twee - the sappers in the bomb squad at the centre of the series being composed of almost every regional stereotype - it's executed in such a way that it doesn't show. Anthony Andrews is a convincing Brian Ash, transferred from being a private in one regiment to a commission in the engineers and learning how to defuse unexploded ordnance, command men and fend off the advances of his landlady's daughter (a compelling performance by Miss Watling as an unsubtle would-be seductress) all at once. I'm only five episodes in, so Judy Geeson is only beginning to make her presence felt as Susan, daughter of unfairly-labelled "mad professor" Dr Gillespie (Iain Cuthbertson, initially and misleadingly echoing Lionel Jeffries in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and transgressive love interest for Brian. There are intriguing observations on gender roles in wartime - men governed by hierarchies, women addressing all the "brave boys" by their first names, irrespective of rank - and possibly on politics as well, though my take on this might be governed by authorial fallacy, co-creator, producer and head writer John Hawkesworth being conservative by reputation, but production company Euston Films being generally less respectful towards traditional social order. With a large cast, high production values - with at least one explosion required a week - it's not surprising that it was reputedly too expensive for ITV to renew.
sir_guinglain: (Default)
( Jan. 22nd, 2013 07:14 pm)
Improving London's transport
The National Archives have a Flickr set of photographs from a 1946 edition of The Railway Gazette, illustrating improvements made to the London Underground between the late 1930s and mid 1940s. Areas covered include the construction of the present Kings Cross St Pancras Metropolitan and Circle tunnels and platforms, opened in 1941; the extension of the Bakerloo tubes to join the Metropolitan above ground at Finchley Road, opened in 1939; changes to the Central Line in west, east and central London during the 1940s; and some of the new station buildings on the Metropolitan Line in north-west London.

Self-employed struggling with debts beyond their earnings - The Guardian
I empathise with this, though my position in this regard seems not so bad contextualised.

The Secret Mansion - History Needs You
Matthew Ward's pictures of a ruined country house on Anglesey.

England Under the White Which, by Theodora Goss - Clarkesworld
A story of one empress's search for the perfect winter, and those who serve under her. As recommended by [livejournal.com profile] gervase_fen
A very good preliminary exploration of the culture which allowed Jimmy Savile to prosper, in the online edition of the London Review of Books. I don't agree with everything, and some of the contextual details are wrong which skews Andrew O'Hagan's argument. 1963 is the age of Carry On Jack or Carry On Spying rather than Carry On Camping, and there is lots to be drawn from the contrast. I'm not sure that Savile was ever loved - bewitchingly possessed of some energy late twentieth-century Britain found preternatural, perhaps. Revealing interviews with Joan Bakewell and Nicholas Parsons, and just as revealing bewilderment from David Attenborough, frame historical cameos from people now mainly remembered as people who paid their visits to Roy Plomley to reveal their Desert Island Discs.
A friend on Facebook is reeling at the disappearance of non-sport programmes from BBC1 for the duration of the Olympic Games, with an expanded BBC3 schedule being swelled by the Olympics. This inspired me to hunt down a broadcasting schedule for a random day in the 1948 Olympics, the last to be held in London. I thought I'd also share it here.

Friday 30 July 1948's BBC Television schedule consisted of a Demonstration Film from 11am-12noon, with Olympics coverage from 2.30-4pm, 5-6.45pm, 8-8.30pm and 8.45-9.15pm. The only other programmes were Newsreel at 8.30pm, Inventor's Club from 9.15 to 10pm, and News (sound only) from 10-10.15pm.

On BBC radio there were Olympics reports on the Home Service from 1.10-1.20pm, 6.15-6.30pm, 9.15-9.20pm, and on the Light from 12.55-1pm and 10.15-10.30pm. The Third, as might be expected, ignored it. So as close to blanket coverage on television as might be expected, with a token non-Olympics or news programme, but more absent than I had expected on radio.
sir_guinglain: (Hartnell words)
( Jul. 9th, 2012 09:54 pm)
I've written before, I think, that going through the Radio Times of the 1960s leaves me with the feeling that I have been watching the world I know come into existence, as television programmes which I grew up with begin, entertainment personalities still active today emerge. It's an illusion, of course, but only up to a point, as although not obvious to everybody the seeds of our internetted world had already germinated and their gardeners were cultivating them. In this spirit, The Guardian are reporting on the fiftieth anniversary of the first gig by the Rolling Stones: planted with deliberation in the atmosphere of London jazz clubs, one perhaps austere to our eyes but if not its cradle, then perhaps a hammock in which the decade's counterculture swung for a while.
Despite my best intentions, I didn't leave my flat today until early evening, and even then that was only a shopping trip to a different town and a different supermarket to the ones I normally buy from. This was not only a consequence of the weather, but that the splitting headache I'd developed on Friday had not gone away. Exactly why I decided one of the most notorious Doctor Who stories of the third Doctor's tenure might have a medicinal purpose is lost to time and the unfathomable workings of my mind.

Invasion of the Dinosaurs is the only story of Jon Pertwee's last season where UNIT play a consistent and substantial role in the action; they are also returned to the streets of London for the first time in several years, since (I think) The Mind of Evil in 1971. This return to quasi-realistic spectacle shakes some of the cosiness out of the UNIT set-up, but in doing so it shows how much Doctor Who had changed within Jon Pertwee's tenure as the Doctor. The hard-edged near-future of most of his first season could not be returned to, and instead the deserted London under martial law is a self-consciously allegorical landscape, where order is maintained under emergency powers. Looters are detained in the expectation of a revival of old norms, but those norms didn't include prehistoric monsters roaming the streets, nor allow that authority figures are actively working to erase the very society which authenticates their power and status.

The DVD's picture quality is remarkable, and the colour restoration on part one (the videotape of which was mislaid, presumed destroyed, probably not long after transmission in 1974, leaving only a black and white film print presumably made with the intention of being exported to non-colour markets outside the UK) impressive even if it's of variable quality; the colours of the location scenes on part one bring out the dry grass of a hot summer evening in mid-1970s England when the sun is low in the sky, and is fitting for this London forced into a twilight existence. Throughout the story the film exterior sequences have more vibrant colours than 1970s telecine often manages, and the model shots of the foam rubber puppet dinosaurs are well served. The dinosaurs are not that bad, with the apatosaurus in particular well-realised; but then, large, placid and stupid is probably easier to achieve than fierce and terrifying. It's to be regretted that too much is demanded of the weakest of the models, the tyrannosaurus rex, and that some of the angles chosen during the model sequences expose the artificiality of monsters and their miniature sets.

Matthew Sweet's visual essay puts the contributions of the production team in context and points out just how hard the political allegory is made. The films in the 'Reminder Room' on the 'spaceship' on which the self-deluded colonists believe they are travelling to New Earth (though no cat-nuns will they there find) represent the selective, alarmist hand-wringing of sometime bien-pensants who have given up on the vast majority of their fellow human beings. Matthew Sweet observes that writer Malcolm Hulke was a longstanding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and in the 1960s many on the established left looked on askance as ecologist politics previously associated with fascism became adopted by their comrades. There's definitely something of the crisis of the social democratic state in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, from the political new directions offered by Charles Grover to the misguided idealism of Mike Yates and the drive for efficiency of General Finch, to the petty grandiose dreams of Professor Whitaker, a salutary tale of what can happen when the grant application of an Oxford don is rejected. This isn't so frivolous an observation as it might seem - Oxford has had a reputation as a more political university than its fellow ancient university Cambridge, educating several shapers of the so-called post-war consensus. Malcolm Hulke and script editor Terrance Dicks were perhaps inclined to reflect wryly on this, as they were Cambridge men.

Jon Pertwee might have resolved to leave the role of the Doctor, but he was still the consummate showman at this stage, seizing the opportunity for comedy when arrested as a looter, deploying a couple of variants of his Cockney accent, and convincing as a man of action through sheer authority despite - as David Brunt's production notes remind us - suffering from a long-term back injury that meant most of his falls were performed by Terry Walsh. Elisabeth Sladen observes in a 2003 interview included in the set that on this, her second story, she found herself playing a gentler, less assertive character than she did in her debut, The Time Warrior. Even there, Sarah was perhaps less dominating than she would have been had she been played by April Walker, whose casting, and sacking following objections from Jon Pertwee, was revealed in David Brunt's infotext in this set and is perhaps the greatest coup of the production notes. Lis Sladen describes her resolve to keep putting her all into the part despite its becoming a more passive companion role than expected with her usual smiling, positive demeanour, and it was not really a surprise that it was while watching this interview that my headache disappeared.
A few years ago I watched the reflective Michael Eaton BBC/HBO telefilm Fellow Traveller, starring Ron Silver as Asa Kaufmann, a blacklisted Hollywood writer working in 1950s Britain on a film adventure series for television, patently Sapphire Films‘s The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-1960). I’d not seen very much of The Adventures of Robin Hood, bar catching the odd episode on satellite channel Bravo in its ITC back catalogue phase, but watched the first four episodes tonight. All were written or co-written by Eric Heath, a pseudonym for Ring Lardner Jr., one of the ‘Hollywood Ten’ sacked from their studio positions in 1947 following their refusal to confirm or deny their present or sometime membership of the Communist Party before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Richard Greene is a reliable Robin, somewhat heavy-set by the standards of Flynn, Praed, Connery (J.) or Armstrong, but this physical solidity is used to underscore his moral integrity. Found sick by a pilgrim at the gates of Jerusalem, and nursed back to health before returning to Nottinghamshire to claim his estate, this knight back from the dead is sick of killing, but finds himself in an England where he is told by an ailing old retainer that the law has been reduced to the rule kill or be killed. Robin’s enemies are killed only when they attack - and they are often faceless, helmeted soldiers who by collaborating have either surrendered their humanity to become automata in the service of the Norman lords, or adopted their materialist value system - or die when their own plans turn against them. Robin is egalitarian: he wants to wait his turn when told he can jump the queue and see the Sheriff, after first having been told to wait in line by a jobsworth clerk who thinks returning soldiers expect preferential treatment, which must have elicited nods of identification from many viewers. He abandons his aristocratic identity when among the outlaws in Sherwood and claims no preferential treatment, rising to succeed Will Scathlock on grounds of intelligence and the inspiration of his redistributivist, compassionate message. It is not for nothing that at Scathlock's death Robin breaks the outlaw chief's sword and places the stump of the blade and its hilt on his chest as a funeral cross, and Robin's friar's outfit in 'Friar Tuck' is perhaps not just a disguise.

The world of the Sapphire Robin Hood is on first acquaintance a masculine one, where women are motherly figures or else sycophantic adornments. This changes with the third episode, which includes a brief glance of Marion and establishes that she has turned down all proposals of marriage, most of them from the Sheriff, as well as introduces the semi-regular character of Joan, barmaid at the Blue Boar Inn where the enforcers of the regime loosen their tongues. The first female guest star in the episode is the Countess of Bedford, who exists to demonstrate aristocratic decadence and the racialism of her husband the Earl of Bedford, who disparages his wife as a ‘Latin’ and justifies his treatment of Little John as a chattel by boasting of Norman intellectual superiority to Saxon stock, in a scene with echoes of the American slave market as well as the racial policies of the Third Reich. Strong stuff, perhaps, for a series broadcast by a US network as well as by ITV in the UK, even if it was innocuously placed in early-evening children‘s/family viewing. Uncomplicated stories of good and evil they may be, as The Times remembered on Richard Greene's death, but it is these political notes which sound the series’ moral chorus.

There is fun recognising actors in guest roles. Leo McKern appears in two different parts in two consecutive episodes, and this is nothing given the doubling-up by other performers within the same episode, with some actors appearing among the outlaws and the Sheriff’s men almost simultaneously. Leslie Phillips appears in the fourth episode, ‘Friar Tuck’, as the curiously-named Sir William of Malmesbury - approximately anticipating the 'Geoffrey of Monmouth' of the latterday BBC/Shine Merlin. Phillips makes the most of his role as a young member of the foppish ruling elite whose passion for his intended bride, Mildred, runs less deep than hers for her blacksmith lover. The intended bride herself is introduced in jerkin and hose and knocks Robin out with a bottle, mistaking her protector Friar Tuck's satisfaction with his credentials. Robin awakes to find Mildred changing into feminine attire, represented first by the camera focusing on her hose-clad hips as she removes the jerkin, and then her feet being washed from under a petticoat. Richard Greene's face expresses the alarm of a serious adolescent who doesn't want to acknowledge the existence of that, and he pretends to be asleep. Sadly with her masculine outfit goes Mildred's assertiveness and she has some particularly fragile dialogue. Nevertheless after nearly fifty-seven years The Adventures of Robin Hood remains spirited entertainment on its own terms as well as a capsule of 1950s concerns.

ETA: A slightly amended and illustrated version of this review now appears at The St James's Evening Post
sir_guinglain: (RadioTimesRichardDimbleby)
( Feb. 4th, 2012 03:26 pm)
The composer, scriptwriter and artist Ted Dicks died last weekend. He was a principal collaborator with Hazel Adair and Peter Ling on Compact for the BBC and then Crossroads for ATV in the 1960s, but seems best remembered for his music, including several chart hits for Bernard Cribbins and one for Ronnie Hilton. Here's Bernard Cribbins with 'Right Said Fred', and then the first part of the first episode of Catweazle (London Weekend, 1970), music by Ted Dicks.
The last few weeks have largely been concerned in the thinning of the contents of my flat, a task still not done, but there has still been time for some television. Possible spoilers for those wary of such things.

Wales is insane )

Your eyes always get piggy when you lie, Moneypenny )

I will never swim in the sun again... )

Papers, papers... )
The BBC announced today that the sale process for Television Centre has begun. Whatever the commercial arguments, this is a sad day for a generation who grew up with Television Centre at the heart of their collective popular imagination, though part of the existing structure is likely to survive as part of the broadcasting business in some form. The retreat of the BBC sprawl from Wood Lane has already begun, with the move of BBC Worldwide from Woodlands, just north of Westway, where the flags of Radio Times and Doctor Who once flew, and one wonders if the BBC logos have already been removed from the road signs further down Wood Lane.

In the meantime, this film is a record of the construction period made to inform BBC staff; it has a haunting, concrète soundtrack from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (John Baker?), provides glimpses of the buildings demolished to allow Television Centre to be built (mainly associated with White City stadium, I think, but including the old Wood Lane station on what was then the Hammersmith branch of the Metropolitan Line), and shows those curved corridors (built, it's said, because in those convivial days few BBC employees could walk in a straight line) taking shape, as well as the statue of Helios being elevated into place.

Doctor Who: Meglos )
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