Monday, 28 November 2016

Week in Telly 21-28 November

This week there are two Roger Moore films, lots of The A-Team as well as some puppets and Robin Hood thrown in for good measure. It's been a varied week.

I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

It's all kicking off with Martin from Homes Under the Hammer. Undoubtedly the best thing about the show are Ant and Dec.

Man About the House x 3

It's been long enough and I was just about ready for this again. Very little has changed although the idea that Richard Sullivan as Robin is still a student is wearing increasingly thin. I haven't looked up his age but it certainly isn't 21 and even 30 is starting to push it. Another remark is Larry. I was pretty convinced he was dying his hair black in previous series (up to series five now) and now that it's brown I'm certain he was. Looking ahead in Man About the House's ITV3 time slot, Doctor in the House is set to replace it. I've seen the odd episode before so could be tempted.

The Man Who Haunted Himself  (1970)

Last week I went to see 'An Afternoon with Sir Roger Moore'. The great man was wonderfully entertaining and they showed a clip from The Man Who Haunted Himself. I knew of the film but the clip convinced me to hurry up and get round to seeing it. Moore's character, Pelham, has a car accident. He is brought back to life after dying on the operating table but for a moment there are two heartbeats and it becomes clear that a doppelgänger has been created. I love the idea of doppelgängers. One of my favourite episodes of Goodnight Sweetheart is about one and it is done excellently. The Man Who Haunted Himself's greatest trick is that we don't see Pelham's doppelgänger for most of the film. Pelham starts to question his sanity and I find this part of the plot most convincing because it's realistic. If people kept saying they had seen you and it was definitely you but you yourself couldn't remember being there, you would eventually start to doubt yourself.
The only part of the film I really disliked was some of the music. There are some dreadful hippy sounds that clash with what is happening on screen. I think it is supposed to be intentional, to unsettle you, but it just doesn't work properly as the music isn't quite right.
Otherwise, cracking film and Moore's tache grew on me throughout.

Coronation Street x2

Many weeks ago I felt my time was better spent watching other stuff but Monday was clearly not about that. Flicking through the channels I spotted Vinny resplendent in a Hawaiian shirt. This could only mean one thing: he was pulling the plug on his and Phelan's fake flats scam. I was intrigued to see this end. Then cut to the Barlow's and when the blinking heck did Peter Barlow turn up again? We have two other Barlows there too. One, Daniel, is so clearly Ken's offspring that no paternity test would be needed. He IS Ken Barlow of 1960. The hair, the clothes, his whole demeanor is a chip off the old block. Michael is found dead. The circumstances with Vinny are iffy but Michael's dodgy ticker has meant I've always been convinced that it was only a matter of time before something saw him off. The two episodes of this programme deserve special mention if only for the fact that it's some of the only telly with adverts I've watched live for a long time.

I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

Back in Time for Brixton

There have been several Back in Time... programmes including Back in Time for Dinner, Back in Time for the Weekend and Back in Time for Christmas. Each follow a family experiencing life in different decades starting in the 1940s. I really enjoyed all of the previous programmes and am slightly disappointed that this one is only a two parter. This time a black family are experiencing what life was like for immigrants from the West Indies. Both the parents are the children of immigrants from the West Indies so it was an intriguing journey for them. The one had been born to her parents in England but they had left their six older children behind. It seems it was common practice for children to be left behind until parents could afford to send for them, something I had never heard about and was quite surprised by. Everything starts out quite dire but does gradually start to improve. I am curious as to where the second part will take us. Probably my favourite moment was when they moved into a 1960s' styled home, opened the kitched cupboards and found the exact same plates the family currently had at home. The kids thought it was great but the mother looked suitably embarrassed.

"Oh my god - we have these plates!"

I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

I was unwell so needed something familiar and comforting. Fighting a giant and having a battle around submarines seemed good. I used to think of Roger Moore as short and I think it is undoubtedly this film that started me off with this false impression. Place even a bloke over six foot next to Richard Kiel's 7' 2" Jaws and he's going to look tiddly.

The A-Team
The White Ballot and The Maltese Cow

A dodgy sheriff is running a dodgy election campaign. The only rival was found dead in a ditch and a journalist investigating gets beaten up. My favourite, absolute favourite thing about this episode is that Sheriff Dawson is played by one Clifton James, best known to most as Sheriff J.W. Pepper of Louisiana, U.S.A. in Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun.

In The Maltese Cow we find out that the A-Team own a Chinese restaurant. Who knows quite how that works. I can't imagine paying business rates is very easy when you're on the run. A pal of theirs runs it and has been attacked by a Chinese tong. The A-Team move in and show them up as very poorly trained fighters.

I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!
Man About the House

They think they have found a cannabis plant in the garden and Mrs Roper has used it for a flower arranging competition. Just how convinced you are of this plot depends on how familiar you are with what a cannabis leaf looks like. No comment.

Death of a Friend

Almost a fortnight since I last watched any Callan, partly because of just how fantastic Heir Apparent was. A French agent is killed in England when he crashes his car and they find drugs in his system. Callan knew Jean (with the pronunciation I honestly thought his name was 'John' throughout) and it is left somewhat open just how well he also knew Coquet's wife, Francine. This episode kept throwing in odd bits of French from everyone, something that completely threw me having just got back from a German class. I still had 'Er bezahlt die Rechnung in der Kneipe' trotting round when suddenly Callan, Toby Meres et al would be chucking in fast French then carrying on just as quickly in English. The first few times this happened I hadn't a clue what was being said but eventually I clocked on that even my virtually non-existent French could pick out "Ça va?" "Ça va bien?"

Another aspect that I struggled with was the references to "the ORS" that Jean had previously been investigated. Not a clue what it was meant to be and my best guess is that it's a section of the French intelligent service. We discover that Jean and Francine had been separated for a couple of years and Jean had been living with Marcel Latour, a government employee, producing speculation that Jean was still investigating. There is also considerable speculation about the relationship between the two men. I have written previously on Public Eye's references to homosexuality. Public Eye makes no big deal about it at all. Initially, Callan doesn't either. Francine is angry that Jean left her, the fact it was apparently for a man is of little consequence. Ultimately her quest for revenge becomes the centre of the episode. However Meres is rather unkind to Latour - in many ways, but he also brings up his sexuality. Latour is a timid bloke who even whilst holding a gun looks like he barely knows one end of it from the other.

Aside from Lonely, Latour is possibly the only young guy in any episode of Callan who would not be able to handle a physical fight. They all give it a go, even if they perform astonishingly badly. Latour is portrayed so differently that it is impossible for him not to stand out. Later it is rather sad as he tells Callan that he loved Jean but Jean still loved Francine. Latour's character would certainly not have been my preferred representation of a gay man in Callan but the fact that 'love' is in there, is mentioned entirely seriously and is not mocked or dismissed, does make up for it somewhat.

I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

I don't think I will ever be able to watch Homes Under the Hammer ever again. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it experiences a ratings drop. Its presenter, Martin, quite clearly has no idea how badly he is coming across. It is becoming apparent that none of the campmates like him that much, if at all. He is a chronic complainer and a sore loser. Justice felt served when after losing his royal crown he became a slave but even then he just wouldn't play along properly. I don't think he will be walking out of the jungle with any new friends.

Man About the House x 3

I've reached series six and Robin seem to have had his hair shorter every series.

The A-Team
In Plane Sight and The Battle of Bel Air

After engine trouble a cargo pilot lands in Columbia only to find himself arrested for drug smuggling. His family are sure he didn't know about the true nature of his cargo so ask the A-Team to look into it. I don't think Week in Telly has seen the A-Team go abroad until now. With the expanse of the U.S. they can simply run away for Colonel Decker in  perpetuity. It got me pondering that a British A-Team would really struggle unless they found a passport forger quickly.

With Amy having been absent for a few episodes The Battle of Bel Air gives us her replacement: another journalist named Tawnia Baker. A security firm has some dodgy things going on and whilst investigating them Tawnia finds information she uses to tip the A-Team off. One actor in this seemed familiar and I couldn't place him at all. Turns out he is Kurtwood Smith who would go on to play the dad in That '70s Show.

Fireball XL5
Space Immigrants

I started watching Fireball XL5 a while ago and I like it a lot. A few weeks ago I looked at Four Feathers Fall and was unnerved because the puppets didn't blink. Well I realised the ones in Fireball XL5 don't either but they do move their eyes, stopping them from becoming creepy. In this episode some of Earth's inhabitants are moving to a new planet but some high pitched aliens are determined to get in their way. The lead character is called Steve Zodiac, who I am convinced is a distant relative of Flash Gordon.

Like Flash GordonFireball XL5 also has an awesome theme tune.

Danger Man

John Drake is sent to investigate after another agent dies in a car accident. I was intrigued and pleased that Drake didn't try it on with the dead fellow's girlfriend. That would feel like an obvious set up but perhaps I have watched too much of The Saint as John Drake is sexless in comparison to the rather more randy Simon Templar. Or else perhaps it was felt that with the bloke having only just died it would be indecent.  Danger Man packs a lot into these half hour episodes, something I am always imrpessed by.

Network's ITV 60 box set consists of 12 discs, each designed to be 'an evening's viewing'. Although I have worked through the discs in order, I usually only watch one programme at a time and just pick out whatever I fancy. I was initially unsure about this idea of  'an evening's viewing'. As I've written before, I like order and broadcast order is quite high up on that. The discs are a mixture of different decades but this variety has eventually grown on me to the extent that I thought I could give 'an evening's viewing' a go.

The Adventures of Robin Hood
The Coming of Robin Hood (please no jokes)

I don't know how I know so much about Robin Hood because I am fairly sure I have never watched any series or film before. I lived in Nottingham for three years and never even visited Sherwood Forest. However, like 007 Roin Hood is such a part of our culture that you can pick up plenty of references elsewhere. This series from 1955 stars Richard Greene and is everything I could want from Robin Hood. This first episode sees Robin of Loxley return from fighting in the Middle East, only to find some bugger has nicked is home and land. He tries to take them back legally but is quickly finding that corruption is rife. This is a slightly violent show in language with some rather nasty descriptions but also, more excitingly, there is the sword fighting. There is loads of sword fighting. I don't think I had previously realised just how fantastically entertaining I find sword fighting.

A double sword fight!

This was a great, fun episode so I was delighted to find there were 143 made and all of them exist. As the credits rolled and the theme played I realised I was already familiar with it.

Nearest and Dearest
What Seems to be the Trouble?

I'd never heard of this sitcom and it didn't spark any interest for me at all. The central characters, Eli and Nelly, are brother and sister. Eli is supposedly unwell but after a visit to the doctor it is Nelly who ends up in hospital. The characters all speak far too loudly, positively shouting their lines at one another. I didn't find much of it very funny. Eli chainsmokes and they completely missed the chance for a joke in the hospital as he stands below a 'No Smoking' sign.

Rising Damp
Black Magic

I have only seen a handful of Rising Damp episodes but have always meant to get round to seeing more as I love Leonard Rossiter in The Fall and Rise of Reginal Perrin. Philip tells Rigsby and Alan that he is a god in his own country because he can perform magic. Rigsby is the character that jumps to mind for Rising Damp for me but I enjoyed Don Warrington's Philip and Richard Beckinsale's Alan a lot in this episode.

Mystery Bag (Crime Sheet)
Lockhart Finds a Note

The box set contains an episode of this series' successor, No Hiding Place, that I had really loved so I was excited for this episode. It didn't quite fulfill my hopes unfortunately. No Hiding Place moved to hour long episodes and the half hour ones of Crime Sheet just don't leave as much time for plot and character development. It is also clearly a bit cheaper to make, demonstrated when the cops try to bash a door in and the whole wall looks likely to come down with it. Nonetheless it was still rather entertaining. There are some dodgy cheques being cashed on Detective Lockhart's patch. They have all been for fairly small amounts but when one for over £900 is discovered he really ups the anti. Like No Hiding Place, Crime Sheet focuses more on the villains than the coppers. I found this lot hilarious as they are the poshest criminals that I have ever seen depicted committing cheque fraud. At one point three out of the four of them are drinking in one fellow's club. It is not exactly the rough and ready backstreet pub, the like of which we'll be seeing in The Sweeney fifteen years later.

Upstairs, Downstairs
Miss Forrest

This is like a cheaper version of Downton Abbey. The lady and master of the house go away for the weekend leaving their son, James, to chat up the master's secretary, Miss Forrest, and lord it about a bit. The butler, Hudson (played by Gordon Jackson), doesn't take too well with this. James is an annoying oik in some ways but he was the most progressive person in the house when it came to class relations.

The programme felt slow at times and at the end I was able to reflect on just how little had actually happened in this fifty minute programme. It was another aspect that reminded me of Downton Abbey. I watched all of Downton Abbey and I could probably watch all of this too. It didn't grip me so much as it intrigued me. After looking it up I find that this is the first episode of the third series but it actually works very well as a first episode for the show, giving an enticing cliffhanger at the end.

I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! x2
Again and again.

The A-Team
Say it With Bullets

The majority of this episode is the A-Team fighting it out with Colonel Decker across a military base so lots of gunfire and a chase involving a jeep and a tank. They nick a bloody tank and drive it through a fence onto the main road! They also rig up a house with speakers and an LP called 'The Sounds of War'. Having made their escape they remotely hit play, making the army think they're being fired on. A similar trick, but with a video player, would be used a few years later by Kevin in Home Alone.

Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia

As I didn't have enough time for all of my 'evening's viewing' I finished it off on Sunday.
I didn't and still don't know a lot about the war in Cambodia in the 1970s. However this documentary does give a fascinating and heartbreaking insight into the suffering of Cambodia's people. I am still struggling to get my head round the idea that so many people were slaughtered and abused so horrifically for the vaguest of reasons. From what the documentary tells us, any academics, skilled people, anyone with any knowledge was killed. Teachers, lawyers, doctors, artists, their families, but also others. All ages. About 80% of primary aged children disappeared. One of the greatest problems for the population was starvation as there just wasn't enough food in the country and politics was getting in the way of western countries sending aid.

I was struck by how prison-like the hospital looked
One man was rescued from a prison, having already been tortured. He said his wife and five of his six children had died. The reporter, John Pilger, was incredibly passionate. I've grown up seeing thousands of images like these on the news, in documentaries, in adverts and as part of charity appeals. If I'm honest, I am too used to such footage now and it's shock factor has diminished. But combined with the commentary and interviews from Pilger this documentary really moved me.

John Pilger, standing in the ruins of a destroyed cathedral
29 programmes
10 new
19 old
2 films

Best: The Adventures of Robin Hood. 'Fun' is the word I want to use over and over for this programme. It takes me back to the sword fights we had as kids, leaping off the furniture, trying not to break the lampshades. If anyone is available for playing sword fights then I am still up for them.

Worst: Nearest and Dearest

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Doctor Who: The Space Pirates - Episode 2

Episode 2 is the only episode of The Space Pirates to actually still exist. I was so bored by Episode 1 that it took a long time to convince myself to continue. A part of me wishes I hadn't. Whilst the previous episode took fifteen minutes before the TARDIS crew showed up, in Episode 2 it still takes over seven minutes. This doesn't sound like a lot but when the entire episode is only about 25 minutes long it feels like a long time.

The Space Corps catch up with a small ship and the old guy inside tells them he has had his argonite nicked several times. He's reported it but nothing has been done. He is clearly quite annoyed that the Space Corps have only come out now that their own property has been getting attacked. The Space Corps don't really trust this fellow and think he could well be one of the thieves himself. They let him go so they can follow him.

Meanwhile the TARDIS crew are stuck in a section of the satellite, Alpha 4, that got broken up. The Doctor tries to get them out or at least bring them together with another section of the satellite but the attempt goes to pot. A bloke breaks in at the end and shoots Jamie. We really should care a lot more about this but I was just so relieved to see the credits start rolling.

I found it hard to concentrate on this episode because so very little happened. A lot of it is people sitting or standing around talking along with yet more model shots in space. I have considered giving up on this story. Why am I watching it after all? Completion I think. And I like completion. I have made it through dull stories before; I watched all four telesnap reconstructed episodes of Galaxy Four (was livid when an episode was found only a few months later). So for now I will continue, in part because Troughton is my favourite Doctor and this is my final chance to 'watch' more of him.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Week in Telly 12

Twelve whole weeks of my television schedules...

I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

I'm a Celebrity... is the only reality show I have kept watching. I gave up on The X Factor many years ago. I gave Britain's Got Talent another go a couple of years ago but after it was won by another chuffing dog I vowed never to tune in again. I watched some of Celebrity Big Brother one year (the year with the Shilpa Shetty racism controversy) and got bored. My brother watches Big Brother in all its guises so I have seen enough to convince me never to watch any more of it. I can't stand watching dancing so Strictly and the ice skating has never interested me. I'm a Celebrity... is never particularly memorable to me once it's over. The years blur together and I can't remember which were the years I missed. I may have missed a few years but I do find myself returning to it.
I was skeptical when I saw the line up of 'celebrities' for this year. The only two I recognised were Carol Vorderman and Larry Lamb. However, I think a large proportion of the audience have agreed to go along with television's increasingly loose definition of 'celebrity'. Let's face it, getting people like Olivia Coleman or Ian McKellen into the jungle was always going to be difficult. They are a very young group this year, something I was quite disappointed about. I think it usually helps to have a few mother/father figures in the camp. We seem to be lacking the 'trying to revive my ailing career' people that have previously made up the 40+ age group. It is too early to tell if there will be any major arguments and bust ups. They certainly make a series more interesting though if they go on too much it becomes very dull seeing the same people take up screen time. This lot seem to be getting on marvellously so here's hoping hunger, tiredness and missing home will bring out the worst in everyone.

I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

Highlight: celebrities singing Spice Girls whilst trying to avoid any of the 120,000 creepy crawlies getting in their mouths.

Doctor Strange (2016)

This is only the second film I've seen at the pictures since beginning Week in Telly. It took a while to get used to Benedict Cumberbatch's American accent. Overall I was pleased to see something so different from the usual Marvel fare. They have all started to blur together in my head recently and this was so distinctive. I really liked the description of spells being like creating computer programmes.

The A-Team
The Taxicab Wars

Idly flicking through the TV guide for something to watch I stumbled across Forces TV. The channel describes itself as focussing 'on all aspects of the British Armed Services' but a quick scroll through their schedule tells you it also shows vaguely related drama too. UKTV Gold showed The A-Team when I was about 11 or 12 and I absolutely loved it. Somewhere I have an A-Team  mousemat. Often called in to stand up for the little guys, Hannibal, Faceman, Murdoch and B.A. used their fists and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of guns to fight the bad guys. All four of them brought different skills to the team and each got their chance to shine from time to time. The A-Team is ridiculous and unrealistic but so much fun that I have never cared. Also, top marks to Forces TV for broadcasting in the correct aspect ratio.
Lonestar Cabs is being driven out of business by a rival whose employees are destroying Lonestar's cars. The A-Team join Lonestar and as well as defending Lonestar's cars they start wreaking havoc on the rival's ones too. All of this provides plenty of opportunity for car chases, cars flying through the air, cars getting flipped over, cars getting shot apart and cars getting blown up. At one point a couple of elderly British tourists get caught up in it all. What more could you want?
The A-Team has a magnificent title sequence.

SAS: Who Dares Wins

The final episode of the series sees the remaining men undergo the 'resistance to interrogation' phase. Hours upon hours of being in stress positions with hoods and blindfolds whilst listening to a baby crying. In between they are interrogated. This varies from a nice woman asking questions in a reasonable manner to a bloke shouting in their faces. Only one guy made it to the end and I was intrigued by the commentary on his tactics. It was observed that his manner and way of speaking mirrored that of the interrogator, which makes him come across more favourable. This has been an intriguing series, particularly the tests that dig beyond the participants' physical fitness.


The A-Team
Labor Pains

I can't tell you how much it pains me to have to use the U.S. spelling of 'labour'.
The A-Team barge into a garden party, let off a few bullets into the air, then demand food and money for the starving crop pickers in the owner's employ. They organise a meeting so a union can be declared. When the nasty rich man and his thugs show up, the A-Team fire cabbages at them from a home-made machine (off the peg cabbage firing machines are notoriously scarce). This felt like peak wondrous A-Team absurdity.

Man About the House x2

Background telly because even after a week and a half off I am still not ready to watch any more of this properly.

The A-Team
There's Always a Catch

There is a protection racket going on in a small fishing town. This provides plenty of opportunity for slow-mo shots of guys flying through the air and landing in the sea. At the beginning of the episode the A-Team are forced to stop at a hospital as B.A. has trodden on a nail. In all of the episodes I have watched so far Colonel Decker has been right behind them and here he almost catches them. He works out that they are helping out in the town. With the help of Garber, who is running the racket, he manages to capture Hannibal, Face and B.A. It was only then that I was reminded that whilst Murdoch is part of The A-Team, he isn't wanted by the military police. This gives him and Amy, the journalist who joins them for a while, the chance to help break the rest of the team out. If memory serves me right we pick up odd bits of back story throughout the series but it's the final season that really pieces everything together as to the 'crime they didn't commit' mentioned in the title sequence.

I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

This is from Tuesday night. The eating trial used to get left until late on, something to be anticipated and dreaded. The past couple of years have chosen to make it one of the first trials, perhaps realising that an audience can only watch people eating anus so many times before it loses its impact. The camp are still getting on far too well so hopefully bringing in a couple of new people will liven things up.

Bullitt (1968)

This was just so bloody good! There is very little music throughout and this works superbly. There is none whatsoever in the incredibly lengthy car chase. I think a lot of modern films use far too much music in action sequences, sometimes unnecessarily. Here, you get to hear every skid, gear change and squeal of brakes. It's intense, exciting, gripping and one of the best bits of film I have ever seen. I'd picked Bullitt up a while ago because I haven't seen many films with Steve McQueen. I enjoyed his performance in this but it was the recently departed Robert Vaughn who impressed me most. His slimy politician was magnificent.

The A-Team
Water, Water Everywhere

Some injured Vietnam War veterans are trying to open up a hotel in a desert town (who knows why) but a local landowner wants them to sell to him because the land has water available. With the A-Team themselves all having been in Vietnam they should be showing a little something extra. But apart from one nice little conversation, nothing is alluded to. A missed opportunity.

I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

I'll be honest - they all just blur together.

I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

Rugby Union: England vs Fiji

I was at Twickenham Stadium in person last week, therefore this is the first Autumn International in Week in Telly. The first half became quite dull after a while with England easily scoring try after try. I imagine this must be what it's like to be a New Zealand fan. But then unlike the Kiwis it all went to pot for England as Fiji got some back. It was a good reminder that England haven't suddenly become invincible with Eddie Jones at the helm. There is always something to be improved and Argentina next week certainly won't be a pushover.

The A-Team

A building contractor has won the rights to demolish an old building but a rival contractor is seriously harassing him. It turns out the rival put the previous building up and poured concrete over the corpse on behalf of a mobster. Near the start of the episode the contractor's heavies come to offer the men work for the rival company. Hannibal and B.A. manage to kick off a fight. Face and Murdoch screech up in Face's convertible Corvette. As they leap out to join in Face remarks "This is becoming predictable", which made me laugh. A few episodes in and it is now exceedingly clear that The A-Team script is of course the same every episode: someone is getting harassed/intimidated, the A-Team turn up, an initial confrontation with the bad guys, they scout out the bad guys (possibly visiting their business/house), another fight, Hannibal gets a plan together, Face cons them some stuff, they quickly convert a vehicle/machinery into a weapon, great big fight at the end. Loads of punches are thrown, loads of bullets fired, but not a single drop of blood nor a single corpse seen so far. And I still love it. One little difference this episode is that Face is caught out and for a while it is quite concerning. 

I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!
And again.

Kiss and Make-Up

I was absolutely shattered and dropping off to sleep after I put this on so can't really do it justice. The "nobody here but us chickens" gag is ongoing and improved. This episode Ding Dong and Carter still perform it even though they are in the middle of a fight with their arms wrapped round each other. Also, the former Page 3 girl who comes for a date joins in with it later.

16 programmes
8 new
8 old
2 films

Best: This is Week in Telly so although I mention the films I watch, I feel awkward about the idea of naming a film as the best thing I have watched this week. Both Doctor Strange and Bullitt were superb and if I had to choose the latter would probably just pip the former. However, the best telly I watched this week was in fact The A-Team - Steel. For the mobster and for Face getting captured, it made it slightly stand apart from the others.

Worst: This is hard because I haven't had much variety in programmes at all this week. I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! has all blurred together and I am catching up on most episodes a day or two later so that doesn't help. But I am still going to say I'm a Celebrity... I watch it, but with a phone or tablet in front of me as well. It isn't engaging enough alone, despite Ant and Dec.

Week in Telly began three months ago in order to take a look at how I watched telly. I was worried I watched too much and so far I can say... yes, but only occasionally. There are a couple of weeks where I've watched loads followed by ones where I watch comparatively little, perhaps because I have watched so much the week before. Being able to see this has made me feel better for the days when I opt for several hours of telly. I did start to become self-aware though, as I realised I would write about whatever I chose to watch. I think the long-term effect of this has been that I am becoming more picky and I only watch things I really feel like watching. Hence Coronation Street and An Extra Slice dropped off, as for the moment have many programmes with (part) at the end. Though admittedly Man About the House is still holding on in there and I had a Gavin and Stacey binge.
One thing I was particularly curious about was how much older television I watched. I decided to classify 'new' and 'old' simply by 21st and 20th century. Most of this 20th century programming has in fact been pre-1980. The average comes out at 48%, helped by an increase over the last month in particular. It may rarely count for the majority of what I watch each week but there have only been three times that a new programme was picked as best (Red Dwarf - Samsara, Taskmaster and National Treasure). Statistically, I am enjoying old programmes far more. Why? Well I have one explanation; my new programmes have been reality TV and sitcoms whilst drama features more heavily in my old programmes. I may watch Bake Off and I'm a Celebrity... but exciting, gripping drama will always beat that. The sitcoms I have seen have been good but for the most part not mind-blowing.
I am currently carefully considering Week in Telly's future. Does it continue in its present guise? Should I have an edited down version? Perhaps simply a 'best of the week'? Or should it just go completely? For the next couple of weeks, it could well be all change. If I stick with I'm a Celebrity... then it really will need something a bit more interesting.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Armchair Theatre - A Magnum for Schneider

A while ago I watched A Magnum for Schneider, the Armchair Theatre play that eventually spawned Callan. Some time before I had also seen an episode of Callan on Network's ITV 60 box set  and loved it so much that I bought a Callan box set. After watching a couple of episodes I jotted down some rather rough thoughts about my first impressions of the series.

What I liked when I watched the episode of Callan in the ITV 60 box set was that it seemed so different to the similar adventure series I had seen from that period. I have only seen a handful of the early Danger Man episodes and though there are similarities, in that both Callan and John Drake are doing the messy jobs that no one else wants to do, Callan’s character intrigues me more because he’s a reluctant participant. John Drake’s world is, if not necessarily glamorous, then at least exotic. The Saint takes similar excursions to foreign climes, even if the cast rarely stepped outside the grounds of Elstree Studios. Callan lacks that escapism and in comparison, it’s a very dingy world. The Saint and The Avengers are both fun and bright even when they start off in black and white. The Prisoner is weird, psychological and taunting. The colourful and relentlessly upbeat nature of the Village is increasingly creepy once you discover what is actually going on. But nonetheless, I would hesitate to describe The Prisoner as ‘dark’ and yet that’s the first word that springs to mind for Callan. Classing it as an ‘adventure’ series is probably pushing it. Everything seems to happen in the shadows and the main character has a big problem with the morality of what he does. I’ve also never heard the word ‘bastard’ in any of the other series. And tension. Tension! So much tension. The music is used sparingly. Sometimes it racks things up but other times the complete utter silence is nerve-wracking. I get the feeling that if anyone in the studio had coughed they would have been instantly fired. Everything seems planned to give it as much realism as possible.

As I sat down to the first disc of my Callan – The Monochrome Years box set, I selected ‘Play All’ and was intrigued to see a caption for Armchair Theatre appear. Armchair Theatre were one-off plays but this one eventually spawned Callan it would appear. The title of the play is A Magnum for Schneider. A chocolate lolly? Champagne? Probably not.

We have a wonderful opening scene where we learn quite a lot quite quickly. We meet Colonel Hunter (Ronald Radd), a rather cold and dislikeable middle-aged man. We gather that Callan used to work for him, for ‘them’, but he felt things too much and it turns out this isn’t a particularly desirable characteristic when your job is killing people. It seems to have been a mutual agreement that he left the job but now they want him back. As he’s utterly bored stiff in his current job he decides to reluctantly take up the offer to kill one more man. I’m sure plenty of people know how he feels. Just because he can, Callan fires four bullets at a target and considers himself a touch off form as one misses.

Callan’s victim-to-be, Schneider, has the office across the hall. He’s played by Joseph Fürst, an actor whom I’ve only ever seen portraying bad guys. Nothing in the world can stop him in Doctor Who (In fact on Saturday 4th February 1967 you could have watched him go to a watery grave in The Underwater Menace on BBC1 then later turn over to see him in this episode of Armchair Theatre!) and he plays a Professor working for Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever. He does over-the-top quite well. Callan bumps into him in the hall, they start talking and find they have a shared interest in model soldiers. It’s a very natural conversation and they even exchange a joke about the war, which I really liked considering Germans on TV at this time always seem to turn out to be ex-Nazis. Schneider has some soldiers set up in his office (I love that he plays with his toy soldiers whilst at work!) and invites Callan in to see them. Callan is hesitant but eventually goes in. He’s already been told that he gets too emotionally involved in cases and here he is going to play soldiers with the bloke he’s meant to be bumping off! No wonder he’s been struggling if this is what he usually does.

Heading back to work his boss (Ivor Dean) reprimands him for being a few minutes late. There are only a couple of scenes between Callan and his boss in this episode but they’re good. They’re well written, showing us Callan’s contempt for his job and his boss. He takes the piss and the way he speaks to his superior is inappropriate at best. At worst it’s downright rude. I think Callan is supposed to have been there about six months and frankly I’m astounded he has kept the job that long. As a man with no track record or references we’ve been told that ‘they’ helped get him the job. I wonder if they purposefully chose him such a horrid job.

We get a scene in a pub. It’s small and grotty and so are some of the customers. Callan has come to meet one in particular. Lonely is so nicknamed because no one dare goes near him due to some serious body odour issues that Callan can’t resist repeatedly remarking on. Callan wants a gun and not-so-subtly passes Lonely an envelope containing £100. Quite where a book keeper has managed to quickly get £100 from, the equivalent of well over £1000 in 2016, is never explained. He must have savings from his days as an assassin because when we see Callan’s bedsit it’s clear that if he does have any sort of money he certainly is not spending much of it.

Callan isn’t at all sure about his assignment. He sleuths his way into Schneider’s office and later his flat, eventually finding some documents that prove Schneider has been selling guns to Indonesia. My knowledge of foreign affairs in that region is pretty slim. At a push I could probably find Indonesia on a map. But helpfully this year I did see a BBC documentary from 1964 that followed the British Army in Borneo, which borders Indonesia. The army were in the jungle on the border defending Borneo against Indonesia, who were attempting to invade. I got the impression that the Indonesians they were fighting were more guerrillas than an official organised army. The British government would understandably then have been none too keen on having someone in their country who was selling guns for people to shoot at its army. After seeing the documents Callan’s mood changes and he agrees Schneider must die. This is a shame of course because Schneider, apart from illegally buying and selling lethal weapons, is rather a nice guy.

Colonel Hunter has been having Toby Meres (Peter Bowles) follow Callan. After Callan records a to-be-discovered-later tape stating that Colonel Hunter is behind the murder, he opens the door to Peter Bowles who whacks him over the head. When Callan wakes to a phone call from Hunter he is told that the tape and a note left on his desk have been destroyed. Hunter tells Callan he was foolish but I disagree somewhat. Leaving evidence behind to cover his back if he was caught was a good idea. Not expecting Hunter to have someone keep an eye on him was the foolish part.

Schneider has invited Callan to come round to play toy soldiers for the evening. Hunter has instructed Callan to kill Schneider just before 11 o’clock. But Callan doesn’t. They are having far too much fun re-enacting historical battles. At 11 the doorbell goes and Schneider goes to have a chat with some policeman. His wife goes to bed only to find Toby in there, who coshes her one. Callan comes to see what all the fuss is about and is a tad peeved to see Toby. Between him and the rozzers on the doorstep, Callan is feeling the pressure a bit as Toby urges him to hurry up and shoot Schneider. With the coppers shooed away Schneider returns, finds Toby and is onto Callan too. He takes Toby’s gun and is suspicious that Callan doesn’t have one.

But of course he does – it’s down his sock. He retrieves the gun, waits until Schneider is about to shoot Toby, then at the last moment quickly brings it out and pulls the trigger. It’s all very sudden and a fantastic moment. Though it is slightly spoilt by Fürst's over the top, highly unrealistic death. Once shot he manages to toss his gun in the air and dramatically launch himself at a lamp.

After berating Callan for taking his time, Toby asks, “Are you alright?” “Yes,” Callan replies, wearily. But we’re not entirely sure he is.

When Callan asks Toby if it was he who hit him over the head before Toby laughs, apologises and admits it was. Callan isn’t laughing though and whacks him one back. With Toby out cold Callan wipes his own prints from the gun and leaves it in Toby’s hand.

From a phone box Callan calls Hunter. He’s worked out Hunter sent the policemen round, expecting Callan to be caught with a smoking gun. He tells Hunter that Toby is still at the flat. “Oh well it's not important. You could get him out I suppose.” But Callan won't be going to fetch Toby. Callan feels used. “I don’t think I want to work for you, Hunter. It may sound very naive and all that but I did like Schneider. I hate you.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Week in Telly 11

Man About the House

As far as Chrissy's mother is concerned, she is knocking on the door of spinsterhood. She needs to hurry up and get married. At the grand old age of 21 she is virtually past it. Robin finds himself invited back to the family farm for the weekend. I must admit I am growing tired of Man About the House. I tend to stick it on for when I'm sitting down with breakfast or lunch as the 25 minute format works well for a meal and email catch-up. It's been five episodes a week for over a month now though and a change is probably needed.

SAS: Who Dares Wins

The men continue to be put through it and the episode ended with an ambush. Their hands were tied, bags put over their heads and then they were half buried face down in the ground. It's about to get brutal. This episode showed a lot of physical endurance that many could attempt but the psychological stuff coming up looks utterly horrific.

Moonlight Becomes You and Takeaway

During a Network sale there were various recommendations being made on my Twitter timeline, one of which was Nightingales, a sitcom recommended by the writer Eddie Robson. I like his sitcom, Welcome to Our Village, Please Invade Carefully, and on that scant basis I bought the DVD. Finally deciding to get round to it I reflected that apart from the fact it's a sitcom, I knew nothing about Nightingales and I could hate it. A skim of the back cover told me it centred around security guards on the night shift and could get a tad surreal.
Moonlight Becomes You sees the three guards get a new recruit who turns out to be a werewolf. There is actually also another guard but he's dead. They haven't told anyone because they get to split his pay so just keep spraying him with air freshener. When there's a surprise inspection they have to make it look like they actually do some work. Every time someone walks in they ask "Anyone at home?" and the reply of "Nobody here but us chickens" is accompanied by a sort of chicken dance with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Marvellously, this is just never explained and continues in the following episode.
In Takeaway it is announced that there are going to be cutbacks so one of the staff is going to have to go. As well as the three guards, Carter (Robert Lyndsay), Bell (David Threlfall) and Sarge (James Ellis), there is Piper (Edward Burnham), who mainly just seems to sweep up. With Sarge in charge, Carter and Bell try their best to suck up to him. They are not exactly enthusiastic about their work. Sarge declares "The public rely on us, so they can sleep easy in their beds." Carter replies "Then God help them then." Talking about people who want to get rid of the elderly, Carter says "They're just a bunch of Shakespearean villains", after which Carter and Bell decide Piper must go instead of them and the characters slip in and out of Shakespeare-like speech and actions for the rest of the episode.

This was fantastic and I particularly enjoyed the moment where Carter and Bell are considering murdering Piper. Near the end they finally address the issue of why don't they just 'sack' the dead guard? But the guards recoil in horror at the thought of losing their extra income.
I was relieved to find Nightingales was so much fun and am looking forward to the rest of the series. I have literally no idea what to expect next.

Doctor Who: The Space Pirates - Episode 2
Coming soon.

The Saint
The Element of Doubt

A businessman attempts to commit insurance fraud by burning his own warehouse down. Unfortunately a police officer dies and an old woman loses her sight in the fire. Simon Templar is very much in the background for this episode. He does get guilty parties to expose themselves (not like that!) but the result does have some moral implications. Our lovely Saint is partly responsible for two unnecessary deaths and that this is dismissed without being dwelt on sits somewhat uneasy with me.

The Last Leg: US Election

Despite having been utterly fed up of hearing about the US election many months ago, I found myself intrigued in the aftermath.

Gavin and Stacey x 4

I only planned to watch one episode but three episodes in a row is what can happen when you hit 'Play All'. Then I fit in another episode later on. In all honesty after watching the first two series and the Christmas special last week I had no plans to continue and watch the final third series. It has always been my least favourite for no reason other than first two feeling much stronger.

Gavin and Stacey x 2

Finished off series three. Smithy recalls a song that Gavin sang when someone came into the pub after having had one of his testes removed. Writing this I have 'The one ball of Wimbledon' to the tune of The Wombles going round my head.

Let's Kill Everybody and Heir Apparent

Someone plans on killing everyone in the Section but they don't know who. How can you stop someone from murdering you when the killer could be anyone? The Section's answer is for everyone to keep an eye on each other and wait for the enemy to make the first move. I quickly realised that this was the first episode I saw of Callan as part of the ITV 60 box set. It's been less than a year but I couldn't remember any of it, which is rather odd for something I instantly fell in love with.

Callan has a girlfriend. This is strange. He has been in hospital (we see a dressing on his neck) and she was one of the nurses. I expected him to be with her as part of some job but no, it's a genuine relationship. Bizarre as it is to see Callan all loved up, it is also really nice and I am happy for him. We know it's going well as when Hunter asks if he's getting much rest Callan replies "Not much."

His girlfriend, Jenny, has left nursing to study History at university and one of her tutors, Dr. Paula Goodman, turns out to be a wrong 'un. I sensed she was a baddie because she is played by Heather Canning, who also played the woman that tried to rob Frank Marker in Public Eye on his first day in Brighton.

Dr. Goodman and her communist colleague start knocking off members of the Section. Jenny overhears a conversation on the phone so Goodman drugs her and she later drowns. Callan is upset by it but when he finds out who is responsible he's livid. Whilst Callan goes round to see Goodman we see Hunter get shot. At first Callan doesn't let on that he knows the truth about Goodman but eventually he confronts her. When he asks "Why Jenny?" we can hear the emotion in his voice but his anger grows as Goodman talks and he slaps her.

It all gets quite tense as we hear the lift carrying her colleague up. When Dr. Walker arrives he shoots at Callan who still manages to grab him. Meres is just behind and they are going to leave. But Walker knocks the lights off and a shot rings out as Callan shoots Goodman, who was diving for her lethal drugs. This is a really well directed scene.

No episode of Callan has a triumphant ending. Someone often dies near the end and even if technically it's mission accomplished for Callan, there isn't a celebratory mood. The end of this episode has a wholly depressing mood. Many members of the Section have been killed, including the head, Hunter. There is also Jenny, the first person we have seen whom Callan had actually cared for.

There is one small blunder in those final scenes in which Toby Meres does a very bad job at covering the enemy assassins. Callan is reeling from his head injury but still does a better job at keeping his eyes and his gun pointed at them. Toby majorly gaffs when at one moment his gun is actually facing Callan!

Heir Apparent continues on from Let's Kill Everybody with Callan, Toby Meres and Hunter's secretary being the only ones in England left alive in the Section. A new Hunter is needed and a possible replacement has been chosen. Only problem is he's undercover in East Germany so Callan and Meres have to go to a spot on the border to help get him out.

The episode starts with the old Hunter's funeral and afterwards we see Callan is still incredibly angry about what has happened. Meres is detached and merely sees it as part of the world they operate in. Nothing to be done so just move on and get on with the next job, dear chap. The Foreign Secretary briefs them before they go for a lesson on East German minefields from Captain Jenkins, played by Peter Cellier, who was in Public Eye as fellow ex-prisoner, Enright. Meres and Callan are rather brash with him, Callan being rather pissed off at having to cross the minefield. He is also unhappy after finding out that the bloke they are fetching is a fellow who trained under Callan at one point. Callan's description of him is of an upper class, arrogant twat who had life handed to him on a plate. Not being one of the ex-public school brigade, Callan has often seemed to take a dislike to such people. The idea of having to work for this one definitely does not sit well.

After a couple of days travelling by train across Europe, Callan and Meres arrive near the West and East German border. They have a long time before they are supposed to meet the new Hunter so Toby wants to carry on in the beer halls, as "What are we gong to do stuck in a German ditch for eighteen hours?" Callan however is keen to scout out the meeting point.

Most of the rest of the episode centres around the border crossing point. Callan cuts through the fence, using a map of the minefield to mark a safe crossing path. At one point he thinks he's put his hand on a mine but it turns out to be a rock. He tosses it away and it hits an actual mine, scaring the shit out of Callan. I killed myself laughing. Callan and Meres have been told the patrol times but there seem to be more than usual. Jeeps drive past and a helicopter flies over several times. At one point Callan says "Cor, I could do with a fag." "I thought you didn't?" "It's funny - I don't." Meres spots a door of a bunker that keeps opening and they eventually realise Hunter (Derek Bond) is hiding in it. When Callan eventually gets there more guards turn up outside, chatting with a logger. The decision is made to wait until darkness before they dare creep out but unfortunately this doesn't prevent a shoot out with the East German border guards.

Don't throw rocks when you're lying in a minefield

This has been the best episode of Callan I have seen so far. From the moment Callan and Meres arrive at the border it feels tense and it only goes on to become more nerve-wracking. As far as I can tell all the outdoor scenes are shot on location and they don't cop out for the night scenes by using a filter, which is quite a brave move for black and white. Somehow everything is lit well enough so credit all round to the production on this. They make great use of searchlights and car headlamps. The guards get a few lines and Callan has always used actual Russian or German, rather than speaking in English with a foreign accent. Most of the guards' lines are just about simple enough for me to be able to understand. Everything looks genuine and it adds hugely to the episode's atmosphere.

The new Hunter's part is brief but from what we see he doesn't seem quite the bastard that Callan painted him. His time undercover on the other side of the Curtain looks like it's changed him. Perhaps he and Callan might get on after all?

The Man Upstairs (1958)

Richard Attenborough and Bernard Lee star and this billing was what drew me to the film. I hadn't really seen Richard Attenborough before and had not seen Bernard Lee outside his famous role as the original M in the Bond films. Attenborough plays the man of the title, who has been acting rather oddly. After disturbing the rest of the building's residents one night and lashing out at one, the police are called. Scared, he pushes the Sergeant who falls back over a banister, landing in the hall.
His face concealed in the darkness, I heard his voice and thought "No! It can't be..." but indeed it was Alfred Burke. The man I have of late being getting to know as Frank Marker in Public Eye is introduced as Mr Barnes. It was fairly easy to get over seeing Burke ten years younger as apart from a touch longer hair and fewer wrinkles he looked more or less the same!
All the action takes place almost in real time. I have to add the 'almost' because I doubt the ability to get the police, the army and the fire service all together so quickly. Bernard Lee's police inspector is keen to just bash the door in and drag John Wilson out and when they find out he has a gun, to bash it in and possibly shoot him. Fortunately a mental welfare officer is around to suggest alternative methods. Gradually we learn more about John Wilson, like his real name and what happened to affect his mental state. Despite the uncomfortable attitude from the Inspector - "He's just a thug!" - and the resulting over the top response to a man who just wouldn't come out of his bedroom, I enjoyed this film and would be intrigued to find out more about it.

Horrid Henry
The Birthday Present

Weekend telly can be quite rubbish and I struggled to find anything to put on whilst my brain started up. I remember Horrid Henry books from when I was at school, though I never read them. I discovered the cartoon version a couple of years back when I was helping out in a primary school. Henry is a boy of about eight or nine who likes getting into mischief, sometimes with his mates who are all part of the Purple Hand Gang. His younger brother is an angel in comparison. He is quiet, sensible and considerate. Henry hates him. In this episode Henry is taken to a posh department store with his aunt and cousin, Stuck-up Steve, to buy his mother a birthday present. He manages to have a gunge gun shoot out and snare a jewellery thief. At under fifteen minutes, this is a decent enough kids show.

Remembrance Sunday: The Cenotaph

It was 10:50 on Remembrance Sunday. This felt appropriate.

The World at War
The Fall of France and Alone

With my BluRay box set I could see the corpses of French civilians in glorious HD. The World at War never ceases to be both horrifying and fascinating. It has been a while since I have watched much of The World at War and in these episodes I have enjoyed how balanced it can be. The French aren't painted as 'cheese eating surrender monkeys' but rather as a nation besieged, with civilians suffering and left with very little choice. As usual I particularly enjoyed the maps and there were many in The Fall of France to demonstrate the defensive Maginot Line. I can no longer hear the words 'Maginot Line' without hearing George Formby.

Public Eye
A Fixed Address

I got quite a shock when after the titles of this episode there was suddenly... COLOUR. We are in colour! I wasn't expecting it and wasn't really ready for it. I have been concerned as to how I would find Public Eye in colour. Black and white hides a lot and this can be a very good thing when a programme hasn't got a lot of money to spend. A skim of the pamphlet that came with my box set tells me this episode was made in colour but broadcast in black and white, being a test episode for Thames' new cameras. It's the final episode of series 4 so I am presuming from series 5 we will be in colour. The opening shot shows us Frank in a light blue shirt, at odds with his usual dark colours. Later he wears a dark blue one with a purple tie and I think it suits him much better. I wouldn't have expected purple though - I had imagined his ties being light grey. These colours in people's clothes, furniture, in fact right down to the green patterned coffee cups, all takes some getting used to. My biggest surprise was that Alfred Burke has blonde hair as I'd always expected it to be brown. Despite being hesitant I did enjoy this new fangled colour stuff. It was only this unexpected arrival that made me reflect and realise about a third of what I watched this week was in black and white. A couple of weeks back it was more than half!

On to the actual plot of this episode and Mrs Mortimer's estranged husband shows up on the doorstep. She previously told Frank about Dennis so we know he's a bit of an arse. He walked out on her seven years ago, leaving a letter, but now wants to rekindle their relationship. This is a superb episode for Pauline Delaney as Helen Mortimer. She's tough and isn't willing to take any shit from Dennis. He has heard about Frank, presumes he's her boyfriend and Helen lets Dennis believe it. It emerges that Dennis has been offered a job abroad but the condition is that he brings his wife. Helen takes great joy in turning down the offer. He hurt her and now she has had a chance to see him hurt. She doesn't come across as bitter. "I remember lots of things, Dennis, some wonderful things" she smiles. The "some" hangs, telling us there were enough bad things.

Frank meanwhile has decided to start up on his own as an enquiry agent again. When Hull the probation officer comes round to see Helen she mentions this, not realising Hull did not already know. She also says Frank will be staying on at the boarding house and Hull accidentally lets this slip when he sees Frank later. Combined with finding Dennis in the kitchen when he gets home, Frank is quite annoyed with Mrs Mortimer.

This episode starts to become rather revealing about Frank and Helen's relationship. Hull goes to see Helen to speak to her about taking on another couple of ex-prisoners but she says she will have to think about it. She has said Frank can stay on and it could be awkward having other people he was in prison with there. Little looks in recent episodes have made it clear she wants Frank to stay. Hull offers her some advice "Marker's a very lonely man. I mean he's a lone wolf. Don't make too many plans involving him." Don't get too close because he won't let you, is the message. Helen is falling for Frank and I suppose it is hardly surprising. She runs a boarding house and with people usually only staying for a short time, Frank is possibly the only person she has had around for so long. They get on well, he helps out with the guests and they are around the same age. But there has been no indication that Frank has similar feelings for Helen and I fear this can only end badly.

20 programmes
10 new
10 old
1 film

Best: Callan - Heir Apparent was a triumph of television. Special mention to both the Nightingales episodes.

Worst: Doctor Who: The Space Pirates. It can only get worse.