Still Open All Hours – p p p p past its sell by date

When this was first announced I thought that it would be a funny, touching and melancholy return to the world of the Arkwright stores, instead it seemed more like a poor retread and – although no doubt made with the best of intentions – it seemed to have more of a whiff of the Pink Panther films made of clips of Sellers post his death that ended up on the cutting room floor with at best David Jason being Turk Thrust II aka Roger Moore. Or even worse, Ted Wass!

Still, it’s more stagnant and it reminds me of the terrible to the manor reborn revival that failed on all cylinders as well.

The problem is that Granville isn’t the Granville that we all know and love, instead they’ve basically turned him into Ronnie Barker and Arkwright, complete with same colour jacket, so much so tht it seems odd to not hear the famous stutter…so much so that Jason does several impressions of him with his stutter and mannerisms (which I know his character did in the original series which is fine but not the whole persona).

Granville wouldn’t be a miser and be fretting about slicing bacon as thin as he could or putting all that effort into selling anchovy paste. Great impression of Barker, but it just isn’t Granville.

It would be the equivalent of Only Fools and Horses coming back with Rodney in charge and basically being a tall Del Boy, that just isn’t who he is and it is exactly the same issue with Granville.

We are also shown several long and loving shots of Barker in a large photo in the store (that even outsized that of Betty Turpin in the Rovers Return – the latter which I swear increases in size on a weekly basis). All this does though is make us miss both Barker and the original series even more.

The new ‘Granville’ is forgettable, I can’t even remember his name, and it is very much a one man-show which misses the point of the original series.

Sure, it is nice to see some of the original shop customers, the former nurse Gladys Emmanuel and we also get a couple o fresher faces with Johnny Vegas (who probably has the best joke of the episode) and a blooming Chuckle Brother – the even older and shorter one I think.

No doubt this is the BBC touting for a full series and in part looking for a gentile comedy in the ilk of Last of the Summer Wine (also penned by Roy Clarke). I’ve no problem with that and loved the original Barker and Jason series but this I am afraid is p p p p p past its sell by date.

Oh, and the other thing, why on earth is he still using the broken till? I get that it was a character and all practically in its own right but at least have it in the back with Arkwright’s ashes on top of it or something or a new till with the same affliction. As it stands the old till being in active service is about as believable as if he still accepted pound notes as legal tender!

The Beeb flog Dad’s Army to death so why not take the original Open All Hours for a spin instead of making Barker spin in his grave.

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Box clever: The Box of Delights

115bbc2[1]Steam trains, wise men with beards who know magic, flying cars and characters transforming into an array of animals. So far, so Harry Potter, right? Wrong.

Christmas television, for me, meant many things. It of course meant the perennial Bond movie and usually the odd Sinbad or Doug McClure epic along with Digby the biggest – if not the most convincingly so – dog in the world. But for me one programme that will always evoke fond childhood memories and have the power to transport me back some 25 years, how fitting as that is exactly what ‘The Box’ can do, is the BBCs classic adaptation of The Box of Delights.

Harry Potter and those kids who went to Narnia might have thought they had cornered the market in middle class school kids having rollicking adventures that beggar belief, but they’d be wrong. Based on the children’s book of the same name by John Masefield, this six part adaptation is set in England in the 1930s, it tells the adventures of Kay Harker as he returns home from school for Christmas. On the train he meets a mysterious but kindly old man who gives him the Box of Delights, a magical box which gives the holder the powers of flight, physical transformation, and the ability to travel through time. Of course, the forces of evil, led by members of the clergy, are out to steal the Box, and it’s up to Kay and his friends to stop them.

Produced prior to but to an equally high standard as the BBCs Narnia adaptations this production his Christmas written all the way through it and even concluded on Christmas Eve, which is when the last episode is set, on its original airing, something which it should be done every year and turn it into the seasonal classic it deserves to be. If America has the traditions of a Charlie Brown Christmas and The Grinch (the animated short) then we should certainly be able to deliver more than The Snowman – although of late this seems to be the Patrick Stewart/ Hallmark Channel reworking of A Christmas Carol over the last few years.

The programme still has an epic feel about it with amazing location work and cinematography; remember this was also the same period that the BBC splashed the cash on other children’s drama such as The Tripods. The special effects, which mostly featured animation and primitive blue screen, have dated badly but are somehow in keeping with the period it is set and just give the whole proceedings a further feeling of nostalgia.

The three pillars that have allowed ‘Box’ to stay long in the consciousness of those who saw it when young are its music and titles and two amazing performances from two of its cast.

The titles showed several key images from the show and were almost quasi-doctor who like, quite fitting with the second doctor, Patrick Troughton, making an appearance as one of the key characters. Indeed as in classic Who we even see his face travel towards us in the titles. The accompanying music, The First Noel, was also something else and managed to be both enchanting and sinister at the same time.

Troughton may only appear in three of the six episodes but his presence is felt throughout and for an actor who has played so many memorable roles in everything from Robin Hood, Doctor Who, a villain in Sinbad and a doomed clergyman in The Omen, this is perhaps his greatest legacy as the Punch and Judy man who is as lovable, wise, cunning and likable as Dumbledore.

And then we have the Reverend Abner Brown, the late Shakespearean actor, Robert Stevens, who admirably chews the scenery up and spits it back out in every scene. Never has the term mad man for a character seemed so fitting. He and the range of characters he surrounds himself with are genuinely creepy, even today.

Also well worth a mention and the things of many a youngsters nightmares no doubt were the rather sinister pair of ‘clergymen’, “Foxy Faced Charles” and “Chubby Faced Joe” who are two agents working for the villainous ringleader, ‘Abner Brown’. They also had the ability to change in wolves and even give chase after Harker in some wonderfully shot snow scenes. The pair remind me somewhat of Mr Wint and Mr Kidd from Diamonds Are Forever, a pair who also gave a feeling of unease and are rather unsettling whenever they appear.

Unsurprisingly, the rumour is that ‘Box’ is set to delight a whole new audience as it makes its leap to the big screen under the helm of a former Harry Potter Director, Mike Newell. Here’s hoping it loses none of its magic or indeed its darkness in its journey. Even if it does it will only increase the respect for the original adaptation.

It has to be said that the casting directors will have to go some to match anyone as good as Troughton, as I’m sure I’m not the only one who associates him with this over his role as The Doctor, as good and memorable as it was. Some feat you may think, but he pulls the character of Cole Hawlings off so convincingly that it really is hard to imagine anyone else in the role.

To my knowledge it has only ever been screened twice in the UK, so the campaign to annually rescreen ‘The Box of Delights’, starts here. Even if not on BBC1 or 2 surely it’s a perfect fit for BBC4, so let’s turn it into the institution it deserves to be.

Gremlins

dvd_grem[1]To describe Gremlins, which incredibly celebrates its 30th birthday next year, as a kid’s film would be like describing the Bates Motel as a swell place to stay.

Cutesy in a typical Spielbergian world at the very beginning, sure, but it is soon revealed that we, the audience, and indeed the Peltzer family are sorely mistaken and have somewhat misread the situation in the ultimate ‘always heed the instructions’ moment in cinematic history

An animal is for life, not just for Christmas, such is the number one life lesson that we can all learn from the Spielberg Executive Produced, Joe Dante Directed, Gremlins. Rounding out this trio of talent is then scriptwriter – later Harry Potter Director, Chris Columbus – who was on something of a roll after penning scripts for both The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes around the same period. This ‘E.T. with teeth’ captivated and entertained and still stands tall as a comedy horror Christmas classic, and you don’t get many of those.

Originally a spec script by the young Columbus the feature was set to be a very different ‘beast’ with the Gremlins being even more dark and twisted, with the irresistibly cute Gizmo turning into Stripe, Barney the dog getting hung and Billy’s mum’s head rolling down the stairs!

Being a Joe Dante film it is a veritable reference of film and cartoon delights, from a cameo by the legendary animator Chuck Jones to a blink and you’ll miss it Steven Spielberg disappearing in a Time Machine

It’s a deliciously wicked and rich film, even until this day and has an almost timeless charm about it like that other 8o’s classic Back to the Future, which also shared the Universal backlot as its main set that created the town, Kingston Falls, and it does so spectacularly.

We get suckered into the cute, furry routine just like the Peltzers. It’s a family movie alright, but more about a families survival than in the traditional sense of the word. As such it caused such shockwaves Stateside and was one of two films that year, 1984, that helped create the PG 13 rating in America, the other film being Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

For all the Gremlins’ attacking from a Christmas tree, driving a bulldozer into the Futterman house, causing mayhem in the streets it’s a very low key scene that lingers in the memory and proves to be the most distressing, that classic monologue by Phoebe Cates on why she hates Christmas, a chilling story of them finding her dead dad stuck up the chimney dressed as Santa Clause. Inspired and perhaps only pipped by the SS Indianapolis story speech by Quint in Jaws for its powerfulness and evococativeness.

The set pieces and the imagery, their swirling lights of the swimming pool when Stripes throws himself in at the deep end, the tension of the death of the college tutor scene played against the rapidly beating heart on the projector, on par with anything in The Howling. Not to mention the discovery of the pods and the classic kitchen scene.

It’s a shame that Dante went for out and out comedy in the sequel as it would have been an interesting study in terror to see them go really, really dark. Of course, a remake or reimagining has been mentioned but it really does remain to be seen whether the Gremlins would hold the same appeal us knowing that they were merely pixels. The Gremlin creations by Chris Wallas are pretty much pitch perfect in design, that other unsung hero of the film is also Jerry Goldsmith and his blistering score that manages to be both comical and scary in equal measure.

It really is a nasty piece of work, and is all the more beloved and beautiful for it. Full of great energy, Dante clearly has great fun letting the Gremlins run riot in the usual Spielberg-like world, albeit one full of B-movie horror high jinks, and it all works wonderfully thanks to the film’s humour and the charm of its young leads. It maybe a special effects lead film but it’s the story that drives it, just like Back to the Future again in many respects, remember when that happened?

Alien is often mooted as the monster sci-fi movie of reference but for me it will always be Gremlins, for me it will always be a great big little monster movie.