Category Archives: Television

Scarred For Life Vol 1 – the 1970s

Life means life, so when you read Scarred for Life volume one: the 1970s – Growing up in the dark side of the decade, a celebration of everything that scared you rigid in the 70s, from public information films (PFI) to TV programmes, that’s exactly what you get…scarred.

Over the years those scars may have become feint distant memories but they come screaming back to haunt you as you eagerly explore its 740 pages.

Like secondary schools at the time it’s comprehensive, not in the Grange Hill way you understand – which is also featured in the book along with its still nightmare inducing swimming pool incident – no wonder its authors, Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence admit ‘it is fairly huge.’

final cover front and back1

Exhaustive is putting it mildly as chapters wise it covers everything from the afore-mentioned TV to PIF to board games and ice-lollies to comics, all in glorious detail with numerous images to help return the things that you spent the last 30-40 years trying to forget.

It really is a delicious dystopian sweetshop of the 1970s, with it hard to know what section to consume next. Answer, all of them.

Engrossing, informative and entertaining beyond belief it successfully wrestles the 70s away from those programmes that just take the piss with inserts of ‘comedians’ doing vox pops and showing how the 70s was oh so un pc.

Just scrolling through the content is enough to whet your appetite and demonstrates their true love for the cultural touch points this decade produced, whether it be TV show, advert or toy. It really is all here. Even down to the Fleetway Annual homage on the front cover, what’s not to love.

I’ve not felt this excitement and giddiness about devouring the contents page(s) – all five, count ‘em – since reading Kim Newman’s Nightmare Movies when it was first released in 1987. The book sets the scene perfectly, it may as well be me laid on the carpet, head propped in my hands. The Amityville Horror, Bigfoot, The Bermuda Triangle, Watership Down, The Pan Book of Horror and the Usborne Book of the Unexplained – that IS my childhood and it is all gloriously revisited.

You are hooked from the off. Obviously if you were born in that decade, felt its cultural ripples or grew up in the 70s you’ll get the most out of with instant recollections of I remember that, I had that and remembering moments from childhood that were long forgotten but smash back into your conscience as if they never left.

That intro is so evocative at transporting you back to that time in your house, it’s almost like time travel itself, regressing like Christopher Reeve in Somewhere in Time as the words wash over you or seeing the decades and décor roll back like Rod Taylor in The Time Machine watch the constantly changing shop window.

Each entry even provides suggested viewing and suggested further reading; this is very clearly written by fans for fans. I’ve had to keep a note book alongside me as a read it so that I can just keep track of my future viewings and reads.  My Amazon account is going to take something of a bashing.

We also get regular appearances by ‘the art of the title sequence’ breaking down some of TVs greatest every opening credits. These are the shows we want on our Netflix, Amazon Prime, ITV Player and BBC iPlayer, or even BFI player.

Essential, it’s damn near perfection. The ‘I did not know that’ facts come thick and fast as well, such as the creator of Shadows, a supernatural anthology series for children was from the same person that created Rainbow.

The chapters are like longer versions of features from TV Zone, SFX or the – all too short lived – Cult TV magazines, a spin off from SFX. It’s refreshing long form writing that never out stays it’s welcome.

It’s absorbing and makes you want to consume it in one, or certainly as few sittings as possible, but is also designed as such that you can easily dip in out of chapters or subjects that interest you. I guess the only shame is a lack of an index, but minor quibbles aside the contents pages are in plenty of detail in that regard.

Brimming with programmes I’d seen (Grange Hill, Blake’s 7, Worzel Gummidge), those I knew of and had read about (The Tomorrow People, Doomwatch, The Stone Tapes) and those I’d not (Beasts and 1990) it’s an interesting and a great package bursting with familiar, heard of and new delights aplenty. You can’t help but read it (crossed legged on the floor of course) and smile.

As well as all the television moments, the highlights for me were evoking vivid memories of The Doctor Who Exhibition in Blackpool; I never even met anyone else who went! The still-scare-the- bejusus-out-of-you public information films, particularly the Lonely Water, which, complete with full horror tropes, plays out like a 70s version of It Follows, and the escalators one with the red wellies ripped to shreds. Shudder!

It gives you one of those joyous crick necks where you’ve just been staring down for such a long period of time, like when you just read through The Guinness Book of Records. You could easily lose yourself in it pages for days on end.

A celebration of the odd, strange and macabre that hit our screens, shops, book shelves and magazine racks.  And even if you didn’t it effortlessly captures that period’s output and shows us that it wasn’t just as is oft portrayed, as just about wearing flares and disco dancing.

Today is often referred to as a golden period of television and writing for television, something which is said to only recently herald from the States, but this volume clearly shows that writing and content was king not just in dramatic output but children’s dramatic output. Windy Miller, we aren’t in Camberwick Green anymore. And everything else, from 2000AD to Roy of the Rovers tackling hooligans, is just as rich.

Doctor Who and hiding behind the sofa is just the tip of the ice-berg. An assault on the senses, it doesn’t just capture my childhood, it is it. Observations are just so spot-on, it’s a landmark dissection of this period and all the great and frankly demented things it had to offer.

If volume two, which focuses on the 80s – my mouth is watering already – is of the same standard, length an fun to read – and with the likes of Blake’s 7’s ending, Adric dying in Doctor Who, The Adventure Game and Mr Noseybonk to name but four things I’m expecting to make an appearance – these two encyclopaedic volumes could well be The Godfather Parts 1 and 2 of books about popular culture. If you were a child of the seventies or grew up in that decade it is an offer you can’t refuse. A definite a must buy.

Available soon from Lulu.com for £16.99, that’s great value at just over £1.69 a year!

Hood do you think you are?

It’s been 25 years since Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves crashed onto UK cinema screens, and we all know that Kevin Costner and Errol Flynn donned tights and confounding archery trickery in the forests of Sherwood.

Dean Newman picks a quiver full of people who have also brought the world’s most famous outlaw to life, including a duck and Cheggers!

Daffy Duck

As featured in Robin Hood Daffy… (1958)

robinhooddaffyFollowing the same well drawn lines as his other alter ego Duck Dodgers, Daffy Duck, heads to Sherwood with fine support from Porky Pig as Friar Tuck. Directed by animation legend, Chuck Jones.

 Rocket Robin Hood

As featured in Rocket Robin Hood… (1968)

roket robin hood titlesThe series was high concept to say the least: in the year 3000, a descendant of the original Robin Hood reforms the Merry Men, complete with namesakes of the originals, to combat a new Prince John, despotic ruler of the National Outer space Terrestrial Territories, and the Sheriff of N.O.T.T.(National Outer-Space Terrestrial Territories).

While the bow and arrow was still Robin’s weapon of choice, almost everything else was updated. He now had rayguns, electro-quarter staves and rocket ships at his disposal…and jet-packs! Think Space Ghost style animation meets the original animated Spiderman.

Keith Chegwin

As featured in Robin Hood Junior… (1975)

RHjrCheggers plays pop-ular action folk hero in his Children’s Film Foundation classic (think the Robin Hood version of Bugsy Malone minus those custard pie guns and all that singing). A fantastically fun romp that deserves to be released on DVD with Keith Chegwin commentary!

Sean Connery

As featured in Robin and Marian… (1976)

Talking of Bond…one of the few Robin Hood’s to die on screen and indeed to show him in his twilight years. Slower paced and had a fantastic Guy of Gisbourne in the shape of Robert Shaw. Acting, of course, runs in the family and Jason got to step up to the plate in the third series of Robin of Sherwood as Robert of Huntingdon.

 John Cleese

As featured in Time Bandits… (1981)

There’s more than a bonkers feel to this Terry Gilliam film fest with Python face as perhaps the oddest choice big screen aloof Hood ever, in charge of some perhaps too Merry Men.

Michael Praed

As featured in Robin of Sherwood… (1984 – 1986)

robin of sherwoodFor me this was as much a part of early 80s Saturday teatime as Doctor Who. Still looks great nearly 30 years later and features a fantastic turn from Ray Winstone as the screens greatest ever Will Scarlet. Had a brilliant two-part opener that fused together would have made one of the best Robin Hood films ever! Famously full of mysticism, it was the first Robin Hood to take in the notion of the green man and introduce us to Herne the Hunter. It was also the first to introduce a Saracen character from the Crusades that has now – with Prince of Thieves and the recent BBC TV series – become the norm.

Praed bowed out after series two, succumbing to the Sheriff and his men, or in TV terms, moved to America to only be shot at his own wedding in Dynasty, surely the Hood equivalent of George Lazenby jacking in Bond after one film. Interesting fact: Neil Morrissey, from Men Behaving Badly and Boon, almost got to play the Hooded Man.

Patrick Stewart

As featured in Star Trek: The Next Generation… (1987 – 1994)

It’s in one of those dastardly Q moments that expertly lampoons the look and feel of Flynn’s Adventures of Robin Hood, albeit with a Klingon and an android, it also some brilliant knowing dialogue. Stewart also parodied the Sean Connery role in Prince of Thieves, complete with strong Scottish accent, at the close of Men in Tights.

Patrick Bergin

As featured in Robin Hood… (1991)

The ‘other’ Robin Hood of 1991, this Irishman played Robin Hood with a tache in what was released as a TV movie in America but theatrically over here in Blightly. Billed as gritty, it certainly rhymed with that, as it added elements into the mix that were just downright odd/dull. Uma Thurman made an interesting Maid Marian however. Not a lot really happens.

Cary Elwes

As featured in Robin Hood: Men in Tights… (1993)

“Unlike other Robin Hoods I speak with an English accent.” Cary Elwes showed he was good with a blade in The Princess Bride and actually would have made an impressive bonafide Hooded Man. Was actually born in England, which is something of a rarity for big screen Robin Hoods in Hollywood. Certainly not Mel Brook’s greatest film ever but has aged well and still manages to raise more than a titter.

Rik Mayall

As featured in Blackadder: Back and Forth… (1999)

One of those oh so special programmes produced for the millennium, indeed it was produced to be shown at The Dome, which generally means they miss the mark more than they hit with a parade of famous people trying to be oh so funny, also see Comic Relief specials etc, in the days before Extras. Blackadder’s very own Lord Flash heart managed to stuff himself in his tights and brought along Kate Moss as Maid Marian. Beware, not as good as the original series. Close, but no cigar, Darling.

Keira Knightley

As featured in Princess of Thieves (did you see what they did there)… (2001)

Before playing with Pirates this young moppet played Robin Hood’s daughter in this little seen Disney TV movie which also saw Malcolm McDowell as the scowling Sheriff. Directed by Peter Hewitt, who helmed both Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey and The Borrowers.

 

The magnificent Blake’s 7: Robin Hood in space

With the death of Blake’s 7 actor Gareth Thomas it’s time to strap on your transporter bracelets to The Liberator and THAT ending for ‘Robin Hood in space’.

Such was the basic premise of Blake’s 7 back in 1978, and that idea was pitch perfect for one of the most beloved TV series of the last 40 years. Always seen as something of Doctor Who’s younger sibling, it springing from the mind of Who-alumnus, Terry Nation, for many it was never held in as high regard or as beloved. But, for me, I probably loved it even more than the fellow in the blue box.

You can see the similarities to Sherwood’s finest with its original character set-up, with Gareth Thomas headlining as Roj Blake, who leads a rebellion against a tyrannical regime (hey, even in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Norman Soldiers were likened to Nazis). More ‘Marauding’ than ‘Merry Men’ his reluctant heroic crew, perhaps sharing as much with the likes of The Dirty Dozen and The Magnificent Seven as much as with those from the trees of Nottingham.

We are then introduced to corrupt computer genius, Avon, (Paul Darrow), essentially Will Scarlett, a man who you wouldn’t trust as far as you could throw him, even if he was classed as your friend, but you would far rather he be your friend than your enemy. Avon quickly become the show’s favourite, with his sardonic wit and no nonsense behaviour, he had the same appeal as the likes of Han Solo.

Master thief, Vila, steps up as your Much the Millers Son, as he is essentially the light-hearted comedian who is something of a coward. Avon and Vila were the perfect foils for one another and have the zingiest dialogue this side of the galaxy that is still as crisp and clever to this day

Gan, is clearly the Little John of proceedings with his mighty frame and heart, but I’m not quite sure how a smart arse computer, Zen, fits into it all Merry Man wise, um, Friar Tuck…well he is at least the voice of reason and calm. The rest of the original crew were made up of Jenna, a smuggler, and Cally, a telepath, and these feisty, gung-ho women were clearly reminiscent, in their fighting spirit, of Maid Marian. After all, you have to remember that this was the late 70s and that women did as much of the rescuing as well as the being rescued.

The ship, The Liberator, a wondrous design whose Corgi model once bestowed my birthday cake as a child, which was a brilliant backward-looking design with its (Lincoln) green bubble at its rear, so my hats off to you Matt Irvine for a ship that even outclasses the Millennium Falcon for being so ugly and impractical – Einstein would have a fit on the Physics front – that it is a thing of beauty.

If Blake and his crew represent Robin Hood and his Merry Men, then the Federation forces, personified in the obsessive, psychopathic Space Commander Travis, complete with eye patch, and his superior, the ruthless Supreme Commander, Servalan, represent Sir Guy of Gisbourne and the Sheriff of Nottingham, respectively. You only have to look at the mid 80s rebirth of Robin of Sherwood on ITV, and latterly, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, to see how similar the working relationship between Servalan and Travis was to that of the Sheriff and his lapdog.

The show was quite revolutionary in terms of structure – the arcing plot is ahead of its time, something seen as commonplace in the likes of the Battlestar Galactica reboot – and characterisation. It also features a surprisingly cynical world view with a healthy dash of dystopia and dash of moral ambiguity, this is no Star Wars black and white – which premiered in the UK the same year the show was launched – instead there are massive grey areas in the ensemble cast, like we see in everything from 24 to Lost and The Walking Dead, people who aren’t just the well-rounded, good-looking good guys of programmes like, say the original Star Trek.

It may have had its peak and troughs throughout its four-year series, not to mention cast changes galore and Blake jumping ship come the end of series two, but it had a fantastic concept, multiple major character deaths and perhaps the finest ending of any TV show past, present or future, an ending from which Planet of the Apes writers would find hard to get out of, an ending that gave my chin carpet burns from the force it struck the floor, an ending that had the balls to kill off the entire remaining cast and still have Avon going out (or did he?) in the coolest TV moment of my life.

Not bad, essentially being a kids tea time programme and taking in political intrigue and terrorism (remember the IRA were still out in force) and harrowing deaths of beloved characters. The sets may have wobbled and it was probably filmed in one too many quarries, but hey that is BBC budgets at that time for you, but the writing still holds true and is pretty blistering stuff most of the time, clearly helped in part with many of the main actors being RSC trained.

Thomas came back for that last episode having left after series two and he claimed never to have watched an episode. That’s a shame and a real loss, despite its somewhat dodgy sets and special effects it had some great Orwellian dystopia which meant that it was well-ahead of its time, especially in that time slot. And, story wise it still really shines today and remains relevant with terror and political intrigue riding high in the headlines and a major staple of TV drama, the rebooted ‘gritty’ Battlestar Galactica was of course dubbed ‘The West Wing in space’.

And these unjust times of political unrest and times of terror Blake et al  would fit in perfectly. Stories about anti-government dissidents and corrupt, totalitarian governments never seem to go out of fashion (it’s no coincidence that the series villain was a woman – just as Thatcher came into power), and surely that’s doubly true of this era of terrorism.

Crucially, it had drama and conflict in spades, and most of this came from within the crew, especially between Blake and Avon or Avon and Vila, which was full of crisp, foil-bag fresh dialogue that even JJ Abrams or Joss Whedon would be proud to have scribed today.

Although it has been resurrected as an audio drama, getting a new lease of life in a series of audio adventures which has attracted a whole host of talent from Bond and genre fave, Colin Salmon as Kerr Avon and guest stars from Ashes to Ashes’ Keeley Hawes and new Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch.

Like the Who audio adventures it has also lured back cast members from the original series, Michael Keating and Jan Chappell, all of which shows there is still plenty of talent and interest in the project.

It keeps threatening to return to screens with aborted attempts from Sky and the Syfy Channel in recent years. With the return of Star Wars to the big screen and another Star Trek series in the offing, as well as on the big screen, we are in the same alignment as when Blake’s 7 first materialised on our screens.

And after all in this world niche audiences for The Walking Dead and original dramas produced for the likes of Amazon, with The Man in the High Castle, and Netflix, with House of Cards, or Sky Atlantic with Fortitude, then there is nothing to stop the return of The Liberator and its crew.

Who knows, perhaps the real life death of Roj Blake, from heart failure and not shot by Avon, could be the right catalyst for his rebirth. Roj Blake is dead, long live Roj Blake?

As Zen may have stated: “Probability of reboot, 80%.”

 

Remembering Robin Williams

It hardly seems possible for it to have been a whole year since Robin Williams passed away. Here’s my original reaction to it taken from one of my other blogs at the time…

Sure, Robin Williams, who has been found dead at his home aged 63, had his demons with drugs, drink – and like so many comedians – depression.

But that certainly doesn’t mean his death is any less shattering or was generally met with less disbelief when it was the first thing that met my eyes and ears as I awoke to the news. Famously, he cites the death of fellow comedian John Belushi as a wake up call to his drug consumption and he freely admitted that if The Blues Brother hadn’t died then it probably would have been Williams next.

Like many, I grew up with him, first on my TV screen on Mork and Mindy, then on several of his live shows and of course his big screen antics way before he hit it big in Good Morning Vietnam in 1987, which seems like a lifetime ago, but seemed to capture the persona of Williams perfectly – the zany comic against the establishment and the thoughtful man that cared for others. Williams was both of these and pretty much the rest of his output moved between the two with great success in the likes of Aladdin, Mrs Doubtfire and even Dead Poets Society.

He’ll, of course, always be remembered for his manic style – an interviewers dream and nightmare no doubt – and his amazingly fast comedic processor that saw improv with hilarious results in such classics as Aladdin, Good Morning Vietnam and Mrs Doubtfire, that just shows his sheer diversity there.

But these were tempered with more thoughtful performances in Dead Poets Society, Moscow on the Hudson, and in one of my own personal favourite films, Awakenings. Not to forget his best supporting actor Oscar nod for Good Will Hunting of course, Williams also received nominations for the afore-mentioned Vietnam, Society and The Fisher King.

There was often sadness in this clown’s eyes during his performances, whether that be the desperate father to see his children, the doctor who couldn’t help in Awakenings or the ‘little boy lost’ or ‘boy who never grew up’ figure in the likes of Jack, Jumanji and of course Hook as Peter Pan himself. And in the latter, for me, it was the grown up Peter in the real world that bookended the film that was the most interesting element of that film.

And his performances in darker material such as Insomnia, this time acting against Pacino, and One Hour Photo just showed the man’s range and ability to act, he was no one trick pony. And that range was matched by the diverse range of films and genres that he found himself leading audiences, of course there were always the comedies but I’ll remember him as much for his dramatic roles, roles such as that in What Dreams May Come where he finds himself looking for his wife in the afterlife – which has never looked so vivid and rich – after she has committed suicide. It’s poignancy elevated beyond belief now of course, it is a beautiful film to look at and certainly won’t be easy viewing when it is next watched.

Ironically I was watching the original Night at the Museum the night before his death and he is brilliant as Teddy Roosevelt (essentially in that he is the elder statesman of comedy) and he fills his supporting performance – always making it feel bigger than it actually is – with what makes a Williams performance great, full of warmth, humility and fun. He of course played another President,  Eisenhower, in the recent The Butler (2013).

It’s pleasing (if that is the right word) to see that Sky, the BBC and Channel 4 are all remembering the talent of Williams with a selection of his most beloved films. All, for one reason or another, will be difficult to watch because of the man and the talent that we have lost and many of his performances will now resonate more loudly and deeper than they ever did before.

The ‘zany character’ of Robin Williams that we saw on the big screen, on stage or on the chat show was just that, a character and he played it well and brought so much joy to others of all ages. My favourite ever story though is that when Steven Spielberg was making the harrowing Schindler’s List he’d come back from an emotionally draining day of filming and speak to Williams via video link up who would just cheer him and other crew up, bringing some sunshine back into the darkness. I’m sure all of us who have been made to laugh or been moved by one of his performances just wished that we could have done the same for him.

His light might have dimmed but his power to make us laugh and cry, or even cry with laughter, has just been forever heightened.

What’s your favourite Robin Williams moment?

Back to the Future live

IMG_0016As Marty McFly would say, this is heavy! After 30 years it was time to go back, not just back to the big screen but back to the Royal Albert Hall for a live performance screening of Back to the Future.

The DeLorean ‘parked’ outside only helped heighten the anticipation, prior to us getting lost in the maze of the Hall’s stairways and corridors.But then we made it into the wide open space of hall itself, adding to the occasion we even found ourselves two across from a couple who had come dressed as Marty and Jennifer, McFly complete with ‘life preserver’. He must have been roasting!

Picture-12Seeing it on the big screen is not unlike time travel itself as it takes you right back to your childhood. I had never seen the original at the cinema until its 25th anniversary, only catching the sequels on the big screen first time round, although I had seen it more times than I cared to mention on TV, DVD and Blu-Ray. This mattered not as I approached the screening with the same excitement as if it were a brand new release…and so it appeared did the thronging Royal Albert Hall audience.

If Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd are the stars of Back to the Future then so is the DeLorean and if they are part of its very fabric the, like John William’s score to Star Wars and Indiana Jones, Alan Silvestri’s sweeping epic score to Back to the Future is as well. And that was the real reason thousands of us were there to listen and watch a live rendition of the iconic music played to the film.

images (1)We must have only been seated five or six rows from the front, a Back to the Future live screen welcoming us into the vast auditorium. It all only added to the electricity (1.21 gigawatts) of electricity that was in the room, an electricity that initially peaked when the orchestra played those familiar bars.

Simultaneously hairs stood on end and goosebumps were raised, somehow from somewhere it all started to feel very emotional and just stirred something seeing that famous piece of film music history, so intrinsic to my childhood and my growing up, be recreated in front of my very eyes and ears.

Even though the screening, the first of its kind of this particular film in the UK, featured newly written cues by original composer, Silvestri, notably the opening titles over the ticking clocks, it was hard to believe that the orchestra was creating this well known score, in fact and times you got sucked into the film and the music that you sometimes just plain forget that creative music forces were at work just in front of you. It was that good, it was seemingly effortless but amazing to watch as you could see how the famous tune was created layer by musical layer, instrument by instrument, hand motion by hand motion.

download (1)Certainly we ensured we were watching the orchestra as much as the film after the interval, and boy those guys in percussion were certainly kept on their toes. Again, it was amazing to just see all the individuals in action that helped create the whole. Just prior to the film starting up again for its second section we were treated to a Back to the Future Part 3 medley with its western overtones and drifting into Clara’s theme.

As a film Back to the Future holds up not just magnificently but majestically, both against those films touted as family friendly fair today and even those from ‘whence it came, circa 1985, such as The Goonies and Ghostbusters. They are both classic films but Future just raises the quality bar and actually, even today, doesn’t look to have aged in the slightest in its pacing or any aspect of its unfolding story.

It was a delight to watch the familiar story unfold with characters we have got to know and love every nuance and line of dialogue and see them giant on the big screen again. It’s of great testament to the writers, Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, that the story, a modern day Wizard of Oz of sorts, still holds true and is practically timeless, which is perhaps as much to do with its setting as much as its writing.

Script wise it is practically faultless and doesn’t miss a beat, the perfect movie script, nothing is wasted, no plot thread is left hanging and each piece of dialogue dovetails into the next and has real meaning and consequence. It’s a piece of storytelling without an ounce of fat. Everything occurs and happens for a reason, right down to the tiniest of nuances and should be high on anyone’s list wanting to study the craft.

images (2)It’s almost as if the film was not made in 1985 but set in 1985, new audiences scoffing as much about Marty McFly’s bulky walkman as much as we did first time round about there being no Pepsi Free!

The film itself bounds along at a fair old pace, another sign of its unflabby script and and edit suite culling, it not out staying its welcome, and at 1 hour 40-something is practically short by today’s standards where we have become used to the somewhat ponderous unfolding of the likes of Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins and one Captain Jack Sparrow.

It’s also refreshing to see a film where everything looks real and doesn’t have that muted CGI feel to it, everything in both time periods looks and feels real and solid, almost as if you can touch them. Sure, we know the Hill Valley of the 1950s is a film set on the Universal backlot (as also used in Gremlins and countless other films) but we know that it was all recreated for us to see up on the big screen and not rendered in some computer.

images (4)The interplay between Lloyd and Fox dazzles on the big screen, I had a similar experience seeing Robert Shaw writ large in Jaws on the big screen. Fox is deft at comedy, his falls and reactions really sell yet combining both straight man reacting and playing it for laughs on different occasions.

Although everyone else was familiar with how the film unfolded there were still laughs to be heard when it came to Doc Brown and his constant questioning of the use of the word ‘heavy’, guffawing at the really rather more excellent than you ever remember Crispin Glover, he really is quite amazing as the hapless George McFly. His laugh still brought the house down and there were plenty of laughs during the many moments of Marty with his mum, Lorraine.

george_savesdayIt really did feel in many ways as if you were watching it for the very first time, more curious still was the spontaneous applause that erupted when George smacked Biff, I think for many this is a standout moment in the film execution wise and in many ways is just as fulfilling as the DeLorean striking the wire just as the lightning strikes the clock tower, cue massive applause and squeals of delight.

The viewing experience was almost akin to watching someone you know do well on the sports field or on stage. You know they were good last time you saw them and are pleased that they’ve given a barn storming performance this time round. Often favourite films or programmes viewed when growing up tend to lose their charm or appeal, but with this one it only grows. It’s as if you know the film intimately.

Having said that, the film is more sweary than I care to remember and Biff is also essentially attempting to rape Lorraine, moments that tend to get lost when you are younger. But that only makes the George McFly rescue all the more satisfying and shows that it’s not just a kid’s film.

bttf-clocktowerFuture also has its melancholy side as well, not so much in the feeling that this is a period that we are so far removed from – even when referring to the 1980s – and is almost unrecognisable but also in the shape of Michael J Fox. He’s never been more breezy and likable, well okay I’ve got a soft spot for The Secret of my Success as well, but with his absence from our screens, due in large part to his Parkinsons, it’s a reminder of the loss of such an comically gifted actor. And his glances, trips and delivery is effortless to the point that if you aren’t careful you could miss it. That’s how good he is.

I don’t think I’d ever noticed him edging away from Doc before when the DeLorean is heading towards them at Twin Pines Mall, classic. He will forever be Marty, much like Matthew Broderick will always be Ferris Bueller. He is stuck, quite fittingly, in a time capsule for us to enjoy again and again.

Dmc11After one of the greatest endings to a film ever the: “roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads” scene and flying of the DeLorean into 2015 (their time), we get the titles and a great rousing end of the score just as the Amblin logo crawls across the screen – so much so I’ve always found it hard to separate the two – that is just so uplifting and celebratory it is almost difficult to find words. That was like a Silvestri full stop to it as at that point he and no one else involved in the project knew there would be two sequels so he really gives it all he has got.

So did the orchestra and it was a sublime finish that was followed by a prolonged and much-deserved standing ovation and crackle of applause that continued long after the baton had been lowered. And as for the experience of a film that you love with a live orchestra, I couldn’t recommend it enough, it takes it to a whole new level.

I’m sure it won’t be long before I end up removing the wrapping of the Intrada special edition version of the score, which I’ve yet to open after six years. Great Scott you say, no, great score.And there was no finer way to celebrate 30 years of Back to the Future.

Will we be back in time to the Royal Opera House? Quite possibly, as Raiders of the Lost Ark is swinging into the venue to do the very same. Perhaps I’ll use the staff of Ra to locate the best possible seat this time round though.

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The Enfield Haunting Part 1

If Rendelsham Forest is the UK’s answer to Roswell then The Enfield Poltergeist is surely the UK’s answer to The Amityville Horror or The Exorcist?

In the 1970s, the decade that this drama is set, a pantheon of memorable horror films were produced, such as the aforementioned The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, as well as Don’t Look Now and The Omen, the latter which was largely filmed in the UK. It’s not a decade outside of those that were filmed within it that really lends itself to horror; you’ve only got to look at the fashion and décor for one for horror of a different kind.

But the first part of this effective three-part chiller intrigues and grips from the outset, opening with a girl resting on a grave, which soon banishes thoughts of it being Back In Time For Dinner with ghosts and is more East Is Exorcist.

Perhaps as a nod to all things that go bump in the night we see a TV clip of Michael Crawford on roller-skates in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, which seems a suitable question to put at the feet of the suffering mother re the daughters in this and of course Crawford is perhaps best known to us now as The Phantom.

More recent horror fare, such as The Conjuring, have been set in the 1970s, in fact the sequel is set to be based on this very case, whilst 2012 saw the cinematic release of  When The Lights Went Out, which was also set in 1970s suburbia in the UK, where lights going off could be just as much a blackout as a sign of having something more paranormal – something which is very well addressed in Enfield.

The-Enfield-Haunting-serie-anglaiseHangdog Timothy Spall does a fine job as Maurice Grosse, the paranormal investigator sent to check the story out, who is later joined by Matthew Macfadyen, ironically of Spooks fame. It’s that powercut scene that works so well to show us Spall as the believer and Fox Mulder of the piece, he has even recently lost a daughter in the past year which has given him that drive, with Mulder it was of course his sister. Grosse also has angina, which probably means ghost hunting probably isn’t his ideal vocation.

Macfadyen is our Dana Scully, both aptly representing the viewers who can’t quite make their minds up as to what is happening or if the girls aren’t making the whole thing up.

The momentum and dark foreboding build from the off, complete with misdirection aplenty from the likes of dripping taps, but it isn’t long before we have furniture moved and a dead bird, both ticks in the box for the original Poltergeist as well so it happens. But that is part of the fun, ticking off the conventions and seeing just where it is all going and the jumps and jolts are effective as the tension is truly ramped up.

It’s not long before we get sneaking glimpses of shadowy figures, where one can’t help to think of ‘Pipes’ from Ghostwatch, itself which was heavily influenced by this very case. Kerplunk will never seem the same again either after one sequence, nor will viewmaster. And for me that has been part of the success of the likes of Insidious and The Conjuring, that they have taken otherwise normal, unthreatening objects and make us see them in a different light.

And if by the time of the teapot you aren’t believing in things that go bump in this North London night then, like Matthew Macfadyen, by the time you have been thrown against the ceiling, you will do. After all his character wrote the book this adaptation is based on.

It will leave you wanting for more, which was perfect as Sky Living announced that you could download the next two parts, which is exactly what we did and watched the three parts back to back. I’ll be writing about those as well, but not until after they have actually aired.

Looking at Twitter it seemed to have the same desired effect in others that tuned in, scared to go to the loo, had to watch an episode of Friends to calm down or devoured the next two instalments. As hinted, it may add nothing new to the genre but it is an effective chiller with a higher than average jump count that shows the likes of American Horror Story: Freak Show that chilling trumps gore in the scare department.

And in that it continues a fine tradition of haunted house stories like Robert Wise’s The Haunting that never lose their ability to chill. There may have been numerous books and documentaries on the subject of The Enfield Poltergeist but this first part still kept me gripped, engaged and provided new insights I was not aware of.

Before The Enfield Haunting there was Ghostwatch

The Enfield Haunting, a dramatisation of the UK’s most infamous poltergeist case, starts its three-part run on Sky Living this evening, rather aptly the night of a full moon.

enfield hauntingThe drama boasts both a based on a true story moniker but also a heavyweight cast to give the story some weighty gravitas in the shape of Matthew Macfadyen, as paranormal assistant Guy Von Playfair, Timothy Spall as supernatural researcher Maurice Grosse and Juliet Stevenson as Betty Grosse, used to ghosts of a different kind when she starred opposite Alan Rickman in Truly, Madly, Deeply. In fact it is such a significant story that it is even being used as the basis for the sequel to horror-smash The Conjuring.

Based on Playfair’s book ‘This House is Haunted’, The Enfield Haunting is a supernatural drama based upon real supernatural events that took place at an ordinary house in Enfield, North London, around two sisters during the autumn of 1977 using extensive documentation, recordings and witness statements of the incident as its jumping off point. It’s quite apt then that The Mirror, who also had an exclusive on the original story, reported this week about the ‘real’ paranormal activity that took place on set – commonplace PR these days it seems on ghost/horror stories.

But this isn’t the first time that a project directly inspired by The Enfield Poltergeist has hit our screens, and that proved so powerful and disturbing that it has never been repeated on British television ever again. That was shown one Halloween evening over 20 years ago, that one-off drama was Ghostwatch which caused the switchboard of the BBC to practically melt.

So prior to The Enfield Haunting, creep back behind the sofa and get reacquainted with the horror and terror that it inspired in Ghostwatch…

For those that tuned into BBC1 on the evening of Saturday 31st October 1992 things would never be the same, especially for those of a nervous disposition. The events that took place that evening caused such panic and fear that they have never been repeated again…ever, anywhere…but those who watched it have never forgotten.

Early 90s Saturday night TV could normally be counted on to be a jolly diet of Noel doing his usual from his Crinkly Bottom, Cilla playing cupid and people falling off ladders in Casualty, but Halloween 23 years ago was to prove to be a very different affair.

Mike Smith, Sarah Greene and Michael Parkinson in GhostwatchGhostwatch was an ambitious BBC project that pre-dated Most Haunted by years and saw some of the most respected TV people, Sarah Greene and Michael Parkinson, lend the whole proceedings some gravitas, as they investigated Foxhill Drive, one of the most haunted houses in Britain and have it beamed live into our homes. Parkinson anchored proceedings in the TV studio whilst Greene was based at the house, alongside late hubby Mike Smith and Craig Charles.

That was the premise, I say premise as despite the presence of Parkinson it was all a fake, a rouse, something to give the audience a fright and boy did it work in that department. Written by Stephen Volk, who also latterly penned the also suitably creepy Afterlife, which starred The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln. The drama took its central idea from an actual documented poltergeist case, The Enfield Poltergeist and of course it’s all very apt timing that later this month we also have Poltergeist receive the remake treatment on the big screen.

Looking back at the BFI special edition DVD, its first appearance on any media which also has some great extra features including a commentary, thus showing it to be a seminal piece of British television the like we will probably never see the like of again, some of the acting is a tad ropey but despite this it still drags you in and still unnerves as it did all those years ago.

Certainly for inducing panic and fear, it caused numerous complaints regarding sleepless nights and even allegedly caused a number of women to go into labour and even unconfirmed reports of the suicide of a young man, it deserves to be uttered in the same breath as Orson Welles’ radio presentation of War of the Worlds in 1938, also broadcast on Halloween. And with that in mind you can certainly understand why it has never been repeated, something which almost makes it The Exorcist of the TV world.

We are of course back in traditional haunted house territory here but there are enough efficient twists and moments to make the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up, and if you are watching it on DVD, reach for your remote control in disbelief. Ghostwatch still has the ability to provoke significant chills with scratches appearing on a young girls face, tales of mutilated dogs and the building’s disturbing history and fleeting glimpses of ‘Pipes’, the evil spirit haunting the house. The climax still has the power to shock too with Sarah Greene being dragged into the cellar and the door slamming shut just as we lose contact with the house…

It’s all the more impressive as it is all done live, all done with smoke and mirrors the old fashioned way that is still ultimately highly effective all those years later.

Modern audiences may scoff at it all and wonder what all the fuss is about but you can be sure that there are still those who still cower and freeze at the very mention of ‘Pipes’ in what is one of the most-fascinating pieces of British television history and its viewing is a firmly established Halloween ritual in my house…never too far from the light switch.