Network DVD Sale

I’m a bit late with this news about the Network DVD sale as it’s been running for the last 24 hours or so, but the good news is that it’s on until midnight tomorrow, Sunday 8 August, so there’s still time to nab a bargain.

As a (slightly obsessive) TV fan who mourns the loss of quality drama from UK screens, bar the odd Life on Mars or Being Human every few years, Network’s dedication to archive telly is to be applauded. This new sale finally brings a number of box sets and single volume series down to an affordable price for those who might want to dip their toe in classic (or is that “old”?) television.

The real highlights in the sale for me are the two Callan sets, a series I discovered earlier this year and which I’ve been trying to spread the word about for the last few months. I’ve reviewed both The Monochrome Years and The Colour Years so won’t go into detail here, but the black and white Callans are really a must for any spy fans with even a passing interest in the genre: with dark, gritty and multilayered scripts, Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter are perfect foils for each other, while Anthony Valentine threatens to steal any scene he’s in.

Sticking with adventure and intrigue, the recently released 4 Just Men from ITC is the template for many of the genre series which would see them through the 1960s and 70s and which have now fallen out of favour in the UK. Strangers is an often overlooked police series starring Don Henderson as George Bulman, a copper relocated from London to the mean streets of the north of England who has some odd peculiarities. Later seasons would see Taggart’s Mark McManus join the cast. Continue reading

DVD Review: Callan – The Colour Years

Callan - The Colour Years


Were it possible to corrupt the ratings system of this website, the five stars you see above this review would right now be flashing, in big, friendly letters, the words BUY ME NOW!, with a direct link to a well known DVD retailer and a recommendation to take a long weekend off work to watch all 22 episodes of Callan: The Colour Years.

As it is, I need to write some more about seasons three and four of one of the most consistently high quality series to ever originate from these shores, two years worth of spy-based drama which provided the late Edward Woodward with some of his finest moments caught on celluloid.

David Callan (Woodward) is an agent for a shadowy branch of the British Government, a section which must remain hush-hush while undertaking missions of a sensitive nature involving rival spies and state secrets.

Aided by his very own bête noire, Lonely (Russell Hunter), Callan is briefed by the enigmatic Hunter (William Squire) and for the majority of this run sent on missions alongside the younger, less experienced Cross (Patrick Mower).

While many spy series portray their central characters as strong, upright and in possession of the moral upper-hand, Callan refuses to adhere to any such mores. Instead, series creator and frequent writer James Mitchell (When the Boat Comes In) ensures that the darker side of espionage is always at the forefront of the scripts, Callan’s personal views often infringing on his job and invariably causing him grief.

Opening a few months after the close of the black and white 1960s series, Where Else Could I Go finds Callan recuperating in hospital while the world outside keeps on moving, his old sparring partner Toby Meares (Anthony Valentine) relocated to Washington and the cocksure Cross in his place.

Now free from the noirish confines of the monochrome episodes, the programme embraces the colour revolution by jettisoning Callan’s inner monologues but otherwise maintaining the feeling that a spy’s lot is never a happy one. There are no backlot jaunts to warmer climes à la The Saint or the outlandish adventures of any other number of TV agents here: this is a world of discredited backstreet doctors, rainy suburban streets and the odd back alley.

Episodes such as Summoned to Appear and Suddenly – at Home highlight the expendable nature of innocent (and not-so-innocent) bystanders, while Stephanie Beacham and Michael Jayston’s turns in God Help Your Friends are a salutory lesson in what it really means to be a pawn in the game.

As with the previous DVD set, this truly is a must-buy for the dedicated spy fan, a series which rewards the viewer with layered plots and intelligent scripts performed by actors who clearly knew they were involved in something unique. Buy them now. You won’t regret it.

DVD Review: The Complete Lone Wolf & Cub Boxset


Opening with an execution and closing with an extended, balletic and bloody sword fight, the complete series of Lone Wolf and Cub films (plus “composite” film Shogun Assassin) collected in this gorgeous new box set could never be described as tame.

Sword of Vengeance (1971) begins the series in style, director Kenji Misumi deciding to ignore the inherently pulpy nature of the stories by offering a glorious assault on the senses with as a series of blood soaked fight sequences accompany our heroes on their escape from Shogun ways.

Wakayama makes for a stoic lead, barely uttering a word of dialogue throughout the series, his skill with a sword matched by Misumi (who would remain as director until the third film) and his ever-watchful camera.

The rest of the series, made over a two year period, maintains the high standard of the original, each film opening and closing with scenes of Lone Wolf and his son meandering through some new part of Japan.

Whether its dusty streets, golden desert sand dunes or, in the case of White Heaven in Hell (1974), mountains capped with thick snow, the pair trundle on indefinitely, taking on various enemies as they try to kill them with ever more ingenious techniques.

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DVD Review: Strangers – The Complete Series 1 – 5

The Complete Strangers


British television in the 1970s was something of a haven for cop shows, a place where men were men, slags were slags and Guv was seemingly the preferred title for any officer above the level of Constable.

Viewers more used to the gentle methods of PC George Dixon would soon be choking on their TV dinners as a decade of The Sweeney, The Professionals and a whole new lexicon comprised of shooters, blags and shouts was introduced to the national conscience, not to mention a host of imitators and rivals to Regan and co.

It was in 1976 that ITV brought author Kenneth Royce’s novel XYY Man to the small screen, the story of cat burglar William ‘Spider’ Scott (Stephen Yardley), his extra Y chromosome and the resultant criminal tendencies.

Co-starring in XYY was gruff actor Don Henderson, a man with a face for playing villains, who went against type to portray DS George Bulman, a no-nonsense copper with a violent edge.

XYY would only last 13 episodes, after which Bulman should have been relegated to TV history along with colleague DC Derek Willis (Dennis Blanch) – that is until Granada TV decided they wanted their own version of The Sweeney and lured Bulman away from the safety of the Met to the frozen North West of England circa 1978.

Thanks to Bulman and Willis’ anonymity in the north (they are the Strangers of the title), and after being joined by WDC Linda Doran (Frances Tomelty) and DI David Singer (John Ronane), the pair could go undercover in various operations which would have proved impossible for the local police.

Series One was clearly a something of a baptism of fire for all involved, the desire to create a fast-paced crime show somewhat neutered by the decision to shoot the series on video and give it a Light Entertainment-style theme tune which wouldn’t have seemed out-of-place on a Bruce Forsyth game show of the era.

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DVD Review: Armchair Cinema


“Get yer trousers on, you’re nicked!” Perhaps as well known in modern culture as anything  from the Bard or Dickens, those words are spoken (make that shouted) by John Thaw in the TV movie Regan, presented here as part of Armchair Cinema,  a set which presents some of the most sought after output from one of the UK’s most important production companies, Euston Films.

Best known for such long-running series The Sweeney (of which Regan is the pilot episode) and Minder, Thames TV subsidiary Euston were known for shooting on film and taking their cameras onto the streets of London, realistic dialogue and locations replacing studio-bound settings.

Five discs and ten plays are on offer here, brief summaries doing little justice to the quality and range on offer.

This new package opens with two pre-Euston films from Thames, Suspect (1969) and Rumour (1970), both written and directed by Get Carter director Mike Hodges. Suspect, starring Rachel Kempson and the first Thames drama filmed in colour, is the tale of a murdered girl and the effects on her family of the disappearance starring , while Rumour features Michael Coles as newspaper columnist who stumbles upon a conspiracy involving the UK Government.

The success of these two one-offs led to the creation of Euston Films and a series of plays with different casts and stories that would span the next five years, providing a consistently high standard of television drama to the ITV network.

Continue reading

The Return of Minder


Shane Richie as Archie Daley on Channel Five

It’s been all over the UK press recently that Minder, the classic 70s and 80s TV series starring George Cole as Arthur Daley and Dennis Waterman as Terry, is making a comeback.

Only this time we have Shane Richie as Arthur’s nephew Archie and Lex Shrapnel as his minder, Jamie.

I wrote a while back that I grew up watching Minder, at least in its latter years, and I loved its brilliant mix of drama and humour set among the seedy backstreets of London.

Even in its final few years, when Terry went to Australia, to be replaced by Gary Webster as Arthur’s nephew Ray, I would tune in to see what scam was being perpetrated this week.

A few years back I picked up the first series on Australian DVD, complete with a couple of George Cole commentaries, and admired the grit of the series and the clever plots, as well as the interaction between the leads.

Sadly it all ended in 1994, Arthur hanging his hat up for good and perhaps spending a few more evenings with ‘er indoors as he grew old disgracefully.

I have mixed feelings about the new show, even though I’ve not seen it yet (it’s due to start in February I believe). A review on the Guardian website this week was pretty evenhanded about the first episode, though they couldn’t quite work out who the audience is going to be for the series: the fans will think it’s a bad idea while the kids won’t think its cool enough.

I’ve read that the Winchester Club will make an appearance and it would be great to see the return of Arthur for a one-off appearance, or even Mr Chisholm (Patrick Malahide).

The makers have said they’d love to get Waterman or Cole back for series two, but we’ll have to wait and see whether this can run for as many years as the original or if it’ll be a flash in the pan. I truly hope this can do some justice to the classic series and that they don’t spoil the memory.

I’ll add a review to the blog following the first episode, in the meantime here’s a short trailer for Channel Five with some Minder clips followed by the revamped theme tune from Glasgow band the Attic Lights – I really hope that Richie’s annoying tie straightening gimmick seen in the music video isn’t going to be his “trademark” in the series:

Photo copyright Channel Five

Roger Moore in person!

A simple post title there for a simple enough post – Sir Roger Moore will be live at the National Theatre on October 16 2008 and I’m going to be in the audience!

Out and about to promote his new book, My Word is My Bond, Roger will be interviewed on stage before signing copies for the masses. I can’t wait.

Although Roger isn’t my favourite Bond, I can appreciate what he did for the film series when he took over from Sir Sean. He was also in one of my favourite series, Maverick, back in the 50s and he’s been in so many great/cheesy TV shows and films that he’s a genuine national treasure.

I read his diaries written on the set of Live and Let Die a few years back and they are superb – if the new book is as funny it’ll be worth the trip alone.

I was also lucky enough to tour the Forbidden City in Beijing in 2001, and decided to use one of those pre-recorded cassette thingies with the voice of a tour guide pointing out areas of interest. I was stunned to discover that the English language version was by none other than Roger himself! I had the joy of a 2 hour visit to the Forbidden City with James Bond!

I’ll tell him that fascinating fact on the day. Maybe.

If you’re going, drop me a line and I’ll see you at the bar for a swift Dry Martini before the show…for Queen and Country.