Anthony Newley podcast

The Small World of Sammy Lee

It was over a year ago that I mentioned the Network DVD release of 1960s oddity, The Strange World of Gurney Slade, a title I soon came to cherish and recommend to anyone who’d listen.

Having become slightly obsessed with the work of the series star, Anthony Newley, since that release, I decided to join with some friends to record a podcast celebrating his career.

The podcast was hastily recorded – we made the decision over Twitter one morning and recorded it the same night – but if you’re a fan of Gurney Slade, The Small World of Sammy Lee, Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? or a number of other titles, you may enjoy this hour of chat.

Head over to the first Four Men Just Anthony Newley podcast to hear it.


The Strange World of Gurney Slade on DVD

Vintage TV fans will probably know all about this, but I thought I should mention that The Strange World of Gurney Slade is coming to DVD. The Strange World of who? I hear you ask. That’s a perfectly valid question, as the series in question was transmitted in 1960 and only lasted six episodes, but it’s lingered long in the minds of those who saw it.

Anthony Newley stars as the lead character of Gurney, an actor starring in a situation comedy who breaks through the fourth wall and into our world, or a close approximation. Exploring the very nature of television production and viewers’ consumption of the medium, the programme has been described as The Goon Show meets The Prisoner and perhaps baffled more people than it entertained on original transmission, one of the reasons it didn’t last.

Now restored from the original 35mm, The Strange World of Gurney Slade is out on Monday from the ever-brilliant Network DVD, whose site is currently down following problems caused by the London riots, and it’s screening at London’s BFI tonight. You can read a review over at Cathode Ray Tube and my order has been in for a while now – I hope to be able to report back on the show in a week or two.

In the meantime, here are some trailers from the Network YouTube channel:

DVD Review: Doctor Who – Earth Story

Rather uncomfortably bundling together a First and a Fifth Doctor story together in a collection known as “Earth Story”, the thematic link with the latest Doctor Who release is, well, that they’re both set on Earth. Simple, really.

Combining one story not known for its popularity in Doctor Who fandom – the overt humour in William Hartnell’s The Gunfighters often branding it unwatchable – with another praised for its ability to condense a complex tale into just two episodes in the shape of Peter Davison’s The Awakening, the set makes for an odd combination.

In The Gunfighters, the Tardis brings her crew to the famed town of Tombstone when the Doctor finds himself suffering from toothache. Deciding that America in the 1880s is the best place for medical attention, the Timelord seeks out Doc Holliday (Anthony Jacobs), a man who is currently somewhat at odds with the Clanton brothers, leading to much confusion regarding the Doctor’s identity and a gunfight that really isn’t OK.

In The Awakening, modern day (1984) England is the location for some village war games, recreations of a Civil War battle. As the Tardis materialises, it becomes clear that an alien war machine known as The Malus has started to meddle with the timelines, merging the 1980s with the 1640s and leaving the Doctor, Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson) to try to put things right.

With its dodgy American accents and a script which attempts to play too much for laughs, The Gunfighters isn’t an easy watch. The overuse of the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon, a not-so-witty little ditty sung at various points of the four episodes is wearisome to say the least, while the change in character of the Doctor, Steven (Peter Purves) and Dodo (Jackie Lane) to facilitate them misunderstanding the gravity of their predicament is insulting to the audience.

Taken as a piece of throwaway 1960s TV this is just about passable, with Hartnell on good form and the set design and direction impressive, but as a piece of drama it’s pretty average.

Eric Pringle’s The Awakening is a much better example of Who at its best, the series regulars supported by a high quality guest cast, including ex-Liver Bird, Polly James, and ex-Stig of the Dump, Keith Jayne. Both actors are believable and level out some of the more outrageous performances.

With yet another member of Tegan’s family making an appearance and no sign of the padding which inevitably creeps into multiple part adventures, The Awakening is a lean slice of 80s Who which more than makes up for any weakness evident in The Gunfighters.


With the Doctor Who range’s commentary moderator of choice, Toby Hadoke, in charge of proceedings for both stories, things go smoothly as cast and crew come together to recall their time on the series.

Peter Purves continues his love-in with Who alongside actors David Graham, Shane Rimmer and Richard Beale plus production assistant Tristan DeVere on The Gunfighters, while director Michale Owen Morris and script editor Eric Saward are the slimmed down pairing for The Awakening.

Both tracks are entertaining and informative throughout, an honesty about mistakes made and an admiration for what was managed all those years ago evident from all participants.

The standout documentary in the set is The End of the Line, a frank look at the production of the programme’s third year. Contributions from those who were there are backed up by excerpts from memos and letters written at the time, while today’s fans also help put past events into some context.

It’s an impressive production which, like all the best documentaries, deserves a wider audience than just Doctor Who fans, and one can only hope that at some point in the future 2entertain consider releasing a documentary-only set charting the Classic era’s development.

One of the odder additions to The Gunfighter’s set is the latest installment of Tomorrow’s Times, which sees a badly miscast Mary Tamm looking at how the series was covered in the press in the 1960s. Tamm’s reaction to one piece of Dalek news is quite the strangest thing you’ll see on a Who DVD this, or any other, year.

The Awakening benefits from a return visit to the fictional village of Little Hodcombe by the cast and crew, with contributions from local residents, and it’s a charming insight into the story’s production and legacy. Elsewhere there’s a look at the making of the story’s creature and some extended and cut scenes that didn’t make the final cut.

As ever, both stories feature PDF Radio Times clippings along with photo galleries and production notes, which by no means deserve to be mentioned last but which are hard to do justice to in a review – just make sure you read them and your enjoyment of any Doctor Who adventure will be enhanced.

The Gunfighters ★★★★★
The Awakening ★★★★
Extras ★★★★★

DVD Review: Doctor Who – Revisitations 2

It was in October 2010 that 2entertain first delighted and annoyed Doctor Who fans with the release of their Revisitations DVD set: delighted because three classic stories had been newly remastered with added extras, annoyed because each of them was already available on DVD.

No matter what your feelings about double-dipping on DVDs, the fact was that the first set was an impressive achievement, offering buyers new insights into stories that deserved, well, revisiting.

Now they’re at it again with the re-release of The Seeds of Death, Carnival of Monsters and Resurrection of the Daleks in Revisitations 2: be prepared to be delighted and annoyed all over again.

Revisitations 2The Seeds of Death sees the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) , Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Zoe (Wendy Padbury) cross paths once again with the Ice Warriors who are determined to make the Earth their own.

In Carnival of Monsters, the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) takes centre stage in Robert Holmes’ high-concept tale which sees alien creatures and 1920s passengers on an ill-fated ship brought together thanks to a seemingly benign peepshow.

Finally, Peter Davison dons cricket gear for a turn as the Fifth Doctor in Resurrection of the Daleks. Along with Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson), the Doctor must enter into yet another battle with the Daleks and Davros, this time in 1980s London.

With a number of stories under their belts, Troughton, Pertwee and Davison offer confident performances that make it all look so easy. For anyone simply looking to enjoy more of their favourite Doctor, they’re unlikely to be disappointed.

Script-wise, Seeds is confident enough to leave the Doctor out of proceedings for a good while, before allowing Troughton to quietly take over. As usual, the Second Doctor is happy to watch from the shadows as events spiral out of control, his glee at being the one to save the day palpable.

Director Michael Ferguson keeps things moving at a decent pace throughout, some interesting camera angles introduced as the Ice Warriors make their moves.

For Carnival, Barry Letts does an admirable job of giving energy to Robert Holmes’ layered script, his skill at keeping one eye on the technical side and the other on his cast resulting in an accomplished, and hugely enjoyable romp.

Eric Saward’s Resurrection is the weakest of the three tales, perhaps because we’ve seen the Daleks schemes too many times or perhaps because it’s all just a bit of a muddle. Nothing is quite what it seems here and, apart from a strong turn from Maurice Colbourne as Lytton, it’s hard to care much for anyone.

When it comes to the much-touted extras, the main highlight here is Resurrection’s Come in Number Five, a David Tennant-hosted look back at Davison’s time on the show. With input from many of those involved and some refreshingly honest opinions, Tennant may look a bit grim throughout but this should leave fans of the blonde one happy.

Throw in a new Ice Warriors documentary and a fun look at the monsters that came back for more for Seeds, plus a new commentary, an entertaining look at the making of the story and an investigation into the careers of Who bit-players for Carnival, and you’ve got another fascinating package that tries hard to justify its place on your shelf and, on the whole, succeeds.

Stories ★★★★
Extras ★★★★

DVD Review: Doctor Who – The Ark

Never afraid to stretch themselves beyond their means, the Doctor Who production team took viewers ten million years into the future for 1966’s The Ark, as the Doctor, Steven and Dodo witness the remnants of humanity fight for survival.

Escaping an Earth which is soon to be destroyed, the humans, calling themselves the Guardians, are living in less-than-harmony with their alien servants, the Monoids. When the Tardis arrives and the Doctor (William Hartnell) begins to investigate his surroundings, Dodo (Jackie Lane) inadvertently spreads her common cold to the ship’s inhabitants, exposing them to a virus they’ve managed to overcome.

The ArkDetermined to create a cure which will prevent the wiping out of the Guardians and the Monoids, the Doctor’s success is thrown into doubt when the Tardis crew return to the ship 700 years later, only to find that the course of history has been altered and the Monoids sights set firmly on domination of their one-time captors.

From the confines of London’s Riverside Studios, director Michael Imison and his crew whisked fans across the universe for four episodes, the epic nature of the story only hampered by the budget.

Attempting to give a sense of scale, Imison’s decision to film inserts at Ealing is a well judged one, episode one’s appearance of wild animals and vegetation helping to set the scene.

Splitting the story into two distinct halves, with two episodes allocated to each, is both a benefit and a problem for the story.

Though it does result in a relatively pacy adventure, neither segment has much room for development, with the change in fortune for both the Guardians and the Monoids lacking the drama that might have aided younger viewers’ understanding of the moral issues of slave and master scenarios.

Peter Purves is given a chance to shine in the interrogation scenes, while Jackie Lane struggles to nail Dodo’s accent, which veers between Mancunian and London from episode to episode. Hartnell may struggle with his lines at times, but he has a definite presence about him at all times, while the supporting cast are impressive.

Backing up the main feature are a handful of new extras, the best being Matthew Sweet’s Riverside Story. Here, the broadcaster is accompanied by Peter Purves as the take a tour of the studios and Purves recalls his time on The Ark. The actor is honest and open about his feelings, his memories of Hartnell’s trouble recalling his lines particularly touching.

One Hit Wonder looks at the reasons why the Monoids failed to become a recurring Who monster, while All’s Wells that Ends Wells asks what influence the work of HG Wells had on Doctor Who over the years.

Purves and Imison team up for the commentary, moderated by comedian Toby Hadoke, and the pair offer more interesting insights into the successes and failures of the serial.

Story ★★★★
Extras ★★★★

Remembering Stephen J Cannell

“So that’s it. Cue the end music. Roll the production logos. Bring up the final end card and we’re at: The End.” The final words in Stephen J Cannell’s last novel, The Prostitutes’ Ball

There’s been something missing on this blog for a while now, something I’ve been acutely aware of but which, thanks to time pressures, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do justice to: a tribute to TV producer Stephen J Cannell.

It was last September that the man who created/co-created/produced/wrote/directed series such as The A-Team, The Rockford Files, Hunter, The Greatest American Hero, Stingray, Wiseguy, The Commish and many, many more died at the age of 69.

I’ve noted before that one of my earliest TV memories is watching The Greatest American Hero at the age of five while in Brisbane, Australia. My family had emigrated there in 1982 for what would turn out to be a very short time (we didn’t see the year out Down Under), but certain things linger in the mind. Barbeques. School assemblies. Ralph Hinkley in the red jammies.

A combination of Joey Scarbury’s annoyingly brilliant music and some fast-paced action with a healthy dose of humour meant that to my mind it was televisual manna from heaven, far better than most of the cartoons being thrown my way. At least, I assume that was the thought process. After thirty years things get a little hazy.

A few years later, now back in Scotland, we had a weekly adventure for The A-Team on ITV to look forward too. These days I’m a big Doctor Who fan and I now realise that I was missing the good Doctor each Saturday on BBC1 as I waded through the adverts on The Other Side to see what Hannibal, Faceman, BA and Murdock were getting up to. But The A-Team was shiny and fresh and you could play with the toys in the garden or at being the characters at school. Nobody spoke about Doctor Who back then.

Since then I’ve stumbled across various US series that grabbed my attention and stuck in the mind, usually thanks to their wit and action scenes. Episodes of Hunter and Renegade, mostly only half-watched, screened late night while at school. James Garner in the Rockford Files on weekday afternoons while at university. Repeats of Riptide at 3am on weekends on Channel 5, again while at uni.

What I didn’t realise for a long time was that all of these programmes had something in common, namely Stephen J Cannell. Born in Los Angeles in 1941, Cannell may have had severe dyslexia but he graduated from the University of Oregon in 1964 with a degree in journalism.

It was in 1968 that Cannell sold his first TV script to Universal for the Robert Wagner series, To Catch a Thief. After a few years as a jobbing scriptwriter, Cannell rose through the ranks of TV to end up one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, running his own independent studio and bringing numerous hit series to our screens.

I spent some of Christmas 2010 watching the Archive of American Television’s excellent interview with Cannell, which takes around three hours to get through but which offers a fascinating look into the mind of the man and his dedication to the writing process.

I could go on for multiple blog posts about the skill behind Cannell’s work and the way he makes it all look so simple. He admitted that much of his action/adventure output was targeted at the average Joe who gets home after a hard days work and who wants to be entertained by his TV set. Cannell was happy with being part of mainstream and so were his viewers.

Interestingly, while my love of Cannell shows hasn’t wavered over the years, my own interest in the mainstream has. It’s dangerous to generalise about TV in 2011, but I’ll have a go anyway. While the odd piece of scripted television still comes along that has the power to entertain, excite, scare, chill or in some other way engage the audience, much of it is simplified to the point of being offensive.

A Cannell show may have been dumb fun, but it was never dumbed down. Cannell was happy to keep things looking simple on the surface, but there was usually something more going on beneath. Just watch one of his Rockford’s, where a plot may begin like a standard private eye show before spiralling off into something much odder and always unique.

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DVD Review: Jokers Wild – The Complete Series One

A product of a bygone age, when sexism in the media was rife and women were the butt of many a joke, along with the odd Irishman and Scotsman, series one of Jokers Wild arrives on DVD to show today’s presenters how it’s really done.

Jokers WildBeginning with 1969’s unbroadcast pilot, Barry Cryer is the host of a weekly panel show in which top comedians of the day were asked to come up with jokes relating to the topic written on a randomly chosen playing card. Opposing panelists could interrupt at any time with what they assumed to be the punchline.

Ted Ray and Ray Martine were the two regulars, joined each episode by four more names which obviously meant something to 1960s viewers but who may raise a few querulous eyebrows today. Les Dawson, Lennie Bennett, Roy Hudd, Don Maclean and Ted Rogers are just some of those guests, with each line-up getting at least two episodes together.

Perched uncomfortably on a stool and flanked by a pair of lovely ladies in bathing suits for the pilot, things settle down for the series proper. Filmed in monochrome for the first few episodes, things then stutter into colour as the series progresses, though one thing that doesn’t change is the constant smoking of the contestants.

It’s fair to say that the first handful of episodes are a slightly uncomfortable watch. Whether it’s nerves or a lack of preparation, the banter between the comedians doesn’t always work, Ray Martine’s prickly persona a particular cause of discourse between guests.

With the series’ move into colour, the arrival of a new title sequence and a move to a different studio there’s some settling down of the format, while fresh faces on the panel to give things a different feel from week to week. Of the guest stars, the young Hudd is a breath of fresh air and Rogers is clearly adept in front of the audience. Lennie Bennett seems to be enjoying himself immensely while Alfred Marks doesn’t quite take to things as well as the others.

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James Garner on the Archive of American Television

Over the holiday season I’m catching up with some long overdue viewing, much of it on DVD but part of it online. For the past year I’ve had a website bookmarked, the Archive of American Television, specifically their interview with my favourite actor, James Garner, and the time has finally arrived to watch it.

The Archive was set up by the Television Academy Foundation in 1997 to house over 700 interviews with the pioneers of television, with over 2,500 hours now online. One of my aims in 2011 is to reach back into the murky past of television and cinema as much as possible, and this is a useful way to find out more about the background of some of my favourite series.

First up is James Garner, star of Maverick in the 1950s (which I recently began watching), The Rockford Files in the 1970s and various films such as The Great Escape, Support Your Local Sheriff and The Americanization of Emily. Recorded in March 1999, Garner talks for around three hours about his life and career, including his appearance alongside Marlon Brando in Sayonara which saw him selected for the role of Bret Maverick in 1957.

Garner also discusses his subsequent blacklisting in the TV industry when he chose to sue Warner Bros in the 1960s (the first of many times he would sue a Hollywood studio) and the strain of trying to produce The Rockford Files when his health deteriorated during production.

The actor is tough but fair about those he worked with, including Maverick creator Roy Huggins, noting that he enjoyed the role but not the treatment from Warner Bros, who paid him a pittance compared to their earnings from the hit Western.

If you have three hours to spare, take a look at the six-part interview and listen to one of our finest actors in conversation.

Next up for me is the interview with the late, great, Stephen J Cannell, the writer-producer-director who sadly died this year and whose work I plan to revisit in some detail in 2011.

Custard creams, mafia hits and dragons: The BBC James Bond Archive

Thanks to my interest in just about anything that resides in an archive and has a connection to film and TV (see my Charles Endell, Esquire post for more on that), the BBC Archive website is one I try to keep an eye on, mainly relying on their regularly updated Twitter feed.

Over the last year or so they’ve brought us some fantastic collections, with their Genesis of Doctor Who and British Novelists sections of particular interest. The chance to listen to some radio interviews, read a memo or watch a clip from a BBC long gone is the closest I’ll get to having my own Tardis, and it’s one to savour.

Last week saw the Archive team add a rather substantial early Christmas present to the site in the shape of a James Bond collection, a mixture of 15 radio and TV broadcasts and an image gallery making up the new section. While I’m not quite sure of the significance of December 2010 as a Bond anniversary, that doesn’t really matter when the content is this good.

While most readers of this post can simply take a look around the site, I couldn’t resist jotting down my own thoughts on the collection. I also know that not all of the material can be seen/heard outside the UK, so perhaps it will be of some use to those not fortunate to be served by the BBC.

Starting with the filmed content, the earliest footage on here is from the set of Goldfinger, Time Out – The Guns of James Bond from September 1964. After a very brief introduction from Sean Connery on the Fort Knox set of Goldfinger, we’re introduced to the man who was the inspiration for Q, pistol expert Geoffrey Boothroyd, who takes us through his range of guns and ammunition.

For some reason Connery introduces Boothroyd as a Scotsman from Glasgow, only for Boothroyd to state a few moments later that the BBC have got it wrong and that he’s not Scottish at all. Whether Connery was fed duff information or the script is trying to emphasise the myths that surround Boothroyd I’m not sure (it appears to be the former) but this is still an interesting look into the world of a man who had such a major impact on the world of Bond.

The Tonight programme from September 1964 is a fun four-minute clip in which presenter Kenneth Alsopp is invited to swap his E-Type Jaguar for Bond’s tricked-up Aston Martin DB5. At one point we see the revolving scanner in the driver’s wing mirror, which I don’t recall from the final film – has this been seen on screen since?

Perhaps the jewel of this archive is Whicker’s World: Bond Wants a Woman They Said…But Three Would Be Better!, a documentary from March 1967 filmed on and around the set of You Only Live Twice. Around five minutes of this episode made it onto the two disc Ultimate Edition DVD, but here we get 53 minutes worth of solid gold documentary.

This is an intimate look at the film’s production, with Whicker and his camera crew allowed to mingle with the producers, most notably Cubby Broccoli, and cast as they go about their work in Japan. Broccoli comes across as a shrewd-yet-friendly sort of chap, clearly revelling in the fame and fortune Bond has brought to his world, and he seems to have few worries, save for the fact that Connery had decided he’d soon be hanging up his Walther PPK for good.

There are some classic moments captured on film, including a Japanese press conference which is thrown into confusion when an English-speaking journalist asks a question, only for Connery’s interpreter to insist on translating it anyway. Connery looks bemused by the whole thing and it no doubt added to his distaste of the Bondwagon he was riding at this time.

We also see Connery and his colleagues partaking of custard creams on a small boat, an incongruous sight which shatters any illusion of a suave secret agent. Later we see the actor filming on Ken Adams’ impressive volcano set, while moments before Whicker was standing beside the real volcano in Japan.

As an aside, while watching Connery running about Blofeld’s base in black and white I felt I was glimpsing some sort of alternate universe Bond, one which might have been had another set of producers got hold of the rights and decided to make B-movie versions of the Fleming novels. With his background in TV and smaller films, there’s a good chance Connery would have starred in those as well: this is as close as we’re likely to get to seeing how a series of Bond’s filmed entirely on the backlot of Pinewood or Shepperton might have looked.

Broccoli’s back a few years later on the set of 1979’s Moonraker in Barry Norman’s Film 79. The producer is this time accompanied by the self-deprecating Roger Moore. Barry Norman pushes Moore on why he continually puts himself down in front of the cameras, and its fascinating to hear his response.

The penultimate reel of Bond footage is from a November 1999 episode of the BBC’s long-running science series, Tomorrow’s World, screened a week before The World is Not Enough arrived in UK cinemas.

A clunky looking backpack helicopter, a video camera which looked sophisticated 11 years ago and a robot which can help you mix a perfect dry martini are some of the goodies on offer, and the presenters enter into the spirit of it all (in particular Peter Snow who has a touch of the Q about him) but it’s pretty missable all round.

Finally, on the eve of publication of Sebastian Faulks Devil May Care in 2008, BBC Breakfast invited Young Bond author Charlie Higson and novelist Kate Mosse in to discuss Fleming’s legacy.

Radio-wise, the selection kicks-off with a cracking interview between Ian Fleming and fellow thriller writer, Raymond Chandler, from July 1958. The pair appear to have been left in a BBC studio with a packet of cigarettes and bottle of whisky between them, conversation shifting from their favourite novels to the differences in their writing styles.

Things get very interesting when Fleming quizzes Chandler on how to set up a real-life mafia hit before asking him if he’d ever considered killing anyone himself. Chandler’s matter-of-fact response is a joy to listen to and takes Fleming slightly by surprise. I can’t praise this programme highly enough and it’s the one every Bond (and Chandler) fan should listen to if they want to get more of a feel for the man.

From December 1974 there’s an overview of director Guy Hamilton’s career, including a brief interview with him. As well as insisting that a film’s budget should be seen on the screen and that on-set collaboration is vital, Hamilton has an interesting take on the character of Bond: he’s a latter-day Saint George, with the villains cast as the dragon.

Broadcast in November 1990, a year after Licence to Kill had been released and five years before GoldenEye would arrive in cinemas, Radio 5’s Cult Heroes – James Bond wasn’t promoting anything (though the VHS of Licence may well have been hitting the shops) but Bond himself.

There’s also a brief soundbite from Bond producer Michael G Wilson who states that everything is looking rosy for Bond at this point, though clearly that wasn’t to be the case for much longer. Legal battles would keep Bond off our screens for a while longer, but whether Wilson knew that or not is hard to know.

Speaking of the 17th Bond movie, the original Moneypenny, Lois Maxwell, was drafted onto Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour along with journalist Anne Billson in December 1995 to discuss feminism in the series. This followed the arrival of Judi Dench as the first M in GoldenEye, something which put a new spin on the treatment of women in Bond.

Maxwell explains her theory on the relationship between Moneypenny and Bond and agrees that the girls in the films needed updating. I liked Billson’s idea of a period version of the Bond films, once more setting them in the cigarette-smoke filled clubs of 1950s or 60s London rather than the rather dull present day of Facebook, X-Factor and iPads.

Rather wonderfully, Maxwell, Lois Maxwell returns for Radio 2’s For Your Ears Only, again from December 1995. With the world clearly going Bond crazy again after a long wait for new Bond, the BBC this time decided to take listeners on a tour of the music archives.

Beginning with a clip from the Fleming/Chandler interview mentioned above, Maxwell then introduces us to John Barry, Shirley Bassey, Paul McCartney and more, with soundbites from other interested parties. It’s a cheesy script but Maxwell seems to be having fun with it, and it’s great to hear her again, perhaps the most important Bond girl of them all.

While most of the clips in this archive tend to play up to Bond’s penchant for bad one-liners, 1997’s Radio 4’s Books & Company goes one step further by employing a Sean Connery soundalike to introduce guests such as Bond author Raymond Benson, novelist Beryl Bainbridge and Fleming biographer Andrew Lycett. It’s a pointless gimmick but the content of this 8 minute feature is quite nice, with mentions of Kingsley Amis and some shattering of Bond myths.

Describing Madonna’s Die Another Day theme as a “gimmicky, stuttering, forgettable mess,” before going on to interview former KGB man Oleg Gordievsky about potential terrorist scenarios for the Bond movies, only to have him provide one so realistic they couldn’t actually broadcast it, Joe Cornish’s Back Row programme on David Arnold is another highlight of the collection. Mark Gatiss also pops up to give the name of his ultimate Bond girl.

The final two audios are a five-minute piece from Radio 4 to mark Ian Fleming’s 100th birthday, in which Gordon Corera goes to Fleming’s Goldeneye estate in Jamaica where he interviews the author’s gardener, and a 26 minute Radio 4 documentary entitled James Bond – The Last Englishman.

This last piece is hosted by Professor David Cannadine, who reports from The Imperial War Museum’s 2008 Ian Fleming exhibition on the real-life inspiration for the Bond novels. Cannadine pinpoints two men, Wilfred ‘Biffy’ Dunderdale and Patrick Dalzel-Job, who may have impressed Fleming enough for him to write his books.

It’s a nice potted history of Fleming’s early life and career, one of the more substantial pieces on here. Long time Bond fans will know most of this, but there are some nice soundbites from Andrew Lycett and Simon Winder, the latter the author of the controversial The Man Who Saved Britain.

Finally, there’s a photo gallery from behind-the-scenes of 1976’s The Spy Who Loved Me, with roving reporter John Snagge shown meeting Roger Moore, Ken Adam and Barbara Bach on the film’s submarine set.

So what can we learn from this little lot apart from the fact that Radio 4 loves James Bond and that Alan Whicker needs his own archive collection pretty sharpish? We certainly get to see Connery and Moore drop their guard and realise how disposable the actors playing Bond are, with Whicker and Norman keen to push Broccoli on the how soon they could be replaced on subsequent films.

We also get a feeling for how important Fleming’s novels are to the literary establishment, even if they were looked down upon in their day, critics happy to brand them sadistic and nasty. Everyone has a view on them, positive or not, and the opportunity to hear Fleming in conversation in 1958 is almost all you need if you just want to dip in and out of this treasure trove.

I do wish there had been something about George Lazenby’s time as Bond in the much maligned On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, along with something relating to Timothy Dalton. Something on the critical reception to each of the films on their original release would be welcome.

Until any of that comes along I suspect this archive needs to be a moderate success, so I’d urge you to visit the James Bond collection and to enjoy at least one item, then to tell your friends about it on Twitter and Facebook – give a little Bond for Christmas.

Right, now I’m off to enjoy the almost as vital Hollywood Voices collection which arrived while I was putting this piece together…

Visit the BBC Archive or follow them on Twitter.

Robert Culp and more remembered by TCM

The annual TCM Remembers video has been released, a montage of stills and clips of film professionals who passed away over the last 12 months.

The death of actor Robert Culp was the big one for me this year, someone I’ve admired for the last 30 years in one way or another. I started out as a fan of the knockabout humour of The Greatest American Hero in 1982 before going on to recognise his more nuanced performances in films such as Hickey & Boggs and Hannie Caulder.

The death of Greatest American Hero creator Stephen J Cannell has meant it’s been a double blow this year for fans of that particular show.

Watch the full video, which also contains nods to Leslie Neilsen, Kevin McCarthy, Irvin Kershner and more, below:

ITV1 to screen Coronation Street’s first episode

Don’t panic, this Coronation Street post isn’t the start of a series of blatant attention-grabbing mentions of highly-rated British soap operas designed to pull in as many readers as possible (though an extra two or three would be nice).

No, I just wanted to point fans of classic TV in the direction of ITV1 this coming Monday, 6 December, when as part of Coronation Street’s 50th Anniversary celebrations they’re repeating the very first episode, from December 1960, in glorious black and white.

The episode is cleverly sandwiched between two brand new episodes, meaning modern audiences will be less inclined to switch over during it, but it will be interesting to see if there is a huge drop off in ratings.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that the BBC are paying attention and that for Doctor Who’s 50th in 2013 they screen An Unearthly Child in a primetime slot before The Eleven Doctors 90-minute special.

DVD Review: Sunday Night at the London Palladium


What goes around, comes around. That old adage could be applied to Network DVD’s unearthing of 10 episodes of Sunday Night at the London Palladium, the variety show which began in 1955 in the same week that ITV was born and survived until the 1970s.

Sunday Night at the London PalladiumWith Tommy Trinder making jokes about the amount of medical dramas on TV and reeling off titles of potential programmes that wouldn’t look out of place on the BBC Three of today, as well as 1960 hosting duties being carried out by a certain Bruce Forsyth, it seems that nothing much has changed in the intervening years.

Presenting the public (around 14 million a week in its heyday) with a selection of acts from around the globe, including Mario Lanza, Trio Rayros, Bobby Darin, Dick Shawn and other names that resonated 40 years ago, Sunday Night was a must-see show, Forsyth and a number of other hosts also taking time out to lead members of the audience in a game of Beat the Clock.

Standout in this collection is one-night-only, never to be repeated double act between Brucie and the late Norman Wisdom in a show from December 1961.

Following an actors union strike and the absence of any guests, Forsyth brought on Norman Wisdom as his sole guest for the next 60 minutes.

What resulted is one of the most entertaining hours of television produced in the UK, a tour-de-force from both men which acts as a fitting tribute to Wisdom as he’s allowed to act, sing, pratfall, play instruments as Bruce gives his all to rise to the challenge of arguably the most versatile performer to ever grace ITV.

Though many episodes are missing from the vaults, this set would appear to be a reasonable sample of what viewers enjoyed each week, a top class concoction modelled on US-style shows which never feels like the Brits are simply aping their Yank counterparts.

Undoubtedly worth investing in for the Wisdom episode alone, which accounts for the fourth star in my ratings for the release, the three discs also come with a number of PDF extras, including production material and a series guide.

Doctor Who Exclusive: Artwork for R2 DVD release of The Ark

If you’ve stumbled across this site wanting to see the new artwork for the upcoming Region 2 DVD release of the William Hartnell Doctor Who story, The Ark, then you’re in luck – click on the thumbnail below for the full size image:

The Ark

This four-part 1966 adventure stars William Hartnell as the First Doctor, alongside Peter Purves as Steven Taylor and Jackie Lane as Dodo Chaplet, as the TARDIS lands on a spaceship 10 million years into the future which is headed for the sun, just as Dodo starts to develop a bit of a cold…

Described by the Doctor Who Discontinuity Guide as “A clever and tightly constructed tale that could only work in an era that allows a two episode build up,” and remembered for the rather unique look of the Monoids, the DVD is released in January 2011 by 2entertain.

Follow me over on Twitter for more on this DVD as I hear it.

Interview: Bill Maynard

Bill Maynard

Though perhaps best known to today’s viewers as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass in the ITV drama, Heartbeat, actor and comedian Bill Maynard has a long list of theatre, TV and film appearances to his name. The release of a number of his series on DVD seemed to be the perfect excuse for a chat with the man who has specialised in loveable rogues and larger-than-life characters.

“I did a Greek anti-war play called Stand Up and Retreat Onwards about 40 years ago during the Edinburgh Festival. On opening night there were two men at the door in black suits from the Greek Embassy, I think because it was written by a dissident. They were about the only audience we had.”

I’m talking to veteran actor Bill Maynard over the phone from Edinburgh as he recalls one of his many appearances on stage in the Scottish Capital, part a of a career which stretches back to the mid-1930s and his time touring men’s working clubs in his native Midlands.

Bill’s on good form. After enquiring how he’s keeping – “It’s best not to ask. When you get to my age you’re just happy to get up in the morning,” – I ask how he got into the profession.

“I started at the age of eight as a turn in the clubs, and the day after my first performance I was carted off to a sanitorium with scarlet fever. Whilst I was there my dad brought me a ukulele which I learned to play. When I came out about four months later, leaving the ukulele behind because it was contaminated, I was ready to be released on the unsuspecting British public.

“By the time I was nine I was doing nine entirely different acts, including being in drag singing a song called I’m Knitting a Singlet for Cecil then doing a routine about my boyfriend. I also did an act with a guitar playing cowboy songs and one as a soldier, plus one about a QC with a few jokes about judges.

“We didn’t have to be PC back then, so one was about a cross-eyed judge who has three defendants in front of him. He says to the first one “What’s your name?” and the second one says, “Smith.” Judge says, “I wasn’t talking to you,” and the third one says, “I haven’t opened my mouth yet.” Then he has two in front of him and he says to the first, “Where do you live?” and he says “No fixed abode, Your Honour.” He says to the second one, “What about you?” and he says, “In the flat above him.”

“My first series was in 1955, when I did Great Scott! It’s Maynard with Terry Scott, similar to The Two Ronnies, and then in 1957 I decided I wanted to be a film star – and still do! – and realised I needed to learn to act. I didn’t know you didn’t have to. After a number of years in the theatre, I did my first TV drama as the lead in Dennis Potter’s Paper Roses, then six months later I did Kisses at Fifty at the BBC which won a BAFTA.”

So is it fair to say that most of his work has been in the theatre? “Well, quite a bit has been the theatre, but there’s been a mixture of music hall, TV and around 35 films, most of them forgettable. I try to do as much as possible and bring in to the characters things I’ve learnt.

“For example, when I did Davies in The Caretaker, he wore an army greatcoat and when I went into Heartbeat they wanted me to wear a long black Crombie overcoat. I said it was too sombre and, remembering The Caretaker, I said get him an army greatcoat, because in many ways Davies was like Greengrass, an old rogue and a con merchant.”

I note that for much of the 1970s he was best known as a regular in British sitcoms.

“If producers know they can rely on you then they’ll ask you back and if you’re spending money you can’t take chances. With dramas you don’t need much expertise: a gentlemen much greater than me once said all you have to do is learn the lines and try not trip over the furniture.”

One of Bill’s biggest hits was The Gaffer, which ran from 1981 until 1983. Was it an enjoyable series to make? “Oh yes, I mean it was shot in front of a live audience every week, and to do a sitcom is really hard work, not like doing a drama which are the easiest things to do in the world. To do comedy is fifty times harder than any drama, you’ve got to be a specialist to do comedy but not drama. Anyone can do drama but not everyone can do comedy.”

Bill starred alongside Callan’s Russell Hunter in The Gaffer. “Russell was wonderful, absolutely wonderful, and became a very good friend. The last time I saw Russell he was in pantomime in Perth, and I went to see him. The one thing I remember about Russell is that he had the greatest collection of whiskies of any man I know.”

Bill was also known to younger audiences as Sergeant Beetroot in Worzel Gummidge, a show he remembers with fondness. “That was great fun to make, the only problem was having to get made up. Jon Pertwee would be in the make-up chair for two hours every morning before he could even speak, and I had to have purple make-up and green leaves stuck on me.”

Worzel also occasionally featured appearance from Barbara Windsor, while Bill also starred in some of the Carry On films. What were the Carry On team like on set? “Barbara’s a love. Sid James used to love playing poker, so whenever we had a break we’d sit down and have a poker school, but it was great fun. If you got it wrong you could do it 20 times till you got it right, not like a sitcom when you have to do it all in one night in about 50 minutes.”

The main reason for our chat is the release on DVD of Heartbeat, which recently ended its run on ITV1 after an impressive 18 years. Bill was one of the original cast members, the unforgettable rogue, Claude Jeremiah Greengrass.

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