Saturday, 8 June 2019

The Saint in Puerto Rico - with Parker!

The latest episode of the Saint that I've seen takes him to Puerto Rico, where he finds a poor peasant farmer about to lose his farm because he borrowed money to grow tomatoes in a hydroponic system which failed.
And I remembered reading the original story, many years ago, in which it was made clear (which it was not in the episode) that the poor peasant farmer had been set up to fail because the hydroponic system didn't work, and the man who lent the money knew this.
I also noted that the actor playing the poor peasant farmer had the very un-Puerto Rican name of David Graham.... and that name seemed strangely familiar.

David Graham was quite busy in the 1960s. He's best known for his performance as Parker, Lady Penelope's chauffeur in Thunderbirds - though I wasn't aware until I read his Wikipedia entry that he had also provided the voices for Gordon Tracy, Brains and Kyrano! When Thunderbirds was remade in the last few years, he was the only original cast member to return. He also provided Dalek voices for some of the early Doctor Who episodes.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Merlin's Isle of Gramarye

There was a record and CD sale in the Buttermarket during Hay Festival, and I always go along to see if there's anything interesting and folky - so this title leapt out at me.

Merlin's Isle of Gramarye is a collection of Kipling's poems from Puck of Pook's Hill, put to traditional music. It's by Peter Bellamy, and apparently it's a second collection (so now I'll be looking out for the first one).
Peter Bellamy is joined on the CD by Dik Cadbury, Nic Jones, Dolly Collins, Peter Hall, Chris Birch and Anthea Bellamy, and the songs include Puck's Song, Eddi's Service (the one where the priest says the service to the animals who are the only congregation in his remote little church), St. Helena, The Song of the Red War Boat, and the Smugglers Song.
I think Kipling would probably have been pleased to hear his words set to English folk music, but I did wonder about some of the choices. For instance, shouldn't the Harp Song of the Dane Women be sung by, well, women?

Many years ago, I became aware of the filk songs of Leslie Fish, and others who then put out cassette tapes through Off Centaur. Leslie Fish also adapted the poems of Kipling, and they're now available on CD - as soon as I re-discovered them, I sent off for them, having lent my precious cassette to a folk singing friend who never returned it.
She does Harp Song of the Dane Women too, and the Song of the Red War Boat which, in her hands, has a more emphatic beat as if the singers really are rowing through a storm to rescue their master. She also does the Roman Centurion's Song (which always brings me to the point of tears), and the Female of the Species, and many more.
I have Our Fathers of Old, where she performs with Joe Bethancourt and Kristoph Klover, and Cold Iron, where she performs with Catherine Cook.

I've known the Leslie Fish tunes for a very long time, so I tend to like them better because of the long familiarity, but the Peter Bellamy songs are an interesting different take on the poems, and I'll be listening to them again.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Farewell Avon

I noticed that Paul Darrow was trending on Twitter this evening, and sadly, it is because he has died. He was 78.
Paul Darrow was most famous for his role as Avon in Blake's Seven - he had all the best snarky lines.
He was also an excellent villain in the audio drama Minister of Chance, in a cast that also included Paul McGann and Sylvester McCoy.
On stage, he played Commander Vimes in the adaptation of the Discworld book Guards! Guards!
He was also part of UNIT in Doctor Who, in Doctor Who and the Silurians (as Captain Hawkins), and in the 80s he returned to the series in the story Timelash.
He was the Sheriff of Nottingham in the 1975 BBC version of Robin Hood (and was one of the best things about the series!).
He was also in the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery Murder Must Advertise.
[Edited to add: I completely forgot he also played Cromwell in The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, the graphic novel by Bryan Talbot which was adapted into an audio drama with David Tennant in the title role, by Big Finish]
He played many other parts as well - but this is the moment I'm thinking of right now....

Sunday, 26 May 2019

The Saint Goes Fishing

The Sporting Chance is, without doubt, the most sexist episode of the Saint I've seen so far. Usually, he seems respectful of women, and seems comfortable around women professionals. In this episode, though, he starts off with his usual piece to camera about how women are entering every workplace and sitting on bar stools alongside the men - but there's one place that women do not follow men, and that's the fishing trip.
The setting is a hunting lodge in Ontario, and the plot involves a scientist who has defected to the West but is now being blackmailed to return to the East.
The bad guys are doing this under the cover of a logging company, where the Saint chats to the innocent secretary - who wears glasses.
He says the cliché line - "you look prettier without your glasses", and makes it worse by adding later that she doesn't really need her glasses anyway.
All of this is a pity, because one of the bad guys, Derren Nesbitt who played the Russian sea plane pilot, is great fun, and seems to be channelling Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Derren Nesbitt later appeared in The Blue Max and Where Eagles Dare, as Major Von Happen.

In the next episode I saw, the Miracle Tea Party, the Saint was back to being respectful of women's abilities, recruiting Aunt Hattie, an older lady who was a keen bird photographer, to take photos of customers at a chemist's shop at the heart of the spying ring he was investigating. Aunt Hattie was played by Fabia Drake, who was best known as a Shakespearean actress.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Goodbye, Judith Kerr

My twitter feed today was full of tributes to Judith Kerr, author of the Mog books and The Tiger Who Came to Tea, as well as her autobiography When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. As a child, she was part of a family that fled Germany to come to England just before the Second World War.
She has just died, aged 95.
Last year, she was a speaker at Hay Festival.
I first came across the Mog books when I lived in London in the 1980s, with a teacher friend who videoed children's programmes at home to use with her class. One of them was Mog, and I thought it was delightful.
The picture books still sell well, because Mog is such a lovely character. And the last story, Goodbye Mog, has been known to make grown adults cry.

Monday, 20 May 2019

The Saint Tackles Council Corruption and an Arabian Coup

I enjoyed The Saint Plays With Fire, so I've been watching a few more episodes from late 1963 and early 1964.

The Well-Meaning Mayor starts with a local election, and deals with council corruption in an English seaside town - a new civic centre is being built, and somebody is making a lot of profit from it. Some of the episode was shot on location on a real building site, and it amused me that the entrance to the site had a big sign up saying "New Civic Centre" in case the viewer was in any doubt.
The idea of a council overspending on a building project struck me as being quite topical.

And then there's The Wonderful War, set in a fictional Arab country next-door to Kuwait with every Middle Eastern cliché going. There's a wicked prime minister who organises a coup once oil is found in the country, a young prince who escapes and gets the help of the Saint - and it seems that the Saint can speak fluent Arabic now. He gives a rabble rousing speech in support of the prince, dressed in Arab robes. Oh, and the Arab soldiers are about as good shots as Star Wars Imperial stormtroopers. There's even a hilariously bad sword fight, which is about at the same standard as Richard Greene's Robin Hood. Modern fight choreography is in a totally different league.
The Saint is assisted in his plot to regain the prince's throne by the wonderful Noel Purcell, as an Irish oil man, a pretty girl (daughter of another oil man who has been murdered) and a middle-aged Scottish lady who lives in Kuwait.
There's a feast with a belly dancer, where the Saint is offered a sheep's eyeball to eat. And all the Arab characters are, of course, played by white English actors. The nearest they get to an Arab is Ishaq Bux, who played "Arab (uncredited)" and was actually Indian.
The belly dancer, however, was a real princess - Princess Soraya Esfandiary, the second wife of the Shah of Persia!

Sunday, 19 May 2019

The Saint Plays With Fire

I fancied something vintage to watch last night, and so picked up the next DVD in my pile of The Saint episodes.
The beginning was a bit of a shock, to be honest - The Saint was observing a Fascist rally in Trafalgar Square, with some stock footage of protesters struggling against a cordon of police. I don't know who they really were, but in the story they were anti-fascists trying to get to the podium where the leader of the British Nazi Party was speaking.
A punch up ensued.
The Saint observes to camera how much he hates Nazis, and that it's only 20 years after the end of the Second World War and here they are again.
He's then drawn into an adventure involving files stolen from the British Nazi HQ, detailing the rich donors to the party. This information is passed to a journalist who is going to write a magazine article about it. The whole premise of the story is that, if the magazine article is published, this will be the end of the British Nazi Party, and will totally discredit all the donors. They will, therefore, stop at nothing to prevent the journalist from writing his story, while trying to get the information back from wherever it's hidden.
And the Saint finds out how difficult it is to burn through his bonds with a cigarette lighter held by the beautiful girl he's been imprisoned in a cellar with.

If only today's Fascists could be defeated with a well-placed magazine article....