Friday, 24 November 2017

The Beginning of the Avengers

That's the Steed Avengers, not the Captain America Avengers.

I grew up watching The Avengers, and wanting to be Emma Peel when I grew up (or Sharon Macready from the Champions - I wasn't fussy as long as it involved stylish costumes and the ability to throw a man across a room!)
I was rather too young to have watched the very beginning of the series, though, and I only have very hazy memories of Cathy Gale, Steed's partner before Emma Peel.

So this week a collection of DVD boxed sets arrived at the Cinema Bookshop, where I work - and amongst them was a complete set of the Avengers. So I raided the piggy bank, and I watched the first disc last night.
I was aware that the first season was all about Steed and Dr Keel, played by Ian Hendry - not all of the episodes survive, but the few that do are quite entertaining from a historical viewpoint. Ian Hendry had been the lead in Police Surgeon, which only ran for 13 episodes before running into some legal difficulties, so the idea of the Avengers was thought up very quickly to give him another series to star in, and Steed began as a supporting character. The trademark umbrella and quips are there from the start, though - he's recognisably the Steed of the later series, though he does seem to be a bit more ruthless - he has a thug wailing in fear (off camera so we don't see exactly what he does to him) at one point, and a cut throat razor is involved....

Only the first fifteen minutes of the very first episode survive, and most of those are taken up with a man in a raincoat lurking around a doctor's surgery after hours, which introducing Dr Keel, his fiancée Peggy, and Dr Tredding, the partner in the London practice. Pretty quickly, though, Man in Raincoat's criminal gang decides that Peggy must die, and she is 'fridged' to give Dr Keel his motivation to help Steed bring the criminal gang to justice.
I honestly don't know why they bothered killing Peggy, because the next episode to survive has a new young woman, Carol, as the practice nurse, helping Dr Keel and really, it may as well have been Peggy.
There's a fair amount of location shooting in the episodes, which is fun. I recently watched the Dalek Invasion of Earth, a First Doctor story with a lot of location work around London from just a few years later than this season of the Avengers - so there was Dr Keel helping to get a body out of the Thames on the Embankment very close to where the Daleks later patrolled.
There was also a busy scene of a London shopping street, complete with man wheeling a bicycle laden with onions - I don't suppose many of those shops are still there. However, there was a nice acknowledgement of multi-culturalism, as that week's criminal gang had their headquarters in the back room of a shop owned by an Italian, and Steed speaks Italian to him. One of Steed's informants on the street is a black man, who gets a few lines, too.
And the women are mostly pretty capable - Carol the nurse proves to be brave and resourceful when captured backstage of an Eastern European State Circus. One of the baddies in that episode, The Girl on the Trapeze, is Vera, looking like an early superhero in leotard and long cape - Dr Keel gets to punch several men, but of course Carol can only fight another woman - but it's pretty good for the early 1960s.
There are parts for older women as well, one of whom is the wonderful Doris Hare, as an actress brought in to con a con man (she's pretending to be his mother to expose his con to his victims). As soon as the bad guys are successfully rounded up, she drops the poor old mum routine and shares a glass of brandy with Steed as she gets her fee for the performance.
There's some wonderful slang, too, which can be pretty obscure for a modern audience. One posh character talks about "debs" and "The Season" - young women were still being presented at Court as debutantes in the early sixties, though the custom was about to die out.
And then there's the money - there's a bit of business with Dr Keel paying for tickets for the circus. Sixteen shillings each, with him giving an extra two shillings so he got a ten shilling note in change (there were twenty shillings to the pound). And after all that, they only got to watch half the show.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Goodbye, Mr Rodney

Very sad to hear that Rodney Bewes has just died. He was 79.
Most people seem to be remembering him for The Likely Lads, but I first knew him as Mr Rodney, human sidekick to Basil Brush, trying to be sensible, and reading Basil de Farmer, the Man in Shining Armour in instalments at the end of each show.

In more recent years, he toured a one man show about Three Men in a Boat, which came to local Theatr Brycheiniog.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Taoist Priestesses

So I've just spent a very happy week with my Young Man, during which we did a bit of brainstorming on my latest story. My Steampunk heroine is researching Chinese magic, and as a result, I've been attempting some online research. After a while, I discovered sites talking about Taoist magic, and I was delighted to find that there are Taoist priestesses. So Li Bic will be meeting someone like this in her search for a ritual good enough to fool a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn (she's putting her head somewhat into the lion's den in this one, tangling with real Western ritual magicians!).

Thursday, 9 November 2017

New Doctor, New Costume

Jodie Whitaker's costume as the Doctor has only just been announced, and already there is fan art!
This is by ZestyDoesThings, seen on Twitter:

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Remember, Remember....

The real meaning of Guy Fawkes Night - when a group of conspirators tried to blow up Parliament with everybody inside it.
Okay, they did not have a credible plan - they wanted to restore a Catholic monarchy, with very little political support, by kidnapping King James' nine-year old daughter Princess Elizabeth and bringing her up as a Catholic.
However, it's still important that we should remember it, and not let it get completely swamped by Hallowe'en. Maybe the new TV series with Kit Harington will help. It seems that he's a direct descendent of Robert Catesby, the leader of the conspirators.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Roy Dotrice, RIP

Sorry to hear that Roy Dotrice has died. He was 94.

I remember him first as Father in Beauty and the Beast - the wise, kind older man who held the underground community together.

Later, he played a much more unpleasant father - Wesley's dad in Angel:

And of course he was in Hellboy, with Ron Perlman again.

On stage, he was part of the RSC at a time when many great names were gracing the boards there, including Laurence Olivier, Peter O'Toole and Paul Robeson.

Born on the island of Guernsey, he escaped with this brother and mother at the beginning of the Second World War, and joined the RAF as a wireless operator and air gunner - and ended up in a POW camp after being shot down. After the War, he began his acting career, and was still going strong quite recently, with a small part in Game of Thrones, for which he also read the audio books.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Trowelblazers - Bridget Allchin in South Asia

Here's a fascinating archaeologist with links to Gordon Childe, Kathleen Kenyon, and Agatha Christie!

Bridget Gordon was born in 1927, in Oxford, and during the Second World War she ran the family farm in the Scottish Borders when her father was called up for military service. He was a Major in the Indian Army Medical Service.
After the war, the family moved to South Africa, where Bridget managed to persuade her family to let her study at Cape Town University, where she was taught anthropology and archaeology as part of her African Studies degree. She also learned to pilot a small aircraft, taught by a Battle of Britain pilot!
She returned to London in 1950, where she wanted to take up a higher degree in prehistory at the LSE, only to be told that she needed to do another first degree because the one she had was "colonial".
She went for an interview with Gordon Childe, who was the Director of the Institute of Archaeology at UCL, and walked out ten minutes later with her being admitted to a doctorate focussed on the late Stone Age of South Africa. This was where she met Kathleen Kenyon and Agatha Christie.
While studying, she met Raymond Allchin, late of the Indian Army, who was studying Sanskrit and Hindi. Raymond was offered a PhD scholarship to study the archaeology of the Deccan in 1951, with provision for a wife's fare and allowance, so they got married and set off. First, though, they spent their honeymoon in the Dordogne, looking at prehistoric wall paintings.
At first in partnership with her husband, and later on her own, Bridget established herself as a foremost authority on South Asian archaeology, from Afghanistan to Sri Lanka, with many publications to her name. By this time, she and Raymond also had two children, born in the early 1950s.
One of the projects she worked on was the study of the Great Thar Desert, between India and Pakistan, and stone tools were one of her areas of expertise.
She became secretary-general of the Association of South Asian Archaeologists in 1970, and became editor of Afghan Studies in 1978. She was also the founding editor of the journal South Asian Studies.
In 1980 she and Raymond helped to found the Ancient India and Iran Trust, and she became first secretary, and later chair, of the Trust.
She was also a fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge for 50 years, and in 2014 she was awarded the Royal Asiatic Society's gold medal in recognition of her role as a pioneering female field archaeologist in South Asia. She and Raymond also gave their name to the Annual Allchin Symposium on South Asian Archaeology.
She died in June this year. Raymond died in 2010. There is a joint autobiography called From the Oxus to Mysore in 1951: the Start of a Great Partnership in Indian Scholarship.