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Playlist: Listen, you pretty things! 1964-2015

January 11, 2016

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1947-2016

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CLICK on the track titles for video clips

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David Bowie ~ Liza Jane (1964)

David Bowie ~ Life On Mars (1971)

David Bowie ~ Kooks (1971)

David Bowie ~ Ziggy Stardust (1972)

David Bowie ~ The Jean Genie (1973)

David Bowie ~ Rebel Rebel (1974)

David Bowie ~ Young Americans (1975)

David Bowie ~ Speed Of Life (1977)

David Bowie ~ Heroes (1977)

David Bowie ~ Ashes To Ashes (1980)

David Bowie ~ Modern Love (1983)

David Bowie ~ Slow Burn (2002)

David Bowie ~ Lazarus (2015)

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Goodbye, David Bowie – until your next incarnation…

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Image video courtesy of Helen Green

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Playlist: Listen, my friends! ~ January 2016

January 3, 2016

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In the words of Moby Grape… listen, my friends! Yes, it’s the (hopefully) monthly playlist presented by George’s Journal just for you good people.

There may be one or two classics to be found here dotted in among different tunes you’re unfamiliar with or have never heard before – or, of course, you may’ve heard them all before. All the same, why not sit back, listen away and enjoy…

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CLICK on the song titles to hear them

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Bing Crosby ~ Let’s Start The New Year Right (1942)¹

Sonny and Cher ~ Little Man (1966)

Joni Mitchell ~ Little Green (1967)²

Fenwyck ~ Mindrocker (1967)

Spirit ~ Life Has Just Begun (1970)

Junior Parker ~ Taxman (1971)

Stelvio Cipriani ~ La Polizia Chiede Aiuto (1974)³

UFO ~ Let It Roll (1975)

Kansas ~ Dust In The Wind (1978)

Joan Armatrading ~ Flight Of The Wild Geese (1978)4

Musique ~ In The Bush (1978)

Aztec Camera ~ Walk Out To Winter (1983)

Kate Bush ~ Under The Ivy (1985)

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¹ As featured in the musical movie hit Holiday Inn (1942), which was effectively remade 12 years later as White Christmas; the song of the same name also first appeared in the former film

² Mitchell’s terribly moving song written for the daughter she put up for adoption when a struggling singer in 1965, here performed at New York City’s Café Au Go Go two years later; the tune would later be included on her seminal album Blue (1971)

³ The wonderfully idiosyncratic title track from the score of the 1974 Italian giallo/ poliziottesco movie (English translation: What Have They Done To Your Daughters?), which was also used to unforgettable effect in the pyschological-cum-comic thriller Amer (2009)

4 From the Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris-toting, mercenaries-on-a-mission pseudo-classic The Wild Geese (1978)

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Retro Crimbo 2015: fifty fantastic seasonal snaps

December 23, 2015


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I’ll be (phoning) home for Christmas: E.T. remained hugely popular throughout the second half of 1982, not least at Christmas – racing away to become global cinema’s then all-time box-office champ

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We live in the age of the selfie, peeps – there’s no getting away from it. An era when sometimes marvellous, often personal moments in time are captured at rather odd angles with elongated arms stretching away from the image’s edge towards the body of one of the photographees. Don’t get me wrong, some selfies are inspired, but rarely by design and usually for their hilarity – and celebrity selfies too often seem to smack of smugness and shameless self promotion (especially if posted on social media).

But just what has this Scrooge-like curmudgeonly diatribe got to do with Christmas and this very post, you may ask? Good question. The answer, my friends, is that back in the days of lore snaps captured of celebrities at this most wonderful time of the year tended, by comparison to those of today, to record a fundamentally more appealing, nay can’t-tear-your-eyes-away quality; a starriness, I guess. Not least because a fair number of them were deliberately posed and so nicely designed, containing none of that need for social media-influenced immediacy. In short, they were (and are) timeless. Just like – oh, you lucky merry muckers of mine – the half-century of festive fancies that follow below. Merry Christmas…!

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HOVER OVERCLICK ON or OPEN IN A NEW WINDOW the images for information

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Retro Crimbo 2015: Playlist ~ Listen, my bodaciously baubled buddies!

December 13, 2015

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In the words of Moby Grape… listen, my friends! Yes, it’s the (hopefully) monthly playlist presented by George’s Journal just for you good people.

There may be one or two classics to be found here dotted in among different tunes you’re unfamiliar with or never heard before – or, of course, you may’ve heard them all before. All the same, why not sit back, sip a glass of mulled wine, munch on a mince pie and listen away; for in the words of Noddy Holder, ittttttt’s… well, I’m sure you know what comes next…

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CLICK on the track titles to hear them

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The Bert Kaempfert Orchestra ~ Jingo Jango (1963)

Three Blonde Mice ~ Ringo Bells (1964)

Vince Guaraldi Trio ~ Christmas Time Is Here (1965)¹

Joan Baez ~ The Little Drummer Boy (1966)

The Bob Crewe Generation ~ Winter Warm (1967)

The Free Design ~ Close Your Mouth (It’s Christmas) (1968)

James Brown ~ Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto (1968)

Claudine Longet ~ Snow (1968)

Peter, Paul & Mary ~ The Marvelous Toy (1969)

Marty Feldman ~ A Joyous Time Of Year (1969)

Jackie DeShannon ~ Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown? (1969)²

The Salsoul Orchestra ~ Christmas Medley (1976)³

Roberta Flack ~ 25th Of Last December (1977)

Spinal Tap ~ Christmas With The Devil (1984)

Max Headroom ~ Merry Christmas Santa Claus (You’re A Lovely Guy) (1986)

Bugs Bunny & Friends ~ The Halle-Looney Chorus (Medley) (1994)

Kermit The Frog ~ It Feels Like Christmas (2014)

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¹  As featured in the seminal US TV seasonal animated special A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

² The marvellous Ms DeShannon’s cover version of Nina’s original (written by John Barry and Hal David), which was recorded the same year for the soundtrack of the festive-themed Bond movie On Her Majestys Secret Service

³ A, yes, 12-minute-long medley of songs performed by the backing band for New York disco label Salsoul Records, featuring the tinseled tunes that are (deep breath) Joy To The World; Deck The Halls; O, Come All Ye Faithful; Jingle Bells; Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; Santa Claus Is Coming To Town; The Christmas Song; White Christmas; Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer; I’ll Be Home For Christmas; Winter Wonderland; The First Noël and We Wish You A Merry Christmas. The single’s B-side of was, of course, the seven-minute-long ‘New Year’s Medley’

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What a Carry On: Carry On Camping (1969)/ Carry On Again Doctor (1969) ~ Reviews

November 23, 2015

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That’s right. Following the highs of the latest Bond movie’s release – and all the 007 hullabaloo that inevitably accompanied it – there’s only one place for a retro blog like this to go… er, yes, back to the Carry Ons. And, in particular, back to George’s Journal’s ‘Carry On’-athon – a season of re-watching, reviewing, rating and ranking every one of the classic British cinematic comedy saga’s entries in chronological order (it was originally a ‘summer season’; now, admittedly, it’s morphed into more of a ‘summer-cum-autumn-cum-winter season’, but alas, what can you do?).

Anyway, its latest post takes a look back at arguably two of the series’ most iconic efforts, but – memorable in many ways though they are – did 1969’s Carry On Camping and Carry On Again Doctor make for a fitting comic outro for the ’60s and, more to the point, were they actually any good…?

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How it works:

  1. The ‘Carry On-athon’ takes in all 29 cinematically released Carry On films, chronologically from Carry On Sergeant (1958) right through to Carry On Emmannuelle (1978), excluding the compilation-clip-comprising That’s Carry On! (1977) and Carry On Columbus (1992), whose inclusion in the original series might be said to be a bit tenuous
  2. The reviews consist of 10 categories or movie facets, the inclusion of which tend to define a Carry On film as a Carry On film (‘the regulars’; ‘the crumpet’; ‘the setting’; ‘the plot’; ‘sauciness’; ‘cross-dressing’; ‘catchphrases’; ‘character names’; ‘music’ and ‘overall amusement’), each of which are rated out of 10, thus giving the film in question a rating out of 100, which ensures all 29 films can be properly ranked – the ratings are made up of ‘Boggles’, after Sid Boggle, Sid James’s utterly iconic character from Carry On Camping (1969)
  3. There’s also an ‘Adjuster for each film’s rating (up to plus or minus 10 ‘Boggles’) to give as fair as possible a score according to its overall quality as a film.

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Matron! Take them away!

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Talbot Rothwell; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 88 minutes; Released: February 1969

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The regulars

Sid James; Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Barbara Windsor;
Hattie Jacques; Joan Sims; Bernard Bresslaw; Peter Butterworth/
semi-regulars: Terry Scott; Dilys Laye (final film); Julian Holloway; Valerie Leon

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The crumpet

Barbara Windsor; Valerie Leon; Sandra Caron; Elizabeth Knight; Gilly Grant; Trisha Noble

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The setting

Contemporary (late ’60s) Britain; sending up campsite holidays

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The plot

Sid and Bernie have so far unsuccessfully managed to get in on with their somewhat uptight girlfriends Sims and Laye, but after an ill-advised visit to a nudist film, Sid hits on the idea of taking them all to the campsite featured in the film, presumably believing the necessity for everyone to get their kit off’ll work as an aphrodisiac. However, on arrival at the ‘Paradise Campsite’, he discovers it’s the wrong one – this one’s a drab dump that requires clothes-on at all times. They’re joined here by always-campsite-holidaying married couple Scott and Betty Marsden – who are putting up a freeloading Hawtrey (much to Scott’s utter chagrin). But things finally look up for Sid, Bernie and Scott when Williams and Jacques arrive with a bunch of young nubile things from the finishing school they run, ‘Chayste Place’, (whom haven’t been able to return home for the school holidays). Worldly to a tee all of them, their leader in amorous antics is inevitably Babs, whom immediately catches Sid’s roving eye…

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Would you like sauce with that?

Of all the later Carry Ons (those from the late ’60s through to the end), Camping possibly hits the balance of sauciness best; in fact, it arguably gets it absolutely spot on – there’s certainly a lot of it, but it’s neither smutty nor overdone. Everybody remembers that scene in which Windsor’s bikini top flies off during morning exercises (“And – fling!”), yet that’s one of several highlights, many of which revolve around splendid double entendres rather than visual gags – the nudist-film-opening especially (“Aren’t you staying to the end?”/ “I’ve seen enough ends already, thank you”).

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Cross-dressing to impress?

Not a jot. But Sid and Bernie do dress up as ‘hippies’ in the climax and, unmissably, the former dons a monk’s habit during a trip to a nearby monastery to arrange a rendezvous with Babs and her friend for later (“Not ’arf, Brother – we’ll be over after lights-out”/ “Bless you, my children”).

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Catchphrase count

‘Yak-yak-yak!’ (James): 10; ‘I only arsked’ (Bresslaw): 1

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Marvellous monikers

Sid Boggle (James); Dr Kenneth Soaper (Williams); Charlie Muggins (Hawtrey);
Miss/ Matron Haggerd (Jacques); Joan Fussey (Sims); Bernie Lugg (Bresslaw);
Mr Fiddler (Butterworth); Peter Potter (Scott); Anthea Meeks (Laye); Harriet Potter (Betty Marsden)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

Easily one of – if not the – most memorable Carry On score, this one boasts Rogers’ ebullient main theme which accompanies all the visual jolliness perfectly, mirroring the on-screen team working at the very top of their games and seemingly enjoying every moment. To be honest, much of the music one associates with the series can be heard in this film, which emphasises just how good the score is.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

Thanks to its excellent dialogue, Camping is resplendent with as much wit and sass as it is sauce; read: it delivers the goods when it comes to the funnies and more. This is seaside postcard humour writ large on the cinema screen – not least because it’s poking fun at every turn at the typical crap, rainy, (mostly) sexless British holiday in tents. Sid’s in his element in maybe his archetypal Carry On role (look at all those ‘yak-yak-yaks’), as is everyone else, frankly; Scott’s bored husband driven to complete desperation is brilliant. And special mention too should go to Williams and Jacques, as their she-wants-it/ he-definitely-doesn’t repartee here was never equaled – let alone bettered – elsewhere.

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Adjuster: 0

An unadulterated Carry On classic, Camping isn’t just the best recalled – and thus arguably most iconic – but also one of the funniest and most satisfying in the series. It’s certainly neither big nor clever, but is almost perfectly executed from start to finish; the only slight let-down being the naff  ‘hippie rave’ that all the campers (apart from the young girls and Hawtrey’s pervy Mr Muggins) prudishly seek to sabotage. All the same, if this flick doesn’t entice you to get under canvas with the Carry Ons, nothing will.

Total Boggles

89/ 100

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The best bit

There’s so many, truly. But maybe Sid and Bernie’s arrival at the campsite and their opening encounter with the owner, Butterworth’s scrounging farmerly Mr Fiddler, pips all the others (see video clip below).

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The best line

“Let’s face it, we are lumbered with two birds with prohibitions” (James)/
“You mean inhibitions” (Bresslaw)/
“I mean prohibitions – they just won’t allow us” (James)

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Trivia

Camping was such a success on release it actually hit #1 at the UK box-office

At one point, Jacques’ character claims she used to work in a hospital and was in love with a man whom looked just like Williams’ character – this is a direct reference to her role in Doctor (1967) and suggests, for the first and only time in the series, the same character appears in two different movies

As the movie was filmed during the autumn of 1968, the campsite shooting was plagued by bad weather, in which case the location often turned to mud, so had to be spray-painted green to look like grass

Windsor’s friend Fanny is played by Sandra Caron, whom would go on to portray ‘Mumsie’ in The Crystal Maze (1990-95) and is the sister of Alma Cogan, pop star and one-time lover of John Lennon

Amazingly, the BBFC passed Camping for an ‘A’ (now PG) certificate despite the topless nudity at its start, apparently because the footage came from a supposedly non-sexually themed, late ’50s nudist film.

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They told me you were a wonderful surgeon”/
Well, I suppose I am a cut above the rest

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Directed by: Gerald Thomas; Screenplay by: Talbot Rothwell; Composer: Eric Rogers;
Country: UK; Certificate: PG; Running time: 85 minutes; Released: August 1969

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The regulars

Sid James; Kenneth Williams; Charles Hawtrey; Barbara Windsor;
Hattie Jacques; Joan Sims; Jim Dale (final film); Peter Butterworth/
semi-regulars: Patsy Rowlands (first film); Valerie Leon; Peter Gilmore

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The crumpet

Barbara Windsor; Valerie Leon; Shakira Baksh; Yutte Stensgaard; Elizabeth Knight

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The setting

Contemporary (late ’60s) Britain and a fictitious island in the South Pacific;
sending up private health clinics

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The plot

After one too many amorous, clumsy antics, Dr Nookey (Dale) escapes being struck off by reluctantly taking up the offer of Dr Carver (Williams), his boss at Large Hampton Hospital, of a role at the Beatific Islands’ missionary. Finding the place a mosquito-afflicted, rain- and windswept backwater, Nookey soon despairs – not least as he’s left his girlfriend (Windsor) behind in Blighty. Until, that is, he discovers the mission’s randy, happy-go-lucky orderly Gladstone Screwer (James) has concocted a serum enabling the local women to lose weight. So, returning to the UK, Nookey goes into partnership with rich patroness Mrs Moore (Sims) and sets up a weight-loss clinic for women, while the jealous Carver – who’d also wanted Moore to fund a clinic – and underling Dr Stoppidge (Hawtrey) investigate.

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Would you like sauce with that?

With the notion, by 1969, of the sexual revolution pervading the UK’s way of life (indeed, on arriving in Blighty, Sid’s character mentions twice he wants into the ‘permissive society’), this Carry On-er is very aware its in its interest to build on Camping’s work and up the sauce-o-meter. The references to sex – and, among them, not just the puns and innuendos – are franker than ever before (but don’t overstep the mark), while we certainly see more of Babs than ever before, including her bare behind – which, let’s be honest, is something of an appealing elephant in the room when it comes to Again Doctor’s bawdiness.

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Cross dressing to impress?

The transvestism in Again Doctor doesn’t offer us anything we haven’t seen before in the series, but it’s certainly satisfying. And again, not for the first time, it’s good old Charlie Hawtrey who’s on cross-dressing duties, donning a dress, uncomfortable underwear, a wig and feminine specs to pose as the would-be stuffy aristocratic ‘Lady Puddleton’ in order to inspect Nookey’s weight loss clinic at close quarters and, against his wishes, have to brush off Sid’s not-very-fussy colonial-on-the-make and not ‘reveal’ himself as Sims’ benefactor-cum-patient reveals how she likes to sleep in the nuddy.

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Catchphrase count

‘Yak-yak-yak!’ (James): 11; ‘Oh hello!’ (Hawtrey): 2; ‘Corrr!’ (Dale): 2

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Marvellous monikers

Gladstone Screwer (James); Dr Frederick Carver (Williams);
Dr Ernest Stoppidge/ ‘Lady Puddleton’ (Hawtrey); Matron Soaper (Jacques);
Maud ‘Goldie Locks’ Boggins (Barbara Windsor); Dr James Nookey (Dale);
Deidre Filkington-Battermore (Leon); Nurse Willing (Elizabeth Knight); Scrubba (Baksh)

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Plum notes or bum notes?

Compared to the highs of his directly preceding Carry On scores (Doctor, Up The Khyber and Camping), Rogers’ music for Again Doctor is rather perfunctory; it’s perfectly fine, just rather unoriginal. Worthy of note (and again unoriginal, but nicely so) is the fact that, if you listen carefully you’ll hear during Jim Dale’s drunken light-fantastic-tripping at the hospital dance, the band plays notes from the scores of both Cabby (the actor’s debut in the series) and Spying (another Dale-starring effort). Actually, the band’s leader is played by, yes, Eric Rogers himself.

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Do carry on or titter ye not?

With Dale as amorous lead (James’s ‘barbaric’ lothario is much more a curiosity to laugh at than empathise with), it’s his – albeit more aggressive than ever before – skirt-chasing on which most of the laughs hang. And he and the script don’t let the side down at all. Less satisfying (and therefore less funny), though, are his Frank Spencer-esque stunt antics, which come off as rather daft and dated slapstick; still, he’s very game. Granted, Williams, Jacques and Butterworth are bit wasted – although the latter’s brief appearance does result in one of the film’s funniest moments (see video clip below).

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Adjuster: 0

Clearly greenlit off the back of Doctor’s huge success, Again Doctor nonetheless gives a nice spin on the oft-repeated hospital setting by upping sticks to a colonial hellhole and throwing in a private practice theme. A little franker and more modish than earlier contemporary-set efforts, it’s as knowing as the series’ best and, although there’s way too little of Jacques, Dale truly shines in his Carry On swansong.

Total Boggles

80/ 100

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The best bit

It may be a cliché to go for Windsor’s introduction in her almost-not-there-at-all bikini bottoms and pasties, but her interactions with a lusty Dale and a dismissive Jacques is bawdy comedy at is best

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The best line

“Marry me, are you mad? Marry me in the middle of the night?” (Jacques)/
“Oh, don’t worry about that. Where I come from it’s a very simple ceremony … we just make a cut in each other’s left hand, put ’em together, say ‘we are one’ and it’s all legal (James)/
“Oh, I see. Sort of instant wedlock” (Jacques)/
“That’s it. Only out there they call it a bleeding ceremony” (James)/
“Yes, they often call it that here too” (Jacques)

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Trivia

Jim Dale insisted on doing all his own stunts in Again Doctor, the result of which was he broke his arm

The cameo of Steptoe And Son (1962-74) star Wilfred Bramble (very much in the guise of his character in the sitcom, i.e. a ‘dirty old man’), is accompanied by notes from that show’s theme tune, as had been Harry H. Corbett’s appearance – at least at one point – as the lead in 1966’s Screaming!

In 1973 Shakira Baksh married Michael Caine – after he spotted her in a coffee commercial on TV and impressively tracked her down; 42 years later they’re still married.

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Carry On Ranking

(All out of 100; new entries in blue)

1. Carry On.. Up The Khyber (1968) ~ 90

2. Carry On Camping (1969) ~ 89

3. Carry On Cabby (1963) ~ 85

4. Carry On Screaming! (1966) ~ 83

5. Carry On Cowboy (1965) ~ 80

Carry On Again Doctor (1969) ~ 80

7. Carry On Doctor (1967) ~ 79

8. Carry On Cleo (1964) ~ 68

9.  Carry On Nurse (1959) ~ 65

10. Carry On Constable (1960) ~ 63

11. Carry On Spying (1964) ~ 62

12. Carry On Jack (1963) ~ 61

13. Carry On Cruising (1962) ~ 60

14. Follow That Camel (1967) ~ 59

15. Carry On Sergeant (1958) ~ 58

16. Don’t Lose Your Head (1966) ~ 57

17. Carry On Teacher (1959) ~ 56

18. Carry On Regardless (1961) ~ 55

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Keep calm,
the Carry On reviews
will, yes, carry on

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Playlist: Listen, my friends! ~ November/ December 2015

November 11, 2015

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In the words of Moby Grape… listen, my friends! Yes, it’s the (hopefully) monthly playlist presented by George’s Journal just for you good people.

There may be one or two classics to be found here dotted in among different tunes you’re unfamiliar with or have never heard before – or, of course, you may’ve heard them all before. All the same, why not sit back, listen away and enjoy…

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CLICK on the song titles to hear them

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Nancy Sinatra ~ The Last Of The Secret Agents? (1966)

Mary Hopkin ~ In My Life (1969)¹

The Small Faces ~ Collibosher (1969)

It’s A Beautiful Day ~ Let A Woman Flow (1970)

Johnny Paycheck ~ (Don’t Take Her) She’s All I Got (1971)

Quincy Jones ~ Theme from The Anderson Tapes (1971)

Shirley Bassey ~ Vivo Di Diamanti (1972)²

Barbra Streisand ~ I Won’t Last A Day Without You (1974)

Sammy Davis, Jr. ~ You Can Count On Me (1976)³

Giorgio Moroder ~ Too Hot To Handle (1977)

Odyssey ~ If You’re Lookin’ For A Way Out (1980)

Men Without Hats ~ Safety Dance (1982)

Ultravox ~ Dancing With Tears In My Eyes (1984)4

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¹ A sublime performance by the über-sweet folky chanteuse of John Lennon’s Beatles classic on US network ABC’s pop showcase The Music Scene (1969-70)

² A rare but, let’s be face it, fookin’ brilliant Italian-language version of La Bassey’s bombastic Bond theme par excellence

³ The incomparable entertainer’s pretty much incomparable lyrical take on the theme from kitsch but cool, classic cop show Hawaii Five-O (1968-80)

4 The hit that re-established Ultravox as a chart-friendly synth pop force (UK #3), its video memorably chose the Cold War-informed narrative of composer and lead vocalist Midge Ure racing home to be with his family before nuclear annihilation, the epilogue of which features would-be poignant home movie footage of Ure and his ‘wife’ in fantastically naff ’80s knitwear. Marvellous.

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Coming s007n… Bond returns: The dead are alive – and kicking? ~ Spectre (2015)/ Review

November 1, 2015

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Directed by: Sam Mendes

Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen, Stephanie Sigman
and Alessandro Cremona

Screenplay by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth

Certificate: 12A; Country: UK/ US; Running time: 148 minutes; Colour

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Note: if you’re yet to see Spectre, this review is a tad spoilery; not too much, but a little…

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There’s a rule of thumb among Bond fans (well, when I say among Bond fans I really mean for this particular Bond fan; not many others tend to share it with me, but hey, their loss and all that), anyway, this ‘rule’ or, if you prefer, ‘law’ could be referred to as the ‘fourth Bond movie mis-step’. The idea goes that for actors who’ve enjoyed successful, long runs as Bond, their fourth adventure tends to be so big and brash that it’s simply overblown, thus a bit of an ill-conceived mis-step. To wit, Connery in 1965’s Thunderball (glamorous but very long with slow underwater bits), Moore in 1979’s Moonraker (aka ‘Carry On Bond In Space’) and Brosnan in 2002’s Die Another Day (Bond vs. Robocop). The question has to be then, does 007 d’aujourd’hui, Daniel Craig, fall into this quattro-Bond-picture trap with Spectre? Is he squids in or is this a tentacle too far? The answer, my friends, is he (along with his collaborators) pulls it off. In fact, you bet his perfectly formed arse he does.

The fundamental reason why Spectre doesn’t just work but heroically succeeds as a Bond film, following in the wake of its most recent predecessor, the extremely well received golden-anniversary-celebrating Skyfall (2012), is because it blends the ambitiously fantastical look, sound and general sensibility of that handful of truly epic Bond efforts from the ’60s and ’70s with the character-focused, pseudo-realistic philosophy of the modern 007 Craig era. It’s big, bold and extravagant and sleek dark, and hard.

And, let’s not be flippant about this, that’s one hell of an achievement. All right, Spectre isn’t perfect (no Bond film so far has been and this one may not be the series’ tippermost, toppermost high), but it scales the heights for sure; so much so, it could almost reach the summit of an exclusive clinic-toting Austrian Alp. Or of a giant skeletal figure to be seen during a bacchanalian Mexican festival. Or of that new, eerily onerous glass tower that’s sprung up out of nowhere on London’s Vauxhall Embankment.

And why has that sinister, shiny glass tower been built right next to the burned-out shell that was once the HQ of the UK’s MI6? The ‘00’-Section (especially its relatively new inner team – returning from Skyfall – Fiennes’ M, Whishaw’s Q, Kinnear’s Tanner and Harris’s now desk-bound Moneypenny) certainly want to know. But they’re left horrified when they learn it’s to be a new home for a combined MI5 and MI6, the Centre for National Security, under the leadership of Scott’s young, cocky new boy Max Denbigh (codenamed ‘C’ – now what could that stand for?).

But what of Bond? He’s got other things on his mind, much to the chagrin of M (whom rebukes him for, pre-titles, going AWOL) and to the consternation of both Q and Moneypenny, whom our man ropes into his clandestine mission. Which has all come about because of a mysterious message he was left just after the events of Skyfall concluded… The basis of Spectre’s plot then is the standard paranoiac stuff of post-millennial espionage fiction (including, of course, the first three Craig Bond movies); where the film significantly departs from its series’ most recent entries, though, is in style and tone.

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There are dinner jackets and there are dinner jackets, this is the latter: a white-tuxedoed Craig and Seydoux appear to approve of Spectre’s rich and glamorous aspirations – and nods to Bond of old

In the style stakes, this is a stonker of a 007 escapade. So colouful and luxuriant is much of the cinematography that the film’s visuality often feels as rich as an entire box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates (DOP Hoyte van Hoytema, you’re definitely spoiling us – Academy take note, if Roger Deakins before him deserved a nom, then Hoytema deserves one too). Austrian Alp vistas fill the screen with pure white or misty, snowy  lakes; Central American carnivals come off so vibrant and brilliant they dance right out of the screen; Rome at night feels like Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) made colour (all burnished browns and slivery silvers); and the Sahara Dessert looks positively paradisical, an oasis of golden sand. Composer Thomas Newman (a Skyfall alumnus) deserves recognition too for delivering a score that, although not as dynamic and distinguished as his last one, contains some excellent cues and rises and soars to meet the visuals’ most epic moments.

And in terms of tone, don’t doubt it (you may have been misled by the trailers here) Spectre is, for the most part, of the entertainment-first school of Bond film; more a Goldfinger (1964) or Thunderball, a You Only Live Twice (1967) or Spy Who Loved Me (1977) – with all of which it shares its epic aspirations – than a Living Daylights (1987) or Casino Royale (2006). It’s grandstand stuff, chock-full of action involving helicopters, aeroplanes, speedboats, trains, brand new Aston Martins and villains’ lairs (yes, you read that right, villains’ lairs!); all fast, frisky, violent and explosive, cemented to that lavish colour palette.

Special mention here must, indeed, go to the pre-title sequence, which although it kicks things off is arguably the flick’s tour de force. It’s truly a visual and sonic feast, set in the midst of Mexico City’s Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations, opening with a breathtakingly long Touch Of Evil (1957)-esque tracking shot and developing into a genuinely edge-of-the-seat action set piece. It’s the series’ best pre-title sequence yet. Honestly.

Also, Spectre is the funniest Bond film we’ve had for some time. Continuing the trend of a return to obvious humour, sprinkled here and there in scenes, started in Skyfall, this time satisfying comic moments come between Bond and his MI6 cohorts, when the gadgets he’s supplied with (yes, gadgets plural) don’t work as well as they might or work just fine and when he’s asserting his 007-ness in the face of hapless jobsworths, outclassed minions and beautiful Bond Girls. Is this old-school cinematic Bond we’re talking then? Oh yes. At times, it might even be Roger Moore-eyebrow-raising-worthy.

Yet, let’s not get too carried away. As I mentioned above, Spectre is still a Daniel Craig Bond film; it’s not all fun and games. There’s a serious, hard-edged, even arty undertow that every and now again, pleasingly, spurts up and out over the proceedings like a stream of cruel and, yes, crude oil. For, that hard-nosed Fleming influence, which has been apparent in all of the blonde Bond’s outings is here too, all right (Christensen’s Mr White makes a plot-driving return; female leads Léa Seydoux and Monica Bellucci are souls as haunted and damaged by ‘liars and killers’ as our hero and the baddies Bond’s up against are as sadistic, violent and as emetically twisted and evil as any he’s recently encountered).

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Vandal in the wind: Bond hunts a punk-inspired, enigmatic evil in the now abandoned former MI6 HQ

Much credit for this fine mix of the light-cum-epic and the much grittier ‘authentic’ must go to director Sam Mendes. Unlike with some of his previous dabbles as a movie director (for me, say, 1999’s American Beauty and maybe even Skyfall at times), it doesn’t feel like we’re signpost-like seguing from one tone to another in Spectre; scenes and sequences feel like they more seamlessly blend or sweep into one another. There’s a maturity, a highly confident feel to everything, which is set from the off with that (previously noted) bravura pre-titles opening.

Plus, fans well versed in Bond lore will recognise more than one or two nods to the cinematic 007 of times past (a villain’s old-fashioned Rolls-Royce? Attractive chattering snowboarding girls in an Alpine cable car? And, of course, our man in a red carnation-topped white tuxedo?). Moreover, continuity heads will likely appreciate the fact this adventure, narratively speaking, definitely makes its business to reference the events and mythos of the other three Craig outings.

Having said that, though, with his predilection for playing with different genres and cinematic tones, Mendes happily throws us a curve-ball in the shape of Spectre’s climax – rather like he did with the Straw Dogs (1971)-like finale to Skyfall. For this Bond movie’s London crescendo is, frankly, un-Bond-movie-like. And, it has to be said, feels pretty out of step with much that precedes it. It’s more reminiscent of one of those noir-ish Scandinavian TV detective dramas. And has something of a punkish, even ‘street’ vibe to it. Is that a bad thing? No, not necessarily. In its way, it could even be said to be sort of an updated Fleming-esque finish to a Bond adventure, thus defiantly in tune with the Craig era sensibility. But so strong and singular is it, it will surely colour people’s feelings towards the film as a whole (not least because it’s the thing’s climax).

Finally, worthy of more than note in this review, is the one constant in a movie that deftly steps in and out of the classic Eon template and the 007 of today; Bond himself, Daniel Craig. For, as did one or two long-running Bonds in their fourth outings before him (Brosnan in Die Another Day certainly; Moore in Moonraker arguably), Craig once and for all absolutely nails his interpretation of Fleming’s hero here. Yes, it is, as ever, very much his usual take on the role (pugnacious and physical, lugubrious and never one to suffer fools), but it’s also more relaxed, wittier and, frankly, cooler than ever before. As the Bond hullaballoo has grown around him (this time a $300m, two-and-half hour opus that premiered to glorious fanfare at London’s Royal Albert Hall), he’s simply grown in the role; so much so that his performance in Spectre almost feels like the culmination of his personal 007 journey.

Moreover, he enjoys sparkling chemistry with his main co-stars (Seydoux’s female lead is the best since Eva Green’s Vesper in Casino Royale – more a Fleming heroine than Bond Girl archetype – and Waltz’s villain, although deprived of screen-time and some oomph compared to Javier Bardem’s excellent Skyfall baddie, is still a highly enjoyable enigmatic, eccentric antagonist, whom also brings to the party, in the shape of Bautista’s man-mountain, the most memorable henchperson since Xenia Onatopp in GoldenEye). If this is to be Craig’s last outing in the tux then, it’s a worthy way to bow out. Undeniably.

And yet, I hear one or two of you clamour to know, what about SPECTRE? How is the classic criminal organisation worked into the whole thing (if it is at all, that is)? And Blofeld; does he appear? And the white cat? Etc. etc. Well, I don’t want to spoil things – too much – with this review, so suffice to say, the whole SPECTRE/ ‘Spectre’ deal is certainly dealt with – and in a way that may surprise some; it’s treated smartly, thoughtfully and intriguingly. All in all then, Spectre is pretty much a triumph of a Bond film. Another excellent entry in the modern 007 repertoire that entirely successfully returns to the series many of its most beloved tenets which some, whom may have felt the whole shebang had veered so far from them in recent years, believed were buried for good. Don’t believe it. Los muertos vivos están. The dead are alive. And kicking.

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