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40 years ago this year ~ that was when…

December 30, 2013

awesome_album_covers_pink_floyd_the_dark_side_of_the_moon_animated

Us and them: prog rockers extraordinaire Pink Floyd united themselves with seemingly the entirety of the world’s record-buying public thanks to the release of their moody masterpiece – yes, the one with the above iconic light spectrum cover art – The Dark Side Of The Moon

You know, you can’t blame ’em. Peeps often look back on 1973 as one of the, well, crappier years of the Twentieth Century – constant union strikes across Britain, the Watergate scandal rocking the United States, the Arab-Israeli War igniting the Middle East and the oil crisis tipping the entire world towards recession. Yet, in spite of these unforgettable low-lights, the fourth annus of the ’70s offered significant cultural highlights too – many of which (even if we don’t remember them exactly occurring in this year) are recalled by folks with more than a smile.

So here we are then, in this, the second of George’s Journal‘s three retro ‘reviews of the year’ to conclude 2013, I give you, yes, 1973…

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CLICK on the ‘entry titles’ for video clips

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January 14 1973 ~ that was when…
Elvis said aloha from Hawaii (via satellite)

1973_elvis_aloha_from_hawaii_via_satellite

Ironically for a year remembered for a depressing recession, it actually kicked-off with a sunny and breezily nostalgic, global event thanks to the campy deliciousness that was Elvis Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite. Although actually not the first TV broadcast beamed live by the, at the time, highly space-aged seeming medium of Earth-orbiting electronic hardware (that was the one with The Beatles singing All You Need Is Love back in ’67), Elvis‘s shindig was still the first performance broadcast live via satellite by a solo performer. And, in spite of its ambitious aims (to reach 40 countries across Europe and Asia and turn around the faltering star’s fortunes) it turned out to be a roaring success. Impressively, there were no hiccups (just in case, a rehearsal had been taped two days earlier and The King had lost 25 pounds in its build-up) and the album it spawned Aloha From Hawaii: Via Satellite (1973) topped the US charts later in the year, thus giving Presley’s career the boost he and manager Colonel Parker had hoped for. Although it clearly must have achieved ginormous viewing figures, the estimation often trotted out that as many as 1 billion peeps tuned in has always been poppycock, as the combined population of the countries it was broadcast to only amounted to 1.4 billion. And surprisingly none of those was Elvis’s homeland of the US – Americans had to wait, thanks to a move to maximise viewers, until April 4, the day of the Superbowl, to catch it.

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March 1 1973 ~ that was when…
Pink Floyd took us to The Dark Side Of The Moon

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Nowadays, to listen to the ultimate album for navel-gazing students from the ultimate navel-gazing rock band, it seems inevitable it became the inescapable icon we know it as. But back when it was released on this day, nobody really could have envisaged Pink Floyd’s eighth studio album Dark Side Of The Moon becoming the unstoppable runaway phenomenon that launched those nice middle-class boys from the Home Counties into the stratosphere. Don’t get me wrong, by ’73 they’d already made the heady transition from psychedelic oddity to arguable prog rock gods, but they were really on no higher a plain than the likes of Emerson, Lake and Palmer – Moon changed all that forever. The ’70s enjoyed its fair share of monster albums, all right – Carole King’s Tapestry (1971), Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973), Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors (1977) and, of course, The Bee Gee’s Saturday Night Fever (1978) among them – but none of them quite scaled the dizzy heights of the existentially angsty but utterly beautiful and brilliant Moon. Despite only topping the US charts for a solitary week, it managed to spend an incredible 741 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 album chart between ’73 and, yes, 1988. This clearly then makes it one of the best-selling albums of all-time in the US – but it holds that distinction practically everywhere else in the world too; in the UK it’s currently the eighth biggest unit-shifter. Overall, it’s sold around 50 million copies – ironic for a record one of whose most memorable tracks (Money) sarcastically berates man’s predilection for the old green bill.

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March 27 1973 ~ that was when…
… The Godfather picked up the Best Picture Oscar (but Marlon Brando rejected his)

1973_sacheen_littlefeather_at_the_oscars

It’s the Oscar ceremony – the 45th – that nobody has ever forgotten. Yes, the one at which a rightly rewarded Marlon Brando didn’t turn up to accept his Best Actor Oscar for playing Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972), but instead sent a Native American woman Sacheen Littlefeather to read out a speech ‘on his behalf’ detailing his rejection of the gold little man. It was also the Oscar ceremony, however, at which director Francis Ford Coppola’s American mafia opus picked up a further two awards (Best Picture as mentioned and Best Adapted Screenplay), but not Best Director for Coppola himself. Somewhat oddly that went to master choreographer Bob Fosse for Nazi-themed musical Cabaret (1972) as well as a perhaps surprising seven further nods. Never mind, Franny, The Godfather Part II was just around the corner.

Read – and see – the full-story of Marlon Brando’s Oscar rejection here

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May 25 1973 ~ that was when…
Virgin Records was launched with Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells

1973_tubular_bells_mike_oldfield

For many, Tubular Bells will forever conjure up the image of Max von Sydow desperately attempting to pull Linda Blair out of her possessed state in William Friedkin’s visceral monster hit The Exorcist (1973), but maybe (in terms of its biggest legacy) it ought to conjure up the image of a rather self-satisfied smiley billionaire with a beard and a floppy mullet – namely one Richard Branson. For had he not chosen the prog rock-meets-bell-chiming opus from then utterly unknown multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield to open his fledgling record company, Britain’s most recognisable tycoon maybe would never have, well, become a tycoon. Having raised enough dosh from the Virgin discount record store he’d opened on London’s Oxford Street in 1971, Branson was in a position a year later to buy up an Oxfordshire pile and set it up as a recording studio, simultaneously allowing artists to record material there to be released on the Virgin record label he’d just set up. Oldfield came into contact with Branson via engineers working at the studio (known as ‘The Manor’) and Branson – liking what he heard of the work that’d be released as Tubular Bells, or maybe being slightly nuts as its commerciality had been dismissed by and all sundry already – thus picked it as Virgin Records’ very first release. The rest, of course (thanks in no small part to its opening theme being chosen by Friedkin as the theme for The Exorcist the same year giving it enormous publicity and aiding it to become the other enormously profitable music album phenomenon of ’73) is history.

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June 27 1973 ~ that was when…
Roger Moore debuted as 007 in Live And Let Die

1973_roger_moore_live_and_let_die

It was the role that had doomed poor George Lazenby to a lifetime of ‘nearly man’ status (despite his effort in the now 51-year-long film series being one of the very best), thus the conventional wisdom was nobody – absolutely nobody – could follow in Sean Connery‘s tartaned footsteps. Yet, in summer ’73, one man proved that notion very wrong indeed; he was smooth, he was suave, he loved a good (or more often) bad innuendo and could raise his eyebrow faster than Connery could say Jacksh Robinshon… he was Moore, Roger Moore. And his debut effort as 007 was a stonker of a Bond film, the Blaxpoitation-tastic, speedboat chase-fuelled, voodoo-themed spectacular Live And Let Die (1973). Indeed, to this day it remains – inflation adjusted – the sixth most successful 007 blockbuster at the box-office; you’ve surely got to raise a glass to that, giant explosion behind you or not.

Read – and see – more on Roger Moore’s casting as Bond here, a review of Live And Let Die here and a celebration of the film’s 40th anniversary here

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July 3 1973 ~ that was when…
David Bowie ‘retired’ Ziggy Stardust

David Bowie performing as Ziggy Stardust at the Hammersmith Odeon, 1973.

Ever since its launch at the Toby Jug pub in London’s Tolworth on February 10 1972, David Bowie‘s alter ego Ziggy Stardust had been an extraordinary pop culture creation – generating greater cult-like adulation from besotted teen fans than the multi-talented Bowie could have gained in his own guise perhaps, as well as serving as a shockingly red-mulletted and androgynously, outrageously attired persona into which Bowie could disappear as his fame became increasingly dizzying. Yet, following many a shocking and absurd on-stage antic (such as simulating fellatio on band member Mick Ronson’s guitar) and Bowie retreating into the character so much that he’d got into the habit of giving press conferences as him, he realised maybe for his own sanity enough was enough; it was time to ditch Ziggy. The trouble was that when he did so at a concert at The Smoke’s Hammersmith Apollo on the date above, right before fitting final tune Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide, he did so in a manner that suggested he and his band were retiring for good rather than them just retiring the Ziggy Stardust and Spiders from Mars band (“Of all the shows on this tour, this particular show will last with us the longest because not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show we’ll ever do, thank you” – click on ‘entry title’ above). Thus, along with hundreds of fans in the venue, the music and wider press got the wrong end of the stick. In hindsight, though, it may’ve been canny on Bowie’s part, as the announcement was clearly deliberately ambiguous, ensuring it’d grant him further headlines and even greater publicity. Still, with the death of Ziggy out went too in the blink of an eye one of the most organically electric and exciting periods in rock history. Ziggy was dead and that was that.

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October 17 1973 ~ that was when…
Poland’s ‘clown’ prevented England reaching the World Cup

1973_england_v_poland

If the hangover the England national football team suffered at the 1970 World Cup, after the champagne supernova of winning the ’66 World Cup, wasn’t bad enough, it got a hell of a lot worse three-and-a-bit-years later. For, on this autumnal night in ’73 (seemingly reflecting the union-strike-afflicted gloom into which the nation was fast sinking), the Three Lions sank to a new – and before then utterly unthinkable – low… they conspired somehow not to beat Poland at Wembley and thus failed to reach the following year’s World Cup. It’s a well-worn tale, of course, Bobby Moore’s replacement as centre-back Norman Hunter misplaced a pass and Poland took the lead… a lead they’d hang on to until the hour-mark when England finally managed to equalise through a penalty. But a 1-1 draw wasn’t enough; despite England’s 30 shots on goal – nearly every one of them batted away by the inspired goalkeeper who became a legend that night, Jan Tomaszewski – a winning goal wouldn’t come. The repercussions were tremendous; it spelled the end for England’s World Cup-winning manager and captain, Sir Alf Ramsey and Bobby Moore respectively. And with their departure was ushered in a new era of mediocrity and disappointment, as England failed to qualify for another World Cup for eight long years. And yet, it wasn’t all bad news, for the match proved a turning point for Poland, its result ensuring they qualified for West Germany ’74 instead, where, buoyed by the enormous confidence they’d gained that night, they only went on to finish third. Brian Clough had never been more wrong – Jan Tomaszewki and this teammates turned out to be human cannonballs rather than clowns.

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November 17 1973 ~ that was when…
Richard Nixon told the world he was ‘not a crook’

1973_richard_nixon_watergate

Ah, Watergate… the innocuous-seeming break-in at the eponymous Washington DC hotel that, through the tireless investigative journalism of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (as terrifically detailed in 1976’s All The President’s Men), grew into the near unbelievable sh*tstorm that eventually engulfed then US President Richard Milhouse Nixon’s Cabinet – and in 1974 claimed his head too. Even by the end of ’73, however, its conclusion was some time off, for it was then – the clouds darkening rather than the wagons circling – that Nixon went before the TV cameras for a Q&A and decisively declared loud and clear to the people of America and the world that he’d done no wrong. “The people”, he said, “deserve to know whether their President is a crook – well, I’m not a crook”. Fair enough, that should put a lid on it. Only it didn’t. It was a big, fat whopper. He knew only too well what those under his employ had been getting up to in trying, through illegal means, to scupper the Democrats displacing him from the White House in the previous year’s General Election, so much so he’d been trying, also through illegal means, to cover it up. In that instant, thanks to (actually fairly swift) hindsight, Nixon had sealed his fate and his reputation for the rest of his life; following this and his resignation months later to avoid impeachment, he would forever be monikered ‘Tricky Dicky’, recalled as the crooked Prez. Nowadays (more so than ever surely), Americans expect their politicians to lie, let them down and more often than not be corrupt and – excusing the controversy and unpopularity Lyndon B Johnson courted in the ’60s thanks to the disparate combo of civil rights legislation and Vietnam – much of that started here. Nixon’s claim he wasn’t ‘a crook’ is the touchstone for politicians patently telling porkies to save their skin – and getting found out.

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And finally…

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December 15 1973 ~ that was when…
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Britain’s Christmas went glam

1973_slade_merry_xmas_everybody

By the end of ’73, held to ransom by the coal miners’ unions, the then UK Government of Ted Heath had no alternative than to introduce limits on non-essential energy use throughout the land from midnight on December 31 – yes, exactly when Big Ben would chime in 1974. A happy New Year was certainly not in prospect. Yet, as if in defiance of the candle-lit crappiness to come, Blighty seemed to prepare for the inevitable through that age-old method – it ignored it. To be exact, it indulged in a good old-fashioned Crimbo knees-up by embracing all the tinsel-tinged, bell-bottomed barmy brilliance of glam rock that dominated the music charts that December. Most memorably, of course, was the battle for the esteemed Christmas #1 between two of the last year or two’s biggest – and most colourfully, ridiculously clothed – bands, Slade and Wizzard, both hailing from the usually deeply unfashionable West Midlands. As is known by practically every bod in the country thereafter, the legendary Noddy Holder’s Slade triumphed, taking top spot with the inescapable Merry Xmas Everybody (click on ‘entry title’ above), while former The Move leader Roy Wood’s Wizzard claimed the #4 spot with the equally inescapable I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday. Not to be outdone, though, the (glam-related) rock star – and possibly the biggest music act in the world at the time – Elton John also released a Crimbo tune this year, yet bizarrely given it’s one of the season’s very best, Step Into Christmas managed to scale no higher than #26. Still, thanks to its glam credentials, Christmas ’73 is rightly recalled as a rather marvellous merry time, poignantly so too given the predicament the UK – and the wider world – found itself  in outside its blithely innocent bubble.

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US top 10 box-office

1. The Sting $156,000,000
2. The Exorcist $128,000,000
3. American Graffiti $115,000,000
4. Papillon $53,267,000
5. The Way We Were $49,919,870
6. Magnum Force $39,768,000
7. Last Tango In Paris  $36,144,000
8. Live And Let Die $35,377,836
9. Robin Hood $32,056,467
10. Paper Moon $30,933,743

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UK top 10 best-selling singles

1. Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree  Dawn
2. Eye Level (Theme from Van der Valk) The Simon Park Orchestra
3. Welcome Home Peters And Lee
4. Block Buster! Sweet
5. Cum On Feel The Noize Slade
6. See My Baby Jive Wizzard
7. I’m The Leader Of The Gang (I Am) Gary Glitter
8. I Love You Love Me Love Gary Glitter
9. The Twelfth Of Never Donny Osmond
10. Spanish Eyes Al Martino

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In memoriam…

Lyndon B Johnson (August 27 1908–January 22 1973)
Edward G Robinson (December 12 1893–January 26 1973)
Noël Coward (December 16 1899–March 26 1973)
Pablo Picasso (October 25 1881–April 8 1973)
Roger Delgado (March 1 1918–June 18 1973)
Nancy Mitford (November 28 1904–June 30 1973)
Betty Grable (December 18 1916–July 2 1973)
Veronica Lake (November 14 1922–July 7 1973)
Lon Chaney Jr. (February 10 1906–July 12 1973)
Jack Hawkins (September 14 1910–July 18 1973)
Bruce Lee (November 27 1940–July 20 1973)
John Ford (February 1 1894–August 31 1973)
JRR Tolkein (January 3 1892–September 2 1973)
Gram Parsons (November 5 1946–September 19 1973)
WH Auden (February 21 1907–September 27 1973)
Laurence Harvey (October 1 1926–November 25 1973)
David Ben-Gurion (October 16 1886–December 1 1973)
Bobby Darin (May 14 1936–December 20 1973)

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30 years ago this year ~ that was when…

December 29, 2013

1983_flashdance

What a feeling: the pop culture sensation of the year belonged to up-and-coming Hollywood producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, cute-as-a-button popster Irene Cara and the body of Jennifer Beals – it could only be the ultimate movie sleeper hit that was Flashdance

So you know how the media (TV, newspapers, magazines, radio and, yes, the Internets) are full right now of all sorts of different reviews of the year about to conclude? Well, I’m all for them (reflection on what’s been is often useful and interesting so we can chart where we are) and this year, yup, George’s Journal will be verily getting in on the act, but with a twist – for over the next three posts to be posted over consecutive days it’ll be reflecting on the highlights of specific years 10 years apart from each other from the ’80s, the ’70s and the ’60s. Effectively then, the twelve months that occurred 30, 40 and 50 years ago. Oh yes.

So, up first, mes amis, it’s 1983, which, when you immediately cast your mind back, may seem like not the most eventful year, but oh you’d be very wrong…

 

CLICK on each ‘event title’ for a video clip…

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January 17/ February 1 1983 ~ that was when…
… the Beeb and ITV gave us breakfast television

1983_breakfast_time_and_tvam

So 1983 kicked-off with a move by the UK media that, for me as an impressionable young ‘un, felt like it had dragged Blighty into the modern age – yes, breakfast television. The US had had it for years, of course, and as ever back in the ’80s, it’s introduction (like the glitz of ’80s Hollywood blockbusters) seemed to highlight just how much Blighty had been/ was lagging behind. But on that fateful morning in January, the Beeb finally put on something not just worth watching, but also fresh, bold and stylish with which dynamically to start each day. Well, sort of, given BBC’s Breakfast Time hosts included Frank Bough and David Icke. Still, at least on board too was the fashionable and coolly sexy Selina Scott – whom nowadays lives in Yorkshire and sells socks. And just a couple of weeks later, ITV got in on the act with TVam and its eggs-in-cups end-titles-icon. TVam lasted 10 years until it was replaced by GMTV, having survived near oblivion just two years after its launch when it was saved by the unleashing on to the world of Roland Rat, while nowadays BBC Breakfast’s a cosy, Middle-England affair with mumsily sexy Susanna Reid on the presenters’ couch. Ah, how things evolve – or revert to comfy type.

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February 28 1983 ~ that was when..
half of all Americans watched the M*A*S*H finale

1983_mash_final_episode

On US TV screens, this was easily the biggest deal of 1983. In fact, it could be argued it was US television’s biggest deal of the entire decade, given it managed to secure the highest viewing figures of any broadcast in the country’s history until the 2010 Superbowl. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. For Goodbye, Farewell And Amen (the two-and-a-half-hour-long finale to CBS’s comedy drama adapted from Robert Altman’s 1970 Korean War satire, which ran for 11 seasons) managed not just an enormous 77% audience share of all viewers at the time, but was also watched by an utterly staggering 60.2% of all American households. By these more exacting statistics, it’s easily still the most watched broadcast in all American TV history. But what of the episode itself? Well, it was written – along with many other contributors – by its star Alan Alda (Hawkeye the prankster surgeon), whom also directed it. And, like many US sitcom finales down through the decades, it has a suitably moving conclusion, as the characters at last leave their Korean mobile field hospital for home, but – like all episodes of M*A*S*H – has its sledgehammer-like, darker moments too (one of which sees Hawkeye almost go insane). Indeed, its an encapsulation of just what an outstanding effort the show it concluded was – explanation maybe then of why so many Americans dropped everything to catch it.

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March 16 1983 ~ that was when…
… Michael Jackson moonwalked for the first time

1983_michael_jackson_moonwalk

One of the absolutely iconic moments of the 1980s this one, as in a few brief seconds of his performance of latest (and still brilliant) hit Billie Jean on the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today Forever TV special broadcast from the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, Jacko chicly shuffled across the stage as if he was being pulled backwards while wanting to move forwards. Dressed as he was in the dazzling black jacket and one white glove outfit that would become his defining look for always, he (surely unwittingly) managed to execute for some the coolest thing they’d ever seen – and maybe have ever seen. Looking back it seems like it was the thunderclap that triggered the tsunami of essentialness that Jackson became thereafter throughout the ’80s and maybe the watershed for the new MTV-driven hyper-commercialised American zeitgeist – although the first broadcast of that other Jackson-derived moment, the Thiller video, on MTV on December 2 the same year certainly rivals in those stakes.

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April 15 1983 ~ that was when…
Jennifer Beals (Flash)danced up a storm

1983_flashdance

Critics absolutely loathed it (and still do), would-be star Jennifer Beals didn’t actually do much of the impressive dancing her character does and the best of its publicity was far from orthodox, yet upon release Flashdance quickly became an utter phenomenon and trendsetter for the decade to come. A highly unlikely Cinderella story of how a female-steel-mill-welder-by-day and strip-club-dancer-by-night succeeds in becoming a dance conservatory student (although it may actually have been based on a real-life story – no really), the film gained notoriety thanks to film-clip-featuring videos of its songs being played on hip new youth channel MTV (Irene Cara’s Oscar-winning Flashdance… What A Feeling – see bottom video clip – as well Michael Sembello’s Maniac and Laura Branigan’s Gloria). Moreover, it was the first flick to be produced by the prodigiously successful pairing of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer and kicked-off the (often Simpson and Bruckheimer-backed) ’80s craze for music video-like flashy visuals in movies. If all that weren’t enough, Beals apparently won the lead thanks to a Paramount Pictures big-wig asking 200 blokes working on the lot which of the three potential actresses (also including Demi Moore) they’d prefer to shag. Ironically then, not exactly a bastion of female empowerment it turns out.

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May 25 1983 ~ that was when…
… Return Of The Jedi concluded The ‘Wars

return_of_the_jedi_mark_hamill_as_luke_skywalker

Remember the days when George Lucas wasn’t a villain for ruining Star Wars, but a hero for bringing us the most satisfyingly complete three films of our young lives? When Yoda didn’t reappear as a younger self looking more like a Muppet cast-off, but instead tear-inducingly passed on before Luke’s and our eyes? When we hadn’t become head-scratchingly embroiled in the intergalactic politics of Coruscant, but instead Endor, the forest party moon of the Ewoks, was where it all ended? And not when Hayden Christensen lined up in a Ready Brek kid-like blue glow alongside Obi-Wan and Yoda, but when middle-aged Annakin simply and nicely did so? Yes that was back in ’83, when the original, innocent and fabulous Star Wars trilogy come to a close with the charmingly silly but still utterly awesome Return Of The Jedi. Prequels (and a whole other trilogy to come too)? Pah, who needs ’em.

Read – and see – more on Return Of The Jedi‘s 30th anniversary here

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June 9 1983 ~ that was when…
Thatcher got back in with a landslide

1983_thatcher_re-election_landslide

Quite frankly, were this not to have happened, the ’80s would not have been the ’80s in Britain. Mind you, there was little chance of it not happening, given the dubious bounce Thatch received from Blighty apparently whupping the Argies’ collective arse in the Falklands the year before and Labour deigning to drop into free-fall by turning to ultimate old-school socialist Michael Foot to lead them into near oblivion in the run up to this election. As noted, the consequences of Election ’83’s result were enormous – Thatcherism and its drive for fiscal rejuvenation through an increasing free market economy yet also an increasing social imbalance; the rise of The City’s significance and thus the emergence of the yuppie; privatisation and coal mine union take-down; Maggie and Ronnie snuggling up (ironically with Gorby) to tip the scales of the Cold War in The West’s favour; the adoption of iconic moderniser and/ or ‘The Welsh Windbag’ Neil Kinnock as Labour leader and, slightly less importantly, Spitting Image (1984-94) invading middle-England’s TV screens of a Sunday night. Hello to the ’80s, indeed.

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July 14 1983 ~ that was when…
Mario and Luigi came to arcades

1983_mario_bros_arcade_game

Along with Donkey Kong (1981), the first video game to feature Nintendo’s ubiquitous character Mario, the Mario Bros. arcade game was one of the very first ‘platform games’ – and the very first in which the dumpy, blue-and-red-dungarees-wearing Mario and his brother, the taller, thinner and green-dungarees-wearing Luigi, appeared as sole protagonists. Although only a modest success in Japanese arcades and crossing the Pacific to North America during the early to mid-’80s video game recession, it undoubtedly made its mark, spawning as it did one of the most enduring pair of pop culture icons of the last 30 years in the shape of its two Italian-American plumbers (whom here have to fight creatures emerging from New York City’s sewers). Two years later, Mario and Luigi switched to the home video game Super Mario Bros. and have since moved from mere ‘platform games’ to go-kart-racing, tennis, golf, role-playing and recently Wii games – in fact, Mario himself (the Mickey Mouse to Nintendo’s Disney) has to date astonishingly appeared in more than 200 video games. Just don’t mention the turkey that was the Super Mario Bros. movie (1993) – especially not to Bob Hoskins.

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July 27 1983 ~ that was when…
Madonna brought back dance music

1983_madonna

Amazingly, for the album that perhaps more than any other heralded the sound of Western chart music in the ’80s, Madonna’s eponymous debut long-player only hit a high of #8 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in October ’84 – well over a year after its release in the summer of ’83. However, thanks to her driving ambition and musical intuition, the 23-year-old – and a number of key collaborators (some of whom were former and current lovers, such as the marvellously monikered John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez) honed an upbeat synth disco sound for the album, while through its tunes – especially the not insignificant singles Borderline (US #10), Lucky Star (US #4) and, of course, the runaway success that was Holiday (US #16/ UK #2 – click on entry title above) – effectively came up with the sunny, perfect pop sound that practically every US and UK pop act wanted to emulate for the rest of the decade. There was more to it than that, naturally – the charisma of Madonna’s heartfelt, often soaring vocals, her New Wave-esque tomboyish sex kitten appearance and the sheer danceability of the tracks (thanks in no small part to her association over the last few years with some of New York’s hottest clubs) made Madonna‘s sound simply irresistible – it was hopelessly hip chart pop that teens and twentysomethings could dance to once more after the recent demise of Disco, as well as the kick-starter to the sound of the ’80s.

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And finally…

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December 11 1983 ~ that was when…
women took centre-stage as the Greenham Common protest turned ugly

Greenham Common

Although in sheer numbers, the 70,000 women whom formed a 14-mile-long human chain from Greenham Common to the Aldermaston nuclear weapons base on April 1 ’83 was the bigger event, the total encircling of Greenham Common on this day in December ’83 by 50,000 women has maybe gone down in history as the more memorable event. Why? Because this was the one that resulted in – unique for the time – the multiple arrests of female-only protestors. The whole shebang had begun two years before when a mere 36-strong Welsh group of women peace protestors decided to walk to the Common, following the decision in 1979 by NATO to ground cruise missiles at the RAF site. By ’83, an all-women peace camp had been established, with the intention it would remain there in defiance of NATO’s stance for the next two decades. On December 11, the thousands of women not only encircled the Common then, but also started to cut through its fence in a move deliberately orchestrated to get maximum media – and especially TV – coverage. It worked; by the end of the year there was nary a woman or man whom hadn’t heard of what was going on there. Sure, protest against The West’s drive to build nuclear weapons had been constant throughout the Cold War, but these protestors (and the fact they were all women) highlighted both the controversy of the Reagan/ Thatcher doctrine to heat up the delicate détente with the Soviet Union and the slow evolution of feminism (this major all-female protest being tied in philosophically with the role of the mother as chief child-carer facing down a potentially world-ending threat). Believe it or not, the peace camp only officially broke up in the year 2000, meaning it actually did endure at the site for almost two decades.

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US top 10 box-office 

1. Return Of The Jedi $252,583,617
2. Terms Of Endearment  $108,423,489
3. Flashdance $92,921,203
4. Trading Places $90,404,800
5. WarGames $79,567,667
6. Octopussy $67,893,619
7. Sudden Impact $67,642,693
8. Staying Alive $64,892,670
9. Mr Mom $64,783,827
10. Risky Business $63,541,777

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UK top 10 best-selling singles

1. Karma Chameleon  Culture Club
2. Uptown Girl Billy Joel
3. Red Red Wine UB40
4. Let’s Dance David Bowie
5. Total Eclipse Of The Heart  Bonnie Tyler
6. True Spandau Ballet
7. Down Under Men At Work
8. Billie Jean Michael Jackson
9. Only You The Flying Pickets
10. All Night Long (All Night) Lionel Ritchie

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In memoriam…

Dick Emery (February19 1915–January 2 1983)
George Cukor (July 7 1899–January 24 1983)
Billy Fury (April 17 1940–January 28 1983)
Karen Carpenter (March 2 1950–February 4 1983)
Sir Adrian Boult (April 8 1889–February 22 1983)
Tennessee Williams (March 26 1911–February 25 1983)
Hergé (May 22 1907–March 3 1983)
Donald Maclean (May 25 1913–March 6 1983)
Umberto II of Italy (September 15 1904–March 18 1983)
Anthony Blunt (September 26 1907–March 26 1983)
Gloria Swanson (March 27 1899–April 4 1983)
Buster Crabbe (February 7 1907–April 23 1983)
Muddy Waters (April 4 1913–April 30 1983)
Norma Shearer (August 10 1903–June 12 1983)
Chris Wood (June 24 1944–July 12 1983)
Luis Buñel (February 22 1900–July 29 1983)
David Niven (March 1 1910–July 29 1983)
Ira Gershwin (December 6 1896–August 17 1983)
Ralph Richardson (December 19 1902–October 10 1983)
John Le Mesurier (April 5 1912–November 15 1983)
Slim Pickens (June 29 1919–December 8 1983)
Dennis Wilson (Decemner 4 1944–December 28 1983)

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Retro Crimbo 2013: Humbug! 24 things you always wanted to know about A Christmas Carol, but were afraid to ask Scrooge

December 22, 2013

Ebeneezer geezers: four unforgettable faces of the on-screen Scrooge – clockwise from top right, Michael Caine’s Muppets-meeting über-miser, Alastair Sim’s classic incarnation, Jim Carrey’s post-millennial stop-motion effort and George C Scott’s marvellous made-for-TV version

Any regular visitor to this very blog will no doubt confirm that yours truly is rather fond of Christmas (hence its annual ‘Retro Crimbo’ seasons to be enjoyed/ endured every December). Thus, it’ll come as probably no surprise to any of you that my all-time favourite story is Charles DickensA Christmas Carol – I’m an utter sucker for not just its marvellous merriness, classic characters such as Scrooge himself, Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchit, The Ghost of Christmas Present and, of course, Tiny Tim, but also its stupendous structure and utterly infectious tone.

Yup, good news for me then that Carol is also rather a must with much of the wider world – actually, ever since its original publication. And what better reasons than its unbridled brilliance, huge popularity and the fact that this year it celebrates its 170th anniversary – yes, really – than to present you good, good people of Internet Land with my final pre-Crimbo blog post, a tribute to Dickens’ best loved tale; a post that offers 24 (yup, for the 24 days of December up to and including the day of Carol‘s setting, Christmas Eve) little known and essential facts about the timeless tale? What better way, indeed?

So, without further ado, let’s get underway, shall we? For as Tiny Tim (sort of) observed, Dickens bless us, every one…!

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1. A Christmas Carol was first published by Chapman & Hall of London’s The Strand on December 17 1843. It was released as an exquisitely produced, expensive book two days later, featuring four hand-coloured etchings and four black-and-white engravings by Punch artist John Leech.

2. Dickens began writing the tale in September the same year – and completed it in just six weeks.

3. The first print run of the book ran to 6,000 and sold out by Christmas Eve. By May 1844, the book was already on to its seventh edition – in total, 24 editions ran of the book in its original version.

4. Owing to a dispute Dickens had with his publishers over payment for his directly preceding work, the novel Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44), he rejected a lump-sum payment when Carol was published, opting instead for a percentage of the profits. Bizarrely, the first run wasn’t hugely profitable and a year later Dickens had received from it only £744 (in the money of the day).

5. Along with the of Carol‘s first appearance, the Holiday season of 1843 saw the introduction of another soon-to-be perennial festive tradition – the first posting of the Christmas card.

6. Following the publication of four further Christmas books at the close of four of the next five years (all of which shared the secular-moral-conversion-at-Christmas-time template of Carol, but were slated by the critics), Dickens decided not to write any more and instead spread his, if you will, ‘Carol philosophy’ through public readings of his works, the first of which in 1853 was of an abridged version of Carol. These readings became a roaring success – in all, Dickens publicly read this version of Carol 127 times.

7. The four other Christmas books were The Chimes (1844), The Cricket On The Hearth (1845), The Battle Of Life (1846) and The Haunted Man And The Ghost’s Bargain (1848). Despite the critical indifference they generated, predictably the public lapped them up.

8. Obviously, Carol introduced to the world the name ‘Scrooge’ (quickly to become simply a synonym for the word ‘miser’) and ‘Bah, humbug!’ (an exclamation putting down a positive affirmation), but it’s also said the book significantly popularised the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’.

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Leech’s teachings: the socially conscious lessons offered by A Christmas Carol’s original publication are attributable almost as much to John Leech’s illustrations as to Dickens’ words

9. The inspiration behind Carol has been much speculated on. Some scholars suggest Dickens’ own upbringing – which involved giving up his schooling and selling his beloved books for a spell of working in a blacking factory, owing to his father being sent to prison for a stretch – as informing its strong socially-conscious, anti-workhouse/ anti-Poor Law stance, as well as inspiring much of his other work, such as Oliver Twist (1837-39), Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39), Bleak House (1852-53), Hard Times (1854) and Little Dorrit (1855-57).

10. It’s also said that because of his traumatising childhood, he both adored and demonised his father, which could have influenced both sides of Scrooge’s character – his post-haunting benevolent saintly side and his pre-haunting greedy, miserly side.

11. What’s unquestionable is a strong desire to tackle the causes of social injustice had gripped Dickens in the lead up to writing Carol. In early 1843, he visited tin mines in Cornwall, where he observed children working and suffering in appalling conditions, and then went to London’s Field Lane Ragged School, located near Tower Bridge and dedicated to teaching underprivileged, often illiterate children.

12. What convinced him of the need to write Carol it seems, though, was a talk he gave on October 5 at the Manchester Athenæum (a club founded for ‘the advancement and diffusion of knowledge’) in which he informed his audience the best possible way to improve the lot of the impoverished was for employers and workers to combine together and combat ignorance through educational reform – Dickens had grown to deplore the patiarchial conservative idiom ‘a little education is a dangerous thing’. Following the talk then, he realised the only way to reach the broadest possible audience was to write on the subject in an otherwise appealing story.

13. There’s also a couple of forerunners of Carol in Dickens’ back-catalogue. In 1833 he published in his semi-journalistic Sketches by Boz series an article called A Christmas Dinner, which bears strong resemblance to Carol‘s delight in detailing delicious, opulent seasonal meals, while an episode from the novel The Pickwick Papers (1837) contains the tale of how mean-spirited sexton Gabriel Grub is taught one Christmas to reform his ways by goblins showing him his past and potential future (clearly the resemblance to Scrooge’s experience here is uncanny).

14. Although it wasn’t as profitable as it might have been, on its release Carol was utterly acclaimed to the skies. In a February 1844 edition of Fraser’s Magazine, Vanity Fair (1848) author William Makepeace Thackeray wrote that Carol was: “a national benefit and, to every man or woman who reads it, a personal kindness. The last two people I heard speak of it were women; neither knew the other, or the author, and both said, by way of criticism, ‘God bless him!'”.

15. Moreover, author of Treasure Island (1883) and Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde (1886), the legendary Robert Louis Stevenson observed in a letter to a correspondent: “I wonder if you have ever read Dickens’ Christmas Books? … they are too much perhaps. I have only read two yet [one of which surely would have been Carol] and had a terrible fight not to sob. But oh, dear God, they are good – and I feel so good after them – I shall do good and lose no time – I want to go out and comfort someone – I shall give money. Oh, what a jolly thing it is for a man to have written books like these and just filled people’s hearts with pity”.

16. Most pertinent of all perhaps is this passage by John Forster in his 1928 book The Life Of Charles Dickens: “they [the public] poured upon [him] daily all through that Christmas time [December 1843] letters from complete strangers … not literary at all, but of the simplest domestic kind; of which the general burden was to tell him, amid many confidences, about their homes, how the Carol had come to be read aloud there and was to be kept upon a little shelf by itself, and was to do them no end of good”.

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Memorable misers: Albert Finney in 1970’s Scrooge musical, Scrooge McDuck in 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol and Rowan Atkinson in 1988’s Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

17. Carol has, of course, been adapted for stage, film and TV innumerable times – it’s surely one of the most staged and filmed stories of all-time. The earliest were three stage versions that bizarrely all opened on February 5 1844, one of which was sanctioned by Dickens himself. By the following Christmas, eight versions were running concurrently in London and at least two in New York City.

18. According to one source, there have so far been 28 filmed versions of Carol. The first, a silent short made in Britain called Scrooge, Or, Marley’s Ghost, came as early as 1901, with a running length of just 6 minutes and 20 seconds. In 1910, inventor of the long-lasting lightbulb and the film camera, Thomas Edison made one too.

19. A very popular US radio play version starring Lionel Barrymore (Drew’s grandfather) was produced in 1934, while the first commerically-made sound recording of the text was read by Ronald Colman and released in 1949 (an excerpt from such a reading featuring Ralph Richardson and Paul Schofield can be heard by playing the video clip at the bottom of the post).

20. The most heralded film version came in 1951. Scrooge (or A Christmas Carol as it was simply titled in the States) was a UK version starring as Scrooge himself Alastair Sim – along with his St. Trinian’s film series co-star George Cole (of Minder fame) as the younger Scrooge. Apparently the movie was supposed to be first shown in the US at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, but surprisingly was passed over for being too depressing as Christmas entertainment.

21. Other famous adaptations, of course, include the Leslie Bricusse musical version (1970) for which star Albert Finney won a Golden Globe and which later was very successfully adapted for the stage; a CBS-produced TV movie version (1984) starring George C Scott; the Bill Murray-headlined modernisation that’s Scrooged (1988); a Blackadder Christmas special (1988) starring Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson; the Michael Caine-featuring The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), which rightly seems to become more popular every Crimbo; Robert Zemeckis’s Jim Carrey-mugging and motion-capture-showcasing hit film (2009) and even the 2010 Doctor Who Christmas special, in which Michael Gambon guest-starred as the Scrooge-like Kazran Sardak.

22. Dickens’ eternal tale has also played a significant role in inspiring other tales, two of the most prominent being Frank Capra’s glorious Hollywood classic It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) – which in turn inspired the plot of time-travel adventure Back To The Future Part II (1989) – and Dr Seuss’s storybook How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957). In addition, a 1979 book featured images of puppets produced by Fluck and Law (creators of the characters in 1984-94’s TV satire Spitting Image), which rather wonderfully if grotesquely recreated Dickens’ seasonal world.

23. Inevitably, Disney also took major influence from Carol in its character ‘Uncle’ Scrooge McDuck (uncle to Donald, no less), a character – although sporting a Scottish burr – undoubtedly based on Dickens’ Scrooge and originally featuring in Disney’s comic books from 1952 onwards. Uncle Scrooge even appeared in the full guise of his namesake in the charming short Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983), before going on to play a prominent role in popular TV show DuckTales (1987-90).

And finally…

24. And just to show the impact of Carol has spread as far and wide as humanly possible, if you’re anywhere near New York this Holiday season you may be delighted (or rather disappointed, given you’ve missed it) to learn that last Wednesday at a Big Apple venue the totally titular 5th Annual Naked Girls Reading A Christmas Carol took place. The girls were led in their narration by Nasty Canasta (“perhaps the loveliest and certainly the nudest Scrooge in history” according to the New York Times), whom herself claimed: “Dickens himself invented so many of our most cherished Christmas traditions and I’m sure he’d want to be part of this newest one. I’m certain he’ll be standing in spirit right at our… elbows.” Merry Christmas, indeed!

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The ruling class act: Peter O’Toole (1932-2013)

December 17, 2013

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The leading man: his looks and Hollywood heavyweight status may have faded in contrast to his alcoholic indulgences, but Peter O’Toole’s talent remained gloriously undimmed to the end

He was an instant icon for all-time, a hellraiser-and-a-half and an enigma who often displayed thesping talent admired as genius but who was also accused of  throwing away said talent at the bottom of too many bottles of booze. Overall, though, he was surely one of the greatest – if not the greatest – living British actor. He was Peter O’Toole. And he’s gone, having died two days ago at the age of 81 after an illness of several months.

In reality (in wonderful not-all-is-as-it-seems O’Toole style), he was Anglo-Irish rather than English, for apparently he owned two birth certificates each of which suggested he was born in either country. What’s undeniable, however, is he grew up in a suburb of the Yorkshire city of Leeds to an Irish bookie father and a Scottish nurse mother, ensuring whatever his official homeland the Celtic genes – and thus emotional connection – would always be extremely strong.

Indeed, he’ll rightly be forever associated with those fellow Celtic acting tigers, the Richards Burton and Harris; all three of them giant contemporaries of stage and screen, rugby lovers and drinking buddies. And all three of them were in one way or another victims of the dreaded drink.

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O’Toole’s health crisis came in his ’40s, when in 1976 he underwent surgery to remove his pancreas and part of his stomach – although the stomach cancer that precipitated it wasn’t actually a result of his boozing. Although this surgery led to diabetes and just two years later a blood disorder left him close to death, the great roles or – maybe more specifically – great performances far from dried up. For, in spite of his singularly unique, often theatrically-flourished, sometimes manic and always beautifully enunicated brand of thesping, he’ll always be recalled for extraordinarily being nominated eight times for the Best Actor Oscar across four decades and never winning.

The first nom came for his superstardom-launching turn as maverick British army officer TE Lawrence in David Lean’s epic masterpiece Lawrence Of Arabia (1962) – see above video clip. The next two came – again, rather extraordinarily – for the same character but in two different movies, England’s legendary King Henry II in Becket (1964) – opposite Burton – and The Lion In Winter (1968) – opposite Katharine Hepburn, apparently his favourite co-star, and in this humble blogger’s opinion the role for which he was most robbed by Oscar (see video clip below).

The nominations continued apace in the ’70s and ’80s. There was a sentimental take on the eternally appealing, eponymous WWI-era teacher of Goodbye, Mr Chips (1969), a hilariously mentally unhinged aristo in The Ruling Class (1972), the hugely egocentric nay insane film director of The Stuntman (1980) – see third-from-bottom video clip – and an Errol Flynn-esque (ahem) acting hellraiser in My Favourite Year (1982).

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More than 20 years later, the Academy seemingly realised their folly and offered him a ‘lifetime achievement’ award in 2003. At first he declined it, saying if he were 80 he’d probably accept it, but as he was 70 he reckoned he still had a chance of landing the ‘lovely bugger’ (he reversed his decision and did accept it). However, with marvellous irony he was somewhat proved right, as just three years later he was nominated again for his pseudo-autobiographical, randy and alcoholic autumnal thesp in Venus (2006).

Yet, O’Toole’s film career wasn’t just about nominations and awards (he won a string of them too – four Golden Globes, a BAFTA and an Emmy among them), as he was an undoubted movie star, playing a plethora of diverse roles. Over the years, he appeared opposite Peter Sellers and Woody Allen in What’s New Pussycat? (1965), Audrey Hepburn in How To Steal A Million (1966), Richard Rountree in Man Friday (1975), Burt Lancaster and John Mills in Zulu Dawn (1979), Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren and John Gielgud in Caligula (1979) and Helen Slater and Faye Dunaway in Supergirl (1984), as well as in the multi-Oscar-winning The Last Emperor (1987) and Pixar’s brilliant Ratatouille, to which he unmistakably lent his voice (2007).

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Away from cinema, he was just as big and significant a star of the stage. In fact, that’s where it all began for him – and that unquestionably being the reason why he was so accomplished. Winning a scholarship, he trained between 1952 and ’54 at the world renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), where he found himself in the same class as Albert Finney and Alan Bates – after rather oddly being turned down by Dublin’s Abbey Theatre drama school because he couldn’t speak Irish. Then he went on to make a name for himself in multiple classical roles at the Bristol Old Vic and the English Stage Company, before reaching the zenith of his stage career by playing Hamlet (1963) in the Laurence Olivier-directed first ever production of the latter’s National Theatre.

He fulfilled his ambition of eventually treading the boards at the Abbey Theatre in Waiting For Godot (1970) and, despite reputedly receiving the worst ever reviews in West End history for his performance as Macbeth (1980), later appeared as the Soho-bar-propper-upper in Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell (1989) to universal acclaim, going on to win an Olivier award for his efforts (see video clip below). The play was written by the noted Keith Waterhouse, with whom O’Toole had actually originally crossed paths in his first job as a trainee journo at the Yorkshire Evening Post, before he’d spent time in the Royal Navy for his National Service.

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Despite his predilection for a drink dismantling neither his health or career, it certainly played havoc with his private life. In 1959 he married sterling Welsh thesp Siân Phillips (scene-stealer of 1976’s classic BBC series I, Claudius) and, although the union lasted 20 years and produced two daughters (one of whom, Kate, became an accomplished actress herself), it proved stormy and came to an end owing to O’Toole’s (near-)alcoholism. Four years later he sired a son, Lorcan, with then model girlfriend Karen Brown, but this relationship too ended acrimoniously, the child being the subject of a protracted legal battle. Moreover, he reputedly turned down a knighthood in 1987, perhaps not surprising given his Irish identification and, as the Thatcher government was very much in power at the time, his generally Left-leaning politics.

In the end, though, it’s perhaps as the impossibly blue-eyed, brushstroke-like blond-fringed and utterly beautiful but brilliantly complex Lawrence that so many will immediately – and most like – to remember him. A young, terribly handsome, and terrifically electric actor in a tour de force performance whose iconoclasm has ultimately put everything else he did in the shade. But, as hopefully pointed out here, that’s far from the whole O’Toole story, which is far more complicated, contradictory and interesting.

Apparently, he tended to see himself as something of a romantic; a lover of the nobility and grandeur of acting, the purity of rugby and cricket (for which he successfully gained training badges) and a chap whose daily reading of Shakespeare ensured he was able to recite every one of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. So to quote the most notorious of those very sonnets (number 18, no less), sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines – and never more so than now, for as of two days ago this is where the late, great Peter O’Toole resides.

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Retro Crimbo: Julie Andrews/ Phoebe Cates ~ Festive Fancies

December 13, 2013

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Talent…

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… These are the lovely ladies and gorgeous girls of eras gone by whose beauty, ability, electricity and all-round x-appeal deserve celebration and – ahem – salivation here at George’s Journal

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Yes, like it or not, we’re all sliding into the inescapable seasonal snowdrift that’s Christmastime (is it me or has everyone willingly started earlier this year?), in which case here’s a real bobby dazzler of a prezzie from me to all you good, good people… a double pictorial tribute to the stars of a trio of (more or less) timeless yuletide big screen faves, namely the delightful Julie Andrews and the delicious Phoebe Cates. Welcome please then, peeps, the latest, yup, practically perfect pair to enter this blog’s Talent corner
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Profiles

Names: Dame Julie Elizabeth Andrews (real surname: Wells)/ Phoebe Cates Cline (née Phoebe Belle Cates)

Nationalities: English/ American

Professions: Actress, singer, theatre director, dancer and author/ Actress, entrepreneur and model

Born: October 1 1935, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey / July 16 1963, New York City

Known for: Julie  – playing the leads in the perennially-popular-at-this-time-of-year family musical classics The Sound Of Music (1965) and Mary Poppins (1964), the latter for which she won a Best Actress Oscar. Starting out as a West End child-star performing with her parents, she eventually moved Stateside to fill out the female leads in the Broadway productions of My Fair Lady (1956) and Camelot (1961), the latter opposite Richard Burton. Later, she consolidated her Hollywood success in flicks such as Torn Curtain (1966) and Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), before – following a career decline, during which she married ace comedy director Blake Edwards – she appeared in her spouse’s movies 10 (1979), as a transvestite stage performer in Victor Victoria (1982) and, seemingly in an effort to defy her cuddly persona, bared her breasts in S.O.B. (1981). In recent years, she’s played supporting roles in The Princess Diaries (2001) and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004), lent her voice to the three Shrek sequels (2004, ’07 and ’10) and Despicable Me (2010), and directed an off-Broadway production of musical The Boy Friend (2003). She was made a Dame in the Queen’s 2000 New Year’s Honours List/

Phoebe – starring as hero Zach Galligan’s lovely love interest in the ‘anti-‘ Christmas flick Gremlins (1984) and its sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1981), after gaining exposure (in more ways than one) in nudity-fest Paradise (1982), sex comedy Private School (1983) and teencom classic Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982). Initially starting out as a model, she appeared on the covers of magazines Seventeen and Teen Beat and later headlined the movies Drop Dead Fred (1991) and Princess Caraboo (1994), the latter opposite husband Kevin Kline, whom she married in 1989. After retiring to raise her children, she returned to the screen in The Anniversary Party (2001) as a favour to its actor-director and Fast Times co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh. Nowadays she runs a boutique she opened on New York’s Madison Avenue.

Strange but true: Despite her successes on Broadway, what really introduced Julie to America was her eponymous role in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical version of Cinderella, broadcast by CBS in 1957 – it bagged more than 100 million viewers; Phoebe’s father co-created the game show The $64,000 Question (1955-58) and her uncle produced several Academy Award ceremonies.

Peak of fitness: Julie – flirting with Dick Van Dyke‘s Bert as they enjoy their jolly animated holiday in Mary Poppins/ Phoebe – equally as cute as Gizmo in Gremlins she may be, but it has to be emerging from the swimming pool in that red bikini as the fantasy object of Judge Reinhold’s desire in Fast Times At Ridgemont High.

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Retro Crimbo 2013/ Playlist: Listen, my yule dudes!

December 7, 2013

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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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Elmer Bernstein ~ Main Title from The Great Escape (1960)

Morecambe and Wise ~ A-Wassailing/ The Happiest Christmas Of All (1964)

The Supremes ~ My Favorite Things (1964)

Andy Williams ~ Medley: Sleigh Ride/ The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (1965)1

The Beatles ~ The Beatles’ 1968 Christmas Record (1968)2

The Who ~ Christmas (1969)3

Elvis Presley ~ Merry Christmas Baby (1971)

Greg Lake ~ Humbug (1975)4

Paul Williams and the Cast of Bugsy Malone ~ You Give A Little Love (1976)5

The Universal Robot Band ~ Disco Christmas (1977)

John Denver and The Muppets ~ The Twelve Days Of Christmas (1979)

Rita Coolidge ~ Lake Freeze (1980)6

The Two Ronnies ~ Two Santas (1984)7

The Cast and Crew of Moonlighting (1985-89) ~ The First Nowell (1985)8

Slade ~ Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (1985)

Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan ~ Especially For You (1988)9

Bing Crosby ~ White Christmas (as performed on his US TV Christmas specials 1962-77)

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1 From the 1965 edition of Andy Williams’ series of timeless and unforgettable Christmas TV specials

This particularly psychedelic and Goon-esque festive offering from The Fabs to their fan club members was cut together by then Radio 1 DJ Kenny Everett

From the rock opera Tommy (1969), featuring corresponding visuals from Ken Russell’s cinematic adaptation (1975) of the concept album

4 The b-side to Lake’s terrific festive hit I Believe In Father Christmas (1975); clearly really an Emerson, Lake And Palmer composition, it’s credited only to Lake as its a-side was too

5 The theme from this tune can currently be heard in BBC1’s Christmas season trails; writer of all classic kids’ musical Bugsy Malone’s (1976) songs, Paul Williams delivers this one’s lead lyric – as he did with most of the movie’s others

6 The charming and memorable tune that appeared on the soundtrack to the yuletide TV animated special The Christmas Raccoons (1980), in which the cartoon favourites debuted

7 A word-play-tastic North Pole-set song-and-dance sequence from the redoubtable double-act’s 1984 BBC Christmas special

8 An unsurprisingly – given it featured in Moonlighting – fourth-wall-shattering but delightful end coda from the show’s Season Two seasonal-set T’was The Episode Before Christmas (1985)

9 The ionic Stock, Aitken and Waterman ballad performed by the late ’80s Antipodean sweethearts that was unexpectedly – and inexplicably – beaten by Cliff Richard’s Mistletoe And Wine (1988) to that year’s coveted UK Christmas #1

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Tardis Party/ Half-century heroics: The Day Of The Doctor (Nov 23)/ An Adventure In Space And Time (Nov 21, BBC2) ~ Reviews

December 1, 2013

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(The Day Of The Doctor) Directed by: Nick Hurran; Starring: Matt Smith, David Tennant, John Hurt, Jenna Coleman, Billie Piper, Jemma Redgrave, Joanna Page and Ingrid Oliver; Written by: Steven Moffat; UK; 76 minutes; Colour

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In the highly unlikely event you’re still yet to see this near-unprecedentedly hyped slice of TV, don’t worry your little fez-topped head, for this review is spoiler-free. Pretty much…

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Regular visitors to this nook of the Internet will recall that last year it dedicated a wee, little slice of its time to celebrating the golden anniversary of the cinematic James Bond (not least the release of latest film Skyfall), but how on Gallifrey does that relate to Doctor Who (1963-present)? Well, it seems this blog wasn’t the only entity paying attention to 007 in 2012, for so too was Who showrunner Steven Moffat, because he apparently looked to Skyfall for his show’s own half-century-honouring, big- (and small-screen) special The Day Of The Doctor.

Specifically, Moffat has said what he took from the latest Bond flick was the fact it didn’t just celebrate the Bond films of lore with nods to them throughout, but also fundamentally focused on the character of the protagonist, shook him up and, by the end, took him in an entirely new direction. Indeed, one may say this approach – and its excellent realisation – is why The Day Of The Doctor is such a triumph as a golden anniversary celebration of Who.

Not that it doesn’t have those inevitable nods to the best-loved aspects of the ‘Classic’ series and ‘NuWho’, though. Chief among them, of course, is the fan-gasm-friendly fact it’s a ‘multi-Doctor’ story. Following on the heels of previous anniversary specials The Three Doctors (1973) and The Five Doctors (1983), this effort – shown in cinemas in 3D as well as on goggleboxes in apparently 90-odd different countries – properly gives us two further Docs in addition to soon-to-leave-the-TARDIS Eleventh incarnation Matt Smith, one of which we’ve never met before. And it works bloody well; as well, in fact, as Leonardo da Vinci works at knocking out half-a-dozen Mona Lisas.

So we’re offered here not just the return of David Tennant‘s über-popular Tenth Doctor, but also off the back of directly preceding episode The Name Of The Doctor‘s and ‘minisode’ foretaster The Night Of The Doctor‘s (see video clip below) introduction of a brand new, ‘retconned’ Doc, namely John Hurt’s War Doctor, an episode whose plot revolves around this shadowy character and his decision to end the Time War between his own peeps the Time Lords and those dastardly Daleks. And, lest we forget, that Time War has until now been a(n unseen) narrative addition that’s played a pivotal role in the make-up of the ‘NuWho’ Docs.

Smartly and artfully, though, Moffat’s fine scripting meanders about for much of its running time before it inevitably reaches this defining moment in the Hurt Doc’s incarnation at the story’s climax, taking in a couple of sub-plots that nicely weave Smith and Tennant’s Docs into the mix – the result of which, in true Moffat-style at its best, has the viewer twisting and turning through his familiar wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey storytelling (although, in a slightly more audience-friendly manner than in some of his efforts perhaps; the bends are less hairpin than in, say, 2010’s The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang or 2011’s Day Of The Moon).

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Of these two sub-plots, Tennant’s is the simpler and more playful, seeing him defend England’s Queen Elizabeth I (Gavin And Stacey‘s Joanna Page) from beastly Zygons (a top Who monster not seen in 40 years). Smith’s asks the viewer to work harder, his Doc and current companion (Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald; growing into a stronger co-star with each episode and here, fittingly, employed as a teacher at Coal Hill School) aiding/ locking horns with the modern-day UNIT – run by The Brig‘s daughter Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) – following an unprecedented action-carrying-on-during-the-opening-titles sequence in which Smith spectacularly hangs off the bottom of the TARDIS as it arrives in Trafalgar Square. Indeed, both sub-plots merge when the Docs discover their foe is mutual and their shared solution is, don’t doubt it, rather marvellously smart.

Smith, as he has been throughout his four-year tenure, is outstanding here, by turns wise and knowingly wistful in the face of his earlier versions and eccentrically youthful (in very timey-wimey contrast to, again, his earlier versions). If anything, Tennant seems to tone down the energy and ebullience of his incarnation on this occasion, yet the humility, vulnerability and even regret of his version (his was always the most ‘human’ of all the Docs) is there with bells on. There’s also arguably an in-joke at his expense, given his snogging – and more – of Good Queen Bess (his was always the most ‘ladies’ man’ of all the Docs). However, as any multi-Doctor story worth its salt should, the The Day Of The Doctor really catches fire in the character and dramatic stakes when all three Docs share the screen.

Their, as mentioned, crossover into The War Doctor’s time-stream (in the depths of the Time War, but antithetically caged inside an idyllic, rickety old barn, sun streaming in through its slats) is powerful and satisfying stuff, indeed – as always, like Doctor Who at its best, it gives British TV drama a very good name. Plus, it almost goes without saying that Hurt is outstanding. Simply, seemingly effortlessly outstanding. Moreover, the much heralded return to Who of Billie Piper as Tennant-era companion Rose Tyler turns out not to be what you might expect, but actually – given how well she plays it – something much better than it may have been. Rest assured, her inclusion here is far from stunt-casting.

And as for that reappearance of yet another Doctor of old come the end? Well, technically (as Moffat has smugly boasted since broadcast) all the Docs appear in this episode, including even the next one, but there’s undoubtedly a very special cameo to savour. Admittedly, it does lift one out of the drama a little (it’s as broad a nudge and a wink to fans as they come in this story, certainly more so than any other on offer), but if any ‘Whovian’ struggles to savour it then surely they should hand in their replica sonic screwdriver.

All told then, The Day Of The Doctor delivers just what it should – and very much more. A fitting 50th-anniversary special that lovingly gives us a trio of Time Lords; a fascinating, finely CGI-ed glimpse of the hell that’s the heart of the Time War; the return of a fine monster and a fine companion; delightful asides to advanced Who fans (Tenth Doc: ‘Oh, you’ve redecorated… I don’t like it’) and more than one emotional wallop amidst the celebration. Plus, the end coda that, yes, does send the Doc off in an entirely new direction brings a heartwarming glow that should last until the (promised) heartbreak of Smith’s departure in Christmas’s The Time Of The Doctor when Peter Capaldi takes over the controls of the time console. In a nutshell, this special is the televisual equivalent of being offered a jellybaby by Tom Baker‘s Fourth Doctor – do take it; it’s sweet but heady, frothy but filling and boasts an irresistible aftertaste.

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(An Adventure In Space And Time) Directed by: Terry McDonough; Starring: David Bradley, Jessica Raine, Brian Cox, Sacha Dhawan and Lesley Manville; Written by: Mark Gatiss; UK, 83 minutes, Colour/ Black-and-white

Always destined to be a starter to the Beeb’s golden anniversary Who celebrations that would culminate in the sumptuous prime-time Saturday night dinner that is The Day Of The Doctor, Mark Gatiss’ trip back through the time-tunnel to look behind the scenes at how it all began in An Adventure In Space And Time has turned out to be a delightful, delicious offering itself.

Telling the tale of the power-games, head-knocking and elbow-twisting that went into creating and then realising Doctor Who, this drama isn’t a truth-all exposé, though. Fittingly (if unsurprisingly given its writer’s a huge Who fan and ‘NuWho’ insider-and-a-half), it’s a love-letter to the show, conjuring up an atmosphere of on-set wonder and awe (not least in its halcyon-like lighting and filming of the eerily but brilliantly spot-on original TARDIS set), instead of a bird’s-eye view of backstage tantrums and smoke-filled office arguments.

No doubt the latter played an important – and necessary – role in the genesis of Who, but Adventure is not the drama in which you’ll find them. No, here you’ll discover a triumph-against-the-odds story that then slips into a tale of a tragic fall. Collaborative effort, magic, nostalgia and melancholia are the order of the day here – and rightly so; after all, this ain’t All The President’s Men (1975), it’s Bill and Verity’s excellent adventure.

Indeed, if there is such a thing as a narrative curve-ball in Adventure then it’s the fact that very first Who producer Verity Lambert is its protagonist not just as much as, but arguably more so than very first Doc thesp William Hartnell. For it makes clear right from the off that, given the job – in something of a groundbreaking move as a young woman working in TV – by eccentric BBC Drama boss Sydney Newman (a nicely charismatic Brian Cox), Lambert was thrown in at the deep end. Green yet full of confidence, nay, even arrogance, she was tasked with putting together a Saturday early-evening kids’ show with alternating space and historical plots in order to maintain the Beebs’ audience between Grandstand (1958-2007) and Juke Box Jury (1959-67). Mission impossible? Given a lack of support from practically everyone around her (owing both to male prejudice and the general dismissal of a children’s fantasy show, as well as Newman’s insistence he couldn’t hold his protegé’s hand through it), Lambert’s fate was inexplicably linked with Doctor Who‘s; it would either sink or swim – and so would she.

Jessica Raine (the lovely lead of that other modern BBC drama jewel Call The Midwife and co-star in this year’s ‘NuWhoer’ Hide) is perfect casting as Lambert. Less delicate certainly than in her Sunday-night-friendly Midwife persona (or actually likewise in Hide), her Lambert is full of smarts, spunk and ambition; an evenly spoken proto-feminist only too willing to take on the BBC old guard by making her ‘silly little sci-fi show’ a success and carving out a career just as big as Newman’s. She finds an ally in the shape of the nearly equally as inexperienced director of Who‘s first serial Warris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan) and, before combining to unwittingly cock up the original recording of An Unearthly Child‘s (1963) first episode, they pull together to cast its main actor, one William Hartnell.

If Raine’s Lambert has the most screen-time, then no question David Bradley’s Hartnell is Adventure‘s heartbeat. Written and played as an ageing, irascible seen-it-all of stage and small-screen (who dreams of quality work over ‘variety’), Hartnell is hardly painted as a saint by Gatiss’s script and Bradley’s performance; his sharpness, vanity and temperamental ‘luvvie’-esque nature on-set aren’t glossed over. Yet, he’s most definitely presented as a human being. He has less likable qualities for sure, but realistically they’re not overstated, while his delight in finally becoming a household name and a hero for kids the nation over (something Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee clearly also loved) is given space to shine – in particular, in a wonderful park scene where he, in front of his wife (Lesley Manville), leads a class of schoolchildren in an impromptu game of ‘Hunt then hide from the Dalek’.

Where Gatiss, director Terry McDonough and Bradley really earn their corn, though, is in presenting his slide into ill health (arteriosclerosis), which caused him to forget lines and lose his way mid-scene. Adventure makes it particularly difficult not to feel for a seasoned actor denying and finally facing the fact he has to walk away from the role that’s made him in the show he owns (especially after Lambert has left for the sake of her career, breaking up early Who‘s tight, highly successful clubby team, for whom at first it may have felt like it’d go on forever). Adding to the tragedy is the irony that it was the show’s exhausting schedule that no doubt brought on and exacerbated its star’s illness.

Hartnell must move on from the show that’s moving on around him them – nobody but him seems to know how to switch on the TARDIS’s moving console; how will they cope? But cope they will and this, therefore, isn’t the end but a rebirth; this show that’s far exceeded anyone’s expectations will go on and on… and on and on because the adoration of its audience demands it (an unexpected if arty, but moving cameo from someone very familiar makes the point beautifully). But it is the end for Hartnell, of course. He must leave the stage for another, younger, healthier actor to take his place (Patrick Troughton). Nothing lasts forever on the show that may last forever. Sad as that is, An Adventure In Space And Time ultimately then is a story of regeneration and continuation. Put simply, it’s the story of Doctor Who.

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The Day Of The Doctor will be available to buy on DVD in Australia from December 4 and in North America from December 10 and, along with An Adventure In Space And Time, in the UK and Northern Ireland from tomorrow

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