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1863 and all that: getting shirty ~ the 15 greatest ever England kits

June 10, 2013

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Looking a vermilion dollars: the 1966 World Cup-winning England team show off the Jules Rimet trophy (held by captain Bobby Moore, centre) in the national side’s best recalled kit

Yes, that’s right, folks, if you weren’t already aware (admittedly, if you’re from these isles and at all follow the national game, it’d be pretty darn unlikely you weren’t), this summer marks the 150th anniversary of the English Football Association – and, ergo, the England football team. In which case, because it likes to, this sunny season this very blog will be celebrating this jumpers-and-goalposts-related milestone by devoting the odd post to some true highs (as opposed to, yes, the many lows) there’s been for England’s international side over the decades, starting with this offering you’ve just started reading.

Yes, again, surely only if you make it your business to ignore everything football-esque, would you be unaware that England have – for the umpteenth time – just changed their kits (home and away) and specially so for this their anniversary year; for what it’s worth, while methinks the new ‘home’ effort is flawed, it’s not as bad as all that, while the ‘away’ one ain’t bad at all. And, fittingly enough then, well, depending on your view, this blog focuses on the 15 – as it’s the 15oth anniversary – best kits our chaps have performed and, erm, not performed in. There may’ve always been three lions on the chest, but the rest of their togs have been through several different incarnations, colours and styles – so eat your heart out Gok, because here it is, England’s sartorial soccer rundown…

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CLICK on the titles for video clips and on the images for full-size

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15. Home kit (1980-83)

Tournament: World Cup 1982 (Spain)

Manufacturer: Admiral

england_kits_1980-83_home

The good: Easily distinguishable from every other England kit, this better-of-the-two Admiral efforts boasted a shirt with a dynamic and bold, above-the-chest big blue, smaller red and thin blue tri-bar colour-splash.

The bad: Those unmissable red and blue bars were inspired by the UK’s Union Flag. But wait a tick, isn’t England’s flag that of St. George, er, featuring a red cross on a white background? In the early ’80s when unfurling Union Jacks was sadly even more sensitive than today, this design maybe wasn’t the smartest move.

The ugly: Again, that tri-bar broken by that v-neck is an acquired taste (the font used for the red numbers on the back’s a bit cack too). Unquestionably, this is the Marmite of England kits.

That was when: Kevin Keegan’s perm (and Kevin Keegan) always seemed to play for England (unless it was World Cup ’82, that is) – the David Beckham-esque shouldn’t-he-have-actually-been-better-than-he-was? superstar of England lore. Ouch!

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14. Home goalkeeper kit (1990-91)

Tournament: World Cup 1990 (Italy)

Manufacturer: Umbro

england_kits_goalkeeper_1990-91

The good: The only kit worn by an England numero uno to grace this list, this one’s inclusion may have as much to do with my ever nostalgic recollection of Italia ’90 and England’s post-1966 high showing therein as anything else. Still, as ’80s/ ’90s man-between-the-sticks outfits go, it’s a simple, dignified effort in classic England goalkeeper yellow and black (cf. this psychedelic monstrosity from ’95-’96 and this even crazier ‘away’ alternative from the same era“Matron, take them away!”).

The bad: The black collar sticking out over the top of the hoop-neck’s not fantastic, admittedly.

The ugly: Some may suggest the rubber pads on the shoulders here (why are they there? There aren’t even any on the elbows? Weird). Me, though, I just think they add a little eccentric, if  appealingly naff, charm to the shirt.

That was when: The legend that was Shilts was called on to try and keep England in the World Cup when he faced Matthäus, Brehme and co. in our first ever penalty shootout; he didn’t save one, but guessing right each time, impressively got damn close to all four that beat him.

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13. Home kit (2005-07)

Tournament: World Cup 2006 (Germany)

Manufacturer: Umbro

england_kits_2005-7_home

The good: Seeming to reflect the swaggering (but eventually doomed) Beckham-brand-driven England of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, this was the shirt with that ‘look at me!’ pointy-ending red cross (referencing St. George’s flag) on the right shoulder. It’s maybe not the most fondly recalled of England efforts, but cuts a bit of a dash in the fashion stakes, while also boasting not a little elegance.

The bad: Call me a purist, but unless the colour co-ordination of an England kit is genuinely excellent, I always like a white shirt, navy blue shorts, white socks and red numbering and lettering on the back of the shirt. This one continued the unconventional early to mid-’00s habit of making the numbers black or navy blue (which we’ve unnecessarily gone back to with the present Nike curtain-raiser). It may occur here because a red font would detract from the red shoulder-cross, I suppose, but it’s something that always niggles…

The ugly: Never been crazy about that collar, if I’m being honest. The red-striped-shoulder is what this kit’s all about; it doesn’t need a collared neck to over-busy the shirt (even just a little bit). A simple v- or hoop-neck would’ve been fine.

That was when: Peter Crouch scored by pulling a Trinidad and Tobagon’s dreadlocks and Frank Lampard totted up more shots on goal than anyone else in the entire tournament (without hitting the back of the net once) – at least the WAGs got some shopping done in Baden-Baden though, eh?

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12. Home kit (2003-05)

Tournament: Euro 2004 (Portugal)

Manufacturer: Umbro

FBL-EURO2004-MACEDONIA-ENGLAND

The good: Another bold effort this one, when all’s said and done. And that’s because of that wide (although ending in a point) red stripe running down either sleeve from the neck. It’s actually a hint of the St. George’s flag again, given it begins as a bar across the back of the shirt (above the player’s name), from the centre of which a short, narrow red line runs up and under the collar. Clever. And the similar red piping down the neck running into the top of the centrally located England badge is a nice sartorial touch indeed, to my mind.

The bad: Again, there are collar issues (a recurring theme among England shirts) – while the red piping at the neck is nice stuff, the white collar itself against the red piping, that’s also down the arms of course, doesn’t altogether look right. Far from a disaster at all, but maybe a navy blue collar may have been a better bet?

The ugly: The first kit on which a star denoting the nation’s sole World Cup triumph appeared, this one may be, but where was it plonked? Two thirds of the way down the shirt sleeve. Er, right.

That was when: Rooney terrorised the French, then ran like a whippet before unleashing two crackers against a decent Croatia to send England hurtling into the quarter finals of Euro 2004. Who knows, he may well be a world beater one day, but never has he looked more like one than he did that balmy Portuguese summer.

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11. Home kit (1984-87)

Tournament: World Cup 1986 (Mexico)

Manufacturer: Umbro

england_kits_1984-87_home

The good: England kits are rarely better than when they’re unfussy things. And this mid-’80s offering is a fine example. With its quiet v-neck made up of two navy blue ‘v’s either side of a thin reddish ‘v’ and that slight pin stripe, its shirt is reminiscent of many English football shirts of its era (think the Dalglish-associated, pin-striped, Candy sponsored Liverpool one), but it’s damned elegant too. The Umbro diamond is unusually small as well, which, don’t doubt it, is also credit-column-worthy.

The bad: Compared to others, one may say this kit’s a bit bland. And a tiny quibble – the squad numbers on the shorts are not in the same font as the squad numbers on the back of the shirt. Yup, said it was a tiny quibble. The shirt numbers are in big, bold, bright red, though. Another tick there then.

The ugly: As implied above, this kit doesn’t really do ‘ugly’.

That was when: Gary The Lineker banged in a hat-trick against Poland and six in total for the tournament (which made him Mexico ’86‘s Golden Boot winner, despite having only netted in three matches), before it all came crashing down against Maradona in that fateful quarter final.

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10. Away kit (1997-99)

Tournament: World Cup 1998 (France)

Manufacturer: Umbro

england_kits_1997-9_away

The good: Some England kits are just cool. They have that usually oh-so elusive ‘x-factor’. This one, for me at least, is a prime example. Actually rarely worn in the era of the memorable late ’90s white-red-and-blue-rainbow-like home kit, it seemingly appeared out of nowhere to star alongside Beckham bending in the (second?) most important free-kick of his career against the admittedly unmighty Colombia in a win-at-all-costs France ’98 group game. That St. George’s flag inflection on the deliciously burgundy-toned shirt and that slanting font for the numbers and letters… together they’re just cool as hell.

The bad: The collar. Again. It’d be fine if it just ended in a point, but that crossover-material effect ending in a flat take on a v-neck is unnecessary and doesn’t really work. Shame.

The ugly: Excusing the v-neck-ish eyesore, there’s nothing ugly about this kit.

That was when: Beckham announced himself on the World Cup stage (see above)… before getting sent off against the Argies in the next game. Silly boy.

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9. Home kit (2010-12)

Tournament: N/A

Manufacturer: Umbro

England's Bent celebrates after scoring during their Euro 2012 Group G qualifying soccer match against Wales in Cardiff

The good: In hindsight, time can be cruel to good football kits (work with me here), for had this number featured in a tournament, nay, one in which England had actually performed well, then it would probably be recalled better and, admittedly, higher up this list. All the same, it’s fine a looking effort, fusing the radical (no red whatsoever, while the shorts, numbers and letters are in one of the lightest blues ever to star on England garb) with the old-school (the v-neck-esque collar ends in a would-be buttoned-up-halfway-down-shirt front – but without the buttons – that echoes pre-’60s England shirts). And the whole thing works well and looks very nice and tidy.

The bad: Design-wise, there’s little to criticise; otherwise? Well, it’s hard actually to recall a specific match when our nation’s footballers wore it. Hmmm.

The ugly: The shoulder area on the shirt’s back features a multitude of multi-coloured crosses (supposedly symbolising both the St. George’s flag and the fact that today’s England is a very multi-racial place). A nice idea, which was apparently the brainchild of one-time Factory Records in-house album cover designer Peter Saville – if an idea that may have better remained just that.

That was when: Er, yes, when exactly was that again?

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8. Home kit (1997-99)

Tournament: World Cup 1998 (France)

Manufacturer: Umbro

england_1997-99_home

The good: The white-red-and-blue-rainbow kit mentioned above, this one was quite radical back in the day (unlike nowadays when ‘radical’ England kits seem to tumble one after another off the Umbro/ Nike production line), for it was the first to feature just as much – if not more – red as blue since the early ’80s home kit (no. 15 on this list). Not only pleasing on the eye (the curved red and blue bars down the shirt’s sides and echoing red and white bars on the shorts – although bold as brass – are well designed), it also seemed to mirror the confident, colourful era the national team enjoyed during its run (post-Euro ’96 and up to the end of France ’98, which saw the dying embers of Gazza’s international career, the consolidation of Shearer, Sheringham and Ince’s and the start for Beckham, Owen and Scholes). Happy days, indeed then.

The bad: This shirt may wisely continue the use of the ‘American football style’ number and letters font that Umbro employed on many of its ’90s soccer shirts, but annoyingly the numbers are strangely narrow. Why? For such a bold shirt design, just go with a full bold font, surely.

The ugly: Oh yes, we’re back to collar issues. And it’s a weird one this time; like this kit’s away offering, the neck doesn’t end in a ‘v-point’ as it would be expected to, but in a flat horizontal line, ensuring the shirt unnaturally crumples up a little around it. Plus, the neck features a square St. George’s flag label and a round St. George’s flag button – both unnecessary and a bit naff.

That was when: Yup, when England mastered a World Cup qualifying campaign for the first time in nearly a decade by claiming a terrific away draw against Italy (in which they outplayed them), then won a (sort of) trophy by besting France, Brazil and Italy again in a year-before-warm-up friendly tournament, only not to scale such dizzy heights in the World Cup itself. Ah well.

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7. Home kit (2009-10)

Tournament: World Cup 2010 (South Africa)

Manufacturer: Umbro

england_kits_2009-11_home

The good: Make no mistake, this effort is by far and away the most radical England home kit of modern times. Really? Yes, because for the first time ever, the shorts were chosen to match the same colour as the shirt. Sure, England had worn an all-white home kit before (often in tournaments too; against Brazil in Mexico ’70 and Argentina in France ’98), but those occasions featured ‘changed’ shorts to avoid colour clashes with the opposition. In the run-up to this kit’s introduction though, when wearing their home kits, the national side seemed to have flirted fairly often with wearing white shorts, as opposed to the usual navy blue ones, so presumably Umbro and The FA eventually just decided to go the whole hog. And, quite frankly, it worked extremely well. The overall design with the red numbers and letters (in a beautiful, old-school font) is so simple, elegant, smart and retro that, dare I say it, it’s rather gorgeous.

The bad: To buy the shirt on its own without the shorts, as most fans would have done, would have required forking out an astronomical amount for a garment that’s little more than a white polo shirt.

The ugly: There is nothing ugly about this kit. Period.

That was when: England qualified in fine style for the 2010 World Cup and then, wearing this kit twice in their four games that tournament (they inexplicably wore an all-red alternative for the other two fixtures), were insufferably awful.

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6. Away kit (2001-03)

Tournament: World Cup 2002 (Japan/ South Korea)

Manufacturer: Umbro

england_kits_2001-3_away

The good: The 2002 World Cup in Japan/ South Korea was an odd beast. I’ve nothing against South East Asia at all (never been there, so wouldn’t dream of being so presumptious), but compared to other WCs, there seemed to be something clinical, above-it-all, almost cold about this one – and it did feel like its setting, with all those clean, futuristic stadia, monorails and underground train systems constantly on show had a lot to do with it. Oddly too, this was a tournament where almost all the usual suspects either weren’t there (Holland) or conspired to totally mess up their shot at success relatively early on (France, Argentina, Italy and, as ever back then, Spain). Collectively, this had two consequences: for once England looked a good bet for at least a semi-final place and, in such a ‘stylish’ football environment, their stylish football kits looked eccerin’ brilliant. First up is their away effort. Making marvellous use of burgundy again, it was a simple, subtle thing of beauty, with its understated v-neck (and a smart St. George’s flag reference on back of the neck) and an elegant font for the numbers and letters, it shone all too briefly, just as England ultimately did this tourney.

The bad: Not a criticism of the kit design per se, but it never really seemed to catch fire with the great unwashed England fans – maybe it just looked too good?

The ugly: Tell me I’m wrong, but I can’t spot one ugly thing about this effort.

That was when: A mohican-sporting Beckham banged in his redeeming penalty against Argentina, ‘inspiring’ the rest of the team to defend their way to victory and (following a win against Denmark in the opening knockout match) cruised through to the quarters where they went out with a whimper against a no-need-to-get-out-of-second-gear Brazil. Ho-hum.

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5. Home kit (2001-03)

Tournament: World Cup 2002 (Japan/ South Korea)

Manufacturer: Umbro

FOOTBALL WORLD CUP QUALIFIER, GERMANY VS ENGLAND, ENGLAND WON TH

The good: The second of the two excellent kits England wore at the 2002 World Cup (and throughout the qualifying campaign that led up to it) was of course this little number, the unforgettable home kit that opened the Beckham/ Owen/ Gerrard-driven era ‘masterminded’ by super-cool Swede Sven-Goran Erikssen. Just like its away alternative, it was simple, subtle and elegant to a tee, with that St. Georg’e flag-suggesting vertical stripe down the left side of the front and passing behind the ‘Three Lions’ badge a highly effective nod to unquestionable, yet perfectly realised style on an England shirt. Make no mistake, dressed in this effort, England were easily the best looking side at the 2002 World Cup – even with lumbering lofty Emile Heskey up front.

The bad: As noted above, never been crazy about the ’00s England shirt trend that was numbers and names in navy blue/ black instead of the classic red. And, given this is an otherwise ‘classic’ looking kit (and because it started this trend), maybe this has to be a mark against it. Maybe.

The ugly: The ‘torso-defining’ piping that separates the rest of the shirt front from the shoulders and the arms is, if you’re being (hyper-) critical a bit ugly – the away kit also boasts this feature, but given that shirt’s in red it’s less noticeable. But we’re really clutching at straws here.

That was when: Owen grabbed a hat-trick, catapulting England to an unprecedented, nay surreal 5-1 counter-attack-tastic demolition of Germany in Munich. Pity then he and the rest of the ‘Young Lions’ didn’t have a ‘Plan B’ when it came to the real crunch against Brazil.

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4. Home kit (1990-92)

Tournaments: World Cup 1990 (Italy), Euro ’92 (Sweden)

Manufacturer: Umbro

england_kits_1990-92Soccer - World Cup Italia 1990 - Semi Final - West Germany v England - Stadio Delle Alpi

The good: As I inferred above, one tends to recall an England kit rather positively when the fellers actually do well in a tournament while wearing it. And, for many England fans out there, this effort probably is the epitome of that statement; it’ll be forever identified with Gazza’s brilliance, Lineker’s penalties against Cameroon, Platt’s swivelling volley and Waddle’s awful mullet – in short, with that glorious footballing summer that was Italia ’90 and England’s (near) world-beating exploits therein. But, truth be told, even as a mere 10-year-old as I was at the time, I loved this kit from the moment I first saw it. With its featuring that (with hindsight, perhaps rather shameless) Umbro diamond-toting design, not least in terms of the water-marking on the shirt, smart collar and red, bold ‘American football style’ numbers on the back, it was more dynamic and somehow more serious and thus more grown-up than England’s immediately previous kit; almost a statement of intent of the side this time round – their last possible chance under the tutelage of Uncle Bobby Robson to (more or less) go the distance in a tournament and really fulfil the potential, individually speaking, they’d possessed for years. and – maybe not at all because they were wearing this cracking kit, but hey – they only went and actually did it.

The bad: Sadly, England also wore this one for the inexcusable awfulness that was their disastrous Euro ’92 campaign, for which admittedly player names on the back of the shirt and little squad numbers in the middle of the shirt’s front didn’t look that great (maybe not surprising as the shirt had been designed without ever intending to feature these additions – Euro ’92 was the first time in football that these accoutrements were added to a shirt).

The ugly: As with the mid-’80s kit (no. 11 on the list), the font of the small squad numbers on the shorts doesn’t match that of the numbers on the shirt’s back. But, really, who cares?

That was when: Gazza cried, Lineker motioned the bench should have a word with him, Platt’s face lit up like a Christmas tree and Pearce and Waddle established a new form of tortuous, if glorious so-close-yet-so-far national failure of which to be oddly proud. Ah, memories…

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3. Home kit (1995-96)

Tournament: Euro ’96 (England)

Manufacturer: Umbro

england_kits_1995-97_home

The good: Inevitably, as the fortunes of elite football in mid-’90s England suddenly soared thanks to the runaway success of the Premier League, its iconography seemed to be everywhere – not least the once humble football shirt. And the best and most recognisable shirts were produced by Mancunian-based sportswear powerhouse Umbro, in particular the fetching, stylish efforts worn by team-of-the-era Manchester United and (on and off) Liverpool, Chelsea, Aston Villa and even – and most illustriously – the 1994-crowned World Champions Brazil. Umbro too, of course, was still making England’s kits, even if the national side (in dramatic contrast to the glamorous Premier League) had been on an embarassing slide since the highs of Italia ’90. Come 1996, though, suddenly the Three Lions got their mojo back as they, yes, roared once more at the fabulous Euro ’96 tournament – and unforgettably they did so in a confident, terrific kit that was as good, nay better, as anything Umbro was producing for anyone else. For, like no. 9 on this list, this kit’s bold use of blue – navy blue numbers and names on the shirt outlined by sky blue – and lack of any red at all ensured it was the biggest departure of any England garment for years, yet so finely designed was it (even the exaggerated v-neck fits and complements the whole) the overall effect of white accompanied by two blue hues was practically perfect. In short, this is a gorgeous, gorgeous kit – there’s only two England shirts I own and this kit’s is one of them.

The bad: Maybe fairly, there was criticism at the time that Umbro ensured its name (used on its kits during this period instead of its diamond logo) was enormous; its certainly wider than the England badge beneath it. Yet so glorious is the kit it pulled off here, I can overlook the hubris.

The ugly: I suppose you could say Gazza’s bleached-blonde bonce wasn’t a great look to go along with this effort (see image above), but it’s hardly the kit’s fault – plus, the Geordie wunderkind truly was a wonder once more, albeit all too briefly.

That was when: Football came home for three weeks as England stuttered against the Swiss, then stunned the Scots, hammered the Dutch and squeezed past the Spanish (by, yes, actually winning a penalty shoot-out), before it all came to a stuttering halt once more against the Germans (but, hey, the boys had switched to wearing grey by then, so maybe not a surprise).

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2. Away kit (1965-74)

Tournaments: World Cup 1966 (England), World Cup 1970 (Mexico)

Manufacturer: Umbro

england_kits_1965-74_away

The good: Surely the most iconic – specific – football kit of all-time (while the yellow shirts, blue shorts and white socks of Brazil are recognised by, well, everyone, how many peeps can identify a specific Brazil kit from another?), this is of course the one in which England won the World Cup on that glorious day in late July 1966. Away from being rightly and forever associated with such an outstanding and (in terms of what happened in the match itself) dramatic occasion, its greatness lies in two unarguable facts – its combination of bold scarlet (the shirts and socks) and snow white (the shorts and numbers on the back of the shirt) is simply gorgeous and the sheer simplicity and beauty of its design (no pretensions whatsoever; merely a hooped collar, an England badge over the left breast and a classic, perfectly clear font for the shirt numbers) is impossible to ignore, dismiss and, frankly, dislike. For many, this is the England kit – and it’s very hard to argue with that.

The bad: While England won the World Cup in this kit, they also rather memorably and not a little ignominiously went out of the next one in 1970 (against the Germans) wearing it. A tad careless you might say, given it was these awesome togs there were sporting.

The ugly: Find something and tell me, I dare you.

That was when: Er, like, when we won the World Cup.

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1. Home kit (1965-74)

Tournaments: World Cup 1966 (England), Euro ’68 (Italy), World Cup 1970 (Mexico)

Manufacturer: Umbro

england_kits_1965-74_home_4england_kits_1965-74_home_2
england_kits_1965-74_home_3Soccer - European Championship Qualifier - Group Eight - England v Scotland

The good: Like I said above, for many the red-and-white ’66 World Cup final outfit is the England kit and it’s very hard to argue with that – well, suck it up, folks, I’m going to. For, in spite of posterity taking it upon itself to intervene and convince millions it’s otherwise, this effort (the home version of the aforementioned classic) is actually the England kit. The evidence? It’s exactly the same design as the away version (hooped collar, England badge over the left breast and the same perfectly rendered shirt numbers), but in the bona fide England home colours – pristine white shirt and socks, stark navy blue shorts and unarguably brilliant bright red numbers on the back of the shirt. As I’ve mentioned already in this post, I’m something of a purist when it comes to England kits and it’s simply impossible to point to a purer England kit than this one; the colours are absolutely perfect, the hooped collar design (adopted for the ’66 World Cup by Umbro after a v-neck affectation following their winning back the manufacturing rights in the early ’60s from Bukta) is indefatigably elegant and the Three Lions walked out in these togs for a full nine years straight for the vast majority of their matches until unwisely the FA decided to go with Admiral’s replica-kit-promising deal in the mid-’70s. Any surprise this change coincided with England’s inability to get anywhere near qualifying for a tournament until the ’80s? What do you think?

The bad: I can’t think of anything ‘bad’ you can associate with this kit – watch the corresponding clip (by clicking on the ‘Home kit (1965-74)’ title above and tell me wrong.

The unlikely: As there’s absolutely nothing ugly about it, here’s an unlikely fact about the kit: as the 1970 World Cup was held at the sweltering height of summer in the high-altitude Mexico, manager Alf Ramsey ordered a ‘light-weight’ version of the kit for his players. The one-off result was a kit produced from the cellular, hot-climate-appropriate material Aertex (see ‘Click for World Cups’ image of Bobby Moore in the page’s right-hand side-panel).

That was when: England won the World Cup, finished third in the first ever European Championships, faced Pelé in the next World Cup and then cocked up a qualifying campaign (unforgettably against Poland) for the very first time – in short, the most iconic era of the England football team.

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And, yes, the five worst…

CLICK on the titles for images

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5. Home kit (1993-95)

Looks like it was designed by a 12-year-old with an oddly enormous England badge and a repeated, why-bother miniature badge in the collar

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4. Home kit (1999-2001)

An ill-conceived effort presumably designed to appeal to retro enthusiasts that fails miserably thanks to its poor double-hooped collar and ugly horizontal-line-imprints across the shirt front

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3. Away kit (1995-97)

The legendary one that those Euro ’96 heroes wore against the Germans in that tournament’s semi-final, its makers claimed it was ‘indigo blue’, but everyone immediately saw through the transparent marketing b*llocks – never again have England got close to wearing grey (and hopefully they never will)

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2. Home kit (2007-09)

A horrid concoction this, to my mind. Returning to an ’8os-esque over-preponderance of their diamond logo, Umbro featured the damn thing on the shirt’s right shoulder and then scrawled a horrible non-symmetrical red line across the shirt front’s shoulders. There’s also that ‘partial reveal’ of the England badge under the arms, which makes it look like the shirt’s split at the sides and there’s another one underneath. Or something.

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1. Alternative away kit (1976)

So bad it’s laughably bad (and thus rather gloriously so), this effort is bizarrely not the only instance that saw England dressed in yellow – our fellers actually inexplicably played in a Sweden-style yellow-shirts-and-blue-shorts outfit for three matches in 1973. But even that kit was better than this God-awful pale yellow thing. I mean, it’s truly terrible; it’s in the hooped collar style of the classic Umbro kit, which given it was produced by Admiral after the era of those kits is just odd, and even the England badge looks tatty. Even better/ worse (delete as appropriate), our boys wore it in a non-FIFA-recognised match against an ‘all-star’ USA team featuring Pelé and skippered by, yes, Bobby Moore. Oh, and who was our captain? Gerry Francis. Yup, you couldn’t make it up (here’s the filmed evidence). A true kit-astrophe.

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Further reading:

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historicalkits.co.uk/international/england/england-1997-2010

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Tardis Party: Doctor Who serial close-up ~ The Ark In Space (Season 12/ 1975)

June 2, 2013

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The (Un)Wide Awake Club: The Fourth Doctor and UNIT’s Dr Harry Sullivan discover a cryogenic chamber containing hundreds of dormant humans aboard spaceship Nerva Beacon

So, because time waits for no man (unless you’re The Doctor, for whom time can wait as long he likes it to, given he has a time machine and all that), after a couple or so weeks off, it’s back to the 50th-anniversary-year celebrations of the Brit TV sci-fi giant with this post, the latest in the (admittedly long) line of scribblings by yours truly on the best and most essential serials of Who lore.

And it’s a real doozy of a one at that, focusing as it does on the first great story of the unforgettable, unmistakable and maybe unmatchable Tom Baker era, The Ark In Space. Yes, strange, suspicious goings-on in an eerily empty (or is it?) spacestation are the order of the day for The Doc, Sarah Jane Smith and Dr Harry Sullivan. So, without further ado, let’s join them, shall we…?

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Doctor: Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor)

Companions: Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith); Ian Marter (Dr Harry Sullivan)

Monsters/ Villains: The Wirrn; Kenton Moore (Noah – transformed into a wirrn)

Allies: Wendy Williams (Vira); Richardson Morgan (Rogin)

Writers: Robert Holmes and (uncredited) John Lucarotti

Producer: Philip Hinchcliffe

Director: Rodney Bennett

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Season: 12 (second of five serials – four 25-minute-long episodes)

Total average viewers: 11.1 million

Original broadcast dates: January 25-February 15 1975 (weekly)

Previous serial: Robot

Next serial: The Sontaran Experiment

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Following his latest regeneration, The Doctor takes to his TARDIS for his first trip with regular companion Sarah Jane Smith and newbie Dr Harry Sullivan of UNIT (the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), the latter being the one actually responsible for sending them to their destination – as he accidentally knocks a switch on the TARDIS’s console, ensuring they land inside an Earth-derived spacestation and, The Doc estimates, thousands of years into our planet’s future.

As the trio look around, they quickly discover they’re devoid of enough oxygen to breathe and Sarah, having been separated from the other two, passes out on a couch and promptly vanishes. The Doctor, though, does his stuff and repairs the ship’s air system, allowing him and Harry to search further. They quickly discover a restricted section that, Aliens (1986)-like, holds hundreds upon hundreds of cryogenically frozen humans. Just as The Doc is marvelling at the human race’s desire and capacity to venture into the unknown (and in this case journey beyond the Earth in a big way), Harry finds Sarah in a cubicle seemingly frozen – and dressed in uniform – like all the others… and then, opening a cupboard door, a giant alien insect.

Fortunately, the insect is dead – and has been for some time, The Doctor deduces. One of the frozen humans wakes and, being the crew’s medical chief, uses an electronic gadget on her forehead to ensure she does so properly with no ill effects. Warily, she introduces herself as Vira to The Doctor and Harry, whom she reasonably concludes could be dangerous interlopers, but agrees to wake Sarah with her gadget when urged by the other two to do so, as she recognises Sarah shouldn’t be on the ship either. Her crew were sent into space aboard the ship (named Nerva Beacon, but nicknamed ‘The Ark’) because it was feared solar flares would destroy Earth’s ecosystems, so five thousand years later they could return to a once more placid Earth and repopulate the planet. As she revives the crew’s commander Lazar (nicknamed ‘Noah’), The Doc informs her the crew has somehow overslept for several thousands of years more than intended – and it quickly becomes apparent why…

As soon as Noah is revived, the ship’s power cuts out, so The Doc sets off to make repairs and immediately comes face-to-face with a giant green grub in its solar collector. Following him there is the non-trusting Noah, whom suspects the three ‘new arrivals’ are responsible for the power outage and, accidentally, he comes into contact with the grub (unknown to the others) and thereafter starts to behave erratically, ordering Vira to halt the reawakening of the rest of the crew. For her part, Vira has now discovered that the crew’s chief technician is missing; The Doctor notes that the berth that had contained him in the cryogenic chamber instead holds the remains of a membrane, which he assumes must have come from an egg sac produced by the enormous insect – an insect queen, it seems.

Another technician is revived, Libri, whom the others convince must go after Noah, as The Doc now believes he may turn into a green grub and eventually into a fully formed insect (he accounts for the missing chief technician by explaining the queen had laid eggs in his body before she died and as they hatched they absorbed him and his technical knowledge of the ship). Libri finds Noah, whom draws his laser gun, but the young technician can’t force himself to kill his superior; Noah has no such qualms and shoots him dead, before discovering his left hand and lower arm has horrifically metamorphosed into green grub – clearly he won’t be human for much longer.

“Madame Nostradamus made it for me – a witty little knitter. Never get another one like it” ~ The Doctor on the origin of his trademark scarf

Contacting Vira, a now half-transformed Noah hands over control of the crew and its mission to her, claiming she must revive all the humans and ‘transmat’ them (effectively beam them down) to the Earth below as fast as possible before he and all the other grubs quickly transform into adult insects – or, to give the species their proper name (which he does), the Wirrn – and kill the humans. The Doctor tells her she must delay, though, while he works out a way to fight the Wirrn. He quickly settles on the risky manoeuvre of linking his mind to the dead queen’s neural cortex, so he might learn more about the aliens.

Having gleaned little from this dangerous exercise apart from how the queen died, the fact her arrival ensured the ship’s humans overslept and that every grub/ growing insect shares the same ingrained knowledge about the ship’s inner workings, he, Sarah, Harry, Vira and two more revived crew members fight off a grub from their part of the ship, during which one of the two crew members is killed before the other (named Rogin) and Harry see it off with laser guns. The power fails once more, so The Doctor travels down to the solar collector, having decided the only way to destroy the Wirrn and save the humans on the ship is to electrocute the swarm.

Encountering and escaping from a now nearly fully metamorphosed Noah, he learns from him the Wirrn’s aim – to absorb all the humans and their accumulated knowledge, thus becoming a technologically advanced race. This is only fair, the Wirrn-Noah argues, as the space-borne insect race was displaced from its original homeworld by human pioneers thousands of years before, hence why the queen ended up entering The Ark. He adds that as a compromise he’ll let The Doctor and his friends escape.

The Doc rejects the proposal and concocts a plan to try and electrocute the Wirrn swarm, which is hellbent on getting to the rest of the humans in the cryogenic chamber. Having by now fled from there, Sarah bravely takes an electric cord from the ship’s shuttle (which still has power) through a conduit pipe to the chamber. The plan works to some extent, but only one or two Wirrn are killed. The Doctor then tries to appeal to any vestiges of humanity remaining in Noah and reasons he should lead the swarm into space where it belongs, but the swarm is now heading for the shuttle and the humans therein. Before they escape the shuttle, Vira triggers its automatic take-off, so it will take the Wirrn with it out into space, while Rogin sacrifices himself by manually unlocking the shuttle’s exhausts. The Doc wonders whether Noah led his fellow swarm to the shuttle on purpose and his suspicions are proved right when the latter explodes the shuttle seconds later – in the end, Noah’s humanity somehow won out over his barbaric, sadistic Wirrn side of his consciousness.

Without the shuttle, though, Vira will now have to ‘transmat’ the rest of the ship’s revived-to-be humans down to Earth, so The Doctor, Sarah and Harry volunteer to check the system is functioning all right, the Time Lord throwing Vira a bag of jelly babies before he and his companions vanish, bound for Earth below…

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Tom Baker would, of course, quickly become (certainly pre-’NuWho’) the most popular and most iconic Doctor. And to say he hit the ground running in The Ark In Space, just his second serial, is putting it mildly. This story has everything any self-respecting Who story should – and it has it in spades. An engaging but taut plot with suspense and action (director Rodney Bennett deserves much credit for its realisation); strong, believable characterisation (the lead trio, Vira and Noah); great dialogue that’s both crisp, witty and memorable; an interesting and memorable setting (‘The Ark’ looks great, both futuristic and light yet claustrophobic); a truly disagreeable, rather horrible monster (the Wirrn);  and a thoroughly satisfying conclusion. Fair dues, it’s not exactly Alien (1979), but at times it’s getting there. In a witty way with a protagonist wearing a ludicrously long scarf, that is.

And, significantly, the presence and fast blossoming of Baker as Gallifrey’s most notorious son isn’t the only marker of a changing of the guard this serial sets down. As they would be quite brilliantly for the rest of this series and the next two (the 13th and 14th), the hands of both young, ambitious new show producer Philip Hinchcliffe and seasoned, masterful but new script editor Robert Holmes are all over Ark.

Together, they’d take Who in an exciting, darker, never-more-watched direction, with stories feeling monster-of-the-week-horror-film-esque, their storylines often inspired by and usually very effective pastiches of classic literature and film. The whole thing would really catch fire later (arguably in two serials’ time with Genesis Of The Daleks), but after this season’s first – and still very Barry Letts/ Terrance Dicks, UNIT-focused – serial Robot (and ostensibly the first story for which Hinchcliffe and Holmes were responsible), it definitely all started here with its second.

Another reason for me – really an affectation – why Ark is so damn good is the Nerva Beacon crew outfits (see image below). Never have spacestation staff looked smarter or cooler than in those all white togs with their modernist collars-cum-zips ending in piped upward curves at the chest, slightly flared trousers and coloured bars on the shoulders (which presumably denote rank). And arguably never sexier has Sarah Jane Smith looked than when she’s sports one from the end of the first episode onwards. Indeed, no prizes for guessing why the spaceship crew in ‘NuWho’ festive special A Christmas Carol (2010) are fitted-out in very similar outfits - answer: they look bloody brilliant in them.

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Although Holmes is credited as the serial’s only writer, previous scribe for Who and The Avengers (1961-69) John Lucarotti came up with the original storyline and the script’s first draft. Unfortunately, because at this time Lucarotti lived on a boat anchored in the Mediterranean (decades before today’s era of mobile phones and emails), a postal strike in Corsica ensured it was practically impossible for script editor Holmes to contact him for rewrites, thus Holmes had to take on all rewriting duties himself. Lucarotti was paid in full for his efforts, mind.

The character of Vira was intended to be played by a black actress, ideally a Haitian, presumably to give Ark a multiracial air and reflect the fact Nerva Beacon’s crew had been drawn from the best of the entire human race. No doubt due to the makers being unable to find an appropriate actress, Crossroads (1964-88) thesp Wendy Williams won the part. Far more intentionally, Ark is the first story in which Ian Marter’s Harry Sullivan can be said to be a bona fide companion (as it’s his first trip in the TARDIS).

He’d continue in that role for the rest of Season 12 and until the end of Terror Of The Zygons (1975), Season 13′s opener – his final appearance came as an android copy of himself in that season’s fourth story The Android Invasion (also 1975), which also saw the final appearance of Jon Levene’s much liked UNIT soldier Sergeant Benton. Marter’s association with Who would continue beyond the series, though, as in the late ’70s and early ’80s he penned nine official Target novelisations based on series serials. He died from a heart attack in 1986, aged just 42.

Ark fits near the beginning of a long, unbroken story arc (detailing Sullivan’s travels with The Doc and Sarah Jane) running right from the beginning of Season 12 opener Robot – or even Season 11 closer Planet Of The Spiders (1974), as that one’s final few seconds sees Jon Pertwee’s Doc regenerate into Baker’s, which is repeated as Robot opens – through to the end of Terror Of The Zygons. Indeed, so tight an arc is it that Nerva Beacon itself is the setting again for Season 12′s final serial Revenge Of The Cybermen (1975), which sees The Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry return to the spacestation after encountering a Sontaran (The Sontaran Experiment) and Daleks (Genesis Of The Daleks), but accidentally thousands of years before the craft’s human occupants have woken up in the earlier story.

So revered in fan circles is Ark that its biggest enthusiasts aren’t merely among the great unwashed Whovians, but among the most famous and important of them – the first showrunner of ‘NuWho’ Russel T Davies once claimed it’s his favourite serial of the original series, while present showrunner Steven Moffat has said it’s the best story made during the Tom Baker era. And what of Baker himself? Well, he apparently cites that of all the serials he filmed (that’s a staggering 41 in total) it was his favourite too. High praise for the Wirrn-toting wonder story, indeed.

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Next time: Genesis Of The Daleks (Season 12/ 1975)

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Previous close-ups/ reviews:

The Dæmons (Season 8/ 1971/ Doctor: Jon Pertwee)

Inferno (Season 7/ 1970/ Doctor: Jon Pertwee)

The War Games (Season 6/ 1969/ Doctor: Patrick Troughton)

An Unearthly Child (Season 1/ 1963/ Doctor: William Hartnell)

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Playlist: Listen, my friends! ~ June 2013

June 1, 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 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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The Left Banke ~ Walk Away Renee (1966)1

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell ~ Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (1967)2

The Doors ~ Summertime (1967)3

Mama Cass, Mary Tyler and Joni Mitchell ~ I Shall Be Released (1969)4

Miles Davis ~ Bitches Brew (1970)

Bette Midler ~ Superstar (1972)

Cast of Bugsy Malone ~ So You Wanna Be A Boxer (1976)

ABBA ~ Rock Me (1977)5 

CJ & Co ~ Devil’s Gun (1977)6

Tina Turner ~ We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome) (1985)7

Denis King ~ Theme from Lovejoy (1986-93)

Peter Gabriel ~ In Your Eyes (1986)8

The Divinyls ~ I Touch Myself (1991)9

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1 This original version of the tune that would become a huge hit for the Motown giants The Four Tops just months later was written by Left Banke member Michael Brown of his bandmate’s (bassist Tom Finn) then girlfriend Renee Fladen-Kamm. The song’s muse was actually in attendance when it was recorded, which was such an uncomfortable experience for Brown he had to return to the studio to finish off the record hours later

2 A promotional film-version (seemingly filmed in front of a funky, urban ’6os telephone booth) of Gaye and Terrell’s original crossover Motown hit. Terrell would tragically die three years later from brain cancer, aged just 24 years-old. It’s said Gaye never properly recovered from her passing and his downbeat, introspective classic 1971 album What’s Going On was a reaction to her loss  

3 An idiosyncratic Doors take on the George Gershwin classic, captured during a performance at San Francisco’s Matrix Club on March 7 1967; founding band member and keyboardist Ray Manzarek died last month aged 74

4 Performed on a Mama Cass TV special broadcast in 1969

5 This, well, truly rocking version of the ABBA hit was recorded live in Australia and is taken from ABBA: The Movie (1977)

6 This was the first track ever to be played at the legendary Manhattan disco venue Studio 54 (1977-81) 

7 As featured in the Antipodean post-apocalyptic adventure sequel Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), starring Mel Gibson and, of course, La Turner as Aunty Entity. The song hit #3 in the UK, #2 in the States and #1 in Canada; it was also nominated for Golden Globe and Grammy awards. Curiously, English World Cup winning rugby player Lawrence Dallaglio provided his voice for the song – as a member of King’s House School choir, to be heard towards its end

8 The tune that blares out of John Cusack’s lovelorn hero’s boombox he holds above his head to win back his sweetheart Ione Skye in the iconic scene from Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything (1989). Peter Gabriel stipulated he’d only agree to his song’s use if he was sent a cut of the movie to view first; his response was that the flick was fine, but he didn’t go on the protagonist’s drug overdose at the end – bizarrely, the film studio had sent him a cut of 1989′s Wired (a biopic of John Belushi) by mistake

9 The deliciously risqué Australian #1, US #4 and UK #10 hit that featured in the fembots-face-off scene from Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery (1997); its co-writer and The Divinyls’ lead singer Christina Amphlett sadly passed away in April this year, aged just 53

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Looking (and sounding) good: an assortment of awesome album art ~ Side A

May 24, 2013

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With a little help from our friends: The Fab Four play dress-up and pose with two-dimensional incarnations of personal heroes and fond fancies for the ultimate musical mise-en-scène

Ah, music… it’s great, isn’t it? What separates it from practically every other art form – and gives us its syringe-like hit right into the centre of the brain – is surely because it’s singularly, uniquely aural. Yet, my blog-friendly friends, this actually isn’t so. See, since its inception, pop-cum-rock music has always been a visual as well as an audio art form; lumière et son, if you will. How so? Well, consider the humble album cover. At its best, it’s a once-seen-never-forgotten square of eye-attracting dynamite, often complementing the themes and feel of the music contained on the disc contained in its sleeve – or sometimes, in clever, arty counterpoint, seems to have bugger all to do with the tunes it’s supposed to illustrate, instead operating as a nifty, highly successful form of ‘anti-marketing’. Either way, in the hurly-burly universe of hard-selling pop/ rock, the album cover and its art are far from humble things; indeed, sometimes gloriously they’ve been quite brilliant and beautiful.

And, to celebrate this fact, peeps, this very post (and another to come in the near future) features a – more or less – chronologically arranged collection of truly outstanding album covers, explanations of why they’re so and the stories behind their creation. So without further ado then, go on, reach up and dust off the old record shelf in the corner, because we’re breaking out (the cardboard that contains) the vinyls. Oh yes…

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CLICK on the images for full-size and CLICK on the album titles for audio samples

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Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) ~ The Beatles

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Artists: Peter Blake and Jann Haworth (designers), Michael Cooper (photographer) and Robert Fraser (art director)

So this list’s opening gambit is an obvious gimme – but an absolutely, indefatigably, unquestionably, indubitably essential one too. Sgt. Pepper is a 100-metre-long hail-mary-pass game-changer of a mid- to late ’60s  album that changed all the rules, both for The Beatles’ pop/ rock contemporaries and the record buying public; it blew the minds of both. Music artists (by happenstance as well as design) had been producing albums as works of art rather than a collection of tunes for a while, among them Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys and The Fabs, but Sgt. Pepper took the whole thing a quantum leap forward. A concept album in as much as the band themselves ostensibly take on the guise of the make-believe ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ (presumably as a nifty gag that they’d like to escape the scrutiny and pressure that being The Beatles had foisted on them so many years), there’s actually little of this – apart from the title tune and its reprise – in the songs themselves, which together are a cacophony of psychedelic rock, balladry, symphonic, music-hall-style and Indian and epic studio experimentation produced with their ally, the genius Parlophone producer George Martin.

To fit with the ‘fake band’ theme, the album artwork, of course, features the foursome in their psychedelic-esque military band guise, surrounded by a collage of around 60 cardboard cut-outs of culturally significant people. A venture so grand (and expensive – the final cost amounted to £3,000, 60 times the cost of the average album cover back then) it had to be realised by an entire team of designers and snappers including the legendary Sir Peter Blake and art dealer Robert Fraser, whom represented the former. The back cover of the sleeve featured all the album’s song lyrics printed out – the first time ever for a rock record – and the inside a panorama portrait of John, Paul, George and Ringo in their day-glo suits. The record, to much fanfare and (utterly deserved) hype, was released on August 1 1967 and went on to top the UK charts for 27 weeks and its US equivalent for 15. To date, it’s sold 32 million copies and is frequently cited as the greatest album ever made. Band leader Sgt. Pepper’d be so proud.

Accompanying The Fabs in the centre, dressed in their boldly couloured Sgt. Pepper garb, are figures of movie stars Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Marlene Dietrich, Johnny Weissmuller, Fred Astaire, Mae West, Laurel and Hardy, Tyrone Power, W C Fields and Diana Dors; writers Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, H G Wells, Dylan Thomas, Edgar Allan Poe, Aldous Huxley, William S Burroughs and Terry Southern; politicians and historical figures Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, Robert Peel, David Livingstone and T E Lawrence; legendary experimental composer Karlheinz Stockhausen; psychiatrist Carl Jung; boxer Sonny Liston and footballer Albert Stubbins; Hindi gurus Sri Yukteswar Giri, Sri Mahavatar Babaji and Sri Paramahansa Yogananda and occultist Aleister Crowley; comedians Lenny Bruce, Tommy Handley and Max Miller; waxwork models of The Beatles themselves;  and, of course, the Fabs’ rock-crush Bob Dylan; as well as props including a Macca-owned telly, a Lennon-owned statue, a doll of Hindu goddess Lakshmi and a fukusuke (Japanese china figure), a euphonium, a drum skin, a garden gnome and hookah pipe, and a cloth doll of Shirley Temple wearing a sweater bearing the peace-and-love-themed legend ‘Welcome The Rolling Stones’. Figures that were removed included Adolf Hitler and, utterly conversely, Mahatma Ghandi and Jesus Christ. Go figure.

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Calendar Girl (1956) ~ Julie London

Artist: Unknown


For many, before hitting its groove in the ’70s with the prog rockers, the ‘concept album’ started with Sgt. Pepper. Not so, folks, for here’s a glorious example of the concept album – and accompanying artwork – from the mid-’50s courtesy of the husky-voiced sex kitten that was the lovely Julie London. Calendar Girl, an on-form, orchestrally backed offering from the chanteuse, cleverly features 12 tunes (six on one side of the record; the other six on the other) that, one after the next, reflect the 12 months of the year and most of which are jazz standards (June In JanuaryFebruary Brings The RainMelancholy MarchI’ll Remember AprilPeople Who Are Born In MayMemphis In JuneSleigh Ride In JulyTime For AugustSeptember In The RainThis OctoberNovember Twilight and Warm December). Even more cleverly, the record is complemented by a wraparound sleeve sporting 12 finely fetching painted portraits of Ms London in cheesecake poses also representing the months of the year (i.e. ‘Miss January’, ‘Miss February’ etc). But not content with just that already classic concept-ness, the album additionally offers a 13th month track, er, The Thirteenth Month, which is visually represented by an awesomely appealing, pull-out and keep image that comes inside the sleeve. Original LP versions of the album are, understandably, nowadays major collectors’ items.

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50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong (1959) ~ Elvis Presley

Artist: Bob Jones

Reminiscent of a ’60s pop art effort Andy Warhol would be proud of (more on him below) and foreshadowing the irresistible campy kitsch that would characterise the later Vegas-associated Presley of the ’70s, the artwork for this early best-of album (it’s subtitled ‘Elvis’ Gold Records – Volume 2′) gets the nod from me over the more familiar and earlier, Clash-imitated Elvis Presley (1956) album. Why? Because it’s, well, just so wonderfully unlikely. A central image of a gold lamé-suited Elvis surrounded by 15 other offerings of the same image (only of different sizes and randomly arranged); what’s not to love? Its audacious yet tongue-in-cheek (almost) tastelessness instantly catches the eye – it is, after all, a greatest hits album (a second volume of one, at that), thus when originally released would have had to jump out at adolescents in a hugely crowded rock ‘n’ roll vinyl market. And in generating a cool $1 million in sales, there’s no question it did. Overseen by the marketing maestro that was Presley’s infamous manager Colonel Tom Parker and created by artist Bob Jones (who’d come up with all of the star’s previous album artwork), this sleeve’s design was a departure for sure, but had the usually stoic Parker had his way would actually have featured even more ‘nudie suit’ sporting Elvises – at least two dozen, according to Jones. “The Colonel loved that gold lamé suit,” the artist later admitted. “He kept it in one of his closets for years; Presley hated the damned suit from the first time he put it on.” Just like Sgt. Pepper, it’s been ‘celebrated’ by many a parody down through the years too; here’s an amusing slew of them.

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Whipped Cream & Other Delights (1965) ~ Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass

Artist: Peter Whorf

The record it promoted was, of course, a landmark album, the six-million-disc-shifting effort from Herb Alpert’s own A&M Records company that launched the trumpeter and his Tijuana Brass backers into the cross-many-a-demographic mid- to late ’60s stratosphere, but what of the album sleeve itself? Once seen it’s surely never forgotten; indeed, at concerts Herb would call out to the audience “sorry we can’t play the cover for you!”. A pleasing green background with the artist’s and the album’s names spelt out in large Western-style letters (as well as, boastfully bold as brass, the album’s ingredients, including the Grammy award winning US #7 hit A Taste Of Honey) are joined by a very playful, arguably erotic image of an attractive girl knowingly looking at us as she holds a pink rose and is covered in, yes, whipped cream. Most of the cream wasn’t of the whipped variety, mind; it was actually shaving cream (the only whipped cream was that on her head and on her fingers). She’s the, back in the day, Vogue and Seventeen featuring fashion model Delores Erickson, whom was a veteran of other album covers before being hired by photographer friend Peter Whorf for the image, which was captured during a shoot in his home studio converted from a garage. And if you really want to know, she wore a bikini and chiffon and was three months pregnant under all the cream and, apparently, many of the couture garments she’d previously worn were more revealing. Bang goes that near 50-year fantasy then.

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Blonde On Blonde (1966) ~ Bob Dylan

Artist: Jerry Schatzberg

Blonde On Blonde is one of the all-time - all-time – classic rock albums. It’s Dylan at the peak of his early just-moved-on-from-folk powers. Back when he was the ultimate Noo Yawk hipster, who’d incongrously disappeared to Nashville for a while and come back with an unexpected, sensational record of both elegant bouncy hits (Just Like A Woman; I Want You) and bluesy yet genre-bending, lyrically beautiful complexities (Visions Of Johanna; Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again; Obviously 5 Believers). And as if he instinctively knew this sort of an album couldn’t make do with any old, unoriginal cover art, Dylan (thanks to photographer and later filmmaker Jerry Schatzberg) slapped a blurred, out of focus image of himself on the sleeve, in which he appears so cool he looks like a cross between Ziggy Stardust and Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, and then burdens it with no words at all – the artist and album names only appear on the spine. The reality, though, is somewhat different. For the creation of this now utterly iconic image came about – as do some of the greatest works of art – by sheer accident. Schatzberg explained a few years ago: “of course everyone was trying to interpret the meaning [of the image, taken in Manhattan's Meat Packing District], saying it must represent getting high on an LSD trip. It was none of the above; we were just cold and the two of us were shivering. There were other images that were sharp and in focus but, to his credit, Dylan liked that photograph”. The inner sleeve featured nine more, this time black-and-white, Schatzberg-shot photos of Dylan, as well as one of Italian cinema star Claudia Cardinale that had to be removed from US versions of the album from ’68 onwards owing to copyright infringement.

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Between The Buttons (1967) ~ The Rolling Stones

Artist: Gered Mankowitz

Apparently, this quality collection of psychedelic and baroque rock gained its name from the answer Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham gave drummer Charlie Watts when the latter asked him what the album would be called – in saying ‘between the buttons’ Oldham actually meant  it wasn’t decided. But Watts liked the term – or thought he actually meant it – so he named a poem-cum-cartoon, which he came up with for the reverse of the album’s sleeve, ‘Between The Buttons’ and the name stuck; the record itself took the moniker. The much more familiar image that adorns the sleeve’s front was captured by legendary rock photographer Gered Mankowitz on a chilly morning on London’s Primrose Hill following the band pulling an all-nighter in the recording studio. Using a camera filter constructed from card, glass and vaseline, Mankowitz wilfully suggested the psychedelic, druggy feel of the music, but perhaps also of the band themselves, whom having been recording all night could well have been stoned, let’s be honest. Commentators have suggested one of them, namely the not-long-to-tragically-pass-on Brian Jones, certainly could have been – or at least his appearance here was prescient; critic David Dalton writing he looks ‘like a doomed albino raccoon’. Nice. Mankowitz merely observed: “I was frustrated because it felt like we were on the verge of something really special and he was messing it up. But the way Brian appeared to not give a sh*t is exactly what the band was about”. Indeed, all told, it’s an awesome image with its cool composition and ethereal, blurry blue goodness. One further thing; curiously, the original UK version of the album featured no single releases, but the US boasted the cast-iron classic efforts (and major hits) Let’s Spend The Night Together and Ruby Tuesday. Can’t help but think the Yanks got the better deal there.

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The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) ~ The Velvet Underground and Nico

Artist: Andy Warhol

Don’t doubt it, this eponymous album changed rock music forever. Never before had pop and/ or rock artists quite so blatantly written tunes about drug-taking, sexual deviance and The Oldest Profession In The World™. Yup, the New York rockers that were Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and, a little incongruously, the pretty German chanteuse Christa ‘Nico’ Päffgen didn’t bother with any of that psychedelic allusory nonsense on their debut album; it’s patently obvious what I’m Waiting For The Man, Venus In Furs, Run Run Run and, lest we forget, Heroin are about. And it doesn’t hurt that they and the then-far-radio-friendlier Sunday Morning, Femme Fatale and There She Goes Again are also all-time great tracks.  Indeed, it may be the album became such a trend-setter because the band’s then producer Andy Warhol (yup, the Pop Art God himself) was a very hands-off producer, apparently inviting them to get on and do whatever they wanted. He took a far more active role in the design of the front of the album’s cover, mind, so much so that, well, he slapped one of his own efforts on it – as well as his signature, which led many an uninitiated to  assume he’d actually made the album (not least because ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ didn’t appear on it at all). The image that Warhol’s signature accompanied is of course that unforgettable, diagonally slanting bright yellow banana, at the top of which an arrow pointed with the legend ‘Peel slowly and see’. And what happened when the buyer eagerly pulled the top of the banana and – yes, actually – peeled it off? That’s right, a not-at-all-suggestive flesh-coloured banana was revealed underneath. Sadly, only very early editions were to feature the yellow banana sticker and the ‘flesh banana’ underneath because of prohibitive costs – indeed, the specialist work necessary to produce the gimmicky cover art helped delay the album’s release for months on end. Entirely worth it, though.

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Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake (1968) ~ The Small Faces

Artist: Mick Swan

Small Faces/ Which were in the studios/ Hallowed by thy name/ Thy music come/ Thy songs be sung/ On this album as they came from your heads/ We give you this day our daily bread/ Give us thy album in a round cover as we give thee 37/9d/ Lead us into the record stores/ And deliver us Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake/ For nice is the music/ The sleeve and the story/ For ever and ever, Immediate‘. Ah, how the British tabloid press got its knickers in a twist over this really rather neat parody of The Lord’s Prayer put out by record company Immediate to advertise top Mod band The Small Faces’ new album back in ’68. But it was certainly a smart, eccentric effort deserving a smart, eccentric form of advertising. An arguable psychedelic masterpiece that not only boasts the swooping, sweeping, druggily outstanding instrumental title track, but also the era-defining hits Lazy Sunday and Afterglow (Of Your Love) – among many others, several of which Sgt. Pepper-like are fine music hall p*ss takes – this cereal-esque monikered album more importantly came in extremely memorable packaging (more importantly for this post, at least), given its vinyl original was sold in a mocked-up circular tobacco tin. Yup, you read that right. For lead singer Steve Marriott and co., cardboard cut-out-featuring photos, models in whipped cream and banana stickers weren’t enough; no, they went the whole hog and pretended their masterpiece was a clump of ground-up leaves fit for Uncle Albert’s old navy pipe. Unsurprisingly, no doubt due to cost again, this genius packaging didn’t last long in stores and was replaced by a (at least still circular) card-and-paper replica. And what of Mick Swan, whom as noted designed the whole thing? Well, after winning an award for his efforts, he swiftly disappeared from view only to resurface as a fine arts tutor at a Lowestoft college in the mid-’70s. Still, at least he didn’t totally go up in smoke like Steve Marriott (I’ll get my parka)…

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Cheap Thrills (1968) ~ Big Brother and the Holding Company

Artist: Robert Crumb

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Nowadays, of course, arty (or should that be nerdy?) comic books and graphic novels are ten-a-penny. They’re as much a part of the modern day art tableaux as Banksy’s street offerings and Tracy Emin’s bed. But back in the day it was very different. All that eventually changed thanks to underground comic innovators like Robert Crumb, responsible for the counterculture cartoon icons Fritz the Cat and Mr Natural. And it was exactly this work that brought him to the attention of legendary, raspy rock-meets-blues vocalist Janis Joplin, then lead singer of the San Francisco rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. The group, who’d enjoyed modest success with their debut album, were looking for something for the front of their next record Cheap Thrills, an image of them all in bed together naked having been vetoed by the straitlaced Columbia Records. The latter liked the idea of a single shot of the soon-to-be-counterculture-megastar Joplin; she did not – as soon as she’d contacted Crumb and seen what he’d produced she pushed the record company to put in on the sleeve’s front instead of the back. But fair dues to Columbia, when it comes to record packaging, acquiescing to this wish of Janis’s has to be one of the best moves a record company made in the ’60s. For, while Crumb’s cartoon is simple (scenes illustrating the album’s tracks and more detailing the band members), the explosion of its bold colours, energy and sheer cartoon-ness offers childlike fun the like of which record art (even that for the über-experimental psychedelic rock scene) had never before got close to. And it worked a treat too; the album topped the US charts for eight (non-consecutive) weeks in ’68, becoming the year’s biggest seller. Offering three essential Joplin recordings (Piece Of My Heart, Summertime and Ball And Chain), its an all-time classic too, showcasing Janis – backed by a talented band – at the peak of her powers. Tragically, she’d be dead just over two years after its release.

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Abbey Road (1969) ~ The Beatles

Artists: John Kosh (designer) and Iain Macmillan (photographer)

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Although Let It Be (1970) has the distinction of being the last original Beatles album to be released, Abbey Road was actually the last to be recorded, but there’s positively no fin de siècle feel about it; indeed, you may argue it’s The Fab Four at the summit of their brilliantly creative, staggeringly versatile, sonically glorious powers. Comprising a clutch of classics from John Lennon (Come Together), George Harrison (Something and Here Comes The Sun) and Ringo Starr (Octopus’s Garden), a breathtaking Macca-fuelled Lennon-McCartney second-half medley (Because/ You Never Give Me Your Money/ Sun King/ Mean Mr Mustard/ Polythene Pam/ She Came In Through The Bathroom Window/ Golden Slumbers/ Carry That Weight) and finally the awesome collaborative jam-fest that’s (fittingly) The End, it also possesses one of the greatest front sleeves to bless any album ever recorded. Based on an initial sketch by McCartney (perhaps not surprisingly, as by this highly fractious stage in the band’s history he was the driving force behind the entire album), it’s an image captured by snapper Iain Macmillan in the late morning of August 8 ’69 of the foursome, (apart from Harrison) wearing fetching suits by tailor Tommy Nutter, marching across the zebra (pedestrian) crossing outside the Abbey Road music studios where the record (and much of all the previous Fabs’ records) was recorded. Given how magnificent an image it is – and would be whom/ whatever it featured and illustrated – it almost instantly become iconic, its notoriety being boosted early on by Fabs fanatics famously claiming it contains bizarre clues that Macca was apparently dead; them being his barefoot appearance and the licence plate on the white VW Beetle to the left behind the crossing, which reads ‘LMW 281F’ – were he ‘still alive’ he’d have been 28 years-old, hence ’28 IF’ (sic). Rather marvellously, the licence plate kept on getting stolen from the car, which belonged to the inhabitant of a house across the road from the studios. And, of course, as everyone knows, not a year goes by when many a media launch/ charity/ joke (delete as appropriate) recreation of the crossing of the crossing takes place – and not a moment goes by when tourists do exactly the same. Well, all right, maybe not at night. In fact, you can check for yourself here. Yes, really…

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Further reading:

retronaut.com/2012/11/sgt-pepper-cover-shoot/

performingsongwriter.com/herb-alpert-whipped-cream-cover-girl

crumbproducts.com/larger_views/historyofcheapthrills.htm

fstoppers.com/theshotbeforeabbeyroad

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Don’t fret, folks, for ‘Side B’ of this awesome album art-toting blog-post-double will be along faster than you can flip over a  ’78′…

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Brozzer love: happy 60th birthday, Pierce Brosnan ~ the 10 golden moments

May 16, 2013

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Rose poseur: only Pierce Brosnan could pull off this flower-tastic pose. Well, you know, sort of…

The Emerald Isle has given God’s green Earth many marvellous things: James Joyce and Jonathan Swift; Peter O’ Toole and Richard Harris; Bob Geldof and George Best; Father Ted and Terry Wogan. But none of them are quite – actually, anything like – the man, the legend that is Pierce Brosnan. I love Brosnan (or ‘Brozzman’, as a friend of mine likes to call him), and hopefully this post may go some way to explaining why.

The Brozzer (as he is known to none of his friends, but that’s what I like to call him) was born in Drogheda, County Louth on May 16 1953. At the age of 11 he joined his mum in Putney, London, perhaps critically seeing his first flick at the cinema just weeks later – it was the Bond film Goldfinger (1964). Growing up to become a very good looking lad, the artistic Pierce fancied carving out a career as an actor and graduated from The Smoke’s Drama Centre in the late ’70s.

Around this time he met, fell in love with and married stunning Australian thesp Cassandra Harris (whom played Countess Lisl in 1981′s For Your Eyes Only – ensuring a meeting between the still young Broz and the almighty Bond producer Albert R ‘Cubby’ Broccoli). He made his cinematic debut in classic Brit gangster flick The Long Good Friday (1980) and he was picked by legendary playwright Tennessee Williams for originating a role in the latter’s West End effort The Red Devil Battery Sign (1976). Yep, there was talent there, all right.

Soon, though, Pierce and his wife made the gamble of taking his ‘interesting’ accent across the pond and trying his and its luck in Hollywood. The gamble paid off as, almost immediately, he landed the lead in NBC’s hit detective drama Remington Steele (1982-87), as the smooth, louche and not a little Roger Moore-esque title character. When Sir Rog himself finally hung up 007′s shoulder holster in the mid-’80s, Broccoli came calling, but our man missed out to Welsh scenery chewer Timothy Dalton. Kismet-like, Bondage came calling again; thanks to GoldenEye (1995) then, Pierce Brosnan finally became a global household name.

Between losing the Bond role and recapturing of it, he’d tragically lost his wife to cancer. Happily, though, he remarried (to US broadcaster Keeley Shaye-Smith, with whom he added more children to his growing Brosnan brood). And, thanks to his fame, landed roles in several enviable projects – Mars Attacks! (1996), Dante’s Peak (1997), The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) and The Tailor Of Panama (2001). After three further outings as 007, he left the role rather acrimoniously in 2004, but this now freed him up to do whatever the hell he wanted – like indulging his ecological interests (saving whales and the entire planet). His film roles now too became quirkier; everything from impersonating Tony Blair in a Roman Polanksi prestige project (2010′s The Ghost Writer) to doing a Ringo Starr and narrating Thomas The Tank Engine on the big-screen (2008′s Thomas & Friends: The Great Discovery).

Yes, there’s never been one quite like The Brozzer. Magnificently ’80s-male-model-handsome, terrifically transalantic of twang, utterly unpredictable when it comes to acting choices (both in roles and just acting in scenes), he’s the international institution that made Bond relevant and popular again in the ’90s and the world a better place for saving whales and selling L’Oreal products. Probably. He’s Pierce Brosnan and he’s 60 years young today. And so, to mark this great event, here’s a (not exactly serious, but unquestionably glorious) top 10 of his greatest screen moments. Slide into shot, pose and gun-barrel away, folks…

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10. Pierce Brosnan sings

Mamma Mia! (2008)

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A list like this deserves a real kick-off. And this is a real kick – I’ll leave it up to you as to exactly where, though. In this logic-defyingly popular, pop-tune-littered blockbuster musical, our man essays a former lover of Meryl Streep’s lead, whom returns to a Greek island in the wake of her daughter’s nuptials and the pair realise unrequited feelings. How do they express these feelings? In song, of course (the classic that’s ABBA’s S.O.S.). One of these two was trained in and hoofed the boards in musical theatre early in their career and, to be fair, it’s easy to spot which. But, while The Streepster is excellent here (as she, well, always is), she doesn’t manage to create an entirely new form of singing – snarling™. Note: for those wishing to replicate and even (at your own risk) hone Brosnan’s snarling™ technique, tying empty honey jars in trees with extras from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001) is entirely optional.

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9. Pierce Brosnan breathes fire

Muppets Tonight (1997)

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Piercey Boy learnt to breathe fire during a workshop given by a fire-eater at London’s Central St. Martins College of Art and Design back in ’69. He probably did so to impress the ladies in the workshop. Understandable. What’s less predictable was that this talent gained him a circus agent and, on and off, fire-breathing gigs for the next three years. True story. The only footage of him demonstrating his capacity for flame-throwing, as far as I know, is this – the conclusion to an episode of the felt favourites-featuring Muppets Tonight. Let’s be truly fair, as soon as he’s pulled off his feat he looks like the coolest man alive, taking deserved plaudits from Gonzo and co. And then he delivers the ‘hot, hot, hot’ gag and starts dancing… and the spell is broken. Forever.

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8. Pierce Brosnan winks at the folks at home (4:35)

Behind-the-scenes of The World Is Not Enough (1999)

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He’s just completed a dramatic (all right, one melodramatic of many a melodramatic) scene in this Brosnan-as-Bond-defining Bond film and what does he do? That’s right, instantly breaks character and winks at the camera that’s shooting a gushing behind-the-scenes special for TV viewers eager for more Brozzer action. What does that wink say? “It’s not real this Bond thing, you know” or “I’m really Pierce Brosnan, not James Bond” or “Look how goofily I can screw up my face when I wink”? Your guess is as good as mine. And just how can he break from the reality of 007 to the reality of the real world so easily? Again, your guess is as good as mine.

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7. Pierce Brosnan touches his face (0:32)

The World Is Not Enough (1999)

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Of all his Bond films, this one contains arguably the greatest cacophony of ‘Brosnan’ moments. Chief among them is the bit in the above fan trailer (which impressively makes TWINE look like a masterpiece) when our man touches his face. Reading Brosnan body language isn’t, well, the hardest thing in the world: when he touches his face while furrowing his brow, he’s thinking; when, as here, he touches his face while lifting his eyebrows and opening his mouth slightly, he’s emoting. In fact, this bit of Brosnan emoting’s so good, it’s a double whammy. For not only does he touch his face, he then immediately touches someone else’s face (the face of Sophie Marceau’s Elektra King on a computer screen). Yup, The Brozzer pulls out the stops in TWINE. For there’s also the moments he saunters about with one hand in a trouser pocket and the other hand dangling rakishly free; the moments he delivers awful puns with awfully clear enunciation (e.g. “Maybe you haven’t taken into account my hidd-en ass-ettts“); the moment he wears bright blue (x-ray) sunglasses and the moments he crumples in pain whenever a villain touches his ‘broken collar bone’ (which oddly never seems to affect him at other times; see Pierce Brosnan’s ‘pain face’ below). Brosnan simply lives the Brosnan Bond in this movie. It’s a sight to behold, nay, one to touch your face and furrow your brow over.

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Bonus Brozzer moment: Pierce Brosnan drinks Guinness

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6. Pierce Brosnan rides a horse

L’Oreal Men Expert advert (2008)

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This has to be one of the greatest TV commercials ever made. It opens with a statement of cool conviction: “There’s more to life than making movies,” coos our man in his idiosyncratic burr, “like fighting for the causes I believe in” (i.e. saving the whales and the world etc.). It also appears it’s just as important for him to apply a skin product to his face (more touching). And to play pool with friendly people who clearly aren’t his friends (I doubt Broz’s mates look like advert extras). And best of all to ride a horse along a beach and point out an unseen yet clearly important milestone on the horizon. Nobody rides a horse in slow-motion quite like Pierce. Nobody points out a spot on the horizon in slow-motion while riding a horse in slow-motion quite like Pierce. There’s more to life than making movies – never a truer word spoken.

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5. Pierce Brosnan jumps out of a horse

Seraphim Falls (2006)

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This one is deliriously out of left-field. Well, actually, it’s out of a horse. Literally. To say you don’t see it coming is an understatement as big as Pierce’s outstanding pointy beard that he sports in this well received chase-themed western, in which his Yankee-soldier-cum-KFC’s-The-Colonel is pursued by Liam Neeson’s Confederate bounty hunter. Basically what happens is… Brosnan jumps out of a horse. That’s it. It’s like the exact opposite of what Han Solo does to his tauntaun in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Indeed, Han Solo doesn’t even have a beard in that. He doesn’t even have any stubble, come to think of it.

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4. Pierce Brosnan plays a horse

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)

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Clearly not content with merely riding a horse in unforgettable fashion and leaping out of one, The Brozzer managed to pull off his horsey hat-trick by finally actually playing one. The Brosnan CV is nothing if not eclectic – equinely eclectic, if you will. Technically speaking, the character of Chiron in this flick is a centaur, the ancient Greek mythlogical creature that boasts a  horse’s lower half and a human’s – or a Brosnan’s – upper half. In the Percy Jackson universe, he’s the tutor of the great heroes and, thus, of course of adenoidal American adolescent Percy Jackson himself – a Mr Miyagi on four legs then. The great thing about The Brozzer’s performance here is its grizzledness. This time there’s as much hair on top as there is in the beard. Indeed, he’s even more grizzled as Chiron’s human ‘cover’, the Brosnan-intense Latin teacher Mr Brunner, with an inscrutable accent (lending him additional exoticism, if that’s the word for it). One question, though: why does Chiron have a stick he needs to lean on? He has four whole legs and is practically immortal. What the hell? As ever with Pierce, he leaves the audience wanting answers – always leave them wanting more, Brozzer; always leave them wanting more.

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Bonus Brozzer moment: Pierce Brosnan plays the bongos

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3. Pierce Brosnan offers an opinion

Taffin (1988)

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As noted, the delight of watching The Brozzer at work is you never know quite what acting choices he’s going to make. This rollercoaster ride of screen thesping from Piercey-picture to Piercey-picture has never been better – nay, never been more sensationally – demonstrated by a scene in the little known Irish should-be-harder-nosed-than-it-actually-is thriller Taffin. Said scene occurs about three-quarters through the flick, just as the titular character (our man Broz), a hard yet particularly handsome, sunglasses-wearing, hair-model-bouffoned debt collector, is hungover and had enough lip from would-be-girlfriend-cum-investigative-journalist Alison Doody (curiously these two are the only at all attractive people in Taffin’s town, and they’re staggeringly attractive; weird). The shocking and quite deliriously brilliant moment has to be seen – and mostly heard – to be believed as Pierce agrees with Dooders that she should no longer take up residence in the place. Quite how he manages both to extraordinarily stress and elongate the last two words of his utterance in the manner he does while as hungover as he is, is anyone’s guess. But then Taffin isn’t any old film character, he’s a Brosnan film character. The normal rules don’t apply. Indeed, so magnificent is this moment that it’s become something of a cause célèbre in Internet circles – leading to these quite brilliant bastardisations (read: possible improvements): click here, here and here if you dare.

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2. Pierce Brosnan’s pain face

All his Bond films (1995-2002)

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A constant amazement and delight to Bond fan forums, Pierce Brosnan’s ‘pain face’ is a cinematic phenomenon up there with Brando and De Niro’s method acting, Godard’s jump-cuts and Welles’ deep-focuses. By deploying the maximum stretching of his already wide mouth, The Brozzer manages to achieve a unique ‘letterbox’ effect, while seemingly pumping all the blood in his body to his face and straining ever muscle and sinew of that usually gorgeous mug, transforming it into some sort of demonic mask from a medieval satanic ritual. Pierce, as I think we’ve already established never does his thesping by half though, thus his pain faces are never without audio additions. The profligacy and verbosity of his grunts, groans, ‘arrrghs!’ and general ‘nnnnghs!’ are quite stunning. And, again, it’s The World Is Not Enough that offers us the epitome of this particular Brosnan offering – his pain face as he’s slowly throttled in Elektra King’s torture chair is quite extraordinary. Never has a man’s mouth opened quite so far while its owner has sported quite such perfect hair. Awesome work, Brosnan.

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1. Pierce Brosnan is The Matador

(2005)

Warning: language in the following clips may offend

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All right, this list has thus far enjoyed itself a great deal at our man’s expense (while being thoroughly affectionate to him, it’s only fair to say), but now it’s time for it to give The Brozzer his genuine dues; indeed, for it to get down on its knees and, Wayne’s World-like, worship its hero while exclaiming it’s not worthy. For this list’s numero uno pick is everything – that’s right, everything – that Pierce Brosnan does in The Matador. There is one word to describe him in this flick: outstanding. Genuinely, he’s outstanding. The Matador is a clever-clever, witty art-house comedy drama about an ostensibly smooth, sophisticated assassin facing the fag-end of his career and the breakdown this brings. And so good is Brosnan as this assassin Julian Noble, he elevates this otherwise likeable if modest movie into something really rather wonderful. His performance was deservedly nominated for a Golden Globe award.

Exhibit A: in the clip below, witness the wilful wonkiness of Noble’s accent – transatlantic-Brozzer one moment, oddly mockney the next, plus his infantile and utterly thunder- (and cool-) stealing argument with the boy and marvellously sleazy treatment of his mum, before (somewhat) regaining his cool come the conclusion…

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Exhibit B: here we see Julian’s unravelling as he describes it to married friends Danny and Bean (Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis). If his behaviour in the clip above is sleazy, here it’s magnificently so – the charisma of that ’70s porn star moustache utterly failing to mask the Tequila-drowning, oriental whorehouse carousing but very funny exploits candidly revealed to us…

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Exhibit C: its player having recently left Bondage, this scene was at the time referred to as The Brozzer’s ‘anti-Bond’ scene. In a way, that no doubt was the intention – Julian Noble’s supposed to be a smoothy, a 007-like professional, but here, hungover as hell, he’s letting it all hang out for the world to see just how washed up he is as he strolls to the pool – and then struggles to get his boots off before dropping in, still holding his can of beer. If actors ever do ‘brave’ things in their thesping, then instantly post-Bond this was a brave move from The Brozzer. And, like everything he does in this movie, it’s bloody funny and pitch-perfectly spot-on. If you’ve never seen The Matador, you have to put that right immediately. It is Broz-day, after all…

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Tardis Party: Katy Manning/ Sarah Sutton ~ Dalek Darlings

May 11, 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, this blog’s celebration of Doctor Who in its 50th anniversary year continues apace, peeps, but just before the regular reviews of the show’s superb serials past move on to the stellar Tom Baker era, it’s time to pause and take a moment to reflect (nay, literally look back) on the cast-iron classic companion of the Jon Pertwee era, the sexy and, yes, saucy Katy Manning. And she’s not alone – let’s not forget the equally lovely ’80s Who co-star Sarah Sutton either.  For, no question, this delectable duo deserves to be inducted into this blog’s Talent hall of fame…
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Profiles

Names: Catherine (Katy) Ann Manning/ Sarah Sutton

Nationalities: English

Professions: Actress and director/ Actress

Born: October 14 1946, Guildford, Surrey/ December 12 1961, Basingstoke, Hampshire

Known for: Katy – playing the popular and always decked-out-in-early-’70s-garb Jo Grant opposite Third Doctor Jon Pertwee, beginning with the serial Terror Of The Autons (1971) and culminating in The Green Death (1973) – although she returned as the character in the 2010 Death Of The Doctor episode of Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-11). Six years after departing the show, she achieved notoriety when she posed nude draped on a Dalek for Girl Illustrated magazine. Yet her post-Who career is notable for more than merely this; she’s successfully trod the boards for many years, not least in Australia where she and her young children moved in the late ’70s/ early ’80s and where she also wrote and staged the play Private Wives. In 2007, she appeared in a stage version of sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo (1982-92) and returned to the UK in 2009 to tour her well received, Bette Davis-themed, one-woman-show Me and Jezebel.

Sarah – portraying the aristocratic, eccentrically dressed Trakenite Nyssa opposite (very briefly) Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor and then Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor and fellow companions  Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka) and Matthew Waterhouse (Adric). Her tenure in the show began with the story The Keeper Of Traken (1981) and concluded with the fittingly named Terminus (1983).  Although her acting career’s been sporadic since her stint in Who, she also appeared in the BBC serial Unnatural Pursuits (1991), a 1989 episode of Casualty (1986-present) and resurrected Nyssa in the Children In Need-night-broadcast, 30th anniversary-celebrating Who special Dimensions In Time (1993).

Strange but true: Ever a free-spirit, Katy lived with Aussie household name Barry Crocker for nearly 30 years, then on returning to the UK recently she seemingly drifted away from him (it’s repeatedly reported he’s now with Priscilla Presley), claiming she’s not interested in the ‘neediness’ of relationships/ Although, aged 19 when she began in 1967, Deborah Watling (Victoria Waterfield) may be the youngest actress to have portrayed a companion, Sarah holds the distinction of being the second youngest (20 years-old) and the youngest British actress ever to have played Lewis Carroll‘s heroine, when she played the lead in Alice Through The Looking Glass (1974) at just 13.

Peak of fitness: Katy – yep, it’s got to be those Dalek photos really, hasn’t it?/ Sarah – the taking off of her skirt in her final serial Terminus and effectively playing the rest of the story in her underwear; in her words ‘a parting gesture to the fans’

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Tardis Party: Doctor Who serial close-up ~ The Dæmons (Season 8/ 1971)

May 5, 2013

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Better the devil you know: they may not believe it, but The Doctor and companion Jo Grant are far better off facing brought-to-life-gargoyle Bok than his master, the gargantuan Dæmon Azal

Yup, it’s the May Day bank holiday weekend, peeps (and it’s warm and sunny too – who’da thunk it?), so what better post to let loose on The Internets today than this very one – a focus on the may pole- and morris dancing-toting, pleasant-Home-Counties-village-pulverising, Pertwee-in-his-UNIT-supporting prime Doctor Who serial that is The Dæmonsthe latest in the series of single-serial-themed posts here for the sci-fi TV giant.

An undisputed highlight of the show’s high spring, this classic story pitted not just Perts’ Doc against both Roger Delgado’s The Master and a behemoth of a horned beast, but also pitted religion and myths versus science and, well, what passes for reality in the world of Who. Bmal elttila dah yram, indeed, eh…?

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Doctor: Jon Pertwee (The Third Doctor)

Companions: ‘The UNIT Family’ – specifically Katy Manning (Jo Grant); Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Sir Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart); Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates); John Levene (Sergeant Benton)

Villains: Roger Delgado (The Master); Stephen Thorne (Azal); Stanley Mason (Bok)

Allies: Damaris Hayman (Miss Hawthorne)

Writers: Barry Letts and Robert Sloman (under the pseudonym ‘Guy Leopold’)

Producer: Barry Letts

Script editor: Terrance Dicks

Director: Christopher Barry

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Season: Eight (fifth and last serial – comprising five 25-minute-long episodes)

Original broadcast dates: May 22-June 19 1971 (weekly)

Total average viewers: 8.3 million

Previous serial: Colony In Space

Next serial: Day Of The Daleks (Season 9)

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An ill wind is blowing through the ominously monikered Devil’s End, a sleepy village in the Wiltshire countryside – it forces an owner to follow his goosed dog out into the night whence he is found dead. The village doctor claims the man died of a heart attack, but a local white witch, Miss Hawthorne, is adamant it’s the work of the occult. She visits the new vicar, a Mr Magister, whom claims there’s nothing to worry about. This bestpectacled chap seems a wrong ‘un, though – indeed, for some reason he tries to hypnotise Miss Hawthorne, but she unwittingly resists. Now just where is it we all recognise him from…?

Meanwhile, up the road is the equally-as-ominously-monikered Devil’s Hump, a Bronze Age burial site, where an archaeological dig is taking place and being broadcast live on national TV (on BBC Three, no less; no, not that BBC Three, a fictional one – this is 1971, remember). The bods at the UK arm of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT) seem to have a casual interest in the dig, so tuning in are the off-duty trio of Mike Yates, Benton and Jo Grant (current assistant to The Doctor, who’s still in his guise as UNIT’s ‘scientific adviser’). For his part, The Doctor shows little interest until he hears the name Devil’s End – for some reason that flicks a switch in his bonce and he instantly becomes concerned.

As he watches, he needs little convincing of his fears and soon tells Jo they must get to the dig as soon as possible and stop it in its tracks, so they set off at speed in his vintage motor ‘Bessie’. Alas, owing to highly windy weather interfering with signposts and blowing a tree across the fast road to Devil’s End, they arrive too late to prevent the dig reaching its objective – to break through a wall into the underground chamber. Unknown to them, however, just as the dig’s archaeologist breaks through the wall, a ritual reaches its crescendo in the village church’s crypt, led by a bright-red robed Magister (whom, now without his glasses, we recognise unmistakeably as The Master – a renegade, villainous Time Lord and nemesis of The Doctor). This ensures an almighty release of energy escapes from behind the ancient wall, killing the archaelogist and seemingly doing the same to the just arriving Doctor.

The latter is found to be still alive, though (both hearts still beating), and Time Lord-like soon recovers. In fact, just in time for Yates and Benton’s arrival in a cool, dinky UNIT helicopter. Setting up shop in the village inn, The Doc and his cohorts, including Miss Hawthorne, discover an invisible ‘heat shield’ (due also to The Master’s ceremony) has now encircled Devil’s End, ensuring it’s cut off and the rest of UNIT’s troops – led by Lethbridge-Stewart – can’t get through in their vehicles.

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Before setting off in Bessie to inform the Brig how to bring down the heat shield, our hero explains to his allies what he thinks is going on: the underground space is not a now-opened ancient burial chamber but most likely a now-opened ancient spaceship, while the site’s and village’s connotation with the word ‘devil’ leads him to believe the spaceship contains an eras-old alien whose appearance (horned, cruel-faced and with goat-like legs) gave rise to the original notion of the Devil; the alien actually being a Dæmon (from, yes, the planet Dæmos), whom like others of his race has visited Earth at different points in the past and helped in/ interfered in shaping civilisation as some sort of intergallactic experiment. And his release – or ‘summoning’ – from his spaceship this time is very bad news. (The Doctor’s also figured out The Master’s behind the Dæmon’s reawakening, as ‘magister’ is the Latin for ‘master’).

Now, arriving at the heat shield, following a motorbike chase involving a village goon hypnotised by The Master and during which the UNIT chopper is destroyed, The Doc explains to Lethbridge-Stewart how to disable it. But the situation in the village is fast developing. Having convinced the village locals of his un-Earthly powers (mostly through science tricks and hypnosis), the dastardly Master manages to turn them all against The Doc and co. Then he summons the Dæmon through ritual a second time and, revealing his purpose, appeals to the being to aid him in becoming Earth’s overlord; the latter goes away to think about it. Like before, the summoning releases an awesome amount of energy throughout the village and, according to The Doctor, a third and final summoning will result in the Dæmon sticking around because, by then, the creature will have grown in enormous strength.

What’s sticking around right now, though, is an indestructible, dangeorus gargoyle-turned-real (Bok), animated by the Dæmon’s first summoning. On The Doc’s return from the heat shield, Bok and especially the villagers manage to prevent him from interceding The Master in the church crypt by carrying out a May Day celebration (eccentrically via morris dancers and a may pole); a ruse to capture our man, Miss Hawthorne and Benton. Although, Jo and Yates have managed to sneak their way into the crypt – just in time, in fact, to witness the third summoning, at which the Dæmon finally appears, instantly growing to a gigantic height and claiming he’s named Azal. Eventually, following a failed attempt by Miss Hawthorne to convince the über-gullible villagers that he’s a wizard (‘The Great Wizard Qui, Quae, Quod’), The Doctor succeeds in showing them The Master’s been tricking them through science by doing the same himself; he simply drives Bessie by remote-control. Turning the villagers then, and Bok being disabled by a general energy drain thanks to the Brig and co. finally breaking through the heat barrier, The Doctor gets to the crypt just as The Master is about to sacrifice Jo as an offering to Azal.

Preventing this, The Doctor tries to reason with Azal that he should leave Earth and humanity in peace, even if civilisation hasn’t turned out as a utopia and his and other Dæmons’ ‘experiment’ on Earth has failed (thus meaning he must destroy Earth according to the experiment’s rules). Azal is swayed and offers The Doc the chance to be Earth overlord instead of the ‘unworthy’ Master; this our hero rejects, forcing Azal to attack him with lightning. In desperation, Jo flings herself in front of The Doctor, pleading for Azal to kill her instead and, surprisingly, this sends the awesome alien into a great tiz, as her self-sacrifice is entirely irrational to him. The Dæmon then undergoes an energy overload, forcing everyone to flee from the church before he explodes, taking the building up with it. Trying to escape, The Master is apprehended and Miss Hawthorne cheerily convinces Benton, Jo and The Doc to join in the may pole-dancing, while Yates and the Brig opt for a well deserved pint.

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For many, The Dæmons is the ultimate Pertwee serial – and, once watched, it’s not hard to see why. It’s arguably the encapsulation of that era of Who at its greatest. At its heart is a rollicking, intriguing, sophisticated, well plotted and excellently paced story; indeed, something of a daring one for early ’70s family drama with all its Christian and occult references – and eventual undermining of them all by science. And then hanging off this, of course, are all those favourite Third Doctor acoutrements – and at their Saturday-teatime crowd-pleasing best, at that.

Yup, there’s dynamic, dapper old Perts gallivanting about the Home Counties on motorbikes and in his vintage yellow roadster, with pseudo-naïve sexpot Jo Grant at his side, learning like a hippie-esque sixth-former about the world of science from the most brilliant (and most brilliantly turned out) man in the universe. And around them is ‘the UNIT family’; here on particularly good, jolly form. The Brig may’ve disappeared for the evening when all the sh*t goes down at Devil’s Hump, but he’s soon on the case, trying to break through the heat barrier with a young Bill Maynard lookalike masquerading as a clueless engineer. Mike Yates and Benton are even sooner on the case; officially off-duty when they arrive, they’re decked out casually – Yates in a garish orange wind-beater and orange motorbike goggles combo and Benton in a ’70s footballer tracksuit top. And they arrive in their oh-so cool toy chopper, of course (see image below).

The Master’s back again too – not that in his opening season, played by the incomparable Roger Delgado, he was ever actually away, but this time his plan is particularly cunning and twisted. And he gets his just desserts come the end when, Lex-Luthor-to-General-Zod-like in Superman II (1980) he appeals to Azal, the mighty brute chooses The Doc over him. Azal himself is a great monster: the-Devil-made-an alien in a way, extra-terrestrial super-intelligence in gigantic form interfering with Earth for wrong (the apotheosis of The Doctor) in another; sort of like the Genie from Disney’s Aladdin (1992) gone very, very wrong. By contrast, his ‘henchman’ Bok – despite his natty knack for shooting sparks from his fingers – is a bit crap, but fun and rather cute along with it. There’s always room for charming, off-kilter naffness in Doctor Who. Well, you know, in moderation.

Special mention too should go to Christopher Barry. His direction ensures the action snaps along, but the science-versus-theological theme isn’t squashed either; the climax in the crypt is particularly satisfying. Indeed, the pace, efficiency and, well, at times cool on display is nicely summed up by the Brig’s best ever (and much loved) line when during the finale he orders an underling to take target at Bok: “Chap with wings there; five rounds rapid!”. Cracking stuff.

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Oddly for one of the great Doctor Who serials, The Dæmons started out as an audition piece for Katy Manning as new companion Jo Grant (she made her debut in this season’s opening story Terror Of The Autons, which also marked The Master’s first appearance). At the discretion of producer Barry Letts, the piece grew into a full serial thanks to him working it up into a script with Robert Sloman (their combined pseudnonym being ‘Guy Leopold’ – Guy the name of Sloman’s son, Leopold Letts’ middle name) in the evenings after the former had finished work each day. Script editor Terrance Dicks made tweaks to the script, though, by ensuring it contained a strong scientific element; before his changes he felt it could be labelled as ‘satanist’ at worse, not ideal then for Saturday-early-evening TV, so any references to God were avoided.

Mind you, unquestionably a big inspiration for the story was the Beeb’s classic sci-fi drama Quatermass And The Pit (1958-59), in which, like The Dæmons, awesomely powerful aliens are discovered on Earth and mistaken for devil-like demons, having played a role in shaping civilisation. Another likely influence was an occurrence in February 1885 when enormous hoof prints were supposedly found in villages (including on rooftops) and across several miles of snow in Devon, reminiscent clearly of the moment when Yates and Benton discover Azal’s giant footsteps outside Devil’s End.

Devil’s End itself was actually the Wiltshire village of Aldbourne, where a comparatively long and leisurely two-week long shoot in February ’71 allowed for much location shooting with villagers as extras; in fact, alterations were made to the script to facilitate this. Other production points worth noting are that the footage of the UNIT helicopter exploding was ‘borrowed’ from the Bond film From Russia With Love (1963) and the trio of Latin words in Miss Hawthorne’s impromptu fake moniker for The Doctor (‘The Great Wizard Qui, Quae, Quod’) are the masculine, feminine and neuter nominative forms of ‘who’ – a deliberate mirroring maybe of The Master choosing for himself the name ‘Magister’,which as mentioned is the Latin translation of his name.

Speaking of Miss Hawthorne, the well respected comedy actress whom portrayed her, Damaris Hayman, maintained an interest in the occult herself, ensuring she acted as something of an occultist consultant to the production. Meanwhile, in a small role in the serial’s climax as a doubting, young hooded acolyte of The Master was one Matthew Corbett – yes, the same Matthew Corbett whom just five years later would take over from his father Harry the puppeteering duties of Sooty (he was suggested for the role by his friend Katy Manning). And with that, in the words of Corbett himself at the end of every Sooty show, bye bye everybody; bye bye…

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Next time: The Ark In Space (Season 12/ 1975)

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Previous close-ups/ reviews:

Inferno (Season 7/ 1970/ Doctor: Jon Pertwee)

The War Games (Season 6/ 1969/ Doctor: Patrick Troughton)

An Unearthly Child (Season 1/ 1963/ Doctor: William Hartnell)

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