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Grace Slick/ Michelle Phillips: Sixties Survivors

August 3, 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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‘Flower power’ has had its detractors over the years, but surely even they must drop to their knees in adulation to the movement for opening its petals and allowing, Bottecelli-like, two rock goddesses to step forth and dazzle us for ever after. Yes, they’re the always high-soaring Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane and the more-than-just sexy-momma of The Mamas & The Papas, Michelle Phillips. And they’re the latest far-out pair to enter this blog’s Talent corner, peeps…
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Profiles

Names: Grace Barnett Slick (née Wing)/ Holly Michelle Phillips (née Gilliam)

Nationality: American

Professions: Singer, songwriter, musician and artist/ Singer, songwriter and actress

Born: October 30 1939, Evanston, Illinois/ June 14 1944, Long Beach, California

Height: Both 5ft 7in

Known for: Grace – the oh-so idiosyncratic front-woman of and major songwriter for the seminal mid- to late ’60s San Francisco rock band Jefferson Airplane and, later, its ’70s and ’80s evolution as pop-rock outfit Jefferson Starship, especially for her performances of  Somebody To Love and White Rabbit (the latter of which was penned by Grace and memorably references Alice In Wonderland), which originally appeared on The Airplane’s classic Surrealist Pillow album (1967) and were the centrepiece of their legendary set at August 1969’s Woodstock Festival. Revered at this time – and subsequently – as a major, and thus rare female, mover-and-shaker in the US counter-culture scene and good friends with Janis Joplin and David Crosby, she had been a fashion model before moving with her first husband to Calfornia and founding with him and his brother the lesser known band The Great Society. A notorious alcoholic, Grace has been sober for several years and is now a successful artist, her paintings (often inspired by the ’60s rock scene) fetching eye-watering prices.

Michelle – easily the fairest and far from the least significant member (along with husband John Phillips, ‘Mama’ Cass Elliott and Denny Doherty) of the iconic four-part-harmony, folk-rock band of the mid- to late ’60s The Mamas & The Papas and, with John Phillips, writer of two of their biggest hits California Dreamin’ (1965) and Creeque Alley (1967). Following the band’s break-up in ’68, she’s focused mainly on acting, making her debut alongside Warren Oates in Dillinger (1973), then starred in the Martin Sheen TV movie The California Kid (1974) and as the second wife of Rudolph Valentino (Rudolf Nureyev) in Ken Russell’s Valentino (1977). She also appeared in several seasons of US TV soap Knots Landing (1979-93)  and in episodes of Star Trek: The Next-Generation (1987-94), Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990-2000) and Spin City (1996-2002). Over the years, she’s had relationships with high-profile Hollywood figures Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hooper (to whom she was married for eight days in 1970), while she’s the mother of Wilson Phillips singer Chynna Phillips.

Strange but true: Grace – an alumnus of Manhattan’s prestigious Finch women’s college, she was invited along to a 1969 tea party at the White House, as she was in the same year there as Richard Nixon’s daughter; taking along left-wing political activist Abbie Hoffman as her ‘plus one’, she planned on using the occasion to drop LSD into Nixon’s tea, but was thwarted when security guards recognised her and refused her entry – she’d been apparently put on a FBI blacklist. Although almost always most identified with the ’60s rock of Jefferson Airplane, Grace in fact sang lead vocals on the nowadays ‘pure pop’-derided Jefferson Starship hits We Built This City (1985) and Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now (1987) – the latter, Oscar-nominated thanks to its featuring on the soundtrack of comedy Mannequin (1987), also ensured she was the oldest female artist to secure a US #1 single until Cher with the auto-tune-tastic Believe (1998)/ Michelle – in The Mamas & The Papas’ early days, she won 17 straight shoots in a Bahamas crap game that ensured the broke band could return to the US; years later, she sang backing vocals on Belinda Carlisle’s US and UK #1 single Heaven Is A Place On Earth (1987).

Peak of fitness: Grace – performing with The Airship at Woodstock, wearing her skimpy, cowboy-style white top and white trousers and looking like the icon-for-all-times she is for their awesome Sunday-morning-defying gig/ Michelle – cosying up in the nuddy with Rudolf Nureyev’s Valentino in the ’77 movie of the same name.

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michelle_phillips_in_white_jumper_2 Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas

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Grace Slick and Sally Mann at Woodstock

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Grace Slick in a Bathtub

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Playlist: Listen, my friends! ~ August 2013

August 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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Nina Simone ~ Sinnerman (1965)1

Whistling Jack Smith ~ I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman (1967)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience ~ Third Stone From The Sun (1967)2

Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass ~ With A Little Help From My Friends (1967)

Peter Wyngarde ~ Neville Thumbcatch (1970)3

Odetta ~ Hit Or Miss (1970)4

David Tomlinson and Angela Lansbury ~ The Beautiful Briny (1971)5

Carly Simon ~ You’re So Vain (1972)

Elton John ~ Are You Ready For Love (1977)6

Wilfred Josephs ~ Theme from I, Claudius (1978)

Bananarama ~ Robert De Niro’s Waiting… (1984)

Whitney Houston ~ I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) (1987)

Carter Burwell ~ Back To The Interstate, Ben Stone from Doc Hollywood (1991)

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1 Nina Simone’s definintive 10-minute-plus version of the classic spiritual tune from her Pastel Blues album, which has been featured in movies including  Cellular (2004), Miami Vice, Inland Empire (both 2006) and most memorably The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

2 From the classic album Are You Experienced and as featured over the opening titles of the once-seen-never-forgotten film The Dreamers (2003)

3 From Department S (1969-70) and Jason King (1971-72) star Peter Wyngarde’s notoriously racy and controversial album When Sex Leers Its Ugly Head

The blues, soul and folk singer, actress and civil rights activist’s self-penned tune from her Odetta Sings (1970) album that this year soundtracked a memorable Southern Comfort UK TV commercial

Originally intended to appear in the monster musical hit Mary Poppins (1964), this Sherman Brothers-penned tune finally made it to the big screen seven years later in the similar live action/ animated effort Bedknobs And Broomsticks. A lesser success than Poppins it may have been, but at least it also featured the terrific Tomlinson. The song also soundtracked a UK commercial for Rice Krispies earlier this year

Featuring John Edwards of The (Detroit) Spinners on backing vocals; this classic of Elton’s back catalogue finally received the success it deserved in summer 2003 when a remixed version hit #1 in the UK charts after receiving heavy airplay in a Sky Sports TV commercial

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Fun with Dick and Liz? Burton And Taylor (July 22, BBC4) ~ Review

July 25, 2013

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Directed by: Richard Laxton; Starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Dominic West, Lenora Crichlow and Michael Jibson; Written by: William Ivory; UK; 82 minutes; Colour

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Perhaps (or perhaps not) marking this year’s 50th anniversary of the notoriously ill-fated ‘sword and sandal’ epic Cleopatra (1963) and definitely marking The Best Channel On British Television™’s last home-made drama for some time (thanks, BBC cut-backs), Burton And Taylor, you might say, had one or two things riding on it. Happily enough then, this one-off, feature-length, mostly imagined delve into the mostly dark final coming together of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor is both a fitting commemoration of the half-century-old movie on whose set the pair met and a fitting finale for BBC4’s acclaimed strand of biopics of yesteryear’s legends (see here for my reviews of 2010’s Lennon Naked and 2011’s Hattie).

Dick and Liz, of course, were the ‘celebrity couple of the 20th Century'; the paramorous pair the public were absorbed by for nigh-on two decades (their two marriages, the flouting of their combined wealth thanks to ostentatious outfitting and injudicious jewelry purchases and their relationship seemingly mirrored in their on-screen collaborations, most obviously 1966’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolfe?). For those with memories that stretch back that far and younger ones like me who are turned on by the zeitgeist of lore, their oh-so public, über-passionate relationship still holds a hell of a cachet. And, while Burton And Taylor plays on that, for sure (hey, it was made because the subject’s the stuff of legend, right?), for the most part it wisely ignores the gaudy spectacle, excess and frippery that ‘The Dick and Liz Show’ was for so many who followed it.

Instead, by focusing on their last meaningful face-to-face interactions as they performed together in an ill-judged, ill-received 1983 Broadway revival of Noël Coward’s classic play Private Lives, it shows the pair as middle-aged has-beens, both in terms of their careers and their relationship – they’ve moved on from each other; or have they? It thus aims to hit the audience with a heady vodka-cocktail-esque concoction of pathos, melancholia,  regret, (faux) maturity and nostalgia. And, like the protagonist of the remorse-filled, retrospective King Lear that Burton frets about tackling throughout and would surely have nailed (had he not been taken from us just months later in 1984), Richard Laxton’s drama nails its aspirations splendidly.

Helena Bonham Carter (apparently flying in the face of her mother’s assertion she was crazy to take on playing ‘a legend’ such as Taylor) claimed she was attracted to the project because it’s essentially a love story about two people; and that’s why Burton  And Taylor works. It’s stripped-back and tight fare and, for the most part, a two-hander between her Liz and Dominic West’s Dick. The just-turned-50-years-old former wants to rekindle her love-affair (for a second time) with the latter; the latter doesn’t and merely needs the pay-day that the former’s proposed Broadway project will provide. And that’s pretty much it. But, pleasingly, it’s a slow-burner; fittingly so, given the ages and fading star-status of its jaded subjects. Neither the old-school spirit-fuelled Burton (all bass-booming ‘you all right, loves?’) and Gloria Swanson-like diva-ish Taylor fit the ’80s – an early scene of the former waiting for a ’70s disco tune he recognises (and, admittedly, by which time he’s pissed enough) to hit a disco’s dancefloor is a delight – but do they fit each other anymore? Can they kick-start their bandwagon or should they stay off the wagon for good?

And that’s another theme that’s at work – and cannily so. Addiction. Burton is trying (way too late, as we sadly all know it turned out) to kick the booze and, at his half-hearted instigation, Taylor is trying to stop drinking and popping the sleeping pills (on which the world was to learn later she’d been hooked for much of her adult life). But there’s another dependence for them both, of course – each other. ‘We’re addicts, Elizabeth’, Burton tells her at one point, adding ‘you can have too much love’. Electric chemistry, an intellectual and amused meeting of minds, desire, sex, in short, love can bind, sustain and define two souls… but it can also destroy them.

No question then, William Ivory (2010’s Made In Dagenham and 2012’s Bert & Dickie) deserves much credit for his smart, witty, insightful scripting, but so too does helmer Laxton for his conjuring up of pitch-perfect melancholic atmos and ensuring the two leads’ playing delivers just the right level of poignancy and pathos, without descending too far into sentimentality. Speaking of which, Bonham Carter (as so often) is outstanding as Taylor; playful, prickly, wily, wide-eyed and adoring. West (despite his valleys-meets-RSC interpretation of Burton’s brogue wandering in the final few scenes) is just as good; his Dick a battered, drink-battling tiger who’s looking for something other than the past to hold on to and give him direction. Ultimately, as Nazareth serenaded us in 1976 (the year the couple divorced for the second time), love hurts truly, madly, deeply – and perhaps even more so than most – for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

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For a short time, you can watch Burton And Taylor on the BBC’s iPlayer here (UK and Northern Ireland only) 

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Purrfectly pink: Clouseau, karate and cartoons ~ 50 things you always wanted to know about The Pink Panther

July 20, 2013

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Cat in the hat: DePatie-Freleng’s Pink Panther under the hat of Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau

And so it came to pass that in the final few weeks of 1963 a phenomenon – or, if you will, a pink-nomenon – was born. Not that anyone knew it at the time, of course. No, because Hollywood’s latest glamorous comedy crime caper was just that – but, oh, what The Pink Panther would go on to spawn: an utterly hilarious, unarguably iconic cinematic hero; one of the most enduring animated characters of all-time; an instantly recognisable Henry Mancini tune that conjures up lazy, jazzy cool from its very first few bars and, of course, the international film career of the one, the only Peter Sellers.

Yes, in the final few weeks of 1963, the Pink Panther phenomenon was verily born and, in marking its 50th anniversary, as this blog is at present, its latest post takes the cool cat by his whiskers and presents you with, yes, the 50 facts that (once read) you won’t believe you didn’t previously know about Sellers and co’s classic creation – because have you ever seen a panther that’s pink? Think! (Or, better, just read on…)

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1. There were nine original Pink Panther films overseen by director, producer and writer Blake EdwardsThe Pink Panther (1963), A Shot In The Dark (1964), The Return Of The Pink Panther (1975), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), Revenge Of The Pink Panther (1978), Trail Of The Pink Panther (1982), Curse Of The Pink Panther (1983) and Son Of The Pink Panther (1993).

2. The series was revived – or rather rebooted – in the ’00s with another The Pink Panther (2006), which was followed by a sequel The Pink Panther 2 (2009).

3. British comedy genius Peter Sellers, of course, graced most of Edwards’ Pink Panther flicks as the irrepressibly clumsy and hilariously ridiculous Inspector Jacques Clouseau of the French Sûreté.

4. However, following Sellers’ death in 1980, his contributions to both Trail and Curse were made up of unused material shot for Strikes Again and Revenge.

5. Curse featured American comic actor Ted Wass as a Clouseau-like character and Oscar-winning-to-be Italian thesp Roberto Benigni essayed his son in, yes, Son. Steve Martin portrayed the iconic character in the ’00s efforts.

6. The original late-’63-released Pink Panther film set up the series’ trademark, nay somewhat Bond-esque, facets of beautiful female co-stars; luxurious, exotic locations; lustrous, laid back jazzy music from the legendary Henry Mancini and brilliant animated opening titles – in addition, of course, to the long sequences comprising Clouseau-driven slapstick humour.

7. However, the movie was actually intended to be a vehicle for smooth, urbane British Hollywood heavyweight David Niven.

8. Niven played the aristocratic playboy Sir Charles Lytton aka jewel thief extraordinaire The Phantom, whom steals the eponymous ‘Pink Panther’, a Darya-ye Noor-inspired giant pink diamond (whose discoloration resembles a panther) owned by Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale) ruler of the fictitious Arabian kingdom of Lugash.

9. As you’d expect then, Niven was top of The Pink Panther‘s star wishlist, while Russian-cum-Brit Peter Ustinov was sought for Clouseau and Ava Gardner for his unfaithful, crime conspiring wife Simone. However, when Gardner backed out, Ustinov too dropped out, ensuring second choice Sellers was cast as Clouseau. Psycho (1960) star Janet Leigh also turned down the female lead, leading to Capucine winning the role.

10. Both the personality and appearance of Clouseau was suggested by the figure on a matchbox Sellers spied on his flight to Rome to begin filming The Pink Panther; he felt the oversized moustache and the unfaltering self-importance and dignity (possibly at all costs) of the figure was perfect for Clouseau.

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11. Unquestionably, Clouseau proved to be the role that made Sellers a genuine Hollywood star. Several improvised moments saw his scenes in the film enlarged, overshadowing Niven’s role.

12. This was true to such an extent that when Niven appeared (as was usual for him) at the Oscars the following year, he requested Mancini’s iconic-for-all-time Pink Panther Theme not to be his ‘walk-on music’ – despite the film grossing almost $11m in the US alone, ensuring it was the States’ 13th biggest hit of ’64 – as he apparently stated it ‘wasn’t really his film’, implying it was Sellers’ instead.

13. Rushed into production immediately following The Pink Panther‘s release, A Shot In The Dark was a deliberate vehicle for Sellers’ Clouseau, whom was undoubtedly the sequel’s protagonist and Sellers its lead player – his first Hollywood starring role. It was released less than seven months after the original film.

14. Edwards had, in fact, been working on Shot‘s script while filming the previous movie. Although rightly classed in the Pink Panther series, it noticeably doesn’t feature either the Pink Panther diamond or The Phantom antagonist, being a cinematic adaptation of Harry Kurnitz’s stage farce (which itself was an English-language adaptation of Marcel Archard’s play L’Idiote).

15. The protagonist of the stage play, a bumbling lawyer, was replaced in the film by the character of Clouseau, its plot seeing the latter investigate several murders in the manor house of a French aristocrat while falling in love with the house maid (Elke Sommer), the chief suspect.

16. Producer-director Edwards wrote Shot‘s screenplay with William Peter Blatty, whom would later achieve fame as author of horror novel The Exorcist (1971) and for winning an Oscar for adapting his book into 1973’s huge hit movie of the same name.

17. Although the series’ second flick, Shot introduced further crucial Pink Panther elements; first, Clouseau’s superior officer Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) and his hatred of the former and, owing to this, his descent into murderous insanity and, second, Clouseau’s Chinese manservant Cato (Burt Kwouk) and the pair’s destructive karate training undertaken at every given opportunity.

18. Grossing $12.4 million in the US alone, A Shot In The Dark not only made more money than its predecessor, but also became the eighth biggest hit ‘domestically’ of 1964; a year which saw stiff competition from the likes of My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, Goldfinger, A Hard Day’s Night, A Fistful Of Dollars and Dr Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, for which – rounding out an amazing year – Sellers was Oscar-nominated for his triple-lead role.

19. Following the release of The Pink Panther and A Shot In The Dark, the cartoon company that produced both films’ animated opening title sequences, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, capitalised on their huge success by featuring the cartoon ‘Pink Panther’ character (whom appeared in the first movie’s titles, but not the second’s) in a series of shorts, a smart, often laid-back, other times mischievous, almost feline version of Warner Bros’ icon Bugs Bunny.

20. The first of these shorts, the brilliant The Pink Phink (in which The Pink Panther competes with his nemesis-to-be ‘The Little Man’ over painting a house), won the ’64 Academy Award for Best Animated Short.

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Laughing all the way to the bank; music man to thank: Edwards and Sellers joke around on The Return Of The Pink Panther set (l); Mancini poses with the cartoon cat on an album cover (r)

21. Originally, the first 92 Pink Panther animated shorts were all released theatrically (in cinemas), stretching across 13 years from 1964 to ’77.

22. Other memorable shorts include 1966’s Pink, Plunk, Plink (in which Henry Mancini made a cameo; his Pink Panther Theme becoming as synonymous with the cartoons as the films) and 1969’s Pink-A-Rella (in which the female Pink Panther first appears and a girl attempts to win a date with rock musician ‘Pelvis Parsley’).

23. From September 1969 onwards, the Pink Panther shorts also featured on TV thanks to two of them at a time book-ending a short built around ‘The Inspector’ character (Clouseau) in The Pink Panther Show, broadcast on Saturday mornings on the NBC network.

24. ‘The Inspector’ shorts were actually all produced between ’65 and ’69 and theatrically released before they appeared on TV in The Pink Panther Show.

25. All of ‘The Inspector’s shorts included Mancini’s unforgettable theme that originally featured in A Shot In The Dark‘s title sequence, which itself technically marked the first time ‘The Inspector’ character appeared on-screen.

26. The Pink Panther Show actually went through several name changes in its run: 1970-71’s The Pink Panther Meets the Ant And The Aardvark (referencing ‘The Ant and The Aardvark’ characters whom from then on also featured in their own shorts in the show); The New Pink Panther Show (1971–74); The Pink Panther And Friends (1974–76); The Pink Panther Laugh And A Half Hour And A Half Show (1976–77) and Think Pink Panther (1977–78).

27. It was 1968 when a live-action Clouseau next returned to the screen, but this time played by American actor Alan Arkin. The movie Inspector Clouseau was intended to involve both Sellers and Edwards, but after falling out on the set of Shot (which would happen constantly throughout their further collaborations), neither had much interest in this flick.

28. Ironically, the director and star ended up filming comedy classic The Party (1968) together at the same time as Inspector Clouseau (an inevitable flop) went before cameras.

29. Just years later, though, in the early ’70s, Edwards came up with a 15-20-page outline for a new Pink Panther film.

30. Walter Mirisch (head of The Mirisch Corporation) who’d been an important backer of the original two films as well as The Party, was keen on the project, but the first two movies’ major financier, the United Artists studio, was not – for neither Edwards nor Sellers had enjoyed a hit in years.

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31. Edwards therefore approached giant British film producer Lew Grade (whom had backed, among other projects, TV’s The Muppet Show). Grade took on the gamble, as did Sellers (whom, his star now seemingly in decline since his mid-’60s heyday, reneged on his claim back then he’d never return to Clouseau); The Return Of The Pink Panther, a pretty much UK-financed film then, was released in May 1975.

32. Return echoed the plot of The Pink Panther by seeing Clouseau investigating the theft from Lugash of the Pink Panther diamond once more. He immediately suspects The Phantom (this time played by the young, energetic Christopher Plummer), but he’s adamant in the face of his wife Lady Claudine Lytton (Catherine Schell) that he’s not the thief, thus himself searches for the real culprit in order to prevent himself being banged up competent law enforcers – or even Clouseau.

33. Of all the Pink Panther films, Return is perhaps most fondly recalled for the ‘corpsing’ (breaking into laughter and forcing a take to be re-shot) by Catherine Schell. Two such occasions were kept in the finished movie; when Clouseau gains entry into the Lytton household under the guise of a supposed telephone repairman and, most obviously and delightfully, when he makes contact with Lady Lytton as the ridiculous womaniser ‘Guy Gadbois’ and pronounces in Sellers’ demented French accent ‘Here’s looking at you, kid’ – a reference to Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine in Casablanca (1942), of course.

34. Indeed, it was in Return that Clouseau’s ridiculous French accent began to be exploited to its maximum effect, with other characters – many of them French – being unable to understand his pronunciation of the words ‘room’ (‘rheum’), ‘law’ (‘lew’), ‘lord’ (‘leurd’) and, of course, ‘monkey’ (‘minkey’).

35. Return also saw the Richard Williams Studio create its animated opening title sequence (as did the series’ next two entries), owing to DePatie-Freleng being too busy on its own projects, including The Pink Panther Show. Nonetheless, Richard Williams and his cohorts surely produced the best of the series’ opening titles for Return, featuring, as it did, Pink Panther-featuring pastiches of figures of Hollywood legend, namely Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, John Wayne, George Raft, Carmen Miranda, Frankenstein and Mickey Mouse (see video clip above).

36. Arguably Return‘s most glamorous location is the Italian Alpine resort Cortina d’Ampezzo (which also, admittedly, featured in The Pink Panther), trumping its appearance in the James Bond film series by six years – it would go on to feature in 1981’s For Your Eyes Only.

37. Owing to Return‘s enormous box-office success ($42 million in the US alone; making it the sixth biggest hit of ’75 domestically), the next film in the series was rushed before cameras – The Pink Panther Strikes Again was shot between December ’75 and September ’76.

38. In fact, Strikes Again‘s plot is the only one of the series to follow directly on from its predecessor; this is because both Return and Strikes Again‘s scripts were based on treatments (from that early ’70s outline) that Edwards had been working up not just for possible Pink Panther movies, but as an alternative a Pink Panther TV series.

39. Strikes Again‘s story takes the series into the realms of Bond-esque super fantasy. It begins with (now) Chief Inspector Clouseau visiting a asylum from which he is to pick up the apparently cured Dreyfus (who’s been there since the conclusion of Return). It quickly becomes obvious Dreyfus is just as nuts and intent on bumping off Clouseau as ever, though, and when he escapes the asylum himself, kidnaps the inventor of a weapon that could destroy the world and blackmails the world’s leaders to assassinate Clouseau or he’ll, yes, destroy the world; the ace assassins sent after Clouseau include the Soviet Olga Barisova (Lesley-Anne Down) and an unnamed Egyptian assailant (an uncredited Omar Sharif in a cameo).

40. This fifth entry in the series is probably most memorable for its slapstick scene in an English manor house’s gym, in which Clouseau unsuccessfully demonstrates his mastering of ‘zee parallel bars’ to the butler, played by Michael Robbins of On The Buses (1969-72) fame.

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Car-toon characters: The Pink Panther and ‘The Inspector’ with the iconic Panthermobile

41. Robbins’ butler character actually appears as a female impersonator in a bar scene, whom Clouseau mistakes for a real woman. His singing voice was that of Edwards’ wife Julie Andrews no less, whom would later appear as a woman pretending to be a man who’s a female impersonator in her husband’s comedy Victor Victoria (1982).

42. Despite falling out truly spectacularly on the set of Strikes Again and the star now being in unquestionable bad health, Sellers and Edwards came together once more for a sixth and final collaboration in the shape of Revenge Of The Pink Panther (1978), which sees Clouseau, Cato and mobster moll Simone LeGree (Dyan Cannon) tangle with both the American mafia and the ‘French Connection’ criminal underground. Despite its daftness and nowadays very dated embrace of ]disco music, it actually out-grossed Strikes Again at the US box-office (Revenge  making $49.6 million; Strikes Again $33.8 million).

43. In 1978, the animated Pink Panther show took on another new name, The All New Pink Panther Show, which it was known as for its final two seasons of original broadcast and for which it switched to the US ABC network. It’s fondly recalled for the much-loved ‘Panthermobile‘-featuring, live-action/ animated opening and closing title sequences (see video clip below).

44. Following Revenge, Sellers attempted to get another Pink Panther movie off the ground – but without Edwards’ involvement at all. Romance Of The Pink Panther would have seen Clouseau pursuing female cat burglar ‘The Frog’ (Pamela Stephenson) and the return of Dreyfus and Cato. However, film studio United Artists was neither happy with the first draft of Sellers’ script (co-written with Jim Moloney), nor the with idea of Sellers directing the movie as well; it attached first Sidney Poitier and then Clive Donner as helmers to the project. Eventually, the film fell through when Sellers passed away in July 1980.

45. Surprisingly, the Pink Panther film series didn’t die with Sellers. Building around previously unused footage shot for both Strikes Again and Revenge, Edwards crafted two further flicks – Trail Of The Pink Panther (1982) and Curse Of The Pink Panther (1983). New footage for them both was filmed at the same time.

46. The plot of Trail sees investigative reporter Marie Jouvet (Joanna Lumley) attempting to track down the now missing Clouseau and, in doing so, coming across Dreyfus, Cato and, reprising their roles from The Pink Panther, David Niven and Capucine (the latter now by now become Lady Lytton; maybe/ maybe not the same character as Catherine Schell’s in Return). Curse sees a Clouseau-like inept American police detective attempting to track down the again Pink Panther diamond, Dreyfus, Cato and Niven’s Charles Lytton are back again too (although owing to poor health, Niven was dubbed by voice artist Rich Little in both these two movies), while Joanna Lumley plays a supporting role again, but bizarrely a different one to her Trail character.

47. Both Trail and Curse were critically panned and box-office flops (making only $13 million in the US between them), but at least the finale of the latter rewards viewers with the sight of one Roger Moore – in a break in filming the Bond film Octopussy (1983) – appear as, thanks to plastic surgery, a facially altered Clouseau. Sir Rog appeared in the credits under the moniker ‘Turk Thrust II'; his friend Bryan Forbes, the recently deceased Brit director, had appeared in a cameo in Shot under the name ‘Turk Thrust’.

48. Inexplicably, Edwards gave the Pink Panther dice one more roll, when 10 years later he filmed Son Of The Pink Panther. Casting then unknown Italian comic actor Roberto Benigni (whom would become an international star after winning a Best Actor Oscar for his self-helmed Life Is Beautiful in ’98) as Clouseau’s illegitimate and equally bumbling son, it was universally reviled – both by critics and audiences; it made less than $3 million at the box-office. It did, though, feature yet again Lom as Dreyfus, Kwouk as Cato and, confusingly, Claudia Cardinelle not as Princess Dala as in the very first film, but as Maria Gambrelli, Elke Sommer’s amorous maid character in Shot.

 49. Son proved to be both Edwards’ and composer Mancini’s final film; the former reputedly considered Kevin Kline, Rowan Atkinson, Gérard Depardieu and Tim Curry for the lead role ahead of Benigni. The movie is the only Pink Panther effort (including the woeful Steve Martin ‘updates’ of the ’00s) to hold the dubious distinction of being released straight to video/ DVD in the UK.

And finally…

50. In their time (and for some years afterwards), the Edwards/ Sellers Pink Panther movies, despite the mis-steps of their later instalments, were unquestionably the most successful comedy series filmed – pulling in a total box-office haul of around $165 million in the US alone (inflation unadjusted). That’s a fact, if ever there was one, that’d surely have Cato karate chopping, Dreyfus wink-wink-winking and Clouseau himself buffooning about in a nudist camp.

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Voodoo kudos: 40 years of Live And Let Die

July 13, 2013

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Harlem shufflers: Roger Moore with tarot-card-dependent dastardlies – l to r – Julius W Harris (Tee Hee), Geoffrey Holder (Baron Samedi), Yaphet Kotto (Dr Kananga) and Earl Jolly Brown (Whisper), plus Jane Seymour (Solitaire), of course, in a rare cast-group publicity shot 

A few days ago on this blog it was Octopussy‘s (1983) turn, of course, but, on the occasion of its 40th birthday, what do you get the movie that really has everything (Sir Rog making his Bondian bow; speedboat chases on the bayou; London buses losing their roofs; claw-armed hoodlums; supernatural foes rising from their sepulchres; a classic rocking theme tune; and, yes, Jane Seymour)? What, indeed. But how about this – a musical, behind-the-scenes picture- and clip-toting, fact- and dialogue-quoting tribute of a blog post? Well, that sounds just the (San Moniquian bus) ticket to me.

In which case, here it is, peeps, George’s Journal‘s nod (while wearing the hat belonging to a short man of limited means who lost a fight with a chicken, er, yes) to the one, the only Live And Let Die – or ‘The ‘Die’, as this most unique, enduringly popular and eternally terrific of Eon efforts tends to be called around these parts. For, yes, it was 40 years ago this month when the funk-tastic eighth Bond flick hit British cinema screens and brought all things 007 crashing into the ’70s. Cue Macca and his Wings then…

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CLICK on the images for full-size/ description

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Did you know?

The owner of the Louisiana crocodile farm that was used as a location in the film was one Ross Kananga, whom with great disregard for his own safety, attempted take-after-take of Bond’s crocodile-jump stunt (see clip below) before the perfect effort – involving the crocs being tied down beneath the water – was captured. For his efforts, producers Albert R ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Harry Saltzman named the villain after him (Dr Kananga)

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Cab Driver: “You know where you’re going?”

Bond: “Uptown, I believe”

Cab Driver: “Uptown? You headed into Harlem, man!”

Bond: “Well, you just keep on the tail of that jukebox and there’s an extra twenty in it for you”

Cab Driver: “Hey, man, for twenty bucks, I’ll take you to a Ku Klux Klan cook-out!”

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Did you know?

On first hearing it, producer Harry Saltzman assumed the final cut of Paul McCartney and Wings’ rocking title theme was a rough demo; unsurprisingly then, he hated it. His intuitions were all wrong though, as the tune went on to hit #2 in the US charts and earned both Oscar and Grammy nominations

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Solitaire: “Is there any time before we go, for [lovers'] lesson number three?”

Bond: “Absolutely. There’s no sense in going off half-cocked”

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xl James Bond 2012

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Did you know?

Broccoli and Saltzman originally toyed with the idea of casting Diana Ross as tarot-card-reading totty Solitaire, before they reverted back to the character’s model in the book, an elegant white English beauty, in casting Jane Seymour in the role. Also, owing to M actor Bernard Lee suffering from ill-health, Reach For The Sky (1956) screen-star Kenneth More was being lined-up as a stand-in; since he made his debut in From Russia With Love (1963) this is the only Bond film in which Desmond Llewellyn (Q) didn’t appear until his death in early 2000

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Further reading:

See George’s Journal’s further behind-the-scenes and other images from Live And Let Die here

Read George’s Journal’s review of Live And Let Die here

Read George’s Journal’s take on why Live And Let Die is one of the ultimate movies of the ’70s here

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Cod Rod or rock god? imagine… Rod Stewart: Can’t Stop Me Now ~ July 9, BBC1 (Review)

July 11, 2013

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Lost in La-la-land? a mid-’70s Rod Stewart poses with then squeeze and movie star Britt Ekland (plus an obligatory football) on the diving board of his Los Angeles home’s swimming pool

The trouble with Rod Stewart, and has been for decades now, is that he comes with baggage. All right, all major pop/ rock artists come with baggage, but Rod’s is so large it’d fill the baggage hold of a Boeing 747 all on its own. For more than 30 years now, he has in too many critical circles and with too many music listeners been a byword for ill-judged on- and off-stage excess; seemingly a bloated parody of himself, whose dating of and marriages to a string of beautiful, leggy blondes and siring a brood of sprogs (a veritable transatlantic Stewart clan of his own) has overshadowed the talent he possesses. But, as Rod Stewart: Can’t Stop Me Now (the latest in the Alan Yentob-fronted imagine… strand of arts films for BBC1) highlights, and reminded me, that obfuscates the truth about old Rod.

Indeed, it’s very easy to dislike and dismiss Stewart. An almost Cliff Richard-like ‘Peter Pan of rock’ he’s played up to a laddish persona ever since he properly established it in the early ’70s as  the Faces frontman, alongside several-year partner-in-crime guitarist Ronnie Wood, having alienated too many casual fans when he jet-set off to Los Angeles in the mid-’70s after the Faces’ demise and set up house with one of the most glamorous girls on the planet Britt Ekland, losing his cheeky, charming wag tag overnight as he became rock’s enfant terrible releasing MOR-tastic mediocre pop tat.

It wasn’t always that way, of course. Sensibly, Can’t Stop Me Now starts at the beginning, detailing at first Rod’s rise from the youngest sibling of a shopkeeper in post-war North London to a member of jazz/ blues scene pioneer Long John Baldry’s band. Before this early breakthrough, though, the green Rod dabbled with football (a mainstay past-time for life, much like his highly unfashionable love of model railways and much more fashionable love of appealing fillies), then being a Beatnik – he attended CND marches, but that seems to be where any active interest in politics ended – before he made the move to Mod-dom and was discovered by Baldry while busking on a Tube train; the latter almost mistaking him for a tramp.

Although, thanks to impressively copious archive Beeb footage, presumably gleaned from a mid-’60s docu of which he was the subject, Rod ploughed all his modest earnings of this period in to a post office savings account, because he mum told him to. And, like a good boy, he always did what his mum told him to – Yentob happily returns time and again to the theme of family’s perpetual importance to Rod, despite his subject’s departure for LA pretty early on in the story, where he still lives for nine months of the year today.

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Yentob’s film’s unquestionably at its best when interesting itself in Stewart’s actual talent. It first does so when addressing his time with Baldry’s evolving jazz/ blues outfit, with whom he achieved small-time notoriety as a red-hot singer obsessed with late ’50s/ early ’60s black soul as he impressively belted out the blues for Baldry’s band (and cutting 1964’s non-charting Good Morning Little Schoolgirl). Here it focuses on the excitement first generated by Rod’s genuine gift – that voice. To listen to a young Rod is to be instantly reminded of contemporary late ’60s talent Joe Cocker; both their blues-applied vocals being full of power, passion and brilliance.

This is most obvious, of course, on the acclaimed Truth (1968), the debut LP of Stewart’s next band, the legendary Jeff Beck Group; Beck’s immediate post-Yardbirds project that saw Rod team up with mate Ronnie Wood for the first time. Truth is an awesome album, Beck’s and Wood’s guitar work at times innovative genius and Rod’s voice absolutely never better than on tracks such as You Shook Me, Morning Dew, Blues Deluxe and Shapes Of Things (listen to the latter in the clip above).

However, Stewart and Wood – the latter joining the former for a combo-interview with Yentob – reveal that the group, despite acknowledging they cut a swathe across the US on a Stateside tour (of which their opening gig was a daunting date at New York’s notorious Filmore East hippie stronghold) and pre-empted heavy metal by massively inspiring the soon-to-be-formed Led Zeppelin, was undermined by poor management. A foreshadow of the band’s demise surely being that they half-inched food from London greasy spoons as they were only occasionally paid.

Wood was the first to leave the band and Stewart soon followed his pal – to the entity that grew out of the embers of Mod leaders The Small Faces (following singer Steve Marriott’s tragic death from a house fire owing to smoking in bed), namely the Faces. By Rod’s own admission, this band was a bunch of yobs, suiting him down to the ground. But while their forever affectionate place in rock fans’ hearts is deserved for their off-stage antics mirroring those on-stage (audiences were invited both on to the stage during gigs and back to their hotel rooms afterwards), their legendary status is deserved for their taking the early ’70s rock scene by the scruff of the neck and, in an era of singer-songwriter and prog-rock navel-gazing, ensuring it rocked again in garish outfits and with marvellous tunes such as Cindy Incidentally (1973) and their anthem Stay With Me (1971) – the latter supposedly written by Wood (music) and Stewart (lyrics) backstage one night.

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Forever Faces: Ronnie Wood strums and Stewart plays along before a Chez Rod interview

Despite what may have been said and written over the years, here (from the horse’s mouth himself) we learn it was Wood once again who jumped first, replacing Mick Taylor at short notice in The Rolling Stones and leading every Face (including Rod himself, reluctantly apparently; he’d have remained in the Faces  ‘forever’) to conclude that Stewart’s trajectory was ultimately as a solo artist. After all, by ’75 he’d released three hugely successful albums, which had spawned all-time classics Maggie May (1971’s chart-topping sensation on both sides of the pond) and You Wear It Well and Handbags And Gladrags (both 1972).

From here, of course, it arguably went tits-up – at least quality-wise. Rod may now have been on his way to becoming the richest Celtic fan in the world, but his LA-based alienation from his Faces-fed adoring Brit fans and pairing off with Britt not only saw him take on the guise he’s stubbornly, nay self-satisfyingly, filled for 30-odd years, but also release some truly crap music. The two surely can’t be a coincidence. He may have learnt a great deal from the switched-on, experienced Ekland (as he thoughtfully admits in the film), but output such as the rightly derided Sailing (1975) and Tonight’s The Night (Gonna Be Alright) (1976) really shouldn’t be allowed to be excused by a cheeky grin or a cheap mug at the documentary’s camera.

While this period of his career could be said to be saved by the rare quality of the self-penned likes of The Killing Of Georgie (Part I and II) (1976) – revealed to be about the sad early death of a Faces-era friend – and I Don’t Wanna Talk About It (1976), it did lead for better or worse into Rod’s truly-don’t-give-a-sh*t late ’70s/ early ’80s period that spewed out the admittedly far from serious, but irritatingly half-arsed Hot Legs (1977) and Da Ya Think I’m Sexy (1978) (see video clip below).

The latter hit, as Yentob points out, proved to be the effort that broke the camel’s back, or to be more precise pushed the camp self-parody too far, its video’s over-featuring of Rod’s leather-trousered-posterior being unforgettably lampooned, as it was, by Kenny Everett on primetime TV. As Stewart fan ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris (oddly then) delightfully recalls, Stewart’s reputation would never be the same again.

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Much of the rest of the film focuses on Rod’s post-millennial career – a resurgence sales-wise certainly, with his ‘American Songbook’ series of albums pulling in the moolah big-time, of course, even if they’ve received a (rightly) lukewarm response from the critics, while his latest album Time, his first self-penned record in decades and from one of whose songs the film takes its title, is his first chart-topper since the ’70s. Rod’s a very happy bunny nowadays, it seems; selling music, having kids again with current leggy blonde wife, the smart, beautiful photographer Penny Lancaster, and holding soccer matches for extended family and friends whenever he returns to his Essex pile with its full-sized football pitch.

One must surely ask then, why does Yentob not probe a little more into Rod’s darker or less revered moments? It’s interesting to learn his separation and eventual divorce from New Zealand model Rachel Hunter in the early ’00s after several years of marriage sent him into a genuine depression; out of discretion the host doesn’t go further on the subject. Fair enough. But then, this time out of courtesy to his interviewee, he doesn’t ask more about the mutually agreed ‘lost period’ of Stewart’s career – the ’80s.

Adrift with banal pop tunes and videos of models in bikinis around swimming pools, this was clearly his creative nadir (even though it did produce 1981’s marvellous Young Turks), but why? What was the deal? Was he simply focusing too much on marrying, dating and cheating on women? Or was anything else going on? We don’t find out. Instead, we learn everything recovered nicely by ’89 in the shape of the covering of Tom Waites’ Downtown Train – the hits and, thus, Rod was back for good.

Criticisms aside, though, this film works because it gives us two significant reasons why Rod Stewart still matters; why anyone should still give two hoots about him. First, he once had an amazing voice amazingly applied with Long John Baldry, The Jeff Beck Group and the Faces, playing a pivotal role then in rock music’s development at a critical time, and second, like it or not, after 50-ish years he’s still here, properly doing his thing. Da ya still think he’s sexy? Probably not , but like The Stones, he’s still hanging around and is thus hard to ignore – and surely shouldn’t be.

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For a short time, you can watch imagine… Rod Stewart: Can’t Stop Me Now on the BBC iPlayer here (UK and Northern Ireland only)

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From Surrey with love ~ Catching Bullets: Memoirs Of A Bond Fan/ Mark O’Connell (Review)

July 9, 2013

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Author: Mark O’Connell

Year: 2012

Publisher: Splendid Books

ISBN-10: 0956950574/ ISBN-13: 978-0956950574

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Ah yes, those Bond fans of you out there (of which I know there’s one or two), will be only too aware that a certain 007 opus, 1983’s Octopussy, no less – the India-cum-circus-cum-Cold-War-cornucopia – has just celebrated it’s 30th anniversary. In which case, George’s Journal is marking the occasion by putting up yours truly’s review of this most excellent book, which this scribe first had published on foremost 007 website mi6-hq.com last year. Why post it on one’s own blog right now in the name of Octopussy, though? Well, that flick is undoubtedly the Bond movie that started it all for the book’s author Mark O’Connell, as if you read his terrific tome, you’d only too happily discover…

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Many James Bond fans like to make claims about genuine connections they have with their cinematic idol – for instance, I got enormously excited around the age of 10 when rumour had it Roger Moore was moving into a house in the posh country lane down the road from me. As it goes, this claim of mine is rather rubbish, as Sir Rog never moved in. Mark O’Connell’s, however, is much better; in fact, it’s a king of such claims, as his grandfather Jimmy was for several decades chauffer to the man behind the cinematic Bond himself, Albert R ‘Cubby’ Broccoli.

It’s this happy coincidence for O’Connell the enormous Bond fan that’s the spur to his writing Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan (in addition to him being an enormous Bond fan, of course). Principally a memoir of his first encounters with each of the official 22 Bond films – each of them being a ‘bullet’ he originally ‘caught’ at different ages either at the cinema, on video or on TV – this book ends up being much more. It’s almost a pseudo-autobiography filtered through different aspects of his life, as an ‘80s Surrey schoolboy through to becoming a successful TV comedy writer, that coincided with and are related to those important Bond experiences (every Bond fan knows their interest/ obsession tends to affect almost every other aspect of their life at some point, whether they like it or not).

Extremely witty, nicely dry but also very warm when it comes to the world of Bond (especially that of Roger Moore and, in particular, 1985’s A View To A Kill and 1983’s Octopussy), this is a nostalgia-fest of a fess-up to 007 fandom. It’s chock-full of anecdotes of Bond-esque-themed children’s parties, visits to the local petrol station to get a Bond fix on VHS when that Bank Holiday’s just too far away to wait for telly’s next Moore or Connery offering, and the despair of not being able to purchase the latest TV Times magazine while on Cubs camp just to marvel at its coverage of ITV’s next Bond film.

It’s a tale then of a life as a Bond fan lived, with all its glorious highs and (semi-)disastrous lows, with which any and every 007 enthusiast will surely identify – from making a childhood pilgrimage to an abandoned Sussex mine just because it was a Bond location for five minutes to delicate negotiations with a partner to mount a framed Bond film poster in pride of place in the lounge; from naughtily getting in to see the ‘15’-rated Licence To Kill as a mere 13-year-old to ripping an adored, ruined-forever A View To A Kill t-shirt passed along by a kindly grandfather employed by Eon Productions themselves.

Indeed, the presence of grandfather Jimmy throughout makes for an intriguing link between O’Connell’s fanboy existence and the fantasy factory that was the Pinewood Studios-ensconced Cubby and his fellow filmmakers. Something that at times has afforded the lucky but very humble O’Connell more than just passed-on Bond memorabilia. But what exactly? Well, why not let Mark O’Connell tell you himself by catching Catching Bullets – the tale of being a Bond fan by a Bond fan that surely no Bond fan should be without.

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You can purchase Catching Bullets: Memoirs Of A Bond Fan here

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Further reading:

Read George’s Journal‘s review of Octopussy here

See George’s Journal‘s Octopussy image collection (including behind-the-scenes pictures) here

markoconnell.co.uk

twitter.com/Mark0Connell

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