Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Box of Delights Part One!

Last week I mentioned how Christmas specials from our favourite television shows didn’t need to have a Christmas theme to it to still be special. What about when you really want to watch something with a wonderful holiday spirit? After all, tis the season! There is something about a Christmas serial that is magical, full of fantasy and takes place in the 1930s. It is children letting their imaginations run wild and there is a beautiful innocence with a great spirit of adventure that is held before the outbreak of World War II. It features wonderful countryside and steam train engines, plus Patrick Troughton. This is The Box of Delights.

The novel for The Box of Delights was written by John Masefield in 1935. Little did I know that this is actually a sequel to a novel he wrote in 1927 titled The Midnight Folk. I personally am glad I didn’t know this because I think this story is perfect on its own. The Midnight Folk also featured Kay Harker who is our main character in The Box of Delights.
The Box of Delights was originally made the BBC as a radio production in 1943. It was made no less a total of 6 more times on radio between 1943 and 1995. I will touch on the radio adaptations in a later article on this series. In 1984, the BBC decided to make its most ambitious children’s serial to date. This is the start of a fantastic serial.

When the Wolves Were Running TX: 19/11/84

The story starts with Kay Harker, a young boy, returning from boarding school and is on Christmas holiday with his Aunt. Things get moving pretty quickly on this episode as he meets an old Punch and Judy man named Cole Hawlings and the the two have an immediate rapport together. Strange things happen from the start such as Kay losing his train ticket for his next train but as soon as he tells Cole that it is gone, Kays finds it on the ground by his feet, which is probably the first place that Kay would have looked.

Kay is back on the train for the final leg of his journey and meets up with apparently two men of the cloth who turn out to swindle the young Kay in a game of chance as well as possibly pickpocketing him after they get off the train.

The first thing I notice is that poor Kay is wearing shorts in this cold December weather but there is no snow on the ground…so far. That will all change soon. The whole opening with the  trains is always a soft spot for me and as someone who grew up in the US in the 1970s, I am envious about this means of travel. We have it in the US but never did it seem like an everyday convenience as it is in the UK.

When Kay arrives and after he gets pickpocketed, he sees Cole again. Cole needs his help to tell a lady that the wolves are running and that he insinuates that the two “clergy” men are the wolves.  What I like about this story is the counter balance between everyday life and a wonderful fantasy world. Of course, everyday life in this instance is perhaps more privileged and takes place in the 1930s. That being said, anything about the manor house or the servants is not a really big deal to the story but rather what I would expect from an English period piece that brings to it a lot of charm.

Right from the start of the production, I am hooked. The title sequence is whimsical with lots of shots of the characters we will be seeing in the program. Some that we may not see within the first episode too. What brings it all together is the theme music which is an orchestral rendition of The First Nowell (Noel) which in itself actually kind of sneaks up on you. The sequence ends with a synthesized sting that sounds like it comes straight out of the Doctor Who story Arc of Infinity. Yes, I know I am being very specific. Sure, enough Roger Limb did the music for this production and Arc of Infinity. To me, it’s a little off-putting since that bit sounds just like the moment an Ergon is going to come out of a room a zap someone….but I digress.

Within this episode Kay is tasked with finding the lady to tell her the wolves are running. He actually finds her fairly quickly as he stops of at a bakers to get some pastry. It all happens rather fast. I am actually surprised with how quickly Kay accepts all that happens to him within a short amount of time but also surprised with how much freedom Kay gets to do what he wants. I do understand it’s a different time period to now. One moment that actually freaks me out for his safety and I am not even a parent, is when he asks the driver to take him into town at night to do some last minute Christmas shopping. He tells the driver not to worry about waiting for him as he will find his own way back. What is even more alarming is that the driver is OK with this. What is funny about that is although it seems alright in the story, actor Devin Stanfield who plays Kay says in the Radio Times article which is attached here that he wasn’t thrilled shooting at night so far away from everything!

Kay’s aunt is very easy going too. When I originally saw this production (and having never read the book) I thought she was going to make a big deal out of thinking that Cole would have been the one to pickpocket Kay’s money. When Kay tells her no, she drops it. In fact, she is OK with letting Cole come to the house to perform Punch and Judy. As an American, I have never understood the point of Punch and Judy. That being said, I can certainly appreciate just on the merit of the long history its had. To my UK friends, is this still a tradition that can be seen? How is it received these days?

The Punch and Judy show goes well with Cole doing an amazing job of it. Cole is a little uneasy about something; he is uneasy about the wolves. He works in old magic and not new magic like the wolves. At the party, we meet up with the Bishop and their church will be celebrating its 1,000 Christmas service and the Bishop would like Cole to attend to perform Punch and Judy there for the celebration. The Bishop is played by John Horsley. John also played Doc Morrissey in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. As you could imagine, I was very disappointed when the Bishop didn’t ask Cole if he was feeling a bit chesty.

Cole takes his leave of Kay but leaves with his dog through a painting which is done in a pretty awesome sort of way. The painting enlarges and a donkey comes down the road in the painting to meet him. He gets on the donkey and buggers off. This is one of the things that really stands out for this production. There is a great use of animation alongside live action throughout the whole production. This production is very complex and kind of reminds me of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in terms which how ambitious it is compared to other BBC productions.

In the middle of the night, Kay awakens and realises he needs to go to King Arthur’s Camp. He finds a horse waiting for him in the backyard. He takes the horse and goes to King Arthur’s Camp which he has never seen before. It is lively as he sees lit campfire from the inside and he can hear people. He realizes he can jump the horse but when I say jump, it is more like flying. When he gets in the camp, he can see people are being terrorized by the wolves!

I had last seen this production maybe 2 or 3 years ago. I do not remember any of When the Wolves Were Running after the point Kay gets to his Aunt’s house. In fact the stuff that happens in the second part is what I thought was in Episode 1. It’s a clear sign that my memory is slipping away……



Where Shall the ‘nighted Snowman Go? TX: 26/11/84

This second part picks up with the action at King Arthur’s Camp. We see Kay weilding a sword and he is swiping and stabbing wolves. Well, to be honest we don’t see that but it is inferred. I think it is inferred. It actually looks like Kay is having the time of his life. He is literally taken away from the action as we meet up again with Cole who has more to discuss with Kay. Cole gives Kay the Box for safe keeping. It turns out that it is not Cole’s box either. He explains a little more of what is going on plus how to use the box to either go small or go swift. As Cole leaves him, Kay is already facing an impossible situation and is told by Cole to go swift which is turning the knob on the box to the right.

Kay is with a friend as they are outside near the forest in a field. They see Cole trudging through the snow. Making his way to somewhere. What ends up happening is that Fox Faced Charles and Chubby Joe kidnap him and throw him into their car which becomes and airplane. The airplane takes off to the amazement of the two boys.

As one could imagine, if the boys see a crime where else should they go except to the police. There, they speak to the Inspector played by James Grout. I may have mentioned it before but James Grout was one of my favourite character actors who had memorable roles in such series as Rumpole of the Bailey and All Creatures Great and Small. I wrote about him in a role he has in an episode of Dixon of Dock Green. The Inspector is a nice man who cares about the two boys and apparently shares an enjoyment of magic with them but he was not taking their story very seriously. Finally, he gets a call from another station that has Cole there and Kay is able to speak with Cole on the phone. Well, there is a bit of luck and a big coincidence! It sounds like Cole but there is no warmth to him at all. Is it really him or is he being forced to be on the phone? Also, why is it in the UK people say good bye twice on the phone? Goodbye, goodbye. I have noticed this before when speaking to people from the UK but never understood why.

After going back home, Kay takes the Box and goes into his room. He opens it up and has a big adventure with Herne the Hunter as they become dear, birds, fish, etc. It’s a really enjoyable sequence as Herne is experienced with knowing there are bad things in the forest with Kay being too taken by everything that is going on around him. Once Kay returns to real-life only about 2 and a half minutes have passed. He knows he needs to go to a room at a pub to see what is really going on and possibly get more information on Cole. Kay uses the Box by turning the dial to the left to make him go small.

He becomes really small and gets under the floor to beneath the house. There he meets Mouse. Well, he doesn’t meet Mouse because it is clear that he knows Mouse. They are very friendly with each other. Mouse is kind and is actually ice skating. Kay wants to go to the room in the pub but it is so far away plus there is the fear of pirate rats! Mouse really doesn’t want to go. Kay tells Mouse not to worry as it won’t take as long as he thinks. Along their journey they run into Pirate Rats. These are nasty mean rats who want to cause trouble but as always Kay has a plan.

While taking Mouse’s hand he turns the knob on the Box to the left and they go swift. They take off and fly through the cracks and passages until they stop at the room they need to go in this pub. In this room, there is Abner Brown, Foxy Faced Charles, and Chubby Joe in a room at the pub discussing about how they want to get Kay out of the way.

If you look through the Radio Times articles that are attached to this article, there is an interview with the Director of this production, Renny Rye who says that this is the most expensive children’s serial made to this point costing £1 million for the BBC. This incorporates animation, Quantel video effects, practical costumes and masks. Once again, just like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which was ground breaking for its time. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has been re-done and so could The Box of Delights. The question becomes, should it? It would be really easy to make updated effects but do I want that? I am fine with serial as it is. I love the performances of the actors. It’s probably too outdated now to be shown on mainstream television which would be a shame. Everything about this production is magical and fun.

Also reading the Radio Times articles, it mentions how Devin Stanfield (who plays Kay) grew 3 inches during production and I think it is really obvious just in the two episodes I watched. When Kay and his friend is watching Cole being taken by Chubby Joe and Foxy Faced Charlie outside in the snow I thought that it was a different younger kid than Kay out there. He looked younger and shorter, at least to me and I remember thinking that well before I even read the article. I guess that’s bound to happen making long-term television with growing boys!

In the US, The Box of Delights aired as part of the series over here called WonderWorks. It was co-produced by the Walt Disney Company and a few PBS stations and showed a few television classics such as Anne of Green Gables and The Chronicles of Narnia. It was co-produced by the local PBS station in my area KTCA. The image of the opening title sequence to WonderWorks sums up my feeling of PBS and in the 1980s. It seems so PBS to me because it looks experimental but literally full of wonderment. It’s just what I thought PBS stations were like in the 1980s. I shouldn’t get too nostalgic for it, I never watched an episode of WonderWorks. That’s hardly surprising. That being said, somehow I am still nostalgic for that time.

Next week: We continue on with our look at The Box of Delights. We look at episodes 3 and 4 In the Darkest Cellars Underneath and The Spider in the Web. We will look at the episodes but also take a look at the numerous radio adaptations from over the years and how they are link in some way. Plus the usual addition of Radio Times materials.

Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at FTA13867@gmail.com
I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive Please follow and re-tweet these article if you like them.

Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles. You can also just click "like" on the top of the right sidebar too!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

No Christmas in Portwenn

Every year we all watch episodes of our favourite shows during the Christmas season doing Christmas themes. This can be a good thing or it can be very mundane. If a show has been going on for a long time, a Christmas themed episode every year can be very monotonous. Granted, I understand that I am more than likely in the minority on this. Some series, such as Steptoe and Son we looked at last week had done 8 series with only 2 episodes given to Christmas episodes. Something like The Simpsons have many episodes over its 25 + year run.

Now it may sound like I don’t like Christmas themed episodes. That is not true. That being said, I like it in moderation. Honestly, I tire of the yearly Doctor Who Christmas special because Christmas gets shoe-horned into it somehow. I enjoy a series that can tangentially include Christmas. It may not overpower the plot but it still makes an impression. I think good examples of this would be the Yes Minister episode Party Games or the episode of Sherlock A Scandal in Belgravia which happens to be my favourite episode, thus far, of that series.

There is also another scenario for the something running in a Christmas slot. Make the episode of the series special but don’t feature Christmas in any of it at all. Only Fools and Horses did this the best. Once the series got big they started to do movie length episodes of the show. It expanded the characters and made the episode feel really special. In fact, so special because doing it this way spawned probably my favourite episode of that series, The Jolly Boy’s Outing. I think another great example is that All Creatures Great & Small did 2 other Christmas specials that had nothing to do with Christmas (the 1983 & 1985 films) and 1 that had it in the background Brotherly Love.

Once I found out I was going to watch an episode of Doc Martin, I had wondered if they would tackle Christmas in PortWenn but when I watched it, I appreciated that there didn’t need to be anything about Christmas in the episode. It could just be a good episode.

On The Edge TX: 25/12/06

Maybe there is something wrong with me. Doc Martin has all the right elements. Its eclectic ensemble of characters, the main character is really interesting, the locations are outstanding, and it boasts an amazing supporting cast. That being said, I have never really taken to Doc Martin as a series.

Not being the Doc Martin aficionado like others, I had wondered if the previous Series (Series 2) ended on a cliffhanger because the film starts with Martin and Louisa tied up in Martin’s office and sounds like someone is going through his house. Louisa is very sorry for all that has happened.

We go backwards to 3 days previous with Martin visiting his aunt Joan. On the way he runs into Colonel Spencer who has a rifle as if he is protecting a rare species of birds. Martin visits his Aunt Joan because she sprained her ankle. The Colonel comes in to join the conversation and leaves his gun lying up against the kitchen table. By the end of the conversation, Martin grabs his bag which makes the gun fall to the ground going off and shooting Aunt Joan. It’s kind of a frightening start to the episode because she just doesn’t really move. I wondered how bad she been shot. As it turns out it braises her leg.

This is one of the reasons why I have such a problem with this series. It’s not Martin’s fault that Joan was shot. The Colonel brought the gun into the house and Martin even questioned the Colonel if it was loaded. I am sure it all comes back to how people in these areas live and how they are used to firearms but these sorts of things really annoy me.

A main plot point to this film is that Martin has been cited as being rude to his patients and his being investigated on whether any action should be taken. One thing I do like about Doc Martin is his ability to alienate just about anyone and unlike someone like Gordon Brittas, Doc Martin is fully aware that he is doing it. This is just how he is; he doesn’t suffer fools gladly and I actually really respect that.

That is important because regardless of the situation, you can count on Martin to treat most people with some sort of contempt. When Gavin Peters stops by to tell Martin he will be investigated, it takes him about 3 times to get to him because Martin has no interest in talking with Gavin and it is very obvious. Even when Martin’s secretary Pauline tells him and a very un-straightforward way that she is leaving, he barely lifts his head from his paperwork to acknowledge it. In fact, Pauline has a separate storyline in this as she is trying to get into school to become a nurse. Her boyfriend Al, part of the plumbing team with his dad Bert, is really sad that he will be losing the love of his life. That being said, he offers to drop her application in the mail for her. What would happen with that is pretty obvious. All I would say is that if you want something done right, then do it yourself.

“I thought he was dead!”

While Martin is ignoring the problem of this inquisition, Louisa is shocked to see her Dad show up after years of not being around. Clearly there is some bad blood between Terry, her Dad, and all of Portwenn. We don’t know exactly what that is at the start but something more interesting happens. As Terry and Louisa go for a drink later at the pub, they run into Terry’s friend Jonathan played by Chris O’Dowd. There isn’t something right about Jonathan from the start. He really conveys an energy of creepiness. At least creepiness for something like Doc Martin. It could be worse but it’s the right amount for a series like this.

Just as we don’t really know what Terry is doing in Portwenn, we are not sure what Jonathan’s friendship with Terry really means. We are given small hints that they are both in Portwenn for the same reason. What is clear is that Jonathan needs medication to help a bipolar disorder that Martin catches on to immediately. One other thing that is clear is that Jonathan doesn’t want to take the medication even when he has it. The problem is that Jonathan thinks that the government is listening to him everywhere. In his room at the B&B, at Martin’s office, and even beaming a signal into his head. Have you ever known someone like that? I have!

Things come to a head as Louisa has been defending her father because, as it turns out, he was thought to have stolen some cash from the town. Louisa had been defending against this accusation for years and erupts at Martin because he matter of fact points out that her father was a thief. He thought that was a fact opposed to Louisa thinking the town had something against her father.  Later that night, Louisa asks her father point blank whether he stole the money. Apparently Joan had told Martin that she saw Terry take the money. Terry finally admits to in which a tearful Louisa asks Terry to leave in the morning.

Maybe I am not giving the town of Portwenn much credit but if they suspected Terry of taking any money, I am actually really surprise they took Louisa on her own merit and allowed her to be a teacher and eventually a head master in the school of the town. I would think the town would hold a grudge and make anything difficult for anyone related to Terry if they suspected something, even if they are just guilty by being related him.

The next day Terry leaves and Louisa decides to go over to Martin’s place to talk with him. Little does she realize that Jonathan has followed her to Martin’s practice. As she is talking with Martin Jonathan gets into the practice and along with Pauline, Martin and Louisa are tied up and held at knife point. Although this sequence gets long, it is pretty amusing. Basically we get the entire story from Jonathan. There is a ship that is coming up near the village. Jonathan and Terry were supposed to meet this ship to get explosives. They were going to use it on a bank. So, Jonathan doesn’t want to go meet the ship on his own because of all his phobias so he needs Terry there and threatens Louisa’s life if Terry doesn’t return to go to the boat.

When Terry shows up, Martin is freed so he can bring him in to the practice but suddenly Martin has a moment of heroism as he takes a lamp on his desk and throws it at Jonathan who has a knife. The light is still plugged into the wall and only goes as far as the cord and hits the ground long before it could reach Jonathan. Eventually in a struggle, Terry is stabbed in the arm.  Jonathan is immediately hit with remorse. As everyone is helping Terry, who still had the knife in his arm, Jonathan remembers the rifle in Martin’s closet from his first visit to the practice to get a prescription for his meds. This was the rifle Martin took from Joan’s cottage after he accidentally shot her and it belonged to the Colonel. He was going to give it to the police who is out of town while all of this is going down.

Because of the injury to Terry, he can no longer go to the ship to get the explosives. Martin can’t go because he doesn’t know how to drive a boat. Suddenly it is determined that it has to be Al Large to do it. Al went to the practice to try and make it up to Pauline for purposely never sending in her application to University. She found out and dumped him.

Al gets on a boat and gets out to the ship where he gets the explosive except he doesn’t know they are explosives. On his way back to shore, Al sees someone fall from a cliff and seriously hurt himself.  AL calls Martin who is still being held hostage by Jonathan. Martin knows he needs to get out there and help this person plus Jonathan knows that is only way for him to get the explosives.

The person who fell from the cliff is the baker. He has been stealing the eggs from the rare set of birds that have started to inhabit that area of Portwenn. Martin actually does a very daring maneuver to get himself on the cliff to help the baker. Then, to release the pressure in his head, he literally drills a hole into the baker’s head to release some blood which of course is very sickening to Martin.

After all is said and done, Martin gets the gun back and is allowed to restrain Jonathan. Martin is sick of having to deal with the drama around the explosives so he takes the bag they are in and throws them over the cliff with this intention for it to land in the ocean. It just lands on the bed below where all the rare birds are located and accidentally blows them all up. The end.

I suppose the title On the Edge could mean a number of things. If taken literally, it could mean all of the action taken on cliff. It could mean Jonathan too. Without taking his medication, he was on the edge. Who knows? What I do know is that the DVD I watched this from is the Australian DVD. Although that is not the most exciting thing I ever wrote, I do know there is a reason why this is relatively interesting.

Ok, it’s not that interesting at all. When the UK released the set, up to and including Series 3, it didn’t release this movie. This movie fits in between Series 2 and 3. Even when they were re-package the series with 1-3 in a box set the movie wasn’t there. When I went to a friend’s house many years ago, he introduced me to this series and I decided that I needed to get the DVDs. My friend was very adamant that I make sure that I order this film on DVD too but I would need to get it from Australia because that is the only place to get it. People like of us have an illness of sorts.

There is a compulsion among collectors to collect everything and often not to discard anything. I had seen maybe two episodes of Doc Martin and decided to buy it myself. Most people would probably just get the first series to make sure they liked it. I needed to get everything that was available at that time including this film which I ordered separately from Australia and bought the other volumes in the UK. Even though I knew that I never seen much of the series, I still needed to get it all. There is an emptiness that I have of unfinished business until I have all episodes of a series once I start to collect it.

So far in my Doc Martin viewing, I have watched all of Series 1 (for an article I was supposed to write for another publication which I never did) and this film. I am not a massive fan of this series but knowing I was watching this prompted me to fill in the remaining series I did not have which is Series 4-6. Once I see if Series 7 will be available on Blu-ray in the UK I will pick it up there or get the US Blu-ray which was released this month. I believe the series is over and that will complete my collection of a series I may not to get to for some time…..if ever. It’s kind of the same for me with Downton Abbey too.

Speaking of Australia, it can be a hassle to order down from there at times because occasionally things take a little longer to show up. If you are a fan of such films, new releases have come out on DVD of some of the great British television series that have been made into films. These include the films to Are You Being Served? Up Pompeii, Man About the House and the 2 Steptoe and Son films amongst others. The kicker is that they are all new transfers and in their proper aspect ratios. The transfer were done in HD but released in SD which is frustrating. I have only watched the Are You Being Served? film so far and the picture is quite amazing.

As for On the Edge, I think it is a good film. I didn’t get bored with it and Martin Clunes is always on top form. I wish I really understood why it is hard for me to muster enthusiasm for this series. Anything is always possible and maybe it’s just a matter of time where I can sit down and really immerse myself into this series. Until then I have countless other titles I will be watching.

Next week: We get to a truly Christmas outing as we look at one of the UK’s all-time favourite holiday classics broken up over three articles. We start with the first two episodes of The Box of Delights next week from 1984. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it but it really is quite lovely which much of it has to do with a wonderful performance from Patrick Troughton.

Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at FTA13867@gmail.com
I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive Please follow and re-tweet these article if you like them.

Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles. You can also just click "like" on the top of the right sidebar too!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Harold Steptoe Finally Wins!

I’m not going to lie. I have a fairly comprehensive collection of British television with titles being added all the time. Even though the last couple of months have been mostly about other ventures and interests, I have taken a lot of time to continue watching the series that I love.

I am sure this is the same for a lot of other people too but those shows that we loved and watched over and over from years ago sometimes start to fade away a little when our focus points to new shows. Shows like AreYou Being Served?, ‘Allo! ‘Allo! or Keeping Up Appearances were once shows I watched religiously but slowly just ended up going to the bottom of the pile. Even Black Adder is one that used to be on constant circulation in my house is now rarely watched. I don’t like these series any less but with each purchase of new series I hadn’t seen before such as Dr. Finlay’s Casebook, Softly Softly: Taskforce or even Z Cars this becomes the norm to the point that I need to force myself to watch some of these wonderful gems I haven’t seen in a while.

The same could be said about Steptoe and Son. Back in the mid to late 1990s, I was getting VHS tapes from friends in the UK and was lapping it up. This is truly quality British television that worked on many more levels than I think the populace realised. It was, like the titles above, something I watched so much that I just moved away from it. I always felt disappointed because I had all these series on VHS from friends long before DVD and once they came out on DVD, I never watched them. I should have been watching them more because they were in better quality but I didn’t. I kept getting these to keep up with them coming out but would get series I only heard about before but never seen and watched those. In fact the only times I have recently watched Steptoe and Son was when I wrote the articles for them on this site here and here.

A Christmas Holiday TX 26/12/74

To even start talking about this episode, we need to first discuss the title of this story. This is the type of minutia that I really enjoy. Unlike most of the other episodes of Steptoe and Son, this episode has no on screen title. That is rather strange to me since everything else seems to have an appropriate title. So the next place to look is to see what is listed on the DVD. The DVD lists this episode as A Perfect Christmas. When I looked at that, I thought that didn’t really feel that sounded like a simpson/galtonesque episode title so I was dubious about it. Finally, I went to my handy dandy Kaleidoscope Comedy guide that tells me also sorts of fun facts about episodes not least what format these episodes exists on. That guide lists this episode as A Christmas Holiday and lists A Perfect Christmas as an alt title. Does that mean A Perfect Christmas title had shown up in production paperwork? In any case, I decided to use the title that Kaleidoscope list in their amazing publication.

It’s Christmas at Oil Drum Lane and Albert is decorating their home. It’s just the simple streamers and occasional decorations in their drab home. Harold comes home and as soon as he sees the room, he starts ripping into it. He uses a great amount of sarcasm to get his point across about the room and lack of decoration. At one point he tells his father that coming into the room with a few streamers in it reminds him of “the transformation scene from Cinderella”. This is what sends Albert into a tizzy and he goes around tearing down all of the decorations and swears at Harold.

There is a reason that Harold is acting this way. Instead of sitting at home over the holidays in that room watching telly with his Dad and getting into arguments, he wants to go on holiday. And he wants to bring his Dad with him!  He doesn’t want to sit and watch Z Cars or Coronation Street which both get a mention. Nor does he want to watch Cliff Richards. He wants to go somewhere exotic. When watching this, I thought it was nice that Harold wanted to bring his Dad along on the holiday. I also wondered something that I had thought about for a while…..how do they afford these things?

Being a rag and bone man and pretty much owning a junk yard is not going to make you a millionaire. It’s hard labourious work that lends little monetary results. That is, unless you are I.M. Foreman and own the junkyard (at 76 Totters Lane) that made it’s first appearance in the first episode of Doctor Who and then showed up 3 more times including The Day of the Doctor from 2013, that actually appears to be a remarkably successful junk yard lasting for so long! But looking at Steptoe and Son, they don’t seem to be doing that well yet they are always getting amazing stuff. Such as a fancy new car, a professional billiards table, water beds, new bathroom, etc. At least in this episode, we get an answer to how they can afford the holiday.

Lucky for Harold, Albert loves to swear and Harold just so happens to have a swear jar. Every time either of them swear, 10p goes into the jar. It’s not so much a jar but a collection bank molded as a couple of dogs. Maybe that’s how they bankrolled a lot of these other things because Albert has such a potty mouth!

As far as the scope of the holiday is concerned, it looks like Harold is open to pretty much anything in the world. The world is literally their oyster. Albert, on the other hand, is a lot more critical. He would just prefer to go to Bognor. He was treated well there when he’s been there before. Harold thought it would be nice to go to Acapulco but Albert thinks he is talking about acupuncture! Albert doesn’t want to go to France because when he was last there it was muddy and full of trenches. That was back in World War I.

Series 8 of Steptoe and Son that ran just before this special is among my favourites of the entire series but a lot of it is more outlandish and in some ways far-fetched. Episodes include a fashion show or Albert and Harold competing for popularity in the same stage production. This episode is very simple basic Steptoe and Son. Most of the episode takes place in their house with the two of them bickering back and forth. What makes this interesting is that this episode might be even more serious than we have seen before now.

There are a few references by Harold in this episode to explain how disturbed he was brought up by his father. These are generally not outright comments but mainly side comments Harold would say almost under his breath.  A couple of examples would be when Harold is messing about and Albert tells him “You’re living in a dream world!” with Harold responding regrettably, “It’s better than here.” It could have been delivered as a pure comedy moment but that is not the direction it took. It was delivered almost invisibly where Albert didn’t hear it…..or ignored it.

The other comment that caught my attention was more interesting to me. They were talking about the space under the stairs where Albert may have kept his birth certificate that he needs to get an updated passport. Harold mentions to Albert that Albert was always at the pub during the blitz bombings during World War II. Albert said that Harold was alright though since he put Harold under the stairs during the blitz where it was pitch black. Harold then says, “I’ve never forgiven you for that.” That was such a powerful statement and delivered in such a hurtful way. If you think about it, Harold as a characer was always younger than Harry H. Corbett who played Harold. They were still trying to pass him as a man in his late 20s or possibly early 30s even when the series came to an end. So Harold would have been very, very young. Probably under the age of 5 with these bombs going off around him and his father disappearing for no reason. It would be horrible. Suddenly, I got a lot more insight into Harold Steptoe than I ever did before. Harold is probably a lot more messed up than I ever realised and he had been really hurt by his father. I think I always took the series at face value of a grown man who wanted his own independence but never really thought about the mental turmoil he went through growing up. It is really great to see how many levels this series played at even for its final episode.

Albert has his own problems. Once the birth certificate is found Harold uncovers the truth of his father. His father has no idea who his own father ever was. In fact, Albert had a picture of his mom on the wall in their house. Next to that picture is another picture that Harold always thought was his dad but turned out to be Prime Minister Gladstone.

There is still a lot of discussion about where the two should go for their holiday. Harold brings up Australia and they think about it and decide not to go. No mention is made Harold’s step brother from there. Of course the series has never been great on continuity. How many horses names Hercules did they have over the series? They also think about Denmark until Harold brings up the live sex shows there. According to Harold, the live sex shows are like pantomime is to the UK!

They decide to go to Switzerland. They get everything together and go to the train station to get on a train that will itself get on a boat to bring them over. As they get ready to show their passports, someone did not have the correct passport and is stopped from continuing on to the train. Surprisingly, it’s not Albert but Harold! The two get into an argument and of course although Albert didn’t want to travel any way, he decides that he will go on holiday and leave Harold behind in the UK. Harold lost again. Or did he?

Harold makes his way sadly out of the train station looking back and seeing his father board the train. As Harold lumbers out of the train station, a sporty car pulls up with a sexy lady in the driver’s seat. Harold gets in car and excitedly yells, “He went for it! “ Harold planned it this way the whole time just to get Albert out of his hair so he can spend time with this girl. Guess what? They’re going to Bognor. Guess what else? Harold finally won!

The Radio Times listing. Not much fanfare
for being a new episode of one of their
classic series. 
The feeling of this episode is, to me, like no other. It’s been years since I have seen it. To be honest, I probably haven’t seen this since the late 1990s. It’s a little darker tone that I think gets a little ignored. By this time, the series is pretty much laughs only. Although this is not a departure from this, it certainly has a different feel for me. It certainly feels more in line with the earlier black & white episodes. It’s nice to see that they moved away from some of the more extravagant plotlines of later series. Even the end credits didn’t have the usual cut away to both stars, their names just appeared on screen. There was a sort of finality with this episode though I might be thinking that in hindsight.

There is a longer cut of this episode by about 4 minutes but what has been included on the DVD is the broadcast version. The longer version was originally included on the VHS before that was recalled from stores. This episode fared better than the 1973 Christmas special, A Christmas Party, which had a shorter version of the episode included on this DVD and was not corrected for the boxset. If you want to see the longer version of this episode, check on YouTube. It’s there.

This is the final episode of Steptoe and Son. After 12 years and 8 series the series did not return although Harry H. Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell continued to record the radio versions of the episodes for another 2 years. This is one of my favourite series and I have seen many of these episodes many times. I am happy that I am still finding new things about it. If you haven’t watched it, give it a shot. It’s worth it.

Our friend Richard Latto works for BBC Radio Solent where he is a Producer and Presenter. He sent me a note this week of a filmed interview with Harold H. Corbett probably right before this episode of Steptoe and Son aired. It’s kind of magical and I didn’t want to see it end. It’s a shame that these DVD releases are vanilla with no extras. Something like this is perfect and I have never seen it before. Check it out for yourself here. Thank you Richard for alerting us to this little gem! 

Next week: Just because it is a Christmas episode it doesn’t mean it has to be about Christmas. We look at the Doc Martin feature length episode On the Edge!

Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at FTA13867@gmail.com
I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive Please follow and re-tweet these article if you like them.

Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles. You can also just click "like" on the top of the right sidebar too!



Sunday, September 27, 2015

Carry On Hartnell

Before there was Barbara Windsor and Sid James, before there were non-stop double entendre there was this film about conscription and an old sergeant who was about to retire. I doubt anyone at the time really expected this film to be the starting point to a long list of 31 films and even a TV series. This film is a black & white production from 1958 that was adapted from a play written by R F Delderfield called The Bull Boys. This is Carry On Sergeant.


Like a lot of things, I came late to the whole Carry On franchise. I remember one Friday night, I was at home and turned on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) and saw that Carry On Sergeant was on TV; I had never seen it before. What I like about TCM is that each film is introduced by a host to give everything a little bit of context. This night it was Robert Osborne who has been hosting films there for years. It was a double feature that night of Carry On films. It was followed up by my personal favourite, Carry On Nurse, though I didn’t know it was my favourite yet. Anyway, Robert said that this was the first time they showed any Carry On film. I was floored! It must have been 2010 or something. How has it been that these films had been around so long and they have never been shown on TCM? That was surprising to me. I was glad to start watching these as soon as TCM started to show them.  I really enjoyed watching those films that night.
Jump forward to the end of 2014. After thinking about it for a while, I finally bought the UK box set of Carry On films. It was kind of daunting which set to get or do I pick up the few films that have been released on Blu-ray, finally I choose the overall boxset for the films. Between Christmas and New Years, the company I work for is closed over that period. So, I sat at home and binged on all of the Carry On films over a 12 day period. It was amazing. Related in an unrelated way, I was so enamoured at that point to make my own Bloody Mary mix. So, I did that multiple times while watching these films. I watched all of these films and of course, I started with Carry On Sergeant.

Ok, let’s get this out of the way. The film stars William Hartnell. Doctor Who is a big part of my life and I love it so this is obviously very interesting for me. Hartnell played the original Doctor. Oh, and he played it brilliantly. This film is probably around the time where Hartnell was getting frustrated with the type of parts he was being offered. They were always tough guy army roles. I would think that this falls into that category but I think this is acutely different. Hartnell would have been on The Army Game by this point playing a Sergeant there too. In this film, Hartnell plays Sergeant Grimshaw.

The film starts out with Bob Monkhouse, ok his name is Charlie, getting married to Shirley Eaton also known as Mary Sage in the film. Well, at the reception Charlie has found out that he had been called up for duty. Please note that there was not a war going on but it was part of conscription. I talk about conscription here and here. Oddly, Charlie needs to leave that day for duty. I don’t know how conscription works but once you get the letter, do you have to leave that day? Anyway, Charlie is off. What is really sweet about this is that Mary follows him. She stows away on another truck and sneaks into the base. I thought this was going to be the main plot throughout the film. I thought there were going to be zany ways that Charlie would have to sneak out of barracks or some other duties to try and get a chance to be with his wife. One of my favourite scenes in the film is where Mary is adamant that she and Charlie spend their wedding night together. Nora, the canteen manager Mary befriends, has a room ready for them for that night. Late that evening, Mary gets there first and slowly opens the door to go in the room. She enters the room only to find Sergeant Grimshaw sleeping in the bed. She quickly leaves but Charlie shows up next. He knocks on the door only to hear snoring. He knocks louder quietly talking to through the door that he can’t wait to see Mary only for the door to open up with Grimshaw staring at him half asleep on the other side of the door. Hartnell does great comedy, it is a really fun scene.
My point above is, I am glad the film was not about Charlie sneaking around to be with his wife. This plot point is cleared up very quickly allowing Charlie seven days of leave to spend with his bride and allowing for Mary to stay on during the remainder of Charlie’s training. This is good because it allows us to focus on some of the other characters that are in camp. In fact, what becomes the main thread for the film is that Sergeant Grimshaw is retiring after this platoon finishes training. He has never had a champion platoon during the entire time he has been there. In fact someone talking to him, Sergeant O’Brien, places a wager of £50 that once again Grimshaw’s platoon will not rise to the top. Grimshaw accepts this wager. An interesting note is that Sergeant O’Brien is played by Terry Scott. Terry becomes a semi-regular in the Carry On series about a decade after this film with Carry On…Up the Khyber. I have been watching Terry recently in the Simply DVD release of the 1960s BBC comedy Hugh and I which I have found to be much better than I expected. I loved Hugh Lloyd in his appearances in Hancock’s Half Hour so I enjoyed this quite a bit. Of course to many Terry Scott is also known as the voice of Penfold from Danger Mouse.
Much of this film surrounds the men of this platoon learning how to do things in the army and failing. You have people like Peter Golightly played by Charles Hawtry who is horrible at any kind of physical endurance. There is the great Kenneth Williams who plays James Bailey who is too much of an intellectual to care too much about anything to do with the army. When Grimshaw took on this platoon, he had high hopes that he could turn these men into a champion team but sees immediately that they are a bunch of imbeciles.
Kenneth Connor plays Horace Strong. Horace is a hypochondriac. He always thinks he is sick. He goes see the nurse every day to see what is wrong with him and every day she tells him he is very healthy. He is completely fine. The nurse is Captain Clark played by the wonderful Hattie Jacques. I adore Hattie in everything I have seen her in. Of course the first time I have “seen” her I had only heard her. She had a regular role in the radio version of Hancock’s Half Hour as Ms. Pugh, Hancock’s long-suffering secretary but also played a lot of other voice roles on the show. She had a tremendous voice with lots of range. Kenneth Connor appeared years later as Monsieur Alfonse in ‘Allo! ‘Allo! Oh, his ticky-ticker! I really enjoyed the sub-plot of Nora, the canteen manager, who has an immediate crush on Horace. She chases him all over the place but he’s too shy (and he thinks too sick).

I think this is an interesting point to bring up. There are people who are in this film that I only knew from later work but in this film these people are in the height of their lives. I will be honest but I have rarely seen anything with Bob Monkhouse in it. I do not live in the UK so anything I would have seen of him would be fleeting. I have seen him in an episode of Jonathan Creek. Since the subject of missing British television is such of passion of mine, I know his name mostly as someone who loved the new burgeoning home media recording movement during the 1960s and 1970s. We have a lot to thank him for because of his diligence in recording programs in the audio and visual mediums.
When I would see Monkhouse, he was an old man. When I saw Kenneth Connor on ‘Allo! ‘Allo!, he was an old man. The first time I saw Bill Owen was in The Last of the Summer Wine which was an older role for him. I had only seen William Hartnell play an old man. This is what makes the film fun to watch. These men are all young or at least younger. They show off how fit they are. Hartnell looks physically solid in the role. Check out Kenneth Connor at the end of the film and some of the stuff he can physically do shows off his strength. Bob Monkhouse is young. This is really fun to see. It’s an interesting perspective than some of the others because being in the US, we only get glimpses of actors from the UK based on how popular a series is to be exported over here. A lot of times, these actors are older in those series. It’s even nice to see Bernard Kay have a small role in this film.


What is unusual for a film is that there is no conflict in this film. What I mean by that is that no one is trying to mess anyone up. There isn’t an adversary. All these people are going about their business not trying to mess up anyone else. I think it is summed up nicely by the time we get to the end of the film. The night before the final parade, they find out by listening in on a conversation between Grimshaw and Corporal Copping about the wager that Grimshaw made. When the guys are sitting around the table talking about it, Andy Galloway mentions that Sergeant deserves to not win the bet because he has been in their business so much and really hard of them. Someone asks Galloway to explain when had Grimshaw been in their business and no one could think of anything. In fact, Grimshaw has been really decent to them the whole time. That’s when they decide that they have to try harder than they ever had before to try to win it for Sergeant Grimshaw. They all rally behind him. Grimshaw has no idea any of this is going on at this point.
This film is a bit feel good with a happy ending. As one can imagine, the platoon pulls off their exercises flawlessly. They win big for Grimshaw who can now retire as a happy man and fifty quid richer. In a very moving scene at the end of the film, the platoon gives Grimshaw an engraved lighter and Corporal Copping gets promoted to Sergeant.

This borderlines on an almost sappy ending to the film. I like it but it’s a touch saccharine. The funny thing is that Grimshaw was being extra careful to not bully the men as he usually would. He knew this was his final group and seeing how little success he had with winning the championship in the past with shouting orders at everyone, he decided on a different approach. The role that Hartnell plays as Grimshaw is very different to the role he plays as Sergeant Major Bullimore in The Army Game. I think it is fair to say a lot of the way that Bullimore acts could be out of desperation of the men he had in his platoon. Though there is also by nature that he just liked to bully and watch his men get their comeuppance. Grimshaw is probably just a tired person by this point.  
Even Nora and Horace finally fall in love. After Horace is taken to a team of experts by Captain Clark to prove there is nothing wrong with him, he realizes he has something good with Nora. The plot for this film, to me, is tighter than a lot of the Carry On films. I think it is interesting because I feel a lot of the other films are more set pieces with strong comedy of varying degrees. This is more plot driven but the laughs are a different kind of comedy. It’s not sexual. It’s a straight forward. There are not a ton of laugh out loud moments for but a lot of little pieces that made me smile and chuckle. In 1958, this film was the third highest grossing film in the UK that year. Ultimately, it allowed this Carry On franchise to, err, carry on!


If you are a fan of these Carry On films, I would highly recommend Carry On Confidential by Andy Davidson and published by Miwk Publishing. It can be got here. It’s well-researched and fun.
Next week: I get to look at one of my new favourite series even though it is quite old. I never watched the Joan Hickson Miss Marple when it is was A&E. Over a year ago, I bought the UK DVD set which almost a week later it was announced the series was coming out on Blu-ray. Anyway, I focus on an earlier story, The Moving Finger and I explain why I love this series so much.

Next review: Sometimes when you ask for George Gently Series 7 Blu-ray, life gives you Vera set 5. Now, that we got that all figured out I finally have George Gently Series 7 on Blu-ray and I look forward to reviewing it very soon.
Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at FTA13867@gmail.com

I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive Please follow and re-tweet these article if you like them.

Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles. You can also just click "like" on the top of the right sidebar too!