Sunday, May 30, 2010

Where's all the "Brotherly Love"? All Creatures Great & Small - The Final Episode

All Creatures Great & Small is one of my first experiences with British television. Probably my first would be Benny Hill, Doctor Who and then All Creatures Great & Small. I remember vividly watching this on my local PBS station, KTCA, in the mid-1980s on Sunday afternoons and it has made a long lasting impression on me.
As I have been taking the month of May to watch series finales, when All Creatures Great & Small was chosen it was an obvious choice for me to watch the final episode Brotherly Love. I have never really paid much attention to this episode before. Not only was it the series finale, it was also a Christmas special aired in 1990 on BBC1.
I am sure most people are aware of what All Creatures Great & Small is but in case you are not, he is a refresher course. All Creatures Great & Small is a BBC series based on the books of James Herriot. Now James Herriot was a country vet in Yorkshire. His actual name was James Alfred Wight. For years, Wight had a desire to write but as being a vet, the practice took up most of his time. Finally in 1966 at the age of 50, Wight was challenged by his wife to finally sit down and start writing, what he eventually came up with was the short book, If Only They Could Talk published in 1970 and followed up by It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet in 1972. In that same year, these two sets of stories ended up being published together under the banner title, All Creatures Great and Small as US publishers thought the two other books were too short to publish on their own. When All Creatures Great & Small came out, it became a massive hit prompting a film in 1975 called All Creatures Great and Small and a sequel, It Shouldn’t Happen to A Vet the following year.
In 1975, Producer Bill Sellars was invited by the BBC to take the first two Herriot novels and create a series from it. Sellars eventually went on to produced all 7 series of All Creatures Great & Small plus 3 specials between 1978 to 1990. Sellars cast Christopher Timothy as James, Robert Hardy as James’ employer Siegfried Farnon and Peter Davison as Siegfried’s younger brother Tristan. The first 3 series, originally set around 1937, focused on James coming to Darrowby. He is a calm person is a sea of eccentric Yorkshire farmers, crazy episodes with Tristan, and meeting his wife Helen. The third series ends with James, Siegfried, and Tristan answering their countries call of duty and entering into the War. The series return for 2 specials in 1983 and 1985. All Creatures Great & Small returned as a regular series in 1988. By this point, the series was co-funded by the US network A&E and stayed on the air until 1990 finishing with Brotherly Love.
I was a big fan of the original first 3 series when I watched it on KTCA. There was a great energy of being set in the 1930’s and going out to location at all sorts of different farms and locations. A lot of work was done on animals and there was something very youthful and fresh about the series. I kind of lost track of the series for years after KTCA stopped showing it. One day, I noticed it was on A&E and decided to check it out. I was amazed at how this series was not the one I remembered. Clearly time had past by and the cast were older; it just didn’t seem to have the energy I remembered. Even the theme tune, also known as Piano Parchment, seemed to be a watered down version than what I remembered hearing all those years ago. Plus by this point in the series, Peter Davison had a greatly reduced role. He actually became more of a Guest Star than cast member from Series 4 to 6. Though, he had a much more prominent role for Series 7 which really made a difference to the stories. Over time, my opinion of these A&E co-produced episodes would change to be more positive, I still feel the first 3 series were the strongest. For example, I think Series 1 is nearly perfect for balancing emotion, drama and comedy flawlessly often within the same episode.
So, what about Brotherly Love? For the longest time this episode was an enigma to me. When I finally got around to thinking any All Creatures Great & Small is good and I needed to revisit the A&E episodes, A&E stopped broadcasting them. I know I saw some of Series 7 on A&E at the time but had missed Brotherly Love. Earlier this decade, I had a friend who taped most of Series 4 till the end off of UK Gold in the UK and sent them to me. I finally thought I would be able to see Brotherly Love. This plan almost worked except when my friend was taping them for me, Foot-and-mouth disease broke out in the UK. This highly contagious disease affects water buffalo, sheep, goats, and pigs. It also affects cattle. Brotherly Love has a pretty strong storyline about Foot-and-mouth and UK Gold decided not to show it for sensitivity reasons since the outbreak in the UK was pretty bad. I never thought I would see the episode.
Since I never thought I would see it and I really couldn’t find too much information about the episode online, I started to imagine about what the plot of the episode would be since it was the final episode and it was called Brotherly Love. Well, in my mind, the brother’s clearly would have been Siegfried and Tristan. Since it was the finale, it would have to be pretty serious and climatic culminating in 7 season’s worth of their relationship developing into something significant. It could be epic! I assumed one of the brothers would have fallen prey to some kind of medical issue. Kidney failure perhaps? The other brother would step in to save the day! Or the two brothers would get in to a massive argument, shaking Skeldale House (where they live) to its very foundation. Maybe James steps in and helps make things better in time for Christmas. No? You’re right. I wasn’t even close.
Brotherly Love may have little to do with the Siegfried and Tristan but they get along quite well in the episode. Tristan is in a lot of debt. He tries to make money off of gambling but gets deeper in debt when he loses. Yet, with more debt accumulating, he wants to buy a new (used) car which is pretty cool looking but is beyond his means. Siegfried loans him money for the new (used) car. What puts the Brother in Brotherly Love are two brothers who are fighting each other over a farm that they both share with their mother and have basically split it in half. They don’t get along at all. Eventually, things between the two brothers get out of control where each other hires lawyers for legal action for trespassing on each others area of the farm. James and Siegfried are called as character witnesses at the court hearing.
Tristan, with his new (used) car catches the eye of a new school teacher in town who becomes the center of his obsession. Through out all of this, the threat of Foot-and-mouth disease is prevalent. There hasn’t been an outbreak in the UK yet so information on how the disease is transferred is wrong but the wrong information is the information spreading. One family has the perfect farm with a good number of cattle. Even the young daughter has her own calf which she loves. Here is a hint to All Creatures Great & Small: if the episode starts with healthy animals, especially if a child owns one, there is a real good chance they will all be dead by the end of it. This was very much the case in Brotherly Love. The one thing this series has often tried to tell is that life is not fair. The lesson is especially hard in farming that no matter what precaution the famer might take or however good they are, sometimes there are circumstances beyond their control which makes thing impossible or even devastating. What I also think James Herriot always tried to tell is that when things get desperate, don’t give up. There is a support group that can help. In the case of the farmer who lost his whole stock of cattle, it was Siegfried and James who were able to find a way to help him to start getting back on his feet.
It is probably the scene in Brotherly Love with the Ministry of Agriculture coming in to kill the farmer’s cattle which is the most unsettling to me for the entire series. It really isn’t graphic; the images are quite simple. In one scene, there is a lot of cattle on this farmer’s farm. A couple of shots later, there are none. They are covered with hay and are being burned somewhere on his farm. Everything he worked for over fifteen years were gone.
Though, here is another hint when watching All Creatures Great & Small: every episode is a happy ending. The two brothers decide to make up. In fact it is one of their cows they sell to the farmer who lost everything. Plus, the cow is ready to give birth which we see happen in all of its graphic, fluid, gooey, bloody glory. So the little girl has a new calf. Although poor Tristan doesn’t get the girl, he does get money to pay off all of his debts. How does he do this? Through gambling of course!
It’s a great episode. There is something comforting watching All Creatures Great & Small and this episode is no exception. It is not a grand finale to the series. It shows that even though the series ends, the characters go on living their live. By the time the episode was finished, I was looking on my DVD shelf trying to figure out which episode to watch next. There is a timeless, warm quality to this that I admire and miss. I need to watch this series more. It always puts a smile on my face.

Next week: I briefly move away from British television and look at a film from a period of time when monster movies were really only made well by one studio. That studio is Universal. I look at the 1939 film Son of Frankenstein next week with Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Save the Walt Disney Treasures!

I think one of the best lines of material put out on DVD ever is the Walt Disney Treasures collections. This collection’s first wave came out in 2001 with 4 titles and has continued steadily until the 2009 release of the complete Zorro collection. It is rumored (by no means confirmed) that the line has ended and there will be no more Treasure collections.
If you are not familiar with the Walt Disney Treasures collection, it is basically a lot of the Disney studio output from the time that Walt Disney himself was running it. A lot of this material covers the studio short subjects of its biggest stars such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. Some of the other titles include episodes of the anthology series Disneyland or programs/films on all sorts of things including the original theme park. Most of the releases were signed off by Roy Disney and the releases were put together by Leonard Maltin who also was our host throughout the run putting the contents of these releases in context and being very informative. The releases were amazing for a lot of reasons. They offered is a glimpse at so many things that are rare and generally not available to the public. Great examples of this were The Alice Comedies which started in 1923 as well as Walt’s first animated character which was taken away from him right under his nose, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Also, it would have been very easy for the Disney corporation to just bung these pieces of Disney history on DVD with whatever material they have to hand BUT for just about everything released under the Walt Disney Treasure banner, the material was sourced from original negs where ever possible and restored to a very high standard. These really were beautiful releases! Though, none of this would be possible without Leonard Maltin. He would put forward ideas and basically produce these releases. It really shows, just like the Doctor Who releases, if you get the right people to pitch ideas it show you can release a great product using money to restore it and make a profit. It can happen. Thank you Leonard!

What can we do?
As I said, there has been no official word from Disney confirming these releases have been cancelled but there has been no word about this years releases which we normally have some idea it is at least happening. I would like to ask anyone who is interested in these releases or believes that in general rare material from any studio vault should be accessible to anyone to please do the following:
Please join this Facebook page (just started tonight) to show you are interested in the Walt Disney Treasures.!/pages/Disney-Fans-for-getting-classic-Disney-films-and-shows-on-DVD/125944670763548

Also, if you are so inclined, please write a snail mail letter to the people/address below to thank them for these DVD releases and politely ask them to continue them:

The Walt Disney Company/Walt Disney Home Entertainment
500 S. Buena Vista St.
Burbank, CA 91521

People to write to:
Senior Vice President Worldwide Operations: William (Bill) Segil
Executive Vice President Worldwide Marketing, Creative Content, and Business Development: Gordon K. Ho
Executive Vice President Worldwide Sales, Distribution, and Trade Marketing: Patrick (Pat) Fitzgerald

Or even:
President, CEO, and Director: Robert A. Iger
Chairman The Walt Disney Studios Rich Ross
Chief Creative Officer Walt Disney Animation John Lasseter

Now, I haven’t collected all of the Walt Disney Treasures released. I have collected most of them and certainly all of the animated ones. Here are some of my highlights from the releases so far:

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Universal did a trade with Walt Disney studios. Universal got Al Michaels from ABC and Disney got the rights back of all the Oswald animated shorts. The downside is that not all of the Disney produced Oswald shorts exist anymore but they went above and beyond by scouring archives around the world to find a couple more shorts and then they were restored.

All of the Treasure sets that include virtually all of the shorts for Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto plus all of the Silly Symphonies. Honestly, no documentary could ever tell the story of the Walt Disney studios better than sitting down to watch these. It is amazing to look at Mickey’s first short, Steamboat Willie made in 1928 and the watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs from 1937 to see how far the art form had come. Watching all of the shorts produced between those years was lessons learned and practiced to achieve the next level of animation. This was taking it from short subject to feature animation.

The themed sets were amazing. I am talking about such sets as Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studios, On the Front Lines, and Tomorrow Land. These sets took different mediums whether it were interviews, short subjects, Disneyland episodes or even feature length films and put them in these themed sets. On the Front Lines is an amazing collection of propaganda films and educational shorts. Some are chilling such as Education for Death and Der Fuehrer’s Face with Donald Duck. A title like Tomorrow Land is fun as it shows programs and films made in the 1950’s and 1960’s with a scientific and optimistic view of the future. Of course, none of it really was ever realized. The set is worth the price alone for the short film EPCOT which was hosted by Walt Disney. It would be the last thing he ever filmed before his death in 1966.

If this is the end of the line, it is better to celebrate that this stuff had seen the light of day rather than be sad or angry if there is no more. In total 30 sets have been released since 2001. It’s been an awesome collection. If you have time, please check out the Facebook page or consider writing to the addresses above to let them know you appreciate the Walt Disney Treasures releases and that you would like to see more.

If you have a favorite Walt Disney Treasures release, leave a comment and let us know what it is!

Monday, May 24, 2010


Today, I am really excited. I got something I have wanted my entire life. Ever since I was a young boy, I have wanted a fairly accurate model of a Police Box or as we know it, TARDIS! I have wanted one that looked just like the Police Box from the series and have the doors open and close. Due to the awesomeness of Character Options/Underground Toys, I received the Tom Baker/Planet of Evil version of the TARDIS. Basically, it is the re-package of the Tom Baker figure with the version of the TARDIS from the story, Planet of Evil. Well, first off, this is not how the TARDIS looked in that story. To my eyes, it is more based on the Barry Newberry design of the Police Box from Season 14 thru Season 17. I have no problem with that. That is one of my favourite versions of the TARDIS. Now, I have read many comments on forums about people complaining that this Police Box is all wrong. They are saying it is a rip off because it is not accurate. If I may, I would like to address some of these concerns.
First off, it is a toy. That should be enough said right there. I know that this is aimed at the specialty collectors market but it is still a toy. Perhaps some liberties have been taken. I do not know. I am not a Police Box expert. I do know that when I see it, it really is a Season 14-18 box even though it is marketed from a story from season 13. Fair enough. Also there are complaints that when the doors are open, it does not have a picture of the console room a la the New Series Police Box toy. Folks, this is true 1970’s BBC accurate. When the doors are open, you see the entire of a Police Box prop. Nothing fancy, which makes it extremely screen accurate. If it did have a picture of a callsic series console room, I would have been pissed. Can I just say, when I look at the Police Box from different angles and hold it, this is a really gorgeous representation of a BBC Doctor Who Police Box. I may not be a total accuracy snob but when a Police Box is totally wrong, it does bug me. I have been fortunate to have a few Police Box models in my day. When I first got into the series as a young boy, I would take my Star Wars action figures and “cast” them into appropriate roles. Luke Skywalker was obvious to fill the role of the Fifth Doctor. Too bad there really wasn’t a Star Wars character that could be Jon Pertwee. Anyway, my first TARDIS was a clear plastic watch case with brown paper wrapped around it with a handwritten POLICE on top. What a moron! Everyone knows the TARDIS is blue!!
When I got older and my parents knew there was no escape from my continual spiral into all things Doctor Who, they ordered the Police Box model kit from the Doctor Who Fan Club of America (DWFCA). I remember my Dad saying that it took him about 72 hours to put the damn thing together. He may have used a stronger word than damn. It was nice, if not lacking in detail. The doors didn’t open either.

The one below was made by a friend who used to do wonderful models. He had also made a full Hartnell console room to the scale of Star Wars action figures. You would have thought in the five years I owned that thing I could have gotten off my lazy ass and took a picture of it! This picture doesn’t really show the detail of the box. I read on the forums by some people how they wish these Police Boxes could be more battered looking. Well what do you think of this one? Hmmmm?

Of course there are the Police Box models that vanished over the years. For example the many versions I created from the Doctor Who Technical Manual. For many nights when I was in school, after dinner my mom would ask if I have any homework. Of course I would lie and tell her no because I was building a Police Box from this blasted book. They took a while to make but the end result was alright. I remember working on one for days and when I finished it, I put it on my bed. A friend came over and promptly sat on it. When I say sat, I really mean flattened it. The one I really miss and can not find is the other Police Box my Dad made for me out of balsa wood. It was made by someone who didn’t really know anything about Police Boxes but was able to make a pretty damn good version of it. The walls were especially nice as it had all the panels. My Dad could really make some great things. Except for the windows, they were a bit wrong.

Speaking of wrong windows, that takes us to the new series Police Box. It took me a long time to get used to that. Now that I am used to it, I like it. Though, it just doesn’t look like a Police Box. At least not like this new toy that came to me today. The windows are right, it looks great and it is something I have wanted for a very long time. If the young boy all those years ago got a hold of the Police Box I got today, he would probably faint. Then, when he came to, I would hand him the McCoy version which will be here next week.

Seriously, if you are on the fence of getting this, I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

On The Buses - The Final Two Episodes

On the Buses has never really been a favourite of mine. I ended up getting the box set from Amazon UK quite a few years ago when they had a crazy sale which made the price very affordable. Since I got the set, I have watched a bit from the first to third series. I have enjoyed what I saw but never really gone out of my way to watch the rest of the series. There were quite a few series where I just had to see all the episode but On the Buses is one I have been very casual about. I have a fairly large collection of DVDs & Blu Ray material. The majority of what I own is British television as it is something I have always loved since I was a child. Some titles takes me ages to get to due to time and the point of this blog is to force me to randomly pick series from my collection to watch and discuss. This is good because it forces me to watch stuff that otherwise would still be sitting on my shelf unwatched and unloved. Although I haven’t written on this blog for almost 2 years, I have continued to randomly picked stuff to watch. This week was the final 2 episodes of On the Buses.
Perhaps you are wondering why I would want to watch the final 2 episodes? Being a life long fan of television, not just as programs but how the industry works, I am conditioned to think all season/series finales happen in May. So basically, in May I always watch the last episodes of programs. In the case of On the Buses, it is really sad to see how a good series ran out of steam and ideas.
The two episodes I watched were Friends in High Places and Gardening Time. I think I counted myself laughing once or twice per episodes. When I watch earlier episode of this On the Buses, the laughter and energy of the show were consistent through out.

Friends in High Places starts off as Jack leads a revolt in the cafeteria for better food which his insults makes the chef leave. He realizes that Mabel Butler, the mother of his mate Stan, is an excellent cook. This leads to Blakey, who is living in Stan’s house at this point in the series, to take this idea to his manager. Upon the interview between the Manager and Mable, they realize they know each other from during the war and start spending more time together. This is great for everyone involved except Blakey who is the odd man out and no one likes. This episode is not funny. Part of the problem is that there is no energy in the production. Essentially, Stephen Lewis, who played Blakey is the lead of the series after Reg Varney left. Reg had charisma and Lewis’ character Blakey was wonderful fodder for Bob & Stan to pull tricks on. Now that Stan is gone, it is lost and what Bob does and says to Blakey is just mean spirited and often cruel. Plus, after Stan left the series, Blakey is evicted from his house and moves in with Mabel and Olive. Bob comes around all the time, since he lives next door, and causes unfunny mischief. Why does Blakey live there especially if he doesn’t like Bob?
I also need to come clean about my own stupidity. I thought the area manager was played by Sir Alec Guinness. He sound and looks like Sir Alec and he is as unfunny as I would expect Sir Alec to be doing comedy. Has anyone seen “The Horses Mouth”? Of course it wasn’t Sir Alec, it was Bob Todd of Benny Hill fame. Wow.

The final episode of On the Buses is called Gardening Time. It is co-written by Stephen “Blakey” Lewis. I thought this was much better in terms of a story. Bob & Stephen enter into a gardening contest to decide who has the best back yard garden. As they live next door to each other, they each try to sabotage the other’s garden. Hilarity ensues. Actually, mild chuckling ensues. The area manager is played by the legend known as Michael Sheard who is pretty good in this. Of course Anna Karen is really funny and does a magnificent job of playing the whining Olive who is sister to Stan and daughter of Mabel. In the episode Bob is pining after this beautiful woman at the bus station which they both works and he succeeds in picking her up! How is this possible? He is not very attractive and screams of ulterior motives to a level of creepy intent. When Stan was still on the show, it was no better. It was a couple of blokes in their late 40’s trying to pick up women in their 20’s with a fair amount of success. Such machismo!
Series 7 of On the Buses really misses a couple of things. The absence of Reg Varney is huge! When a main character leaves a series, that show can really suffer. Can you imagine Happy Days without Ron Howard or Little House on the Prairie without Michael Landon? Oh, wait….! Also, Michael Robbins is sorely missed. He played Olive’s husband Arthur. He had some amazing one liners and was a very hypocritical character. I really enjoyed laughing at his faults! He left the series after the 6th series and the character was written out as Olive & Arthur divorced. Not very far-fetched at all considering those characters relationships. Certainly characters of TV shows had worse send offs such as Shirley Feeney from Laverne & Shirley.
A mentioned earlier, I watched these episodes from the Network PAL R2 DVD boxset. No restoration was done on it but I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. The video quality was very watchable. Like many of the Network DVD sets, they like to include programs which are related to the program but are not part of the program. On the Series 7 DVD, there is the pilot to the spin off starring Stephen Lewis as Blakey in Don’t Drink the Water, I might give that a spin this week. Also, there is a play included starring Reg Varney titled The Best Pair of Legs in the Business. This especially is a wonderful bonus because there is probably very little likelihood of it being ever released alone.
Finally, it was mooted that the series could return in the early 1990’s. Scripts were written. Below is the third part of an interview on Wogan where the whole cast is still alive. This interview is from 1990 and very soon after that, they started dying off and now only Stephen Lewis and Anna Karen are the last of this legendary show still with us. I suppose I shouldn’t be too dramatic about it. The interview was conducted 20 years ago.

Next week, I look at the final episode of one of my favourite series. All Creatures Great & Small, Brotherly Love…..also from 1990.

If you have any feedback or want to discuss the series, please leave a note. Would love to hear from you.