The Dobermann Always Rings Twice

The Dobermann Always Rings Twice

Mystery In The Air

RantPosted by Dobermann Sun, October 14, 2018 08:42:11

Mystery On Air at the Theatre Royal, Windsor

Dr Terror checks out the latest cutting-edge trend in entertainment: the wireless

NB: This is a review of the final performance - tour to be announced

It takes a brave man to enter Windsor on an unseasonably hot autumn day immediately after a royal wedding. ‘Terror’ is an unfortunate misnomer for I am the mildest of men. Nevertheless, this engrossing recreation of a late forties radio studio was enough to persuade me, performed as it was by what used to be the Agatha Christie Theatre Company before it ran out of plays by Agatha Christie. It was not without precedent: the very similarly titled Murder on Air had been very successful, memorable for a climax in which the sound effects guy – or Foley artist as they are now known – hammers a nail into a melon representing someone’s head (this wasn’t Miss Marple, you understand). In fact, this sort of performance has been everywhere in recent years, taking in shows where you watched the likes of Dad’s Army and Round the Horne being recreated as radio productions before your very eyes, not to mention the comedy Murder Most Foley in which the entertaining creation of sound effects was taken to ridiculous lengths.

The crème de la crème of character acting talent was all present and correct, not least Jenny Seagrove and Dalgleish himself, Roy Marsden, who introduced the proceedings by evoking 1953. Being in Windsor might have reminded everyone of the coronation but he was quick to point out that, as far as he was concerned, the fact that the post-war rationing of sweets ended was at least as memorable. It was also the year that sales of television sets overtook those of radios for the first time.

The production was actually set slightly earlier and the extent to which it will tour and who will be in it is still to be pinned down by the look of it. There wasn’t even a programme – practically unheard of! - and the presence of Matthew Cottle and Elizabeth Payne, who joined a cast also including Marsden's The Sandbaggers co-star Sue Holderness (she played Miss Moneypenny to Marsden's Bill Tanner in the 1970's show) and MidsOmer Murders ' Daniel Casey, was announced very late on.

Nevertheless, it unrolled deliciously. Set in and around Soho, The White Rose Murders was all the more unsettling for having inspired a series of real copycat killings, while The Most Dangerous Game and House By The River were pitch-perfect, quite an achievement when the originals starred Orson Welles and John Gielgud respectively. Still it was, as always, the Foley artist who stole the show, rapidly opening and closing an umbrella to simulate the flapping of a falcon’s wings and dropping a heavy weight into a tub, soaking the front two rows (my Tarot deck had warned me to sit in the third).

I just can’t get enough of this kind of thing. Maybe I’m getting old. I must watch more Riverdale

Vulcan 7 - Coming to a Theater Near You

RantPosted by Dobermann Sun, September 23, 2018 11:06:51
Guest Review by Doctor Terror at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford as Vulcan 7 starts its tour:

Just as writers never seem happier than when writing about writers (witness, for example, the joyful venom JK Rowling injected into her second Strike mystery, The Silkworm) so actors love portraying actors. Thus it is that Nigel Planer and Ade Edmondson find themselves playing ‘a pair of dinosaurs’ stuck on location up the side of an Icelandic volcano filming Vulcan 7. It’s hard to know just how bad the final film is set to be but you can bet it’s one of what John Landis has called those ‘multi-million dollar B-movies’ that never seem to leave my local Odeon these days. In fact, I fully expect the monster in whose costume Edmondson flails about for the first act to appear at my nearest Disney Store very soon.

Real actors are frequently skewered in the script (‘…even Broadbent was in Economy’; ‘Ayckbourn, is it? Are you giving them your Peter Bowles or your Richard Briers?’; ‘Daniel fucking Day fucking hyphen fucking Lewis?’) but the two key characters are evidently no adverts for the profession. Both are alcoholics – though one largely because of the networking opportunities offered by AA – and both stand a fair chance of being the father of their young runner. Planer, despite an MBE (‘it’s not a knighthood…’) is reduced to playing a succession of English butlers while Edmondson is a clapped-out hellraiser with no possessions save his memories, largely long speeches from former roles he can’t forget.

It's all very funny but more meandering and less manic than The Young Ones or Filthy, Rich and Catflap. Like Terry Johnson’s Carry On tribute Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick, it’s set in a trailer and it shares the themes of petty rivalries and lost opportunities but, because the characters are fictional, you’re never quite sure where it’s going. You’ll get no spoilers from me on that one but I’d very much urge you to go along. It’s totally absorbing, very cleverly staged and the script, by the pair themselves is no less amusing for being suffused with real melancholy.

The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre can be quite traditional about what it stages. You can buy a cookbook there with recipes suggested by the likes of Penelope Keith and Felicity Kendall. During the interval, I heard the cut-glass voice of one regular theatregoer pronounce ‘…of course, it’s all very clever but it’s really not my kind of thing.’ You could just smell them pining for Ray Cooney.

Ken Reid's Power Pack

RantPosted by Dobermann Sat, September 08, 2018 12:33:19

I've spent some time reading through The Power Pack of Ken Reid a magnificent two volume reprint of the comic strips which Ken Reid created in the 1960's for Odham's Power Comics. Even among the inspired energy of Power Comics, Ken Reid was a genius sharing a taste for the macabre with his young audience* - like The League of Gentlemen performed by Les Dawson.

*As his son points out in the introduction, there was no wholesale commercialisation of Halloween in the 1960's and people like Reid who liked creepy things had to make their own entertainment.

The books were published and printed in Lithuania by Irmantus Povilaika, a cartoonist and fan of British comics. Just holding it in your hands shows the positive benefits of the internet, crowdfunding and even the EU. This is the kind of project we all dreamed about but publishers never believed there was a market for. If you can get enough punters to put their money behind a project with a few clicks on their phones the future really is here (that overlooks the hard graft that was necessary for Irmantus to negotiate the rights with the current copyright holders, source the artwork and oversee the production - but then it goes without saying that any pronouncement about the internet always overlooks the difficult stuff).

There are two volumes - the first collects Reid's Frankie Stein and the short-lived Jasper the Grasper(from1965). The second brings together Queen of the Seas, The Nervs, and my own particular favourite Dare-A-Day-Davy.

Dare-A-Day-Davy preceded, or maybe foresaw the likes of Noel's Houseparty, The Word, Jackass and any other reality TV where idiots are challenged to perform outlandish stunts for public amusement. In the example below (from a November 1967 Fireworks Night issue of SMASH!) Davy has been challenged to blow up the Houses of Parliament. As you can see from the dialogue, Ken Reid built upon this concept by having Davy personalise this with an evocative grudge against the Prime Minister for not banning school homework.

While Dare-A-Day-Davy often appeared in black and white, this particular strip was published on the back page in a very crude letterpress colour separation process. The version in the new hardback is printed in black and white. There's an argument that the publisher should have tried to reproduce the artwork in colour, although that creates more disputes: do we want to see the original crude colour (historically accurate) or a computer generated approximation of "what the artist intended"?

Putting those issues aside, my overwhelming feeling is that it's great to see this stuff back in print in a hardback collection. They show just how inventive Reid was - not just the way he'd take the basic humorous theme of the strip and develop it within each panel (rather like Harvey Kurtzman in MAD) - but the eloquent, but down-to-earth rhapsodising of his dialogue (rather like the comic monologues Les Dawson would develop on TV a few years later). And all the time, Reid was pushing the envelope. It wasn't just the Houses of Parliament that Dare-A-Day-Davy was going to blow up - or A Prime Minister - it was Harold Wilson, "with his best pipe blasted to charred cherry wood."

In the book we're able to watch Reid develop the character over the weeks. Danny begins as a boy who cannot resist a dare, fully aware that he's a character in a comic, despising the editors who pass on the readers' challenges. Gradually, his "will-power" manifests itself in the strip - a cloud creature, easily overwhelmed by the ferocious Hyde like manifestations of the readers' Dares. Eventually, the conflict with "will-power" was picked up Davy's "inner-Demon", while Reid opened each strip with a caricature of the "inner-selves" of the readers who had dreamed up Davy's latest mission.

In the "bonfire night" strip, we see a rare attempt at co-operation by Davy's "will-power" and "inner-demon" as they realise that his Guy Fawkes act will get Davy shot (endangering their own existence). Inevitably, their attempt to divert Davy results in him blowing up a fireworks store and being hurtled into the evening sky. The inevitably punchline of each strip was Davy being bruised, battered or even hospitalised in grotesque fashion.

Queen of the Seas and Frankie Stein contain a similar blend of slapstick violence, inventive situations and grotesque caricatures. The Nervs was a curious counterpoint to Power Comics own Georgie's Germs set within the body of a greedy schoolboy and using a combination of visual puns and distorted whimsy to visualise a Fantastic Voyage that Hollywood could never better.

This collection concentrates on Reid's own work, so it doesn't include the Frankie Stein strips drawn by other hands while Reid was forced to take a break from the character. In a way, that's a pity because while amusing, and while competent, the relief strips aren't as consistently inventive and surprising and funny as Reid's. You can buy the two volumes separately or as a complete "Power Pack" from the publisher at

League of Gentlemen Live Again

RantPosted by Dobermann Wed, September 05, 2018 22:09:37

The League of Gentlemen LIVE Again! gives fans of the TV show a chance to see the stars of the TV show re-united on stage, recreating their most famous characters. The new show repeats the format of their 2001 stage show with a first half of plain-clothes sketches , before returning after the interval to the town of Royston Vasey for a series of quick-change costume performances, picking up the continuity from last year's Christmas Specials.

The Hull performance saw the team returning to Reece Shearsmith's hometown for one of the first performances at the city's new "Bonus Arena", where a mural of "Hull icons" saw Royston Vasey next to Amy Johnson and "American chip spice".

With body scans before you even got into the building, and beer at £5.50 a pint, the Bonus Arena brought a taste of metropolitan living to the North East. There was plenty of "League of Gentleman" merchandising to be bought, including T-Shirts bearing fan's favourite catchphrases, although for this tour maybe promoter Phil McIntyre should have printed up some, "Fifteen Pounds for a Bloody Programme!£15!" T Shirts.

Unless my memory is playing tricks, back in the 2001 tour the first half had more standalone sketches (such as Shakespeare fans behaving like football hooligans), whereas the new tour sticks firmly to the TV characters and situations. Of course, the success of each sketch depends on the tastes of the audience - the Pam Doove audition sketch sent a woman near me into such hysterics that I was worried she'd have a heart attack before we got to the punchline. But of course, Steve Pemberton's parody of a Hull accent during a Legs Akimbo performance provoked as much laughter from Reece Shearsmith - especially when Steve pushed it further by talking about a "Whaat Pheun Box".

The second half kicks off with the final moments of the Christmas TV special being projected onto the backdrop, before dropping us firmly back in the town of Royston Vasey. It would be unfair to give anything away, except to say that the script cleverly uses a combination of flashbacks and new material to satisfy most fans. Once again, the transition from one costume to another is choreographed so well that you lose track of the fact that it's the same three actors playing all the parts. I've seen some reviews taking the team to task for not taking enough risks, but playing to a packed arena the show seemed perfectly pitched on the night.

Theatre of Blood Onstage

RantPosted by Dobermann Mon, September 03, 2018 22:14:07
Dr Terror's review of Appointment with the Wicker Man reminded me of the 2005 attempt to mount Theatre of Blood as a stage show.

Adapted by Lee Simpson and Phelim McDermott from the 1973 movie, the show starred Jim Broadbent as homicidal actor Edward Lionheart and Rachael Stirling recreating the role played by her mother, Diana Rigg, in the film.

Broadbent - whose early work included the downtrodden assistant of Patrick Barlow's delusional actor-manager in the National Theatre of Brent parodies - had the difficult task of trying to inhabit the role created by Vincent Price.

In the movie, Edward Lionheart was close to the self-parodying persona Price used in his 'Poe' horror movies. It was one Price first developed when he stole the 1951 Robert Mitchum movie His Kind of Woman in playing actor Mark Cardigan (at one point Cardigan anticipates Lionheart by quoting Mercutio with reference to the customary 'flesh wound' saying, "tis no deeper than a well..").

In the stage play, Lionheart was closer to the atrophied pre-war actor-manager portrayed in The Dresser. Towards the end, the final confrontation with Mark Lockyer's trendy critic (the Ian Hendry role) was delayed as Lionheart directed spotlights out above the audience to expose the brutalist concrete of the Lyttleton Theatre and railed against the corporate blandness of modern (1970's) theatre.

For the most part, however, the play represented a valiant attempt to recreate the well-worn plot of the movie. For those who knew the film, much of the pleasure was in the anticipation. Would they really feed the doggie woggies to fey critic Bette Bourne? How would glamorous and aggressive Sally Dexter meet her end?

But even for those who didn't know the film, Theatre of Blood was an entertaining comic thriller. With the action now centred on the abandoned and decaying theatre which Lionheart had made his base, the play increased its allusions to the classic horror films with the hapless critics now lured to the theatre to meet their doom.

Like Appointment with the Wicker Man, the stage adaptation of Theatre of Blood is well overdue for a revival.

Public Eye: Reconstructed in Brighton

RantPosted by Dobermann Sun, September 02, 2018 15:02:59

This was the first series of Public Eye I remember watching. As time went on, I was confused by memories of the second episode, Divide and Conquer (6 August 1969). Why was private investigator Frank Marker (Alfred Burke) working as a council labourer at the seaside and being menaced by motorbike thugs?

Of course, the answer lay at the end of the previous series . Marker had been set up by jewel thieves and arrested for receiving stolen goods. With the previous production company ABC now merged into the new ITV contractor Thames TV, the 1969 series picked up the story after Marker had spent a year in prison. Each episode would be written by series co-creator Roger Marshall and explore how Marker would make his way back into society.

Out on parole, relocated to the seaside resort of Brighton, Marker is under the supervision of a probation officer. Rather like a foster-child, he is placed with an approved landlady Mrs Mortimer (Pauline Delaney) and given a labouring job with a sympathetic builder who does sub-contracting work for the council. Like any other ex-felon, Marker has to prove that he can integrate with society. Even though he was innocent, Marker still has to go through the system and is liable to recall to prison if he steps out of line.

In Divide and Conquer, Marker intervenes when he sees two bikers trying to pull a small-scale con on a pub landlord. Although he has every reason to stay out of trouble, Marker is still smarting from having been the victim of a fraud. The bikers escape from the pub but lurk outside and follow Marker. The next morning they confront him while he's working alone on repairs to the beach defences.
When I first saw this episode as a child, the moment that most struck me was the scene where the bikers steal Marker's lunch and then throw his sandwiches on the beach ("C'mon, waste not, want not," Marker chides). It underlines the banal, childish but potentially murderous threat to Marker. It's light years away from the first series where getting beaten up was an occupational hazard for Marker. It's all about whether and how Marker can talk down the vengeful thugs.

This whole series of Public Eye is a change of pace - the title sequence is made up of expressionistic shots of Marker walking along Brighton beach while a sparse, tentative rearrangement of the theme plays in the background. The series ended with Marker re-establishing himself as a private investigator (although the TV Times had to publish a notice reassuring viewers that it was legal for an ex-convict to trade as an enquiry agent).

But the Brighton episodes are always watchable for the seaside location filming and the salty bite of a storyline where a habitual loner is forced to open up and constantly walk with his actions subject to judgement.

An Appointment with the Wicker Man

RantPosted by Dobermann Sat, August 25, 2018 17:44:24
An Appointment with The Wicker Man - The One That Got Away
by Doctor Terror

As a theatregoer, I’ve been very lucky. Travelling around a lot as I do (not just between London and Bradley), I get the chance to go to the theatre a lot and there are very few things in recent years that I’ve missed but wish I’d seen. Admittedly, I had to wait a decade for Young Frankenstein to make its way to the West End, but it was worth waiting for – and anyway, when you’re in my line of work, you get to learn the value of patience.

There’s one play that I missed though. It had a short run, touring north of the border only and received lukewarm reviews in most of the national press though, as the case of Young Frankenstein shows, you can bounce back from the latter with a flourish. It was a comedy thriller with songs based on a horror thriller…er…with songs. It was, of course, the National Theatre of Scotland’s An Appointment with the Wicker Man. Like a MAD Magazine parody of a film for which the writer and illustrator had obvious affection, the play gives fans of the original much to relish, though stands up perfectly well if you’ve never seen it (though, if you haven’t, what are you doing on this site?). Featuring the music of the original, including Corn Rigs and Barley Rigs and the evergreen classic The Landlord’s Daughter (which the Wurzels missed a trick in never covering), the plot is a cunning twist on the original story: The Loch Parry Players, an amateur dramatics troupe in a remote part of Scotland are putting on their own Wicker Man play (spelling it ‘Whicker’ like the endlessly-impersonated TV presenter) when a key actor drops out. Fortunately, by a weird quirk of fate, the hugely successful star of the Taggart-like Blood Beat is able to step into the fold, ‘putting something back’ as it were. It doesn’t take long for the audience’s realisation to grow that the fate of Sgt Howie, the virginal ‘good Christian copper’ of the film might be not dissimilar to the one about to befall Blood Beat’s actor-who-plays-a-copper.

The play was co-written by and starred Greg Hemphill of Still Game and Chewin’ the Fat as the Loch Parry Players’ treasurer who gets to play Lord Summerisle. Also on board as the actor lured into who knows what fate was Sean Biggerstaff, best known as Harry Potter’s first quidditch captain. The script seems to have mysteriously disappeared (in an office move rather than, say, a fire) but I was able to track down the programme and trailer through the kind co-operation of the National Theatre of Scotland. A revival is surely long overdue. I can just see Steve Pemberton and David Tennant in the parts. Go on Cameron, go on Lord Lloyd-Webber! Give us what we want!

In the words of Elton John, it would be no sacrifice. No sacrifice at all.

Public Eye - Birmingham Unwiped

RantPosted by Dobermann Sun, August 19, 2018 11:11:59
The second series of Public Eye in 1966 transferred Frank Marker to Birmingham. It was partly pragmatism - ABC had the ITV weekend contract for the North and the Midlands. They also had Outside Broadcast units which were unused when there were no sports events to cover. ATV had shown ultimate cost-efficiency in The Plane Makers by using its Outside Broadcast unit to tape its studio exteriors standing in for the Scott Furlong aircraft factory. ABC used its Outside Broadcast cameras to capture the new brutalist Birmingham, which replaced Second World War devastation with car-centric concrete rat-runs (ironically, the mistakes of the 1960's were over-written by the re-developments of the Millennium, so that these episodes of Public Eye have become an historical record).

The earliest surviving episode, Don't Forget You're Mine features extensive location filming around the Bull Ring Centre and New Street rail station, then still in the midst of reconstruction. The title sequence of the second series also capitalised on the new Birmingham with the series name being flashed up in lights on the side of the new office block attached to the Bull Ring Centre.

Virginia Stride & Alfred Burke in New Street Station

The trend in the 1960's was to wipe the tapes of TV episodes as soon as any useful life had been got from them, so only three episodes survive (two from the 1967/68 series) plus an audio tape of a fourth episode. As noted before, these episodes are all available in a box-set from Network which also includes an informative 260 page history of the series by Andrew Pixley. This allows us to read up on the missing episodes and get some idea of the changes in Public Eye.

The move from Clapham to Birmingham is explained in the first episode (in a stroke which must have pleased the Development Office) as being economic. Costs were rising in London - accommodation and prices were cheaper in Birmingham.

However, the move also appears to have knocked the Sam Spade influences off Marker. He stops getting beat up every episode, and he loses the picturesque Big City milieu seen in episodes like The Morning Wasn't So Hot . The surviving episodes are entertaining and unpredictable and it's sad that more haven't been recovered.

The 1968 Birmingham series ended with Marker being framed and sent to prison - presumably matching ABC's feeling of injustice at losing the Midlands contract to ATV. But as the producers of James Bond always said, Frank Marker will return....

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