Following on from my recent post about Rupert, I'm once again back in the realms of youthful nostalgia...
Sixty-six years ago, in 1942, Enid Blyton sent Dick, Julian and Anne Kerrin to the Devon coast to stay with Aunt Fanny, Uncle Quentin, their daughter Georgina (known always as George) and George's faithful dog, Timmy.
What followed was that thrill-packed summer-holiday adventure recounted in Five on a Treasure Island.
Twenty more 'Famous Five' volumes followed, published every year (except 1959) until 1962. Titles include: Five Run Away Together, Five Get into Trouble, Five Have Plenty of Fun, Five Get into a Fix and Five Have a Mystery to Solve. There was also a collection of shorter tales, Five have a Puzzling Time and other stories.
For many of us, these volumes (along with Blyton's 15 books about 'The Secret Seven') were essential childhood reading.
Now the Famous Five are setting off in search of a new adventure... That is, a second generation of FFs, because Disney has created an animated TV series entitled Famous Five On The Case, featuring the children of George, Dick, Julian and Anne - and Timmy the dog himself.
Here's the story as it was briefly reported by the Press Association...
Enid Blyton's Famous Five have been reconstructed for the 21st Century.
A new Disney TV series features the offspring of the original ginger beer-loving adventurers - and their dog.
But the Famous Five's children are now multicultural, their enemies include a fake environmentalist, and they are armed with modern gadgets.
The TV series, Famous Five: On the Case, features 12-year-old Anglo-Indian Jo, whose name is short for Jyoti, "a Hindu world meaning light". Countryside-dwelling Jo is the team leader and like her mother, George, in the original Famous Five - who was thought to be modelled on Blyton herself - a tomboy.
Other characters include Allie, a 12-year-old Californian shopaholic who enjoys going out and getting "glammed up" but is packed off to the British countryside to her cousins. Her mother was Anne in the Famous Five, the reluctant adventurer who has now become a successful art dealer.
The Famous Five was first published in 1942 and is a children's classic. [Five on a Treasure Island - Ed] The new animated series was given the seal of approval by Blyton's oldest daughter, Gillian Baverstock, before she died at the age of 76 last year.
In the new TV series, the children of the original Famous Five are brought together at their aunt George's house on the English coast.
The other characters are adventure junkie Max, who is 13-year-old Julian's son; Dylan, the 11-year-old son of Dick, and dog Timmy.
Producers say the characters embark on a series of adventures similar to those experienced by their parents and that the series is faithful to the original Famous Five books but with "a contemporary twist".
But while Blyton's original sleuths targeted kidnappers and smugglers, the enemies of Disney's Famous Five include Kyle - a DVD bootlegger on Shelter Island who is masquerading as an environmentalist.
The children, who wear iPods and use mobile phones, also discover subliminal messages in DVDs to brainwash children into buying Fudgie Fries sweets.
Many commentators have speculated how fast Enid Blyton is spinning in her grave, but - bearing in mind that these are new stories not updated re-hashes of the originals - I wonder if she would really be that distressed?
Blyton seized on every aspect of popular story-telling to grab and hold her young readers and I can't help thinking that if she had lived in the age of mobile phones, laptops and MP3 players they might well have figured in her stories.
One of the joys of the British Film Institute (and thank you, Ian for getting me back into the National Film Theatre-going habit) is the NFT's frequent retrospectives that embrace not just film but also television.
Last month I was enjoying two nostalgic hours in the company of Flanders and Swann; a few nights ago I was transported to the sleepy little village of Nutwood, the starting point of a series of incredible exploits and adventures featuring the one and only Rupert Bear.
Ceaselessly cheerful, tirelessly plucky and endlessly resourceful Rupert Bear is eighty-eight years old and yet as youthful as ever.
The NFT's 'Rupert Night' programme included a sketch from The Two Ronnies in which Ronnie Corbett appeared as Rupert Baird (a little fellow in red jersey, checked trousers and scarf who could only speak in rhyme!) and a clip from The Likely Lads with Terry and Bob arguing about whether one of Rupert’s friends was called 'Edward the Elephant' or 'Edward Trunk'.
Also shown were a couple of episodes from Mary Turner's 'seventies TV puppet series (right) and the classic documentary about Rupert’s longest serving artist, Alfred Bestall, made by Terry (Monty Python) Jones a quarter of a century ago.
Rupert first appeared in November 1920 in a comic strip created by Mary Tourtel for the Daily Express newspaper as part of its bid to win readers from their rivals the Daily Mail which featured a popular strip about Teddy Tail.
In 1935, when Mary Tourtel retired, the task of drawing Rupert - and writing his adventures - fell to illustrator and Punch artist, Alfred Bestall, and the following year he produced the evocative art for The New Adventures of Rupert - the very first Rupert Annual…
Out of respect to the Rupert’s creator, Bestall - a modest, self-effacing man - didn’t sign his artwork until after Mary Tourtel’s death in 1948.
Alfred Bestall wrote and illustrated a staggering 273 Rupert stories (mostly for the daily newspaper publication but with others produced specially for the annuals) until his own retirement in 1965.
I only ever saw the newspaper strip when I visited my paternal grandparents, but I was given several Rupert annuals over the years, this being the first...
Heaven only knows where it is now!
What I really loved about Rupert was the format of the albums: the running headings that were a synopsis of each story with little figures in the top corner of each page; the four-frame picture-story, the rhyming couplets that told the story under each picture in not-very-sophisticated doggerel and then the prose telling of the tale that appeared at the bottom of the page just as it did under the panels in the newspaper.
Then there were the activities-pages with puzzles, origami models (which I never successfully made) and, in later numbers, magic painting pages.
And, for me, the highlight of ever annual: Bestall’s wonderful full-colour wrap-around cover plus those enchanting endpapers showing the coutryside around Nutwood and other wonderful landscapes - sometimes seascapes - that combined the real and fanciful into a dreamworld that still haunt the memory…
Then, of course there were the stories - packed with wild escapades, amazing expeditions curious inventions and extraordinary characters that secure these little narratives a place among the most inventive writing for children in the twentieth century.
There were mysteries, too, such as why it was that inside the books Rupert had a white face, hands and boots but on the cover was a brown bear in brown boots!
The one exception (right) was the 1973 annual where someone at the Daily Express impudently altered Alfred Bestall’s artwork for the cover in order to match the interior!
The dozen or so proof copies with a brown-faced Rupert (below) are greatly sought-after and hysterically valuable! In fact, it might just be worth checking your attics!
Another mystery, of course, was the way in which clothed animals and human beings - not to mentions giants, wizards, dragons, unicorns, mermaids, goblins, pixies and living toys - co-habited in a fantastical universe.
Indeed, Terry Jones, during a Q&A session following the screenings, recalled how, in one story Rupert encounters a talking cat and is utterly astonished by the fact as though he were not, himself a talking bear!
But then, in a way, Rupert isn’t really a bear he is a boy - a young child - you and I, the reader - wearing a bear-faced mask!
Equally curious was the fact that the human characters wear a wide range of costuming: medieval doublets and hose, Georgian knee-breeches and buckle shoes, Victorian skirts and bonnets, ‘twenties plus-fours and brogues and forties three-piece suits.
‘Rupert Night’ also featured the music video of Paul McCartney’s 1984 hit, 'Rupert and the Frog Song', so there was even more nostalgia as we all remembered those lyrics about standing together…
The last Rupert annual cover Alfred Bestall ever painted was that one on which Rupert turned white, but other artists carried on the work including Alex Cubie, John Harrold and Stuart Trotter (right) who has recently taken over the care of the bear and who is a worthy inheritor of the Rupert legacy. Thanks to everyone who keeps Rupert on the track of new adventures.
And thanks to the NFT: meeting up with Rupert and his chums - Bill Badger, Algy Pug, Podgy Pig, Willy Mouse, Pong Ping the Pekingese and Edward Trunk (yes, that was his name!) - was an opportunity to be reunited with old and much-loved friends!
"Goodness," said Rupert, "it's been such fun, Eighty-eight years and I've just begun!"
It's fascinating to think that long before the egg became the symbol of Easter it was a symbol of fertility and the rebirth of the earth in Spring following the long burial of winter.
Festivals and rituals marking the Spring equinox were celebrated by the Egyptians, Persians, Chinese, Romans and Gauls and part of those rites of spring involved the giving and receiving of dyed and painted eggs.
Among the many traditions concerning eggs was that of burying an egg under the foundations of buildings to keep evil at bay and pregnant which doubtless has the same origin as the French ritual which required a bride to step upon an egg before crossing the threshold of her new homes.
Christianity took this ancient symbolism and reworked it to represent the rebirth of the mankind, rather than the earth. So, the folk-tales and legends began...
Old Polish legend concerns the Virgin Mary. It tells of how Mary gave eggs to the soldiers at the Cross. She wept as she begged them to be less cruel and her tears fell upon the eggs, spotting them with splashes of brilliant colour.
Another Polish legend tells how, when Mary Magdalen went to the garden tomb to anoint the body of Jesus early on the first Easter morning, she was carrying a basket of eggs in order that she would have something to eat. Arriving at the empty sepulchre, she uncovered the eggs and found that, miraculously, the pure white shells were now rainbow-coloured.
However you are celebrating this ancient festival (and even if you're not)
Easter traditions differ throughout the world: we have chocolate eggs, but in Poland they have sugar lambs...
On Holy Saturday, baskets containing Easter foods (bread, eggs and sausage) are taken into church to be blessed. The baskets are traditionally lined with a white linen or lace napkin and decorated with ribbons and sprigs of boxwood (bukszpan), the typical Easter evergreen.
The baskets always contain the Baranek Wielkanocny - the Easter Lamb, representing the resurrected Christ. Made from dough or from butter, shaped using special moulds, the lamb is the last item to go into the basket in order that it can protect the contents. As a special treat, children's baskets contain a sugar lamb...
At the following day's Easter feast (Swiecone) the centerpiece of the table will be plaster lambs bearing a cross-emblazoned flag representing the Resurrection.
Desert can take the form of a lamb-shaped cake, iced cakes decorated with the greeting, "Wesolego Alleluja" or individual cakes decorated with flowers and pussy willow...
My old granny used to say "I don't know why they call it Good Friday! Hardly good for Jesus, was it?"
Well, that is the subject for a sermon and I am no preacher. But whatever your beliefs, the Christian allegory of death and resurrection represented by the cross and the empty tomb remains an eternal, universal and life-enhancing symbol of hope...
Joseph laid the body of Jesus in the tomb and it was closed up with a large stone rolled across the entrance.
My granny also believed that Good Friday was the day on which one could plant something in your garden with the sure and certain expectation that it would grow and blossom.
I've always remembered this piece of folklore every Good Friday and have wondered at its origin. Thanks to Google I've found the answer... er... answers!
* Good Friday was thought to be a good day for planting seeds inspired by interpreting the Parable of the Sower, in which seeds needs to be planted in the ground in order to bear fruit, as a metaphor for Jesus' necessary death and burial on this day.
* Gardeners and farmers considered Good Friday to be the best day of planting peas, potatoes and parsley because it was the only day of the year when the devil was believed to be powerless. Parsley is notoriously slow to germinate, and very often gardeners would make three sowings - two for the devil and one for the gardener - before getting a crop to come up. They even poured boiling water over the soil before planting to deter the devil and that technique may have actually helped, since parsley germinates faster in warmer soils.
* There was probably also the practical reason for working in the garden on Good Friday in that men were free to work for their own benefit. However, this was not true everywhere; in North Yorkshire in the 1860s, "great care (was) taken not to disturb the earth in any way; it were impious to use spade, plough or harrow… a villager… shocked his neighbours by planting potatoes on Good Friday, but they never came up."
* Many people in the upper Midwest of the USA religiously planted their potato crop on a Good Friday - even when Easter came early and they had to chop their way through icy soil in order to do so!
* Some people believe that the moon phases were important to the planting of crops and that potatoes thrive if planted under a full moon and there is always a full moon on Good Friday, or a few days before, or the Saturday/Sunday afterwards.
So, there you are: true or not, and whether you're gardening or not, may your day today be a good Good Friday!
Being filmed for a DVD 'extra' the other day - and having been horrified by my resemblance to Quasimodo on my last such appearance - I asked the crew if they could film my 'best side'. Unfortunately, finding the 'best' side was easier said than done!
This embarrassing episode reminded me of a story I read in a recent obituary to David ('Wendy') Watkin, the legendary cinematographer of such films as Help!, Charge of the Light Brigade, The Devils, The Three Musketeers, Robin and Marian and Out of Africa.
Watkin was engaged to film Yentl starring (and directed by) Barbra Streisand. On meeting the star, Watkin daringly tapped Streisand on the Nose and commented: "I can see we're going to have a lot of trouble with THAT!"
Somehow, and rather surprisingly, he got away with it-- and more...
Later in the production - in the middle of a shot - Streisand suddenly yelled: "David, you're shooting me from my bad side!"
To which, Watkin calmly responded: "It's not your bad side, Barbra, it's your other side."
I am abandoning the usual, frivolous, light-hearted tone of this blog today in order to draw your attention to a story in yesterday's issue of The Times.
A gay Iranian teenager faces deportation from Britain and execution in his home country after a Dutch court refused to hear his asylum claim.Mehdi Kazemi, 19, will be forced to return to Britain, where his asylum application was rejected last year.
He is then expected to be “removed” to Iran where his boyfriend was hanged two years ago for sodomy.The ruling will put the Home Office under renewed pressure to reassess his case — or face the possibility of sending a young man to his death.The department’s own guidance concedes that Iran executes homosexuals but rejects the claim that there is a systematic repression of gay men and lesbians.
The emphasis is mine and is probably unnecessary since the patent absurdity of this statement is unlikely to have passed you by.
And anyone doubting the likelihood of this young gay man ending his life on an Iranian gallows should contemplate the widely-reported accusation that 4,000 homosexual men and women have been executed in Iran in the last thirty years.
Brace yourself, gentle reader, for I am about to open your eyes to yet more GOOGLY-EYED HORRORS!
The other day, I posted - courtesy of my friend, JEN - one of a number of portraits by the artist, Iain Hetherington who, in addition to the usual painterly stuff, uses googly-eyes to catch the gallery-goer's eye...
Well, of course, Art is ART and part of its purpose is to Shock, but what are we to make of a flickr site which Jen also spotted?
American actress, writer and comedienne, Amy Sedaris(right), author of the best-selling i like you: hospitality under the influence, invited listeners to the Leonard Lopate Show on New York Public Radio to respond to a "craft challenge".
Amy's challenge was for people to Make Food Come Alive With Googly Eyes and then photograph the results and upload them to flickr.
The results are, believe me, truly terrifying! So much so, in fact, I can only bring myself to show you a handful of the resulting photos...
I could tell from the comments left on my last post that there were those among you who doubted that an unnatural obsession with GOOGLY-EYES is making insidious inroads into the fabric of modern society.
Fortunately, my good friend JEN has come to my defence by giving me a couple more examples of the way in which this ghastly disease is taking hold... For example, Scottish artist Iain Hetherington has added them to several of his works such as this one, Welcome Alien...
Deny it if you like, but I say those eyes definitely follow you round the room...
If you have the nerve, you can look up some of the artist's other googly-eyed portraits on iainhetherington.com.
I have further appalling evidence to place before you, but I am, frankly, too shaken to write any more at the present and it will have to wait until another day when I am a little calmer...
Meanwhile, I hope you will now believe me when I say that the secret vice of sticking sticky-eyes on stuff is rife!
You are launching a new line in sensuous sweetmeats for people who are "obsessed with pleasure"...
You spend a lot of time and money to make sure you get your branding absolutely right and, in the process, come up with a lexicon of 'buy-words': Captivating... Kinky... Cheeky... Shamelessly... Disgracefully... Outrageously...
Then all you need is a brand name to beguile and entice the customer...
So you call your product...
Still, at half-price, they're clearly not just for the Filthy Rich but are, relatively speaking, dirt cheap!
It's said that when it was suggested to Lillian Bayliss, the founder of The Old Vic, that she ought to be made a Dame of the British Empire she swiftly responded, in her characteristically forthright way, "It'll be none of your Dames for me!"
In Bayliss' time - and for some while afterwards - 'damehoods' (or 'ships'?) were primarily for 'classical' (meaning, chiefly, Shakespearean) actresses such as Sybil Thorndike, Flora Robson and Edith Evans. Today, happily, they are given to a broad range of entertainers and we can rejoice in having not just Dames Maggie and Judi but also Dames Julie and Shirley...
So, how come no one has got around to giving a Damehood to the actress and singer who began her career by being known as "Britain's Shirley Temple"?
I refer, of course, to...
In sixty-six years of performing, Petula Clark has done it all: radio, TV, film, stage and, of course dozens of recordings including many, many hit singles, four of which reached the No 1 top-spot.
Last July, the following story broke...
London, July 8 : Sir Michael Caine, Sir Tim Rice, Susan Hampshire and impresario Bill Kenwright are among celebrity fans of Petula Clark who have lent their support to an online petition on the Downing Street website for making the veteran singer-actress a "Dame".
The celebrities feel that the Petula should be honoured in recognition of her glittering career that has spanned more than 60 years. Petula is the most successful British female solo recording artist to date, and she is still touring and recording at 74. She holds the distinction of having the longest span on the international pop charts of any artist - 51 years - from 1954, when 'The Little Shoemaker' made the UK Top 20, through to 2005.
She started her career during the Second World War as a child singer entertaining the troops, moving into films including The Card, in the late 1940s and 1950s, and hit the height of her career in the 1960s when she became a pop success with songs such as 'Downtown'. Her career has continued in musicals like Sunset Boulevard and Blood Brothers.
"It is a travesty that Petula has not yet been honoured after such a long and distinguished career. The fact that these big names are lending their support shows how much she is regarded among the theatrical community," the Daily Express quoted an insider as saying.
Leo Sayer, lyricist Don Black, songwriter Tony Hatch, and former EastEnders star Wendy Richard are the other celebrities who are among the 500 names on the petition. "Hopefully the petition will help bring Pet the damehood she so richly deserves," said the insider.
So, no pressure there, then, Gordon...
Anyway, as of today, the PET-ition has 1,102 signatures but could do with a few more before the deadline of 12 March, so if you have fond memories of our Pet in films like Finnian's Rainbow and Goodbye, Mr Chips or if you ever sang along to any of her discs (from the childhood 'They're Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace' to 'The Other Man's Grass', 'I Know a Place', 'Don't Sleep on the Subway' or any one of those other UK/US hits - or even that considerable discography of songs sung in French or German) now is the time to ACT!
So, with only 10 days to go, you should stop reading this and go to the 10 Downing Street Petition site and SIGN!
Then, when you've done that you can come back and watch Pet (on Esther Rantzen's TV show) singing just a handful of those numbers that have made her a much-loved star and, surely, a Dame-in-Waiting...