Thursday 30 June 2011


The curious thing about moving house is that you come across stuff you haven't seen for years...

Though no longer new, it had to be opened!

Is this a cue for old schoolboy joke about Martin Luther? Perhaps not...

Monday 27 June 2011


Having just been writing about one of my favourite film detectives, Miss Marple, I was saddened to note the passing, a few days back, of the wonderful Peter Falk who spent 35 years interrogating and exposing criminals who – until the last few minutes of each episode of Columbo – assumed that they had got away with murder scott-free.

The series (which began with a TV movie in 1968 and ran to 69 episodes) made a star and a household name of Falk and bred a generation of us young TV-viewers who could lovingly emulate that dusky, hesitant voice, the half-closed, wonky eye, the studied gestures: the hand running through the tousled hair, scratching the furrowed brow, thoughtfully tapping the temples, plunging deep into the pocket of the scruffy raincoat, making sweeping gestures as if sieving the room for clues and stabbing the innocent air with an accusative stub of a half-smoked cigar...

And, of course, the oft-used piece of business: the half-exit, followed by the pause, the turn, the walk back into the room of the guilty party (oh, so, nearly off the hook) and the apparently off-hand request beginning, "Just one more thing..."

The format of Columbo was the reverse of the classic 'Whodunit' because, in virtually every episode, we knew – within the opening moments – who had! The game was always how the murderer would be trapped by the seemingly ineffectual Lieutenant Columbo: it was, as someone once dubbed the show, a 'Howcatchem!'

And here's how he managed to incriminate Theodore Bikel in 1977 in The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case...

And, three years earlier in 1974, Columbo nails his own boss, Commissioner of Police, Mark Halperin (Richard Kiley) in A Friend in Deed...

You can read a fine obituary by Time's film critic, Richard Corliss, here.

16 September 1927 – 23 June 2011

Caricature of Peter Falk by Brooks

Saturday 25 June 2011


The other night, with our friend Sophie, we watched (not for the first – or, I imagine, the last – time) the glorious Margaret Rutherford (portrayed, left, by the excellent Bob Doucette) as Agatha Christie's spinster detective, Miss Marple, in the 1963 film Murder at the Gallop.

There is, as the song says, 'nothing like a dame' and there never has been – and never will be – another dame like Dame Margaret!

True, Rutherford isn't at all like the Jane Marple described by Christie who, it is said, was never keen the portrayal (despite dedicating The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side to the actress "with admiration"), but, like her performances in the other three Marple films (Murder She Said, Murder Most Foul and Murder Ahoy) Murder at the Gallop is a tour de force romp.

Murder at the Gallop TV  Shot

Rutherford's exquisitely expressive face (topped off with a series of hats like squashed church fete cakes) is a ceaselessly animated pageant of wobbling jowls, pursed lips and narrowing (or widening) eyes!

Margaret Rutherford TV Shot

Then there is the body: a substantial tube of tweed, often with the addition of a cape (she insisted on wearing her own clothes for the role), from which are suspended two thin little legs in sensible, sturdy shoes on which she whizzes around with the determined speed of a nursery wind-up toy.

Murder at the Gallop (filmed in glorious black and white, but celebrated on this post with colour photo-art by Walker Dukes) is by far the best of the four films, if for no other reason than because it includes a scene in which Miss Marple and her loyal lieutenant, Mr Stringer (played by Rutherford's devoted husband, Stringer Davis), dance the Twist!

Pure bliss!

Margaret Rutherford Does the Twist TV Shot

The Marples film series also featured superb soundtrack compositions by Ron Goodwin including the instantly-memorable main theme featuring a harpsichord (representing Miss Marple's olde-worlde characteristics) artfully integrated into a score that sounds (or did for 'sixties cinema-goers) lively, adventurous and contemporary.

Here's a reminder of Mr Goodwin's classic composition which should be more than enough to send you off humming it for the rest of the day and searching out the DVD box-set. If you need assistance, just click here!

Thursday 23 June 2011


Jeremy Mortimer is the brilliant BBC producer (and one of the triumvirate of directors, along with Gemma Jenkins and David Hunter) responsible for my forthcoming Radio 4 'Classic Serial', The History of Titus Groan.

History of Titus Groan (Jeremy, Luke & David)

Seen above (left) with cast members, Luke Treadaway (Titus) and David Warner (The Artist), Jeremy has recently uploaded an interview he conducted with me – on the final day of recording – about Mervyn Peake, the creator of Titus and his ancestral home, Gormenghast.

If you missed it on Facebook, here it is...

The History of Titus Groan, also features Miranda Richardson, James Fleet, Tamsin Greig, Adrian Scarborough, Mark Benton, Paul Rhys, Carl Prekopp, William Gaunt, Olivia Hallinan, Fenella Woolgar, Claudie Blakely, Gerard Murphy and Maureen Beattie.

The series of six one-hour plays begins transmission on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 10 July at 15:00 and is repeated on Saturday evenings, beginning 16 July at 21:00.

Photo: Islay Bell-Webb

Tuesday 21 June 2011


Consult the work of two of the finest Tolkien illustrators, Alan Lee and John Howe, and you will find depictions of the Great Goblin, ruler of Goblin-town in The Hobbit that look, from Mr Lee's perspective, like this...

And, from Mr Howe's point of view, like this...

Surprising then, perhaps, that – according to breaking news over the weekend – in Peter Jackson's forthcoming film, this unpleasant character could look like this...

Well... maybe not... but, possibly, with one or two of the repellent character traits exhibited by that other monstrous character, Sir Les Patterson...

To justify the casting of Barry Humphries, we must assume the role has been substantially written-up for the screenplay (in Professor Tolkien's book, the Great Goblin is dispatched in next to no time by Gandalf), but when one remembers that Humphries' acting career on stage and film has included a number of larger-than-life characterisations other than Dame Edna and Sir Les – Long John Silver, Fagin, Estragon in Waiting for Godot and Mrs Crummles in Nicholas Nickleby – his Goblin King is likely to wear his crown, however briefly, with a good deal of goblin pride.

"Murderers and elf-friends!" the Great Goblin shouted. "Slash them! Beat them! Bite Them! Gnash them! Take them away to dark holes full of snakes, and never let them see the light again!"

Saturday 18 June 2011


How delighted we all were when Bruce Forsyth finally became Sir Bruce in the Queen's Birthday Honours last week.

I realise that this post will be largely inexplicable to my overseas readers, but here, in the UK, Brucie is nothing short of a National Treasure. He made his TV debut, aged 11, in 1939 ("Was there television in 1939?" asked one media commentator), before going on, three years later, to become 'Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom' playing the variety theatres with a song, dance, and accordion act.

Full-on stardom came in 1958 when he began hosting the hugely TV variety show, Sunday Night at the London Palladium with his famous maxim, "I'm in charge!"

As a TV host, he was the reason, in the 1970s, that we tuned-in in our millions every Saturday night to watch Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game with its nationally adopted catch-phrases ("Good game! Good game!", "Didn't he do well?" and, of course, "Nice to see you! To see you – nice!") and having adopted him, via 'the box', into our extended families, we followed his later successes on stage, occasionally on film, and on a succession of game and talent shows, Play Your Cards Right, You Bet, Bruce's Price is Right and, most recently, Strictly Come Dancing.

Bruce has been part of British life for as long as most of us can remember and I've always been an admirer: because he is one of that tough breed of multi-talented entertainers who got their break in vaudeville and can truly be described as 'survivors' – able to endlessly reinvent themselves.

I was delighted, therefore, back in 2009, to have the chance to meet and interview Brucie when I was making a duet of radio programmes as a tribute to the BBC impresario, the late Bill Cotton.

I visited the Forsyth home (just over the hedge from the famous Wentworth Golf Club!) and spent a couple of hours talking about various aspects of his long career. At the end of the interview, I asked him to sign my copy of his autobiography, Bruce, which he did, adding: "Try to believe it!"

Then I produced something else, tucked in the back of the book: a fan photo that I had requested in the 1960s and which, on its arrival, I had been bitterly disappointed to find had a printed signature!

"Now, I've finally got to meet you," I said, "would you mind if I asked you to do the job properly?!”

Laughing, Bruce explained how, when he first experienced stardom, he was totally unable to cope with the extensive fan mail. He recalled how, on arriving at his agent’s office one day, he saw a line of GPO mail-sacks stacked up along the hallway. When he asked what they were, he was told him, they were all for him! As with a number of stars, printed fan cards were an inevitable solution and, in many ways, a more honest option than those signed for others by agents' secretaries.

Anyway, Bruce was much amused that I had kept the photo (however unsatisfactory) for fifty years and happily did the deed, adding a dedication and a second signature – this time, as he noted, "in real ink”!


Thank you, Sir Bruce!

Caricature of Bruce Forsyth by Chris Sharrock.

Tuesday 14 June 2011


Have I ever mentioned on this blog that I love cartoons? Probably! And what I enjoy most about the cartoonist's art is that it is as varied in style and technique as any of those other 'grown-up' art forms! This is perfectly demonstrated in two great exhibitions, currently on show in London, celebrating the work of two cartoonists, both masters of their craft, whose work is as different from one another as chalk and cheese or sweet and sour.

Gerard Hoffnung (1925-1959) was an artist and a musician (he played that elderly uncle of the orchestra, the tuba) and celebrated music and music-makers in his cartoons that appeared in the pages of the humorous magazine Punch and other periodicals and which were later collected into a rib-tickling pocket-library beginning in 1953 with The Maestro

He also remains beloved for his zany broadcasts and speeches including his famous address to the Oxford Union with his ripely comic Bricklayer's Lament

A grand touring exhibition of Hoffnung's work is currently on show at Chris Beetles Gallery in London and it is impossible to walk around this collection of pictures without smiling, chuckling, chortling or downright laughing out loud...

In sharp contrast is the work of The Guardian's resident political cartoonist, Steve Bell, whose consistently ruthless pen has called to account the world's leaders (as well as lesser mortals) for their foibles, follies and failings. In real life, Bell is a gentle shaggy-bearded giant. Once behind the drawing-board, his ire and indignation is nothing short of combustible.

Among Bell's signature works are the strips If and Maggie's Farm, his celebrated characterisation of former British Prime Minister John Major as an inept Superman wearing his Y-Fronts over his trousers and his portrayals of both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair with their unnerving 'mad eye'.

Many of Bell's masterpieces of lampoonery that confirm him as a modern-day Gillray, Cruikshank and Hogarth, are on show at the exhibition Bell Époque at The Cartoon Museum in London.

The 'special relationship'...

A little learning....

The London bombings...

The bloody enemy...

The New Beginning (USA)...

The New Beginning (UK)...

The ultra-conservative Pope (after Charles Addams)...

That Royal Wedding...

Hoffnung's drawings and paintings remain on show at Chris Beetles Gallery until 22 June as part of Instruments and inventions, where they hang, cheek by jowl, with the work of another genius of comic art, William Heath Robinson.

The gallery is at 8 & 10 Ryder St, St James's, London, SW1Y 6QB (Telephone: 020 7839 7551) and is open 10:00-17:30 Monday-Saturday.

You can read more about Hoffnung's life and work on The Gerard Hoffnung Website, and you will find a biographical sketch on Joel Mark's blog Miscellaneous Moments.

Steve Bell's Bell Époque remains on show at The Cartoon Museum until 24 July.

The Museum is at 35 Little Russell Street, London WC1A 2HH (Telephone: 020 7580 8155) and is open 10:30-17:30, Tuesdays-Saturdays and 12:00-17:30 on Sundays. Admission: £5.50 Adults, £4 Concessions; £3 Students with valid student ID; free to under-18s, Art Fund Members and Friends of the Cartoon Museum.

A catalogue, Bell Époque: 30 Years of Steve Bell (cover art below) price £14.99 is available at the museum or from the on-line shop.

A series of special events are being held to tie-in with the exhibition:
Friday 24 June, 15:00-17:00 – Masterclass with Steve Bell
A rare opportunity for illustration and graphic art students and aspiring cartoonists to receive direction and advice from one of the leading graphic artists today. Places strictly limited; £12
Tuesday 5 July, 19:00-20:00 – Cartoonists' Roundtable
Steve Bell is joined by Peter Brookes, Dave Brown, Nick Garland, Martn Rowson and Posy Simmonds for a fascinating discussion on the key influences that have shaped their work, not only other cartoonists, but also painters, animators, filmmakers, musicians and writers. Not to be missed. £6 (£5 concessions, Friends £4)
Wednesday 13 July 19:00-20:00 – Bell on Bell
Steve Bell talks about his early influences, his development as a cartoonist and his work over the last thirty years. £6 (£5 concessions, Friends £4)
Events at the Cartoon Museum are popular and seating is limited so it is advisable to book tickets in advance; telephone: 020 7580 8155
You can read more about Steve Bell and his work at Belltoons: The Steve Bell Cartoon Website and on his page at the Guardian website.

Thursday 9 June 2011


Alas and alack! The end of another era!

The voice of the tirelessly loquacious Zippy from the long-running British kids' TV show, Rainbow, has finally been zipped!

Actor, Roy Skelton, the voice of both the oval-headed, zip-lipped, extrovert, Zippy, and his pink pal, the shy, hippo-like George, died yesterday, aged 79.

Apart from talking to himself for twenty years as George and Zippy, Roy was a regular "Exterminator!" for those deadly nemeses of Dr Who – the Daleks!

That was, obviously, an out-take, but once you know who was giving those threatening commands, it is difficult not to think of Zippy scooting around inside the Dalek machines! Indeed, one video-masher found the temptation irresistible as you can see here.

And if you've never seen the Rainbow gang's private 'cast and crew' rude spoof of the show, you can watch it (depending on how allergic you are to Carry On style innuendo) here.

Farewell, Roy Skelton, man of many endearing and scary voices!

Monday 6 June 2011


The Cruel Sea

As George once remarked in Seinfeld: "The sea was angry that day, my friends – like an old man trying to return soup at a deli!"

Thanks to Polkadots & Moonbeams for spotting this sign when we were in Hastings.

Wednesday 1 June 2011


It was Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, in Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado who had a little list "of society offenders... who never would be missed" and I recently discovered that I am on a not-so-little list – in the fairly celebrated company of (among others)...
Marc Almond
W H Auden
Dirk Bogarde
Benjamin Britten
Christian Dior
E M Forster
Edward Lear,
Maurice Sendak
Stephen Sondheim
Franco Zefferelli
both Francis Bacons
and Edward Albee (who once told me off in an interview for mispronouncing his name as Al-bee when it should be All-bee).

The list has been compiled by NNDB (Notable Names Database) which describes itself as...

"An intelligence aggregator that tracks the activities of people we have determined to be noteworthy, both living and dead. Superficially, it seems much like a Who's Who where a noted person's curriculum vitae is available... But it mostly exists to document the connections between people, many of which are not always obvious. A person's otherwise inexplicable behavior is often understood by examining the crowd that person has been associating with."

My entry is HERE and as for that list (which may or may not explain my "otherwise inexplicable behavior") if I tell you that it also features Quentin Crisp, Frankie Howerd, Joe Orton, Rock Hudson, Truman Capote, John Gielgud, Elton John, Noel Coward, Boy George and Michelangelo you may begin to figure out what we all have in common.

Frankly, I think it's an inspiring list and one that a person should be proud to be on.

In case you are still in doubt: check it OUT! (And I do mean 'OUT'!)