Saturday, May 10, 2014

Inspector Morrison in Italy ~ un film de Busy Indoors

The stories set in Italy begin at
Naturally, no right is claimed in the delicious backing track by the remarkable Mr Astaire


Monday, April 07, 2014

Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2014 #2

Currently I am listening to:
  • The Take off and Landing of Everything ~ Elbow
  • The Essential Collection ~ Patsy Cline
  • Discover America ~ Van Dyke Parks
  • Sax and Romance ~ Denis Solee
  • For Everyman ~ Jackson Browne
  • Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall ~ Rufus Wainwright
  • Jerome Kern Songbook ~ Ella Fitzgerald
  • Song Cycle ~ Van Dyke Parks
  • Piano Moods ~ The Definitive Oscar Peterson
  • Fats Waller ~ The Ultimate Collection


Friday, April 04, 2014

Colonel Moseley's Booklist 2014 #2

My reading list just now also features:
  • Mary Berry ~ The Autobiography ~ Recipe for Life 
  • Happier at Home ~ Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson,  and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life ~ Gretchen Rubin
  • Semi-detached ~ John Biffen
  • Hugh Trevor-Roper ~ The Biography ~ Adam Sissman
  • Family Secrets ~ Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day ~ Deborah Cohen
  • Letters from Oxford ~ Hugh Trevor-Roper to Bernard Berenson ~ Edited by Richard Davenport-Hines
  • Under a Mackerel Sky ~ Rick Stein
  • Dearest Jane ~ My Father's Life and Letters ~ Roger Mortimer and Jane Torday
  • Dreams of the Good Life ~ The Life of Flora Thompson and the Creation of Larkrise to Candleford ~ Richard Maby
  • Margaret Thatcher ~ The Authorised Biography ~  Volume I Not for Turning ~ Charles Moore


Monday, March 31, 2014

Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2014 #1

Recently, I have been mainly listening to:
  • The Best of Rufus Wainwright ~ Vibrate
  • Electric ~ The Pet Shop Boys
  • Greenin' Up ~ David Mallett
  • Armchair Theatre ~ Jeff Lynne
  • Too Late for the Sky ~ Jackson Browne
  • Encore ~ Harvey Andrews
  • Stephen Ward ~ Original Cast Recording
  • Chelsea Girl ~ Nico
  • Anthology ~ Can
  • The Original Soundtrack ~ The History Boys
  • Clang of the Yankee Reaper ~ Van Dyke Parks


Colonel Moseley's Booklist 2014 #1

I have just read, am reading or about to read:
  • Perfect ~ Rachel Joyce
  • Au Reservoir ~ Guy Fraser-Sampson
  • The Days of Anna Madrigal  ~  Armistead Maupin
  • Firefly - A Novel ~ Janette Jenkins
  • Autobiography ~ Morrissey
  • As Green as Grass - Growing up Before, During and After the Second World War ~ Emma Smith
  • Inside a Pearl - My Years in Paris ~ Edmund White
  • Ashenden ~ Elizabeth Wilhide
  • Singing from the Floor - A History of British Folk Clubs ~ J P Bean
  • Now Barabbas was a Rotter- the Extraordinary Life of Marie Corelli ~ Brian Masters
  • Outsider II - Always Almost - Never Quite ~ Brian Sewell


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Colonel Moseley reviews "Au Reservoir"

The only advantage of being hors de combat with food poisoning  following some questionable roquefort is that successive uncomfortable nights have been occupied with reading "Au Reservoir,"  the final instalment of Guy Fraser-Sampson's trilogy of  "Mapp and Lucia Novels."
As an avid Bensonite, I  was gratified that in the preface to his second instalment "Lucia on Holiday," GFS very kindly acknowledged that he had shamelessly plundered  my , intended as my homage and a companion to the canon of my favourite six comic novels.  
My overriding intention in also blogging  amateur EFB fan fiction in my spin-off Inspector Morrison stories was to stay as reasonably close as possible to gifted author Fred's sensibility and values - which were those of a well-connected, donnish bachelor of great charm and wit.  I recognise however that there are additional constraints upon a commercial author, where appeal to a much wider audience is an imperative.

I  was interested to find that some aspects of "Au Res" echoed my own earlier stories, such as Lucia's aspiration to dame-hood  ("damery" apparently - although sadly not "damification") and prominent coach travel.
As an unapologetic Benson nerd, some elements  surprised - such as the deflation in Lucia's premium for Mallards from two thousand to one hundred guineas. Also, cucumber salad or tomato?

Much of the set piece comedy worked well, such as Mapp and Diva's breathless gallop over the cobbles of Tilling.  Almost as if written with TV in mind?  Always an option. I also enjoyed the rapport and interplay between Georgie and Olga. 
Perhaps necessarily to echo the original, some elements were  a tad formulaic, with Diva "telegraphing" and all maids "bobbing" so often that they risked repetitive strain. Possibly, Mapp frothed rabidly too long and too often.
As with the preceding novels,  I wondered if  this sensual Benjy, or indeed this  Gielgud flirting with a waiter at Sheekey's, so long before Woolfenden,  could have stemmed from Fred's more matronly pen.

I had no such problem with the Wyses, Bartletts, Diva or Irene who were each comfortably authentic.  

This was even more true of Olga, Georgie and Lucia, who dominate the tale which - like all the best ones  - is ultimately about love.  The story has an appealingly autumnal and elegiac air. Growing old really is bloody, even in the bracing air of  Sussex by the sea.
I would not dream of spoiling the ending and will only remark that I found it well-handled, apt and touching.
It is interesting to contemplate the entertaining Tilling of GFS.  It is not "my" Tilling, nor in my view, is it entirely Fred's, but like Heaven and Hell, Tilling belongs to each one of us and we all have our own vision of it.

Naturally, I still prefer Fred's Tilling, but this one is well worth a visit.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Colonel Moseley reviews "Encore" by Harvey Andrews

Very pleased this week to be able to buy a new CD from my Brummie hero, Harvey Andrews, who is to be congratulated upon his seventieth birthday and fiftieth anniversary of song-writing and performance.

Engineered by Bruce Davies, Harvey’s sixteenth album was recorded at Glenrothes in Fife with a talented group of musicians. The songs have a relaxed and accomplished air and make varied and entertaining listening.

This collection  strikes some  familiar chords for those acquainted with Harvey’s work.  Life now and in the past is explored from various perspectives in songs like "Antiques,"  “Poor Maggie Ann,” based on the life of the paternal grandmother he never knew and  "The Innocent,” which looks at the ordinary folk always under threat - from the War through the Cuban Crisis, Birmingham pub outrages, the Twin Towers and on to the London bombings. "Whisky Jack” was written with the Harvey’s  friend and collaborator on the road in the 1970’s Graham Cooper, who sadly passed away recently.

The humorous folkie siffleur is revisited with “ Mr Arthur Itis” and jokey topicality with “I Got the Mortgage." The liberal humanism, in the spirit of Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton, that has been present in Harvey’s songs since the very beginning of his career is evident in songs such as the heartfelt “Give a Boy a Gun.”

As befits an album entitled “Encore,” the key to this collection lies in the songs that look back. An affecting head of retrospective  steam  is built up in the final six tracks.

“Way Back When,” with its lively fiddle backing, is inspired by Rambling Jack Elliott. “The Price of Bronze” mourns the erosion in the simple decency, so evident in generations that were willing to sacrifice their lives for worthwhile values: try explaining that to someone capable of stealing the bronze from a war memorial.

The title track – a cheerful, nostalgic sing-along beginning in Ronnie Ronalde mode – is Harvey as jolly life and soul.  This is followed by “Moon over Callow,” a wistful homage to his adopted Shropshire, a place to watch  the changing seasons and try to understand life. This leads seamlessly to a poignant version of “The Summer of my Dreams” by David Mallett, another meditation on the sense of place and the passage of time.’

The album closes with my favourite, “This was Home” which,  like Harvey's exquisite earlier version of Mallett’s  “Can’t Go Home Again” on his previous offering, "Somewhere in the Stars,”  begins with lines describing distant  childhood against strings and then goes into an evocation of the ghosts of the happy Andrews' family home “with mum and dad and gran – who taught me to tie laces.” 

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2013 #1

This month I am mainly listening to:
  • Lucy Rose : Like I Used To
  • Fairport Convention : By Popular Request
  • Antonio Pappano : Puccini ~ Messa di gloria, Preludio Sinfonico and Crisantemi
  • The Best of Buddy Holly
  • Judy Collins : In My Life
  • Tom Paxton : Morning Again
  • Nat King Cole : The Essential Collection
  • Jeff Lynne : Long Wave
  • The Very Best of Roy Orbison
  • Pet Shop Boys :  Format ~ B Sides and Bonus Tracks 1996-2009


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Colonel Moseley reviews "Loving Miss Hatto"

TV over Christmas was mixed. There were the usual films and compilations but few highlights.

As it had done for the preceding season, the final of Strictly Come Dancing blew the tired and predictable X Factor out of the water. This was despite problems of its own, including hosting and format issues which it overcame to be compulsive Saturday night entertainment.

The Snowman and the Snowdog was a delight as were the seasonal offerings of Call the Midwife and Miranda, each featuring the festive Miranda Hart. Despite an implausible universal coating of frost on each exterior shot, Call the Midwife recreated the spirit if a 1950’s Christmas and managed to be both funny and touching. Despite what the cynics might say, it was a triumph.

Although I am a long-time fan of The Royle Family and often dip into the boxed set of DVDs, this year’s special barely passed muster. I enjoyed Joe’s dinner date with Philomena but found it often verged on parody and lacked its old magic.

For me the highlight of the Christmas schedule was “Loving Miss Hatto” on BBC 1, written and produced by Victoria Wood.

The film recreated the troubled life of Joyce Hatto, a concert pianist who, through nerves or the intervention of malign fate, never found success in her musical career.

Early on we see Joyce, delicately performed by Maimie McCoy wooed by young William “Barrie” Barrington-Cope. Played by the brilliant Rory Kinnear, Barrie purports to be a successful manager of classical artistes with a conventional commercial office. He is soon shown to be nothing of the sort and rather a wide-boy, but Joyce is won over by both his ambitions for her and an affection as strong as it was sincere.

We see Barrie woo Joyce despite the resistance of her sour battleaxe of a mother. There is no doubt that the young couple’s love is genuine and predictably life is not smooth with traumas ranging from Joyce’s concert fiasco at the Festival Hall to Barrie’s imprisonment for improprieties involving purchase tax on imported electrical goods.

After this we fast-forward to Royston in Hertfordshire decades later. Joyce who had been ill with cancer is now played by Francesca Annis and a balding and bespectacled Barrie by Alfred Molina. Both are superb.

In their actual and metaphorical suburban cul-de-sac, the couple lead a quiet life, with Joyce teaching piano and Barrie still her devoted cavalier serviente, constantly striving to make her a “Happy Hatto.”

Superficially content, they reflect the past with archaic humour. Barrie still calls her “ducky” and they often joke that “there’s a war on,” inhabiting a world that recalls “Much Binding” and the Home Service. Their isolated life is punctuated by favourite programmes about monkeys on daytime TV, which barely mask the perpetual elephant in the room of unspoken bitterness over decades of mutual failure - Joyce’s failure as a performer and Barrie’s failure to make her a star. In the process, the fragile and brittle Joyce has been embittered and angered by her cancerous disappointment, echoing her spiteful mother.

Spurred on by his wife’s generally unspoken resentment and his unending need to please her, Barrie releases a series of recordings in Joyce’s name which are hailed by critics as the work of a great lost virtuoso. Joyce  relished her late flowering acclaim and Barrie enjoyed her pleasure in this until her death. Subsequently, after technical analysis, the editor of Gramaphone magazine alleged that the recordings were the work of other identifiable artists and the couple became what one critic referred to as “Hertfordshire’s Bonnie and Clyde.”

After Joyce's death, we are presented with Barrie, unable to grasp his loss, still buying chocolate mousses for two and pouring an extra glass of orange squash. This was typically Hatto: supermarket puddings and cordial, prosaic to the end.

It is apparent that Barrie did what he did out of love and the desire to please his wife. It seems Joyce knew and did not dissent. Their story depicts human weakness, the price of failure and the bitter consequences of delusion. We see their sincere but doomed efforts by bizarre means to overcome the thwarted ambitions that were consuming them, Joyce for failing to become a star and Barrie for failing to make her one. This moving story of  artless failure and frustration was well told and ultimately touching.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Colonel Moseley's Secret Pleasures

Thinking about my unfashionable liking for Christmas albums prompted me to list twelve other of my secret pleasures:
  • "Strictly Come Dancing"
  • North-eastern Ibiza
  • Chilled rose
  • "Bargain Hunt" at lunchtime
  • Painting in water colours
  • Dusty Springfield
  • Rib-eye steak with bernaise sauce
  • Dressage to music
  • Miranda Hart
  • Large Maryland cookies
  • "Big Bang Theory"
  • Monica Galetti from "Masterchef the Professionals"


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Colonel Moseley's Favourite Christmas Albums

I have a weakness for festive Yuletide compilations. Here are my top ten:
  • Brian Wilson: What I Really Want for Christmas
  • Kate and Anna McGarrigle: The McGarrigle Christmas Hour
  • Judith Durham: For Christmas With Love
  • Various Artists : The Ultimate White Christmas
  • James Brown: Funky Christmas
  • Wichita Line Band: Christmas Line Dance Party
  • Various Artist: That's Christmas, the Ultimate Christmas Collection
  • Ultra Lounge: Christmas Cocktails
  • Various Artists : Cool Christmas
  • Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra etc: Christmas Crooners


Friday, December 14, 2012

Colonel Moseley's Favourite Hotels

I thought it would be fun to list my ten all-time favourite hotels anywhere:
  • Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon
  • The Henley Park, Washington
  • The Shangri La, Bangkok
  • The Regent/Four Seasons, Melbourne
  • The Dorchester, London
  • Wyndhams, New York
  • Claridges, London
  • The Shangri La, Hong Kong
  • The Hacienda, Na Xamena, Ibiza
  • The New York Palace


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Colonel Moseley reviews "Best Possible Taste: The Kenny Everett Story"

I meant to post some thoughts regarding "Best Possible Taste: The Kenny Everett Story," which aired on BBC4  several weeks ago, but forgot, so - hopefully better late than never - here goes.

This ninety minute biopic, written by Tim Whitnall and directed by James Strong, charted the life of Liverpudlian Maurice Cole who became Kenny Everett, arguably the most inventive and amusing radio DJ and TV comedian of his generation. His most popular comic creations included Cupid Stunt, Sid Snot and Angry of Mayfair.

As with most such biographies on BBC4, this sympathetic elegy told the story of an outsider, rather a lost soul bathed from childhood in Catholic guilt and tormented by self-loathing. Basically gay, he was doomed to a lifelong battle between chastity and arguably baser instincts. In addition to an inconvenient preference for straight men, this nervous and frightened man-child had an aptitude for zany humour and predilection for hedonism and iconoclasm that inevitably led to trouble.

Impersonated with uncanny accuracy by Oliver Lansley, Kenny entered a passionate yet platonic relationship with an almost maternal Lee Middleton, convincingly played by Katherine Kelly, to whom he declared," I love you but I fancy Burt Reynolds." Their often touching relationship formed the absolute centre of the story in an authentic recreation of the period. The interiors, clothes and music were particularly well presented.

Some key scenes in Everett's life were staged less successfully, such as his lunch with an interestingly cast Simon Callow as Dickie Attenborough, Chairman of Capital Radio.  Freddie Mercury was persuasively presented as the sympathetic friend and mentor in his struggle with his sexuality. The dramatic scene when Kenny announced to a scrum of press on his doorstep that he was gay was deftly and convincingly  handled, topped with the typically memorable quip confirming his unorthodox menage,"Take it from cuddly Ken: if one husband is good, two is better." 

We also see a bravura recreation of his appearance at the Conservative Party Conference in 1983 when, wearing huge hands, he  urged "Let's bomb Russia. Let's kick Michael Foot's stick away" and  bizarely instead of coming out as gay, exposed himself  as a closet Tory.  In the light of this the paradox is never  fully explained as to how he was later dismissed for joking on air that "When England was a kingdom we had a king. When we were an empire we had an emperor. Now we are a country we have Margaret Thatcher." Sometimes perhaps a joke is just a joke with no deeper subtext?

As with all biopics, this one stood or fell by its ending. Referring to his appearance in Desert Island Discs in 1993 Kenny is seen walking calmly and seemingly happily past his comic creations on the beach and  towards the sea with his beloved transistor radio held in the crook of his arm. As the beautiful "Preludio Sinfonico" swells, Kenny declares "Puccini is God with knobs on. " It's all rather "Death in Venice" swapping Puccini for Mahler and perhaps Southport for Venice and seems to point to acceptance in the face of a greater scheme of things. Perhaps the frightened and lost little boy had at last found peace?

Captions at the end  disclose Kenny's diagnosis with AIDS in 1994, weeks after he had received the Sony Gold Award for outstanding contribution to radio and his death on April 4 1995. Given the complexities which must have prevailed in entering into and sustaining his last personal relationships and the traumas involved in his final illness from diagnosis onwards, it is difficult to see how the viewer could obtain a truly meaningful understanding of the life in its entirety without any coverage of those dark and difficult days. This story was well crafted and brilliantly performed, but only so far as it went: it tells the story of Kenny and Lee but perhaps not the whole story of Kenny himself.



Friday, September 14, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #12

This weekend I shall be mainly practising jazz hands and listening to:
  • Showtime ~ London Gay Men's Chorus
  • The Music Weaver: Sandy Denny Remembered ~ Sandy Denny
  • Margarita Collection ~ Harvey Andrews
  • Unhalfbricking ~ Fairport Convention
  • The Road of Silk ~ Pete Atkin
  • Carnival of Hits ~ The Seekers
  • The Very Best of Ralph McTell ~ Ralph McTell
  • Elysium ~ The Pet Shop Boys
  • Five Leaves Left ~ Nick Drake
  • Dead in the Boot ~ Elbow


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #11

Aujourd'hui j'ecoute en grande partie a:
  • 25e Anniversaire Vol 2 ~ Edith Piaf
  • 12 Songs ~ Randy Newman
  • Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin ~ Brian Wilson
  • Driving Through Mythical America ~ Pete Atkin
  • Nightlife ~ Pet Shop Boys
  • Ibiza - The History of Chillout ~ various artists
  • Listen,  Listen :  An Introduction to Sandy Denny ~ Sandy Denny
  • The Battle: Red and Gold - The Five Seasons ~ Fairport Convention
  • Bookends ~ Simon and Garfunkel
  • Complete Live at Cafe Society ~ Charlie Parker


Sunday, September 09, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #10

In September I shall listen to:
  • The Wood and the Wire ~ Fairport Convention
  • Dancer with Bruised Knees ~ Kate and Anna McGarrigle
  • This Town ~ David Mallett
  • Sandy ~ Sandy Denny
  • I'm Resigning from Today ~ Harvey Andrews
  • Simply Sondheim ~ Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles with Joanna Gleason
  • She Rides Wild Horses ~ Kenny Rogers
  • Red Sky ~ Ralph McTell
  • 9 x 2 English Contemporary Chanson ~  various artists
  • Tapestry ~ Carole King


Saturday, September 01, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #9

This month I will be listening to:
  • Release ~ Pet Shop Boys
  • Earth Mother ~ Lesley Duncan
  • Midnight on the Water ~ David Mallett
  • Jewel in the Crown ~ Fairport Convention
  • The North Star Grassman and The Ravens ~ Sandy Denny
  • The Gift ~ Harvey Andrews
  • Secret Drinker  - Live Libel ~ Pete Atkin
  • Come the Day ~ The Seekers
  • Spanish Chill Ambient Volume II ~ Cassagrande
  • Way To Blue, An Introduction to Nick Drake


Friday, August 31, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #8

Lately the following have featured regularly on the old Victrola:
  • Pipedream ~ Alan Hull
  • Wishfulness Waltz ~ Fairport Convention
  • Truelove's Gutter ~ Richard Hawley
  • Rendezvous ~ Sandy Denny
  • Spring Again ~ Harvey Andrews
  • All Days are Nights : Songs For Lulu ~ Rufus Wainwright
  • 25 Years Reunion Celebration, Live In Concert at the Melbourne Concert Hall, Australia ~ Judith Durham, The Seekers
  • For a Lifetime ~ Dave Mallett
  • Disco 2 ~ Pet Shop Boys
  • Home Before Dark ~ Neil Diamond


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #7

This week I have been mainly listening to:
  • Gladys' Leap and Expletive Deleted ~ Fairport Convention
  • Poses ~ Rufus Wainwright
  • I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight ~ Richard and Linda Thompson
  • The Suburbs ~ Arcade Fire
  • Rubber Soul ~ The Beatles
  • Winter Spring ~ Pete Atkin
  • Friends of Mine ~ Harvey Andrews
  • Please ~ Pet Shop Boys
  • David Mallett ~ David Mallett
  • After the Goldrush ~ Neil Young


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #6

Lately, I have been listening to:
  • Tom Lehrer in Concert
  • Rosie  ~ Fairport Convention
  • Want Two ~ Rufus Wainwright
  • Like an Old Fashioned Waltz ~ Sandy Denny
  • Orange, Past Present & Future and Modern Times ~ Al Stewart
  • Introspective ~ The Pet Shop Boys
  • It, Wit, don't give a S**t Girls ~ Fascinating Aida
  • The Very Best of The Jam
  • Double Fantasy ~ John Lennon and Yoko Ono
  • Open Doors and Windows ~ David Mallett


Booklist: Colonel Moseley's Booklist 2012 #3

From recent reading, I flag up:
  • The Fishing Fleet, Husband Hunting in the Raj ~ Anne de Courcey
  • Wojtek, the Bear: Polish War Hero ~ Aileen Orr
  • Devoted Ladies ~ Mollie Keane
  • The Grand Tour: Letters and Photographs from the British Empire Expedition 1922 ~ Agatha Christie, Matthew Pritchard
  • Shadow of the Titanic: the Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived ~ Andrew Wilson
  • For the Sake of the School ~ Angela Brazil
  • Look I made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Anecdotes and Miscellany ~ Stephen Sondheim
  • The Girl from Hockley, Growing up in Working Class Birmingham ~ Kathleen Dayus
  • No More Sad Refrains: The Life and Times of Sandy Denny ~ Clinton Haylin
  • The Woman Behind William: A Life of Richmal Crompton ~ Mary Cadogan 


Friday, August 24, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #5

Recently I have been listening to:
  • Over the Next Hill ~ Fairport Convention
  • Clive James and Pete Atkin ~ Live in Australia
  • Larkin's Jazz ~ Various artists
  • The Fable True, Stories from Thoreau's The Maine Woods ~ David Mallett
  • Leaders of the Free World ~ Elbow
  • Mythical Kings and Iguanas/Reflections in a Mud Puddle ~ Dory Previn
  • Want One ~ Rufus Wainwright
  • Where the Time Goes ~ Sandy Denny
  • Heaven Only Knows ~ 1995 Australian Cast Album
  • Ric Sanders Group in Lincoln Cathedral


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "Accused"

With credits such as “Cracker”, “Hillsborough” and “The Street,” Jimmy McGovern is the doyen of realistic contemporary drama. I watched the opening episode of his new four-parter, “Accused” on BBC 1 expecting another master-class in taut and bleak grittiness. This episode was co-written with Shaun Duggan.

Here, the central character, or rather characters, is/are played by alpha male Sean Bean, who in real life is openly a confirmed fan of Sheffield United. By day, he is a teacher of English called Simon, a very grey man prone to walk around his classroom declaiming “The Lady of Shallot” to stereotypical bored students who couldn’t even bother to pretend to listen to any of the florid words flying literally over their boorish little heads.

By night, Martin painstakingly summoned up his alter ego, Tracie by means of a ritual involving lengthy baths, shaving, and make-up with much gazing purposefully into his mirror. This is followed by a virtually sacramental vestment in stockings, jewellery, various rather tarty wrap-around frocks and a blonde wig. Tottering on size twelve stilettos, she would then stub out her last Silk Cut and board a cab for the city centre.

Tracie seemed to relish the journey into town with immediately attendant shouting matches with taxi drivers and potentially dangerous altercations with drunks in the street. Whilst the viewer feels her nightmarish vulnerability dressed to the nines and manifestly male in the pub, Tracie is insouciant. The barman exclaims “Jesus!” and Bean replies dryly, “It’s Tracie actually.”

Tracie is feisty and combative. She stands up to the drunken homophobe on the stag night and eventually, when confronted with a real danger of attack, accepts the offer of sanctuary in a taxi home. Her white knight that evening was Tony a TV satellite installer and “happily married man.”

Tony and Tracie soon begin an affair. His visits to Tracie often take place when Tony is drunk. Initially hesitant and somewhat bashful, bearing a bottle of wine, Tony increasingly turned up worse for drink, latterly falling over, eating a fish supper and swigging from a can of lager. We do not know whether this was the result of nervous tension, complacency or his real personality emerging.

Tony lied that his wife was dead, but is ultimately found out when Tracie – unnoticed as ever in Simon mode – passes him in the street and follows him to the salon where his wife – who is very much alive – works. When Tracie daringly visited her in the salon for a makeover, she explained to her husband that “He wanted to look like Cheryl Cole. I think I managed Myra Hindley”

The story reaches one climax when the wife also discovers the existence of Tracie and is then murdered by Tony with the glib explanation that “I killed her because I couldn’t hurt her.”

The climactic trial is therefore of Tony as murderer and Tracie as accomplice after innocently running away to the Lakes with his lover whose wife’s corpse lay wrapped up in the boot. Her discovery of the murder lead to a dramatic chase with Tracie tottering about Cumbria in expensive Italian courts and losing her wig before the police turned up.

Tracie faces trial because Tony is fearful for his own reception in jail if his relationship with Tracie is known and is quite prepared to see his innocent lover punished to improve his own position. The trial climaxed with a tour de force appeal direct to the jury by Tracie – which had echoes of Quentin Crisp in the dock - in which she patiently explained the realities and practicalities of being a transvestite and convinces them of the sheer improbability of anyone who had actually conspired to murder dressing up so conspicuously and hoping to evade recognition and capture.

This story is in many ways magnificent. As ever with McGovern, current attitudes and prejudices are authentically reflected. It is tautly constructed and features haunting performances by Sean Bean and Stephen Graham, which are totally convincing. It is grippingly told, socially realistic and sustains the interest and sympathy of the audience throughout.

My only concern is that the dénouement felt somewhat rushed and the extreme personalities and lifestyles of the central characters were not sufficiently explained. The physical transformation of Tracie the “breathy trannie” from boring grey Simon was repeatedly depicted but in the hour available we did not have a truly convincing explanation for this spectacular evolution.

Similarly, we never really learned how Tony the married man became a seasoned adulterer. Was he deeply troubled or just a randy TV engineer on the make? Was his oft repeated mantra of “you only live once” desperation or daring?

Perhaps because of the depth and quality of acting performances, our sympathies were stimulated so strongly that we were prompted to ask these questions regarding character and motivation and found that the script did not contain all the answers. This might be regarded as a “high class problem”; most dramas certainly do not engage and involve viewers to this extent. These concerns do not imply that this first programme was not first rate. 98% rather than 100% is still Grade A* and no kind of failure.

The second film in the series starred Anne Marie Duff as Mo, the hairdresser mother of a gang member on a sink estate who was ordered by his adult gang leader, Cormack (Joe Dempsie) to shoot the teenage son of his mother’s best friend, Sue (Olivia Colman). Mo had upset the local thugs by stubbornly refusing to close her salon as a mark of respect following the death of another gang member.

The life depicted on the estate was a living hell of grubby houses, windswept precincts with threatening yobs anonymous in hoodies circling on BMX bikes like vultures. Bored youths play violent computer games and no-one makes the connection with the prevailing gun crime and moral vacuum.

This is a world where no husbands or fathers take any responsibility whatsoever or indeed are in evidence at all. The women manage the household and their lives alone; they have to be strong and try to organise, but are sadly overwhelmed by the odds. The police file chillingly labels the murder “SOS” meaning “Scum on Scum.” The lowlifes kill each other and the Law isn’t really that fussed.

This dark world was a peculiar mixture of Dickensian or Hogarthian squalor meets Orwell with a touch of “High Plains Drifter.” It is one destroyed by poverty, contempt for education and criminal drug and gang culture, all engineered by sinister men manipulating the lives of those who are little more than children for their own profit and who always escape unscathed.

As ever, the writing of Jimmy McGovern, this time with Carol Cullington, is apt and  realistic and the central performances are impeccable. The key scenes of grief and confrontation are superb. Rarely have I seen so much convincing anguish, guilt, anger and despair compressed into an hour’s drama. Awards must surely follow such moving performances.

Despite the brilliant writing and acting, my personal problem was that the piece left me just feeling desolate. It flagged up the myriad of problems precisely. It was a lucid essay on the ills of drug crime, gang culture, exploitation, guilt, fear, loyalty and anger, but came no-where near postulating any solution.

A week or so after the end of the feel-good London Olympics, we were given a vision of the downtrodden in which everyone suffered and lost, apart form the evil gang leader who profited from the misery of others.

There was no glimmer of hope for salvation. Our post-Olympic bubble of optimism was well and truly pricked with a picture of hell and a world about to end with both a bang and a whimper. I guess that to remedy problems you first have to identify them clearly, but would suggest that some small hint of the possibility of a solution might have helped the viewer cope better with the suffering so skilfully depicted.

The third film in the series was written by Jimmy McGovern with Danny Brocklehurst. It starred stand-up comedian John Bishop as Peter Cartwright, the husband of a terminally-ill wife and father of sons, Stephen (Robert Sheehan) and Dom. The father falls for his wife’s palliative care nurse, Charlotte, played by Sheridan Smith and the story focuses on the struggle of seventeen year old Stephen to cope with his dad's new relationship, so soon after his mother’s death.

It is soon apparent that Stephen has mental health issues, although we are not given much idea of his history. He is in a dead-end job in a bowling alley and had not fulfilled his educational potential.

We see his faltering attempts at forming a relationship with girlfriend Olivia, in which he is presented in a somewhat threatening light.  At home, Stephen does not co-operate in carrying out household chores when Charlotte moves in and becomes increasingly morose and uncommunicative. His increasing paranoia is graphically presented when he hallucinates that Alistair Campbell on television specifically reinforces his suspicions about Charlotte.

Stephen accuses Charlotte of killing the family dog. He complains of stomach pains, alleges that he is being poisoned by Charlotte and wrecks the house trying to prove this. Ultimately his father and Charlotte marry and, after yet another row, Stephen is asked to leave.

When his brother Dom falls ill, Stephen believes he too has been poisoned by his stepmother and, after another confrontation, wounds her with a knife. It is for this attack that Stephen is in the dock. After refusing defence counsel and medical review, he is sentenced to six years.

The story is melodramatic and strangely dispassionate. It treads familiar delicate ground in the death of one parent and remarriage of the survivor, trampled over repeatedly in drama from “Hamlet” onwards. Surprisingly for Jimmy McGovern, the characters created evoke little sympathy – apart perhaps for younger brother Dom, played with great restraint by Josh Bolt.

Some reviewers have described John Bishop’s performance as “wooden.” I’m not sure that this is fair, since I can’t think how else he could have performed the part as written. He portrayed a straightforward decent working man trying to make the best of his life. Lengthy terminal illness often induces in the surviving partner a numb fatalism that can appear as torpor which, in reality is simply the frozen carapace or veneer produced by cumulative empathy for an other's pain and the effect of loss.

Stephen is mentally ill, possibly paranoid. He leers at Charlotte’s cleavage and legs and is prone to outbursts. His eventual attack on Charlotte comes as no surprise.

Charlotte herself varies from the capable and compassionate nurse to the vamp with one button too many undone and a “come hither” expression. She has a tendency to make unwise remarks, likely to be misinterpreted by an unstable adolescent with rampant hormones. At the end we are left with the news that both Stephen’s father and brother are unwell, which more than hints that Stephen might have been correct in his suspicions regarding his poisonous stepmother. Perhaps Charlotte rather than Stephen should have been in prison by the end of the story.

As ever with Jimmy McGovern, this story is absorbing and reflects the realities of life. It is always intriguing to explore whether the madman is actually the only one who sees things as they are: the underdog who, if the world were just, would be proven right all along.

Unfortunately, I found this story less than convincing because it failed to develop the characters sufficiently to engage one’s sympathy or concern. In particular, the lack of clarity whether Charlotte was a wicked stepmother ultimately proved irritating rather than interesting.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #4

Other CDs playing just now include:
  • Gather in the Mushrooms, The British Folk Underground 1968-1974 ~ various artists
  • Lady's Bridge ~ Richard Hawley
  • Old, New, Borrowed, Blue ~ Fairport Convention Accoustic
  • Neon Bible ~ Arcade Fire
  • Must I Paint You a Picture?: The Essential Billy Bragg ~ Billy Bragg
  • Ashes and Roses ~ Mary Chapin Carpenter
  • The Charisma Years 1970-1973 - Their First Five Albums ~ Lindisfarne
  • Artist in Me ~ David Mallett
  • Med Sud i Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalanst ~ Sigur Ros
  • Gold Dust - Live at the Royalty ~ Sandy Denny


Friday, August 17, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #3

I have also recently been listening to:
  • Funeral  ~ Arcade Fire
  • The Performance ~ Dame Shirley Bassey
  • Standing at the Sky's Edge ~ Richard Hawley
  • Takk ~ Sigur Ros
  • Yes ~ Pet Shop Boys
  • Leaders of the Free World ~ Elbow
  • Heartland ~ Owen Pallett
  • Festival Bell ~ Fairport Convention
  • For Emma, Forever Ago ~ Bon Iver
  • Year of the Cat ~ Al Stewart


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Booklist: Colonel Moseley's Booklist 2012 #2

In recent months I have enjoyed:
  • One Day ~ David Nicholls
  • Hons and Rebels ~ Jessica Mitford
  • Maurice Bowra, A Life ~ Leslie Mitchell
  • Abdication, A Novel ~ Juliet Nicolson
  • Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage, The Titanic's First class Passengers and Their World ~  Hugh Brewster
  • The Life of E.F.Benson ~ Brian Masters
  • Michael Tolliver Lives, A Novel ~ Armistead Maupin
  • A Very Irregular Head: the Life of Syd Barrett ~ Rob Chapman
  • The King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising ~ Kenneth Roman
  • How to Survive the Titanic: the Sinking of J Bruce Ismay ~ Francis Wilson


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #2

I have recently enjoyed:
  • Alright Now ~ David Mallet
  • The Seldom Seen Kid ~ Elbow
  • A Pocketful of Starlight ~ the Best of Bridget St John
  • All Our Own Work ~ Sandy Denny and the Strawbs
  • Fleet Foxes ~ Fleet Foxes
  • At Her Very Best ~ Dusty Springfield
  • Out of the Game ~ Rufus Wainwright
  • XXXV The 35th Anniversary Album  ~ Fairport Convention
  • Dont Stop Singing ~ Music - Thea Gilmore, Words -Sandy Denny
  • Coles Corner ~ Richard Hawley


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Booklist: Colonel Moseley's Booklist 2012

I have recently enjoyed reading:
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, A Novel ~  Rachel Joyce
  • As Good as God, as Clever as the Devil, The Impossible Life of Mary Benson  ~ Rodney Bolt
  • Titanic Lives : Migrants and Millionaires, Conmen and Crew  ~ Richard Davenport-Hines
  • Toast, The Story of a Boy's Hunger ~ Nigel Slater
  • Now All Roads Lead to France ~ Matthew Hollis
  • Irrepressible, The Life of Jessica Mitford ~ Leslie Brody
  • The Cat's Table ~ Michael Ondaatji
  • What the Grown-ups were doing, An Odyssey through 1950's Suburbia ~ Michelle Hanson
  • Mad World,  Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead ~ Paula Byrne
  • The Horror of Love, Nancy Mitford and  Gaston Palewski  ~ Lisa Hilton


Monday, August 13, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012

Recently, I have enjoyed listening to:
  • From Cropredy to Portmerion ~ Fairport Convention
  • Build A Rocket Boys ~ Elbow
  • 19 Rupert Street ~ Sandy Denny
  • Bon Iver ~ Bon Iver
  • Kate and Anna McGarrigle ~ Kate and Anna McGarrigle
  • Helplessness Blues ~ Fleet Foxes
  • Telstar, The Hits of Joe Meek ~ various artists
  • Let No Man Steal Your Thyme ~ Shelagh Mc Donald
  • Early Morning Hush, Notes from the UK Folk Underground 1969-1976 ~ various artists
  • Piano Moods, The Definitive Oscar Peterson ~ Oscar Peterson


Booklist: Colonel Moseley's Best Holiday Books 2012

This year, I have enjoyed reading the following books on holiday:
  • Lucia on Holiday - Guy Fraser-Sampson
  • Relish -My Life on a Plate - Pru Leith
  • Dear Lupin : Letters to a Wayward Son - Roger Mortimer
  • Ladder of Years - Anne Tyler
  • A Card fron Angela Carter - Susannah Clapp
  • Outsider - Brian Sewell
  • The Fry Chronicles - Stephen Fry
  • Mary Ann in Autumn - Armistead Maupin
  • Wait For Me: Memoirs - Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire
  • Rifling Through my Drawers - Clarissa Dickson Wright


Sunday, August 12, 2012

TV List: Colonel Moseley's Top Ten American Sitcoms

Many of my favourite situation comedies are American. My top ten are:
  • The Big Bang Theory
  • Everyone Loves Raymond
  • Will and Grace
  • Golden Girls
  • Cheers
  • Friends
  • Frasier
  • Roseanne
  • Third Rock from the Sun
  • MASH


Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "Christopher and His Kind" from 22.3.2011

This piece is taken from my reviewblog in 2011
As with authors, certain periods intrigue and strike a lasting chord. Alongside Waugh, W.H.Auden and Virginia Woolf, my bookshelves feature most of the works of Christopher Isherwood. They start with 1928's "All the Conspirators", "Mr Norris Changes Trains" of 1935 and "Goodbye to Berlin" from 1939 and conclude with "Christopher and his Kind" from the late 1970's and the recent volumes of diaries.

My history books feature much on the Weimar Republic and plays and theatre programmes include Martin Sherman's "Bent." Art books and exhibition catalogues touch on the fascinatingly sleazy world of George Grosz whilst amongst the DVD's and CDs are several productions of Kander and Ebb's master work "Cabaret" and the canon of Kurt Weill.

Rather like the Titanic, Berlin between the wars has the power to fascinate. Since the 1960s popular imagination has been captivated by the bohemian demi-monde of Weimar, a seedy cauldron of decadence that spawned some striking sounds and images that the straight majority has come to consider glamorous and appealing: naughty Teutons awaiting a shocking come-uppance. For the last fifty years there has been a huge mainstream market for the combination of Weimar decadence and hubris: it sells.

I was interested to see how Isherwood's overview in "Christopher and His Kind" would translate to television eight decades on. The adaptation, shown on BBC 2, was fittingly undertaken by Kevin Elyot whose "My Night with Reg" is a significant landmark in the "age of Aids" towards the end of the last century.

The cast was impressively stellar with Matt Smith effete with floppy fringe, tweed suits and strange, possibly authentically tortured vowels and inflections. He was after sex and put the record straight regarding his intentions with admirable honesty from the outset: "I could say I went because of what was happening politically. But in fact I went because of the boys."

We are left with no illusion as to his priorities. Once he had been met by his chum Wystan Auden (Pip Carter) and dumped his battered suitcase, Isherwood was straight off to the smoky subterranean Cosy Corner club, a louche box of tricks frequented by rent boys, ready to oblige - but as Auden explained, "all rampant hetters."

Unleashed in this sexual sweetie shop, Christopher immediately copped off with the hunky pro Caspar and had a divinely rampant time far far away from his upper middle class background. He inhabited a hedonistic club scene replete with chancers,whores and exhibitionists. This formed the prototype for countless clubs all over the world for decades to come with varying degrees of authenticity and dilution from the truly hard core to the "decadence lite" of London's Blitz and New York's, Studio 54.

Isherwood's Berlin is conveyed with reasonable authenticity and a fair eye for detail. We can't quite smell the ersatz coffee and cheap cigarettes that seem to waft from the pages of "Goodbye to Berlin" but get a fairly comprehensive view of the range of experiences on offer to Christopher, in "permanent foreigner" mode.

This impression is expanded by exceptionally fine portrayals of his contemporary Berliners. Shady businessman and voyeur, Gerald Hamilton - the model for Mr Norris - is convincingly recreated by Toby Jones from the moment of their encounter on the train. He epitomises Berlin at that time - as fake as his poorly fitting toupet, as fraudulent as his business dealings and as tragically seedy as his penchant for a flabby brand of sado-masochism. Naturally after a little bother, Gerald disappears..Del Boy in a gimp mask.

So iconic has the character of Sally Bowles become - as created on film by Liza Minnelli - we almost expected her to appear in this piece. We were in fact presented with the real model or inspiration for Sally, Jean Ross enticingly played by Imogen Potts.

Another lost soul, her Jean is fragile, mannered and full of attitude: "Oh, mummy would nearly die if she knew what an old whore I am." Her convincing performances as a nightclub chanteuse were perfectly pitched, demonstrating what she was selling to her punters but also why she had not the necessary star quality to succeed as an artist. Jean was destined to be exploited by her American lover but never get her big break in Hollywood. Just like Gerald, Jean exemplified the weak and deluded that inhabited this pitifully self-indulgent subculture until it was swept away by the infinitely vile new broom of Nazism.

We see Auden and Isherwood pottering about in this mire. Slumming, they take their pleasures and observe the indigenous wildlife go about their business with the rather superior detachment of the writer observing at the zoo. Each was able to analyse and order what they had noted and build up a portfolio of experience and apercus, as with Auden's supercilious: "I do loathe the sea. It's so wet and sloppy." He then shuffled back home for running repairs.

We also see the well-heeled middle (if not upper) class background which Christopher rejected for the initially divine decadence of Berlin. It was chiefly represented by his formidable mother Kathleen, intelligently played by Lindsay Duncan. A few minutes in her controlling presence explains why her son took refuge amidst the demi-monde. Her uncompromising views chilled rather. She was unmerciful in reminding her son of the pain involved in both in bringing him into the world and in losing his father in the war. Even-handedly, she dispensed her manipulative malice equally to her son's German lover as much as her sons.

One came close to understanding how suffocated Christopher must have felt by the remorseless imposition of maternal views but felt sorriest of all for his brother Richard, condemned to stay at home under her rigid rule. In fact Christopher was presented as joining in with his mother in paying no heed to his sibling's views and feelings. This came across as a form of unthinking betrayal and diminished the viewer's respect for him.

Christopher's apparent detachment from the repression of his brother mirrored his attitude towards his German lovers. In fairness, we can absolve him entirely for the loss of his early affair Casper to the Nazis and observe that he tried to protect his subsequent lover, street sweeper and muscled cherub, Heinz Neddermayer (Douglas Booth) even when both had to leave Berlin, but in the end failed to ensure his long-term safety.

When years later they met, Heinz, now married with a child, seemed intent to use the connection to bring his new family out of East Germany to join his old lover, which Christopher did not exactly rush to agree. We are left questioning whether this amounted to betrayal. The phrase repeated by Isherwood's well-heeled Jewish language student of years before again sprang to mind: ""We must stand by our kind Christopher, whatever the cost." Clearly not everyone was willing or able to adopt this approach - certainly not Christopher, who ultimately seemed to have failed to protect those he may have once loved.

This suspicion is compounded by Auden's harsh remark "The only cause you really care about Christopher is yourself. But you've turned it into an art form." One might also add, "and made a living from it."

Despite a capacity for adventurous sex and romantic attachment, Isherwood's main role in life does appear to be an onlooker and reporter. As an artist, his function was to observe often ghastly goings on and present his take on them.

This beautifully shot film recreates his visit to Berlin with flair and ingenuity. Unfortunately, since Weimar became"fashionable", it has become somewhat cliched and certain scenes, such as the book burning, pogrom and even nightclub lack a degree of impact and are perhaps "tired." Any glamour in the decadence has long-since worn off.

This occasional lack of dramatic impact is compounded by a flatness in Isherwood's character. Although he dared to dive into this hedonistic world, he was presented as essentially selfish and uninvolved and in consequence inevitably failed to carry with him the sympathy of the viewer. In some ways the title "Christopher and his Kind" is perfectly apt: the rent boys of Berlin were equally as exploitative and detached as their customers. Maybe they deserved each other, if not their ultimate fates.


Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "Eric and Ernie and "Hattie" from 26.1.2011

This piece is taken from my reviewblog in 2011
The last month has been marked by two biographical films about three icons of British entertainment - or two if a double act counts as only one: Morecambe and Wise and Hattie Jacques.

On BBC 2 "Eric and Ernie," written by Pete Bowker, covered part of the lengthy careers of the nation's favourite double act Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise.

It began with their separate early years with Ernie enjoying considerable success and fast outstripping his father Harry, poignantly played by Reece Shearsmith, destined to be outshone in show business by his talented son.

Eric, initially Bartholomew, experienced less acclaim as a boy performer and did not enjoy the same early recognition as his eventual partner. He did however have the priceless advantage of a driven but level-headed mother, Sadie who seemed to provide just the right amount of encouragement and advice without becoming a monstrous stage mother out of "Gypsy" or a song by Noel Coward.

Played with great sensitivity by Victoria Wood, Sadie Bartholemew comes across as undoubtedly pushy, but principally as unselfish and fundamantally grounded and sane. Both the writing and her understated performance prevent the part turning into caricature.

Eric's father, George Bartholomew, was also portrayed with great restraint and good taste by Jim Moir/Vic Reeves. Less demonstrative than his energetic and dedicated wife, George was another pillar in Eric's life, never complaining when his wife disappeared on tour with his son and devoted most of her waking hours and thoughts to promoting his career.

The film was well written and depicted the pre and post war years authentically with excellent costumes and sets. The young and adult Eric and Ernie were recaptured with great accuracy and their life, ranging from digs on tour to middling theatres and even a circus tent was convincingly recreated.

Daniel Rigby as Eric and Brian Dick as Ernie portrayed the talent, drive and humour of their characters perfectly and the sheer decency of both men. Their early solo years were followed by the unforgettable double act based upon the premise: "You'll be short and bad tempered and I'll be tall and lazy - but we'll both be idiots". The film followed the progress of their career up to their TV break and focused on the inevitable process of growing up.

The key scenes showing the rehearsal and performance of their ill-fated television debut also worked well and the story telling was effective. The basic thrust of the narrative was two fold in showing first the sad inevitability that as their careers developed, the pair would increasingly make their own decisions, leaving Sadie behind, just as Ernie had moved on from his father.

Secondly, the failure of their first TV series demonstrated the need to be true to their own ideas and talents. When Eric and Ernie were later themselves, aided and abetted by excellent writers, such as Sid Green and Dick Hills and Eddie Braben, they would achieve lasting stellar success.

So, "Eric and Ernie" worked well. A lucid and evocative story featuring well-written characters perfectly performed. My only reservation is what perhaps we did not see. The drama might have been even more credible and rounded if a fuller indication was given of the effect on Ernie's father of the relative failure of his own stage career.

Similarly, Sadie Bartholomew takes her disappointment at being sidelined so nobly and in such an understated way. We do not really get to see the full impact of this upon her or indeed the the reality of her life with her husband when fully absorbed in Eric's career and later when excluded from it. At one point he remarks "Ooh, you know me. I don't go much on thinking". This ironic remark makes one want to know all the more how he really felt.

The film presents the duo's rise and early TV set back and shows an honest and talented pair without a darker side. I am not suggesting that Eric and Ernie were anything else, but one wonders if the film steers clear of some of the pressures experienced on a long and no doubt arduous show biz trail. We saw only the story of the career of a famous double act, but do not learn much of their relationship: they were nice chaps who got on well and that was that. It was almost as though the obtaining of the necessary clearances to undertake the project meant that the version reaching the screen had to assume some of the anaemic quality of an American biopic.

On the positive side, even without any hint of a subtext of the stresses often found in the lengthiest of professional partnerships, the film was an engaging reflection of the lives of a pair whose best work was more often than not the highlight of the nation's TV year.

Later in January, BBC 4 showed "Hattie," Stephen Russell's bittersweet bio-drama covering a period in the life of Junoesque film and television actress Hattie Jacques, played by the clever and charismatic Ruth Jones.

The film covered five years beginning in 1966, when Hattie was making "Carry On Cabbie" and ending with a dramatic parting in a hotel room in Rome. The story concerned sex which was in some ways "of its time", being three years after the invention of sex itself in 1963 - as intimated by Philip Larkin.

The viewer is presented with a film and TV actress at the height of her powers and already a national institution as battle-axe matron and foil of Sid James and Kenneth Williams in numerous "Carry On's", whilst on TV she was long suffering sister of Eric Sykes.

As well as sustaining a massively successful career on large and small screen, Hattie was married to leading actor John Le Mesurier and had two healthy young sons. Their London home was a convivial bohemian place full of friends and laughter with Hattie cooking and husband John extemporising on the piano or pottering round with a bottle of Chateau Talbot or gin, asking amiably if "anyone needed a top-up."

This personal and professional paradise was soon to be turned upside down by the advent of a viper in the form of randy second-hand car dealer John Schofeld (Aidan Turner), a decade her junior who turned her head in record time and moved into the family home. I suppose that makes him a cuckoo rather than a viper, but you get my drift...

The effect the handsome Schofield had on Hattie was positively convulsive. Some of the initial attraction seems to have stemmed from caring Hattie's sympathy for his loss of a child. This was compounded by his effortless charm, laid on with a trowel. The charisma worked on her sons as well as their mother for John could amuse them with football in the garden and silly invented games with a carrot, which appeared outside the capabilites of their middle-aged father who tended to be happier with a drink and a book.

The key to Schofied's appeal appears to have been his capacity to override Hattie's continuous self disparagement as someone always cast as "a silly frigid fat girl" - albeit "the nation's favourite silly frigid fat girl." Schofield made Hattie forget her insecurities and revel in her sensuous and passionate nature as "Call Me Irresponsible" played in the background. Hattie so enjoyed being desired, she lost all inhibition and admitted "everything else is irrelevant."

After a short period, their frantic lovemaking nearly rocked her shabby little caravan on the "Carry on Cabby" set off its rusty axle. Their very physical relationship was consummated regularly in the family home to Hattie's great satisfaction. She remarked proudly over drinks in the garden whilst admiring his glistening stripped torso: "He's unstoppable in bed."

All this might have been very well in the self indulgence had not involved victims. The greatest one was naturally the cuckolded husband John, played with requisite langour and diffidence by Robert Bathhurst.

Le Mesurier's tolerance and loyal devotion to his errant wife were spectacular. When coming upon the adulterers in flagrante delicto he is embarrassed and comments "I'm terribly sorry. I forgot my book" - just as though it were a line from the laconic Sergeant Wilson in "Dad's Army."

The scenes of Le Mesurier consigned to the grim attic bedroom - which looked more like 10 Rillington Place than part of a well-heeled actor's London residence - forced to listen to the energetic fornication below, were disturbing and moving.

Even more harrowing, was the pained expression on the face of the older son, overhearing the unmistakable sounds of enthusiastic copulation: an unhealthy and unkind imposition on a child.

Le Mesurier's saintly forbearance was manifested in the set piece appearance on "This Is your Life" which was toe-curlingly embarrassing for all concerned and a triumph of illusion and hypocrisy throughout.

He went on to top it all by volunteering to be named the guilty party in the inevitable divorce proceedings. This was ostensively to save his wife's career given the truism that the "British never forgive people who like a lot of sex." (Note: apart from Queen Victoria, I suppose..) With the advantage of hindsight, we know that history was to repeat itself after a fashion when John's new partner Joan subsequently left him for his best friend Tony Hancock.

This film seeks to tell the story of Hattie's affair which came to an explosive end in the hotel room in Rome when Schofield left. Ruth Jones evocation of Hattie was considered and affecting. Hattie was clearly a remarkable woman capable of instilling in her husband the hugest tolerance, forbearance and acts of kindness.

Clearly Hattie was riven by the most agonising of insecurities about her size and desirability, compounded by apparently strong sexual appetites. Be that as it may, however, the sequence of events as presented in this film and the trail of pain and havoc wrought by the adulterers simply does not compute.

Infidelity is one thing, but cruel humiliation another. One can conceive that Le Mesurier's adoration of his wife was strong enough for him to sacrifice his own pride in the way he did. From what we saw of Hattie though - given her manifest decency and kind, loving nature - it is very difficult to imagine how she could have inflicted such suffering upon those closest to her.

Can physical insecurity and a pronounced sex drive so entirely out weigh a caring nature? The viewer was left with no truly credible explanation as to how and why Hattie could have done this to her husband and children or indeed herself.

Despite exceptional performances by the central characters and excellent production values, it was this failure to offer a plausible solution to this fundamental conundrum on which the film ultimately foundered.


Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "Toast" from 23.1.2011

This piece is taken from my reviewblog in 2011. For some reason, unlike any of the other reviews, it received over 240 hits. I still don't know why...
The BBC's Christmas offerings included an adaptation of Nigel Slater's autobiography "Toast." Subtitled "the story of a boy's hunger", I had previously found "Toast" a compelling read - of which the whole amounted to so much more than the sum of its apparent parts: gastro-porn, misery memoir and nostalgia-fest.

I was also absorbed by the film. It featured captivating performances by the brilliant Ken Stott (fresh, if that's the word for it, from his excellent portrayal of Tony Hancock, reviewed earlier on this blog) as the father and Helena Bonham-Carter - also already reviewed as a formidably unattractive Enid Blyton - as the wicked stepmother.

Written by Lee Hall, "Toast" turned out to be rather more than an entertaining Billy Elliott-discovers-Arctic-Roll-and-Angel-Delight-in-deepest-Wolverhampton sort of story.

Marcel Proust has a lot to answer for. He has set innumerable autobiographers off on the now well-trodden and remunerated path of recherching temps perdu from a sensory angle. In recent years moving beyond the original and reasonably classy, if somewhat crumby, madeleines, the tastes, smells and sights of all sorts of junk, epitomising the minutiae of childhood and adolescence in the second half of the last century, have been used to flog mega-units of autobiographical product through W.H.Smith and Amazon.

From Peter Kay and other well-known media faces, we now have a comprehensive schedule and total recall of the food, confectionery and clothing and most low-brow television programmes through the entire 1960 and 1970's. The thick seam of recollected trivia of those decades had been exhaustively mined and every memory extracted, sieved, brought to the surface and sold on to satisfy public demand.

Thus we can recall all that we ever used to know about Angel Delight, Cadbury Smash, Fray Bentos tinned pies, Spangles, Jubblys, refreshers and Birds Custard. Just as Peter Kay brings back to life deservedly forgotten "Bulls Eye" on commercial TV on Sunday afternoons, Nigel Slater reminds us of "The Persuaders" and "The Avengers."

Although the motif of both the book and its TV version was stuff in tins and packets we might otherwise have forgotten, the real point of both lies in its subtitle: the story of a boy's hunger. Only the boy himself has certain knowledge of the precise nature of the hunger at issue. To this viewer there seem to be several other than the obvious preoccupation with food. One might guess at love, understanding, acceptance, liberation, self-expression, fulfilment and simple sensation - or any combination of them.

We are presented with the perspective of quite a strange little boy subtly played by the 11 year old Oscar Kennedy and as a teenager by the clever and confident Freddie Highmore. He lives in a middle class home with a mother seriously ill with asthma to whom in many ways he is extremely close. The child is not exactly spoiled, but is often self-centred and lacking in obvious sympathy for others. He is not entirely appealing. He has the perspective of a loner and has his own interests and view of the world. He is greedy for particular experiences, sensations and tastes and is frequently frightened of his father's disapproval and disappointed by his mother's failures - as he perceives them.

The key scene in the first part of the film concerns his mother's noble attempt, as death approached, to keep her promise to teach him to make mince pies. Given her total incompetence in a daunting kitchen, that included a huge Kenwood mixer that emerged menacingly from beneath a work surface on a spring, this did not go well and turned into complete disaster when she realised she had forgotten to buy the mince pie filling- leaving the half-made pastry pie cases symbolically empty. This prompted a telling outburst from her charming son, "I hate you. I hate you. I hope you die," which unfortunately before long she does.

The quirky relationship between Nigel and his mother, delicately played with a tired fragility by Victoria Hamilton, lies at the heart of the book and film and is very real. They clearly drove each other mad at times, but were utterly devoted.

The support Nigel received from his mother when his father was being particularly macho and bullying spoke volumes, as did the magical scene of dancing together whilst on holiday. The boy's aching loss and sense of desertion after her death, when left alone in the house and taking comfort in the lingering smell of her scent on old evening dresses were convincing and poignant. To understand the depth of this is to understand and forgive Nigel's subsequent behaviour towards his mother's successor in his father's bed and affections.

The Slater residence in Wolverhampton seemed to echo with loneliness, even during his mother's lifetime. One senses Nigel's isolation and status as a disappointment to his very conventional father, who did not seem to bond with a rather frail son, prone to faddiness over food and to play at grocers in the garden rather than conventionally butch boy's games.

Unsurprisingly and perhaps justifiably. Mr Slater did not take well to his young son's relationship with Josh the gardener with its occasional nudity and close physical contact.

Many things Nigel did seemed somehow wrong in his father's eyes - particularly in his mother's difficult final illness. It was almost as though subconsciously his father was looking for someone to blame for the impending loss and his unbending and very different youngest son proved a defenceless target. The house seemed grim enough during mother's lifetime, but this was as nothing compared to the emotional desert it became following her death.

Ken Stott captured the grief-stricken, angry and frustrated father impressively. He often vented frustrations at the cruel hand dealt to him on the young son who did not meet his expectations.

In all this warfare of a family life, food seemed to become a weapon on both sides. Young Slater used it to despise his hidebound provincial parents and they punished him for his extreme fussiness and inconvenient unwillingness to cope with sundry dairy products. Milk terrified Nigel at school and eggs at home, giving rise to tense and messy confrontations, each a metaphor for the ongoing key conflicts in the Slater household.

After the death of his mother, Nigel's world was further disrupted by the advent of Joan Potter played with huge elan and divine 1960's hair, dresses and cigarettes by Helena Bonham-Carter. Whilst Slater pere is amusingly seen to lust after the curvaceous domestic goddess, Slater fils loathed her more than words can say.

The viewer has some mixed feelings over his viciously snobbish dismissal of "only a cleaner" who compares most unfavourably to his refined and genteel mother. On the other hand, we see that Joan seems to have set her sights on Mr Slater in a calculating way and ultimately takes over the household leaving no space for the memory of Nigel's mother.

The film does however set out to tell the story from Nigel's perspective and we are allowed to share some of his feelings of loss and betrayal as Nigel's father falls further under the spell of what the son regards as an upwardly mobile char.

As ever in this story, food is the key metaphor. Nigel's increasing obsession with cookery and Joan's pride in her housekeeping and wizard-like cooking skills leads to a culinary arms race, partly to win the affection of Mr Slater, in which no quarter is given.

We see set piece conflicts over Joan's secret recipe for lemon meringue pie . Ultimately, Joan's excesses in the kitchen seem to play a part in bringing about her new husband's early death from a heart attack. Confronted with the appalling prospect of continuing to live with his hated step-mother, Nigel then heads off like Dick Whittington to London and takes a job in the kitchens of the Savoy: the rest is history.

It is difficult to comment on this film in isolation. As might be expected, the book "Toast" covers more ground and gives a fuller version of events - including some idea of Joan's family, why the move was made to the house in the country and Nigel's jobs in catering before moving to London.

The more condensed format on TV simplifies somewhat. In this process one suspects the depiction of Joan has broadened and hardened with a slightly cartoonish quality, magnified by Helena Bonham-Carter's larger-than-life performance.

This suspicion is compounded by recent press comment from Joan's family casting doubt upon the harshness of her depiction, stressing that she was not a cleaning lady motivated by greed and even casting doubt upon the place of the legendary lemon meringue pie in her culinary repertoire.

Even allowing for this dissent, I must praise the production and accept its entitlement to reflect the perspective of its central character. Beautifully photographed and performed and reflecting its period perfectly, including the songs of Dusty Springfield, "Toast" captures the very individual insight on the world of an unusual child, who is so different from his friends and family and who very early determines that his only course is to march according to his own drummer.

In recreating the young Nigel Slater's very personal view of the world - in terms of his perceptions, sensibility and sexuality - this film inevitably risks falling foul of the differences in perspective and opinion that normally bring about so many arguments in most families, which are made up of flawed human beings rather than saints or perfect stereotypes. "Toast" reflects the life of one awkward and imperfect family, but succeeds in doing so in an absorbing and often moving way.


Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "Passion" from 29.9.2010

This piece is taken from my reviewblog in 2010
Legendary composer Stephen Sondheim's 80th. birthday has seen even greater focus on his work. "A Little Night Music" has been revived to acclaim on Broadway via the Menier Chocolate Factory, "Into the Woods" has been well received in Regents Park and a whole Prom was dedicated to his compositions. Cliche though it may be, despite innumerable accolades including the renaming of a Broadway theatre in his honour, Sondheim's work is like Marmite: you love or hate it; there seems to be no half measure.

Here I put my hand up and admit: I am a Sondheim aficionado. I have been eagerly looking forward to the new production of "Passion" at the Donmar Warehouse. I also admit to having flown to New York to see the piece premiered in 1994 at the Plymouth Theatre starring Donna Murphy, Jere Shea and Marin Mazzie. Later, I saw the production in London's Queen Theatre with Maria Friedman, Michael Ball and Helen Hobson. If the Donmar afforded its usual brilliant treatment to "Passion," we Sondheimistas were in for a treat.

With a book by James Lapine, "Passion" was based on the the brooding neo-Romantic film "Passion D'Amore" (1981) directed by Ettore Scola and the 1869 Italian novel "Fosca" by Igino Ugo Tarchetti.

As ever, the Donmar production ensures that less is more. The small stage with a simple backdrop of three arched windows and erotic frescoed walls creates a steamy, shuttered Milan bedroom, an officer's mess on a remote outpost and even a railway station - with the aid of artfully employed clouds of dry ice in the manner of "Brief Encounter." Excellent performances, simple costumes, perfect lighting and the audience's imagination combine to create effective theatrical illusions.

From the outset, "Passion" is founded on contrasts. Giorgio's lover Clara is healthy, conventionally pretty, has a child and a name that means "light" whereas Fosca is seriously ill, at best "plain", childless and with a name meaning "dark". The book and score juxtapose images and sentiment of light and dark throughout to conjure up and sustain what one authority has  called "a highly modulated sense of emotional chiaroscuro."

As with previous productions, this one stands or falls by the quality of performance of the three principals. It opens with the romantic abandon of the clandestine afternoon tryst of handsome officer Giorgio (David Thaxton) with Clara in a bedroom in Milan and their uninhibited enjoyment of "All this happiness/Merely from a glance/In the park."

Scarlet Strallen's Clara is beautiful and acts and sings superbly. The audience is ravished by this exquisite celebration of conventional passionate and romantic love. We have no reason not to conclude that their relationship is not the real thing. It is only as the plot develops and the exploration of the theme of love continues that this is brought into doubt.

"Passion" really takes flight after fifteen minutes or so when Fosca appears. Played by the brilliant Elena Roger fresh from recent triumphs as both Evita and Piaf, Fosca is a sallow-eyed invalid prone to melodramatic attacks of fainting and shocking wails of pain. We learn of her unhappy past conned into marriage by a fake Austrian count and resultant hysterical illness. Fosca is studious and shares Giorgio's keen interest in literature. She soon develops an overwhelming, even malignant obsession about Giorgio that makes him the laughing stock of his cynical brother officers.

Throughout the piece the feverish and claustrophobic atmosphere of Fosca's sickroom is contrasted and almost compounded by the intermittent militaristic blasts of drum and bugle on the remote army base on which the story unfolds. Giorgio's comrades are loud and boorish and their ribald commentary reinforces our sense that Giorgio is untypical and isolated in his genuine efforts to do the right thing by Clara his lover and Fosca his terrifyingly selfish and single-minded stalker.

As the story of the unhealthiest of obsessions unfolds, we were absorbed by the performances of the three principals. Elena Roger possesses that quality as a singer and actress that means one's eyes rarely leave her: utter conviction of performance and a radiant star.

Some critics have found "Passion" heavy going, complaining of a boring, joke free story of obsession with unhummable music. I admit it's not A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Sanitorium, but then it didn't try to be.

True to its title, "Passion" is about exactly that. It is a comprehensive exploration - almost a meditation - on love. It might equally have been called "Aspects of Love" for it seeks to explain and contrast the range of elements involved in that most complex of emotions. Giorgio and Clara's passionate physicality and romanticism are gloriously explored but ultimately found wanting when compared to Fosca's unconditional devotion.

The process of explaining this is arduous since Fosca's hysterical pursuit of Giorgio is painful, pitiful and sometimes almost ridiculous to watch. The audience sympathises with the handsome and fair-minded officer taken advantage of by his genteel though manic stalker.

The depth and validity of Fosca's devotion become crystal clear in a moving scene in the railway station, when she sings: "Loving you/Is not a choice/It's who I am./Loving you/Is not a choice/And not much reason/To rejoice,/ But it gives me purpose/Gives me voice/To say to the world/This is why I live/You are why I live./Loving you/Is why I do /The things I do/Loving you/Is not in my control./But loving you,/I have a goal/For what's left of my life../I will live/And I would die for you."

Elena Roger sang "Loving you" with so much still conviction and simplicity. The audience held its breath and what had been an implausible and possibly irritating tale about a bunny boiler became a lesson about the strength and beauty of an unconditional love, impossible to resist.

To complete the picture and underline the message, Giorgio rejects what might normally have been a plausible and reasonable offer by the married Clara to leave her husband for him when her son is older and at school. Rejecting the proposed logical and sensible, practical arrangement Giorgio sings: "You think that this is love?/Love isn't so convenient./Love isn't something/Scheduled in advance,/Not something guaranteed/You need/For fear it may pass you by./You have to take a chance,/You can't just try it out./What's love unless it's/Unconditional?"

So "Passion" is a serious and ambitious piece, set in shadows. It is melodramatic and oppressive and lacks a conventionally happy ending. It explores the deepest of human emotions in an absorbing way with a moving candour. The libretto handles demanding themes with elegance and brevity and the score reaches rhapsodic heights of lyricism: eminently hummable heights. I regard it as Sondheim's "pocket masterpiece" to which this production did full justice.