Who says Christmas must be a time for traditions? The latest episode of The Official Talking Pictures TV Podcast is out now in time for Christmas and once again I’m pleased to say I have been included, despite submitting two decidedly unseasonable movie reviews. Creator and outgoing producer Adam Roche has selected my thoughts on Straw Dogs, the infamous 1971 thriller starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George.
Looking at the list of upcoming films and television on Talking Pictures last month, I was aware that this was likely to be a Christmassy edition, but when it came to titles I could talk about knowledgeably, it was generally the darker hued ones. Although I did consider the Alistair Sim Scrooge but I had a feeling it has already been covered, or at least would likely to be a popular choice by my fellow #podcastpals.
It’s another excellent show, with lovely reviews from the regulars, most of which have a holiday feel. It also marks a changing of the guard, as Adam is moving on to new opportunities, although he’ll still be contributing the occasional review in his inimitable style. In 2020 I’m excited to hear that the podcast will steered by three superb podcasters and regular voices Mel Byron, Scott Phipps and Daniel Reifferscheid.
This is probably my last post of 2019, so I wish you a Happy Christmas and a marvellous New Year.
According to Charles Dickens, Christmas is a time when old ghosts come back to haunt you and I’m getting a small taste of that at the moment. Dick Whittington, the first pantomime I wrote, together with Pamela Hope, for my local group Mawdesley Amateur Dramatics Society, and the second to be published, is now appearing on BBC1’s early evening magazine The One Show.
Winterslow Drama Group in Wiltshire chose to perform my version of the famous English panto, and now they are being mentored by actor and pantomime legend Christopher Biggins. Clips of their rehearsals and his advice are being threaded into three editions of the programme leading up to Christmas, starting from 12th December, and continuing on 13th and 16th December. You can watch them for up to 30 days later on the BBC iPlayer.
This may or may not surprise you but I don’t retain a full memory of previous scripts in my head. So there are moments watching this where lines and names come as a surprise to me too. I think the cast are doing a superb job. Christopher Biggins is an actor I’ve respected for both his comedy performances in the likes of Porridge and Psychoville and drama too. Who can forget his sociopathic Nero in I, Claudius? When it comes to pantomime he has an incredible fund of experience as a performer and director, so I would always pay attention to him. I’m hoping he liked our script, even with its alterations to the classic plot.
You always have a special place in your heart for your first, and Dick Whittington will always have a lot of good memories for me. Not only was I learning the ropes of what made a good panto script, but I was also playing the Dame, which might make you suspect I gave myself all the best lines, but that is absolutely not the case loves! Since this series has started, it has been fun to hear from my old former cast mates who are amused to be reminded of their old lines again, just as I am. At that time MADS was a fairly low ebb in terms of cast and resources. We had the village hall (which looks uncannily similar to Winterslow’s btw) and good costume designers but in terms of sets, props, light and sounds we had recently lost a lot of expertise. So one of the driving factors of that script was that it was simple to stage and its a virtue I have tried to keep to with all my subsequent scripts. I always advise that groups can build on my descriptions and effect suggestions if they fancy it. Probably the most important lesson I learnt that initial time out was not to try to be too surreal or too intellectual with my jokes. All the best laughs come from audacious groaners – the chicken run joke for example, or good character stuff that the audiences recognise in themselves, or logical stupidity, such as the henchmen threatening Hugo and the Baroness with pretend guns because they cannot afford a real one, followed by established idiot Hugo claiming he’s helpless because they have got him covered. And don’t be embarrassed by happy accidents. I wrote a line about Dick being spotted around the docks just as a plot point, not realising the innuendo until audiences started laughing on the nights.
If you would like to read the script yourself or maybe even consider it for your own theatre group, please take a look at my author’s page at Lazy Bee Scripts.
I knew about this One Show coverage from the Winterslow Drama Group home page, and only knew it had started when a friend texted me to say he had just seen my name on the telly. So I have no idea what is going to happen in the next few editions, but I’ll certainly be watching to find out! Merry Christmas!
Hello, hope you’re well and keeping busy. I am delighted that four productions of my pantomimes are underway this Christmas season.
The Bodicote Players in Banbury and Woodhouse Phoenix in Hatfield are staging Rumplestiltskin. You can watch the former between 3rd December and 7th December, and the latter in the new year, January. Meanwhile, down the road from me, in Oldham, there’s a production of Aladdin in January.. Wish I could tell you more about that production but I have not been given any more details. Finally Winterslow Drama Group, in Wiltshire are staging Dick Whittington. Intriguingly their website tells me that they have been filmed by BBC1’s The One Show for a feature in December. You can rest assured I’ll be reporting on that when I know when it’s being broadcast. Many thanks to all these groups for showing faith in my writing, and that of my co-scripters Pam Hope and Adrian Barradell.
I’m delighted to announce that not only is there a new episode of BERGcast, the podcast celebrating and investigating the entire Quatermass phenomena over the years, but that I am a guest on it. Jon Dear kindly invited me to join him and Howard David Ingham on Skype to discuss X – The Unknown, Hammer’s unofficial follow-up to their massively successful movie The Quatermass Xperiment. Wanting to make another Quatermass film, but denied permission by Nigel Kneale to use his character, Hammer turned to production assistant Jimmy Sangster to write a script in a similar unearthly vein, but featuring a surrogate scientist called Royston. Eventually Oscar-winning character actor Dean Jagger played the maverick scientist in his first and so far only appearance.
You can hear us discuss the film’s plot, its origins, its background of growing public unease over nuclear weapons and atomic energy, and Frazer Hines’ child acting precociousness. It was great fun to record and to rewatch this entertaining SF monster movie from early days of Hammer Studios. Find BERGcast on Apple Podcasts, Podbean, or Jon Dear’s own site bergcast.room207press.com/
Whilst on the subject of film review podcasts, the latest edition of The Talking Picture TV podcast is out now as well, featuring amongst other items, my review of Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb starring the gorgeous Valerie Leon. Again, you find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or its webpage https://www.attaboyclarence.com/the-talking-pictures-tv-podcast
I felt very relieved a couple of weeks ago after our Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again singalong event at Bolton Little Theatre came to a successful close. For some reason my normal pre-show nerves were greater than usual, even though this had been our twelfth singalong event. But the anticipation and knowing that a whole audience of people have been looking forward to this night did bring a weight of responsibility on myself as the projectionist and co-organiser, and my friends who generously donated their Saturday night to help. Thanks to Adam Manning for his sterling work as the MC in getting the evening started with plenty of cheers and laughter, Jeff Lunt for making sure the lighting and the auditorium are ideally set up, Mark Pillar for House Managing and David Smart for his encouragement, co-organising the night and operating the bar with his wife Susan.
Every one of these events has had special memories for me. For this last one, it was the audience’s reactions every time Cher appeared, especially her set piece number “Fernando”. There a special shared joy in those spontaneous moments when a cinema audience reacts as one to a film, and it is probably that more than anything that has encouraged me to continue running Bolton Little Theatre’s big screen nights.
Favourite memories from the control box include: The big reaction and applause to “Does Your Mother Know” in Mamma Mia! Then the end of that movie, when Meryl Streep looked into the camera and asked, “Do you want more?”, the dancing audience answered back “Yes!” and for a moment the movie felt thrillingly live and happy. The teenagers who got up to the front and danced for the crowd during the end titles of Grease. During our first showing of Frozen, there’s a moment when Prince Hans asks Anna to marry him and a chorus of little girls’ voices said “Yes”, even though they must already have known he was a wrong’un.
Probably our biggest gamble was The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Partly because our copy did not actually have the onscreen Singalong lyrics and partly because out of all the movies we had shown, this one came with a substantial reputation and a whole history of audience interaction. Plus, I was not sure what the audience mix would be. I think it was my worry which led to me arriving on the night feeling quite ill from a virus. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of attendees who arrived in costume, I think we had at least one of every character, including two strapping Frank-N-Furters in basques and suspenders, as you can see in the photograph above. As the MC, Ryan Smart-Stanton was inspired that night with some of his improvisations. Then the film was underway, and everyone seemed to be on the same party vibe. “The Time Warp” maybe its most famous number, but my special memories of that screening were the audience rocking out to “Wild and Untamed Thing” and the emotional roar of cheers and applause after Frank-N-Furter’s torch song “I’m Going Home”.
A good Singalong movie is a very specific prescription. It is not enough to be a great musical, it needs to have enough songs in it that people recognise, plus it should be a fairly upbeat. That leaves a fairly small selection to choose from. Hairspray has the right mood for example, but its songs do not have much of a life beyond the movie. Walking on Sunshine is filled with well-known pop songs, but it is so ghastly in virtually every other respect that would hesitate to programme it.
But we are always open to new ideas. For example, the screenings of the Bolton-set film versions of Bill Naughton’s comedies Spring and Port Wine, and The Family Way, complete with on-stage introductions and an exhibition, courtesy of Live from Worktown, were well received and it was great to feel a whole auditorium reacting to those 1960’s movies. It is always gratifying to welcome people to our theatre who have never been before too. So now we are getting ready for The Greatest Showman, a musical tailor-made for watching in company and so popular we are holding two sold-out showings on 2nd November. I will no doubt be nervous again, but fingers-crossed by the end of the day I will have some new fond memories.
This article first appeared in the September 2019 edition of Bolton Little Theatre’s newsletter The Prompter.
Plenty of activity this month. First up, the latest episode of The Official Talking Pictures TV Podcast is out and amongst it marvellous cotirie of reviewers, you’ll hear me outlining the merits of two very different comedy thrillers – Green for Danger and The Horror of Frankenstein. Which one most alarmed the British censor? You might be surprised. Compliments to Adam Roche for another excellent installment.
Still on podcasting, BERGcast the series all about Quatermass, has now reached Hammer’s first adaptation The Quatermass Xperiment, and it’s an entertaining hour looking at the pros and cons of the 1955 movie. As usual it also has background information I have never heard before. Personally I have disagree over Brian Donlevy though. Often criticised as hopelessly miscast, for me I like his driven, almost monstrous version of the scientist. It may have come about more be accident than intention, but Donlevy’s Quatermass as tough private eye portrayal is memorable and distinctive compared to many other academics of Fifties SF. This is a movie where the hero is actually adding to danger as much as combating it, and for me that is part of its strength.
Rik Hoskin has two exciting projects to talk about. Out now is an audio drama adaptation of his bestselling White Sands graphic novel set in Brandon Sanderson’s shared Cosmere universe. You can listen to the trailer and buy it from Graphic Audio right now. I have not heard it yet but intend to obtain it soon. Coming in November is a follow-up to his excellent comic series Red Rising: Sons of Ares. A prequel to the bestselling space opera adventure series Red Rising by Pierce Brown, Wrath carries on the early career of terrorist/freedom fighter Fitchner and his fight against the tyranical caste-based empire which rules the Solar System in the future. I loved the first six issue run and I’m looking forward to more of Rik’s storytelling and Eli Powell’s intricate but fluid art. Follow the link to read an interview at Bleeding Cool.
Finally Bolton Little Theatre are presenting A Bunch of Amateurs between 16th and 21st September. As well as assembling the sound effects and music, I’m helping with the marketing. Part of that is creating a quick video advert and I had the idea of coming up with some fake posters for faded US star Jefferson Steel’s recent movies, which you can see above. It should be an excellent comedy and having seen rehearsals I can recommend it.
Back in the Nineties, when new Doctor Who had been absent from our televisions screens for a while, a fan mini-industry of fiction, audio and video adventures sprang up. I had become caught up in serious Doctor Who fandom in the mid-Eighties and it was in the pages of Celestial Toyroom that I first discovered adverts for the Audio Visuals, Doctor Who stories made by some of the talents who go on to found BBV and Big Finish Productions. They were extremely polished for the time and inspired me and some friends to create our own stories on cassette, selling them through fanzine advertisements. I decided to called our group Fine Line, after a quote from the marvelous comedy film This Is Spinal Tap. For me, these sonic adventures gave me a chance to write and produce credible adventures without the limitations that VHS films made in the local suburbs had.
In time, cassettes were replaced by CD-R’s, which in turn were supplanted by MP3 files. My old Fine Line website began as a way of advertising and selling my productions, and became the main means of distribution. Eventually I decided to concentrate on original work and gave up paying for the host.
You can find the results at http://18060801.webdevmmu.uk/ You’ll find two seasons of stories, trailers, some behind the scenes articles, and cover images and more. It’s an evolving site and I intend to add more material from time to time. Who knows I might even complete a couple of unfinished shorts we recorded back then. If you download them, I do hope you enjoy them. Love to hear what you think if you do.
Sometimes you look back at old work and marvel where you found the time and the energy to make so much material. Recently my friend Kevin Hiley has been remastering the best of Westlake Films and putting them on Youtube. Upscaling them to HD and correcting a few flaws, although resisting the urge for any George Lucas style revisionism, I’m glad to say.
The best ideas are often simple ones. This comedy short was written by John and Kevin, and edited and directed by Kevin Hiley. It was great fun to make, even if it was a long day, I can’t remember much waiting about. Most of the story is conveyed like a silent movie, with a nice escalation of events. It really felt like an isolated location and for most of the day we completely alone and uninterrupted. The scene where the two rivals start walking, then break into a race to the other platform was a spontaneous moment between myself and Nigel. For a while this film was one of our most viewed videos. We were only slightly disappointed to discover that many of the viewers were railway enthusiasts clicking on it to see a now defunct station on the Settle and Carlise line, rather than watch our creativity.
A personal favourite of mine, because it’s one those films where everything clicked and cast and crew were on top of their game. It’s also good to see a few more fresh faces in the cast. I loved the old Saturday Matinee serial which BBC1 used to show in the summer holidays. Especially the first Flash Gordon serial which has a glorious free for all adventure vibe that is reflected in the way the people of Mongo look like they just told the extras to go into the costume store and grab whatever they fancied, a look we recreated in Emperor Vorkon’s court in a local church’s multi-function room. It was great fun to return to that world of sputtering firework rocketships, BIG acting, and cartoonish fight scenes. I play three roles in this episode, Eddie the reporter, the cave monster, and a courtier in a feather headress and drooping mustache. I also provided the *spoiler* for the cliffhanger, a scene which has always got a big laugh wherever we’ve shown it. I’m particularly pleased with how the clunky robot turned out, a real credit to John, Rebecca and Kevin’s crafting.
A great little short film that packs a lot into twelve minutes. I was not involved directly with this film, which Kevin Hiley produced whilst studying an NVQ Level 3 in Media Production, together with Rail Rage. John Isles, the lead in this film, would later undertake the same course himself. It holds up pretty well, an entry into that genre of mysterious organisations working behind the scenes to protect our world. Nigel Peever is at his sonorous best as the enigmatic stranger. Jodrell Bank is always a great location to film at.
For many years I have had a hilarious book on my shelf called It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: 101 Funniest Opening Sentences from the Worst Novels Never Written. It is an amusing collection of deliberately bad opening sentences from imaginary novels and contained a potted biography of the man who first wrote those infamous words. There was something about Lord Bulwer-Lytton that stayed with me and inspired me to write this script and present it. Man of Words is another example of something I had planned as a simple talking heads documentary, turning into a much more elaborate and entertaining film thanks to my friends. One of our most polished films, alongside Deconstruction, it involved getting permission to film at Knebworth, together with dramatic reconstructions filmed at Brodsworth Hall and Gardens (near Doncaster), Mawdesley, Lancashire, and some follow-up scenes at Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds. We were blessed with a sunny day for the filming and our major complication was that the grounds were also hosting a lavish wedding, which we had to film around. Once again Lisa Hiley’s large collection of period costumes was a lifesaver, and they, together with Kevin’s skill as a graphic designer and cameraman, gave this production a gloss which belied its tiny budget (mostly taken up with travel and catering costs). Once again Alistair Lock lent us his dulcet tones reading the excerpts. At the time we felt that if the right people saw it it could open a possible professional direction for Westlake. That did not happen but it is still a film I’m proud of.
A great example of a one day film shoot producing a very polished little film. I can’t remember why I was not involved in this one, probably a double-booked weekend as usual. My only contribution was buying the tarot cards, which in those pre-Amazon days necessitated quite a search around town to find a suitable set in time for the filming.
Something of a follow-up to Man of Words in spirit, Carl Bowler pursued one of his own fascinations in this short documentary. My main memory of this was the sunny day’s filming at Jodrell Bank, and our race back to Manchester to see Rik Mayall on stage as The New Statesman that night.
Lately we have been thinking of creating more film appreciation vlogs like this one, a genre the internet has opened up in the last decade. I’m a big fan of BBC2 ‘s Moviedrome series and love the idea of creating introductions similar to those which Alex Cox and Mark Cousins used to deliver. As it is Carl , Rebecca and Kevin have been the people to actually get some made. We started with Scott Pilgrim and followed up with Strictly Ballroom. I am hoping to film on for The Keep this year. Carl does an excellent job of selling this cult Australian comedy drama.
If you have enjoyed any of these films, there are a host of other productions to be found over at Westlake Film’s Youtube Channel. Hope you enjoy watching these movies and stay tuned to the blog for more news about future projects. All the best for now.
My friends and my experiences writing, acting and gophering have been a big part of my creative life. Looking back we have created quite a varied body of work on a micro-budget. Now Kevin Hiley has decided to give our ten generally accepted best productions the remaster treatment. HD upscaling, picture and sound fixes, and in some places new FX and music. If you have never seen any of these films, there has never been a better time. With ten of our films getting producer/director Kevin Hiley’s love and attention, I’ve decided to break this article into two posts so that I can properly write about them.
Still our most ambitious film. Not only did we travel to Scotland for several days, filming in the TV studio at Glasgow’s Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Kelvingrove Park, and then the beaches of Argyll, we hired transport, employed actors and even a make-up artist to create our protagonist’s wounds. Took me years to pay off that credit card, but I don’t regret it because the film is a gem. I still think it is unlike any other Doctor Who fan film I have seen, with the harsh monochrome noir lighting and its nihilistic atmosphere. I remember we were surprised ourselves when we watch the first assembled cut at how tough it was. Shuttle Saves the World and Auton Diaries 2 are funnier, perhaps more accessible, Man of Words is glossier, but Deconstruction remain our most complete film experience.
It was a film where we pushed ourselves and overcame quite a few unexpected obstacles. For example the battle scenes had been planned out but we realised we were fast running out of time and had not got nearly enough footage. Between Kevin, Tim, John and myself we came up with the idea of throwing out the storyboard and going handheld and improvising close quarter, fast cut fight scenes. The test footage of the fight between myself and John in a hotel room was sight to watch in itself. The script was based on a short story by Tim Reid published initially on a fan forum called Timelord. We used to write chain stories, called Random Fictions. Many of them didn’t work but the ones that took off were often alot of fun and I learnt a lot about writing from the ones I contributed too. Maybe I’ll post the best to this blog at a later date?
For a little while I seemed to be Bill Bagg’s go to writer for the wackier ideas. This short was made as an extra for the Auton 3 DVD. Auton 2 had already featured a funny skit written by Paul Ebbs in which an Auton with the personality of a fruity old English actor described his resting years. After discussing several ideas, John Isles and I decided that the best follow-up was a film about the return of Doctor Who and how it affected this monster. Initially I had envisioned a much simpler set-up of the Auton being interviewed in his garden, with a few photos. But John and Kevin pushed me to be much more adventurous, so we ended up with a foundry (filmed at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry), a theatre, and a recreation of the famous high street invasion from Spearhead from Space. I have made no secret of the fact I think this film is a lot more successful than Do You Have a License to Save This Planet? as comedy, because I kept much more control over it. Playing the Auton was quite a gruelling experience. As other actors who have donned monster costumes on film over the years have commented, there was little visibility in the mask, and under the bright lights in the theatre I nearly collapsed from the heat at one point. But there is also a freedom in being an anonymous masked alien in public places, (Huddersfield mainly) and I felt free to mess about and react to be public ‘in character’. Mind you, I do remember taking my mask off at one point, only to hear a couple sat nearby jokingly cry out “Uhgh! What a hideous monster!”
The opening titles of K9 and Company are some of the worst ever seen on a BBC programme. When I was given a homemade K9 prop by a family friend, my initial intention was simply recreate them with a chavvy idiot detective replacing the polished, capable Sarah Jane Smith. Once again my friends convinced me to go further and write a whole mini-episode. The ideas came pretty fast, and luckily I had met a talented Manchester actor called Charles Allen-Wall, who was more than happy to be the bloke. Equally happily Alistair Lock agreed to provide his fabulous K9 impression to my words. It was also fun to welcome back Nigel Peever as the villain. Looking back I’m impressed we got it all filmed in a relatively quick time, using our regular locations of the Black Bull pub, my house, and a local Bolton church. The best of our films usually have a clear central idea and that’s exactly what this one has. One of the few films we have made to be mentioned in a commercial publication- Doctor Who Magazine.
Tom Baker may be the most recognisable Doctor, but I don’t think there is another incarnation with quite so many clear foibles to impersonate and gently rib as the Jon Pertwee regeneration. As we have grown older and busier, the opportunities to make films have decreased. And when we do get together, it has to be scripts we can pull off in a day. This is one of the best examples of our later work, just lots of fun and silliness as we improvised ideas around the theme of the Third Doctor’s era. It was Jonathan Miles’ idea initially. Jonathan is a keen cosplayer and provided most of the costumes, whilst I brought the old Auton gear out of wardrobe for one more airing. I’m particularly fond of Carl Bowler’s Worzel Gummidge character and the classroom scene where he’s just a bit out of sync with the rest of the students.
These are the Doctor Who films that Westlake Films has revived. Next time I’ll take a look at our varied output away from the TARDIS.
It’s Hammer (Films) time! The latest episode of Adam Roche’s podcast, dedicated to UK vintage film and television channel Talking Pictures is out now at your favourite podcasting source. Search for the Talking Pictures TV Podcast. I’m delighted to say I have made the cut again with a quick piece on 1961’s Terror of the Tongs, an interesting Hammer Film which is more of a period adventure than a horror film, despite the way it was advertised. Find out what Christopher Lee thought of playing Chung Ko, an Asian villain not a million miles away from Dr Fu Manchu, at least visually.
In addition there are plenty of other entertaining reviews including Bedazzled, The Camp on Blood Island and some reminiscences from Robert Powell about his late Eighties adventure series Hannay. The channel continues to unearth half-forgotten gems. At the moment I am catching up on Callan, a melancholy spy series from the Sixties and Seventies that still feels realistic, mature, and features two remarkable performances from Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter. 3rd June sees the arrival of the fondly remembered children’s supernatural anthology Shadows too. Looking forward to rediscovering that. For more on Talking Pictures, read my earlier article. Stay tuned!
Published author of YA and adult paranormal romance, horror, urban fantasy short stories, novellas and novels. On this site you'll find writing advice, information on my work, book reviews, author interviews and more...