Category Archives: Opinion

Victor Platt, Carl Conway RIP

It’s tricky being an amateur researcher. I don’t kick doors in, nor do I follow up if someone forgets to email me back. So I do leave stones unturned, largely because I don’t want to annoy anyone. The ridiculous thing, of course, is that without exception all of the actors and production personnel I have spoken to have been very happy to have been remembered. But that doesn’t stop me being shy.

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The ultimate “I Know The Face But…” actor Victor Platt, who died in January.

So this month, when I discovered that Victor Platt, a very recognisable actor with a Toby Jug countenance that made him born to play coppers and barkeeps, passed away in January aged 96 I rued that I had not found him (hiding in plain sight as he was). He could have told me about Quatermass and the Pit (he has a great cameo as a spooked PC who
takes Andre Morell around a deserted, possibly haunted house) and Doomwatch and The Road. Of course, his loss is properly felt by his family and loved ones and he may not have remembered much about the acting career he retired from 40 years ago in order to turn his hand to sculpting – but he might have enjoyed a lunch and a reminisce and I’d have been flattered and excited to have met him. Getting in touch  with such people (which I attempted to do with Mr Platt several times) is more difficult now – my union, Equity, used to forward mail to members but since belligerent autograph seekers began to overuse the free forwarding system to send gazillions of unwanted items through the post to unsuspecting pensioners (and then kicked off when some weren’t returned) they no longer do – which means genuine researchers lose out too.

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Actor and Radio Caroline DJ Carl Conway, who died last month.

Carl Conway also passed away recently  – and his death highlights another aspect of how tricky amateur research can be. My friend Ben Jolly let me know that IMDB was suggesting that Mr Conway had just passed away aged 95 (IMDB previously had him listed as deceased in 1992 by the way). So I did some digging. I found a Texan Carl Conway had died on February 17th aged 95 and I immediately put this down to IMDB being useless and people not fact checking properly (a real internet malaise, especially with IMDB and Wikipedia). Digging deeper however, I discovered that our Carl Conway – from Doctor Who‘s The War Machines and The Ambassadors of Death – had passed away exactly a week before the American one. Also aged 95!

Mr Conway had been suggested to me as a potential interviewee. He had been a DJ on Radio Caroline and had contacted the Pirate Radio Hall of Fame in 2008 to tell them what he was up to (which is what had made me certain that IMDB’s 1992 death date was wrong). His two roles in Doctor Who plus his career as the voice of the famous pirate station and his subsequent life organising film shows for old people’s homes would have made him a fascinating subject, but alas I never tracked him down (remember, I do all this stuff in my spare time).


So, Mr Platt and Mr Conway – sorry I never got to meet you, and believe me I would have loved every minute of doing so. Sorry not to have had the chance to thank you for all the entertainment. In the great scheme of things the fact that I never managed to track you down will have meant very little to you – but it would have meant a lot to me, and I think the small band of people who read and listen to my stuff would have been chuffed too.

RIP gents.

Thought for the Day

First they came for the Socialists, and I Tweeted my disapproval.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I linked to a clever article by someone else that I had skim read.

Then they came for the Jews, and I posted a video on my Facebook page and attached a furious emoji.

Then they came for me—and no one gave a toss because, well, funny cat video!

THE TOMORROW PEOPLE – HITLER’S LAST SECRET, TWITTER VIEW

135973I hadn’t planned for this to be a thing. I’d simply had The Tomorrow People languishing on disc upstairs and had read so much about it that I thought I should go beyond the first season and a half that I had watched and have a butcher’s at some of the later episodes. And where else to start than the one with Hitler in it?

I quite enjoyed Tweeting about it and people joined in, so here are the results in one easy to follow blog post.

As Twitter is not a solo pursuit when done properly, I have also included some Tweets from others who propelled me along with cyber banter as my jaw dropped ever further… Thanks to them for joining in. Here goes:

PROLOGUE

Well, I was going to watch an Armchair Theatre but I’m in a mood so sod it: I’m going to do the Tomorrow People story with an alien Hitler.

EPISODE ONE

Tomorrow People: Mike’s going to a disco dressed as a Nazi! John voices his disapproval. Whatever Hsui Tai’s reaction is is indecipherable.

(Graeme Burk ‏@graemeburk
@TobyHadoke True fact: in Roger Price’s script, TIM’s next line is “Actually Hitler is a [name of alien race from “A Rift In Time”]”

Graeme Burk ‏@graemeburk
@TobyHadoke It’s batshit insane. Hugely offensive. But it has Michael Sheard, so most fans forgive it.)

Tomorrow People: Sitcom favourites Nicholas Lyndhurst and Ray Burdis are, respectively, a German & an English Nazi. Mike is getting tempted!

Leon_Eagles_HLS02Tomorrow Ppl: Brit officer tells John he ran over a boy. “I trust you called the police?” is John’s immediate response. He’s SO responsible!

Tomorrow People: 5 buttons on John’s shirt. He’s only done 2 up. He’s not THAT sensible, then, there’s a bit of a beast in Mr Straight!

Tomorrow People: “Do you know who Hitler is Mike?” could be one of the worst sci-fi lines ever were it not for what comes after it…

Tomorrow People: “Hitler isn’t dead. Hitler is Nebor from the planet Vashir. A galactic shape changing psychopath.”

(*gobsmacked*)

(AIEEEEEEEvan Kirby@ellothisisivan 
@TobyHadoke I’m fascinated by Nebor’s eye. Does it regularly fall off? Is he forever picking it up & putting it back?

Gareth Roberts ‏@OldRoberts953
@hellothisisivan @TobyHadoke That went out on my tenth birthday. I was APPALLED.

Toby Hadoke @tobyhadoke
@OldRoberts953 @hellothisisivan I’ve never seen it before. It’s… I’m not sure what it is. Crikey.

AIEEEEEEEvan Kirby ‏@hellothisisivan Oct 8
@TobyHadoke @OldRoberts953 Jaw-droppingly misjudged.)

Tomorrow People: Hitler is actually Mr Bronson.

(I didn’t Tweet as much as I’d like as I was distracted with an exchange which I think demonstrates one of the dangers of being a comedian on Twitter. My Tweets are in blue and my correspondent’s (whose handle I have disguised out of courtesy) are in green:

Tomorrow People: Hitler is actually Mr Bronson.

@TobyHadoke A bit over the top, Mr. Hadoke?

@???* Just a statement of fact. M Sheard who played Mr Bronson is Hitler in this. But now you mention it, he is over the top!

@TobyHadoke Isn’t Sheard dead?

@???* Sigh. There is a thing called a DVD…

@TobyHadoke I know. I know. Sorry about that Toby. I did a bit of research on him and that is when I found out what I think you.

Tomorrow People: Hitler is pleased that television is popular. “You will obey me”, he declares, before adding an Oliver Hardy-esque

@TobyHadoke I don’t think anybody can say if Hitler is pleased or not because he has been dead for 70 years.

@???* You’re taking this out of context ???*. I’m watching an episode of the Tomorrow People.

@TobyHadoke Sorry mate. I just hear so much about people being compared to Hitler.

@???* I did handily preface every Tweet with the words “Tomorrow People”.

@TobyHadoke I caught it in the middle Toby. I am sorry about that.

*There’s no harm done with the above exchange – I regularly correspond with the person in question and will continue to do so. it just illustrates how stick can quickly be grabbed at the wrong end on social media.

EPISODE TWO

Tomorrow People: John gets tough with Ray Burdis and calls him “Square ‘ead”. I think I love John. He’s sensible AND mean.

Tomorrow People: “I asked for 50 men,” frets Leon Eagles to his platoon of 6, clearly unaware that he’s in a show with a small budget.

tp11Tomorrow People: Hitler’s true form is revealed – a cascade of swarfega and a badly attached eye.

Tomorrow People: Eagles escapes from his troops by ambling away – fortunately they give up immediately after firing a burst at him.

Tomorrow People: Hitler is pleased that television is popular. “You will obey me”, he declares, before adding an Oliver Hardy-esque “Mmmm!”.

Tomorrow People: Mike has stunned John, Leon Eagles and Hsui Tai! In the case of the latter it hasn’t made much of a difference…

Tomorrow People: Yay: and it all ends on a joke about John being a bit of a Hitler. All good, clean, Nazi-alien fun!

Tomorrow People: Damn. I’m at my destination – no time to watch the next one which seems to feature a spaceship with a talking penis!

I have since watched this episode. I will publish the results at some point.

THE TOMORROW PEOPLE – THE LIVING SKINS TWITTER VIEW

THE TOMORROW PEOPLE

The Living Skins

135973I’ve had a bit of fun on twitter – Tweeting along as I watched The Tomorrow People, of which I’ve only seen a very few episodes of up till now. I am well aware of the show and could name most of the cast but I’ve never really given it my time. So when on a train journey I decided to watch some stories in a random order.

I just went for the ones I fancied at the time – a imposition in order to prevent me from being all OCD and get bogged down in episodes I didn’t fancy by watching chronologically (I watched the first series and start of the second last year and I think I yearned for a bit of variety).

I started with Hitler’s Last Secret as I had an inkling that it was something I had to see. I wasn’t wrong, and I shared my incredulity on Twitter. People seemed to enjoy it and so I watched other episodes. Now, not having planned ahead I didn’t hashtag everything so that it’d be easy to follow, so when I get the chance I’m going to pop them all here – each one getting one easy-to-follow blog post. They may amuse and  might be briefly diverting: I hope so.

Where some Tweets had – out of necessity dictated by the 140 character count – abbreviations or grammatical compromises I have tidied them up here.

Having enjoyed my train viewing I was alone at home one night and thought I’d do more…

PRELUDE

Can’t watch The Apprentice till Chez gets back from swimming so … The Tomorrow People: The Living Skins it is …

EPISODE ONE

Tomorrow People: A sightly creepy shop assistant works in a place where Mike picks out a horrid orange jumpsuit new outfit for Hsui Tai.

Tomorrow People: John’s got a cold. It looks real. The baddies are alien balloons. They don’t.

Tomorrow People: Mike and Hsui Tai are in their shiny new fetish suits. Mike’s horrid to Andrew about his kilt: Mike feels angry then sexy.

Tomorrow People: I mean, the aliens really are balloons. Not balloons with added special effects. Or a hat. They’re balloons. Just balloons.

Clever rubber clothes!
Clever rubber clothes!

Tomorrow People: Actually very beguiling plot-wise – the repairing skin, the atmospheric interference which leaves Our Heroes on their own.

Tomorrow People: I like the creepy shop owner too: he’s beahaving as if he’s being played by David Walliams after a season at the RSC.

Tomorrow People: John & Elizabeth tell Mike and Hsui Tai to take their clothes off. Tsui Tai is very upset but does her best not to show it.

Tomorrow People: John has shot Mike and Hsui Tai! He tries to take their clothes off but they’re stuck. Now Tim wants to “examine’ them!

Tomorrow People: The balloons are bouncing around very angrily in the cellar. Their dialogue is nearly as discernible as Hsui Tai’s.

Tomorrow People: Mike and Hsui Tai are literally fashion victims. The skin is intelligent: nice idea. Tsui Tai’s bed linen is terrifying.

Kudos to actor Ralph Lawson who does a good job as the creepy shop assistant.
Kudos to actor Ralph Lawson who does a good job as the creepy shop assistant.

Tomorrow People: Creepy shop assistant is doing lots of scary eye acting : he invites John and Elizabeth downstairs. Andrew falls asleep.

Tomorrow People: : “John, what are they?” “Aliens I should think.” God he’s good. Most people’s first guess would have been “Balloons”.

Tomorrow People: Good ep ending. John & Elizabeth attacked by balloons (out of shot). Tim cries “Andrew” forlornly has he’s smothered by a jumpsuit.

EPISODE TWO

s3_The_Living_Skins_e2_Cold_War.mkv_snapshot_03.11_[2011.04.25_22.56.30]Tomorrow People: Mike looks around the room and studiously avoids seeing Andrew till the last moment. The empty jumpsuit attacks them!

Tomorrow People: Oh no! John and Elizabeth have been taken over! John is really creepy: being taken over brings out the cad in his diction.

Tomorrow People: John & Elizabeth get free denim jackets from the aliens to disguise their jumpsuits. Which they immediately remove & blow their cover.

Tomorrow People: The bubble skin doesn’t stick to John. He’s obviously far too sensible to be overcome by fashion. He’s got a cold again. Ah!

Tomorrow People: The bubbles are invading. Which seems to involve bouncing down country lanes and annoying old people who run away slowly.

Tomorrow People: A Canadian newsreader’s clearly been taken over by the bubble people & is issuing bubble propaganda with a shiny bubble face.

Tomorrow People: Ooh, Tim’s been on Space Wikipedia & it seems the bubbles envelop us and slowly digest us. Yuck. John’s cold acting v good.

Tomorrow People: Dave Carter is a bubble chinned security man. For the greater good John & Mike have to let him attack a lady.John looks grim

 

In space, people can still hear you being told off : especially if you're Mike.
In space, people can still hear you being told off : especially if you’re Mike.

Tomorrow People: Even after fending off a balloon with a fire extinguisher whilst in space John finds time to tick Mike off. Poor Mike: he tries.

Tomorrow People: Everyone’s got a cold. The bubble people leave: creepy shop man ends up alone & in his pants. It ends with a laboured joke.
Hopefully I can add some of my earlier Tweet views of The Tomorrow People in later blogs.

Ray Lonnen RIP

Ray Lonnen RIP

Ray LonnenA couple of weeks ago I was very sad to learn of the death of Ray Lonnen – a fine, understated actor who took part in a couple of television shows that deserve to be remembered for a very long time: namely Harry’s Game and The Sandbaggers. I had the good fortune of visiting Ray a couple of times – most recently an evening a couple of months ago of fish and chips a chatting about his good friend Richard Shaw. Ray had showed me some paintings he had which had been done by Richard and kindly offered to share his memories of the late Quatermass actor. Ray had a lot of empathy for others and behind the considered decency that emanated from him was a twinkle and a wry sense of humour.  He and his lovely wife Tara were extremely hospitable and I had kept in touch with them since I interviewed them both for my Who’s Round project last year. They, along with their good friend Bernard Holley, came to see my West End double bill in November despite Ray being in a lot of pain. I was flattered to have known him and pleased to have had the opportunity to provide Ray’s Guardian obituary here. I can’t thank Tara enough for her help with this – her positive attitude and encouragement for others even shining through at a most difficult time for her and the family. If the world is a bit of a struggle sometimes, following Tara on Twitter is recommended – she’s an empathic person with an infectious optimism : find her at @TaraWardBooks.

My Who’s Round interview with Ray and Tara can be found here.

It’s typical of the fellow that the last contact I had from him was after he found out my other half’s name: it’s unusual and he postulated that it might have been inspired by a film of the same name. I admitted that I thought that that was the case but that I didn’t know much about it. After a short time there was an email from Ray with a link to the movie and everything about it. He was  a thoughtful man for whom nothing was too much trouble.

Rest In peace Ray.

There are small parts …

There are no small parts, only small actors they say. “They” usually being your agent or other actors trying to make you feel better because most of the lines you had when you were offered the part have been cut prior to recording.

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Michael Ansara.
You may know the face, but not the name: and that’s fine. Unless you write about TV for a living.

 

The respected character actor Michael Ansara died recently. Not a household name but certainly someone who my and my parents’ generation would recognise when he cropped up on television (which he did frequently). Yes, being in genre shows like Star Trek (in which he was a Klingon in the original series before reprising the role in both DS9 and Voyager), The Outer Limits (a very memorable turn in Soldier), The Time Tunnel, Buck Rogers and Batman- The Animated Series helps to keep your name alive thanks to geeks like me, but his clout extended beyond the anorak’s purview. His early starring role in Broken Arrow certainly ensured his was a face you’d recognise when it appeared in numerous subsequent TV shows and films.

So when he died and The Times described him as “the undisputed king of bit parts in cult television” I was rather irritated (some would say that that is my natural state: if you’re one of those, suffice to say it made me more irritated than usual). There is a sort of lofty disdain that is dishearteningly prevalent amongst the people being paid good money to conjure appropriate words when writing about genre shows or the acting profession. You shouldn’t be allowed to cover television if the basic nomenclature used in the business is beyond you. A bit part is one assayed by an extra or walk-on who has been chucked a couple of lines. Ansara was always the main guest star whenever he appeared: playing roles of a size and status most members of the profession would kill for. He was a successful actor. That the journalist in question doesn’t know this reflects badly on the journalist not the actor but you’d never know this from the way the denizens of Grub Street conduct themselves.

So often this is the case though. The Guardian did it when trying to undermine the political activities of the eccentric but busy character actor Brian McDermott. No Ansara he nonetheless managed to notch up about 100 TV credits. All told, that’s a good career – and he wasn’t playing “2nd Man” or “Onlooker” but proper, decent, supporting character parts with a name: oh, and he launched the Bush Theatre too. But because he was standing for UKIP in an election, the journlist’s parting shot was a jovial suggestion that McDermott had been an extra in episodes of Bergerac. An extra. This happens more and more – guest parts are described in the media as extra. No, an extra is a non- speaking background artist. There’s nothing wrong with being one, but that is different from playing a featured part. To secure one of those requires rounds of auditions, being seen excelling on the stage, or giving good work elsewhere and so being recommended. That is not the case with extras, for they do a different job.

Edge Of Darkness - Brilliantly Acted, Compelling, Acclaimed. But made in the olden days so barely worth mentioning apparently...
Edge Of Darkness – Brilliantly Acted, Compelling, Acclaimed.
But made in the olden days so barely worth mentioning apparently…

Television coverage is increasingly written by people who seemingly care little for the medium they write about. There’s an assumption that most television is a bit rubbish (especially if it is old) and that what these actors, writers, directors and designers who have tried hard to create something cogent, thought-provoking, tantalising and entertaining really deserve is a thrashing from the glibbest of tongues as opposed to serious, informed scrutiny. The Guardian even did a Top Fifty TV dramas – as compiled by its critics – that didn’t include Secret Army or Edge Of Darkness. Obviously such things are matters of taste but one got the impression that those illustrious productions didn’t make the list not because they’d been considered and rejected but because most of the critics didn’t know what they were. The outrage at the lack of the Edge Of Darkness prompted one of them to blog about his subsequent viewing of it because he’d never seen it. A working TV critic on a aational aewspaper who hasn’t seen Edge Of Darkness! I don’t think you’d be allowed to write about sport if you didn’t know who won the World Cup in 198-whatever.

Again, the uselessness I can cope with, it’s when it is accompanied by arrogance that it sticks in my craw. I remember being listed as a Pick Of The Week in the comedy listings in The Times and it mentioned that I had won the Les Dawson Award for comedy. I did, and am proud to have done so. “Is there a Les Dawson Award then?” added the comedy critic in brackets afterwards: after all, what’s a comedy recommendation without a little pejorative aside? Thing is, if you’re The Times comedy critic and you don’t know of the existence of such an award, then that’s your shortcoming rather than that of the recipient of said award. And if you don’t know, or think the award is negligible (which is reasonable – it was a regional thing based on an internet vote) because it hasn’t appeared on your radar (though it was eminently Google-able), then simply don’t mention it. Revelling in ignorance about the medium you write about seems bizarre – especially when such ignorance is used to recommend somebody but, with a little implicit criticism, keep them in their place at the same time (and to what end – apart from to make the journalist look clever?).

Looking clever feels terrific when you’re reviewing something, and it’s fantastic if you can enliven your prose with a witty barb or sparkly turn of phrase … but these things now seem to have replaced the real reasons someone should be writing about their specialist subject. And what reasons are those? Because they love it! Because they are entertained by entertainers, thrilled by popular culture – inspired to put pen to paper and to place bum on seat.

All of the above examples simply wouldn’t happen in other industries. There are loads of well-informed TV geeks who can turn an apt phrase. Few of them seem to do so for the papers though. The nationals tend to promote sub-editors with other specialisms or people who display shocking ignorance or contempt for the medium … Sam Wollaston anyone?  And as for Ian Hyland – good God! I shouldn’t think either of them could talk about Herbert Wise or Allan Prior or David Collings. You wouldn’t pay a food writer who described an aubergine as a “sort of rubbish sausage” so why is popular culture often chronicled and scrutinised by the ill-informed and condescending?

We all breathe air, but I wouldn’t expect someone who hasn’t studied its properties to be entrusted with analysing and describing it. Just because we all consume popular culture and mass entertainment doesn’t mean any old bod’s scrutiny of it is worth reading. I am just a plucky amateur and am not angling for a job here – I just feel the need for more Matthew Sweets and fewer A A Gills. It is just that knowing what I know about TV and comedy and seeing the great howlers committed in much that is written about both makes me wonder how much ill-informed crap swaggers across the page on subjects of which I am wholly ignorant – like Science and Music and How To Be Sexy (yes, there are small parts …).