May the fourth be with you!

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Today is, of course, International Star Wars Day. And what better way could there be to commemorate this date which sounds a little bit like a phrase never actually said in the original trailer than  by buying these magical new Star Wars books from Egmont?

Actually watching the films. That would be a better way to celebrate clearly. But get these books too. Although technically none are out until May 5th, so you will have to wait until tomorrow. But you can order them today. And what could be more fun than ordering things?

If you like Star Wars but also love transforming things from black and white into colour, then you should love the Star Wars Galaxy Of Colouring Book pictured above. It is actually bigger than it looks here – 250 x  360mm – and has 112 pages. The front cover is dominated by a storm trooper, in a uniform which is clearly meant to be black and white anyway so not actually very good to colour in. But there are better pictures inside.

Yoda is green,

Greedo’s sort of blue,

Ewoks are brown,

May the Force be with you!

Next up, is the Star Wars Dot To Dot book, pictured below. Rest assured, even though this is Star Wars, you are expected to start with 1 each time. Not 4! Alternatively, miss out 1 to 3 and then come back to complete the puzzle twenty years later.

Star Wars Dot to Dot

Finally, if you’re a total geek, there’s the Star Wars Graphics book featuring lots of ships and locations with all the specifications, none of which really exist.

Star Wars is 40 next year so expect much more of this in 2017.

Star Wars Graphics

The myth of Obama’s hatred for the British

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Chris Hallam's World View

Have you heard the one about US President Barack Obama being fiercely anti-British?

For that’s what it is: a joke. But for many of Britain’s Right (persecuted and deluded fools that they are), Obama’s anti-UK credentials are a reality, marking a decisive shift in Anglo-US relations. Daily Telegraph nut job Nile Gardiner recently even recently claimed “Mr. Obama has been by far the most anti-British president in modern American history”.

On what are they basing this argument? Well, let’s consider the evidence (such as it is)…

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Some kings called George

This week saw St George’s Day and to celebrate, here’s a quick round up of all the British kings called George…

George I (1714-1727)

German. Born in Germany. Only spoke German. Didn’t like England and spent most of his time in Germany. Buried in Germany.

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George II (1727-1760)

(George I’s son). The last king to lead his men into battle. Died on the toilet, like that other king, Elvis.

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George III (1760-1820)

(George II’ s grandson). The longest reigning British king (sixty years) although did not reign  for as long as his granddaughter Victoria (63 years) or her own great great granddaughter Elizabeth II, although he would not have not have known that as he was a) mad and b) dead. Sometimes just called “King George” so as not to confuse Americans.

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George IV (1820-1830)

(George III’s son). Regent first. Fat, lazy and lecherous rather like Henry VIII, Edward VII or Boris I.

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George V (1910-1936)

(George III’s granddaughter’s grandson). Technically murdered as two of his doctors deliberately gave him an overdose of morphine on his deathbed. Last words were “bugger Bognor”. Ironically, it was still illegal to bugger Bognor at this time.

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George VI (1936-1952)

(George V’s son). Famous stammerer portrayed in The King’s Speech. Had he reigned for as long as his daughter, he would still have been king in the year 2000.

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George VII (2058 -2109)

(George VI’s great great grandson). Married Prince Alfie in 2037.

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DVD review: This Life: The Complete Collection

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BBC Worldwide

Out now

Cast: Amita Dihri,  Jack Davenport, Jason Hughes, Andrew Lincoln, Daniela Nardini, Ramon Tikaram

It has now been twenty years since we were first introduced to the five twentysomething London lawyers who made up BBC drama This Life.

Who could forget them? Anna (Nardini): perhaps the most memorable character, sharp tongued feisty, yet ultimately vulnerable and fixated on university end of term one night stand Miles (Davenport), posh, misogynist, homophobic and snobbish, but one senses, as human as anyone else underneath. Then there’s Egg (Lincoln), perhaps the nicest character in the house  although clearly not cut out for a career in law as his sexy, ambitious girlfriend Milly (Dhiri) seems to be. Last but not least comes gay Welshman Warren (Hughes), inclined towards  regular visits to a therapist and occasional moments of madness. He is later joined by troubled bisexual Ferdy (Tikaram).

The show did not really catch fire during its first eleven part run in 1996, perhaps because many episodes were written by Amy Jenkins, who despite creating the series was never one of its strongest writers. But during its longer 20 episode second series in 1997, something magical started to happen. This Life  grew to be cult viewing: totally unmissable and was much mourned after its spectacular Series 2 finale.

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Has This Life dated? Yes, of course. It would be odd if it hadn’t. Everyone seems to smoke more than they do today (at least on TV) and the house enjoys a constant backdrop of music by the likes of Radiohead, Suede and the Sneaker Pimps. The internet is spoken of only as a distant futuristic thing as proven when Miles becomes one of the last people on Earth to post a dating ad in an actual magazine.

On the other hand, the “shaky” naturalistic camerawork much commented on at the time is barely noticeable now (though the camerawork remains interesting and occasionally prone to close ups). A young Martin Freeman crops up in one episode. But the show was ahead of it’s time in its attitude to gays and drug use and one suspects it has dated far less than a 1976 drama series would have had that been screened twenty years later in 1996.

Twenty years on (and ten years after the slightly underwhelming 2006 This Life +10 one off  also included in this DVD set). the saddest thing is that while the principal male cast are all still a regular presence on our screens  – particularly Andrew Lincoln who now stars in hit US drama the Walking Dead – Nardini and Dhiri have never become stars. Still, the smaller female parts such as Natasha Little (who plays the bane of Milly’s office existence, Rachel) and Luisa Bradhaw-White (sassy office temp Kira, but now an EastEnders regular) have all done well.

And the really good news is that This Life is either a) as good as you remember or b) very watchable if you’ve never seen it before.

As Warren would say: “Hysterical.”

This Life

 

 

 

In praise of Blackadder the Third

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This article (written by me) has been reproduced with the kind permission of Chortle. It first appeared in 2012.

‘I want to be remembered when I’m dead. I want books written about me. I want songs sung about me. And then, hundreds of years from now, I want episodes of my life to be played out weekly at half past nine by some heroic actor of the age.’ (Edmund Blackadder, Dual and Duality).

It has now been a full quarter-century since the screening of Blackadder The Third. Under normal circumstances, the anniversary of the third series of anything would not be a cause for comment. Yet Blackadder is not a normal programme and the third series alone must rank as one of the best sitcoms of the Eighties in its own right.

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Continuing the slow social decline of the Blackadders (from 15th Century royalty in the first series to a 20th Century Army officer by the fourth), Blackadder the Third, sees Edmund (Rowan Atkinson again) reduced to the role of butler to the idiotic foppish Prince Regent played by the then still-up-and-coming twenty something Hugh Laurie. Despite having played two different roles in Blackadder II, as the drunken innuendo obsessed Simon ‘Farters’ Partridge (‘Sounds a bit rude doesn’t it?’) in Beer and the cast’s Teutonic nemesis Mad Prince Ludwig in the final episode Chains (‘Yes! I was one of the sheep!’), Laurie was reportedly tremendously nervous about taking on the part.

It’s easy to see why. The standard set by the second series had been incredibly high and with the regular cast slimmed down (Miranda ‘Queenie’ Richardson and Tim ‘Lord Percy’ McInnerny appear in only one episode each in new roles), a lot of weight was on Laurie and Atkinson’s shoulders, even with the excellent Tony Robinson returning as Baldrick or rather Mr S. Baldrick. The introduction of a new character, pie shop proprietor Mrs Miggins (Helen Atkinson-Wood), a character referred to in Blackadder II but never seen, frankly doesn’t help the series much.

Thankfully virtually everything else does. Hugh Laurie is perfect as Prince George, a good natured clot who seems incapable of recognising his butler’s insults even when he says them directly to his face. The role would in fact be the perfect preparation for Laurie’s most successful Nineties role as Bertie Wooster, opposite a less hostile servant.

It is still not the best series of Blackadder, a position which still belongs to Blackadder II. Historically, it’s a bit confused – George is repeatedly referred to as the Prince Regent, a position he didn’t hold until 1811, when he was in his fifties. Yet virtually everything else in terms of costumes and references suggests its set in the 1780s or 1790s, while Johnson’s dictionary was published before the Prince was actually born.

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Despite a few good lines and an excellent cameo by the late political reporter Vincent Hanna, the election-themed opening episode is perhaps also bit iffy by Blackadder standards. A few episodes also rely a bit too heavily on fictional versions of real characters such as Dr Johnson (Robbie Coltrane) and the Duke of Wellington (Stephen Fry) being homicidal maniacs. They were not.

Happily, though, most of the series is sublime, reaching a peak with the brilliant closing episodes Amy and Amiability and Dual and Duality. Blackadder’s run-in with a squirrel-hating highway woman and a memorable scene in which Hugh Laurie’s Prince is repeatedly punched make up two of the best Blackadder episodes ever produced.

And (is a spoiler alert necessary 25 years on?) the series uniquely sees a happy ending for Blackadder himself, with the butler rather confusingly replacing George as heir to the throne. Are we to assume all subsequent royals are in fact descended from him?

It hardly matters. What’s undeniable is that this remains one of the finest British sitcoms ever produced.

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Read more: Third time’s a charm… : Correspondents 2012 : Chortle : The UK Comedy Guide

Book review: A Man Of Genius by Lynn Rosen

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A man of reputation, a man of the past and (in his own mind, at least), a man of genius, the towering figure of acclaimed architect Samuel Grafton-Hall dominates this debut novel from octogenarian US author Lynn Rosen.

Deftly introduced through a clever narrative device – we learn of events through the narrative, reliable or otherwise, of Dolinger, Grafton-Hall’s lawyer and exceutor as he recalls the events decades later, it is a relief to remember the great architect is a fictional character as he poisons or harms the lives of everyone as he hurts everyone around him.

But it is Lynn Rosen, who is the true architect here, who late in life has constructed a true American classic.

DVD review: Alan Partridge Mid Morning Matters Series 2

Chris Hallam's World View

3D_MMM S2_2EDVD0859_CMYK.jpgBBC Worldwide

Bonus features: Outtakes

155 minutes

Starring: Steve Coogan, Tim Key, Reece Shearsmith, Julian Barratt,  Rosie Cavaliero, Phil Cornwell, Monica Dolan, Katherine Jakeways

Hurrah for Alan Partridge!

A full quarter century after his first appearance as a nasal East Anglian sports commentator on Radio 4’s On The Hour, the socially maladroit, Daily Mail reading North Norfolk disc jockey returns in his second series of Mid Morning Matters. Although it has been five years since Alan last appeared in this format – his book, I, Partridge and generally successful big screen outing Alpha Papa coming in between – little has changed for Alan in the ensuing period, despite occasional visits from his girlfriend Angela (Monica Dolan, introduced in the film).

Otherwise, Alan is his usual barely tolerable self regardless of whether he is getting drunk and tucking into a “beef sponge” during an on air book group feature, subjecting his captive audience to his…

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Winston Churchill: alternative lives

Chris Hallam's World View

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Winston Churchill died fifty years ago this week in January 1965. Born in 1874, four years after Charles Dickens died, Churchill, who was nearly thirty when the first aeroplane flew, lived into the space age, the nuclear era and the time of Beatlemania. Perhaps more importantly, he has perhaps greater claim than anyone to have saved Britain, perhaps even western civilisation. For had not Churchill become Prime Minister in 1940 and without his decisive leadership in the dark years that followed, the liklihood of the world sucumbing to the evils of Nazism would have been very real indeed. Let us consider, for a moment, how things might have gone differently…

He might have died in 1931
Churchill rarely shunned danger and might, of course, have been killed many times during his long life, for example, while fighting at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 or on the Western Front where…

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Book review: Star Wars latest Egmont titles

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Some of you may not like to hear this, but Star Wars is to some extent supposed to be children. How else do you explain the Ewoks? Jar Jar Binks? Cast your minds back: Who are the stars of the opening scenes of the original film? Luke? Obi Wan? No. C3PO and R2D2. Doubtless you yourself were a child when you were first sucked in by the Force. It is thus hardly surprising then that the franchise (now ultimately ran by Disney) is still keen to attract as young audience.

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With this in mind, Egmont Publishing have released the following three books aimed at children of eight and above in a new series entitled Adventures In Wild Space. These focus on Milo and Lina Graf who embark on a perilous journey across space to rescue their parents who have been kidnapped by agents of the Empire. The action takes place between the events of Revenge of the Sith (the last and best of the three prequels) and A New Hope (otherwise known as the”first” one). All three books are good fun and have pictures throughout.

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They are:

Star Wars: Adventures In Wild Space: The Snare by Cavan Scott

Star Wars: Adventures In Wild Space: The Nest by Tom Huddleston

Star Wars: Adventures In Wild Space: The Escape by Cavan Scott (a prequel to the other two in truer confusing Star Wars style).

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Also released are a novelisation of The Force Awakens by Michael Kogge, a picture book version of the same recent enjoyable film and a fun flap-lifting interactive book set in the Star Wars universe, Bounty Hunt.

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DVD review: Alan Partridge Mid Morning Matters Series 2

3D_MMM S2_2EDVD0859_CMYK.jpgBBC Worldwide

Bonus features: Outtakes

155 minutes

Starring: Steve Coogan, Tim Key, Reece Shearsmith, Julian Barratt,  Rosie Cavaliero, Phil Cornwell, Monica Dolan, Katherine Jakeways

Hurrah for Alan Partridge!

A full quarter century after his first appearance as a nasal East Anglian sports commentator on Radio 4’s On The Hour, the socially maladroit, Daily Mail reading North Norfolk disc jockey returns in his second series of Mid Morning Matters. Although it has been five years since Alan last appeared in this format – his book, I, Partridge and generally successful big screen outing Alpha Papa coming in between – little has changed for Alan in the ensuing period, despite occasional visits from his girlfriend Angela (Monica Dolan, introduced in the film).

Otherwise, Alan is his usual barely tolerable self regardless of whether he is getting drunk and tucking into a “beef sponge” during an on air book group feature, subjecting his captive audience to his own dramatised version of the lives of William and Kate, revealing his darkest fantasies about TV presenter Julia Bradbury or simply tormenting the hapless “Sidekick Simon” (Tim Key), this is often awkward but always enjoyable.

Alan remains a great comedy creation, often sympathetic (unexpectedly bringing out the softer side of a loathsome opinion former played by Reece Shearsmith) but just as often sickeningly egotistical, politically incorrect and tyrannical, this format (which never sees Alan leaving the radio studio) works well.

Lovely stuff. Roll on Series 3…