2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,100 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 9 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Comics of the Eighties No 1: Whizzer and Chips

Peter Gray's paintings 357

Whizzer and Chips was an unusual comic in many ways. For one thing, it had a strange dual status. Whereas Whoopee! and Wow!, another comic of the Eighties, was the result of two comics merging together, neither Whizzer and Chips had ever existed as separate entities. Although there was, in fact, a very old comic called Chips but this was wholly unrelated. Whizzer And Chips was always Whizzer and Chips from the moment it started in 1969 until right until the point it finally merged into the slightly more enduring Buster in 1990.

“Two in one: two times the fun!” was the slogan. Although no longer in total than any other comic, Whizzer was on the outside while Chips, in theory, a separate comic with its own title page, began about a third of the way in. Whizzer would begin again (with no real fanfare) at some point towards the end. I seem to remember the comic vaguely encouraged you to detach the Chips segment from Whizzer. I never bothered. At the same time, the two comics were “not to be sold separately”. I doubt anyone tried.

Although there was no real difference in the content of the stories in each section, a fierce rivalry was encouraged between the two comics. Readers who favoured Whizzer were known as “Whizz kids” while those who preferred Chips were less attractively known as “Chip-ites”. I think I was both at different times although like everyone else I suspect I always read both to get my money’s worth (Whizzer and Chips did, after all, cost 22p in 1984). Occasionally, one story would defect from Whizzer to Chips or vice versa. Eagle-eyed readers could also try to spot “raiders” from the other comic on a weekly basis. For example, Sammy Shrink might appear in the background of the story Fuss Pot.

The lead story in Whizzer was called Sid’s Snake (titter ye not!) about a boy who had a pet snake called Slippy. Shiner, the main story in Chips had an ever less promising premise, focusing on a boy called Shiner who repeatedly received ”shiners,” that is black eyes.

As with many comic stories, I admire the ingenuity of anyone who could make such a flimsy premise endure, in this case, for over twenty years. Given a week to think up as many scenarios about a boy receiving “shiners” that I could, I think I would struggle to come up with even one. Yet the author or authors of Shiner must have come up with over a thousand. And who in the world has ever received multiple black eyes anyway? Surely his eyes would have been ruined? Shiner was in fact supposed to be an aspiring boxer. I suspect the strip rather glossed over the realities of boxing as a profession.

What other stories were there?

(I admit, I now have no idea which of these stories were in Whizzer and which were in Chips):

Joker: A boy obsessed with practical jokes. He always wore a buttonhole which squirted water at passersby. This story made me briefly obsessed with the idea of going to a joke shop. This was difficult as there were few of these anywhere by the Eighties, at least none that I could find. Certainly not in Peterborough anyway.

Fuss Pot: One of the few girl characters. Began every sentence with “I am fussy about…” e.g. “I’m fussy about getting the right shoes”. This actually quickly grew tiresome both for the other characters but also for the reader.  Like Joker and Sammy Shrink she first appeared in the Seventies comic Knockout.

Junior Rotter: A juvenile version of J.R from the TV series Dallas.

Sweet Tooth: A boy with one prominent tooth. He loved confectionary but was constantly being menaced by an obese bully known as Greedy Greg.

Pongo Snodgrass: A beautifully named strip about a disgustingly rancid boy. I think this had ended by the time I started reading the comic (1984) but I remember it from the monthly Best of… anthologies.

Sweeney Toddler: Another good name for a story about a malevolent infant. Sweeney terrorised his family and dog Daft Henry. He spoke in a weird babyish fashion e.g. “Me’s having lots of fun today readers!”il_fullxfull.378337555_p2qz He actually joined the comic from Whoopee! Which merged into Whizzer and Chips in 1985 but (Wikipedia tells me) had actually first appeared in Shiver and Shake comic in 1973

Worldwide School: A weird one about a travelling international school presided over by a Mr Pickwick-style headmaster and peopled by a class of national stereotypes.

Lazy Bones: Fairly self explanatory. A very lazy boy.

Sammy Shrink: Again, a bit obvious. A tiny boy.

For whatever reason, I lost interest in being either a Whizz-kid or a Chip-ite by the time I reached secondary school age in the late Eighties. A lot of other children must have done so too as the comic ended after twenty one years in 1990. By that time I was so immersed in 2000AD, Viz, The Eagle and trying to produce my own comics with friends (as well as schoolwork obviously) that the comic I’d been so mad about when I was seven, died without me even noticing.

But let’s not forget it eh readers?

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Why the US needs gun control laws

Guns don’t kill people. People do.

Has there ever, in the history of the world, been a stupider political slogan than this?

Yet, in the United States, thousands of innocent people have died as a result of the slogan. Thousands more may die yet.

Ask any child and they will tell you: of course, guns alone don’t kill people. People with guns do. And they are far more likely to be killed by people if guns are in plentiful supply. As they are in the United States, which is why FAR FAR more Americans are killed this way, than in nations with gun control.

38,000 Americans are killed by guns every year.

0.25 people in the UK out of every 100,000 people in the population are killed in firearm related deaths every year.

9.20 people in the US out of every 100,000 people in the population are killed in firearm related deaths every year.

This is nearly 37 times as high.

I do not wish to make light of the massacre at Newtown, Connecticut last week which was genuinely appalling. The one silver lining seems to be that it has provided a new appetite for new gun control legislation not seen in the US since the Clinton years.

Bill Clinton, is in fact, the only recent US president to emerge with any credit on this issue. Before the powerful gun control lobby got its pernicious claws into public opinion, most Americans favoured gun control legislation. Even before the recent massacre, public opinion still favoured the introduction of tougher restrictions on gun ownership than are currently in place.

Obama did nothing about this in his first term and remained silent when the Aurora massacre occurred during the election campaign. In his defence, starting a row on the subject in the summer would have been unlikely to have productive. It would not have resulted in any legislation at that stage of the electoral cycle. Indeed, it may well have handed the White House to Governor Mitt Romney (remember him?) and thus pushed gun control off the agenda until at least 2017.

In the meantime, we must consider the validity of the anti-gun control arguments. If there is a good argument against gun control, I’ve yet to hear it:

a)      The “gun control doesn’t work” argument: Er… yes, it does! Look at Britain. The figures are not explicable either by the US’s higher population or by any other social difference.

b)      The historic right to bear arms” argument: Please be serious. Anyone with a facet of common sense can see this was meant to apply to armed militias in the 18th century War of Independence before Americans even had a standing army. It wasn’t intended to be used to justify massacres in schools. If a law is stupid as in the case of Britain’s fox hunting laws or as in the case of slavery in the UK and the US: change the law. Who cares how historic it is if the law is wrong now?

c)       The “government takeover” argument: Usually phrased as:  would you rather the government and military had all the guns then? As in, would I rather trained professionals with no history at all of turning their guns on the population had the guns or some high school kid?

d)      The “gun control is socialist” argument: Is it? I’m not sure it is actually. Does it really matter is it? Would you rather more innocent children were massacred in the meantime? If so, perhaps you should consider re-evaluating your priorities.

e)      The “kill all be killed” argument: Popular after the cinema massacre: if everyone is armed, everyone can defend themselves! Brilliant. Leaving aside, this envisages a horrendous nightmare scenario in which nobody can even go for a quiet trip to the cinema without the prospect of becoming involved in gunplay it hardly applies to Newtown. Unless you really believe nine year old children should be trained to defend themselves?

ImageTo his credit, President Obama has now made a solid pledge to ban assault weapons. The US political jungle is a tricky one to navigate.  We must all hope he succeeds. If he does so, he may yet prove a great president.

Great Movie Switchovers

michael-j-fox-back-to-the-future-screenshotApocalypseNow_066Pyxurz034_richard_gere_theredlisttom-selleck

Few greater changes can occur on a movie’s production than the leading man being replaced at the last minute.

But what if history had played out differently? Yes, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones now, but it almost happened.

Just consider…

HARRISON FORD Vs TOM SELLECK

The role:  Adventurer/archaeologist Indiana Jones in Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

The first choice: Tom Selleck, star of TV’s Magnum PI.

The replacement: Harrison Ford. Despite small parts in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and Apocalypse Now, Ford was not actually a star in 1981. Even his role as Han Solo in Star Wars had not assured him stardom in itself (any more than it did for his co-stars Mark Hamill or Carrie Fisher).

The switch: After struggling to receive serious attention from the industry into his mid-thirties, Selleck landed the role of Magnum in 1980. Although a big success, contractually Selleck found himself unable to take the role of Indiana Jones which went to Ford instead. Annoyingly, a strike on the set of Magnum meant that Selleck could probably have performed both roles anyway.

The result: The film was a box office smash and an all time classic, winning an Oscar nomination for Best Film and spawning three sequels.

What happened to the new star?:  Relatively late in life, Harrison Ford became one of the biggest movie stars of all time and for close to twenty years had a reputation for never being in a flop (in truth, the critically acclaimed Blade Runner and Mosquito Coast both failed commercially). In addition to the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises he appeared in the highly regarded “grown up” films Witness, Frantic, Working Girl, Regarding Henry and Presumed Innocent.

And the first choice? Selleck stayed in Magnum – a big success in its day – until it was cancelled in 1988 (the character was killed off). He appeared in one or two transparent attempts to emulate Indiana Jones such as High Road to China and Lassiter during the Eighties as well as Quigley Down Under. He played the King in Christopher Columbus The Discovery (for which he received a Razzle) but aside from Magnum is probably best known for his role alongside Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg in the comedy Three Men And A Baby and as Monica’s older lover Richard in Friends.

Conclusion: I’ve no desire to compound Tom Selleck’s misery on this subject but from what we’ve seen during his career, it’s hard to imagine he would have a) been as good as Indiana Jones as Harrison Ford was anyway or b) had the same career Ford subsequently enjoyed. Would Selleck have taken up a half arsed role in Cowboys and Aliens? Would Selleck have married Calista Flockhart? Would Selleck’s second wife have written ET? We must assume not.

Crumbs of comfort: Tom Selleck is still a household name. And he has arguably demonstrated more of a flair for comedy than Ford has. And don’t be too sympathetic: Selleck is a vocal supporter of the National Rifle Association.

The winner?: HARRISON FORD

MARTIN SHEEN Vs HARVEY KEITEL

The role: Captain Benjamin Willard in Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now (1979).

The first choice: Harvey Keitel, then best known for his roles in early Martin Scorsese films Mean Streets and Taxi Driver.

The replacement: Martin Sheen, previously the troubled James Dean-alike Fifties hoodlum in Terence Malick’s Badlands.

The switch: Keitel was fired and replaced by Sheen early in the troubled production. Coppola felt Keitel struggled to play Willard as a “passive onlooker”.

The result: Keitel must initially felt like he’d had a narrow escape. Apocalypse Now was soon christened “Apocalypse When?” by critics as the production overran, the crew in the Philippines were hit by a bout of food poisoning, director Ford Coppola grew increasingly megalomaniacal and co-star Marlon Brando arrived much fatter than expected and delayed production still further while he took the time to read the book Heart of Darkness upon which the film is loosely based. Although only in his thirties, Sheen, then struggling with alcohol, suffered a heart attack while filming. Despite these issues, the film was a critical and commercial success and is rivalled only by Platoon (starring Martin’s son Charlie Sheen) as the best ‘Nam film ever made.

What happened to the new star?: Despite quitting the booze and keeping busy, Sheen didn’t choose particularly great film roles during the next two decades. Indeed, the period saw him slightly eclipsed by his sons Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen. However, his role as President Josiah Bartlet in Aaron Sorkin’s log running TV drama The West Wing put him back on the map. Now in old age he appeared recently in the new Spider Man film and generally plays small “elderly father” roles.

And the first choice? Keitel slipped into near obscurity in the Eighties before enjoying a comeback towards the end of that decade playing Judas in Scorsese’s controversial Last Temptation of Christ and securing an Oscar nod for a role in gangster film Bugsy. The Nineties were good for Keitel with hard hitting acclaimed roles in Thelma and Louise, Jane Campion’s The Piano,  Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn and Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant and lighter roles (although again as a gangster/criminal type) in the likes of Sister Act. His profile has fallen in the 21st century though.

Conclusion: Hmmmm. Sheen has starred in two classic films Badlands and Apocalypse Now and one great series The West Wing. Harvey Keitel has starred in two classic films Mean Streets and Reservoir Dog and had notable support roles in three others Taxi Driver, Thelma and Louise and Pulp Fiction. Sheen is perhaps the slightly more famous of the two men, thanks partly to his sons. But oddly, as huge a deal as Apocalypse Now must have seemed at the time, in the long run, neither actor has been obviously more successful than the other. Both have kept busy, done some great stuff and both have done quite a lot of stuff you’ll never see.

The winner?: A DRAW

MICHAEL  J FOX Vs ERIC STOLTZ

The role: Marty McFly in science fiction rom com Back To The Future (1985).

The first choice: Eric Stoltz, then best known for his role alongside Cher in Mask (no, not the Jim Carrey one).

The replacement:  Michael J Fox then the star of US sitcom Family Ties. The J doesn’t stand for anything. Michael Fox’s middle name is Andrew but he reasoned Michael A Fox might sound silly or even a bit conceited.

The switch: Brutal. Filming had commenced when Eric Stoltz was fired for playing the role too dramatically rather than as a comedy. Fox was lucky to be able to work around his Family Ties schedule although endured a punishing timetable.

The result: The film was a box office smash and is still much loved. There were two sequels.

What happened to the new star? Fox became a huge star overnight as the film coincided with the release of Teen Wolf, a film disliked by its star, which nonetheless did well. Fox appeared in the BTTF sequels and the weighty Casualties of War but his star waned in the early Nineties, probably in part due to Fox struggling to come to terms with the private news of the diagnosis of his Parkinson’s disease in 1991.He enjoyed an impressive comeback in 1996 with his role as a youthful looking political adviser (based on Bill Clinton’s own George Stephanopoulos) which led in turn to a triumphant return to sitcom in Spin City. He announced his illness in 1998 and has become a vocal spokesman for the disease since as well as voicing Stuart Little.

And the first choice? Poor Eric Stoltz must wish he could time travel and change history himself sometimes. But he did get to stab Uma Thurman through the heart in Pulp Fiction and directs Glee sometimes.

Conclusion: Although not cursed by the ill health of Michael J Fox, fame wise, sadly Stoltz isn’t even really a household name.

The winner? MICHAEL J FOX

JOHN TRAVOLTA Vs RICHARD GERE

The role: Several: the leads in Days of Heaven,  An Officer and A Gentleman and American Gigolo

The first choice: John Travolta, already a huge star after Saturday Night Fever and Grease.

The replacement: Richard Gere, who ironically had starred in the original London stage production of Grease in  1973.

The switch: Travolta foolishly turned down all these roles. Gere took them all instead.

The result: All the films did well. Days of Heaven was more of a critical than commercial hit.

What happened to the new star? Richard Gere became a star. He is still probably as much admired for these early roles as anything he has done since although enjoyed another massive hit with Pretty Woman in 1990. His career has had a few ups and downs over the years and may have been harmed slightly by his pro-Tibetan stance but he has never vanished from view. He returned to musicals for the Oscar winning Chicago in 2003, a role also turned down by John Travolta.

And the first choice? Travolta’s career endured a dramatic fifteen year slump relieved only by the success of Amy Heckerling’s Look Who’s Talking in 1990. By 1994, however, with the Seventies becoming cool again, turns in Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty suddenly made him very cool again and he returned to stardom. Occasionally, he’s made bad career choices since (the Scientology inspired Phenomenon and Battlefield Earth) and he’s not exactly “cool” anymore. However, he remains a star.

Conclusion: Gere to some extent owes his career to John Travolta’s early poor career choices. Yet as with Keitel and Sheen, the decades have evened the score somewhat.

The winner? A DRAWImage

The Class of 2016

The dust may have only just settled on the 2012 race but already thoughts are turning to 2016. Obama can’t run again due to the two term limit, Romney is unlikely to stand again either. So who’s in contention at this early stage?

Hilary Clinton (Dem)

Secretary of State, former First Lady and near winner of the party nomination in 2008.

For: Certainly, the most famous of any of the possible contenders, she has been a success as secretary of state and any wounds left by the bitter 2008 primary race against Obama now seem to have (largely) healed.

Against: She is getting on in years (she will be 69 in 2016) although seems good for her age. There are also a lot of Clinton-haters still in the US (although most are more obsessed with Obama now) and, oh yes!: the US has still never nominated a woman as presidential candidate for any major party, let alone elected them president. Then again, until 2008, they had never elected a black president either…

Joe Biden (Dem)

Vice President.

For: With the exception of the corrupt (Spiro Agnew), the evil (Dick Cheney), the mortally ill (Nelson Rockefeller) and the stupid (Dan Quayle) every Vice President in the last sixty years has gone on to eventually win the presidential nomination for themselves. Four out of the last ten Veeps have gone onto the presidency too (Nixon, Ford, Johnson, Bush I). Biden performed well in this year’s TV debates.

Against: Age again. Biden will be 74 in 2016 and he has already proven gaffe-prone. His 1988 presidential bid was scuppered when he delivered a speech which turned out to have been plagiarised from one previously delivered by British Opposition leader Neil Kinnock (an unknown figure in the US).

Paul Ryan (Rep)

Wisconsin Rep. Mitt Romney’s running mate.

For: Romney’s confused introduction of Ryan as “the next president of the United States” may yet prove correct.

Against: He could be tainted by defeat. He lied in his convention speech and he and Romney both lost their home states in 2012.

Rick Santorum (Rep)

Former Senator for Pennsylvania.

For: Ran against Romney in 2012. A Catholic who will benefit if the party shifts to the Right. Anti-gay marriage and in denial over climate change.

Against: Just horrible.ImageImage

Why was Dan so Desperate? The demise of The Dandy

dandy cover

The last edition of the Dandy has just hit newsagent shelves. Technically, it’s not the end. The comic will continue to appear online. But this feels like the end. It’s a bit like when Blue Peter stopped being on BBC 1.

The Daily Telegraph attempted to assess why the comic might be folding when news of The Dandy imminent demise was announced in August.

“Political correctness,” Michael Leapman claimed. “It meant toning down the violence and, in the school-based strips, stopping teachers from taking the cane or the slipper to recalcitrant pupils”.

It is an odd suggestion. The Telegraph is often inclined to blame political correctness for everything in the world, but here they seem even less on the money than usual. Would The Dandy really have survived had the teacher characters in the stories still been allowed to cane the child characters? Wouldn’t this seem a bit odd, in a Britain where no child has been caned in a state school for a quarter century? Why would this affect The Dandy more than The Beano, which has more school-based strips and is still going strong? And why, if this was such a blow to The Dandy, has it taken until 2012 to have any affect?

Leapman elsewhere blames the poor distribution of the comic for its failure: yet this was clearly a symptom of its decline, not the cause of it.

The real question should be not why is The Dandy ending now but why hasn’t it ended before?

I don’t mean this as an insult to the comic: quite the opposite. Its endurance is incredible.

The Dandy started in 1937. Repeat: 1937.

To have read the first issue, you would have to now be similar to the Queen or Lady Thatcher in age. Or you would be dead.

The Dandy survived a world war (threat of invasion, paper shortages), the challenge posed by The Eagle comic and TV in the 1950s, the numerous upheavals of the Sixties, Seventies and beyond: computer games, Star Wars, texting, DVDs and the web (the last of which it is now merging into).

It has endured something roughly equivalent to a human life span. It already looked old fashioned when I was a child in the Eighties. “Dandy” (like “Beano” which started in 1938) was hardly a hip or even meaningful term after all. Neither was the term “hip” for that matter. I actually much preferred The Beano, also produced by DC Thomson in Dundee. Most people seem to. Hence why that’s still going.

Why was Desperate Dan “desperate” after all? He was incredibly strong and ate cow pie. He wasn’t “desperate”. He is, of course, desperate in the sense of a desperado. But how many children (or adults) understand that? Adult comic Viz launched a cruel lampoon in the same decade”Desperately Unfunny Dan”.

The Eighties and Nineties were in fact a very brutal period for the British comic industry. I stopped reading as I advanced towards adulthood in the mid-Nineties but many of the comics I read died even before then.

The news would usually be sneaked onto the front page: “Great news about your favourite comic inside!” Even as a child, I grew cynical about this process.

The “great news” was usually that the comic was merging into another comic and thus was effectively bankrupt. One or two stories would still continue to appear as would perhaps, separate annuals for a bit. The name would perhaps continue for a bit as a subheading. Wow! merged into Whoopee! for example and became Whoopee! and Wow!. As with the Lib Dems in the Coalition, the junior partner often disappeared entirely after a while.

IPC comic Buster which started in 1960 was THE great swallower of comics during this time. Between 1974 and 1988, Buster absorbed Cor!! Monster Fun, Jackpot, School Fun, Nipper and Oink!

Whizzer and Chips (which unusually never appeared as two separate comics) started in 1969 and also absorbed such forgotten titles as Knockout, Krazy and Scouse Mouse as well as Whoopee! which as already mentioned had already merged with Wow! plus Cheeky and Shiver and Shake.

Then in 1990, Whizzer and Chips merged into Buster. When Buster ended in 2000, it was as if a thousand dying comics screamed at once.

DC Thomson comics followed a similar pattern. Nutty (which included Bananaman) and the short-lived Hoot merged into The Dandy in the Eighties. Bananaman (which was immeasurably boosted by having its own TV series) goes against the pattern of old stories dissolving quickly and is the third longest lasting Dandy story (the others are Korky the Kat and Desperate Dan).

The Beezer and Topper meanwhile both lasted since the 195os. Both merged into each other and then into The Beano in the 1990s.I expected The Dandy to do the same.

The Dandy’s end is less sudden then and thanks to the internet, takes a different form to that of other comics.

Perhaps The Beano will one day go the same way. But in the meantime, let us not mourn. The Dandy’s capacity to survive since the period of Neville Chamberlain and the Spanish Civil War is more remarkable than its demise now.

The Dandy: 1937-2012, It’s an impressive run. This was the UK’s longest lasting comic.
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Top 5 finest British political TV dramas

Political thriller Secret State has now come to an end. But what other series deserve a place amongst the best British TV political dramas of all time?Image

The Deal

Year: 2003

The plot:  It’s 1983 and when a newly elected young Labour MP Tony Blair finds himself sharing an office with a hardworking Scot Gordon Brown (David Morrissey), he soon recognises his dour companion could one day be a future Prime Minister. But as the next decade rolls on it is Blair, not Brown whose populist instincts gradually put him ahead and by 1994, the two friends are forced to make a tough decision concerning their own, their party and their nation’s future.

The series: The first of Peter Morgan’s “Blair Trilogy” starring Sheen, before the film The Queen and the later (somewhat inferior) Special Relationship. At the time, critical attention actually focused more on David Morrissey’s uncanny portrayal of Brown than on Sheen’s Blair. Other interesting casting included Dexter Fletcher as Charlie Whelan and Frank Kelly (Father Ted’s drunken Father Jack) as Labour leader John Smith.

Remade? No. Peter Morgan’s next project The Audience will focus on the different relationships the Queen has had with her various PMs during her long reign.

Basis in reality?: Clearly based on reality. Although Blair and Brown have both denied any deal (namely that Blair agree in advance to stand down in favour of Brown after an agreed time lapse) was ever made.

A Very British Coup

Year: 1988

The plot: Former Sheffield steelworker Harry Perkins (Ray McAnally) has been elected Labour Prime Minister in a landslide. The Establishment (the Civil Service, media, MI5 as well as the CIA) do not like this one bit and soon conspire together in the hope of triggering Perkins’ downfall.

The series:  Based on the novel by onetime Labour MP Chris Mullin and discussed more thoroughly in my recent blog entry. The excellent McNally tragically died soon after playing Perkins.

Remade? In the UK as The Secret State starring Gabriel Byre. Chris Mullin enjoyed a brief cameo as a vicar but the plot – which centred on the aftermath of the disappearance of a Prime Minister as his plane flew over the Atlantic – was very different.

GBH

Year:

The plot: Charismatic Trotskyite Labour politician Michael Murray (Robert Lindsay) has taken over the council of a northern city and soon calls for a “Day of Action”. This soon turns into a very personal battle with local schoolteacher Jim Nelson (Michael Palin) who resists. But Murray has more than a few skeletons in his closet (notably a traumatic childhood incident) and various figures on the Right are soon seeking to frame him for a series of racial attacks.

The series: Alan Bleasdale’s series initially portrayed Murray as a clear villain, then a figure of fun (a sequence in which a twitchy overstressed Murray attempts to acquire condoms is hilarious) before ultimately becoming a very sympathetic and somewhat tragic figure. Julie Walters, who plays Lindsay’s wife in their next Alan Bleasdale drama Jake’s Progress, here plays his elderly Irish mother. In reality, she is slightly younger than him

Basis in reality? Derek Hatton, the former Militant leader of Liverpool  City Council criticised the series claiming it was based on him, a charge Bleasdale fiercely denied. Although ultimately an attack on the Right and the extreme Left, many critics at the time seemed to think Bleasdale had turned his fire on the Kinnock Labour Party.

House of Cards

Year: 1990

The plot: When scheming Chief Whip Francis Urquhart (the late Ian Richardson) is passed over for promotion by the lightweight new post-Thatcher Tory PM Henry Collingridge, he soon decides to use his own insider knowledge and an attractive young journalist Mattie Storin (Susannah Harker) to plot for the leadership himself. A gripping story which benefits hugely from Richardson’s brilliant performance, his tendency to speak directly to the camera and elements of Shakespearian drama incorporated into the action.

The series: Adapted from Tory insider Michael Dobbs’ novel (which ends differently to the TV version) by Andrew Davies, this spawned two sequels To Play The King, in which PM Urquhart overthrows a Prince Charles like monarch and The Final Cut.

Remade? A US TV remake starring Kevin Spacey will appear early in 2013.

Basis in reality? The timing of the first series was uncanny, with Margaret Thatcher being challenged and overthrown by her old rival Michael Heseltine before being replaced by John Major exactly in parallel to the progress of events in the four part series on TV. Later series got so popular that Urquhart’s evasive catchphrase “You might very well think that. I couldn’t possibly comment” was soon being jokily quoted in parliament. The last series was criticised by some for featuring Lady Thatcher’s funeral.

Our Friends In The North

Year: 1996

The plot: Four friends travel from youthful optimism to middle age from thirty years from the year of Harold Wilson’s first victory and the Beatles in 1964 to the advent of New Labour and Oasis in 1995.

Nicky (future Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston) a keen Labour supporter drops out of University to assist local politician Austin Donohue (Alun Armstrong) but becomes implicated in civic corruption, briefly becomes drawn into counterculture terrorism before enduring a horrendous stint as a Labour candidate in 1979.

Geordie (future James Bond Daniel Craig, then largely unknown) flees a broken home only to find an ill chosen surrogate father figure in East End gangland boss Benny (Malcolm McDowell).

Tosker (Mark Strong) seeks pop stardom, has an unhappy marriage before becoming, despite being in many ways the stupidest and least likeable of the four,  the most successful, establishing himself as a keen Freemason and Thatcherite.

Mary (Gina McKee who is also in The Secret State) is caught up in an awkward love triangle between the unsuitable Tosker and true love Nicky. She later becomes a New Labour MP.

The series: A wonderful sprawling series this had a long gestation period, originally as a play with the action only going up to 1979.

Remade? No, although there has been talk of a US remake.

Basis in reality? Although fictional, this drew heavily on real events. Austin Donohue’s character was based on real life corrupt city developer T Dan Smith, while a character played by future Downton Abbey author Julian Fellowes owed a lot to Tory Home Secretary Reginald Maudling. Revelations concerning police corruption, 1970s anarchist movements and events during the Miner’s Strike of 1984 also played a major part in the story.

Why I love UKIP

Nigel Farage smilingDo you feel the main problem with the government is that it’s too wishy washy? Are you a little bit racist but not quite enough to join the BNP?  Do you have little interest in politics beyond a vague notion that leaving the European Union would somehow benefit the UK?

If so, then UKIP is the party for you!

It’s easy to mock. But it’s hard not to feel the latest UKIP “surge” would be a tad more convincing if: a) they had actually won a single parliamentary seat. Even the SDP won some by elections you know!

b) If they actually had any ideas beyond withdrawing from the EU and

c) the most likely outcome of any rise in their support was not to split the Tory vote and help Labour.

So…er, why am I even attacking them? Good point!

Hurrah for UKIP and Nigel Farage!

VOTE UKIP:  FOR A LABOUR GOVERNMENT TOMORROW!