Twenty years of What A Carve Up!

what-a-carve-up

April 1994 saw the publication of perhaps the most fiercely anti-Thatcherite novel ever written: What A Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe.

It is a furiously angry as well as a funny book, but do not assume it is exclusively political. The novel’s action darts back to far beyond the Thatcherite Eighties veering between the decades from the Second World War to shortly after the Lady’s fall from power in late 1990. In fact, only one major character, the turncoat Henry Winshaw, is a politician. Throw in a recurring fixation with the fairly obscure Carry On style film starring Sid James and Kenneth Connor, a ninety year old gay private detective, a bitter attack on the post-Thatcherite public transport system and that’s still only scratching the surface of this marvellously incisive novel.

The novel is the primarily the tale of the Winshaws, the horrendous family who the book’s narrator is charged with writing the biography of. Echoing the mock gothic theme of the film the book is linked to (although not based on), the Winshaws live in a blustery isolated manor house in northern England. In the film, Kenneth Connor’s character is brought to the house by the prospect of an inheritance. Instead, he encounters murder and romance in the form of an infatuation with a beautiful girl played by Shirley Eaton, later better known for her role in Goldfinger.

 Carve

The link between the film and the book is an odd one. For example, one scene in the novel sees a character eavesdropping on the filming of the production in 1961 before being shooed off by the actor Sid James. Meanwhile, another character Tabitha Winshaw has been driven mad by the suspicion that her family had a role in the death of her brother in the Second World War. This echoes the character in the film who thinks she is still a suffragette and living fifty years in the past. But Tabitha’s fears do seem to have some foundation. At any rate, knowledge of the film is not essential to enjoying the book (I myself only saw the film in full a couple of years ago).

Carve small

There is much to enjoy. My personal favourite sequences are the extracts from the diaries of Henry Winshaw, an unscrupulous man who travels from being a selfish Labour MP during the Wilson era too an unprincipled right wing media whore in old age. The few brief diary entries perfectly reflect his self importance (he is convinced Harold Wilson “hates and despises” him but the book’s footnote reveals Wilson never even knew who he was) and his betrayal as in a sort of reverse of Enoch Powell’s actions he suddenly urges his supporters to vote Tory on the eve of the February 1974 General Election.

Carve 3

There is more. Much more. Happily, the book has not overshadowed Coe’s subsequent career. He is as known for the excellent Rotter’s Club (which has been televised) as for this and his superb The Rain Before It Falls marked a total departure.

Every one of Coe’s nine novels to date is worth reading. But twenty years on, What A Carve Up! remains his masterpiece.

Carve 4]

Advertisements

Book review: Dominion by C.J. Sansom

Chris Hallam's World View

3.-Dominion-9780230744165 (3)
Britain 1952 and the nation should be enjoying the fruits of the end of post-war austerity and a new Elizabethan age.

But history has taken a horrendous wrong turn in C.J. Sansom’s all too plausible novel. For this is a world in which the appeaser Lord Halifax became Prime Minister instead of Winston Churchill in 1940. Instead of “fighting in the fields and in the streets”, Halifax and his Cabinet opted to sue for peace with the Nazis in the face of apparently certain defeat after Dunkirk. Hitler’s terms seem generous. As in 1938, the people are delighted as full blown war seems to have again been averted. Only over time, does the true cost of British capitulation become clear.

By 1952, Britain is emotionally and physically drained by the strain of Nazi domination and a seemingly endless war with the Soviet Union. The government is an unholy coalition of…

View original post 351 more words

Why Richard Nixon was pretty bad, after all

nix

Forty years after his resignation as US president and twenty years after his death, many have sought to revise the general opinion about disgraced US president Richard Nixon. But though he did achieve successes, perhaps it’s worth remembering: he was known as “Tricky Dicky” for a reason…

The Pink Lady campaign

Nixon played dirty from an early stage, shamelessly exploiting the post-war Red Scare to demolish his Democrat opponent, the actress Helen Gahagan Douglas in his 1950 campaign for the US Senate.  Although she was basically a New Deal Democrat, Nixon labelled her “the Pink Lady…pink right down to her underwear” and had thousands of pink leaflets distributed saying the same thing. Douglas lost and gave up politics. Nixon won by a landslide but at a price: he would be known as “Tricky Dicky” forever.

Sabotaged peace talks

Having lost the 1960 election narrowly to JFK, Nixon wasn’t prepared to do so again in 1968. But President Johnson’s halt to the bombing in Vietnam in October was calculated to help Nixon’s opponent Johnson’s Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Nixon used an intermediary to sabotage the peace talks, something the Humphrey team knew about, in fact, confident of victory, they stated quiet. Instead, Nixon won narrowly. The truth wasn’t revealed until after his death in 1994.

Foreign policy dishonest

Nixon was elected claiming to have a “secret plan to end the war”. In fact, he had no plan. He first attempted to win the war as  Johnson had, also illegally invading Cambodia before ultimately withdrawing the US presence ensuring a Communist victory (in fairness, probably an inevitable outcome whatever he did). Nixon’s administration also backed General Pinochet’s bloody coup against the democratically elected Allende government in Chile.

nixon_620-e1357749984496

Obsessed with his “enemies”

Nixon generally confused legitimate and fair political opponents with enemies of the state. His “enemies list” included everyone from Senator Ted Kennedy (perhaps understandably) to entertainers like Bill Cosby and Barbara Streisand.

Watergate

In 1972, having sabotaged the primary campaign of his most feared opponent Senator Ed Muskie, the Nixon team’s attempts to wiretap and destroy their political opponents fell flat when a botched break-in at Democrat HQ led to the Watergate scandal which led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974. No scandal, other than the Iran-Contra scandal, has come close to Watergate in terms of severity. Nixon lied repeatedly, humiliated his country and himself and destroyed his own presidency.

henry-kissinger-y-richard-nixon

DVD review: Friday Night Dinner Series 2

FND

Friday Night Dinner: Season 2

2entertain

If you’ve never seen Friday Night Dinner before, lucky you: you are in for a treat.

Robert Popper’s sitcom has a laughably simple premise. A middle aged married Jewish couple Martin and Jackie Goodman (Paul Ritter and sitcom veteran Tamsin Greig) are joined every Friday evening for dinner by their two twentysomething sons Adam and Jonny (Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal).

That’s really all there is to it. And it’s hilarious.

Much of the humour comes from the silliness of the two sons who in the first episode find themselves engaged in a virtual house civil war over Adam’s childhood toy bunny “Buggy”. The duo later engage in a further feud when it emerges Jonny is having an affair with an older woman at his work.

Yet juvenile though they are, the Goodman sons are at least still on Planet Earth. The funniest characters are the eccentrics notably Paul Ritter’s Dad. Occasionally deaf, incapable of keeping his shirt on for an entire episode, prone to hiding in his shed or telling poor jokes (“a lovely bit of squirrel, love!”) and often seemingly oblivious to hygiene or indeed any external events, he is a brilliant comic creation.

The same could also be said of the Goodmans’ truly bonkers next door neighbour, Jim, played splendidly in ludicrously large glasses by Mark Heap. Perpetually turning up at the door during dinner, partly to angle for some food himself, partly because he is clearly besotted with family matriarch Jackie (Greig), Jim is always accompanied by his dog Wilson, who he actually appears to be terrified of. Heap is every bit as great in this role as he was as the artist/loner Brian in Spaced or indeed the sexually frustrated Doctor Adam Statham in Green Wing.

And that’s just the main cast. Support comes from “Horrible Grandma” (who insists on bringing her own turkey in a bag on attending Christmas Dinner), “Auntie” Val, Nan and her truly terrifying octogenarian boyfriend Mr. Morris, a man obsessed with “slanderers” and prone to pulling light fittings out of the wall during his frequent fits of rage.

A truly classic comedy, this has taken its time getting to DVD (it was first shown nearly two years’ ago). The third series was broadcast on Channel 4 just this summer. It cannot come to DVD soon enough.

Special Features:

Six episodes plus the 2012 Christmas Special

Series 1 Recap (not really necessary and won’t really fill you in if you’ve forgotten or not seen the first series.

Behind the Scenes with Cast and Crew Featurette

Old people and why most of them are rubbish

free-vector-svg-road-signs-clip-art_109623_Svg_Road_Signs_clip_art_hight

 

Old people are everywhere. They are in our shops, in our cafes and in our streets. It is sometimes said that everyone in London is just three feet away from an old person at any one time. Well enough is enough! It is time these geriatric invaders learned a few lessons about modern life. If you know any old people and can persuade them to look at the screen for long enough, show them this…

  1. Stop being rude

Granted old people may have worked their whole lives (in most cases) but they should remember that the usual social norms still apply to them. Shop doorways are for going through, not for standing in front of. Cinemas are for people to watch films in, not for you to gossip to your friends in. Queues are for queuing in: do not think you can always jump them. You don’t know that person on the bus? Then don’t start talking to them like an old friend just because they are also old!

  1. Display some tact please

Let’s face it: old people get away with being far ruder than anyone else would. “Yes, perhaps I am a bit fatter Nan, thanks for noticing.” “No Nan. It’s not political correctness. You haven’t been able to call them that for years.” And no! Believe it or not, you don’t have a superpower which enables you to identify which celebrities are likely to be convicted of sex offences before they have been accused of anything just because “they have a funny look about them”! If you did have this power, why didn’t you use this gift back in the Seventies when it might have done some good?

 

  1. Stop being so nostalgic for a fairytale version of the past that never existed

No, the past wasn’t all great. People were still hanged, everyone was racist and homophobic, food was rubbish, TV was boring, the monetary system was insanely complicated (240 pence in a pound?) and The Goon Show was totally incomprehensible. And if you love the idea of reintroducing National Service so much, might I suggest we reintroduce it for the over seventies only? Nobody else wants it. If you want to recreate your own Dad’s Army go ahead!

 

  1. Do not take food with you on holiday!

Believe it or not, they probably sell bread, milk and teabags wherever you are going anyway! Milk goes off you know? It’s not going to bankrupt you to obey some basic hygiene rules.

 

  1. Stop making our TV crap

Ever wondered why so much of our TV is dull, moribund Downtown Abbey/Call The Midwife type stuff? Why whole channels cater exclusively to fans of Last of the Summer Wine, Heartbeat and The House of Elliot. You’ve guessed it! Because old people love this crap.

  1. Technology isn’t that bad!

No! Your email hasn’t disappeared. The screen has just moved down a bit. How did I find out the Bruce Forsyth’s age so easily? Simple. I typed in: BRUCE FORSYTH AGE. No, don’t panic! It’s not an air raid. I’m receiving a text message on my mobile phone. Just as I did two minutes ago.

7. Old people run everything

The Queen is the Head of the Church of England. She is 88. Her successor Prince Charles is already 65. The Pope is 77. The Vice President of the USA Joe Biden is 71 while the favourite to be the next US president, Hillary Clinton is likely to be close to 70 before she even gets there. The US Secretary of State John Kerry is also 70 while the most powerful man in the media world, Rupert Murdoch is 83!!

8. Stop moaning

Many old people have legitimate grievances: they are ill, weak, lonely or cold in the winter. The rest of you though have nothing to complain about! If you’re seventy five now, you missed the world wars and Great Depression your parents suffered through and will miss having to work until ninety eight like the rest of us! You’re pensions are good. You are rich simply because you bought a house for about two pounds in 1968 and haven’t destroyed it. Be happy! Honestly, some old people don’t know they’re born.

 

Six reasons why the Eighties were crap

 features The Krankies 2008

The past may well be a different country. But is it one which you would necessarily want to visit? In the case of the Eighties, here are six reasons why the decade as a whole is best avoided…

 Movies were bad

Okay, clearly not ALL Eighties movies were bad but there was a hell of a lot of crap around ranging from Flashdance, Red Dawn, Mannequin to the Police Academy films. The British film industry was in an especially dire state with virtually one Cannon and Ball film or Merchant Ivory period piece being released a year. Animated films such as The Fox and the Hound and Basil The Great Mouse Detective were a million miles away from the sophisticated standard set by the likes of Frozen and the Toy Story films today. Even at the higher end, supposedly great Oscar winning fare like Driving Miss Daisy, Ordinary People and Terms of Endearment are watched by virtually NO ONE today.

police-academy-cast-of-police-academy-mission-to-moscow-121870974

Computers were rubbish

Got  a spare two hours? Then try loading even the most basic blocky bitty computer game in 1984. Even then, it probably won’t work and will come back with a message saying “Boot error”.

computer 80s

Mobile phones were huge

Some people, of course, had mobile phones in the Eighties but they were huge brick-like things which required you to shout down them so loudly you may as well just have shouted anyway. There was also no internet so you needed to visit the library to find out even the slightest bit of trivia about anything. Also, are you late for a meeting with someone? Tough! You can’t text “15 MINS L8 SORRY”. You’ll just have to miss them! You could try calling them from a phone box (although many were vandalised even then) but unless they’re at home or in the office, that won’t work as chances are they don’t have a mobile either!

AmericanPsycho200013

Everything closed on Sunday

And TV stopped at about one o clock in the morning (after a quick play of the National Anthem). What a bore!

TV was often rubbish

Not only did you have to get both the Radio Times AND the TV Times to see what was on all four channels, we had to put up with the likes of Duty Free, No Place Like Home and sitcoms starring Jim Davidson. The most watched comedy show of the entire decade? An episode of Carla Lane’s Bread. Rubbish.

200203031254019

The country was in a bad way

Britain boomed in the Eighties? Well, yes, for about five minutes towards the end before overheating and descending into recession again. For most of the decade, unemployment was well over three million (much higher than during the recent recession) while the country quaked amidst rioting, IRA bomb explosions while teetering on the brink of extinction from the threat of nuclear war. Nostalgia? Some things are best left in the past.

 margaretthatcher

Eight UK TV comedies than either soared or flopped on the big screen

david-brent
A decade after The Office finished, Ricky Gervais’s most famous creation, the excruciatingly awkward “chilled out entertainer” David Brent is to return, this time on the big screen. Gervais is adamant that Life On The Road which focuses on Brent’s post-Wernham-Hogg existence as a salesman cum wannabe musician is NOT a full blown Office sequel. But which other small screen British comedy characters have attempted to break out into the world of cinema? And which have triumphed and which have failed?

1. Kevin & Perry Go Large (2000)
Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke’s sex-starved teenage creations followed the “going on holiday” formula favoured by many British sitcom movie adaptations ranging from On The Buses to The Inbetweeners, this time going to the party island of Ibiza where they run into a malevolent club DJ played by Rhys Ifans.
VERDICT: Neutral

kevin-perry-kevin-perry-go-large-15-08-2001-2000-98-g

2. The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse (2005)
With a tricky postmodern plot in which the creators of the TV series decided to destroy their own creations, the Royston Vasey cast made an awkward transition to celluloid, the cast later moving onto work on dark TV successes Sherlock, Psychoville and Doctor Who.
VERDICT: Failure

3. Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie (1997)
Loved by some, hated by others, Rowan Atkinson’s hapless hero performed well in his feature debut directed by the late Mel Smith. A sequel, the self explanatory Mr. Bean Goes On Holiday appeared a full decade later.
VERDICT: Success

4. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)
A-ha! Norwich’s favourite son played by Steve Coogan was transposed to a siege setting in this enjoyable film version of a dramatic event in the egocentric local radio DJ’s life. Partridge seems cooler and even slightly younger than in recent TV outings although never loses his essential naffness. Long suffering PA Lynn (Felicity Montagu) and Sidekick Simon (Tim Key) return although Mike the Geordie (Simon Greenall) appears to be killed off. A sequel is expected.
VERDICT: Success. “Lovely stuff” (not my words. The words of Shakin Stevens).

Alan-Partridge-Alpha-Papa

5. Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie (2014)
Despite receiving appalling reviews, the movie version of the gender-bending Mrs. Brown’s Boys proved a modest hit with fans of the controversial and (let’s face it) truly awful BBC sitcom.
VERDICT: Failure

6. In The Loop (2009)
This well received version of the excellent BBC political sitcom kept its most memorable character, foul mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) but other regulars from the series such as Chris Addison appeared under new names to accommodate the “Special Relationship” themed storyline. Tom Hollander crops up as an inept minister while American actress Anna Chlumsky made an appearance paving the way for her role in the US sitcom Veep (also largely penned by Armando Iannucci).
VERDICT: Success

in_the_loop03

7. Guest House Paradiso (1999)
Certainly very very very close to being the film version of slapstick sitcom Bottom starring Ade Edmonson and the late Rik Mayall (and yes, it still hurts to write that). But technically the names were changed. And this wasn’t very good.
VERDICT: Failure

8. The Inbetweeners Movie (2011)
Proof that British sitcoms really can work on the big screen, the tale of four sex-obsessed lads going mad in Crete was a big hit, despite resorting to the overused “holiday” formula (see also: Holiday On The Buses, Kevin and Perry Go Large, Mr. Bean Goes On Holiday). It also doesn’t end properly. It enjoyed the biggest box office opening weekend for a British comedy film ever, however, and the sequel (out now) seems to be doing even better
VERDICT: Success

inbetweeners-2

Why 2001: A Space Odyssey is NOT the best sci-fi movie ever

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) GARY LOCKWOOD TTO 016FOH

Time Out magazine has voted on its choices for the Top 100 Science Fiction Films of All Time. It is a fine list chosen by a distinguished panel with most if not all of the best movies from the genre from Star Wars, Blade Runner and Matrix to Planet of the Apes, Gravity and Starship Troopers recognised and included. For me, however, it contains one gaping flaw: 2001: A Space Odyssey is at the top.
My criticism here may not be popular, I appreciate. Many of us have fond memories of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 epic. Who could forget the awesome power of the opening Abach Spach Zarathustra music (altogether now: “Dur…dur..dur…DUR DUR!”)? Or the amazing moment when the prehistoric man throws a stray animal bone into the air only for it to be replaced by a 21st century space craft in the very next shot? Or the chilling sequence in which the homicidal dysfunctional ship’s computer HAL is slowly dismantled, his mind active throughout (“Dave? Dave? What are you doing Dave?”) horrifically aware of what’s happening to him.
Great moments, yes. Indeed, I am in danger of talking myself out of the entire argument. But great moments alone do not make a great film. The fact is that taken in its entirety, 2001: A Space Odyssey is often a colossal bore.
Disagree? I suggest you watch it again before condemning me too harshly. Have you ever watched it more than once? I doubt it. It is frankly a must see, a film everyone should see once. But it is undoubtedly very hard work. And I would defy anyone not to be bored while watching it.
The prehistoric bit at the start is, for one thing, mostly quite silly. It is easy to forget that these silly men jumping around in ape costumes appeared a full year after the original and somehow more convincing simians of Planet of the Apes. The special effects are still good during the spaceship sequences, yes. But this was an age when special effects were still relentlessly shown off, taking centre stage rather than being incorporated seamlessly into the background. There are, after all, only so many minutes of spaceships moving along to classical music that most viewers can take.
And the end. If you didn’t understand the end, don’t worry! Nobody else does either. It’s a load of Sixties psychedelic bollocks. You would have to be stoned to think you understood it. And, in 1968, many viewers were.
Perhaps I am a man of lowbrow tastes but surely the primary concern of cinema is to be entertaining? And 2001 while often awe inspiring falls down when compared to Blade Runner, Aliens or Star Wars, on these grounds alone. It is impossible to be entertained when for most of the film you are bored.
Should 2001: A Space Odyssey be on this list of the 100 greatest science fiction films? Undoubtedly. Should it be at the top? Definitely not.

Five things that don’t make any sense at all once you think about them…‏

Some things seem to make sense at the time. Others, make less and less sense the more you think about them…

1. What did “Nasty” Nick actually do?

In 2000, “Nasty” Nick Bateman was sensationally thrown out of the first ever Big Brother house. His crime? Bateman was accused of “plotting” and “writing things down using a pen and paper”. Just imagine! Thank goodness nobody on any of the subsequent series of Big Brother has done anything as sneaky as attempting to plot against any fellow housemates in the years since.

big-brother-10-logo-79088940

2. The Royals

Little about the royal family makes sense when you think about it. The Queen’s husband is always a Prince as with Prince Philip but the King’s wife is always a Queen, not a Princess. The Queen’s mother was called “the Queen Mother”. But there is never a Queen Father or a King Mother or King Father, even though Philip might still be alive when his son Charles becomes King. Also why is the Queen called Elizabeth II throughout the UK when in Scotland, there has never been another monarch called Elizabeth? And why is it called the United Kingdom when for most of the last two centuries. we’ve been reigned over by Queens?

1337187963293.cached

3. Pardon?

Sending a parcel by road? It’s a shipment. Sending something by ship? It’s a cargo. Let’s face it: the English language makes no sense whatsoever. Why are the terms “public school” and “private school” used to describe what is essentially the same thing when they should mean exactly the opposite? Why does everybody use both the Imperial and Metric systems at the same time? And a starter for ten: why is Magdalen College pronounced “Maudlin”? Is it simply to catch the non-posh people out?

4. Old TV was crap

Imagine it’s 1990. Want to know what’s on TV tonight? Easy! Look in the Radio Times. But what if you want to know what’s on ITV or Channel 4 (or, heaven forbid, even one of the early satellite channels)? Tough! You’ll have to get the TV Times as well! And even that only listed the commercial channels. So unless you were one of those people who only ever watched the BBC or in contrast, only ever watched ITV and Channel 4 (i.e. nobody on Earth) until 1991, you were forced to buy two separate magazines. For decades, this bizarre situatiion was accepted as normal. And even today, twenty three years later, your dad probably still automatically buys both every Christmas.

rtrt91

5. Politics is confusing

Okay. So there are two houses of parliament right? The House of Commons and the House of Lords. So members of both houses are called MPs (Members of Parliament) then? No! Only members of the House of Commons are called MPs. The Lords never are. Even though both are literally members of parliament. Got that? Is it any wonder people get confused?

Peers wait in in the House of Lords for the arrival of Queen Elizabeth II, and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to conduct the State Opening of Parliament

14 Alternative Taglines For Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

dawn-74319

It is often said that if you gathered an infinite number of apes together with an infinite number of typewriters, they will eventually produce the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Here’s an even better idea: as Shakespeare’s plays have already been written why not use the apes to make a film called Dawn of the Planet of the Apes instead? With the film already on general release, however, all that’s missing is the perfect tagline:
Repeat after me: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes…:
1. What Became of the Monkeys?
2. The Apes of Wrath.
3. Caesar Goes Bananas.
4. Hang on! Where’s James Franco gone? Wasn’t he in this? He didn’t die in the first one did he? I can’t remember.
5. Ooh ooh ooh. They want to be like you ooh ooh.
6. Close. But No Banana.
7. Monkey See. Monkey Do.
8. This Time They Didn’t Drink PG Tips.
9. Softly softly. Catchy Monkeys.
10. Go Ape.
11. Definitely Not the Shit Mark Wahlberg One.
12. Guaranteed: Contains one of the finest simian mass cremation scenes of any movie this summer!
13. Bloody hell! Andy Serkis really has got this motion capture stuff sewn up hasn’t he?
14. Serious. Monkey. Business.