Book review: Movie Star Chronicles: A Virtual History of the World’s Greatest Movie Stars

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Movie Star Chronicles: A Virtual History of the World’s Greatest Movie Stars

General Editor: Ian Haydn Smith

Foreword by: David Gordon Green

Published by: Aurum Press, October 1st 2015

Who needs a book on films these days? This is 2015, after all. If I need to know about a particular film or film star I just have to fiddle around with my phone for a little bit and the answer will be revealed.

Why does the postman always ring twice? Surely most of the time he doesn’t need to ring at all, particularly if there’s no post that day.

What is a Fassbender? Orson Welles that end well? Will Smith or not? If Christoph Waltz, why does Charles Dance? Natalie Wood but is Robert Shaw?

Such questions are all answered somewhere by Auntie Internet. Contrary to legend, IMDB does not stand for Internet Movie Database. It stands for I Must Destroy Books.

Indeed, if you still have any books at home you might as well make a big bonfire of them now. They’re worthless. Like those ones made of dust in the far future scenes of the film The Time Machine (not the Samantha Mumba one. For God’s sake!) They are worth more as pollution than they are as a book.

Enough silliness. This is a book to restore your faith in books, specifically film books. It is stylish, lovingly put together, well illustrated and written.  It’s basically a page by page guide to 300 film stars living and dead. It is not comprehensive nor does it claim to be. If you’re a fan of Steve Buscemi or John Lithgow as I am, look elsewhere.

But for an attractive and informative coffee table guide to Hollywood’s biggest stars, this is ideal.

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Twenty five years of Have I Got News For You: A timeline

Chris Hallam's World View

HIGNFY

A quarter of a century ago this month, Maggie still ruled Britain, the Soviet Union still existed and a new topical panel show came to BBC2. The host and team captains of Have I Got News For You were all in their earlier thirties and while not unknown were not exactly household names either. Angus Deayton had been on Radio 4’s Radio Active, toured Australia with comedy band the HeeBeeGeeBees, had worked with Rowan Atkinson and Alexei Sayle and Rowan Atkinson and was a familiar face from shows like BBC2’s satellite TV spoof KYTV and for his part in new sitcom One Foot In The Grave. Paul Merton was best known for his appearances on Channel 4 improvisation show Who’s Line Is It Anyway…? while Ian Hislop was best known as the “young fogey” editor of satirical magazine Private Eye.

Twenty five years and 49 series on, Angus is long…

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Book review: Time and Time Again by Ben Elton

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Published by: Transworld Books

If you had one chance to change history, what would you do? Kill Hitler? Talk Nick Clegg out of forming the coalition? Would you watch the film Troy again? Perhaps not.

Hugh Stanton is granted a rare opportunity to prevent one of history’s bloodiest occasions, the Great War, in Ben Elton’s 15th novel. Thanks to Isaac Newton and chain smoking former history professor Sally McCluskey (the liveliest character in the book and potentially a good role Dawn French), the ex-military hard nut is able to travel from 2025 – by which time things have rather gone to the dogs – back to 1914. He there hopes to prevent the crucial assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June 1914. By then killing the chief warmonger Kaiser Wilhelm II, he thus hopes to prevent the conflagration and extinguish the modern world and almost everyone he has ever known in the process. With a tragic past (Stanton’s family have been killed in a hit and run), this side effect bothers Stanton little. But are he and McCluskey right to assume that without the war, things can only get better?

Although it gets a bit bogged down in the complexities of alternative histories towards the end, Elton’s book is a thought provoking and enjoyable romp. What’s more with less time sensitive themes than most of Elton’s other books (who wants to read a novel satirising Pop Idol or Friends Reunited in 2015?), this book should hopefully endure and perhaps even stand the test of time.

DVD review: An Inspector Calls

BBC Worldwide release date: September 21st 2015

Starring:  David Thewlis, Miranda Richardson, Ken Stott, Sophie Rundle, Kyle Soller

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It’s 1912 and all is well with the world. The Titanic is about to set sail, there most definitely isn’t about to be a global World War in two years as the well to do Berling family settle down for a dinner to celebrate the engagement of their daughter. The only trouble is someone claiming to be a police inspector (Thewlis) is at the door with news of a dearth. He is about to blow the complacent world of the Burlings and their selfish “everyone for themselves” philosophy apart forever.

Screened earlier this month, this is an excellent BBC version of JB Priestley’s classic Attlee era socialist play. All the cast, particularly David Thewlis are superb and the introduction of flashbacks invigorates the play, bringing the action vividly to life.

Bonus features include one short introduction to the play and one longer one.

Downton Abbey this aint. It’s better.

Bonus features

An Inspector Calls – An Introduction

The Enduring Power of An Inspector Calls

A Very British Coup Revisited

From the outset, there were doubts about the Labour leader’s left wing agenda:

“Withdrawal from the Common Market. Import controls. Public control of finance, including the pension and insurance funds. Abolition of the House of Lords, the honours list and the public schools…’consideration to be given’ to withdrawal from NATO…there was even a paragraph about ‘dismantling the newspaper monopolies’”.”

Jeremy Corbyn in 2015? No, Harry Perkins n 1989, the fictional Prime Minister created by Chris Mullin in his 1982 novel A Very British Coup. Perhaps it’s no surprise following Corbyn’s victory that Mullin has announced that he is considering writing a sequel.

The book tells of how Perkins’ government, despite winning a landslide election win soon finds itself under collective attack from an extremely hostile media, intelligence services (at home and in the US) and the establishment in general.

Perkins’ dress sense is different to Corbyn’s but even on the night he becomes Prime Minister, it is unconventional:

“He was smartly dressed, but nothing flashy. A tweed sports jacket, a silk tie, and on this occasion, a red carnation in his buttonhole”.

The press reaction to Perkins’ emergence as leader is all too familiar too:

“Despite their firm belief that a Labour Party led by Perkins stood no chance of winning an election, the press barons took no chances.”LABOUR VOTES FOR SUICIDE” raged the Express. Even the Daily Mirror traditionally loyal to Labour, thought the choice of Perkins was the end… (even  The Guardian and the Financial Times) conceded that the election of Perkins would be a catastrophe”.

There are differences too. It currently seems most likely Corbyn may face a coup not from the ruling elite but from his own MPs many of whom seem wholly uninterested in the simple fact Corbyn has been elected entirely, fairly and democratically within the rules of the party, indeed by a huge margin.

Perkins is also clearly not Corbyn. He is a younger man and an ex-Sheffield steelworker. He bears no resemblance to the aged intellectual Michael Foot who led Labour at the time the book was published. Nor is he anything like Tony Benn who the book’s author Mullin and Corbyn himself were both close to.

One character at the end of the book “is said to spend his evenings writing a book about what really happened to the government of Harry Perkins. There must be some doubt, however, as to whether it will ever be published”.

Is Harry Perkins then supposed to be Harold Wilson, the dynamic young Yorkshire Labour leader whose once promising premiership ended in a sudden and mysterious resignation amidst rumours of an MI5 plot against him in 1976? Even their names are quite similar. Harold is the same as Harry. Wilson is almost as ordinary sounding a name as Perkins. But Harold Wilson was never as left wing as Perkins is (or Corbyn). Ultimately Perkins is a fictional character.

Soon Perkins’ right wing enemies are crowing, “There’s been nothing quite like it since the night Allende was overthrown in Chile,” says one, referring to the CIA coup which led to the deaths of 3,000 people under General Pinochet.

Another boasts: “everyone should feel proud…there had been no tanks on the streets. No one has gone to the firing squad…it was a very British coup.”

Let us hope whether in power or opposition that Jeremy Corbyn can escape the same fate.

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Twenty five years of Have I Got News For You: A timeline

HIGNFY

A quarter of a century ago this month, Maggie still ruled Britain, the Soviet Union still existed and a new topical panel show came to BBC2. The host and team captains of Have I Got News For You were all in their earlier thirties and while not unknown were not exactly household names either. Angus Deayton had been on Radio 4’s Radio Active, toured Australia with comedy band the HeeBeeGeeBees, had worked with Rowan Atkinson and Alexei Sayle and Rowan Atkinson and was a familiar face from shows like BBC2’s satellite TV spoof KYTV and for his part in new sitcom One Foot In The Grave. Paul Merton was best known for his appearances on Channel 4 improvisation show Who’s Line Is It Anyway…? while Ian Hislop was best known as the “young fogey” editor of satirical magazine Private Eye.

Twenty five years and 49 series on, Angus is long gone from the show and Merton and Hislop (the latter still at Private Eye) are both now well into their fifties. But they are still there, indeed Hislop is the only person to have appeared in every one of the show’s 429 episodes to date, even discharging himself from hospital to appear once in 1994.

But what have been the high and low points of the last 25 years? Let’s take a look…

1990

The first ever series runs from September to November, missing the dramatic fall of Margaret Thatcher, one of the biggest British political stories of the century, by just one week. Early guests include Sandi Toksvig (who is in the first ever episode), future London Mayor Ken Livingstone (then a Labour backbencher), Tony Slattery and Clive Anderson.

1991

Appearances by Harry Enfield, Trevor McDonald and Craig Ferguson.

1992

The first ever (and indeed only) General Election special features Rory Bremner and Alan Coren. Defeated Labour leader Neil Kinnock appears on the show after retiring as Labour leader later in the year.

The show has two series a year from now on.

Rising Lib Dem star Charles Kennedy makes the first of a number of appearances. Author Douglas Adams appears (and flops), Frank Skinner and Stephen Fry appear for the first time.

Have I got a guest presenter for you

1993

Paul Merton’s wife comedy actress Caroline Quentin appears on Ian’s team, a running joke being that Angus is having an affair with her. Although this isn’t true, the couple do divorce in 1997.

Labour politician Roy Hattersley is famously replaced by a Tub of Lard after he cancels appearing on the show at short notice for the umpteenth time. Despite the drawback of having a Tub of Lard as a team member, Paul’s team wins (as is usual).

1994

Appearances by self proclaimed Messiah David Icke, author Salman Rushdie (then still in hiding due to the Iranian fatwa) and Bob Monkhouse.

1995

An on air row ensues between guest Paula Yates and Ian Hislop. Many see the episode as a class conflict betweenpublic schoolboys Deayton and Hislop ganging up on Yates who is defended by the working class Paul Merton.

Tory MP Teresa Gorman appears to be drunk on air and does a bizarre impression of her “alien” colleague, the recent Tory leadership candidate John Redwood. Her later autobiography puts a positive sheen on her appearance.

1996

Shock news as Paul Merton announces he is leaving the show, appearing only as a guest on Ian’s team in the first episode of Series 11 before missing the rest of it. He is replaced by Eddie Izzard, Alan Davis and other temporary guest captains for the rest of the series. Thereafter, he returns and has been in every series since.

In an early TV appearance, Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan embarrasses himself after losing his temper with fellow panellist Clive Anderson who mocks him for his success in making the paper “almost as good as The Sun”. He also crosses swords with rival Ian Hislop. He never appears again.

Ian-Hislop-and-Paul-Merto-008

1997

Disgraced Tories Neil and Christine Hamilton appear only a week after Neil is ejected from his previous ultra-safe Tory seat of Tatton in the General Election.

Ian Hislop coins the phrase “were you still up for Portillo?” with regard to election night, later used as the title of a book by Brian Cathcart.

1998

Boris Johnson guests for the first time in a series of appearances which greatly boosts his profile while re-enforcing the impression that he is a buffoon. He is yet to become an MP or the editor of the Spectator at this point though is a columnist for the Daily Telegraph. He appears seven times in the next decade, four times as host, though never since being elected Mayor of London in 2008.

John Sergeant, political correspondent (and onetime comedy performer) makes the first of several acclaimed appearances. He is later widely expected to replace Angus Deayton as permanent host. Although he guest hosts twice in 2002 and 2003, this doesn’t happen. He is in fact less effective as a host than as a panellist and has been critical of the show’s decision not to have a permanent host.

1999

Charles Kennedy is elected Liberal Democrat leader and acknowledges his “chat show Charlie” beginning an early speech as leader with the words “Have I got news for you?” He continues to appear on the show during his time as leader and even after his resignation amidst revelations of alcoholism, clocking up nine appearances, once as host. The show paid tribute to him on his premature death in 2015.

Sir Jimmy Savile guests. Following his death and the revelation of his involvement in numerous sexual offences over a decade later, an internet rumour suggests Merton and Hislop confronted Savile about his crimes. In fact, this is untrue: like most people they knew nothing about them and the issue didn’t come up. Savile did make some comments which appear unsavoury in retrospect, however.

2000

The show moves from BBC 2 to BBC 1.

Have-I-Got-News-for-You

2000-2001

Numerous guests including Peter Stringfellow, Nigella Lawson, M15 rebel David Shayler, who appears by video link in 2000 and Andrew Marr (later a regular target of the show).

2002

Angus Deayton quits as host following a second round of sex scandal allegations splash across the tabloids. His last show proves extremely memorable with Paul and Ian both visibly annoyed with Angus, Paul at one point revealing that he is wearing a t-shirt with a tabloid version of the story emblazoned across it (something which visibly rattles Angus).

Paul hosts the next episode himself and a number of one week guest hosts take over initially Anne Robinson, John Sergeant, Boris Johnson (by now an MP), Liza Tarbuck, Charles Kennedy (by now party leader) and Jeremy Clarkson. It is assumed a new permanent host – perhaps Sergeant or Alexander Armstrong, will eventually take over permanently. This has never happened. Angus has now been off the show longer than he was ever on it and despite acting roles in dark sitcom Nighty Night and drama Waterloo Road, his career has never really recovered.

Stephen Fry criticises the decision to drop Angus and in protest never appears on the show again.

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2003

Alexander Armstrong appears as guest host for the first time (he has never been a panellist). He has since become easily the most prolific guest on the show ever, notching up 26 appearances to date. He claims he was offered a permanent guest hosting role at this time but the BBC changed their mind.

Other memorable guest hosts include Sir Bruce Forsyth and Charlotte Church (then 17) probably the youngest and oldest hosts (Forsyth was 82 by the time of his second time as host in 2010. Bill Deedes also has appeared as a panellist aged 88). Former Tory leader William Hague also hosts during this time.

2004-2006

David Mitchell begins to appear frequently. Dara O’Briain guest hosts frequently until 2005 when he becomes host on similarish topical comedy news quiz Mock The Week.

2007

Ann Widdecombe refuses to host again after she is offended by guest Jimmy Carr.

Author Will Self who had appeared nine times, says he will not return soon after as he has gone off the show.

2009

In what now appears to be an unfortunate decision, Rolf Harris appears as guest host.

2011

Death of Big George, composer of the show’s memorable theme tune.

2013

Guest host Brian Blessed divides opinion with numerous jokes about Margaret Thatcher on the week of her death.

2015

Victoria Coren Mitchell hosts the show, appearing for the tenth time. Her husband David Mitchell has been on eleven times while her late father Alan appeared four times.

The show is scheduled to return for its 50th series next month.

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DVD/Blu-ray review: School For Scoundrels (1960)

scoundrels - bow tie

Directed by: Robert Hamer

Starring: Ian Carmichael, Terry Thomas, Alastair Sim, Janette Scott, Dennis Price, Peter Jones

Henry Palfrey (Ian Carmichael) is, by his own admission, a failure. Though he runs his own small office, he proves totally incapable of keeping his newfound girlfriend (Scott) away from the bounderish intentions of Raymond Delaunay (Terry-Thomas). After he is conned further into buying a ridiculously clapped out car, Palfrey decides to take action, travelling to College of Lifemanship headed by one Dr. Potter (Sim) in Yeovil.

There is plenty to charm here in this adaptation of Stephen Potter’s now largely forgotten Gamesmanship books. Terry-Thomas is on career best form, peaking during a game of tennis, while the remaining cast (all except Scott are sadly now deceased) are as reliable as they are familiar to the audience as they must have been to each other. John Le Mesurier, Hattie Jacques and Irene Handl making up the numbers as does future sitcom writer Jeremy Lloyd (at thirty, playing a school student!)

The problem is indicated by the gentle subtitle How to Win without Actually Charting. Cheating would actually be a whole lot more fun and frankly Palfrey’s transformation after the course is more akin to that enjoyed by someone who has just attended a self assertiveness class than that of someone who has truly turned to the dark side.

The best of the bonus features is British comedy expert Graham McCann’s discussion of Terry-Thomas. For  while Peter Bradshaw makes great claims for the film, during his interview, in truth this is a gentle so so pleasant comedy but little more.

Studio Canal release. Out: now.

Bonus features

Interview with Peter Bradshaw, Film Critic

Interview with Chris Potter, grandson of Stephen Potter

Interview with comedy author Graham McCann on Terry-Thomas

Stills Gallery

Trailer

Review: Star Wars Starfighter Workshop

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Star Wars Starfighter Workshop

Price: £19.99 Published by: Egmont UK

Thirty eight years after it all began, Star Wars is as popular as ever. So what does this Star Wars Starfighter Workshop have to offer?

Well, you can make an interactive model of both a TIE Fighter and an X-wing using press-out pieces of card. My wife completed both within about forty five minutes and enjoyed the process, though she found it a bit “fiddly” at times. The question is what to do with them models now they are finished. Unless you were having the gentlest game of Star Wars ever, they are sure to collapse if they touch virtually anything. Perhaps you could put some classical music on and recreate 2001: A Space Odyssey instead. Very slowly. For hours. Just like the real thing.

The workshop also includes a Star Wars themed Story and Puzzle book (fact files, spot the difference between the two Storm Troopers etc) too.

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Book review: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Professor Eric Klinenberg

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Dating has never been easy and thanks to the emergence of the internet, Facebook, texting and apps like Tinder and Grindr in recent years, the whole process has become more complex than ever.

Fear not though for this funny and very readable look into the modern dating scene, comedian Ansari (of TV’s Parks and Recreation) and sociology Prof Kinsberg have produced a book which is both amusing and interesting.

First, the good news. Internet dating has hugely improved the range of potential dating options for everyone. Whereas our grandparents would usually settle for anyone suitable living within the immediate area (and the statistics really do back this up folks), an ugly man today can date more women in a month than his 1930s equivalent would have in a lifetime.

Top tip: women do best if their photo is a simple selfie especially if they look coyly into the camera. Men bizarrely do better if they look away from the camera as if they have spotted something more interesting out of shot. Who knew?

The bad news? The simple array of choice available to people in the dating arena and elsewhere is actually somewhat overwhelming. Cheating and getting caught are both easier and perhaps with so many alternatives, more likely. It could also be argued, that while 1930s daters often were prepared to settle for less owing to lack of alternatives, today many people’s expectations may be set unrealistically high. Young people in Japan even seem to be going off sex completely to the extent that the government is worried about a decline in the birth-rate.

The book is American and while this effects some of the statistics (in 1932, 20% paired up with people in their own “block” – this wouldn’t apply to the UK) for the most part it doesn’t matter. Modern romance is largely the same on both sides of the Atlantic.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Professor Eric Klinenberg

Published by: Allen Lane.

Does being Prime Minister make you live longer?

churchill

An odd feature of post-war British political life has been the longevity of our leaders.

Three former Prime Ministers John Major (72),Tony Blair (62) and Gordon Brown (64) are all still alive and are not yet especially aged.

Nine former British PMs have died since the end of the Second War.

(Churchill, Attlee, Eden, Macmillan , Home, Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher).

Seven out of nine of those who died  lived past 80 years old (Harold Wilson and Sir Anthony Eden both died, aged 79).

Six of the remaining seven made it to 85 (Attlee was 84).

Four of the remainder made it to 90.

Macmillan, Home and Callaghan all died aged 92. Churchill was 90. (Heath, 89 and Thatcher , 87 did not).

Four out of nine post-war prime ministers have thus lived into their nineties. Does being PM increase your lifespan? Or do the sort of people who become Prime Ministers just tend to live longer? It should be remembered that not all UK Prime Ministers have had privileged backgrounds (Thatcher, Heath and Wilson did not nor did Callaghan who lived longer than anyone else).

In the US, four post-war former presidents have lived into their nineties, two of whom Carter and George HW Bush are still alive. Bush is 91, Carter though seriously ill is 90. Ford, the longest lived former US president and Reagan both died aged 93.

Generally, the US trend is less impressive partly because Kennedy was assassinated in his forties and his successor Lyndon Johnson died prematurely at 64.

But overall the stats are still impressive: Hoover died aged 88 (he was not a post-war president but died in the post-war era). Truman died aged 88, Eisenhower was 78 and Nixon, 81. Since 1945, seven former presidents have made it to eighty (as opposed to four who did not) and four have made it to ninety.

Generally, being a world leader does seem to be good for your health.