Star Wars timeline: From A New Hope to The Force Awakens

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A long time ago…

1977:

The first film, initially entitled just Star Wars is released. It is an unexpectedly big hit, easily beating its nearest rivals Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Smokey and the Bandit to become the biggest US film of 1977. Taking inflation into account, as of 2015, it is the third biggest grossing film of all time. None of the younger members of the cast are well known at the time of the film’s release. Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia)j is  the daughter of actors Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.  Harrison Ford (Han Solo), an ex-carpenter had appeared in director George Lucas’s second film American Graffiti and had been in the as yet unreleased, much delayed Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now (1979).  Mark Hamill plays Luke Skywalker, a character Lucas once envisaged being called “Luke Starkiller”.

1978:

Star Wars is nominated for the Best Picture Oscar but loses to Woody Allen’s acclaimed comedy Annie Hall. No other Star Wars films have been nominated for Best Picture his in the years since. In fact, no science fiction film has ever won the Best Picture (although Avatar appears to have come close).

The first toys and novelisations of the saga appear. Some of the books contradict things which occur later in the films (some feature Luke and Leia marrying, for example).

The famously terrible Star Wars Holiday Special is broadcast on US TV.

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1980:

Star Wars Episode V The Empire Strikes Back is released.  The first film is now dubbed Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope (in 1981) and prequels are clearly planned for the future. Empire is directed not by George Lucas but by Irvin Kershner. New characters include Yoda, Lando Calrissian and Boba Fett. Debate continues to rage as to whether A New Hope or Empire are better.

Hamill also appears in World War II drama The Big Red One this year, in a largely futile bid to escape typecasting.

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1982:

Star Trek II changes its name from The Vengeance of Khan to The Wrath of Khan, to avoid any confusion with the forthcoming Star Wars film, Revenge of the Jedi.  In the end, the Star Wars sequel’s name becomes Return of the Jedi anyway.

1983:

Episode VI Return of the Jedi directed by Welshman Richard Marquand is released. It is fondly remembered for the Ewoks and for Jabba the Hutt but is usually considered narrowly the worst of the original trilogy. It is still a smash hit though. There will be no more official Star Wars films for another 16 years. Indeed, at this point, Lucas seems less keen on the idea of ever producing episodes I-III at any point at all.

President Reagan, a Star Wars fan, calls his new ambitious (and ultimately unworkable) Strategic Defence Initiative, “Star Wars”.

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1984:

TV movie Caravan Of Courage: An Ewok Adventure is released. A follow up Ewoks: The Battle For Endor is released in 1985.

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1985-1987:

The Ewoks, an animated series aimed at younger children, runs for two series.

1985-1986:

Animated series Droids starring C3P0 and R2D2 runs for one series, with Anthony Daniels reprising his role as C3PO. It is set somewhere before A New Hope but after the three as yet unmade prequels.

1987:

Ten years on from Star Wars, George Lucas seems to have abandoned plans for any Star Wars prequels and is distracted by Indiana Jones and Star Wars related projects as well as the aftermath of his divorce.

Star Wars has also trigged a sci-fi boom at the movies since 1977.

Carrie Fisher begins a career as a successful novelist with her semi-autobiographical novel Postcards From The Edge. Despite a troubled personal life, she enjoys smallish roles in The Blues Brothers, Hannah and Her Sisters and When Harry Met Sally during the decade. Harrison Ford is now one of the biggest stars in Hollywood thanks more to Indiana Jones and well received roles in the likes of Witness and Blade Runner than specifically to Star Wars itself. Hamill, stung after being rejected for Tom Hulce’s role in Amadeus (1984) has taken a break from acting.

Mel Brooks releases his rather belated Star Wars spoof Spaceballs. Featuring Pizza the Hutt and the catchphrase “the Schwartz be with you,” it receives mixed reviews.

Jedi director Richard Marquand dies suddenly, age 49.

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1992:

Now in his forties, Mark Hamill begins voicing The Joker, for Batman The Animated Series. It proves to be probably his most successful non-Star Wars role and leads to lots of other voice work.

1993

Lucas announces plans to make three films set before the 1977-83 trilogy, after all.

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1994:

Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin) dies, aged 81.

1997

To mark the franchise’s 20th birthday Special Editions of all three films. Although many fans are keen to see the films on the big screen, many are annoyed by the sometimes intrusive changes Lucas inserts into these and later new editions.

1999:

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is released. It is directed by George Lucas and is his first film as director since 1977’s Star Wars. He also directs the two subsequent sequels Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The cast (with the exception of newcomer Jake Lloyd who plays young Anakin) are, unlike the 1977 film, mostly quite well known already: Ewan McGregor , Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson.

The Phantom Menace makes more money than any of the first six Star Wars films (ignoring inflation).

The film disappoints many however,  criticism (now often on the internet) largely centring on, the racial stereotyping evident in the character of some of the alien species, the character of Jar Jar Binks and the apparent overuse of CGI (and many other things). The character of Darth Maul proves popular, however.

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2000:

Sir Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi) dies age 86. He did not enjoy the production of Star Wars (Harrison Ford dubbed him “Mother Superior” on set) but liked the finished product when he saw it. The role did make him very rich but he disliked the fact that he was soon better known for it than anything else in his forty years on screen.

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2002:

Episode II Attack of the Clones is released with Hayden Christiansen (then largely unknown and indeed still so, aside for this role) joins the cast as the older Anakin. A light sabre fight featuring Yoda proves popular and generally the film is slightly better received than Phantom (although does much less business).

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2003:

Genndy Tartakovsky produces Clone Wars, an acclaimed animated series set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

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2005:

Episode III Revenge of the Sith, the third and final prequel is released. It is much more popular than either Phantom or Clones with fans and is the second highest grossing SW film thus far (ignoring inflation). Most fans prefer the 1977-83 trilogy, however. There are no more proper Star Wars films for another decade.

2008:

Star Wars: The Clone Wars, an animated film is released. It is panned by the critics and flops at the box office. Despite this, a new Star Wars: Clone Wars TV series begins. Tartakovsky, who was behind the first Clone Wars series is not involved.

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2010:

Empire director Irvin Kershner dies aged 86.

2012:

Disney buys the Star Wars franchise off Lucas for $4.05 billion or £2.5 billion. Plans for a new trilogy, the first directed by JJ Abrams, then at the helm of the two recent Star Trek films.

2013:

Clone Wars is cancelled as focus shifts towards the new films.

2014:

Star Wars Rebels, a 3D CGI animated series set between Revenge of the Sith but before A New Hope begins.

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2015:

Rogue One, a spin off Star Wars film is due for release in 2016, followed by another spin off film based around Han Solo’s early years.

Ford, scheduled to feature in The Force Awakens is slightly injured in a light aircraft crash. His 73rd birthday is in July.

Christopher Lee (Count Dooku in the prequels, though better known for many other roles) dies aged 93.

The Force Awakens is scheduled for release later this month.

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Myths and legends of the movie world: resolved! No 1

Numerous myths and legends have crept into the mythology of the film world over the decades, something the creation of the internet has done little to dispel. But what is true and what is false?

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Myth: The ghost of a child appears very briefly in the film Three Men And A Baby (1987)

Speculation about this spooky image reached a pitch when this lame comedy was released on video, substantially boosting its level of rentals and sales.  Some rumours claim is of a boy who died in the apartment in which the Tom Selleck/Steve Guttenberg/Ted Danson comedy was filmed, some going as far as to say the father of the boy recognised him while watching the film in the cinema.  Others see it as an omen, signalling the imminent demise of Steve Guttenberg’s career. Some even claim the phantom agreed a pact with Danson ensuring only he and he alone would have a career in the year 2015 but at the price of his hair going completely white. I may have made up the last two things. See how easy it is for these myths to start?

In fact, it is a cardboard cut-out of Ted Danson’s character, which was going to be used in a scene from the film which was eventually cut. When viewed close up, it is wearing a top hat and tails and is clearly the star of TV’s Cheers rather than a dead boy. Danson’s character, like Danson himself, was an actor and the prop was intended for a scene in which he auditioned for a TV advert. The director Leonard Nimoy judged the scene to be “illogical” and so removed the scene from the otherwise flawless movie.

It does look creepy though even when we know the facts. It should also be pointed out Three Men In A Baby was not filmed in a flat at all, but on a sound stage. And ghosts don’t actually exist really. Grow up!

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Five not so glorious years of Tory low achievement

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The Tories have now been in power for five years and five months. This is a fair old time. What did our previous governments manage to accomplish by this point in their life span? Let’s take a look…

The Attlee Government (1945-51)

(Elected: August 1945. In office for five years and five months by January 1951)

Had created the National Health Service.

Established the welfare state.

Had demobilised our wartime forces, secured full employment and was busy housing the nation.

Had nationalised a third of British industry.

Established the UK’s post-war strategic position. Had joined NATO.

The Wilson Government (1964-70)

(Elected: October 1964. In office for five years and five months by March 1970).]

Had legalised homosexuality and abortion, liberalised divorce laws, abolished the death penalty, generated an education boom and created the Open University.

The Thatcher/Major Government (1979-97)

(Elected:May 1979. In office for five years and five months by October 1984).

Victory in the Falklands.

Widespread privatisation programme (for good or ill)

Right to buy scheme.

Dramatic monetarist economic reforms.

Winning battle with trade unions.

The Blair/Brown Government (1997-2010)

(Elected:May 1997. In office for five years and five months by October 2002).

Good Friday Agreement: created a lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

Introduced a minimum wage. Abolished fox hunting, Equality reforms introduced,

Humanitarian intervention in Kosovo.

House of Lords reform. Devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland,

The Cameron Government (2010-?)

Er…um…er…anyone?

Book reviews: Viz Annual The Otter’s Pocket 2016 and The Roger Mellie Telly Times

viz

(Trigger warning: Rude words ahead!)

Is Viz as funny as it used to be? It’s been well over thirty-five years since the teenage Chris Donald first started selling his own self-produced adult comics in Newcastle pubs as a means of escaping unemployment in 1979. By the end of the next decade, it was a massive success story selling more than almost any other periodical except the TV and Radio Times.

I started reading it myself at about that point and to me it will always seem funnier then, partly because of the novelty and danger factor (reading it at school risked confiscation) and partly because I was barely into my teens. Just the name of the story Buster Gonad and His Unfeasibly Large Testicles was enough to send me into paroxysms of chuckling mirth for minutes on end. Other comics of the time were always promising to generate this sort of reaction. Viz was the only one that did. Buster and The Dandy could only offer mild amusement.

Some of my favourite strips are long gone: Finbarr Saunders and his Double Extenders, Roger Irrelevant (“He’s totally hat-stand”) and Victorian Dad and Modern Parents. I never liked the Fat Slags (to date, the only Viz story to hit the big screen, albeit in disastrous form) which is still going.

Roger Mellie The Man on the Telly is still here too both in this annual and in this new anthology of his old strips The Roger Mellie Telly Times, both available now.

One suspects the idea of a foul-mouthed TV presenter like Mellie is less shocking now than it was in the Eighties. But in truth, he has his moments.

And yes, Viz still is funny. Even if you don’t warm to the comic stories (the long running Sid The Sexist, Ivan Jellical, Gilbert Ratchet, Raffles The Gentleman Thug most of which derive a little from the traditions of British children’s comics, try the news stories (“Donald Trump’ s World of Pumps”) or better still Letterbocks, always Viz’s funniest section. “Do you think it’s possible to train a hedgehog to walk up and down a table with cubes of cheese stuck to the end of its spikes?” asks one reader who is planning a party.

viz mellie

Or maybe it’s not for you. As the editor of Punch once said when asked if his magazine was as funny as it used to be, he simply replied: “it never was”.

Or as Roger Mellie would put it: “Hello, good evening and bollocks.”

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Book reviews: Viz Annual The Otter’s Pocket 2016

The Roger Mellie Telly Times

Both published by Dennis

Book review: Easily Distracted by Steve Coogan

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Easily Distracted by Steve Coogan

Published by: Century

Let’s be clear: Steve Coogan is not Alan Partridge.

There are similarities, obviously. They both look almost the same. Both are totally car-obsessed.  Both have a love for James Bond. In one episode of I’m Alan Partridge…, Partridge memorably recreates the entire opening sequence of The Spy Who Loves Me. Coogan, meanwhile, admits to having a picture of Roger Moore in a safari suit on his bedroom wall as a child. As an adult, he was overjoyed to be mentioned briefly in Roger Moore’s own autobiography.

But the resemblance soon ends. Partridge seems to be always around ten years older than Coogan himself. Coogan has just turned fifty, Partridge must thus be now about sixty, although the age gap seemed to narrow in Alpha Papa. Coogan is a left winger with an understandable and fully justified hatred of our tabloid press. Partridge is much less politically sophisticated, a Daily Mail reader and “homosceptic” who supports the death penalty. Coogan has been much more successful with women than Alan, who makes largely inept romantic overtures towards beauty show contestants, much younger radio station employees and whose idea of a hot date is going to a “cracking owl sanctuary”. Oddly, Coogan attributes his success in this regard, which predates his fame to his essential geekiness: “they liked the fact that I wasn’t an alpha male. I was a bit square. A bit nerdish.” It has often ended in disaster, however.

There is far more to Steve Coogan than Alan Partridge, however, and despite an occasional failure (like his 24 Hour Party People character, his real life friend Tony Wilson) to wear his learning lightly and avoid pretension (“I’ve learned late in life to understand the true beauty of thoughts and reflections”), this is an enjoyable well written book. The first section deals with various highs and lows: his recent triumph with Philomena, his war with the evil forces of News International, the filming of Alpha Papa and an early nadir at the 1990 Edinburgh Festival during which he “spent far too much time imagining what it would be like to be Sean Hughes” then seemingly bound for superstardom, hard as it is t believe now. The second section is more chronological, describing his generally happy Irish Catholic northern upbringing. His brother later had a top twenty hit with the Mock Turtles’ “Can You Dig It?”

The third segment deals with Coogan’s rise to fame through college, Spitting Image and radio and TV up to the mid-nineties. There is perhaps not enough about Coogan’s actual career since he achieved fame: Around The World In Eighty Days isn’t mentioned, perhaps understandably as it was a big flop, nor is Dr Terrible’s House of Horrible. But successes like Cruise of the Gods and Coogan’s Run are barely mentioned either. Coogan will also doubtless surprise many by admitting to liking Saxondale more than Alan Partridge.

Comedy is a vicious business but while he admits to rightly loathing Bernard Manning who he has met, On The Buses and to not personally being a fan of Michael McIntyre (“not my cup of tea”), he is remarkably generous about almost everyone he has worked with, usually only encountering tension with them if they are unable to work with him again for some reason. He admits to finding Chris Morris “odd” and was “hurt” when John Thomson, by then a big star thanks to The Fast Show and Cold Feet understandably no longer wanted to be Paul Calf’s sidekick “Fat Bob” anymore. Coogan also once almost came to blows with early collaborator Patrick Marber (a regular on Alan Partridge’s sofa, who in one guise was accidentally shot dead on TV by Alan on the last episode of Knowing Me, Knowing You…”) and the two seem to have drifted apart, despite reconciling afterwards. Marber is now better known as a writer and screenwriter but Coogan is still clearly immensely grateful to him. “God bless Patrick Marber,” are words unlikely to crop up in Lee and Herring’s memoirs. They appear here.

In A Cock and Bull Story (and later The Trip) Steve Coogan’s character is continuously annoyed when Rob Brydon repeatedly adopts an Alan Partridge voice to impersonate Coogan. In truth, he seems far more at ease with his inner demons than tabloid mythology suggests. Let us hope so. He is a national treasure.

And the book? Lovely stuff.

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Book review: Whoniverse – An Unofficial Planet By Planet Guide To The Universe of Doctor Who by Lance Parkin

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Book review: Whoniverse – An Unofficial Planet By Planet Guide To The Universe of Doctor Who From Gallifrey To Skaro by Lance Parkin.

Published by: Aurum Press

Out: October 22nd 2015

The Doctor is in. And he is is likely to remain in for some time. Even ignoring the inconvenient interruption of the years from 1989 to 2005 (when aside from a failed TV movie, Doctor Who was not on TV), the series nevertheless has an impressive legacy, stretching back to 1963. And the universe within the show, helpfully covered by Lance Parkin here, obviously covers countless millennia and numerous imaginary worlds and timelines.

It perhaps goes without saying that this is a book for true fans of the series, starting as it does with almost academic sounding chapters entitled “the structure of the universe” before launching into accounts of the likes of Kaldor, Peladon and The Shadow Proclamation. This is not a history of the series or an episode guide but a guide to the wider Who universe. In truth, I am perhaps not a big enough Who fan to fully appreciate it. Many others would.

That said, with great pictures throughout taken from the show and the long running Doctor Who Magazine, this would be a worthy addition to any coffee table.

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Book review: Where’s The Wookiee?

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Where’s The Wookiee?

Published by Egmont

Out now

Make no mistake: you definitely wouldn’t miss a Wookiee if you ever saw one in real life. They are tall, hairy and look like yetis. If you’ve seen the character Chewbacca in Episodes IV to VI (as in, the old, good ones) or in the trailer for The Force Awakens, you’ll know exactly what they look like, for he is the most famous of them all. There’s also a bunch of them in the most recent proper Star Wars film, Revenge of the Sith.

Of course, as they don’t actually exist in real life you’re unlikely to ever see a Wookiee outside a science fiction convention. This fun children’s book, essentially based on the format Where’s Wally or if you’re American, Where’s Waldo, allows you to spot a Wookie (and indeed other characters) amidst a busy but charming array of nicely illustrated crowd scenes. Sometimes you’ll spot him instantly. Sometimes it will take ages. But he’s always there. That’s just the way the Wookiee crumbles.

A great way to keep the children quiet for a good while then, especially if they love Wally (which by the way is no more a typical British name than Waldo is) and/or Star Wars.

As Chewbacca himself would say: “Yeeaarraagh grruuughhh muurraa yaarg!”

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Book review: Those Were The Days by Terry Wogan

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Terry Wogan has been a feature of the media landscape for so long now that it is almost impossible to imagine how it ever existed without him. The author biography on the inside cover of this book states that his “stellar career in TV and radio has spanned forty years”. Given that it is now 2015 and Wogan has been working non-stop in the field since at least the mid-1960s, this seems like something of an understatement.

Is this funny, slight novella, almost more a collection of short stories really “the best of the best” as actress Joanna Lumley claims on the cover? Not really. Would this book have been published were Wogan not already a household name? I doubt it.

But I’m glad it has been for this is as Lumley also notes a “funny, touching and charming” book which centres on thee reflections of an ageing Irish bank manager (yes, really). Given that Wogan himself worked in the Bank of Ireland early in his career, one wonders if he is musing on the alternative life he might have had. One of the characters indeed, does desert his hometown for a career in radio.

But, though short, and less Christmassy than its cover suggests, this is a book as charming and highly readable book, as whimsical and inoffensive as the persona of the author Wogan himself.

Those Were The Days

Published BY: Macmillan

Release date: October 8th 2015

Book review: Thatcher’s Secret War: Subversion, Secrecy and Government, 1974-90

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Thatcher’s Secret War: Subversion, Secrecy and Government, 1974-90

By Clive Bloom

Published by: The History Press

The Thatcher era was probably the most radically divisive in recent political history. The period is fascinating and has, of course, been well documented.

But what about the secret state? What was going on behind the scenes?

Thatcher has been out of power for almost a quarter of a century now and dead since 2013, but no one would expect all of the secrets of Britain’s espionage activity during her tenure to be revealed yet (or, indeed, ever) and Clive Bloom doesn’t claim this. This is nevertheless a fascinating and sometimes chilling read.

The book opens in 1974, at a time when Thatcher herself was still in Edward Heath’s shadow cabinet. The nation, however, was already starting to experience the intense political polarisation which would characterise her time in Downing Street. It was a time of intense paranoia with groups of retired officers plotting a coup should the nation take a sudden leftward turn. Airey Neave, Thatcher’s confidante, who would himself be assassinated by the IRA shortly before Thatcher’s victory in the 1979 General Election reportedly threatened Tony Benn with assassination if the latter ever became leader of the Labour Party. Bloom claims the chances of Benn ever becoming leader were “slim”. We now know of course that he never did. But would this have been obvious at the time? It seems doubtful: Benn might well have led his party had he stood in 1980 or had he not lost his seat in 1983. But anyway…

In 1976, Harold Wilson resigned as Prime Minister and soon began talking to journalists like this:

“I see myself as the big fat spider in the corner of the room. Sometimes I speak when I’m asleep. You should both listen. Occasionally when we meet I might tell you to go to the Charing Cross Road and kick a blind man standing on the corner. The blind man may tell you something, lead you somewhere.”

Wilson was clearly long past his best: an alcoholic and probably suffering from the early stages of dementia. But MI5 had been plotting against him when he was in power. It was a fact.

Under Thatcher from 1979, the government’s enemies were clearly defined: the IRA, unions, the Soviet Union, British socialists and the Left, the last few often viewed as effectively in alliance. The enemy within. The government even took the view that the inner city rioting of the early Eighties could be blamed on left wing politicians stirring things up.

Covering everything from the still emerging scandal concerning high level paedophilia, to the battles with the IRA, the miners and the Soviets, to the alarming number of suspicious looking and unexplained deaths, this is the book not of a conspiracy theorist or even a polemicist but a balanced and well written insight into the world of those who lived and worked in the shadows during the most interesting decade (or so) in modern British political history.

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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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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? Watch the film ‘Troy’ again? Perhaps not.

In Ben Elton’s 15th novel, Hugh Stanton is granted a rare opportunity to prevent one of history’s bloodiest occasions: the First World War,. Thanks to Isaac Newton and chain-smoking former history professor Sally McCluskey (the liveliest character in the book and potentially a good role for Dawn French), the ex-military hard nut is able to travel from his own time, 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 also killing the chief warmonger of the age, German leader, Kaiser Wilhelm II, he thus hopes to prevent the conflagration completely. The downside? Stanton’s actions are sure to 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 incident), this side-effect bothers Stanton little. But are he and McCluskey right to assume that a world in which the First World War did not break out in 1914, is necessarily better than the alternative?

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 and there most definitely isn’t about to be a global world war in two years, as the well-to-do Birling 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 death. He is about to blow the complacent world of the Birlings and their selfish “everyone for themselves” philosophy apart forever.

The victim is a local girl: one Eva Smith, a working-class factory worker who has committed suicide. The tragedy initially appears to have no connection to the Birlings at all. Or does it? We soon learn gradually that every member of the family has, in their own way known Eva and through their actions, somehow contributed to her death. The Birlings soon learn that their actions have consequences, not just in this case, but in a wider world on the brink of being torn apart by two world wars and a global depression.

But, there are further questions too. Who exactly is Inspector Goole? And is he really what he claims to be?

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

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

Downton Abbey this ain’t. 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 in 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 the new 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 very nearly the same as ‘Harry’. ‘Wilson’ is  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, in the book, 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 back then 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. He had worked with Alexei Sayle and Rowan Atkinson and was a familiar face from shows like BBC2’s satellite TV spoof KYTV and for a supporting role in new sitcom, One Foot In The Grave, though this had not yet taken off. 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. Due to sheer bad luck, the show misses the one of the biggest British political stories of the century, the dramatic fall of Margaret Thatcher, 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 Scots comic and future US chat show star, 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 later in the year, after retiring as leader following his second election defeat.

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 competes 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 considerable disadvantage of having an inanimate object 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 veteran comic, Bob Monkhouse.

1995

An on-air row ensues between guest Paula Yates and Ian Hislop. Many see the episode as a class conflict with ex-public schoolboys Deayton and Hislop ganging up on Yates who is defended by the working-class Paul “I did woodwork” 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 and inaccurate sheen on her appearance.

1996

Shock news as Paul Merton announces he is leaving the show. He appears 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.

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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 not once 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, following Deayton’s departure in 2002. Although he guest hosts twice in 2002 and 2003, this doesn’t happen. He in fact proves less effective as a host than as a panellist. He has since 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 following his premature death in 2015.

Sir Jimmy Savile guests. Following his death and the subsequent allegations of his involvement in numerous sexual offences over a decade later, an internet rumour suggests Merton and Hislop confronted Savile about his crimes on the show at the time. 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 on air which appear unsavoury in retrospect, however.

2000

The show moves from BBC 2 to BBC 1.

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2000-2001

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

2002

Angus Deayton quits as host mid-series following a second round of sex scandal allegations splashing 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 (a move which visibly rattles Angus). Deayton continues to work and has had acting roles in dark sitcom Nighty Night and drama Waterloo Road, but has never had the same profile he had as host of Have I Got News For You.

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.

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, then best known for the sitcom, Peep Show, begins to appear frequently. Dara O’Briain guest hosts frequently until 2005 when he becomes host on similar-ish 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)

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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 the College of Lifemanship headed by one Dr. Potter (Sim) in Yeovil.

There is plenty to charm here in this film, an 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 make 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 Cheating. Cheating would actually be a whole lot more fun than what occurs here 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 comedy: pleasant, 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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DVD review: Bad Education Series 3

Bad Education S3 DVD

BBC Worldwide

Release date: 31st August 2015

Starring: Jack Whitehall, Matthew Horne, Sarah Solemani, Harry Enfield, James Fleet, Harry Peacock

Bad Education is currently following the likes of Alan Partridge, The Inbetweeners and (ahem) On The Buses in moving from the small to the big screen. What better time then, than to revisit the final series of Jack Whitehall’s school-based sitcom first broadcast on the now doomed BBC Three in 2014?

Little has changed at Abbey Grove as the incompetent History teacher Alfie Wickers (Whitehall) embarks on a new term. Eccentric head teacher and self proclaimed “succeed-o-phile” Fraser (Horne) is now sporting a Peter Andre style haircut, there’s a new sassy kid in class (Cleo played by Weruche Opia) but Alfie is still pining for Miss Gulliver (Solemani) as before. However, his embarrassingly sex-obsessed father (Enfield) ha s now been rather improbably appointed deputy headmaster, much to Alfie’s horror and his whole career as a teacher is soon thrown into doubt.

As usual, there’s good stuff here, an excellent extended silent sequence during the “Exam” episode featuring Roger Allam and cameos throughout from the likes of Cardinal Burns, James “Vicar of Dibley” Fleet and Harry “Toast of London” Peacock. On the other hand, the series remains patchy and the final episodes become annoying over-sentimental and indeed, bearing in mind, Whitehhall is a co-writer, incredibly over-adulatory towards Whitehall’s character as the end nears.

Bad Education has enjoyed a good run but the final episode is only the 19th of a moderately successful sitcom which has formed an at best very minor role in most of our lives and which has returned in film form already. It is doubtful many viewers will feel as emotionally involved as the over-sentimental finale expects us to.

Still, this remains enjoyable stuff.

Book review: The Eye of the Storm: The View From The Centre of A Political Scandal by Rob Wilson

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What is it like to be at the centre of a political scandal? We are all keen enough to criticise our politicians when they fall into difficulties, but how many of us would have the strength of character to withstand the ensuing media storm which usually follows?

Although never the victim of such a scandal himself, Tory MP Rob Wilson is well placed to provide an insight into the behind the scenes action which has provided the backdrop to a number of the scandals which have been endured by a number of his colleagues in the last decade. It is a well written and well researched book which goes some way to redressing the balance towards the currently much maligned political class,

Wilson’s political leanings occasionally show, however. Andrew Mitchell of Plebgate in a chapter on the scandal called “Andrew Mitchell’s heartbreak” is described as being “now viewed sympathetically across the political spectrum as the victim of a dangerous conspiracy”. This isn’t true. There is definitely a lot of murkiness surrounding the police allegations about Mitchell but his reputation has certainly been at least as tainted as the Met’s by the affair. Terrible as his ordeal may well have been, a cloud still hangs over Mitchell’s character. The book was published before Mitchell lost his libel case against News Group Newspapers in November 2014, however, so on this Wilson can perhaps be excused.

It is frequently clear, however, where his sympathies lie. Labour MP Tom Watson is labelled as a “witch-finder general” for his perfectly legitimate and necessary investigations into the phone hacking scandal. Lib Dem Vince Cable is portrayed as “never lacking in self confidence in his own ability”. Tory Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, meanwhile, who somehow survived suggestions of improper collusion with the Murdoch press presumably because his Prime Minister felt vulnerable on the same ground himself, escapes the same criticism even though he was assured enough to say goodbye to another promising colleague on leaving university with the words, “see you at Westminster!” Both did indeed become MPs before long.

In fairness most of the chapters in here though are thoroughly researched and compelling reading. Anyone interested to know more about the falls of Liam Fox, Chris Huhne or Jacqui Smith should check it out.

But the inclusion of “William Hague’s four-year ordeal” as Opposition leader seems dubious in a book about scandal. Hague undoubtedly had a hard time as everyone does as Opposition leader and was not a great success. But despite the inclusion of some now forgotten gossip about his relationship with his special advisor when he first became Foreign Secretary in 2010, Hague has never yet been at the centre of a major scandal. Hague certainly has experience of being at “the eye of the storm” but so has every major politician. He should not have been included in this otherwise decent book.

Published by: Biteback, 2014

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Book review: Five Year Mission: The Labour Party under Ed Miliband by Tim Bale

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Five Year Mission: The Labour Party under Ed Miliband by Tim Bale

The Miliband years are never likely to be viewed with much nostalgia by Labour supporters.
The rot began early with the reaction of David Miliband’s supporters to their candidate’s surprise defeat by his younger brother Ed in September 2010:
“Rather than pulling themselves together or else walking away and sulking in silence, they would begin badmouthing ‘the wrong brother’, telling anyone who would listen, that his victory was illegitimate, that it had been won only by cosying up to the unions and telling the party what it wanted to hear, and that Labour had made a terrible mistake…”
Thus the legend of the “wrong Miliband”” was born with David’s reputation grossly overinflated most commonly by the Tory newspapers who would undoubtedly have savaged him every day had he become leader.
As Tim Bale notes in this excellent account of Ed Miliband’s leadership “anyone who thinks David Miliband would have proved a model of decisiveness and a master of political timing probably did not work very closely with him in the Brown government.”
Nor did it seem to matter that Ed had been elected wholly legitimately, David suffering from an arrogant tendency not to take his brother seriously. The next five years would be a struggle. Ed Miliband’s spell as Opposition leader was probably the most difficult since Iain Duncan Smith’s disastrous tenure a decade before.
It certainly wasn’t all bad: Ed enjoyed successes during the phone hacking scandal and in the battle of energy prices. He also fought a generally good election campaign (although this book stops before then). Before the exit poll on election night, Cameron and his entourage were gloomy, almost universally anticipating some form of defeat.
But Miliband undoubtedly failed to convince the public he was up to the job of national leadership. This was partly the fault of the hostile media but he must take a fair amount of the blame for this failure himself.
His worst failing was his almost total failure to defend the generally good record of the Blair-Brown years. As Bale notes:
“…it is certainly true that Brown, with the help of his Chancellor, Alistair Darling, actually handled the truly terrifying possibilities thrown up by the global financial meltdown as well as – maybe even better than – any other world leader”.
But Miliband, keen to distance himself from the past allowed the reputation of one of the most successful governments since the war to be wrecked.
The Labour Party will live with the consequences of this for some time to come.

Published by: Oxford University Press

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Six of the best fictional UK TV politicians

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Jim Hacker

In: Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister (sitcom 1980-1984, 1986-1988)

Played by: Paul Eddington

Written by: Antony Jay, Jonathan Lynn

Indecisive, bumbling but ultimately well intentioned. Hacker is generally thwarted at every turn as Minister of Administrative Affairs by civil servant Sir Humphrey (Nigel Hawthorne) who sees his role as to block any attempt at change or reform. Despite this, Hacker (who unusually is never given any party affiliation by the show’s creators) succeeds in becoming Prime Minister, largely on the back of a plan to save the British sausage from European interference.

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Michael Murray

In: GBH (drama, 1991)

Played by: Robert Lindsay

Written by: Alan Bleasdale

The charismatic far left Labour leader of a far left unnamed northern city council (Derek Hatton suggested the show was about him, something creator Alan Bleasdale denied), Murray leads an unholy war of terror against Jim Nelson (Michael Palin) a special needs teacher who refuses to take part in Murray’s headline-grabbing “Day of Action”.  Although totally corrupt, a womaniser and prone to a nervous twitch, Murray grows more sympathetic as a character as we learn he is both the victim of a traumatic childhood prank and a modern day plot by the security services to brand him as a racist.

PIcture shows: Francis Urquhart (IAN RICHARDSON) WARNING: This image may only be used for publicity purposes in connection with the broadcast of the programme as licensed by BBC Worldwide Ltd & must carry the shown copyright legend. It may not be used for any commercial purpose without a licence from the BBC. © BBC 1990

Sir Francis Urquhart

In: House of Cards, To Play The King, The Final Cut (dramas 1990, 1993, 1995)

Played by: Ian Richardson

Written by: Andrew Davies (based on Michael Dobbs’ books)

A very different kettle of fish to Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood of the recent US House of Cards remake, Urquhart is an apparently charming old fashioned upper class Tory chief whip, who begins plotting a bloody path to Downing Street after moderate new post-Thatcherite Prime Minister Henry Collingridge (David Lyon) fails to honour a promise to promote him to cabinet. As PM himself, Urquhart continues to occasionally murder his opponents and overthrows the Prince Charles like new king after he gets left wing ideas.

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Harry Perkins

In: A Very British Coup (drama, 1988)

Played by: Ray McAnally

Written by: Alan Plater and Mick Jackson (based on Chris Mullin’s book)

When former Sheffield steelworker turned Labour leader Perkins leads his party to a dramatic surprise election victory, the establishment are thrown into a state of panic. Perkins is committed to re-nationalisation, nuclear disarmament and probable withdraw from NATO. The press barons, CIA and MI5 thus soon decide to ignore the people’s verdict and get rid of the new boy in Number 10.

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Alan B’Stard

In: The New Statesman (sitcom, 1987-1994)

Played by: Rik Mayall

Written by: Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran

A true Thatcherite to the core, Mayall’s flamboyant occasionally murderous backbench Tory MP easily lives up to his name whether engaged in blackmail, adultery or tormenting fellow backbencher Sir Piers Fletcher Dervish (Michael Troughton).

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Nicky Hutchinson

In: Our Friends In The North (drama, 1996)

Played by: Christopher Eccleston

Written by: Peter Flannery

Nicky encounters numerous politicians in this drama spanning the years 1964 to 1995 but his own bid for parliament on behalf of Labour in 1979 proves a woeful failure. Having initially been led astray in his youth by corrupt civic leader Austin Donohue (Alun Armstrong), a character based on the real life T Dan Smith, Nicky’s campaign is sunk by press hostility, internal divisions, a right wing smear campaign and an attractive female Tory opponent. The son of a disillusioned Jarrow marcher (Peter Vaughan), Nicky rejects politics in favour of a career in photography soon after.