Birdwatching in the 1970s

birds-in-your-garden-1971Were garden birds so different back in the 60s and  70s?  A blackbird in 2017 seems pretty much the same as a blackbird in 1977 (or my memory of one) though an ornithologist may well beg to differ.

Take The Birds In Your Garden, an RSPB booklet from 1971.  Forty-six years on and it still does what it says on the cover, forming a perfectly usable guide for identifying and attracting garden birds.

Yet times have changed…
birds-in-your-garden-bird-boxes-edit

This photo suggests the RSPB wanted to appeal specifically to suburban bird-watchers (I don’t think they were called twitchers then).

Our ideals of human habitation are clearly not what they were in 1971 though bird boxes cannot be so very subject to changing architectural styles.  I do recall some pretentious ‘heritage’ boxes in the 80s complete with pinnacles and turrets, suitable for the upwardly-mobile blue-tit perhaps.  The boxes above are perfectly in keeping with the pared down, dwelling-unit feel of the houses.

1973’s RSPB booklet, The Birds From Your Window was a rather more elaborate affair with a groovy font to boot:

birds-from-your-window-1973

The illustrations, fine for identification purposes, are not a patch on those by Charles Tunnicliffe for his Wild Birds in Britain 50-card series for Brooke Bond in 1965:
brooke-bond-bird-cards-tunnicliffe-1965

Brooke Bond birds: Waxwing, Long-eared owl, Long-tailed tit, Woodcock

The Birds From Your Window has pages on birds spotted by various well known people in their own gardens.  The choice of contributors – Humphrey Lyttelton, Joyce Grenfell, Robert Dougall and Peter Cushing – makes no concession to a younger audience though I was familiar with three out of four as a nine year old in 1973.  Peter Cushing proffers an elegantly written piece:

birds-from-your-window-peter-cushing-page

birds-in-autumn-winter-1975On to 1975, and Birds in Autumn & Winter is graced with a Tunnicliffe illustrated cover albeit without the decorative background detail which makes the BB cards so lustrous.

Fledgling tweets

I was only ever a casual bird-watcher through windows and on walks in the countryside around Guildford.  The birds were always so damned elusive though my Auntie Wyn was able to identify stray hoots and treetop twitters with casual ease.

My parents tried to interest me in a Surrey Bird Club membership as a Christmas present in 1973.  I didn’t make it to any of the club events but do remember leafing through their unillustrated magazine with its blue and green card covers.  Within, members crowed excitedly over rare sightings of exotic Scandinavian visitors or the occasional bird of prey in Cheam.

Winging it

I also recall a windswept trip to Pagham Harbour in Sussex in May 1978 with a Christian youth group.  This came just after the then Labour government’s introduction of the May Bank Holiday which fell on the coldest, wettest May day for several decades if not centuries.  Pagham too was cold and desolate.  We maybe heard the occasional screech across the mudflats but I don’t actually recall seeing a single bird despite long hours spent clutching binoculars in numb fingers.  A thermos of Heinz oxtail soup and white bread fish paste sandwiches (no crumbs for our feathered friends) helped sustain us through a long, grey day.

I think I went partly out of some misplaced duty to my parents.  As I shunned the numerous sporty events at least I could show I was relatively ‘normal’ by going on a bird-watching trip which was supported by a total of three boys out of over a hundred and fifty.  Well at least it was an outdoor activity…

The spirit of 1970s’ bird-watching is best captured by Martin Parr’s marvellous photos (again, Surrey Bird Club).  These are studies in English eccentricity where the camera is turned back on the middle-classes, patiently at leisure in the home counties.

birds-in-your-garden-bird-watchingFrom ‘The Birds in Your Garden’, RSPB 1971

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Dr Who at Christmas: the 1970s Christmas omnibuses: Part 3

A little taste of the times…

Christmas 1974 positively sparkled with an excellent, perhaps the most excellent, adaptation of David Copperfield starring Patience Collier, Martin Jarvis, Arthur Lowe and Jacqueline Pearce whilst in 1975, Crackerjack’s Christmas Pantomime, Robinson Crusoe, featured Windsor Davies, Don Estelle, John Inman and John Lawrie, a different kind of sparkle perhaps.  

Both Christmases were lit up by the annual Dr Who Christmas Omnibus: Planet of the Spiders in 1974 and Genesis of the Daleks in 1975.   

And in 1976..?


1974: Dr Who 
Friday 
27th December, 2.45-4.30
pm 

1.10 Grandstand – introduced by Tony Gubba
2.45 Dr Who: Planet of the Spiders
4.30 The All Star record Breakers
5.00 National News – with Richard Whitmore
5.10 Tom and Jerry [Regional News – not London]
5.20 Top of the Pops – Noel Edmonds and Dave Lee Travis

‘A complete adventure in one programme starring Jon Pertwee as Dr Who… A Tibetan style monastery in rural England; a stage magician with uncanny powers; an alien crystal… these are the strands of the sinister web woven by the Metabelis Spiders’  – Radio Times billing.

 

Or Jon Pertwee regenerates into Tom Baker – again.

Even the fact that this omnibus began not at 4.00 or 3.30 but at 2.45pm was exciting to me as a ten year old. The earlier time made the screening feel somehow more ‘urgent’ and it was less long to have to wait.

Indulgence

For all its shortcomings and accusations of indulgence (actually the much criticised chase takes up only half of episode 2) Planet of the Spiders remains underappreciated.  A well-crafted story arc gently builds on seeds sewn in The Time Monster (the Doctor’s teacher), The Green Death (Jo) and Invasion of the Dinosaurs (Mike Yates) to provide a coherent and poignant close to the Pertwee era.

Thus a moral tale (the emptiness of power, the innate healing power of mind, surrender of ego followed by rebirth) coupled with an end-of-an era, retrospective feel makes for an ideal Christmas recipe.

The regeneration game 

Most touchingly of all, this was transmitted only the day before Part 1 of Robot in which Tom Baker picks up the mantle and a whole newplanet-of-the-spiders-byline era of Dr Who begins.  “Tears, Sarah Jane?”  I’m sure I shed some of my own as my familiar white-haired hero was transformed before my eyes into a brown curly-haired stranger for a no less traumatic second time.

As a six-parter, this would have been 2.30 in episode format, so approximately 45 minutes have been lost.

8.6 million viewers tuned in as against a shade over nine million viewers on average for the original.  Throughout the two weeks of Christmas and New Year, BBC-1 showed Holiday Star Trek each weekday morning at 11.45am.  Possibly this may have bumped-up Planet of the Spiders‘ viewing figures.

ITV screen the film Half a Sixpence at 2.25 all the way up to Looks Familiar at 4.50.

Transmutation

Planet of the Spiders is the first omnibus repeat still held in the BBC archives and is included on the DVD release along with the trailer.

 

 

No illustrations accompany the billing in Radio Times but on the Saturday 28th December page we have a Pertwee-Baker transmutation across four photos as if in imitation of the superb Radio Times 10th Anniversary Special artwork which blended the features of the first three doctors across a double-page spread, thus creating Hartnell-Troughton and Troughton-Pertwee hybrids.  This Pertwee-Baker version is rather more basic and it’s clear Pertwee’s head has been matted onto Baker’s be-scarfed body but still it’s a nice try and gets the idea across.

For the first time in the 70s, the new Dr Who season is not marked by a Radio Times cover, odd really considering Tom Baker’s debut the week before.  All my research has drawn a blank as to what did make it onto the New Year edition cover.

 


1975: Dr Who: Genesis of the Daleks
Saturday 27th December, 3.00-4.25pm 

12.15 Grandstand – Introduced by Frank Bough
3.00 Dr Who: Genesis of the Daleks
4.25 The Basil Brush Show – with Roy North
4.50 Final Score 
5.05 News/Weather – with Michael Fish
5.15 It’s Cliff & Friends 
5.50 Saturday Night at the Movies: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, mad World

‘A complete adventure in one programme, starring Tom Baker, written by TERRY NATION… The Time Lords have a mission for the Doctor. He finds himself stranded on Skaro -the planet of the Daleks where a war of attrition is reaching its bitter final stages’ – Radio Times billing.

 

That’s not Terry Nation but TERRY NATION.

Blast off Basil  

No really, Blast Off Basil.

In a bizarre reversal of the usual BBC-1 Saturday evening schedule, Dr Who now precedes Basil Brush which is incongruous given Genesis of The Daleks’ hard-edged, adult themes.  The omnibus would have benefitted immensely had Basil’s twenty-five minutes been added to its running time.  You really need the full exposition to feel the effect.

At the time, I wondered whether the change from Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker might signal the end of the Christmas omnibuses.  Added to that, Season Thirteen had begun not around Christmas 1975 but back in autumn of that year and so was a little past mid-way by Christmas.  There was no longer a need to refresh viewers’ memories and whet their appetites after a six month break.

Butchered 

And yet I was pleased to see Genesis of the Daleks appear in the schedules for 27th December in time honoured fashion.  But with approximately 65 minutes removed, it was the most excised of the omnibuses.

The tough cut was presumably to meet the demands of a crowded schedule.  In retrospect, it perhaps suggests the BBC losing interest in the idea of Christmas omnibuses.

Changing times

Even as an eleven year old comparing my memory of the episodic broadcast nine months earlier with this butchered version, I was aware that dramatic impact had been sacrificed.  For the first time, Igenesis-of-the-daleks-byline felt less than entirely satisfied.

Having made the change from primary to secondary school three months earlier, in retrospect, my more critical response also seems like one which prefigures adolescence.  Three or four years earlier I’d have been grateful for anything.

Added to that, by this time my parents were ignoring Dr Who, my father not being a fan of Tom Baker’s more ironic, send-up style (he really should have seen this though).  Watching alone and being in a new house I didn’t warm to took away something of the cosiness.

Stopgap Who

In Radio Times, Frank Bellamy’s artwork is captioned: ‘The most important mission the Doctor has ever faced – can he prevent Davros creating his Daleks?’ and depicts all three ‘Ds’.

8.5 million viewers tuned in compared to an average of almost 9.6 million for the spring screening.

The ITV Network runs with ski-ing and wrestling as part of its usual Saturday afternoon World of Sport package.

This was the only time an omnibus was screened on a Saturday.  The Genesis omnibus was used as a stopgap as there was no Dr Who serial later that day with The Android Invasion’s final episode screened on 13th December and Brain of Morbius not commencing until 3rd Jan 1976.

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1976:
Bank Holiday Monday 27th  December 

1.25 [Racing from] Wincanton
2.34 Walt Disney’s Babes in Toyland
4.20 The Superstars

5.30 Evening News – with Richard Whitmore

Tuesday 28th December 

1.00 Racing Grandstand 
2.35 The Nutcracker
4.20 James and the Giant Peach

5.15 Evening News – with Richard Baker

christmas-1976-radio-times

 

And so to my bitter disappointment on discovering that The Seeds of Doom, my favourite Dr Who story since The Green Death some three years earlier was not to be comped come December.

A repeat was planned but then dropped for unknown reasons.  What those were, I can’t imagine. Seeds of Doom even had snow!

Scrooges! 

The unexplained absence marked the missing of a much-loved tradition.  Christmases felt truncated, colder even, accentuated for me by a passing from childhood innocence to self-aware adolescence

1976, aged twelve, was the last year I had a Christmas stocking.    

Cold, cold Christmas 

Perhaps the omnibuses ended because Dr Who seasons no longer ran January- June.  Perhaps new producer Philip Hinchcliffe didn’t favour the format, preferring episodic repeats which became a fairly common feature of the mid-late 70s when scattered across the early-evening weekday schedule usually as summer filler.  Or perhaps there were changes to BBC senior management come 1976.

Had the tradition continued, both Seeds of Doom and especially 1977’s Dickensian/Holmesian The Talons of Weng Chiang, with its fog shrouded London streets and mysterious magic cabinet, present1976-dr-who-byline themselves as obvious high calibre candidates.  I struggle once we reach The Invasion of Time (1978) and The Armageddon Factor (1979) admittedly.

For whatever reason, the Christmas feasts were no more.  Inextricably bound to the early-mid 1970s and coinciding exactly with my remembered childhood, the Dr Who Christmas Omnibus tradition had become a magnetic, essential part of my Christmas and still engenders feelings of great warmth forty years on.

Ever since 2005, Dr Who has had a Christmas Special shown on Christmas Day, as if that somehow picked up on a longer established tradition which, like many mythologies, was actually never the case.

A Christmas toast

So perhaps at about 3pm on Tuesday 27th December 2016, I’ll sit down to Seeds of Doom on DVD with a glass of ginger wine and a mince pie or two.

Until then, in the words of William Hartnell in 1966’s The Feast of Steven (the only old Who episode actually broadcast on Christmas Day): “A Happy Christmas to all of you at home!”

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Dr Who 1970s’ Christmas Omnibuses Part 1
Dr Who 1970s’ Christmas Omnibuses Part 2
Scraps of Dr Who
Dr Who: 1976 and all that 

 

Moving On

I have just moved house.  Well it was three weeks ago tomorrow but I’m still living out of cardboard boxes and mislaying everything (not just due to age, for once).

Moving house

 

I am reminded of other significant moves in my life: aged four in 1968 – leaving our bungalow in Leatherheard one morning, the magic of being taken to a house in Burpham near Guildford that same afternoon and finding all our furniture and my toys there: our new home where I lived happily for the next seven and a half years.  

Chapters of memory

We tend to categorise our life according to where we live.  Doing so provides convenient chapters of memory and emphasises the underlying importance of home and place.  But carving time into chunks can also over define these chapters so that the story ceases to flow one from the other.

Gosden Hill Road from frontThis is what happened when I moved aged eleven in 1975.  I didn’t want us to move and remember scowling with hate-filled venom as my parents showed prospective buyers around.  I thought my fixed, silent, demonic stare might somehow ward them off.  It didn’t work, at least, not with Mr & Mrs Hunter and their curly-haired twin boys.  They even had the audacity to arrive just as Terror of the Zygons reached its climax.

As moving day drew near, I relented slightly and left a message under a loose parquet floorboard, wishing happiness to the Hunters and whoever followed them.  I sometimes wonder if that strange little note was ever found.

Old, cold, sludge green

So on a cold Thursday 13th November 1975, I left school to find our optimistic, open plan 1960s’ home was no more. InMoving on its place was an austere 1950s, metal windowed house with an asbestos garage and mean little prefab outhouse. It wasn’t so far away from our old house but might as well have been a million miles.

The floorboards were already up for re-wiring which didn’t bode well.  Paintwork was utility ‘sludge’ green (as I called it) and the walls were the mock-Regency stripe of a boarding house. Ceilings were too high, windows too low. The rooms felt old, cold and the house comfortless, utilitarian almost institutional.

It was the end of one chapter for sure but I didn’t want the next chapter to begin:  secondary school, adolescence, exams, being bullied, feeling isolated, different…  in fact it had already begun two months ago: I’d left my cosy C of E village primary of one hundred children and started at a 2,000 strong comprehensive that September.  Our move only emphasised the split from that past.  I asked my father to paint my bedroom lime green and purple in protest; much to my surprise, he did – almost drowning out the Regency stripes.

Teenage threads

Since then I’ve struggled to recover the story of life which flowed over that 1975 crevice, to try to spot the elements which had already appeared before the change.  In fact, the seeds of adolescentMoving on 2 disaffection had not just been sewn but were already growing up around me in my final two terms at primary school.  A childhood culture of vim and vigour was giving way to a disaffection amongst the more precocious children.  I can see how hopeless I was at football, how removed from the rough and tumble of most boys’ activities as I stayed on the sidelines with a few close friends.  I can see how setup I was to fall.

I’ve realised that ‘bad’ things would have happened anyway regardless of where we lived.  It’s just that our change of home allowed me to idealise the abode of childhood and castigate the haunt of adolescence.  Looking back, as I have felt more benevolently towards my teenage self, I’ve almost learned to love the ‘teenage’ house too.

To look for these common elements is important, I think.  To remove some barriers, restore a little natural justice, try to see the true lay of the land from a more distant vantage point.

Old times

And this move?  Well, I suppose it’s the move from mid, middle age towards the early embrace of old age, given that I’m hoping to live here a long time.

And I feel OK with that.  A new life is emerging from the cardboard boxes that might be every bit as magical as the belongings which materialised in a sparkling new home back in 1968.

Time to unwrap some more toys…

Old Singles

Friends Reunited: tomorrow’s fond memories

Boy

 

Earlier this week,  Friends Reunited announced it would be closing after sixteen years.

This came as little surprise to me having tentatively joined the site as recently as September 2015 (always hopelessly late to the party).  It took me until then to pluck up courage to face dæmons – or would they be merely ghosts? – from my (secondary school) past.

What prompted me to join was a massive house clearance following my mother’s death – literally turning over the past – and, melodramatic though this sounds, a sense of my own mortality.  No more time for prevarication and procrastination.  I should just get on and do it.

A gossamer web

So I joined, immediately contacted five people and never heard a jot back.  That could be because those individuals don’t want to be in touch but more likely, no one actually got my messages.  Email addresses have probably changed half a dozen times since joining fifteen years ago.  I really should have plunged head-in when the phenomenon was at its height back in those I ♥ the days of the early noughties (Friends Reunited was as much a product of new millennial nostalgia as it was a particular evolutionary stage of the internet).

The news of closure prompted me to think that, far from the internet being preserved for perpetuity, it is rather a web of gossamer fragility, all too easily snatched away by the hands of fate.  Those names from long ago, gathered together in the ether for what might have been a near infinite afterlife, turned out to commune in their virtual classroom for only the briefest of moments.

A changing world

Yes, the world has changed substantially since 2000 not least because of Facebook which allows for a far more interactive experience.

It is true also that the very concept of Friends Reunited contained a built-in obsolescence.  Having visited and posted a summary of your Friends Reunited 2last ten, twenty of forty years, why would you want to make return visits to people who vanished from your life decades ago, very possibly for good reasons?

But the site contained something of unique value.  Nothing will quite replicate its coming together of individuals around communities of schools, clubs and universities in such a structured way.  Friends Reunited, inadvertently perhaps, built up an organised anecdotal and photographic archive, establishing a picture of life in particular schools and of the changing educational scene in the UK across many decades.

A lost photo

I had long known that somewhere I had a cut-out of an article from our then local paper, The Surrey Advertiser, from 1975, my last year at primary school.

Last year, I found that article in the bottom of a cardboard box in the back of my loft where it must have sat for over a quarter of a century.  With paper fading, yellowed by the glue from my mother pasting it onto hardboard over forty years ago, it seemed as if the children’s faces might revert to mere inky dots before my eyes.

Aptly entitled ‘Tomorrow’s Fond Memories’, the article included a photo of the whole school, pupils and staff, gathered in the playground, smiling upwards at the camera.  I remember us all being called together and the cheery press photographer coming to snap us that freezing February lunch-hour.  The future of the Victorian village school was uncertain then though it still stands today, apparently thriving, albeit no longer as a C of E school.

Last September, I scanned and posted the article on Friends Reunited under Merrow Street Primary School.

Revisiting Friends Reunited yesterday, I found the site already a crumbling edifice.  Like a building stripped of its remaining assets awaiting demolition, photos displayed only as a series of crude placeholders (a couple of lines from Don McLean’s Vincent came to mind – ‘portraits hung in empty halls, frameless heads on nameless walls’).

Tomorrow’s fond memories

What to do with this photo now..?  It seems such a shame to return it to the loft for another quarter century.  I suppose I feel some responsibility towards my mother for cutting it out and keeping it in the first place.  And a debt to my old classmates too.  How might they get to see this thing?  There may be others who, like me, would feel a sense of joy at discovering it.

But it’s difficult to find the clipping a new home.  I could make a donation to the Surrey History Centre where, if accepted, it will be professionally preserved and perhaps occasionally perused by historians but never really open to the joy of accidental or unexpected discovery by those hundred or so ex-pupils – its rightful heirs.

So I thought I’d show it here.  I hope you find it poignant in its own right, even if the faces aren’t known to you.  Amazingly i remember most of the names.  (By the way, that’s me, back row, next to the head-mistress, Miss Potter).

And if you are on here, get in touch!

 

Merrow Street School

 

Top Photo Credit: Montclair Art Museum via Compfight cc
Bottom Photo Credit: ‘Surrey Advertiser’, 1975

Jackie Trent: Where Are You Now – The Pye Anthology, Part 2

Embed from Getty Images
Mr & Mrs Music, 1967

In Part 1 last week, I reviewed Disc 1 of Jackie Trent: Where Are You Now – The Pye Anthology [Sequel, 2000, NEECD 396]  covering 1963-67.

Disc 2 launches us into 1968 and a slightly different style of arrangement on With Every Little Tear – percussion is more prevalent, orchestration pared back and vocal somewhat gentler.  Jackie has acknowledged the similarity between this song and Vikki Carr’s It Must Be Him, released around the same time.  It was Vikki’s release which charted.

1968’s Hollywood was written after Jackie Trent and Tony Hatch visited Los Angeles and strongly shows the influence of Do You Know the Way to San Jose both thematically and rhythmically but its chorus –‘ Hollywood! You’re a millionaire, Hollywood, You’re just Fred Astaire’ opts for show time rather than insight.

I’ll Be There, from 1969, was Jackie’s third Top 40 entry in a full orchestral style while B-side, Close To You, is a vaguely Humperdinck-like ballad, interesting for verse one’s string patterns which prefigure those of Tony’s Hadleigh TV theme some three years later.  Both are workable and enjoyable enough while they last but fail to lodge in the memory.  In terms of quality and impact either song could have been A or B side.  The flamboyant harp glissandi at the chorus endings tell us we are firmly in cabaret territory.

Razzle dazzle

Similar problems blight Jackie’s cover of Jacques Brel’s If You Go Away as Bob Leaper’s orchestrations, at first stylish, turn to razzle dazzle on the chorus.  Still, Jackie turns in an expert vocal.

I find it hard to listen to Such a Small Love because the arrangement is far less subtle, far less innovative than Scott Walker’s where every sound and tone is made to count.  But it’s good to hear Jackie tackle more daring lyrics outside of romantic love and its complications.  She sounds completely involved in this enigmatic song.

1970 single Look at the Rain is in a by now dated Italian style but things look up with the melodic and catchy I’ll Be Near You from musical ‘Nell’ (in which Jackie played the part of Nell Gwynne) although Johnny Worth’s appealing song appears here as a slow number with trumpet breaks underscored by oboe.  This is one of the most attractive and enjoyable tracks on CD2.

After two Hatch-Trent joint albums on Columbia (not covered by this set) we jump to 1974.  We Need You with its electric piano, signals a welcome break into a livelier more contemporary style with hints of Motown (it was recorded by Diana Ross) and a Jackie Trent 2harder edge to Jackie’s voice in places.

Then a full blooded new sound – gospel, soul – emerges on 1975 album Can’t Give It Up No More.  On the title track, Jackie’s voice even rocks (briefly) at times, sounding like Dionne Warwick at others.  The orchestra is firmly in the background now.

Everybody Rejoice, an early Luther Vandross song, is refreshing for its good-time liveliness with an almost snappy vocal style we haven’t heard from Jackie before.

My Love is given a radically different treatment from the famous Petula Clark hit.  The sleeve notes give away that this was a Hatch-Trent composition credited to Tony only as he didn’t want Petula Clark to know that Jackie wrote the lyrics.  Jackie’s version aims at a kind of late evening sultriness and all credit to her for delivering a radically different take but I prefer Petula’s sunshine-brimming optimism.

Final score

Jackie Trent leaves us a plethora of material – she recorded 28 singles and six albums in the 60s alone.  There’s an overall classiness to much on this 2CD set and there’s no faulting Jackie’s professionalism but she veers towards safe choices which means much of her output has been left behind with the demise of cabaret.

I’m sometimes too well aware that what I am hearing is little more than a polished performance and I’m not sure why that should be as it’s not as if Jackie sings without feeling.  But her songs and their stylings cannot transport me to another place as can, say, the grandeur of Scott Walker’s Such a Small Love.

It’s a shame Jackie didn’t try an album which showcased a more daring selection of material, moving into new territories, creating a unified sound and vision of an artist through a set of carefully curated songs, much as Dusty Springfield achieved in Dusty in Memphis.  But I don’t think this was ever what Jackie Trent was about.

That said, several songs on this set do reach out.  It’s All in the Way You Look at Life deserves greater recognition, This Time has a memorably fine melody and I’ll Be With You charms with its simplicity.  Some of the 1974/5 material succeeds in breaking the conservative mould whilst 1965’s Faces sees Jackie’s lyrics at their most impressionistic.

But Jackie Trent’s lasting legacy from the 60s/70s is, and will continue to be, Where Are You Now (My Love). 

Jackie Trent – 6th September 1940- 21st March 2015.

Full track listing

Disc 1

1. Melancholy Me – (Hayken, Hawker, 1963)
2. If You Love Me – (Really Love Me) (Monnot, Parsons, Piaf, 1964)
3. Autumn Leaves – (Mercer, Prevert, Kosna, 1964)
4. I Heard Somebody Say – (Monnot, Parsons, 1964)
5. Don’t Stand in My Way – (Hatch, Trent, 1964)
6. Where Are You Now – (My Love) (Hatch, Trent, 1965)
7. When Summertime Is Over – (Hatch, Trent, 1965)
8. It’s All in the Way You Look at Life – (Schroeder, Brooks, 1965)
9. Time after Time – (Cahn, Styne, 1965)
10. Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words) – (Howard, Bart, 1965)
11. I’m a Fool to Want You – (Wolf, Herron, Sinatra, 1965)
12. Faces – (Hatch, Trent, 1965)
13. You Baby – (Mann, Weil, Spector, 1965)
14. Send Her Away – (Hatch, Trent, 1965)
15. Love Is Me, Love Is You – (Hatch, Trent, 1965)
16. This Time – (Hatch, Trent, 1965)
17. If You Ever Leave Me – (Hatch, Trent, 1966)
18. There Goes My Love, There Goes My Life – (Clark, Hatch, Ballay, Trent, 1966)
19. Open Your Heart – (Hatch, Trent, 1967)
20. Either Way I Lose – (McCoy, 1967)
21. Take Me Away – (Hatch, Trent, 1967)
22. Baby Are You Puttin’ Me On – (Randazzo, Harp, Gentry, 1967)
23. Make It Easy on Yourself – (Bacharach, David, 1967)
24. Humming Bird – (Stevens, 1967)
25. I’ll Be With You – (Hatch, Trent, 1967)
26. Your Love Is Everywhere – (Hatch, Trent, 1967)
27. It’s Not Easy Loving You – (Trent, 1967)
28. That’s You – (Andrews, 1967)

Disc 2

1. With Every Little Tear – (Hatch, Trent, 1968)
2. Don’t Send Me Away – (Hatch, Trent, 1967)
3. You’re Gonna Hear from Me- (Previn, Previn, 1967)
4. Here’s that Rainy Day – (Van Heusen, Burke, 1967)
5. Hollywood – (Hatch, Trent, 1968)
6. I’ll Be There – (Hatch, Trent,1969)
7. Close to You – (Hatch, Trent, 1969)
8. Goin’ Back – (Goffin King, 1969)
9. Remember Me – (Trent, Holding, 1969)
10. If You Go Away – (McKuen, Brel, 1969)
11. Such a Small Love – (Engel, 1969)
12. Look at the Rain – (Hatch, Trent, 1970)
13. I’ll Be Near You – (Worth, 1970)
14. We Need You – (Richards, 1974)
15. Corner of the Sky – (Schwartz, 1974)
16. Come Home My Love – (Hatch, Trent, 1974)
17. Send in the Clowns – (Sondheim, 1975)
18. Can’t Give It Up No More – (Bristol, Jones Jnr., Brown Jnr., 1975)
19. Everybody Rejoice – (Vandross, 1975)
20. Didn’t I Say I Love You – (Hatch, Trent, 1975)
21. My Love – (Hatch, Trent, 1975)
22. Just a Little Piece of You (Wonder, Wright, 1975)


Jackie Trent: Where Are You Now – The Pye Anthology Part 1
Tony Hatch: a life in song

Created by Brian Clemens – ‘Thriller’

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Brian Clemens 1976

Brian Clemens died on January 10th at the age of 83.  His name is inextricably linked with television action-adventure and crime series of the 60s and 70s from Danger Man and Adam Adamant Lives to The Professionals.  Surely his most notable achievement remains The Avengers, a series so innovative and original it almost defines 60s cool.  Clemens himself was responsible for casting Diana Rigg as Emma Peel.

But for me, the name Brian Clemens is most closely associated with the 1973-76 ATV series Thriller.  Clemens created Thriller, wrote the majority of its 43 episodes and storyboarded the others, adding to his already prolific output.

Thriller had a number of good things going for it.  Each episode lasted seventy-five broadcast minutes (typically 65 minutes without commercial breaks), a very specific and unusual length for a British TV drama series.  That schedule-stretching extra twenty minutes seemed to symbolise the import of the series and, when well used, allowed room for a mood of mystery or menace to slowly develop.

Harpsichord stings

Even the shrill blasts of the ATV ident seemed to announce a deliciously terrifying seventy-five minutes was in store.

ThrillerThen there was Laurie Johnson’s doom laden opening music – creepy woodwind and those dreaded dissonant ‘ker-drrrrmmm!’ harpsichord stings accompanying a blood red framed, fish-eyed view of the locations to come – a forbidding old house (often with pillars) or bare trees clawing at a wintry sky.

The anthology format of self-contained episodes had the advantage of providing fresh actors in a new story each week.  It’s a shame that this flexible but reliable format has virtually vanished from television screens today.

Casts were stuffed with well known names – Dinsdale Landen, Peter Vaughan, Hayley Mills, Jenny Agutter, Jeremy Brett, Nyree Dawn Porter, Patrick Allen, Richard Todd, Patrick Troughton, Diana Dors, Tom Conti, Peter Bowles, Denholm Elliott to name but a handful.  To help sales to the States, American actors were planted in some episodes which could make for a slightly contrived feel.

Having seen the entire Thriller series on DVD forty years later, it’s a largely positive experience.  Unfortunately the series lacks the charm of The Avengers and there is a sense that the gin-and-jag world it portrays is a pretty corrupt place where seemingly anyone is prepared to kill, usually for money.

Some of the characters feel interchangeable but that could be down to box-set syndrome.

I don’t have a problem with the studio-bound sets which are actually pretty lavish by 1970s’ TV standards and were something of a hallmark of ATV.

Experiments with supernatural-themed stories work rather less well and the series feels on a firmer footing when these are phased out though Diana Dors is creepily enjoyable as evil nurse Bessie in Nurse Will Make It Better (1975).

I feel a little uneasy that a prevalent theme is a female menaced by a male (Clemens claimed audiences identify more closely with the vulnerability of a female lead) but my favourite Thriller, A Coffin for the Bride  (1974), turns the tables magnificently.

The series can descend into schlock, sometimes nerve-rackingly so as in A Killer in Every Corner (1975) with Max Wall’s first straight role as an obsessive shoe-polishing psychopath much talked about at the time.

When Thriller was sold to the States as a collection of standalone made for TV movies, the atmospheric original titles and music were excised to be replaced by truly terrible garishly coloured openers with generic music plastered over the top and some episodes renamed.  British TV viewers got to see these cheap and nasty versions when Thriller surfaced sporadically across the ITV regions around 1981 though many viewers would have missed these repeats altogether as there was little indication they belonged to the 70s Brian Clemens series.  Thankfully the Network DVD release restores the original fish-eye credits though the export versions are included as extras if you can stomach them.

Several Thrillers do stand out. Here are my two favourites.

The Eyes Have It

I missed the majority of Thrillers first time round.  Nine year olds were not the target audience (although, surprisingly, some episodes began as early as 8.15, well before the 9pm watershed).

But I did get to see one of the best stories, 1973’s The Eyes Have It on a 1975 repeat.   The sense of excitement at being allowed to stay up to watch this adult drama – and it felt exceedingly ‘adult’ – was immense and, that night, Thriller certainly did not disappoint.  A certain aura surrounded the series, handed down from parents and passed around in gossip at school and it felt great to at last be inducted into this exclusive club.

In 1975, The Eyes Have It thrilled and terrified me in equal measure.  The clichés of ‘glued to my seat’ and ‘unable to look away from the screen’ could not be more apt.  My childhood favourite, Dr Who, was moving into its Gothic period at this time which meant more realistic portrayals of the darker side of human nature in stories like ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ (Sarah being sadistically dangled high over the edge of a rocket’s scaffolding, Nyder’s cruelly complicit smile as the Daleks’ slaughter commences).  In many ways Thriller felt like a natural step-up and satisfied a need in me to be both chilled and excited in greater measures.

The Eyes Have It pre-credits teaser (a key aspect of the series) shows us a doctor murdered by strangers as a young woman stands by apparently unconcerned.  The killer waves his hand across her line of vision as she continues to smile.  Only then, after this unnerving opening does the camera pan to ‘Clinical Training Centre for the Blind’ and we’re into the title sequence.

A group of terrorists have infiltrated the school because its location offers an ideal vantage point from which to carry out an assassination.  The story is of how the blind students gradually become aware of what is happening and, despite the odds being severely against them, seek to overcome the terrorists.

The acting (Peter Vaughan, Sinead Cusack, William Marlowe, Denis Waterman) is very good and there are some wonderfully poignant scenes which stick in the memory, such as the students continuing life as usual while, unbeknown to them, the body of the doctor lies only feet away.  In another nail-biting scene, one of the students seeks help from a stranger only to realise from the familiar feel of his ring that he is one of the terrorists.  The precision of the storytelling and the sense of menace is almost palpable.

A Coffin for the Bride

Once you get over the slightly tacky double murder scenes at the start, this opens out into a thoroughly original mystery.  Michael Jayston plays Mark Walker, a charmer who makes a living out of marrying and then murdering wealthy women.  But his well oiled schemes fall apart when he meets the beautiful Stella Mackenzie (there’s a clue in her being a set designer…)

A Coffin for the Bride relies hugely for its effectiveness on a strong performance from its female lead and a young Helen Mirren is terrific.  I can’t say too much here for fear of spoiling your enjoyment if you’ve not seen it.  Suffice it to say that the ending is as devastating as it is completely unforeseen (well, by me, anyway though I do think Mark might have noticed those dentures before they are pulled out on him).

I played this story a second time and noticed a crucially placed lookalike figure in the background at the health resort.  Whether this passer-by is a purely incidental inclusion or a deliberate one, her presence acts as a subliminal decoy, steering you off the scent of what’s really happening and making the outcome all the more shocking. Subtle and clever.  I got as much enjoyment seeing A Coffin for the Bride for a second time just to enjoy the careful setting up of the story at each stage.

A Coffin for the Bride is reputedly Brian Clemens’ own favourite from the series.

The wrap-up

In some ways, Thriller reminds me of a traditional ‘good night out’ at a provincial theatre where thrillers have long been a production mainstay and always seem to star Gerald Harper or Christopher Cazenove.  The mood would be one of deadly melodrama threatening to burst through English middle-class self-restraint.

It’s quite rare to see anything approaching genuine psychological motivation in thrillers (Psycho, is a notable exception) and to an extent you have to accept the limitations of the genre to enjoy this collection too.  The thrills are indeed psychological but they stem from imposed plot devices rather than from characters of subtlety and complexity. Thriller takes a premise, setups a scenario which implies a certain endgame and then deliberately subverts that or, in some cases such as I’m the Girl He Wants to Kill (1974), simply plays it out relentlessly.

Thriller Box setYou can enjoy the sense of manipulation when it’s in the name of suspense – and suspense, Thriller delivers in spade-loads.

For all the thrills you could ever want, visit the Thriller website.

The entire series is available on DVD box set.

The Changes DVD Review

Original TV series: 10 episodes, tx. Jan-Mar 1975, 5.20-5.45pm, BBC-1
DVD: 2-disc set, BFI, August 2014 


Changes

It sounds grumpy to begin a review by saying ‘Why has it taken so long?’ The Changes is a well remembered, ground-breaking piece of television, first transmitted almost forty years ago.  There was a re-showing on UK Gold in 1994 (imagine that now) and pirated copies have been in circulation for a while but the series seems little regarded by the BBC itself and has been allowed to quietly rest in semi-obscurity.

So it falls to the BFI to release The Changes on DVD which means it comes with a minimum of fuss and commercial blah and we are treated to a thirty page booklet which is thorough and informative (justifying the slightly higher than the norm asking price).

Picture quality is perfectly watchable considering no restoration work has taken place and, sadly, is unlikely to do so as this is not regarded as a major league release.   Sound is fine throughout, thanks in part to actors not mumbling their lines beneath frenetic soundtracks as is so often the case today, though the closing theme does sound a trifle wobbly on its sustained notes.

Peter Wright’s opening essay sets The Changes within the socio-economic context of the times though perhaps not everyone will agree with his analysis. He also examines the series set against developments in BBC children’s television in the early-mid 70s.  Interviews with cast members and particularly with director John Prowse and producer/adaptor Anna Home would have been the icing on the cake but Wright’s essay, in reviewing documentation from the time, rightly pays tribute to Home and BBC Head of Children’s Television, Monica Sims, as major forces in seeing The Changes through to completion.

The booklet also features composer Paddy Kingsland’s recollections and useful biographical pieces on Kingsland, Peter Dickinson and Anna Home.

Apart from the obligatory stills gallery, the sole DVD extra is an only mildly interesting 1983 government film consisting entirely of stills, At Home in Britain, about the lives of Asian residents living in Britain.
 


The Changes: bad wires, good faith and a question of balance