There's So Much More In TV Times Part 7: A Fifth Beatle? No, It's Tivvy


If there was one thing that TV Times liked to promote even more than the current hot stars of ITV, it was TV Times itself. A bit like one of those annoying people that keeps on plugging their own book full of features about old ITV shows done in pastiche TV Times page layouts, they never wasted a single opportunity to put themselves front and centre, whether it was via a feature, a competition, a promotion, an interview, or Bruce Forsyth in a comedy oversized chef's hat making something that spelt out the name of the magazine out of 'leftovers'.

Most of the time, those bold red letters were seen as branding enough in themselves. Sometimes, however, they felt the need to try and create a TV Times 'mascot'. And to keep on pushing and pushing and pushing them, in the face of overwhelming public indifference. Here are just a few of their spectacularly unsuccessful yet spectacularly sustained attempts at creating a loveable cuddly public face of knowing what day and time No Hiding Place was on...


Bizarrely kitted out in a manner that suggested he was 'flashing' passers-by with Echo Four Two transmission dates, cylindrical annoyance 'The TV Times Man' was an early attempt at encouraging brand identification, popping up between adverts to remind you that a handy magazine was available to tell you when the programme you were already watching was on. Needless to say, this was way too involved a concept for the average Criss Cross Quiz afficionado to grasp, and so TV Times opted instead to concentrate on dazzling impressionable younger viewers with zany character fun.


He isn't very big. He gets into some awful scrapes at times. He'll be on your television screens very soon. And he bears an uncanny resemblance to Rage Against The Machine frontman Zack De La Rocha. Meet Tivvy, the loveable novelty gonk-derived TV Times mascot, introduced to readers and indeed viewers here with a frankly preposterous neo-Geppetto account of his purported origins. Tivvy was the star of his own unbilled 'Extra TV' animated interstitials, but his primary deployment was within the pages of his home magazine. And didn't we know it.


Tivvy began his ascent to global indifference in a calculatedly understated manner, limiting his appearances to comic strips based around laboured and overtold postmodern gags, accompanied by incessant cameos within the TV Times 'Junior' pages. This included a 'Make A Tivvy' competition, where the prizes seem to have been awarded to contestants who elected to A Frank The Postman Playing Guitar and A Tharil From Doctor Who And The Warriors' Gate instead. Notice, however, that at no point is there any indication that anyone actually liked him. But that was not going to stop the Tivvy bandwagon from rolling relentlessly on...


Determined to perpetuate the illusion that Tivvy was more popular and well-liked than he actually was, the editors took to shoving him in front of the big ITV stars wherever possible. Above you can see him being jabbed with Tickling Sticks by Ken Dodd and a somewhat less than enthusiastic-looking 'Diddy' David Hamilton, ostensibly to promote Doddy's Music Box, a short-lived point-evading rival to Top Of The Pops which, as you can find out here, was scheduled directly against Doctor Who for a while; we can only hope that the inter-song gags on offer were better than Doddy's inevitable witticism about looking a bit like Tivvy. The hazily-defined 'Tivvy Club' page regularly roped in small-screen celebs for a spot of tenuous cross-promotion, including this photograph of him posing with a suitably disdainful-looking Scott Tracy and Lady Penelope beneath a self-evidently bollocks headline about how he was 'nearly' 'go'. And finally, it's time for the ultimate in early sixties celebrity endorsements, as Tivvy takes to the stage to join John, Paul, George and Ringo for a quick rendition of Bombtrack.


Needless to say, it wasn't long before you could take your pick from a slew of Tivvy-inspired merchandise that nobody either wanted or needed. Replica Tivvys in, erm, 'fur and leather', and a worrying variety of sizes. A Christmas Special packed with page upon page of stiltedly-delivered illustrated zingers. And finally some genuine bona fide 9 Carat Tivvy Bling, taking its unlikely place alongside the Rovers Return crest from Coronation Street and, erm, 'Box 13' from Take Your Pick. The Underwater Goat With Snorkel And Flippers charm had unfortunately already sold out.


The inevitable then followed, and 'Tivvy' was ushered into a recording studio to commit his very own tepid 'break'-free marching tune to disc. Backed by 'The Clubmates', a bunch of ardent Tivvy cheerleaders who conveniently all happened to come from Hurst Primary School in Twyford, the resultant single featured both the dreary Tivvy's Tune and Tivvy's World Of Colour, which outlined how nice it was to live in in so-called 'Tivvyland' where everything was bright and vibrantly shaded, which must have felt like a slap in the face to all those viewers who were used to seeing him in black and white. His gameplan for this single was, apparently, to get into the Top Twenty, 'win' a 'golden disc', and have lots of girls scream at him while topping the bill at The Palladium. Perhaps if they'd employed the services of someone with more knowledge of what pop music actually involved, this may have stood more chance of occurring. Possibly.


Eventually, the backlash came. Viewers sent letters to TV Times in their single figures, pouring scorn on the over-exposed magazine-plugging soft furnishing, and the 'nut-cases' who liked him. This prompted one such 'nut-case' to write in and say that it was wrong to attack Tivvy because they had a toy of him or something, although there is precious little evidence to support the argument about needing a 'sense of humour' to appreciate him. Meanwhile, you do have to feel for the University Challenge team who wrote a plaintive 'where were the scouts?'-style missive to bemoan the loss of their lucky stuffed mascot, only to find themselves joined against their will by a massive life-size Tivvy. This may have been the day that Bamber Gascoine finally ran out of chummy puns and snapped.


Eventually, TV Times threw in the novelty tie-in official Tivvy towel, and were so keen to distance themselves from his dreary antics that they allowed precious advertising space to be given over to BBC2's inaugural mascot, Hullaballo and/or Custard. Of course, what the kids really wanted back in the sixties was Beatles, Beatles and more Beatles. And if you join us for the next part, that's exactly what they'll get. And more.

Peep-Peep, Pandit And Papers: Richard Carpenter's Look And Read Serials

This feature on the three memorable yet often overlooked serials written for the BBC schools programme Look And Read by Richard Carpenter - more widely recognised as the creator of Robin Of Sherwood, Catweazle and The Ghosts Of Motley Hall - was originally written for the television review site Off The Telly. Later, with a bit of reworking, it found its way into a special issue of the fanzine This Way Up devoted to Richard Carpenter, which is well worth tracking down if you can find a copy as there was a lot of very good material in it. This was basically written as a reaction to the manner in which 'genre' magazines would tend to dispense with Look And Read in little more than half a sentence when talking about his 'proper' shows; this was very much at odds with how fondly The Boy From Space in particular is remembered by those who actually watched it at school, or indeed chanced upon it as a bit of 'extra' sci-fi on a day off. You had to make your own entertainment in those days. Incidentally the title was intended to appear as Peep-Peep, Pandit And Papers, to reflect the technique used in Look And Read's animated interstitials, but nobody could ever find a way of making that work properly - including right now - so it always just looked a bit bland. Anyway, the piece itself is anything but bland, though I've had to trim it slightly to remove a couple of inaccuracies and a lot of waffle. Wordy would be proud.


What did Richard Carpenter once describe as “the most difficult thing I’ve ever written in my life”? His first ever television commission? Three series about a small cast limited to a single set? Trying to make The Adventures of Black Beauty in any way watchable?

No, it was The Boy from Space, a ten-part serial he penned for the long-running BBC Schools' programme Look And Read in 1971. Aimed at a primary school audience, Look And Read featured a combination of dramatised story segments, animated musical inserts and studio links with a presenter, and sought to reinforce reading and writing skills. A rare example of genuine 'entertainment' in education, the various Look And Read serials are inevitably fondly recalled by those who watched them at school, and many of the most well-remembered were written by Richard Carpenter.

Developing out of the similarly long-running Merry-Go-Round, Look And Read had made its debut in 1967 with the straightforward light-hearted crime caper Bob And Carol Look For Treasure. The somewhat grittier Len And The River Mob followed in 1968, which introduced the concept of the filmed drama segments being linked by one of the cast in character, in this instance George Layton as Len. Feeling that the programme needed to explore a fresh genre and direction, producer Claire Chovil then contacted a relatively new television writer to develop an idea for a science fiction-themed serial.

Previously an actor, Richard Carpenter had developed the idea for Catweazle, a comedy-drama about a medieval sorcerer who finds himself transported forward in time, in 1969. Quickly commissioned by London Weekend Television for broadcast the following year, Catweazle was an instant hit with viewers and critics alike, inspiring a best-selling tie-in novel and winning numerous industry awards. Impressed by his ability to relate advanced concepts to a younger audience through careful use of language, Chovil commissioned Carpenter to write a new serial limited to using, as he would later put it to TV Zone, "the first two hundred words of the English language, plus a few words like ‘telescope’ and ‘telephone’ and ‘television'". And unlike Catweazle, he couldn't make up his own new words and phrases to cover them either.


First transmitted in September 1971, The Boy From Space tells the story of Helen (Sylvestra Le Touzel) and Dan (Stephen Garlick), two astronimically-obsessed youngsters who come to the aid of a stranded alien boy who they nickname Peep-Peep after his garbled bleeping speech, and shield him from a sinister 'Thin Man' intent on extracting information from him. Although limited by its educative purpose and short episodic structure, The Boy From Space is more tense and enjoyable than might normally have been expected from a programme of this nature. Much of this is down to the skilful and economical direction by former BBC Radiophonic Workshop musician Maddalena Fagandini, though at its absolute foundation is Carpenter’s script, which managed to turn the small cast and equally limited number of locations to its advantage.

Although the BBC had nominally moved to colour broadcasting in 1970, some lower priority departments were still making programmes in black and white into the early seventies, and The Boy From Space was both taped and transmitted in monochrome; although the filmed segments were actually made in colour, with a view to later repeating them in 'movie' format. The serial was repeated up to the Autumn of 1973, after which the original tapes were erased. Little is known about the studio segments, other than that they were presented by actor Charles Collingwood and apparently from an observatory set, and all that remains of this original version are the standard Look And Read classroom workbook, featuring a simplified novelisation with illustrations and exercises based on the teaching segments, and an abridged version of the story soundtrack released by BBC Records And Tapes (RESR30). And the filmed inserts, of course, but more about them later.


First seen in Spring 1973, Joe And The Sheep Rustlers by Leonard Kingston was the first Look And Read serial to be made in colour, and took an entirely different direction yet again with its straightforward story of livestock pilfering. The following year, it was back to sci-fi as Richard Carpenter returned with Cloud Burst. Possibly inspired by the BBC's primetime 'sci-fact' serial Doomwatch, Cloud Burst brought the excitement thoroughly down to Earth with the tale of stolen plans for a 'Rain Gun' that could potentially eradicate drought and famine. Slightly less convincingly than their counterparts in The Boy From Space, youngsters Tim (Nigel Rathbone) and Jenny (Tina Heath) have an obsessive interest in atmospheric conditions, apparently on account of their father being a lock-keeper. This brings them into contact with scientist Ram Pandit (Renu Setna), who is developing the 'Rain Gun' in his laboratory; his twin brother Ravi is determined to steal his research and use it to make money rather than save lives, and what's more has a handy 'Gas Gun' at his disposal.

Unnervingly closer to a Cold War thriller than clean-cut childrens' adventure, and benefitting greatly from Carpenter's insistence that, with advancing technology in mind, Pandit's laboratory should have a 'home-made' feel to offset the computers looking outdated, Cloud Burst is a skilfully made serial with an unexpected 'lo-tech' twist at the climax. It also boasted an arresting opening sequence, with an ominious instrumental by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's Roger Limb, complete with a perfectly-timed thunderclap, played out over time-lapse photography of blooming deserts. It was the first of many Look And Read serials to be re-edited in sound only for BBC Schools Radio, and to feature the celebrated 'darting eyes' opening animation, but it also brought with it a slightly more contentious innovation.


Incoming producer Sue Weeks was keen for Look And Read to introduce a regular puppet character that could interact with the human presenter, in much the same manner as other BBC Schools shows like Words And Pictures and You And Me. The result of this was Mr Watchword, or 'Wordy' as he was informally known - a huge orange electric typewriter print head with a face and arms and voiced by Charles Collingwood, who would smugly interject with know-all observations on how much better he was at using language than the rest of us 'Word-Watchers'. Wordy would remain with Look And Read until 1992, but was clearly a source of much irritation even at this early stage. The studio segments for Cloud Burst were presented by Richard Carpenter himself, in the postmodern guise of the story's writer, who would take great delight in pointing out to Wordy that he actually knew what would happen next.

Carpenter was the strictly off-screen writer of 1977's The King's Dragon, which kept up the postmodern pretence by featuring Kenneth Watson as Hasting Times editor Jack Dunbar, puzzling over how to paste up a story about the central archaeological mystery in the face of constant interruptions from Wordy. Indeed, there was a further experiment with encouraging the audience to produce their own classroom newsletter about the unfolding events, which was somewhat undermined by the relatively unspectacular nature of the serial itself.


Contrary to the sword and sorcery that the title might suggest, The King's Dragon is simply a historical artefact that has been stolen from a museum in a small Hastings village. Hot on the thieves' trail are Billy West (Sean Flanagan, also starring in Carpenter's The Ghosts Of Motley Hall at the time), a local youngster who has worked out their secret code for communicating via personal ads and newspaper headlines, and Ann Mills (Frankie Jordan), a Hastings Times reporter assigned to cover an archaeological dig. They soon find out that there are in fact two King's Dragons, and nothing about the theft is quite what it seems.

There is nothing wrong with The King's Dragon in itself - it's a taut escapade in the manner of Carpenter's more straightforward historical adventure serials such as Dick Turpin and Smuggler - but it had little to offer those who had thrilled to the decidedly atypical-for-the-classroom The Boy From Space and Cloud Burst. It inevitably came across as something of a comedown, not to mention a lot close to traditional classroom exercises, and - perhaps unfairly - it is widely regarded as the lesser of the three serials.


Unfortunately it was also Richard Carpenter's last new serial for Look And Read, although it did not actually mark his final contribution to the series. Following Leonard Kingston's Sky Hunter in 1978 - coincidentally featuring Catweazle star Geoffrey Bayldon amongst the cast - the production team were keen that their next project should be a cheaper book-balancing effort. The original filmed inserts for The Boy From Space were duly located, new animated inserts were commissioned, and studio dates were booked to tape Wordy and his technician Cosmo (Phil Cheney) aboard the space station Wordlab 1, which some may well have felt was the best place for them. However, it soon transpired that the film sequences required some restoration work and new editing, and also some new music and sound effects to bring them more in line with the current Look And Read house style. At a late stage of production, the decision was taken to film a brief new introductory sequence featuring Helen and Dan - played by the now adult Sylvestra Le Touzel and Stephen Garlick - returning to the observatory to reminisce; presumably, this was added to excuse some of the by then outmoded fashions and hairstyles on display. Needless to say, this did not exactly result in as much book-balancing as had been hoped for.

Nonetheless, this unexpected expense was arguably worth it for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's Paddy Kingsland's musical contributions alone. Replacing the original contributions by his colleague John Baker, Kingsland added a more suitably post-Vangelis/Jean Michel Jarre style of 'space' music to the existing films and the new segments, and most memorably to the opening and closing titles. To the accompaniment of swooping portamento synth lines, Look And Read's regular singer Derek Griffiths plaintively asks "Out there in space, shall we find friends? Is there a place where the Universe Ends? When shall we find it? Never. Never. Space goes on forever...", echoing into the infinite distance as the closing credits roll. Lonely, haunting and dispassionate, it's likely that this song is what is most well remembered about The Boy From Space.


Although Cloud Burst and The King's Dragon have yet to put in an appearance, The Boy From Space is now available on DVD, complete with chapter points that make it easy to skip past the studio links when you've had quite enough of them. Space may well indeed go on forever, but thankfully Wordy does not have to.


There will be more about the BBC Records And Tapes LP version of The Boy From Space soon. In the meantime, you can get Top Of The Box - The Complete Guide To BBC Records And Tapes Singles from here.

From The Edge Of Mystery


Back when I first started using the Internet, one of the first websites I discovered was www.aceofwands.net, Simon Coward's now sadly defunct site devoted to ITV's early seventies children's drama series Ace Of Wands. If you've never seen Ace Of Wands, it is probably best described as a deeply stylised post-psychedelic pre-Glam action series about a stage magician who solves unusual - and frequently apparently supernatural - crimes in his spare time. Massive in its day, and then completely forgotten about, it had started to be rediscovered more or less by word of mouth but there'll be more about that later. Actually I found the website so long ago that at that point it was still hosted on Simon's Freeserve pages, which in itself amusingly now seems more archaic than any television show where the lead character goes about in a snakeskin jacket and Jim Morrison hair.

I'd been obsessed with Ace Of Wands - 'obsessed' is a bit of an understatement to be honest - ever since catching an episode by chance at an archive TV event. Even more than the actual show itself, it was the animated psychedelic opening titles with their self-drawing pentagrams and mystic hand-based imagery, and the accompanying progtastic yet naggingly catchy theme song with bafflingly indecipherable lyrics, that really caught my attention. Over the next couple of years, I would put more time and energy than is probably considered healthy into finding out whatever I could about Ace Of Wands, which in those days wasn't as easy as you might think. Searching for features and interviews in old issues of TV Times and Look-In was challenging and time-consuming enough, but it was tracking down that elusive theme single - more properly known as Tarot by Andrew Bown, with incidental music track Lulli Rides Again on the b-side - that really took dedication. I spent so long flicking through boxes in charity shops in the hope of spotting a casually discarded copy that the catalogue number is indelibly burned into my memory; Parlophone R5856. So much so in fact that I nearly referenced it in a wedding speech once, but that's another story.


As it transpired, there were quite a few other Ace Of Wands enthusiasts out there. The series was starting to get a good deal of coverage in the more esoteric archive TV fanzines, notably Andrew Pixley's early venture Time Screen, and increasingly in glossy genre magazines, which invariably referred to it as having 'returned for a stylish new season' featuring 'Tarot's sometimes sinister foes'. It was courtesy of said increasing coverage that I learned the sad fact that the first two series of the show - which, I was reliably informed, was when it was best - had long since been wiped; all that was left was Series Three, not all of it even in broadcast quality, and a handful of almost unintelligibly poor quality audio recordings of a couple of second series episodes made by holding a tape recorder up to a television speaker. Amusingly, I'd made my own equally poor audio recording of a third series episode in more or less exactly the same way during another archive TV event, back when the possibility of actually owning any of Ace Of Wands on video seemed so remote as to be laughable.

Needless to say, there was tremendous excitement when clips turned up on Telly Addicts and TV Weekly, and later on the sell-through video compilation The Best Children's TV Of The Decade - The Seventies. There were a handful of millionth generation VHS bootleg copies floating around, if you knew where to look for them, but otherwise that really did seem like the best that we were likely to get. So that's why Simon's website, packed with what were entirely 'new' facts, cuttings, trivia and images, seemed so thrilling and felt like everything I'd hoped for from this new fangled World Wide Web that they had now. One of the most intriguing of these 'new' facts was the suggestion of several correspondents that the first two series had used an entirely different set of opening title graphics, now entirely lost to history and with only literally sketchy artistic impressions to go on.


Or at least that's what we all thought until the DVD came out. While sadly nothing had been found from either of the missing series, the producers did manage to turn up a fair few of the actual scripts as extras, and a couple of them were marked with an image showing Tarot's face in stark photographic profile and the series title in an unfamiliar font. This matched the hazy descriptions of the lost opening titles almost exactly, and was the cause of much low-key excitement on various archive TV forums. Eventually it was confirmed as the genuine article by someone with a long memory, and one bright spark went one better and cobbled together this pretty good approximation of what viewers had presumably seen before Tarot, Sam and Lulli took on deranged chessmasters, delinquency-promoting ventriloquist dummies, and whatever in the name of sanity Senor Zandar and Fat Boy actually were. So, we're as close as we're currently likely to get to actually seeing the lost opening titles?

Well, this is where it gets interesting. In 2008, Castle Music released Real Life Permanent Dreams, a four-disc box set collecting what the subtitle described as 'A Cornucopia Of British Psychedelia 1965-70'. For the benefit of those who are familiar with all of the above words but not necessarily in that order, this basically means ninety nine tracks' worth of overlooked and ignored pop records from the days of paisley shirts and trying to be far-out on black and white TV; the lightweights, the part-timers, the stars-in-waiting, the fading beat boom-era stars who covered The Move in desperation and what have you. If you still need a couple of reference points to make any sense of that, essentially you get the likes of The Kinks and Marmalade messing around with sitars and mellotrons alongside more well-psychedelically-versed cult favourites like The Smoke and Winston's Fumbs, Screaming Lord Sutch and The Tornados making ill-advised yet accidentally fantastic attempts to jump on the bandwagon, Marc Bolan and Status Quo trying to figure out exactly what their hit sound should be, and The Sun Dragon actually appearing somewhere they can be heard and listened to rather than fired directly into the nearest bin. It's every bit as interesting and listenable a collection as that might sound (well, apart from The Sun Dragon), and many of the more familiar tracks are presented as alternate takes or BBC session recordings, meaning that there's something 'new' in there for everyone.


Tarot is represented by what the sleevenotes describe as a previously unreleased alternate take, which given that it features more prominent overdriven bass guitar, different sound effects and harmonies, a slightly different lead vocal and an altogether more fluid feel to the performance, is probably a fair description. Whether it had never been heard in public before, though, is another question. They are way too muffled and crumbly to say for certain, but it really does sound as though this is the version being used, presumably in conjunction with the original title graphics, on the surviving off-air audios of Series Two. It was of course fairly standard practice around then for television theme tunes to be recorded in two different versions - a more dynamic and punchier one for on-screen, and a more conventionally structured 'pop' take for single release. It would also be entirely feasible that the new production team taking over for Series Three and putting together new titles either preferred the single version, or simply didn't realise that it was any different. This is all just conjecture though... unless anyone reading knows any different? [Update! Simon himself has been in touch to say that, after consulting better quality copies, he can confirm that the Series Two audios almost certainly use the single version of Tarot]

And it doesn't end there either. Some sources, including esteemed seventies-rememberer Jon Peake, have indicated that the first series of Ace Of Wands may have had completely different opening titles again, possibly featuring stills of Tarot performing his stage act. To be honest, it's difficult even to speculate one way or the other about this. It's entirely possible, but it's also equally plausible that it may have just been a special one-off set of opening titles to introduce the first episode - not unknown for Thames Television productions, including Ace Of Wands' direct successor The Tomorrow People - or even just an illustrative sequence in an individual episode. It's been mentioned too many times for the answer to be 'none of the above', though.

Whether any of the lost episodes of Ace Of Wands are sitting gathering dust on some archive shelf somewhere is anyone's guess, frankly. In terms of knowing what might have happened in them, we're now a lot further forward than we were even when Simon's website was at its most active, but those lost opening titles - indeed, possibly even opening titles plural - remain as difficult to pin down as ever. We're really just putting one and one and one together and making four here, and if you actually got that joke, then you'll have some idea of how difficult it's proving to come up with a halfway decent ending for this article. So if you can shed any more light on what might or might not have been seen or heard at the start of those lost episodes, please do get in touch. Actually, I should have called this Now You See It, Now You Don't, shouldn't I?

It's Still A Police Box, Why Hasn't It Changed? Part Seven: Sla-a-ar! That's What They Call You...


Doctor Who does tend to lend itself to cliched - and usually inaccurate - ramblings about 'ends' of 'eras', but it's hard to know how else to describe the sixth series in 1968/69. Not only did it mark the departure of both the Second Doctor and his longest-serving assistant, it also marked the end of black and white production, and a fundamental change in the actual style and structure of the programme itself, as an incoming showrunner tasked with reinventing a fading hit opted to follow his instructions to the letter. It's also, significantly, the last run that anything is actually missing of. Though there was inevitably a degree of give and take on either side, it was almost as if the transmission of episode ten of The War Games on 21st June 1969 marked a decisive severing of Doctor Who's ties with its own past.

Watching the entirety of Doctor Who in order, you cannot help but be struck by the significance of this moment. The best part of a decade's worth of television, starting as a troubled production that suddenly took off due to the strength of its lead actor and the phenomenal overnight success of the first featured aliens, weathering innumberable changes to the regular cast (including the lead actor) and remaining must-watch teatime viewing throughout its highs, lows and The Sensorites, more or less comes to an end to be replaced by what was to all intents and purposes a new programme; it may have been the same, but it wasn't the same. What's more, it had already mostly been lost to bulk-erased master tape archival oblivion. And then you remember that everyone who was watching it at the time just thought it was quite good and they were looking forward to seeing it in colour, so it's time to dispense with the heavyweight cultural theorising and just get on with looking at what actually happens in the episodes. If you want to read me ambitiously tying this 'end of an era' business in with Chigley and In The Court Of The Crimson King, however, then you can find exactly that in this book here. Anyway, where were we? Oh yes that's right. Settling down for five episodes ram packed full of hi-tech edge of the seat thrills...


There Is Absolutely No Point To The Dominators Whatsoever


One of the few Doctor Who stories that there is virtually no disagreement about whatsoever is The Dominators. This is because everyone knows and recognises it as the one where those scowly blokes with the big shoulders, and their interestingly designed yet ultimately risible robot assistants the Quarks, arrive on inadvisedly-named planet Dulkis with the intention of... stealing some energy or something? Fortunately for them the sappy Walter The Softy-esque crepe paper tabard-sporting Dulcians are even more banal and inactive than their name suggests, and whatever their plot actually was, it was foiled virtually single-handedly by The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe. By now you've probably already got a vague notion that this isn't exactly on a par with that episode of Breaking Bad where they hijack the train, but seriously, you have no idea until you've actually sat through the whole tedious parade of nothingess, which is too boring even for its fairly nasty and reactionary politics to really register that much. And the worst thing about it is that everyone involved missed numerous opportunities to avoid having to make it in the first place. On account of a perceived lack of dramatic content, the story was cut from six episodes to five - we can only guess at what the longer version would have been like - though the idea of replacing it with something else more substantially broadcastable doesn't appear to have occurred to anyone. Writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln were understandably slightly irked by this and resorted to legal sabre-rattling, though clearly not rattlingly enough to actually prevent it from being made. Perhaps most tellingly of all, the third episode - so tedious that the production team didn't even notice that they'd forgotten to allocate it an onscreen episode number - is to all intents and purposes an extended argument about whether they should even bother having a storyline. And there you have it - even The Dominators itself was actively trying to prevent its own production. Still, what can you expect from a story where the fact that a sound effect was titled Quark Goes Berserk And Explodes is more exciting than anything that appears in the actual episodes? With the notable exception of...


They Like Big Butts And They Cannot Lie (And Zoe's In Particular)


Throughout this look back at the black and white era of Doctor Who, we've seen time and time and time again how the production team's attempts to at least recognise the dawn of full-strength undiluted feminism were repeatedly undermined by the camera crew's apparent obsession with directing the visual focus towards whichever attractive young female cast member had the most over-upholstered backside. They must have thought all of their Christmases had come at once, then, when the infamously lower-stacked Wendy Padbury joined the regular cast at the end of the previous series as smug scientist Zoe Herriot. The most intelligent, capable and independent assistant seen in the series thus far by some considerable distance, she was nonetheless literally squeezed into a procession of catsuits and tight trouser-suits, and as you can no doubt imagine the cameras seemed to spend very little time in front of her. Most notorious - or memorable, depending on how you look at it - was the scene in the first episode of The Mind Robber where the Tardis breaks up and the console spins off into nothingness, where the breakdown of reality and logic and the rise of surreality suddenly takes second place to an alarmingly protracted close-up on her inappropriately-angled arse. And this 'enthusiasm' wasn't just confined to the 'backroom boys' either; there's a scene in The Invasion where she walks across U.N.I.T. HQ past a series of admiring glances in entirely the wrong direction from the extras hired to pose as soldiers. This rear-ended fixation had now reached critical mass, to an extent that made Jennifer Lopez look like she had entered the upper echelons of international superstardom purely on the basis of her unerring ability to spot a surefire hit movie, and frankly it was way past time for change in a more progressive direction. Speaking of which, those soldiers should count their blessings that one of Zoe's mates didn't notice their wandering eyes...


Society For Cutting Up (Cyber)Men


Over the summer of 1968, eight hundred and fifty sewing machinists at the Ford plant in Dagenham went on strike in a bid to get the same wages as their male counterparts, with their actions ultimately leading to the Equal Pay Act in 1970. On 15th November, writer Caroline Bird reputedly coined the term 'sexism' with the publication of her incendiary speech On Being Born Female. And in December, someone shouted at The Brigadier a bit. We've already seen how, despite its many other 'issues', sixties Doctor Who was absolutely ram-packed with strong and forward-thinking female characters. In fact, Anne Travers was singled out in the previous instalment as the strongest indication yet of the oncoming storm of feminism. And that storm hit in no uncertain terms with her replacement-due-to-performer-unavailability in The Invasion, Isobel Watkins. A photographer with nerves of steel - who also acts as her own model to pay the rent, a situation that she nonetheless still vocally resents - Isobel is tough, fearless and more excited than alarmed by the possibility of Cybermen striding around London streets. Never backwards in expressing her views and independence, and sternly observant of the 'line' that smitten U.N.I.T. soldiers should not overstep, her finest moment comes just after outlining a photographically complex method for capturing the Cybermen on film without being spotted. Not only does she have to contend with The Brigadier speculating that this may all be 'gibberish', she then has to stand there and be told that she is to stay put and that "this is a job for my men". Except that standing there is most definitely not on the agenda, and a visibly startled Brigadier finds himself lambasted as a cretin, a bigot, an idiot, and - worst of all - "you... man!!". Women's Lib had arrived in Doctor Who, and we would be seeing it a lot more in the seventies. As well as plenty that was absolutely nothing of the sort. But at least we know what Isobel's outburst actually looked like...


So When I Hear They Wiped The Space Pirates: 5, Saltwater Wells In My Eyes


The Space Pirates, the penultimate story to be made in black and white, is also the last story that there is anything missing of. Apart from Episode Two, of which ironically multiple copies have turned up (including, hilariously, on a miraculously surviving domestic videotape known to contain an off-air of an unidentified Doctor Who episode), absolutely nothing survives of it bar audio recordings and a handful of photographs. And some film trims that seem to last for several centuries, though it's best not to dwell on them. One consequence of this is that, aside from a costume design sketch, we have no real idea of what Dom Issigri, the missing intergalactic privateer around whom the entire storyline revolved, actually looked like. And he's not alone; there's Paris from The Myth Makers, lots of one-scene wonders from The Reign Of Terror, pretty much everyone from The Massacre, futuristic TV hosts Lizan and Roald from The Daleks' Master Plan, and that's just actual characters. There's no real way of saying for certain which of The Delegates showed up in which of the non-extant episodes of The Daleks' Master Plan. Did the cricket commentators in the same story actually appear on screen or not? What really happened at the start of both The Invasion and Fury From The Deep? How exactly did William Hartnell look as The Abbot Of Amboise? What in the name of sanity was actually seen by viewers at any point during the last ten minutes of The Massacre? And, most importantly, why does Polly have The Doctor's hat on at the end of The Underwater Menace? We can make educated guesses, but that's really all we can do, and in some cases it's not even as easy as that anyway. As we're about to move into an era that we now know pretty much everything about visually, even what colour the dragon was in The Mind Of Evil, it's worth reflecting on how sad the loss of so much perfectly good television is, and in balance how joyous it is that so much of it still actually does exist. There's proportionally way more of Doctor Who than there is most other sixties programmes, as any self-respecting fan of R.3 will tell you. It's also worth reflecting on the fact that, for all the know-alls it attracts, there is still so much still to be found out about Doctor Who. Incidentally, if you want to know more about The Space Pirates, a story that seemingly nobody cares about, you can find a huge piece on it in my book Not On Your Telly. This stuff doesn't just throw itself together you know. Mind you, not every ignored story is quite as tedious as 'fan wisdom' might suggest...


Why Does The Krotons Have Such A Bad Reputation?


As you may well have gathered by now, Series Six isn't exactly short on what might be most generously identified as 'misfires'. The Space Pirates is at least an interesting concept with impressive visuals, but struggles to keep up with its hurriedly-written six-episode overlength. The Dominators gives up almost straight away and makes no attempt to disguise its shameless lack of both content and style-over-content. And The Krotons... is actually quite good. For some reason, it has always had the reputation of being one of those mysteriously-defined 'turkeys' - as recently as Doctor Who Magazine's 'Mighty 200' poll, it could be found lurking right at the bottom amongst the entirely wiped stories that nobody's seen, the actual wastes of everyone's time, and the bulk of the Sylvester McCoy era which people are just too fond of their handy forum 'opinions' on to admit that they're actually good - but you'd be hard pushed to find anyone with an actual bad word to say about The Krotons. Non-committal and indifferent words, certainly, but not actually bad. It's a competently told if over-familiar storyline that uses its four episodes economically, it feels energetically performed and directed, it uses the regular cast well, and even the much-maligned Krotons themselves aren't that bad by the standards of sixties design. Or, if we're being honest about it, by the standards of design of some more recent episodes. At least their heads spin around and that. The worst thing that anyone could possibly call it is 'decent', so why's it ended being tarred with the same brush as Arc Of Infinity and that thing where there were all the trees? Well, there's not really an obvious answer. It doesn't appear to have been that popular with viewers at the time, and was possibly at the forefront of Derrick Sherwin's thoughts when he set about reinventing the series. It got a bit of a bashing in early fan publications, and it's also possible that some took against it when it had the temerity to show up in the The Five Faces Of Doctor Who repeat season in lieu of more well-regarded Troughton stories that didn't actually exist any more. Yet none of these really explain why it's still treated with such disdain when it's been available to rewatch and reassess for so long. Maybe Doctor Who fans just like having a convenient target of ire that they can pour scorn on and use as a trump card in arguments without having to actually put any though into it? No, probably not. It's not like it's Meglos or anything. Anyway, perhaps we'd all have liked it a bit more if The Krotons had invested in a handful of sequins...


He's The Leader, He's The Leader, He's The Leader Of The Ice Warriors He Is


The Seeds Of Death, in contrast, is generally considered to be one of the better offerings of Series Six, and rightly so. Featuring the return of the Ice Warriors, now accompanied by their somewhat more svelte and stylish superiors the Ice Lords, it's a lively and enjoyable story which touches on pollution and the relentless march of technology, and centres around a new ways vs. old ways smackdown as The Doctor and company try to determine whether they would be better advised repelling the invasion plans with the aid of brand spanking new global teleportation system T-Mat or an 'antique' space rocket, amusingly long since consigned to a museum. Also, computation-devouring technician Miss Kelly is ever so slightly easy on the eye, which doesn't exactly hinder matters. However, there's always one individual who has to go and lower a story's batting average, and in this case it's the newly-introduced third rank of would-be Martian interloper, The Grand Marshal. He may well only ever be glimpsed on a video screen demanding continual 'updates' from Commander Slaar, but it cannot realistically escape anyone's attention that he does so whilst sporting a large metal helmet covered liberally in sequins. Quite why this should be used to denote his rank is unclear. Was he a member of a post-psych proto-glam pop group later given to ruefully relating how Bolan and Bowie stole his ideas? Do Grand Marshalling duties include leading a formation display team as part of the Ice Warriors On Ice showbiz extravaganza? Did he simply raid Maggie Moone's 'battle re-enactment' wardrobe? Sadly, not even the New Adventures authors ever elaborated on that. Still, fashion-wise, he was simply ahead of his time. Some other stories were far more heavily steeped in the here and now and far out...


One Pill Makes You Larger, And One Pill Makes You Have A Different Face (For Two Episodes)


The Mind Robber, we are frequently told, is Doctor Who's most crazy far-out psychedelic story of all time ever. As we have already seen, this wasn't actually true, and in any case, most of its most pseudo-mind expanding elements came about as a result of last-minute production panic rather than Peter Bryant smoking that kerrazy acid. The 'Characters From Fiction Coming To Life' storyline, although impressively rendered in bad-trip pop-art visuals, was actually straight out of more uptight children's fiction of a decade earlier, and in fact wouldn't have been too out of place in one of the Hartnell-era stories. Well, one of the tie-in comic strips at any rate. Jamie losing his face and temporarily gaining another one came about simply because Frazer Hines was too ill to attend to the studio sessions. And that creepy first episode where they get lost in a white void - presumably the same one that Tomorrow's World and Play School later existed in - was more or less an extra episode thrown before the cameras when The Dominators had one taken away for being rubbish. It involved little more than the regular cast, the Tardis set, a bloody big curtain, and some robot costumes pulled out of storage. The White Robots, as they were known, originally came from an episode of the BBC2 science-fiction anthology series Out Of The Unknown, in which they had been, erm, Black. Based on Isaac Asimov's 1941 short story Reason, The Prophet told the story of a group of service robots on a space station, who come to worship a power source as a deity after one of their number develops higher levels of reasoning, yet find that - in a twist worthy of Black Mirror if it was in space and stopped going "aaaahhhhhhhhh!" for three minutes - they are still incapable of disobeying the First and Second Laws of Robotics. Although The Prophet had been wiped by the end of the sixties and absolutely nothing survives of it outside a handful of photographs, it's clear that the play was dominated by that eerily unfuturistic 'futuristic' mid-sixties view of space travel, and had a soundtrack - including the celebrated Robot Hymn Ziwzih Ziwzih OO-OO-OO - provided by Delia Derbyshire at the exact same moment that she was hanging around London's most gaudily wall-painted 'happenings' with Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd and The Waltham Green East Wapping Carpet Cleaning Rodent And Boggit Extermination Association. As such, The Prophet was way closer to the sounds and indeed lyrical obsessions (come on, they wouldn't bloody shut up about space at first) of The Roundhouse and the UFO Club than Doctor Who itself ever got. And of course, as well as never bloody shutting up about space at first, Pink Floyd also had a song about a scarecrow...


"By The Powers! How On Earth Would They Know My Name?"


So far, during this look back at Doctor Who, we've studiously avoided covering anything that wasn't actually seen on screen. We've reluctantly given a wide berth to the annuals, the TV Comic and TV21 strips, and The Curse Of The Daleks. So rigidly have we adhered to this rule that when it's come to a missing episode, we've relied primarily on the audio recording and taken little or notice of approximations - no matter how superbly done - of what they might have looked like. But sometimes, something will be just too downright odd to avoid mentioning. Anyone who had just been watching the television episodes would have seen Patrick Troughton spinning away into nothingness at the end of this series - which we'll be getting round to in a minute - followed by a full-colour Jon Pertwee staggering out of the Tardis at the start of the next. Exactly what happened in between was a mystery, except to anyone reading TV Comic. Possibly acting on guidance from the TV show's production team (nobody seems to be entirely sure one way or the other about that), they opted to show the actual regeneration in The Night Walkers, a three-part strip positing that The Doctor had actually escaped from the Time Lords' Top Of The Pops camera lens chicanery at the end of The War Games and managed to spend an unspecified amount of time hiding in plain sight having adventures on Earth. This bewilderingly led to him appearing as a panelist on Explain My Mystery, a television show hosted by Neil Morrissey-haired swinging dandy Perry Conway, where he came into contact with Farmer Glenlock-Hogan who claimed to have seen his scarecrows walking around at night. Intrigued, The Doctor went to investigate, and lo and behold the walking scarecrows turned out to be 'Servants of The Time Lords', sent there to corner him and enforce his regeneration. Despite Glenlock-Hogan's baffling mix of intellectual speech and yokelisms, The Night Walkers is actually a surprisingly bleak, ominous and nightmarishly-rendered tale - especially for a children's comic - and it would be nice to be able to accept it as a legitimate extension of the series proper. Except that then I'd also have to cover Turlough And The Earthlink Dilemma and that is not going to happen. Anyway, back to what we actually did see on screen...


The War Games Is Better Than It Has Any Right To Be


If there's been one consistent theme with sixties Doctor Who, it's that the longer stories tend to drag very badly in the middle. And if there's been another one, it's that the historical stories proved so unpopular with viewers that they'd been more or less phased out even by the time Patrick Troughton took over the role. And if you really, really want another one, it's that when the Tardis crew wander into the middle of somebody else's conflict, they end up with frustratingly little to do. So when it comes to a ten - TEN - episode story featuring a wide cast of military types drawn from all corners of Earth history and plonked together to fight each other until all that's left is one single unbeatable army, you'd expect it to be such a chore that even fewer people would have made it through the whole thing than The Sensorites. Which is why it's such a pleasant surprise to find that The War Games is a massively enjoyable edge-of-the-seat epic that never lets up its pace, gives valuable amounts of screentime to the series regulars, and chooses the exact right moment to bring the alien antagonists, and later the Time Lords, into proceedings. While it's certainly true that a new, younger and more enthusiastic production team were by now more or less in charge and keen to big up the arrival of their all-new all-colour all-singing all-dancing all-Channing series the following year, it's also almost as if someone somewhere had decided they wanted to see out this first phase of Doctor Who's existence in style and with a reminder of just why so many viewers went so wild for it back in 1963. And speaking of which...


"They'll Forget Me, Won't They?"


The final two episodes of The War Games, with The Doctor reduced to pleading with The Time Lords for help in returning all of the soldiers to their proper places in time and space, knowing that he himself will face a long-awaited punishment as a result, are just about as good as Doctor Who gets. Played out against a stark, oppressive backdrop that somehow perfectly expresses exactly how The Time Lords are simultaneously both benevolent and callously bureaucratic just by using certain shapes and shades, The Doctor's trial and sentencing - complete with cameo appearances by everyone's favourite monsters (oh and the Quarks) - still make for riveting viewing. It's hard not to feel choked when Patrick Troughton, conveying more emotion with a single sentence than in those entire episodes taken up by Amy blubbing about what schools her theoretical children might get into, dejectedly asks "they'll forget me, won't they?" as Jamie and Zoe are led away to have their memories wiped before being returned to their own times. And then there's the final scene, with The Doctor rejecting the 'incredible bunch' of potential choices for a new face, and arguing to the last as The Time Lords send him zooming off into nothingness with not a single walking scarecrow in sight. Although it's not just him spinning away into the past, it's also black and white television and, more symbolically, the 'sixties'. If you want to tie them all together, black and white sixties Doctor Who. And it's at this point that I briefly have to come out of 'character' and remark on how sad it feels to be leaving all this behind. Although it can sometimes feel like a small event at the start of a much longer story, sixties Doctor Who clocked up nearly two hundred and sixty episodes - and two feature films - and that's not even getting started on just how massive The Daleks and William Hartnell in particular were. It's also, crucially, the era of the show I'm most interested in. We started off by chortling at the over-reliance on rope bridges as a plot device, got through all manner of good stories, bad stories and entirely missing stories, celebrated the strong and progressive female characters at the same time as celebrating the big-arsed women placed decoratively around the set, questioned widely held assumptions, pondered on longstanding mysteries, and got away with only mentioning Jimmy Savile twice. And now we're about to move in to what is essentially a brand new series, and more to the point one that we actually know more or less everything about. Even what colour that dragon was. I'll be honest and say that this feels like such a nice, neat conclusion, and a correspondingly coherent set of articles, that it's tempting to draw a line here and go on instead to look at Look And Read or Ace Of Wands or something with an equally archaic and clearly-defined aesthetic. But there's so much else to cover. There's The Armageddon Factor and Meglos and The Two Doctors and Time-Flight and The Time Monster. Good lord almighty there's The Time Monster.

So join us again next time for Channing singing The Days Of Pearly Spencer, aliens with a vendetta against The Bluetones, and just how many voices Radio's 'Man Of A Thousand Voices' actually had...

Moogs Funks Breaks 2: I Love The Gentle People

This is what would have been the second post on the never-launched Moogs Funks Breaks blog - you can find the first one here - and it's about the now-little remembered mid-nineties loungey dance act The Gentle People, and how odd it is to contrast their present-day obscurity with how much exposure they got at the time. It ends with a rather weak off-the-peg argument that I probably wouldn't even make now, but let's not go about rewriting unpublished history. Anyway, if you want to know more about the build-up to Britpop and how the way that it gets remembered is decidedly at odds with its actual roots, you'll be wanting a copy of my scholarly study of the subject Higher Than The Sun. And now, we're off on a journey...


Recently I've been listening quite a bit to The Gentle People, a retro-electronica act that emerged from the Loungecore-Acid-Jazz-Easy-Listening-Big-Beat Madwoman In The Attic of Britpop that people try to avoid mentioning now (primarily if they're writing career histories of Noel Gallagher), inspired in no small part by that big new Corduroy box set that's just come out, complete with a previously unreleased two-fingers-to-Britpop-as-they-come cover of the Sesame Street theme.

Anyway, while enjoying their gloriously of-its-time combination of futuristic dance music sounds with an overall What Time's Issi Noho On? vibe, it's difficult to avoid reflecting on just how prominent they were for such a wilfully niche-marketed band. Only a couple of years earlier, they'd have been the sort of outfit that John Peel played apologetically in the last twenty minutes of his show, and then got complaints from miserable Grunge-worshipping dullards asking him never to play them again. In the mid-nineties, however, they were everywhere, from daytime TV to daytime radio, and the subject of countless multi-page colour spreads in magazines. And not just in the likes of Select or Vox either, but everything from Stuff to Loaded as well.

Yes, alright, so the latter sort of magazine might well have been drawn towards them by the fact that they had two attractive female members - though it's difficult to convince people these days that Loaded was actually a pretty good magazine for the first couple of years, placing articles on the likes of Peter Cook and Lancelot Link Secret Chimp in amongst all the Nicola Charles In Her Pants Again stuff, and heavily championing the likes of The League Of Gentlemen and Super Furry Animals way before they actually got anywhere, and that it was only finally consumed by the monster it accidentally created after Harry Hill featured on the last regular male-only cover in 1997 (although as I briefly appeared in a feature some two years after that - no, not telling you which, sorry - I can't really fingerwag as much as I'd like to), but that's an argument for another article - yet all the same there's no getting away from the fact that they weren't the sort of band that would have been considered potential mainstream fodder only a couple of years earlier, or indeed only a couple of years later. They were, after all, a gaggle of flourescently-dyed-in-the-wool confirmed retroheads like the similar headcases behind Radio Tip Top - themselves a regular sighting in these sort of unlikely avenues, and similarly pushed towards the mainstream to the extent that they nearly landed a daytime show on Radio 1 (and if you want to know more about that, you'll have to read my book Fun At One) - and hardly of a piece with bacon sandwiches, football tribalism or children's TV presenter 'babes'.


So what happened? Why was there that curious moment in the mid-nineties where the mainstream and the non-mainstream suddenly collided and everything seemed on a level playing field for the briefest of times (well, unless you were poor old Luke Haines)? A large part of it is obviously down to the success of the likes of Blur, Pulp and Supergrass, who waved their more angular influences in people's faces but at the same time had found a way to make them eyecatching, earcatching and marketable, and given that to the average punter it must have seemed like all these amazing bands were suddenly tumbling out of nowhere (whereas the average NME reader would doubtless have seen things a bit differently), it was inevitable that people would feel mildly curious about what else was 'out there'. Clearly that can't have been the entire cause, as it seemingly got through to people who wouldn't know Sofa (Of My Lethargy) if it pitched up in the middle of a Shine compilation and refused to budge until they had heard it so many times that their head exploded, but that's for some crazy futuristic Space Dominic Sandbrook to speculate on.

Anyway, for the briefest of moments - yet still one which in the heat of the moment seemed like it was stretching on into infinity in a sort of weird time distortion event of the sort that they used to use technobabble to describe before all this 'wibbly wobbly timey wimey' business started - it seemed like the 'outsiders' could take on the mainstream and, if not win, then at least co-exist in a more receptive plane of popular cultural existence. But of course, Simon Cowell wasn't having any of that...

Moogs Funks Breaks 1: The Garden(s) Of Earthly Delights

This was one of only two posts that I put together for an abandoned blog idea called Moogs Funks Breaks. This would basically just have been a series of short impressionistic posts aimed at highlighting various overlooked songs that I'd been listening to recently, which as you can see below would have been a good deal more interesting than that description sounds. Anyway, here's what would have been the first post on Moogs Funks Breaks, looking at what happens when your MP3 player clocks up more than one song of the same name without you actually noticing...


One of the possibly unwelcome innovations of the MP3 age, and indeed one that Stewart Lee would presumably be both fascinated and alarmed by, is that it's now possible look through the list of tracks on your personal audio player and see just how many different versions of one song it's possible to have accumulated without realising. Seven of All Along The Watchtower. Fourteen of Mas Que Nada. And, somewhat less expectedly, three completely different songs all called The Garden Of Earthly Delights.

Presumably 'borrowing' their title from Hieronymous Bosch's fifteen and sixteenth century straddling series of Bible-depicting oil-on-canvas artworks - or, if raining, from somewhere where they'd seen it being used - the three Gardens Of Earthly Delights in question could not be further removed from each other musically, chronologically, or ideologically. Well, not exactly 'could not be', as none of them are by Skinned Teen, Bela Bartok or The All-New Nick Griffin Big Band, but you get the general idea.


The first of them, working on an arbitrarily chronological basis, is by late sixties early electronic act The United States Of America, a sarcastically-named outfit who were part of the same 'Hate Generation' as The Stooges, Frank Zappa and the equally ironically-monickered Love. Their lone self-titled album duly does away with the peace and love obsessions of the era in favour of songs about animal cruelty, middle-class sexual deviance, 'bad trip' flashbacks, Hiroshima, and an aggressive female vocalist roaring out a 'fuck you, I'm in charge here' ode to the joys of, erm, Hard Coming Love. As you can probably imagine, their The Garden Of Earthly Delights is rather light on the 'Delights', consisting mainly of a nightmarish botany lesson about venomous blossoms, blackening mushrooms, and - yikes - 'omniverous orchids'. It's safe to say Percy Thrower wasn't on their Christmas Card list.


Then it's a leap forward to the late eighties, when XTC opted to open their superlative defining moment of neo-psychedelia Oranges And Lemons with their own personal The Garden Of Earthly Delights. As you'd expect from Andy Partridge, this particular plea for human tolerance and co-operation is made up of a ridiculous volume of line-cramming words delivered at a frenetic pace, and comes with about seventeen thousand sub-clauses, but it's a mighty fine way to open one of the mightiest and finest albums ever made. And it's not even the best expression of that basic sentiment on there; if you've never heard Scarecrow People, Poor Skeleton Steps Out, Here Comes President Kill Again or The Loving, then you need to rectify that straight away.


Then, finally, it's off to the early nineties and overmanned Acid Jazz collective D*Note, of Now Is The Time near-hit infamy. This was the point at which the yellow sunglasses-wearing types started to break away from their more straight ahead raving contemporaries, substituting the Ecstasy-driven vision of a world united by one of those plinky three-chord piano riffs for a more globally-aware plea to take heed of history, ecology and ethnic tradition, which of course would pay off very handsomely for a certain gentleman in an oversized hat. Delivered over a furious modal jazz riff apparently sampled from the soundtrack of legendary big screen religious hokum The Cross And The Switchblade (bang goes my long-held assumption that it was purloined from Mike Westbrook's Metropolis (Part IX), then), guest vocalist Pamela 'Not That One' Anderson combines an urging for mankind to look to its own metaphorical 'garden' with wistful romantic whisperings to someone apparently obliviously scoffing a picnic. And they wonder why Reel II Reel Featuring The Mad Stuntman had the big hits.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why it can sometimes be fun to have different songs with the same name. Except when it's Twist And Shout.

Do Not Viddy This, My Brothers!


This is the story of how I didn't see a film.

A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick's controversial (not least with the author himself) 1971 big-screen version of Anthony Burgess' acclaimed novel, had caused a vivid furore on its release, and by the end of the decade had been withdrawn from UK distribution at the director's request. There have been wild stories of threats and protests outside the Kubrick family home from 'anti-violence' protesters, though it's also worth remembering that the film was used as a political football by moralising blowhards like pretty much no other before or since; including, to Burgess' great frustration, one James Wilson Vincent Savile. What an excellent arbiter of socially responsible behaviour he turned out to be. Anyway, whatever the reason, withdraw it Kubrick certainly did, and with home entertainment still really only in its infancy, this meant that - for UK audiences at least - A Clockwork Orange pretty much disappeared off the face of the planet.

As you can imagine, this made A Clockwork Orange a very intriguing prospect indeed to any self-respecting young student of the weird and lurid corners of cinema history. Surreally stylised and futuristic photos in books about 'Sci-Fi Films' were a nagging reminder of its tantalising unavailability. It stood almost alone as a movie that had been a huge hit one minute then basically erased from history the next, while older cousins and more verbose rock journalists hinted at a secret knowledge of it that you weren't allowed to share. Even the row about its content and suitability seemed more exciting than it maybe should have warranted. The fact that even if it had been available, I would have been too young to actually see A Clockwork Orange was neither here nor there - I was as obsessed with it as others were with A Nightmare On Elm Street or Predator. I read the book, I listened to the fantastic soundtrack album, I even cut out and kept a Guardian article about the RSC's stage adaptation starring Phil Daniels as Alex. There was just one small but significant flaw with this fanaticism - I hadn't actually seen the film itself.


There were rumours, of course, that it was widely available on 'pirate', but it always seemed to command the sort of sums of money that you didn't particularly want to be handing over to shifty teenagers on street corners, especially when you'd already seen the woeful quality of some of their more easily affordable wares. And so it was that, long after I'd seen Twisted Nerve, Peeping Tom, The Magic Christian, Supervixens, Cannibal Apocalyse, Vampyros Lesbos, The Trip, Monte Carlo Or Bust!, Psychomania, 200 Motels, Two-Lane Blacktop, Every Home Should Have One, The Rise And Rise Of Michael Rimmer and many other tantalisingly elusive doodles in the margin of cinema history, A Clockwork Orange remained my one big Halliwell-troubling box to tick. Yet despite the occasional frowning in a newspaper article accompanied by a badly-cropped version of that photo of Alex at the wheel of a car, it was still nowhere nearer becoming available.

Then, one day, a rumour began to circulate amongst members of a local Cinema Club that they were going to stage a secret - and not even remotely Kubrick-approved - screening of an under-the-counter print of the film to mark their tenth anniversary. Whether they ever actually intended to or not nobody really knows, as some ingrate prat promptly leaked the story to an illiterate muck-raking grief-porn-peddling chip-on-regional-shoulder local newspaper, who went predictably condemnatory crazy with the story - no prizes for guessing which photo they used to accompany it - prompting the cinema to issue a strenuous denial that they'd ever even considered it. Was this all a clever double-bluff, though? Was it worth running the risk of missing out on an actual chance to see it, and subsequently having to administer a self-kicking worthy of Alex and his Droogs? There was only one way to find out - to turn up on the supposed date and time and see if they were actually showing it away from prying smudgy-newsprint eyes.


As it turned out, I wasn't the only one who'd had that idea. A sizeable crowd had gathered outside the suspiciously darkened venue, made up primarily of studenty types holding cineaste-friendly impromptu discussions, nervy-looking lone gentlemen with an apparent disdain for washing their raincoats, and a small army of people in boiler suits and bowler hats. Oh, and a reporter, who was pleasingly blanked by everyone she attempted to speak to. As the night set in, the weather got colder, and it became increasingly obvious to anyone with a shred of sense that there was nobody actually inside the building, the Droogs seized their moment. A flurry of brolly-rapping on the determinedly shut doors and shouts to the effect of "but the slovo did viddy that the film would be on all horrorshow" did nothing to change the situation, so they started to indulge in in-character jostling of fellow would-be patrons instead. Once they began to loudly decry the arrival of 'the millicents', it really was time to give up and go home.

So, that's how effective banning films really is in terms of preventing copycat violence. Of course, there was also the time someone threw a full carton of Kia Ora at my head, but that's another story. And I actually saw the film that time too.


You can read more about my quest to see elusive films from the odder corners of movie history in Not On Your Telly.