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Happy Birthday Wilfrid Brambell and Please Please Me.



“That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;” Ephesians-4-22 King James Version (KJV).
The King James Version of the Bible contains a number of references to “the old man” – basically meaning – “the former, unregenerate unredeemed self”. But as a child, whenever I heard the phrase read out in church, I thought of Wilfrid Brambell. “The old man” who is to be put aside always presented himself to my imagination as Old Steptoe, a dirty, leering, irredeemable reprobate.

Anyhoo – he was born 105 years ago today.

Wilfrid Brambell was more than just Old Steptoe. But Steptoe and Son was an extraordinary piece of work in many ways. Although the writing was attributed to the Galton and Simpson writing partnership, I swear that Samuel Beckett was guest writer for several episodes.

And of course, Wilfrid Brambell co-starred with…

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Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn? On this, her 100th birthday, I remember bombastic late 70s pomp rock paranoia.


Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?
Remember how she said that
We would meet again
Some sunny day?
Vera, Vera
What has become of you
Does anybody else in here
Feel the way I do?

Vera Lynn has been a living symbol of nostalgia for my entire life.  People have been remembering her fondly since before I was born.  And all my life people have been pointed out that bluebirds are not indigenous to North West Europe, and that if we have to wait for them to fly over Kent for the war to be over, then V.E Day will probably never come.

When I could have been listening to cool music as a teenager, I listened to Pink Floyd The Wall, over and over again, thereby remembering Vera Lynn over and over again.  I can’t even hear the name Vera Lynn without hearing Roger Waters’ sneering vocals, going on about the war by going on about people going on about the war.

(The funny thing is, I think Waters actually thought of himself as a sort of punk by the late seventies.  He was certainly bitter and nasty enough.  He just had much longer hair and it took him at least two years to record an album.)

Oddly enough, the bitter evocation of Vera Lynn’s name only serves to reinforce her iconic status.  She is a promise gone sour, a wartime spirit betrayed…. recalled with a vitriol that only goes to validate the strength of the original promise and spirit.  You can’t get angry with people who wax nostalgic about the war without perpetuating the pervasiveness of the same nostalgia.

In a matter of days, Theresa May will invoke Article 50 and treat Vera Lynn far worse than Roger Waters ever did.  The occasion of Lynn’s 100th birthday ought to remind us all that the so-called “Finest Hour” to which she provided the soundtrack was the occasion of Britain’s stubborn refusal to abandon Europe, a heroic moment of commitment to Europe’s survival.  Soon, the last nostalgic memory of this legacy will be betrayed as Britain commits itself to becoming smaller, nastier and far far duller.  Too dull to deserve to inspire love.

When those kippers appropriated spitfires (many of which were piloted by east European refugees) last horrible June, they were both rewriting history and kicking Vera Lynn.  Hitler of course, had no interest in Kentish real estate, and was perfectly happy to leave Britain pristine and isolated, trading with its overseas empire – just so long as Britain left Europe alone. If Farage had been British prime minister in 1940, there can be no doubt that he would have signed a shabby deal with Hitler and nobody would have ever heard of spitfires.  Or Vera Lynn.


Indiana Jones – why don’t you try to find “Hats Off” – the lost Laurel and Hardy film?

hats off

Hats Off has been described (by Randy Skretvedt) as the “Holy Grail” of lost Laurel and Hardy movies.   I’d like to reverse this comparison if I may.  The Holy Grail is, when all is said and done, just an old cup.  Hats Off  is a priceless example of silent Laurel and Hardy mirth-making.    Perhaps the Holy Grail should be described the “Hats Off” of lost religious relics instead.

You can, if you wish, watch this reconstruction of stills that give some indication of the plot of “Hats Off”.


The film co-stars our old friend James Finlayson and the sublime Anita Garvin.  Stan and Ollie are recruited by Finlayson as door to door washing machine vendors, and before long you realise that this lost silent film offers an early version of their Oscar winning Music Box short.  Yes, it’s even the same flight of stairs.  If ever I go to Los Angeles again, I will make the time to actually find that flight of stairs.  It’s one of the most important flights of stairs in cinema history.


A complete step related cinematic pilgrimage would include the Odessa Steps of Battleship Potemkin, and the Georgetown steps that feature so prominently in The Exorcist.  But these steps in Los Angeles are the most important in my view.  These steps offer the most poignant commentary on the human condition ever committed to celluloid.  In the form of steps, that is.

As in The Music Box, our heroes have to keep lugging a very heavy object (a washing machine) up a steep flight of steps.  The ending is completely different, however, and the sequence of still shots available does not quite explain how this ur-Music Box movie turns into a full scale tit for tat street riot with a narrow focus on the destruction of hats.

Who knows if Hats Off survives somewhere? Anywhere?   Maybe, just maybe,  those two reels were lying around in a steel canister in that same cave where Indiana Jones was forced to pick just one relic to take home with him.

He chose…. poorly.

I try to imagine what it must be like being Theresa May, and then realise that she never tries to imagine what it’s like being any other human being.


Some people have always been dead to shame. Sometimes it’s hilarious.  Take James Boswell, for example.  Boswell, however, did have guilt, bucketloads of guilt, and did concede that shame might be a useful thing to have since shame has the capacity to control behaviour before the event rather than just help you hate yourself after you’ve been a complete arse.  Theresa May is dead to shame and it’s not hilarious.

Theresa May could probably still try to save the union.  The time left for her to do so is most conveniently measured in hours but she could still try.  Nicola Sturgeon isn’t asking for Scotland to to be excluded from Brexit, even though most Scots voted to reject Brext.  All she’s asking for, is for Scotland to be excluding from the most ruthless and destructive version of Brexit possible, a Brexit that nobody in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England specifically voted for.  But May would rather the Union fell apart than do that.

Whether the Union should survive is another question.  There’s probably a pretty deafening global consensus that it shouldn’t.  But Theresa May is the leader of a party that has one policy union.  As I never tire of telling people (actually I do tire of telling people), the Conservative and Union Party doesn’t stand for anything else, in essence, since “conservative” is a completely relative term.  To be conservative merely means to be cautious about proceeding any given direction.  Unionist does mean something though.  In essence, May and Cameron had one job.  And they’ve done everything they can to do the very opposite of that job.

When the second Indyref campaign is fought, May will have nothing to offer but fear, no “union” other than a union of grim economic necessity.  Indeed, once the economic cost of Brexit starts to bite, it will be argued that the post Brexit slump (that Scots voted to try to prevent) forces an impoverished and “out of options” Scotland to cling to a union with the very nation that impoverished them.   That’s the abusive marital model that will be proposed.

Theresa May could, if she had any commitment to the one job she’s absolutely meant to do, pick up the phone and start demonstrating some empathy.  You can’t claim to love “Britain” and despise Scotland, unless you think you can also say “I have a great marriage, I just hate my wife”.  If you want to save “Britain”, then you need to have real dialogue.

But it isn’t in her.  She can’t do it.  We are told that she prays regularly and that her Christian faith supports her in her decision making  Hers must therefore be a Christianity without empathy, and the message of Jesus is that loving concern for your fellow human beings is the worst of sins. You may lie as often as you like.  You may betray the very things you keep telling people you believe in, but never ever ever attempt to walk a millimeter in anybody else’s shoes.

Swift 350, Gulliver, and St Patrick’s Day


There’s a sense of exhaustion around the school, all because SOMEBODY suggested that as part of the rolling celebrations of Jonathan Swift’s 350th birthday, our St Patrick’s Day float should consist of a giant “Gulliver” – strapped down and surrounded by Lilliputians.  Yes, SOME PARENT thought this would be  appropriate for a St Patrick’s Day parade, the PTA ran with it, and a gargantuan (Brobdingnagian?) effort has thereby been imposed upon a great many people.

The overall theme of the town parade is “Purple and Gold”, signifying the town’s recent award of a purple flag for services to tourism and a gold star “Tidy Town” award.  So, all the children are to wear purple Lilliputian cloaks and when Gulliver arrives at the podium of civic worthies, we’ll be introduced as a delegation to Tidy Town from Tiny Town, along with their biggest tourist attraction, Gulliver the Man Mountain.  At this point, Gulliver will rear up threateningly and the children will shout

Hekinah degul! 


Tolgo phonic!

while threatening giant Gulliver with crudely fashioned bows.  I crudely fashioned them myself, as it happens.  Gulliver will then become supine again and the parade can continue.  We are a little worried about braking.  Gulliver is on a trolley, and the final approach to the podium of worthies consists of a steep descent from the top of the railway bridge.  I can imagine future historians writing “The 2017 North Kildare By-Election took place in the strangest of circumstances…”

I’ve been a bit quiet about these plans, because after all this work, I don’t want some other town to suddenly steal the idea – especially not nearby Celbridge – which has a real connection with Jonathan Swift that we don’t have.  We are Blefuscu to their Lilliput in reality.  But the parade start time is in just a few hours now, and I’m thinking that they really don’t have time to whip up a rival Gulliver in the time remaining.  Best of all, our parade is a few hours before theirs.  However, I will not rob our Gulliver of its surprise value by posting any image of him.  Yet.

Already people are wondering about Gulliver’s afterlife.  It turns out that Gulliver is not just for St Patrick’s Day – he’s for life.  Storage concerns, and worries that his huge frame will attract vermin echo those Lilliputians who fretted about what to do about Gulliver’s rotting corpse after his (projected death).  My own view is that a giant should be retained for the school for all subsequent parades.

Next year is the centenary of the celebrated 1918 election in which women voted, and stood as candidates, for the first time.   Following some corrective surgery, Gulliver could become Constance Markievicz, rearing up and voting for herself.

But I’ve said too much.

Call of the Cuckoo (1927). Laurel and Hardy are bit players again. And their hair hasn’t grown back yet.


Imagine living next door to Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson and Charley Chase? Sounds fun eh?  Or sounds initially like fun before becoming unbelievably annoying, so relentlessly  annoying it makes you want to lose the will to live or at least move to a different hemisphere.

Stan and Ollie, incidentally, have not had a chance to grow their hair back from their time behind bars in The Second Hundred Years.  Chase, Finlayson, Hardy and Laurel are lunatics who may be in training to become wacky radio announcers.  In some ways, this is Laurel and Hardy’s first “cameo” appearance, since they are here not just as two individuals but sort of as a team.  Stan shoots Ollie in the bum with an arrow and it is funny.  It’s all in the timing.

Living next door to this collection of cuckoos is Max Davidson and his family, the Gimplewarts .  Max Davidson played a large number of stereotypical yet affectionate Jewish father figures throughout the silent era.  (Ethnic humour in the 1920s and 30s ran to such comical culture clashes as the Cohens and the Kellys series.)  Richard Bann has argued that Davidson, a supremely talented comic actor,  fell out of favour with Hollywood moguls like Louis B. Mayer who felt that Davidson was too Jewish and that Jewish families on film ought to “assimilate” to the point of being indistinguishable from their gentile neighbours.

Here’s the article.  I’d need to do a deal of research to have a worthwhile opinion about it.

Pa Gimplewart tries to put the house on the market, but the only offer they get is to swap houses on the strength of one photo – no questions asked.  The family immediately moves into their new home, which turns out to be a hilarious jerry-built funhouse in which nothing works the way it should.  Light switches illuminate bulbs in different rooms.  Light switches also turn on the shower.  Inflammable gas comes out of the taps in the kitchen and water spurts from the gas hob.  Concern about the stability of a piano leads  Papa Gimplewart to produce a spirit level which slides right out of the house as soon as it is laid on the floor.  Never a good sign.  He goes upstairs to take a bath, which is clearly not a wise move, because simultaneously a bunch of relatives arrive expecting to be fed.  Water from the bath drips onto chocolate cake and into the coffee.   The extended family bores easily and they soon take to fighting one another, a circumstance which further exposes the fragility of the house. and everything in it.  Finally someone looking to weaponise some furniture picks up the chair that’s been wedging the piano in place resulting in the piano sailing straight through a wall and into a car, which instantly disintegrates.  Of course, one thing you learn from Laurel and Hardy era movies is that the Model T. Ford will collapse if you so much as look at it in a funny way.  Just when things can’t get any worse it turns out that Laurel, Hardy, Chase and Finlayson have moved house.  They’re next door again.

Thanks to my Laurel and Hardy completism, I have seen a Max Davidson movie.  He’s a little man with big responsibilities, and the world is not kind to him.  His movie persona could be summarised as fraught and anxious paterfamilias.  I like him.

Albania’s 2017 Eurovision Entry. The centerpiece of a dystopian German Expressionist musical called “Fritzlanglangland”?





As the official Eurovision site starts to fill up with publicity materials for this year’s contest, it’s easy to be distracted by those videos they post – videos which can’t possibly reproduced onstage in competition circumstances.  Like this one…

Lindita initially appears dressed in a designer version of post-apocalyptic new stone age skins as dry ice rises from fractured aquaducts.  Then she stares up at vapour trails.   Then she’s trussed up in dark grey office wear in an Orwellian cubicle dominated by clock faces.  And completing the Trinity of Linditas is a version of Lindita floating through an ocean in a whitish globule looking for all the world as though she’s been miniaturized and is on her way to inseminate something.

The drab metropolitan modernity then fragments into a series of flying airships in order to decorate the screen with faddish steampunk invention.

Albania’s song sports the modest unassuming title of “The World”.  It is dominated by portentous piano chords which make you feel that the chorus is going to be more memorable than it actually is.  It is an impersonation of an impersonation of a memorable power ballad.  But I’ve heard it a few times and I still can’t hum it – it just doesn’t have that kind of mnemonic efficacy.   In other words, from a melodic point of view, it’s a thoroughly modern Eurovision entry.  In its grandiloquence and grand protestations of universality, Albania’s 2017 effort would make Enver Hoxha turn in his grave.  Mind you, Enver Hoxha’s grave must be some sort of rotisserie by now.

The message of the song is that everyone is everyone is sort of different and sort of the same all at the same time and we really shouldn’t fight one another.  A few years ago, this sort of lyric would have sounded trite and obvious, but right now it seems like a profoundly necessary revelation.

If there’s one thing that the revival of the far right and the dominance of fear and stupidity as viable political currency has done – it has revivify some of the most stale and shopworn liberal clichés.

The 132nd Anniversary of The Mikado.


Today is the 132nd anniversary of the first performance of The Mikado.  As it happens, I’ve lately  been wondering (and I’m sure you have too) what would have happened if W.S. Gilbert were still with us today and had been asked to be a guest writer on Game of Thrones.

I think the result would have gone a little something this.

Scene – a blasted heath.  Enter Arya Stark, solus, or is that sola?


Arya’s Song.

As someday it may happen that a victim must be found….

I’ve got a little list – I’ve got a little list,

Of Westeros offenders who might well be underground

(The Mountain and the Hound! The Mountain  and the Hound!),

And who never would be missed – who never would be missed!

There’s that nasty Joff Baratheon

And also Ilyn Payne.

(I don’t think they’d be missed… I’m sure they won’t be missed.)

For decapitating daddy when they really should desist…

(Those rotters won’t be missed – I’m sure they won’t be missed.)

And let’s not forget Queen Cersei with her supercilious smile

And Polliver and Raff the Sweetling grinning all the while

And Ser Meryn Trant killed Sirio for daring to resist!

(So I don’t think they’d be missed.  I’m sure they won’t be missed.)

Then there’s Amory Loch and Chiswyck, Dunsen, Tickler and the Weese,

Let’s stab them with my Needle lest their villainy increase –

Other Boltons, Freys, and Lannisters could do with sweet release

So they’re on a growing list

And I don’t think they’d be missed.

As I travel through this wicked world  my list begins to swell

With maniacs and murderers too numerous to tell..

Infanticidal tyranny conducted in the nude –

The people I am forced to meet are petulant and rude!

And I’m running out of paper for the folks I must include.

I think you get the gist – they’re going on the list…

And don’t glare as if I’m crazy or I’ll put you on the list

And you’ll probably not be missed.  I’m sure you won’t be missed.

The Collapse of Ely Cathedral’s Central Tower, The Execution of Catherine Howard, and Happy Birthday Peter Tork and Oliver Reed



Old news.  I crave old news.   As the actual news gets more and more stupid, I find myself going first to the anniversary pages when I get up in the morning.

Over night (March 12-13) in 1322, the central tower of Ely Cathedral collapsed.  This dramatic event resulted in the subsequent creation of the fascinating octagonal space w know today.

On this day in 1542, Catherine Howard was executed.  Not so much written about Catherine Howard today, but just about the most successful Henrician historical novel before Hilary Mantel – The Fifth Queen by Ford Madox Ford – charts her perplexed inner life with consummate assurance and fascination. Ford Madox Ford was also, incidentally, ahead of the game in offering a sympathetic portrayal of Thomas Cromwell.

A bunch of birthdays occur to me today.  Peter Tork (the funny looking one out of The Monkees) has a birthday today…

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Laurel and Hardy in “The Second Hundred Years” (1927). It begins





And finally they’re off.  This is the first Laurel and Hardy movie in a continuous sequence of Laurel and Hardy movies.  From now on – they are together.   Oliver made a few film appearances without Stan Laurel, largely as a result of the craftily asynchronous contracts that Hal Roach made them both sign, but from now on they are a double act.

Fittingly enough, this sequence begins, in 1927, with a prison movie.   They are sentenced to each other as it were.  Their heads are shaved and their clothes are striped and they’ve been given truly retributive sentences.

The Warden is, surprise surprise, James Finlayson, who is excited by the prospect of visiting French Government officials who are coming to study his prison so that they can adopt some other penal system.  Meanwhile, Stan and Ollie have nearly completed their tunnel.  Unfortunately, having pick-axed their way through a water pipe, they are forced to detour and emerge in the Warden’s office.  The comedy in these situations always consists of those few precious second preceding and then including the moment where they recognise the enormity of their error.  At least the burst pipe does eventually end up flooding the office – which is at least one version of “sticking it to the man”.

They escape by pretending to be painters.  The suspicious eye of law enforcement following them around leads to them painting everything in sight – rocks, houses, shops, people, lamp-posts and finally a flapper.  This is the last straw.  You can’t paint a flapper and the alarm is sounded.  A chase in underway.  Somehow they manage to change clothes with the very same French delegation that was due to visit the prison and they are chauffeur-driven back into their very own prison as honoured guests.

Watching these two our of their depth in High Society is always a joy.  Stan has no concept of etiquette while Ollie is always convinced that he knows exactly how to behave in any given situation.  Ollie is by far the more deluded of the two.  Stan hasn’t had a decent meal in years, and is incapable of behaving with restraint and delicacy at a dining table.  A cherry from his starter goes awry and he is compelled to pursue it, wheresoever it may go – eventually extricating it from the back of a lady’s dress.

The final scene is the saddest, as they are compelled to tour to the prison and are instantly exposed not only by their erstwhile (and future) block-mates but also by the two French penal delegates who have been arrested for public indecency and are now (still in long underwear) incarcerated in Stan and Ollie’s very own row of cells.  The resignation with which our heroes realise that the game is up and trudge back in line to complete their many decades of prison is almost heartbreaking.

In many ways Laurel and Hardy films are far bleaker than most modern comedies.  In mainstream 21st century Hollywood – good-natured  idiocy is always to be rewarded.  In Laurel and Hardy films, idiocy is always punished, although often by other idiots.  There’s no indication that Laurel and Hardy are dumber that Warden Finlayson in this film.  They’re certainly not dumber than the guard who gives Stan a rifle to hold while demonstrating an exercise move.  There are merely lucky idiot and unlucky idiots, and for unlucky idiots, merely clinging on to an unhappy status quo is the best that can be hoped for.

There is something very melancholy about seeing Stan and Ollie with their heads shaved – especially Stan, whose hair was a thing of crafted wonder.