Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Taking The Piss

I was already losing confidence in the urologist when, after asking what medication I had been put on, he had to turn to his computer and Google the name to find out what it was. After that it went downhill, with him more interested in poring over the new x-ray to try and locate the kidney stone while I kept asking when could I start eating properly without the abdominal pain and projectile vomiting resurfacing.

With no proper answers forthcoming, in the end we just pored over the sectional images from the CT scan from three weeks back. At least there he could see the stone, which seemed to please him no end, and also helpfully point out the size of the swollen, infected kidney, which was nice. Still, running back and forth through what was essentially an electronic flick book, it was a damn sight more interesting than anything I had seen over the past two weeks.

Having said that, while laid up and pretty much pumped full of my daily allowance of painkillers, flicking through the channels I did happen across an episode of The Saint on ITV4. When it comes to the old ITC dramas from the 1960s and 70s, I was either too young to watch them or they simply passed me by, although I do have a vague memory of catching perhaps one or two episodes of The Persuaders!. Once I finally got around to seeing enough episodes to become reasonably familiar with the material I can’t say that I was particularly impressed.

Since these shows were of their era it was always going to be unfair to watch The Champions or Randall and Hopkirk [Deceased] two or three decades on and try not to compare them to Alias or NYPD Blue or whatever else was on at the time. This particular episode of The Saint, however, came within a few days of the last episode of Ashes to Ashes. Not knowing it had inexplicably been commissioned for a third series, I’d watched it to see just how they were going to flush this massive turd and it was difficult not to weigh one up against the other.

While there was something rather formal about the staging of the inevitable fisticuffs when it came for Simon Templar to give the scoundrels a good drubbing, and the odd piece of back projection proved to be almost as distracting as seeing how many empty parking spaces there were in Central London, The Saint still had a rather ingenious double-cross plot to fall back on that made a lot of sense. Of course another episode might tell a different story, but in this instance it knocked the spots off the utter bone-headed stupidity of Ashes to Ashes.

Although I wasn’t a fan, at least Life on Mars made some slight attempt to contrast the different methods of policing, even if it was really just an excuse to dress up and play at being The Sweeney. Ashes to Ashes, based on that series finale, had tossed everything of value off and degenerated into a dumb cartoon. If they took away the guns and the juvenile behaviour revolving around what might have been a deep-fried penis, it could have been dumped in the Saturday evening slot that everyone is slavering over.

Back in the first series of Spooks one of the neophyte agents gets her head pushed into a deep fat fryer, which pretty much nailed the show’s colours to the mast. In Ashes to Ashes, interrogating some schlub in a chip shop, Gene Hunt takes his man out back to dunk him into the water bath the raw potato slices are being dumped into. Even in my partially zoned out state, it was pretty clear from the camera angle that while the actor was thrashing his arms in the water, his head hardly came close to the water let alone get pushed below the surface.

Later, during the rather silly bullion robbery, when the Audi Quattro piles in to knock down the bent copper, the actor/stuntman/whatever jumped in the air long before the car’s front bumper got anywhere near him. Piss-poor storytelling, sadly, seems to be a given nowadays when it comes to most BBC drama, but as some kind of compensation can’t we at least have decent production values to make it look like someone onboard was at least trying to make an effort?

When you look at how far American drama has progressed, contrasting, say, Gunsmoke to Deadwood or Dragnet to Life, it’s disappointing and dispiriting that the episode of The Saint, which was originally broadcast the same year as those earlier US shows, was the most intelligent hour of British-made drama I had seen on television that week.


At 11:13 am, Blogger potdoll said...

hugs. kidney stones are very painful from what i hear. hope you get rid of it soon x

At 12:22 pm, Blogger Brian Sibley said...

Thank God (every now and again) for old telly! Really hope you're stoned soon. Wishing you better.

At 6:11 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


I hope it goes soon. Of course it might have gone and all that’s left is the kidney infection. On the CT the swollen right kidney looked like a beefsteak tomato compared to the left cherry tomato-sized kidney.

It doesn’t seem to be a food thing anymore. On Saturday I’d had a small bowl of porridge (made with water) in the morning so I could take the Tamsulosin hydrochloride tablet and that was it for the day. Come the evening when the pair flared up again, by midnight I was vomiting all the water I’d drunk.

So it’s starting to get a bit annoying now. There’s another x-ray coming up and if the stone is still there they’re going to get it out. Not too crazy about that, especially the route they go in.


Obviously some of those ITC shows are a wee bit duff – especially the ones that relied on too many gimmicks – and The Persuaders! always looked like they had more fun making them than the audience would have watching them, but oddly enough, I don’t think I’d ever seen The Saint before. Good as it was, it was kind of depressing that a lot of UK drama hadn’t really improved in forty years.

One side effect of this is that I’ve dropped two stone in weight. Although I can’t say it’s a weight loss regime that I’d endorse.

At 10:53 am, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

You're right about the variable quality, and memory isn't always a reliable guide... just after Christmas I followed up an engaging and enjoyable DANGER MAN binge by buying another boxed set, only to find that a very little of DEPARTMENT S is pretty much all you need.

What I'm finding is that, AVENGERS excepted, the shows that went over my head as a child hold up better than some of those I loved more. DANGER MAN was more grown-up stuff... it has genuine moral complexities and narrative surprises. And I'm finding the same's true of GIDEON'S WAY, which I dip into late at nights when I get that itch that only an old British B&W B-movie seems to scratch (partly because, I suspect, it's a way of visiting my parents' world, and those empty roads and old Ford Anglias bring a strange kind of comfort). John Gregson's performance is an understated gem and though the Gideon family scenes grate, the workplace scenes and location work feel incredibly fresh.

If THE HUMAN JUNGLE ever gets a release, I'll be interested to see how that looks now.

At 1:46 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


I remember you saying you had rather mixed feelings about seeing Man in a Suitcase again. An interesting premise, certainly, and one that seems to be working for Burn Notice, which, amongst contemporary television drama is probably the closest thing to the old ITC shows.

Of the couple of pals who are big, big fans of those ITC dramas one was raving about Gideon’s Way some time back. I should go back and cast an eye over Danger Man. The one thing holding me back is another friend is a great fan of McGoohan and The Prisoner (which I have to admit I’ve never really taken to) and used to go on about it so much that it put me off.

I suppose those earlier, more meaty, spy/crime dramas worked better simply because, having gotten there first, they weren’t a variation on a theme grappling with whatever gimmick they were saddled with to make them stand out. I hadn’t heard of The Human Jungle before but checked it out on the BFI’s screenonline database. I’ll have to ask Dick Fiddy about it the next time we get together.

I caught a couple of episodes of The New Avengers on BBC4. Shame that the 1970s was such an inhospitable environment to the format because the original was just fantastic television. I did hear a whisper earlier in the year that 2 Entertain were looking to pick up the DVD rights, which would be nice.


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