Friday, December 18, 2009

Failing To Be Healthy, Wealthy And Wise

I seriously need an early night. It’s not that I’ve been out on the razzle all this week as part of the typical festive tradition of going out and getting bladdered all the time, although Wednesday evening it was time Christmas drinks with the regular circle of pals. Reminded of it on Monday morning, I was looking to get some good sleep in preparation for that. Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Late Monday evening, during the most recent half–hearted attempt to clear up the clutter amassed on my desk, I came across the scrap of paper noting that the deadline was coming up to give the BBC Trust, which is currently reviewing BBC One, BBC Two and BBC Four and eager to hear public opinion, my thoughts on the channels. There were only seventeen questions, and one was tailored toward audiences in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, which meant I could give that one a miss. How hard could it be?

If I’d had any sense, I would have copied the list of questions into a Word document, made a few brief notes then slept on it and written up my full answers the next day. Instead I ploughed on thinking it wouldn’t take too long, especially when it came to asking my opinion on BBC One’s Saturday night programming. I’m sure there are people with limited brain capacity who enjoy the weekend schedule but I avoid it like the frigging plague. In fact the more I thought about it, there’s very little on One that I do watch, even preferring to watch the likes of Question Time or QI on iPlayer.

While some questions asked about BBC television in general, others were more specific, regarding individual channels or thoughts on BBC drama, comedy and entertainment. Once I started to express my general disappointment in BBC drama – giving examples where required – and then seriously bigging up BBC Four, which deserves the highest praise, the time just ran away. Three hours later, having finished answering the questions, I was filling in the few personal details required before sending it off.

I suppose three hours doesn’t seem that long when you’re giving your full consideration. The problem was that it was just before eleven o’clock at night that I first opened the online form, so that was one early night knackered. Anyway, the closing date is today, the 18th of December. No time of day is given for the deadline so I assume it’s open up right up until midnight. If you feel like giving your views of the three BBC channels the online survey is here. If you’re quick it may not be too late.

Unlike BBC Three, which is like a blocked toilet continually filling up with fresh turds that you just can’t get rid off, I’d consider Four to be the new jewel in the BBC’s crown with its evening schedule bulging with seasons of the most beguiling arts and factual documentaries. And it shows Mad Men. Late Tuesday evening, I was a hair's breadth from turning in when I noticed Four was repeating the documentary All About Thunderbirds and then following it up with The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen. How could I turn either of them down, even with the latter starting at midnight and having a 90–minute running time?

The pair made a fascinating double bill. All About Thunderbirds had a misleading title because it wasn’t actually all about Thunderbirds, instead covering pretty much every show made by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson with International Rescue’s adventures as the centerpiece. For people of a certain age, those numerous ITC productions played a big part of their childhood, whether it was the programmes themselves or the fine selection of Dinky toys. Many who had been influenced by their work, including Nick Park, joined a number of the designers, puppeteers and directors who had started out working in a rather tatty studio in Slough, to enthuse about the varied puppets shows. The only dissenting voice came from Gerry Anderson himself.

Almost two decades ago now I worked, albeit briefly, on a new Gerry Anderson show. His star had waned by then, the Lew Grade money was long gone and whatever had been scraped together simply wasn’t enough. It was an awful project, this time realized in 2D animation and I was sitting in for the character colour model artist who had gone off on holiday, no doubt to try and regain their sanity. Handed all the turnarounds of various human and alien characters, there was no other additional material to indicate who these figures were or what kind of environments they were appear in. Having to decide on their colour palettes in total isolation was idiotic.

When I was shown some of the finished footage, produced overseas – which amounted to a selection of incredibly brief and hapzard clips that continually popped – it was obvious that nobody else was really caring about it, so why should I. As it mercifully drew to a close one of the sweaty money men cozied up to me, asking what I thought of the material on screen. I told him it should sell a lot of toys and he staggered off happy. Not long after Anderson appeared, checking in to see how things were going, and proved to be a miserable old bugger. It may have been because he had an inkling that the project, which would ultimately never see the light of day, was a real clunker, but then I bumped into him some years after and he was similarly glum.

In All About Thunderbirds, while everyone raved about the Anderson shows, Anderson himself sat on the bonnet of a full scale mock up of Lady Penelope’s FAB 1, whining about how the marionettes had derailed his career as a live–action director and stopped him from being Britain’s Steven Spielberg. Anyone who has seen the opening episode of UFO, which Anderson directed, knows he proved to be a mediocre director at best, whereas the distinctive puppet fantasy shows were unlike anything else on television. In the end Anderson came across across as someone who had found a place in television history and sadly didn’t enjoy it one bit.

Irwin Allen on the other hand seemed to have enjoyed every minute of his long career. Put together something like fifteen years ago, unlike English documentaries that are perfectly serviceable with a voiceover, The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen had to employ presenters who would, at various points, indulge in rather laborious badinage. Apart from that it was a pretty decent look back at the career of Hollywood’s self-styled “Master of Disaster”.

Along with Quinn Martin, Allen was probably one of the first American producers I became familiar with, well before the likes of Aaron Spelling, Stephen J. Cannell and even Gene Roddenberry entered my sphere of interest, recognizing the name as it came attached to his fantasy quartet of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, and Land of the Giants. Later came The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, two of the best disaster movies of the 1970s that remain infinitely better than the current empty–headed disaster porn from Roland Emmerich.

A lot of current producers could learn a thing or two from Irwin Allen. Without compromising the dramas he actively looked for ways to saving money, either by famously raiding 20th Century Fox’s vaults and using hefty amounts of stock footage for The Time Tunnel, or sneaking onto the sets of Fantastic Voyage when they weren’t in use to film an episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. With the productions of all but Land of the Giants overlapping, original costumes specially made for one show found their way into another to keep costs down. Luckily the godawful Space Hippies and vegetable people didn’t venture beyond Lost in Space.

As fun as it was to relive those childhood memories, the best footage was material shot during the making of The Towering Inferno. With the party guests trapped by the fires raging through the skyscraper, the scene involved the water tanks being blown to douse the flames. With actors like Paul Newman, William Holden, Steve McQueen and even Fred Astaire, along with extras and stuntmen, lashed to the set’s fixtures, Allen announced that he was going to count to ten and at some point during the count the numerous charges would be detonated. When the explosions went off water flooded in and almost everyone went flying.

Knowing what was going to happen but unsure of when exactly, the cameras caught their real sense of fear. Obviously nowadays the insurance would be through the roof and Health & Safety killjoys would through an absolute hissy fit, but it showed how much filming with practical effects, even if they don’t always live up to expectations, is still so much better than using a green screen that will be replaced with overblown CGI filler. Anyway, that was a big chunk of Tuesday night gone.

Wednesday was the Christmas drinks. It turned out to be a more relaxed affair. There were a few absentees but the core group was there and even our delightful Persian Princess made a very welcome, early appearance before she had to scoot off, late, to attend a concert at the O2 Centre. When we got together there was some business to discuss, which will be interesting if it comes off, and then it was catching up and making each other laugh with outrageous anecdotes.

Somehow I ended up drinking a bizarre cider shandy concoction at the end of the evening, which meant I made an absolute hash of the cryptic crossword on the journey home. And I forgot to neck down a glass of water before stumbling into bed, so when I woke up Thursday morning not only did I have a blinding hangover but when I glanced over it the next morning it looked like I had shoved a biro up the arsehole of a baby spider monkey and let it throw a complete mental over the newspaper.

Perhaps it’s a good thing I blew off some additional invites, sticking to only two Christmas parties this year. The second is set for Saturday late afternoon and early evening and should be far more sedate, taking place in a listed Georgian pub that was designed and built when John Nash redeveloped Regent’s Park. Yesterday evening, with snow flurries swirling down the Broadway, I figured it was the best time to finally get my well–deserved early night.

Except that in preparation for next week’s journey down to Devonshire I had bought The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest to read. At 600 pages, making it an absolute brick of a book, I figured that as well as helping eat up the journey time there and back again it could also be used to lamp any recalcitrant members of South West Trains’ staff. With the temperature dropping last night and buried under both the duvet and an additional pile of blankets, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to read a chapter or two.

When I eventually closed the book and turned off the bedside lamp, the bookmark was wedged a quarter of the way in. So having planned for early nights and having been eluded every time, this evening I’m taking no chances... Is that the time? Goodnight.


Post a Comment

<< Home