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James Hayes "JM Hayes" (Herts., UK)
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Noel Coward Trilogy [DVD] [2009]
Noel Coward Trilogy [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ The Boy Actor Captain Coward Sail Away

13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Landmark program marred here by shoddy DVD transfer, 19 April 2010
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This excellent three-part documentary, first broadcast in 1998, is an extensive if rather episodic chronicle of the great man's life and achievements, with some of his plays and musicals either scantily covered or missed altogether. In some ways ITV's hour-long 1992 'Southbank Show' portrait of Coward managed to cover his talents with more breadth, and certainly accorded more credit to Coward's songwriting: let's not forget that he composed - words and music - many standards of the '20s, '30s, and '40s, as well as movie soundtracks, operetta, and a ballet score.
However, the real problem with this DVD release - and it is an outrageous one - is that the programs have almost certainly been copied from the NTSC masters made for the Region 1 release of a couple of years ago, rather than directly from the original masters in the PAL (Region 2) format. The resulting presentation is marred by inferior picture quality: the line definition is ragged (particularly noticeable with superimposed titles and captions), the colour balance is iffy. The fact that the programs include a lot of archive footage only exacerbates the substandard viewing experience. Indeed, I'd say that the picture quality of this DVD is actually inferior to my VHS copy that I recorded off-air when 'The Noel Coward Trilogy' was first transmitted 12 years ago. And when one considers the RRP of £12.99, then Warner Classics & Jazz's brazenness toward issuing a substandard product comes close to fraud.

Maybe WC&J thought that no-one would notice the degraded picture quality; if so, it was wrong. This aside, 'The Noel Coward Trilogy' is a real must for his admirers.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 22, 2010 1:09 AM BST


The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919
The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919
by Mark Thompson
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Trench warfare 10,000ft up a mountainside..., 19 April 2010
Mark Thompson's history of an often-overlooked theatre of the First World War reminds us (as if we needed it) that when megalomaniacal leaders decide upon military expeditions for motives driven by national self-aggrandisement, the outcomes are bound to be all the more horrific. There were no outstanding militarily strategic reasons for Italian forces to attack Austrian-Hungarian-held territories in the 1915, yet urged on in part by the mad, bombastic nationalistic ravings of Gabriele D'Annunzio, and with the lack of any substantial anti-war opposition on the homefront, Italian forces embarked on a long series of often futile campaigns in which their soldiers were slaughtered or maimed in the mountainous battlefields of the South Tyrol. 'The White War' is an engaging, enlightening, though depressing, read.


A Choice Of Coward - The Complete Series [DVD] [1964]
A Choice Of Coward - The Complete Series [DVD] [1964]
Dvd ~ Margaret Johnson
Price: £9.75

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Coward '60s-style shows panache - and its age, 15 April 2010
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This curious two-disc offering from renowned raiders of the lost archives Network DVD comprises TV adaptations of four of Coward's best-known stage plays from various stages of The Master's career, produced by Granada and broadcast on ITV in August 1964. Of the four, 'Present Laughter', starring a pre-Jason King Peter Wyngarde, and 'Blithe Spirit', with an energetic Hattie Jacques in the Madame Arcarti role - are the best realised, probably because they are played for laughs. Coward's 1924 `breakthrough' drama 'The Vortex, and the rather inconsequential 1939 Coward/Lunt vehicle 'Design For Living' (this time featuring Coward's godson Daniel Massey, and with an ever-comely pre-Python Carol Cleveland in a minor role) make less compelling viewing.

The acting style is the rather mannered and accentuated 1920s-pastiche style that was popular for revivals on film and TV in the 1960s that one suspects never actually existed first time round, and there are several moments when the shrill, staccato, poshified delivery style grates on the nerves of 21st Century ears, but there are also scenes that are superbly played, particularly in 'Present Laughter'.

Possibly the real star of these programmes is Noel Coward himself, eyes twinkling and cigarette-smouldering, who delivers sparkling 4-5 minute pre-filmed introductions to each play, directly to camera, seemingly without the aid of autocue. It's hard to imagine a contemporary playwright talking about their work with the same fascinating aplomb.

I haven't checked against published texts, but as each runs to about 70-75 minutes, it's highly likely the scripts have been trimmed to fit, and Coward students may dispute the choice of cuts employed in 'A Choice of Coward': so I'd suggest that this issue is not the best introduction to television versions of Coward classics for those trying his work for the first time.

Sourced from original black-and-white 405-lines videotapes (these must be some of the oldest UK 405-line tapes still playable), the picture quality is surprisingly good, although comes complete with the original production hiccups: clunky video editing, iffy overdubbed music, vision-mix glitches, and the occasional boom shadow or even turret-lensed camera accidentally in shot. However, they remain valuable examples of TV drama from getting on for 50 years ago.


The Leather Boys [1963] [DVD]
The Leather Boys [1963] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Rita Tushingham
Price: £11.86

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Iconic '60s Britflick deserves better treatment, 13 April 2010
I'd intended to purchase this DVD release of 'The Leather Boys', having seen it accorded minor iconic status in histories of British cinema; but having read the warnings about the poor quality of the print and transfer I'll be holding fire. It's a pity the British Film Institute can't do something to prevent our cinema heritage being duffed-over by the likes of Orbit Media Ltd, perpetrator of this release; another lost sale, Orbit...


Prick Up Your Ears Special Edition [DVD]
Prick Up Your Ears Special Edition [DVD]
Dvd ~ Gary Oldman
Price: £4.10

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More ears than pricks, 7 Jan 2010
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Gary Oldman's spunky performance as the 1960s playwright Joe Orton prevents 'Prick Up Your Ears' from being classed with the slew of 'as it was' Britflicks that the nostalgia-hungry 1980s brought forth; otherwise, many of the standard hallmarks are present - luvvies playing 'real life' characters, periodic displays of off-the-shelf angst, and topical and biographic exposition shoved into the screenplay so that any audience member who's unfamiliar with the 'actual' story behind the film is not excluded; and let's not forget the inevitable London double-decker bus trundling past in the period street scenes (at least the one in PUYE had a purpose: transporting Orton's character to a romp in a public lavatory).
But perhaps the biggest flaw in Alan Bennett's script is that it fails to convey much sense of Orton's work, literary brilliance, and therefore, why the man warrants this attention.
That said, anyone interested in Orton, or the British theatre in the late 1960s, will have fun watching this film.
N.B. anyone considering buying this Special Edition to see the 1967 Orton TV appearance Special Feature: this is NOT the full interview, just a meagre 120 seconds of it. It is outrageously misleading of ITV DVD not to make this clear, or to make clear why the excerpt is so short, seeing as many will buy this edition specifically to see this item.


The Vertigo Years: Change And Culture In The West, 1900-1914
The Vertigo Years: Change And Culture In The West, 1900-1914
by Philipp Blom
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Changing nature of change, 7 Jan 2010
This enjoyable and accessible book evinces plenty of fascinating and compelling historical evidence to support its contentions, but seems to run out of historical conclusions as it plods year-by-year toward its last chapters.
By 'the West', author Philipp Blom mainly scopes Britain, France, Germany, and to a lesser extent, the United States. He acknowledges that the 1900-1914 period begin and ends points are arbitrary, and would probably have seemed nonsensical to most people living through those years, for who the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 would have had the most defining significance. The period 1900-1914 is generally ascribed as constituting the 'Edwardian' era; Blom does not make the error, but it's often overlooked that strictly speaking the Edwardian era ended in 1910 when George V succeeded Edward VII to the British throne - and not at war's declaration in August 1914.
In regard to the cause and effect of successive cultural paradigms, Blom does not really resolve the key question in the 'the roots of Modernism' debate: can a few 'progressive'/'enlightened'/'visionary'/'unconventional'/'deranged' individuals spark widespread cultural change of profound importance? Or are they more likely to be the 'lightening conductors' of progressive phenomena that is already bubbling under in the zeitgeist? Or, to put a neo-post-modernistic spin on it, is it a bit of both? 'The Vertigo Years' will do much to help you arrive at an informed and entertained view. PS: if you can get a copy, I'd also recommended Stephen Kern's excellent 1983 study 'The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918', which surveys the impact technological innovation on cultural development.


The Best Of Frost On Sunday [DVD]
The Best Of Frost On Sunday [DVD]
Dvd ~ David Frost
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £14.25

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Barker and Corbett are the real stars here, 5 Jan 2010
The usually reliable Network DVD has been a tad disingenuous in packaging this collection of the 10 surviving 'Frost on Sunday' shows. Although the cover touts appearances by Morecambe and Wise, Sir Laurence Oliver, and the 'Please Sir!' cast, they only appear to accept prizes at the British Film & Television Awards, which the 8 March 1970 'FoS' was given over to (and is offered here only as a rather iffy b&w telerecording). There are still several notable studio guests popping-up throughout the rest of the extant series, but the real value of this 'FoS' issue are 20-odd top-drawer sketches featuring Ronnies Corbett and Barker, who had been Frostie's pet comics since his last days at the BBC. They are on top form throughout, performing a variety of one-liners and sketches each week in this live show; indeed, the quality of material and performance often beats the early 'Two Ronnies' stuff to follow. And by a fluke of scheduling the long sketch they performed with the superb Josephine Tewson at the Film & TV Awards was carried forward into the next week's show, and very funny it is too.
Otherwise, 'FoS' presents the usual miscellany of early-1970s musical guests - ranging from Rolf Harris and Juliet Greco to Blue Mink and the Four Tops - and rather wet topical gags that Frost delivers in his trademark nasal tones as part of each show's introductory monologue.
No mention is made if any technical restoration has taken place here, but sound/picture quality on these PAL videotapes that probably hadn't been run for 39 years, is almost flawless. And, this being Network DVD, the original London Weekend Television station idents and advert bumpers have been retained.
The August 1968 opening 'FoS' show, seemingly from b&w 405-lines videotape format, is also in good shape, although the production values of this opening offering were compromised as industrial action at LWT meant the 'FoS' production team were behind the cameras and control room. This show also has two sketches featuring a pre-Python Michael Palin, and the Kenneth Williams interview does not disappoint.


A Family At War: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Till Death Us Do Part
A Family At War: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Till Death Us Do Part
by Mark Ward
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.86

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last: The 'Till Death Us Do Part' story, brilliantly told, 24 Nov 2009
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Mark Ward's 'A Family At War - the Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Till Death Us Do Part' goes straight to into the British comedy history book Hall Of Fame, alongside Roger Wilmut's 'Tony Hancock - Artiste' (1980), and Robert Ross's 'Benny Hill - the Complete Companion' (1999).

As its author notes, despite the fact the TDUDP (1965-1975) could boast all the cred that a cult TV show could, it rarely rates highly on the lists of favourite of influential Britcoms, and you don't get many contemporary comics and comedy writers citing it as a major influence. Yet in its day TDUDP was probably the most notorious and controversial program on TV, regularly pulling audiences of over 13 million. Its writer Johnny Speight's brilliant mixture of family character-led comedy and biting social satire has not matched by any sitcom since. Its chief protagonist, the ranting, bigoted Alf Garnett, became a national icon, and Speight's fractious relationship with BBC bosses over swearing and censorship, became the stuff of broadcast comedy legend. Its abusive catchphrases caught on like wildfire in every working class household that watched it, and the TDUDP format was successfully copied by TV producers outside the UK.

But, as 'A Family At War' reveals, there was a huge amount more to the TDUDP phenomenon than the viewing public was aware of, and Ward's book charts its 1960s rise, flowering, fall, and its 1970s resurrection with a comprehensiveness and meticulous attention to detail, that many an academic historian would struggle to match. He places TDUDP both within its social milieu, and within the dynamics that were shaping the changing nature of British broadcasting in particular, and the BBC-TV in particular. He examines TDUDP part's impact on everything from Parliament to popsters The Monkees, and narrates the backstage tensions and off-screen infighting that contributed to its demise with commendable balance.

We learn about the professional and personal profiles of the show's principal performers - Warren Mitchell (Alf), Dandy Nichols (Else), Mike (Anthony Booth - aka dad of Cherie Blair), and Una Stubbs (Rita), the brilliant array of supporting players like Joan Sims (Gran), Bill Maynard (Bert), and Roy Kinnear (Sid), its maverick producer the legendary Dennis Main Wilson, along with other figures credited with the production of this landmark TV venture, with portraits of BBC managers as revealed by Speight's dealings with them. And of course we hear plenty of and from TDUDP's main opponent Mary Whitehouse.

'A Family At War' contains a series-by-series, episode-by-episode exegesis of TDUDP in each of its runs on BBC and LWT (As `Till Death...'), the two big-screen movies, but not the 1980s BBC-Tv reprise as 'In Sickness And In Health', and delivers the kind of detail that true comedy aficionados crave - i.e., the actual address of the flat where the opening shots that formed the backdrop of the opening and closing titles of the 1970s series were filmed from, and how much the householder paid was for the privilege. Other arcania includes information about deleted scenes, performers' fee differentials, rehearsal issues, and script changes - Ward's researches are exhaustive, authoritative, and totally 'text book'.

I also salute the way in which Ward's analysis of the TV episodes is presented, with footnotes that detail the topical issues that are argued over (alcoholism, racism, religion, royalty, sex, sport, television, war), and that also emphasises the fact that Johnny Speight was also a top-drawer COMEDY writer, who interspersed the acerbic social commentary with superb verbal and sight gags, and other comic `business' that easily stand comparison with any other leading comedy writers of the 1960s and 1970s, like yer Clement and La Frenais, Croft and Perry, Esmonde and Larbey, Wolfe and Chesney, Eric Chappell, and Speight's mates Eric Sykes and Galton and Simpson.

Most of the TDUDP's 26 episodes from series 1 to 3 were wiped during the mid-1970s. Currently, most material from twelve episodes survive as telerecordings, with one episode on the original 405-lines videotape. (A DVD release of these materials - restored by the Dr Who Restoration Team, perhaps? - would be much desired if one could only be sure that BBC DVD wouldn't botch it.) A lot of soundtrack-only recordings also survive. In 1997 another thought-lost episode, 'Alf's Dilemma' (series 2), was found in a private collection; and in August 2009, two more Series 2 episodes, 'In Sickness and in Health' and 'State Visit', were recovered from a private collector. The subsequent colour series seem to remain intact, and Series 4 and 5 have been released on BBC Video DVD sets.

'A Family At War' is an important book, and I'd say that its presentation deserved better than its publisher Telos seemed able to manage: so much has been squeezed into a 340-page 20cm x 14cm format paperback that typographically, it can be a bit demanding on the eyes. 'A Family At War' deserves to be re-issued in a lavish hardback edition, complete with an extensive picture section, but one doubts if that would financially viable.

So to sum up: Mark Ward's 'A Family At War' is a major contribution to the history of television - brilliantly conceived, superbly researched, masterfully written. Anyone passionate about comedy should buy this book; and even if you aren't, you should still read it: you might bleedin' learn somefink...


Carefree [DVD]
Carefree [DVD]
Dvd ~ Fred Astaire
Price: £5.00

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fond RKO farewell (for now), cackhandedly remastered for DVD, 24 Nov 2009
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This review is from: Carefree [DVD] (DVD)
Astaire and Rogers' last RKO picture aspired to be something of a cross between their established 'rom-dance' format and a screwball comedy. As a hybrid it's a little uneven; some of this is down to the rather flat direction by Mark Sandrich, but Irving Berlin's score fails to lift the proceedings with its usual aplomb, even though it contains two of his most famous songs, 'I Used to be Colour Blind' and 'Change Partners'. Both stars get a solo spot, and both spots flag in comparison to their joint sequences: Ginger's number is 'The Yam', a silly attempt to introduce a silly new dance named after the sweet potato of the same name. Fred's 'golf routine' lacks sparkle, even though esteemed choreographer Hermes Pan may have had a hand in it. That all said, 'Carefree' provides 90minutes of very enjoyable viewing.
However, mention should be made of the fact that this Region 2 PAL format version `Carefree' does not seem sourced directly from an original print or negative of the film, but looks like it's been transferred from a 525-lines NTSC (US) -standard intermediate video master, which means that picture and sound quality are noticeably downgraded; the same fate seems to have befallen my Universal Region 2 issue of Fred and Ginger's previous RKO outing 'Follow the Fleet'. Universal DVD ought to be ashamed of itself for presenting such classic cinema in such an inferior form. For this reason alone I deduct one star from my Amazon rating.
There's no technical reason to issue old movies in this way, except to save the expense of re-scanning the film for the 625-line PAL standard, and then applying the standard restorative processes. Ironically, the DVD's production team accords itself onscreen credits at the end of the film, including namechecks for the two companies that provided restoration and audio processing services.


100 Years of Magazine Covers
100 Years of Magazine Covers
by Steve Taylor & Neville Brody
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Celebration of good design marred by bad design, 17 Aug 2009
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It's a pity that a book celebrating excellence in graphic design is itself something of a `design victim', especially as it was laid out by the esteemed Neville Brody. Out of its 256-odd pages, at least 36 are wasted on design conceits that add no value to its proposition - whole pages given over to oversized page numbers or heading text, or impactful example magazine covers reproduced in small scale surrounded by loads of blank page that serves no purpose. And the spiky typeface used for the body text renders it almost unreadable. If I'd have paid the full RRP of £29.95 I would've felt ripped. I second most of the critical captions from Robin Benson, who provided the customer images you can view here, as well as the preceding review.
That aside, `100 Years of Magazine Covers' is a well-informed survey of an under-celebrated graphic design discipline that must meet several aesthetic and psychological objectives in one glance in order to succeed in making you take that issue from the shelf and buy into it. My preference, however, is David Crowley's `Magazine Covers', first published by Mitchell Beazley in 2003.


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