Thursday 20 June 2013

A Part of British Heritage I Can Live Without

The TV Sitcom is a many splendoured thing.
From the great (eg Hancock, Steptoe and Son, Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads, Porridge, Fawlty Towers, Blackadder) to the watchable (eg Just Good Friends), to the unwatchable, but you can understand why some people like it (Last Of The Summer Wine) to the absolute dross (eg Bottle Boys, Brighton Belles).  It's what has been filling up our TV screens since they first flickered into life.

But why, when cinema audiences were on the downturn in the 1970s, did the film companies decide to make feature length versions of the lower end of the Sitcom spectrum?
  • Are You Being Served?
  • Bless This House
  • Father, Dear Father
  • George and Mildred
  • The Lovers
  • Love Thy Neighbour
  • Man About the House
  • On the Buses (which somehow managed 3 films!)
  • Please Sir!
Can you spot a theme here?  None of these were that funny as a sitcom, so who thoughn they could be expanded to a 90 minute cavalcade of comedy?
Was there an excess of cheap celluloid in the 1970s, and the ethos was "bung any old crap out, at least we'll get rid of the stockpile"?

Fraankly, I can live without this collection of mirthless trash, even if ITV2 continue to show them back-to-back EVERY Bank Holiday weekend.
So, in my new World Order, these films will be cast into the pit and lost for all eternity.

But its not all bad - being the benevolent dictator that I will undoubtedly be, some of the film from that period of cinematic daftness will be saved:
  • Carry On Behind, Carry On England and Carry On Emmanuelle - despite being the three worst films to bear the name Carry On, they are saved for no other reason than they are Carry On films.
  • Rising Damp, Till Death Us Do Part and Dads Army occupy that unique position of being top-notch sitcoms, but generally so-so films (ie not bad, but not that good either) - so they're safe
  • Steptoe and Son goes a stage further - both the films are emminently watchable, but just fall short of greatness when operating outside the usual 30 minute time period. - saved
Also saved from eternal damnation are two of the best of the sorry crop:
  • Porridge
  • The Likely Lads.
The known characters, situations and frustrations from the TV series remained, but both seamlessly made the transition to cinema.  This, I think, is due in no small part to the writers (Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais) whose later work including Auf Wiedersehen Pet, The Commitments and Flushed Away showed they were equally comfortable operating in a longer form, and not just in the defined 30 minute sitcom timeframe.

This pecualir folly of turning unfunny sitcoms into unfunny films stopped in the early 80s - good job too, otherwise the great viewing public may have been "treated" to feature length versions of 'Allo 'Allo and Hi-De-Hi.

But now it seems the idea of turning TV sitcoms into films is back, albeit with limited success.

The Thick Of It was a part scripted, part improvised political satire.  Hidden away on BBC4, and then transferring to BBC2, it was thought provoking, possibly savage, and in some case probably VERY close to the truth.  The film version "In The Loop" was a pale imitation of the TV show.
And in August, the long awaited (maybe only by me) Alan Partridge film - Alpha Papa - is to be released.  One can only hope that this film occupies the Porridge/Likely Lads territory, by being a valid addition to the AP cannon

Also in August, the second installment of a Touch Of Cloth will hit the TV Screens (as long as you have Sky One).
Written by Charlie Brooker and Dan Maier, the first installment debunked the TV Detective drama, icoporating just about every cliche and predictable plot evelopment going.  Also, stuffed full of as many bad puns, sight gags and general silliness as past masters suchas Airplane, Police Squad and Naked Gun.

Yup, it's looking like August is going to be a fine month (unless of course ITV2 decide to air one (or more) of the films mentioned above))

Wednesday 12 June 2013

You've Got To Start Somewhere (or Another Pointless Quest)

Title Of Quest:  Assemble a collection of as many first releases from UK independent record companies
Point of Quest: Absolutley None

It is common knowledge that the first commercial release on Virgin Records was Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells' in 1973.  This album has to date sold something like 257 million copies, and is apparently Richard Madely's favourite album.  It was also the first album to be played in East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall and was recently rejected as the theme for an ITV re-make of On The Buses (note: check these facts?) - not a bad way to start a record company.

This particular quest will be limited to the first single releases of UK Indepent record companies, primarily from late 70s/80s.  The principle of the search is (partially) inspired by The Clash song 'Hitsville UK' from "Sandinista", which explicity mentions 3 of these labels, but sort of encompasses the whole lot.

So what will I be hunting down?
(arranged in alphabetical order for no other reason than it will be easier to read (if you feel so inclined)

  • Beggars Banquet BEG1: The Lurkers - Shadow / Love Story
  • Bronze BRO1: Squeek - Make Hay While The Sun Shines / L'Amour D'Un Apres-Midi
    (not truly the first release on Bronze, but the first with the BRO catalogue reference)
  • Chiswick SW1: The Count Bishops - Speedball EP (Route 66 / I Ain't Got You / Beautiful Delilah / Teenage Letter)
  • Cherry Red CHERRY1: The Tights - Bad Hearts / It / Cracked
  • Chrysalis CHS2001: Tir Na Nog - The Lady I Love / Heidi
  • Cooking Vinyl FRY001: The Oyster Band - Hal-an-Tow / Ashes To Ashes
  • Creation CRE001: The Legend! - '73 In '83 / You (Chunka, Chunka) We're Glamorous / Melt The Guns
  • Damaged Goods DAMGOOD1: Thee Headcoatees - Headcoat Girl / Thee Headcoats - Lakota Woman
  • Factory FAC2: A Factory Sample (Joy Division - Digital / Glass, The Durutti Column - No Communication / Thin Ice (Detail), John Dowie - Acne / Idiot / Hitlers Liver, Cabaret Voltaire - Baader-Meinhoff / Sex In Secret)
    Additional Trivia: Proof that Factory gave a number to everything it touched is borne out by the discovery that Tony Wilson's coffin was given the catalogue number FAC501
  • Fiction FICS001: The Cure - Killing An Arab / 10.15 Saturday Night
  • Go! Discs VFM2: The Box- Old Style Drop Down / Momentum
    (was there a VFM1, or did Go! Discs employ a Factory style numbering system?.  Maybe VFM1 was the Go! Discs office or Billy Bragg's first contract with the company?)
  • Good Vibrations GOT1: Rudi - Big Time
    (and not, as many people may suspect Teenage Kicks from The Undertones)
  • Heavenly HVN2: Saint Etienne - Only Love Can Break Your Heart
  • Island WI001: Lord Creator - Independant Jamaica Calypso / Remember 
  • Kitchenware SK2: Hurrah! - The Sun Shines Here / I'll Be Your Surprise 
  • Neat NEAT ONE: Motorway - All I Wanna Be Is Your Romeo / It Ain't Easy When You're Alone
  • PostCard 80-1: Orange Juice - Falling And Laughing / Moscow Olympics / Moscow
  • Rought Trade RT001: Metal Urbain - Paris Maquis / Cle De Contact
  • Small Wonder SMALL1: Puncture - Mucky Pup / You Can't Rock And Roll (In A Council Flat)
  • Some Bizzare BZS2: Soft Cell - Tainted Love / Memorabilia
  • Stiff BUY1: Nick Lowe - So It Goes / Heart Of The City
And now a couple that I've already got so have no need to search out these ones:
  • Immediate IM001: The McCoys - Hang On Sloopy / I Can't Explain It
  • Rigid Digits SRD1: Stiff Little Fingers - Suspect Device / Wasted Life
  • Two Tone TT1/TT2: Specials - Gangsters / The Selecter - The Selecter

This could get expensive and time cosuming.  My stomping ground for the coming months will be ebay,, car boot sales, charity shops - basically anywhere I may stumble across these items.

And what will I achieve from doing this?  Absolutely Nothing, expect the satisfaction that I will own several pieces of plastic which represent the birth of a number of small businesses which either no longer exist, or have been swallowed up by the huge faceless conglomerates.

Am I obsessed? Probably - as my wife said to me when I announced my intention: "Oh, you sad little man!"

And because I finish every post with a video, here are two fine examples of debut record label releases.
from Factory Records, Joy Division - Digital

and from Stiff Records, Nick Lowe - So It Goes

And if you believe I've missed anything, and should really be seeking out the initial outings of <insert name of record label here>, do please let me know and I'll add it to my list.