January 9th, 2016

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Celebrity, and England of the welcomes

I had a quick visit to London last week, and unusually flew to Heathrow because the Belgian trains were on strike and Eurostar was going only as far as Lille. The flight over was very slow boarding; a lot of passengers were clearly transferring from an African flight, and their visa status was being checked with what seemed to several of them to be deliberate lack of speed.

I was hailed in the queue by a fellow passenger, an Ulsterman living in Slough, who recognised me from my BBC election broadcasts. He was returning to England with his Ugandan wife from Christmas with her family. It seems that there is no longer a direct flight from Heathrow to Entebbe (which I find extraordinary) so the best way is to take the Brussels flight that starts in Kigali and takes on more passengers after a short hop east.

We chatted about Northern Irish politics (I imagine he doesn't find many fellow enthusiasts for that subject in Slough, let alone Uganda) and then parted company as we boarded; he had to wait for the rest of his family to get through. At the end of the short flight, we were told that the UK Border Agency would be waiting for us at the door and would check every passenger's passport as we disembarked. They did not check mine, and it was fairly obvious why not.

Links I found interesting for 09-01-2016

double deckers

The Case of the Missing Doughnut: Episode 2 of Here Come The Double Deckers

Episode 2: The Case of the Missing Doughnut
First shown: 19 September 1970 (US), 8 January 1971 (UK)
Director: Harry Booth
Writer: Peter Miller
Appearing apart from the Double Deckers:
Melvyn Hayes as Albert the Street Cleaner
Julian Orchard as the Toy Shop Owner
Roy Evans as the Baker
Jack Haig as Harvey the Toy Shop Assistant


Brains is working on a new experimental gloop. Doughnut, who has just been chucked out of the neighbourhood toyshop and the bakery, eats it and becomes invisible. He takes his revenge on the toy shop owner and assistant, and the baker, but the gang trick him by pretending that he is still invisible after it wears off and watching in glee as he returns to the toyshop one last time. And then he wakes up; for it was all a dream.

Glorious moments

Let's face it, this is probably the single episode of Here Come The Double Deckers
which has weathered the test of time least well. Still, Bruce Clark as Sticks gets a very good shock-horror reaction to Doughnut's apparent invisibility; the special effects of the invisble boy are good; and the second scene in the bakery is almost the definition of slapstick.

Also another great Brains/Tiger exchange:

Brains: Skepticism didn't get the Americans to the moon, now did it?
Tiger: No. It was a rocket!

Less glorious moments

Er, most of it.

What's all this then?

The story of a person who becomes invisible and uses that power for evil goes all the way back to Plato's fable of the Ring of Gyges, in which he argues that the man who uses the ring to become invisible will use that power to satisfy his appetites because he does not have to worry about the consequences. OK, seducing the queen, killing the king and usurping the throne isn't quite the same as disrupting a toy shop and a bakery, but you see what I'm getting at. I will admit that a more likely influence was the 1957 film The Invisible Boy, in which the eponymous boy uses his power to play tricks such as interrupting his parents embracing in their bedroom. (Not to mention H.G. Wells, or the 1959-59 ITV series starring Deborah Watling as the invisible man's niece.)

There's also a little more (though only a little more) to Doughnut's role as the show's clown than meets the eye. Clowns are often linked to magic, as were medieval jesters before them, and so if you are going to make one character invisible, it may as well be the clown. A Clown is also a Fool, and the Fool's role is often wish fulfilment for the audience, who may well want to have a free run of local toy shops and bakeries, or more generally to defy authority without consequence.

Where's that?

All filmed in studio.

Who's that?

Douglas Simmonds, who played Doughnut, did one other TV appearance in 1971 and then became a real scientist, working in medicine, physics and computing. He died suddenly in 2011, aged only 52.

Julian Orchard (the Toy Shop Owner) was one of the typical rep actors doing vaguely posh or stuck-up comedy parts. At the time this was made, he was regularly appearing as sidekick to Harry Secombe in The Harry Secombe Show, Jimmy Edwards in Whack-O!, and Spike Milligan in The World of Beachcomber. He died in 1979, aged only 49.

Roy Evans (the Baker) was another actor who turned up in the background of everything - he was in Doctor Who three times, most notably as Trantis in The Daleks' Master Plan (1965-66) but also as Bert in The Green Death (1973) and another unnamed miner in The Beast of Peladon (1974). He was born in 1930 and appears to have last worked in 2004, which is fair enough.

Jack Haig (Harvey the Toyshop Assistant) was already in his late 50s, and had done many comedy support roles for many years without quite hitting the big time. His heyday was yet to come: from 1982 until shortly before his death aged 76 in 1989, he played Roger LeClerc in 'Allo! 'Allo!, memorable for his catchphrase, "It is I, LeClerc!"

Peter Miller wrote four Double Deckers episodes; the other three are all better than this. His biggest hit before this was a sitcom about a vicar called Our Man at St Marks, which ran for four seasons in 1963-66, starring first Leslie Phillips and then Donald Sinden along with Joan Hickman; he wrote all 46 episodes. After Double Deckers he became a producer on the revisionist 1972-73 series Arthur of the Britons, and both produced and wrote a short-lived 1980 sitcom called The Square Leopard. His credits peter out in the mid-1980s.

See you next week...

...for Let's Get A Movie On.

BSFA short fiction and Hugo nominations

Thanks to the BSFA's new two-round nomination system, we have a long list of 41 stories in the Best Short Fiction category, from we we can choose four to be aggregated into the eventual shortlist of five. This is actually quite tough, because four of the stories of the 41 are there because I nominated them, and so I am reading the others in competition with the vote I cast in the first round. Of course, these are all also eligible for the Hugos, so I also read with a view to augmenting my Hugo nominations for this year.

I was able to get almost all of the stories - not quite dedicated enough to buy back issues of Interzone or anthologies with only one entry of interest, but the rest I was able to access reasonably easily. In contrast to some of the other categories, I didn't detect much gratuitous log-rolling (compare the Best Novel contenders with zero following on Goodreads or LibraryThing). And my conclusion is Collapse )