January 16th, 2016


BSFA Best Non-Fiction Award

There are 25 candidates on the BSFA Best Non-Fiction long list (the shortest of the four long lists); I nominated three of them myself - Space Helmet for a Cow, Letters to Tiptree and Companion Piece. (My fourth nomination, The Story of Kullervo, appears to have been disqualified.) Of the other 21, ten are available online (nine blog posts/articles and one collection of articles), one is an article in a magazine I don't subscribe to (Interzone), and the remaining eleven are books. I had already read one of these (Rave and Let Die); I confess that I took a mercenary attitude and just bought the three others whose titles interested me most, those being Lois McMaster Bujold, by Edward James; "Perilous And Fair: Women in the Works and Life of JRR Tolkien", eds. Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan; and Baptism of Fire: the Birth of the Modern British Fantastic in World War I, ed. Janet Brennan Croft. I make no apology for this; my time is limited and I'd rather read stuff that I am interested in.

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The three non-fiction nominees which I bought for the purpose of this exercise were all academic works, one a monograph and the other two themed collections of essays.

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In past years, I have sometimes expressed disappointment with the quality and relevance of shortlisted works for the BSFA award for Best Non-Fiction. If the shift to a two-round process for the BSFA awards is to prove its value, this is one category where I would hope to see a positive impact demonstrated fairly readily. I think in fact it has done so. I'm still deciding which four books I will nominate in the second round, but a short list with one or two of Space Helmet for a Cow, Letters to Tiptree, Companion Piece, Rave and Let Die, Lois McMaster Bujold, Perilous and Fair and Baptism of Fire will be a decently strong short list. And I'm considering all of these as Hugo nominations for Best Related Work.
double deckers

Get A Movie On: Episode 3 of Here Come The Double Deckers

Episode 3: Get A Movie On
First shown: 26 September 1970 (US), 15 January 1971 (UK)
Director: Harry Booth
Writers: Harry Booth and Melvyn Hayes
Appearing apart from the Double Deckers:
Melvyn Hayes as Albert the Street Cleaner
Norman Vaughan as the TV Compere


The gang decide to enter a film-making competition, using Doughnut's new camera, with Scooper directing, Doughnut starring and Albert as the stunt man in a Western. Brains screws up the editing process and it looks disastrous when it is shown. But they are given a consolation prize for being funny.


"Good Day at Yellowrock", by Ivor Slaney and Michael Begg, performed by the main cast.
Three episodes in and we get the first song of the series, a good-humoured dance number which is supposed to be part of the Western. Later songs shift gradually to being Billie and her backing singers, but here she takes roughly equal credit with Spring and Scopper, with the others not far behind.

Glorious moments

I don't have a lot to say about this one because it's just fun to watch.

Three episodes in and we get the first song of the series, a good-humoured dance number which is supposed to be part of the Western that the gang are making. Later songs shift gradually to being Billie and her backing singers, but here she takes roughly equal credit with Spring and Scooper, with the others not far behind.

Again there are some well done slapstick scenes, and one's sympathy for Melvyn Hayes as Albert should be tempered with the realisation that he actually co-wrote the script.

The badly edited final cut of the film is also rather glorious, and the kids' expressions are approriately mortified. NB that after two episodes where Brains has managed pretty spectacular inventions, the editing screw-up here is very definitely all his fault and nobody else's.

Less glorious moments

Sticks rather blatantly converts £5,000 to $12,000 dollars in his head, for the benefit of the American audience. (That is a pretty large prize for a children's amateur contest; one online inflation calculators gives £5,000 in 1970 as equal to £74,000 today, and another intriguingly gives $12,000 as equal to $74,000 today. Either way it's a lot.)

What's all this then?

Not for the last time, we get a show-within-a-show, which (as with the Ring of Gyges) goes back at least to Plato. If you've got kids who are actually attending stage school, then getting them to do a performance about performing is a fairly obvious thing to do - see basically every single episode of Fame! (and its more recent cousins).

It's odd to look back at the 1960s now and realise just how ubiquitous Westerns were. Three of the top 20 Westerns of all time in this list came out in 1969 alone (The Wild Bunch, True Grit and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid); the decade started with The Magnificent Seven and also included the Dollars Trilogy, Cat Ballou and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Perhaps more importantly, Rawhide and Gunsmoke had both been extraordinarily successful on both British and American TV. So it was an easy and familiar set of tropes to hang a story on. (NB that even Doctor Who did a Western story - a musical no less - in 1966.)

Doughnut's request for milk at the bar is a clear reference to the Milky Bar Kid, who'd been around since 1961. I'm not a big expert on Westerns; I'm someone more familiar with the genre than me would have a lot of fun spotting the references here.

The compere is addressed as "Mr Andrews", if my ears do not deceive me. Is Eamonn Andrews intended?

Where's that?

All filmed in studio.

Who's that?

Here Come The Double Deckers was the peak of the acting career of Michael Audreson, who plays Brains. He was one of two survivors from the first two series of The Magnificant Six and a Half, a set of cinema short films which were made by much the same crew as Double Deckers. He had a handful more TV appearances in the 1970s, inclduing in two 1978 episodes of The Tomorrow People. Since then he has been mainly running a medical foundation, but has made a couple of films as director and writer.

Norman Vaughan (the compere) had made his name as compere of Sunday Night at the London Palladium in the early 1960s, and had also had his own TV show, so he was an obvious choice for this role. He went on to invent the darts/quiz game show Bullseye, and died aged 79 in 2002. During the second world war he appeared in army shows with Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe, who went on to the Goon Show.

See you next week...

...for Starstruck.