Tuesday 29 July 2014

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Adios" to that old writer of westerns called J.T.Edson

JT, who wrote more than 130 Western novels and had 27 million sales in paperback, has died at the age of 86. The only books my own Dad read were westerns by a middle-aged American East Coast Dentist called Zane Grey and I remember my own initiation into the genre was when he took me to the cinema when I was 6 in 1953 to see George Stevens' 'Shane'. I 'was' Little Joe and perhaps have remained him all my life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWdPmapuOd4 Then of course, there were those American black and western series on tv in the late 1950s and early '60s.

What you possibly didn't know about John Thomas Edson, was that he :

* was born in Derbyshire, in the small mining village of Whitwell in 1928, was six months old when his father, a miner, died leaving his mother a 23 year old widow and often went to the cinema, probably 'The Empire' in Shirebrook (right), while she worked and became obsessed with escapist adventure and western serials and questions : how did the baddie's gun jam, men cheat at cards and Westerners really speak and dress ?

* at 11 attended Shirebrook Selective Central School where he was encouraged in his writing by a teacher but left at 14 during the Second World War to work in a stone quarry until he joined the Army at the age of 18 in 1946 and rose to the rank of sergeant in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps as a dog trainer and served in Kenya, in his late twenties, during the Mau Mau Uprising and, on one occasion, killed six 'rebels' while on patrol, also served in Malaya.

* confined to Amy barracks for long periods, devoured the books of escapist writers : Edgar Rice Burroughs and Edgar Wallace and sat through hours of movies starring John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Errol Flynn and Audie Murphy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juENeWSSsog and had his first appearance in print in 'Hints On Self-Preservation when attacked by a War Dog' when based in Germany in the Osnabruck camp magazine 'Shufti' in 1947.

* started writing seriously when posted to Hong Kong, won a large cash prize in a tombola and invested in a typewriter and by the time of his discharge from the Amy in 1958, had written 10 Westerns, an early version of science fiction hero, 'Bunduki' and the first of short detective-type stories starring 'Waco' but with a wife and children to support, ran a fish-and-chip shop and worked on the production line at a local pet food factory.

* undertook a writing course and enjoyed his first success at the age of 33, when 'Trail Boss' won a £50 prize in a 'Brown Watson' competition in 1961 and with this income from publishing and earnings from five series of short stories, 'Dan Hollick, Dog Handler' for the boys comic, 'Victor', settled down to professional authorship until the comic’s decision that nobody read cowboy stories any more, forced him to get a job as a postman.

* after writing 45 books for Brown Watson, in 1968 was given the freedom by his new publisher, Corgi to explore the idea of an interconnected family of adventurers and at the age of 46 in 1974, made his first of his visits to the United States in search of reference books.

* based his heroes on his favourite film stars, with 'Dusty Fog' resembling Audie Murphy and the 'Ysabel Kid' an amalgam of Elvis Presley in 'Flaming Star' and Jack Buetel in 'The Outlaw' and also "read Nelson Nye and other escapism-adventure writers and also classics such as 'Shane' " which he said "left him cold" and "preferred the virile stories which British middle-class management snobs refer to as 'the pulps' " and "one of my pet hates is that they regard all western novels as being substandard and unworthy of their superior intellect."

* in his introduction to his one hundredth novel wrote : 'The hero would catch the ‘baddie’ cheating at cards, but there was only rarely an explanation of how this was done. Or the villain would be on the point of shooting the hero in the back, when his gun would jam and, except on a few occasions, the cause was not described... From those beginnings, I decided that if I wanted the kind of plot plus detail I enjoy, I must follow the old Yorkshire adage, ‘If you want a job doing properly, do it yourself.’ '

* worked in his bachelor-tidy study in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, with replica firearms on the wall and with secretary in the room next door handling fan mail, helping produce a 'JT Appreciation Society' newsletter, dealing with his income tax demands and the sales in Danish, German and Serbo-Croat and occasionally helping to act out particularly complicated Main Street gunplay featured in his writing.

.* in the 1960s, courted criticism with : accounts of women in catfights, punching, scratching and biting and tearing clothes off each other in the mud ; the fact that a young man sent to Broadmoor for killing a Sunday School teacher, claimed to have modelled himself on the half-Comanche, half-Irish 'Ysabel Kid' and his 1968 'The Hooded Riders' which portrayed an organisation resembling the Ku Klux Klan as a heroic resistance group.

* in 1984 faced protests from the Labour Party when his 'JT’s Ladies'  included a gunslinger called Roy Hattersley (left) named after its Deputy Leader and his sidekick Len Murray and three desperadoes named Alex Kitson, Alan Fisher and David Basnett, all well-known trade union leaders.

* in 1994 saw his 'Guns of Honor' translated into tv film starring Jurgen Pruchnow and Martin Sheen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHECuJQCiSM followed by 'Trigger Fast' in the same year : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOLONdy0BgI

* in an article for 'Time' magazine in 1999, declared that he had no desire to have lived in the Wild West and “I’ve never even been on a horse. I’ve seen those things, and they look highly dangerous at both ends and bloody uncomfortable in the middle. My only contact was to shoot them for dog meat.”

* before becoming a recluse in his last years, his favourite boast was that Melton Mowbray was famous for three things: “The pie, Stilton cheese and myself – but not necessarily in that order’’. 

In memory of those black and white tv westerns of the '50s and 60's :

The Lone Ranger :

Wells Fargo :

Bonanza :

Laramie :

The Rifleman :

Bronco Lane :

The High Chaparral :

Wyatt Earp

Wagon Train with guest star 'Ronald Reagan' :

Monday 21 July 2014

Britain is a country with England a Kingdom, London a city and Hackney a borough with more and more lonely old men

A large scale survey of  73,815 of those who are the recipients of care and social care services in England has revealed of the of old men and women recipients :

* the percentage of those with 'little social contact with people and feel socially isolated' was :
7.7% in Inner London
6.7% in Outer London
5.1% in shire counties.

* the largest number lived in Hackney, East London with 11.4% suffering from social isolation followed by 10.8% in Hounslow, West London and Lambeth, South London with 9.8%.

Jack Neill-Hall, Spokesman for the 'Campaign to End Loneliness' said the findings confirmed evidence that London Councils were not doing enough to tackle the problem :
 "When we look at what local authorities and health and wellbeing boards are doing, London is certainly one of the worst areas in terms of taking this issue seriously."

Since the survey was only of old and disabled people receiving care and support, he also said :
"What councils need to be doing is reaching out to the huge swathes of people, the vast majority, who do not get any services."
Among those 'swathes of people' who receive no help are a large number who were, but because of Government cuts in the social care budget, are no longer receiving help which is down by 29% on the 2008-09 figure.

Janet Morrison, Chief Executive of charity 'Independent Age', described the drop of almost a third in five years as "a tragedy" and "This is fundamental care such as help to wash, dress, eat and go to the toilet. The government could hardly have chosen a worse time to introduce the new Care Act, which makes a greater number of people eligible for services at a time when fewer are in practice getting them."

Wednesday, 13 March 2013 :

Britain is a country in the grip of an epidemic of lonely old men


Friday 18 July 2014

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to an old 'Master of Marionettes' called Frank Mumford

The passing of Frank Mumford, who has died at the age of 95 and whose career in puppetry spanned eight decades, took me back to those puppets on black and white children's tv in the 1950s : 'Bill and Ben', 'Muffin the Mule' and the 'Woodentops' which had entranced me as a child in the 1950s.

What you possibly didn't know about Frank, that he :

* born in Edmonton, North London, just before the end of the First World War in July 1918, a late addition to a large family and therefore a solitary child who, while recovering from mumps at the age of six, amused himself by making a miniature theatre from a Maynards sweet box and later remembered the he had “cut a proscenium in the front and had curtains and cut figures out of magazines with hairpins to hold them.”

* at the age of 10 in 1928, saw the 'British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild's Annual Exhibition' in Leicester Square and became the 'resident puppeteering teaboy' at 'Lanchester's Marionette Theatre' in Chiswick and learnt much from Waldo Lanchester (left) and Harry Whanslaw (right) who together they evolved aspects of marionettes such as the vertical control and new types of joints and methods of balancing and played a large part in the regeneration of the art of puppetry in Britain.

* was convinced he had found his vocation when his drama teacher at school gave him a copy of American puppeteer Tony Sarg's book : 'Marionettes and How to Make Them' and in 1932 at the age of 14, was accomplished enough to be billed as 'Master Mumford and His Marionettes' at  London’s Wood Green Empire.

* in the following year, had a stand of puppets at the 'School Boys’ Hobbies Exhibition' at Alexandra Palace and at 15, left school to work at the drapers,' Edmonds of Wood Green' (left) making window displays, where, to bring customers in, created a puppet theatre, performing afternoon shows and special ones at Christmas.

* still in his teens founded a company with friends and began playing at small theatres around London and in his early twenties in the 1930s, met his future wife, Maisie Tierney, who was then working at Morley's Department Store in Brixton and joined his act in 1938.

* during the Second World War in 1943, trained as an RAMC medical assistant and then volunteered to join airborn forces and qualified as a parachutist in February 1944 and was posted to the 16th Parachute Field Ambulance surgical team. http://www.paradata.org.uk/media/30480?mediaSection=Photos

* married Maisie on leave in July 1944, then in September served in the Battle of Arnhem and was working in St. Elizabeth's Hospital when it fell into German hands and was sent, along with 400 paratroopers as a prisoner of war to Stalag XIB at Fallingbostel in Lower Saxony where he and his fellow recruits were kept fit and clean by their Regimental Sergeant Major until their liberation by the Hussars in April 1945.

 * returned to Britain at the end of the War and before he was demobbed, transferred to the 'Central Pool of Artistes' providing entertainment to the Armed Forces and put together a two-hour touring show with 11 staff and 100 puppets, 'Stars on Strings' for the RAF branch of the Wartime 'Stars in Battledress' Organisation and toured air bases with performances until 1946.

* worked in a two-handed act with Maisie from 1947, featuring 2ft-tall puppets with large heads and scaled-down bodies, hippos, skating cats, skeletons, dancers, a matador and bull and their most famous creation, 'Mademoiselle Zizi', a diminutive chanteuse based on Lana Turner and Gypsy Rose Lee.

* in addition to the puppet shows designed pantomime sets and costumes for 'Lucan and McShane Productions' and for the music-hall star George Robey in his last years on the stage,

* designed his puppets, carving the heads and hands and making the costumes with one of Zizi’s gowns, lined in shocking pink, designed by Schiaparelli and specialised in giving each character their own nuance of natural movement, from a belly dancer seductively removing her veil to Zizi demurely dabbing her face with a handkerchief to the oriental elegance of the Japanese dancer :.

* enjoyed Zizi, being described in a newspaper as 'sex appeal on strings' and after a show in Juan-les-Pins, 'Miss Venus of the Cote d’Azur' and when the moral arbiters, the 'Birmingham Watch Committee', banned her at the Birmingham Hippodrome 'for kissing men in the audience', enjoyed the resulting publicity which inceased his income.

* at the age of 31 in 1949, had a 3 month contract at 'Le Beouf Sur Le Toit' in Paris and the 'Palm Beach Casino' in Cannes and in the 50s played top London nightspots : the 'Coconut Grove', ' Grosvenor House', 'Ciro’s', The 'Embassy','The Dorchester', variety shows and cabarets around the world.

* on occasion, performed in front of Charlie Chaplin and Elsa Schiaparelli, dined with Jean Cocteau , joked with Josephine Baker, performed at  private parties for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in Paris and had a two-week run in Monaco performing for Prince Rainier and Princess Grace and recalled : “Princess Grace hardly spoke, but Prince Rainier was absolutely easy to chat to. He was the one I had to go to for Zizi to kiss, but after about 10 shows he got fed up with it.”

* in addition, designed costumes for dancing girls in 1950s and 60s Paris revues, like 'Les Scandales de Paris' at La Boule Blanche in 1962 (right) and pantomime sets and costumes for 'Lucan and McShane Productions' and the music-hall star George Robey in his last years on the stage.

* appeared on tv working at Alexandra Palace in the early days of 'Children’s Television', carved the early versions of the 1950 'Watch with Mother' puppet character 'Andy Pandy' (left) and also featured in 'Time for Tich' in the 1960s alongside the ventriloquist Ray Alan’s dummy Tich and his pet duck Quackers. 

* after Maisie’s death in 1985, carried on alone, giving his last performance in 2004 at the Leeds City Varieties and was remembered by the magician David Berglas in 2011 : http://www.puppethub.com/video/david-berglas-interview-promo

* at the age of 93 in 2011, was rediscovered by film director, Richard Butchins in the apartment he had lived in since the 1940s, along with his puppets in the attic and an archive of reel to reel film : http://www.puppeteers.org/news/blog/frank-and-maisie-mumford-documentary-film-in-the-works/ and confessed about his puppetry that : "I will say one thing about this : dedication. I lived, and I'm glad Maisie is not around to hear this, but I lived for nothing else" and saw the resulting documenatary of his life, 'An Attic Full of Puppets', shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum as part the' Suspense London Puppetry Festival'. http://vimeo.com/57865414

* was chosen by Richard as the focus of his documentary because there was one other thing he wanted to achieve "and it's probably the most important thing. That is to remind people that Elders are a resource, a repository of knowledge, wisdom and skill. Our society increasingly perceives Elders as a burden and that's wrong."

Saturday 12 July 2014

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an old playwright called Peter Whelan

Peter, who has died at the age of 82 and turned to the stage in his middle years was one of the Royal Shakespeare Company's most notable beneficiaries of its 'good new plays in smaller venues policy' in the 1980s.

What you possibly didn't know about Peter, that he :

*  was born in 1931 in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire and raised in Bucknall, Stoke-on-Trent, the younger son of a mother who worked for the Forestry Commission and father, a lithographic artist in the Potteries and lover of the plays of George Bernard Shaw.

* growing up with his older brother during the Second World War, went out one night " to see the city burning, buggers that we were as though we were, watching a firework display, all the incendiaries burning the city from end to end" and on another occasion was blown off his feet when a bomb dropped a couple of streets away.

* at the age of nine and already wanting to be a writer, when whispering stories to his brother in bed at night,was told :  " when I said you've got to tell a story it's got to be things that have happened " and later reflected that : " It's a very basic thing in writing, that you're not going to get by with imagination, pure imagination, at all. It's got to be a mixture of reality and imagination. The very basic thing in writing is what he said and I suppose I absorbed it, the way a child does."

* went to Hanley High School, a grammar school for boys and at the age of 15, when, on the top deck of a bus, told his friend that he was "going to be a playwright" and wrote history plays modelled on Shakespeare and inspired by Laurence Olivier's bombastic Henry V http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9fa3HFR02E which had "a kind of shock value" and convinced him that the past could be re- imagined as something vital and current and honed his theatrical skills playing Shaw's St. Joan on the school stage dressed in chain mail and a stuffed bra.

* left school at 18 in 1949 and started his National Service in the Army and was posted to Berlin,  now in the grip of the Cold War and later said "I sometimes think the ruins of that city had a bad effect on me" and was affected its division where " to be able to paint a white line on the cobbles  and to be able to say that side's communisim and that side's capitalism almost made it seem like a gargantuan child's game, but an awful one where the bullets were real." 

* back in civilian life, worked for a year at the Town Planning Office, Stoke-on-Trent, as an assistant surveyor and then a worker at Endon Farm, Staffordshire before he embarked on an  English and Philosophy degree at Keele University, where he met his future wife, Frangcon Price, herself the daughter of a pottery designer.

* joined the Drama Society and played Prince Hal in the 1952 open air production of Henry IV Part 1 and contributed 'The Fizzy Blonde !' to the 1952 Keele Songbook and regretted he might have embarrassed a Muriel Tucker, later said :"Drama and university have an uneasy relationship. Drama is about emotion, not about analysis. You somehow need departments of love and hate and rage."

* after graduation in 1955 worked as a manservant at Uffington Hall, demolition worker in Staffordshire, hall porter in the English Speaking Union Hotel, London and for a year as an advertising copywriter in London where he wrote adverts for beer, biscuits and the Guardian, devised the slogan for Stones bitter, 'Wherever you may wander, there's no taste like Stones' and picked up the skill of being able to look at a chunk of dialogue and estimate its performance time in seconds.

* left the country for a year in 1957 to work as teacher of English in the Berlitz School, Bergen, Norway and returned to teach at West London College, before another spell in copywriting in London in 1959 and continued to work in advertising throughout the first decade of his success as a playwright, the 1970s.

*  said he didn't write "anything cogent" until he was almost 40 and had his theatre debut in 1975 at the age of 44 with 'Double Edge', a West End thriller co-written with his colleague in the advertising trade, Leslie Darbon, and played at the 'Vaudeville' in a cast led  by Margaret Lockwood and Paul Daneman.

* started his association with the Royal Shakespeare Company when he submitted an unsolicited script, 'Captain Swing', based on an idea brought home by his son from school and centred on the 1830 English farm workers' riots which became a  huge critical success at the 'Other Place' in 1979, transferring to the 'Warehouse' in Covent Garden, its London studio and allowed him to take the risky step out of advertising and into theatre.

* in 1981 set the RSC's, 'The Accrington Pals' in the early years of the First World War, when the country's jingoistic optimism started to wane and the true terror of warfare gradually becameclear and looked at both the terrifying experiences of the men at the Front and the women who were left behind in a Lancashire mill town denuded of men.

* based 'Clay' in 1982, on a modern day reunion of two couples, one of them played by Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent, after an 11 year separation which the critic Michael Billington described as having 'a sense of doom creeping over people's lives like late afternoon shadows in a summer field'
* wrote at the age of 60 in 1991, 'The Bright and Bold Design', inspired by the life of Clarice Cliff, a 1930s Potteries decorative artist and dealt with incident and argument among factory girls hired on low rates of pay.

* in 1992 placed the Elizabethan playwright, Christopher Marlow played by Richard McCabe in 'The School of Night', in the context of the espionage network in the country house of his uncle and patron, Thomas Walsingham, the Queen's spymaster and had his last collaboration with director Bill Alexander who left to run the Birmingham Rep.

* unearthed the story of the strange drama played out at Kelmscott Manor in the early 1870s, between William Morris, his wife Janey and Dante Gabriel Rossetti with Morris taking himself off to Iceland each summer to allow Janey to fulfil her role as Rossetti's model, muse and idealised lover with the relationship stopping short of physical consummation and gave it form in 'The Earthly Paradise'.

* created and staged his best known work, 'The Herbal Bed' at the age of 64 in 1996, starring Joseph Fiennes, Teresa Banham and David Tennant (right) in the 'Other Place' at Stratford-upon-Avon, centred on the case for sexual slander brought by Shakespeare's daughter, Susanna, against a neighbour, John Lane, who accused her of adulterously contracting venereal disease from a local haberdasher and saw it transfer to the West End.

* remained a socialist and a republican, who always wore his radicalism lightly, but had a fire in the furnace when poked and enjoyed travelling around universities telling budding playwright 'how to write a play in a day'.

* his forays into television work were limited to dramatised documentaries, 'The Trial of  Lord Lucan' and a series of true crime stories, 'In Suspicious Circumstances', narrated by actor, Edward Woodward.

* in 2001 his semi-autobiographical 'Russian in the Woods' in which he returned to Berlin before the 1948 Airlift which drew critical comparisons with both Ibsen and John le Carre and involved a young soldier sent for a weekend to guard a deserted British Army office and innocently found himself caught up in a situation where his conscience was on trial.

* once said it was "the mystery of human relationships" that interested him "I like to feel that I'm not going to get to the end of the mystery. It's not something I'm going to solve. That's not what I'm there for; I'm there to release the forces that are involved in it. The truth is the confusion of human relationships, and that it will go on."