School For Scoundrels (1960 UK)

Before satire was written by Oxbridge public school boys for Oxbridge public school boys, British comedy writers believed their audience intelligent enough to appreciate gentle irony without stamping on their heads. The English humourist Stephen Potter enjoyed great success in the 1950s with his books “Gamesmanship”, which ironically advised sportsmen on “how to win without actually cheating”, chiefly by using psychological ploys to unsettle their opponents, and “Lifemanship” and “One-upmanship” which advocated a similar attitude to life in general. The central idea is that Potter, not content with merely writing books, has actually opened a College of Lifemanship in Somerset in order to teach his philosophy. [Read more…]

The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961 United Kingdom)

Remember when Britain produced really great motion pictures? OK, no one is that old who would visit this blog. Lucky for us there is dvd-blu ray to enjoy these hoary relics. Anyway, this was made decades before millions hated and distrusted the lame stream’s media lies that pass for “news.”  It is very rare that a film manages to capture the sweat, stress and panic of the newsroom (ho ho! – alright, I’ll reign in my cynicism for the duration of this post) where the workers gather round for quick meetings and discussions before frantically typing up a new story and making those all – important phone calls. And the decision to tell the whole story from the viewpoint of the Daily Express workers is a refreshing and exciting one. [Read more…]

Downton Abbey ( Britain 2010–who cares?)

Downton Abbey has been a predictably enormous ratings success, taking the viewer-friendly melodrama of the soap operas and adding a bodice-ripper gloss by adding a period setting. Twenty or thirty years ago this series would have been a chippy pseudo-Marxist drama but in the post-modern world we get the Edwardians re-invented by a modern snob (Lord Julian Fellowes is quite a mouthful! ) as perky progressive aristocrats who love their servants as much as their servants love them. Each story is carefully compartmentalized (the only person to ever talk to the chauffeur is the young lady who is in love with him but won’t admit it) and un-named characters essentially don’t exist (during the numerous hospital scenes nobody, bar the protagonists, ever speaks or moves unless interacting with a named character).
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The Hound of the Baskervilles (1983 Britain)

Ian Richardson is a fine Holmes, even if he seems a bit too good-natured. Perhaps this was a throwback to the old Basil Rathbone Holmes persona–and it works in this context. Mr Richardson is hardly the moody Holmes of Arthur Conan Doyle…but he is definitely fun to watch. Unfortunately, Donald Churchill is not one of the great screen Watsons. He is a definite step down from his immediate predecessor, David Healy, who portrayed the good Doctor opposite Richardson in The Sign of Four. As the films were produced in the same year, by the same producer, one must wonder why Healy did not reprise the role for Hound. Instead, we are presented with a rather too blustery Watson, almost reminiscent of Nigel Bruce, though not nearly as appealing. Churchill looks the part, but not much else. [Read more…]

The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield)

A gothic suspense novel with echoes from several Victorian novels. The familiar device of a “story within a story” is employed, and sometimes it even contains another story. This story-telling tradition strongly reminds the reader of earlier classic tales. In fact the “rule of threes” goes throughout this book echoing its fairytale feel. There is the structure of the book itself, “Beginnings, Middles and Endings”. There are three generations in the earlier saga. This is the author’s first novel, and promises well if she stops being so rooted in the gothic canon and makes a bold leap into the unknown and the supernatural she is clearly so drawn to.   [Read more…]

Number 13 (M. R. James)

Lair (James Herbert)

Even rats relocate to the country. Epping Forest in this case…I have a weakness for stories where animals or insects turn on humans. This is Part 2 of his Rat trilogy of books and it still holds up well nearly 40 years later. Along with Stephen King, Herbert was an innovator and modernizer of the horror novel. Its no coincidence the pair published their first book the same year, just on different sides of the pond. But there is a character in Lair that might be an insight into James Herbert’s real dark side – what if he had not become a success as a writer? Might he have turned into the gym teacher character I’ll bring up later in this review? [Read more…]

Tom Brown’s Schooldays (Thomas Hughes)

book-coverUnless you’re an Anglophile, you might prefer watching one of the dramatizations of this story. The films tend to have more plot than the book, which is more a series of chronological anecdotes set amidst statements of philosophy than it is a novel. “Character” and “fair play” are much emphasized but remain fuzzy concepts, which rather deflates its moral purpose. Jolly great fun is had by chucking stones at Irish labourers and otherwise tormenting the lower classes. “Fagging”–the practice of young boys having to fetch and carry for the older boys (and yes, that’s where the word comes from)– is an accepted and honoured institution.  [Read more…]

The Day Of The Triffids (John Wyndham)

john-wyndham-book-coverThis is a sober book. I can imagine a dozen or so world leaders I’d hope would read it and discuss such in tandem over tea and crumpets. Or whatever Mr Trump feels like having today. Gauging our current run of apprehensions, one would be wise to explore this gem of the dystopian curve. Day of the Triffids is a meditation. There is no epic effort to capture the tooth and claw survival of the species. What occurs is both more subtle and sinister. The world as understood is over. JW was quite keen on destroying civilization in his novels. [Read more…]

A Short Story Of Mine

joanne-hale-trials It was later than usual when Joanne Hale awoke on a fine Tuesday in June. She didn’t want to though. She was in a deliciously deep sleep where no dreams could touch her awareness. “Mum!..mum! Wake up! The shop!” a familiar voice accompanied an urgent hand pushing into her upper right shoulder.

“Uh? Wha?” her deep-voiced tones reassured the adolescent boy leaning across the large woman tangled up in the bedclothes. She held his hand and squeezed it briefly. She rolled over with some difficulty, the green duvet weighing on her before she could orientate her eyes to the physical world again. “OK love, let mamma get dressed. You have opened up for me?” [Read more…]

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