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Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Masters of Sitcom - Review

My first memories of the work of Alan Simpson and Ray Galton came in the form of a video rental my dad brought home to please my mum. I hadn’t a clue who Tony Hancock was and couldn’t understand the excitement. My mum and her cousins on the circus were huge fans of the Tony Hancock records and radio shows. They knew many of the scripts off by heart and would often fall into scenes at the drop of a hat. The only connection I made with the video was when Sid James popped up in “The Missing Page”. Terrestrial TV in the 1980s ensured that its children grew up on the entire “Carry On” collection. However, even then, I noticed that there was something about Hancock that seemed better than the very broad and brash strokes of the seaside postcard humour that these later films exhibited. Later I was introduced to “Steptoe and Son” on TV and couldn’t help but be drawn to its on-going comedy drama. Again, it seemed remarkable how it could pick such a depressing setting and even creepiness and yet make it so funny. Fast forward a few years and we had just moved into our cottage on the farm. It was the night of the terrible and under-anticipated hurricane. Mum had bought the first set of BBC released audio recordings of “Hancock’s Half Hour” and we had a battery powered tape recorder to listen to them on. Since then the Hancock radio work especially has been a source of comfort to me. It has accompanied me on long car journeys, recovering in hospital (appropriately listening to “The Hospital Visit” episode for the first time) and it has got me through some tough emotional times too.

Monday, 16 January 2012

The Flesh and the Fiends - an under-rated classic

Cover of "The Flesh and the Fiends"
Cover of The Flesh and the Fiends
So, yet another friend of mine said they hadn't heard of this picture, 1. Like me, he thought Donald Pleasence was a very under-rated actor. However, he had not seen this, perhaps one of his greatest performances. Unfortunately the film, much like Pleasence, has been dismissed into the sub-genre it was marketed under. My feelings on marketing art are a sensitive issue with me at the moment, but I will address that another day. Anyway, this film is a classic example of a product that is far more than its lowest common denominator promotion would lead you to believe...

 "The Flesh and the Fiends" was the second British feature film to tackle the real life horror story of 19th century murderers, William Burke and William Hare. These Edinburgh multiple killers were responsible for murdering 16 confirmed victims, which they then sold to Dr Robert Knox for his anatomy lectures. How much Knox suspected that the gruesome twosome's "products" were murder victims is a matter for speculation and it has helped turn the story into a Faustian fable. This is largely down to movies such as this. In fact, this is perhaps the one that really put the idea across. 1948's ultra low budget "The Greed of William Hart" did not present a very sympathetic Dr Knox at all. Peter Cushing who could play both an evil and a good Dr Frankenstein for the Hammer films, was the perfect person to take on the role.