Tag Archives: Granada TV

How to write, structure and maintain a TV soap opera like Coronation Street

Many moons ago, I used to work a lot for Granada TV in Manchester, home of Coronation Street which, since its birth in 1960, has been the UK’s regular ratings-topper.

I never worked in the Drama Department at Granada – mostly I was in Promotions with slight forays into Children’s/Light Entertainment.

But I remember having conversations with two Coronation Street producers at different times about the structure of the soap and they both, pretty much, ran it along similar lines.

The first, crucial pillar to build a soap on is a central location.

In Coronation Street, the BBC’s EastEnders and ITV’s Emmerdale this is a pub – the Rover’s Return, the Queen Vic and The Woolpack.

River City in Scotland and Fair City in the Republic of Ireland have also taken the pub to their soapy hearts.

The pub allows you to have a central core cast – a small staff and ‘regulars’ who live locally – and a logical reason why new characters bringing new plots will enter and leave the ongoing storyline.

ATV’s ancient soap Crossroads used a variation of this by having the central setting as a motel.

In the case of Coronation Street, there was (certainly when I worked at Granada) a formula which went roughly like this…

DRAMATIC STORYLINES

  • one main storyline peaking
  • one main storyline winding down
  • one storyline building to be next main storyline
  • one subsidiary storyline peaking
  • one subsidiary storyline winding down
  • one storyline building to be next subsidiary storyline

COMIC STORYLINES (as with dramatic storylines)

  • one peaking
  • one winding down
  • one building

I have always thought that EastEnders fails in ignoring or vastly underplaying the possibility of comic storylines. When Coronation Street is on a roll, it can be one of the funniest shows on TV.

I confess shamefacedly that I have not actually watched Coronation Street lately (well, it HAS been going since 1960, now five times a week, and even I have a partial life).

But another interesting insight from one of the producers at Granada TV was that Coronation Street (certainly in its perceived golden era) was also slightly out-dated. It appeared to be a fairly socially-realistic tableau of life in a Northern English town, slightly dramatised. But it was always 10-20 years out-of-date. It showed what people (even people in the North) THOUGHT life was currently like, but it had an element of nostalgia.

This was in-built from the start. The initial ‘three old ladies in the snug’ of the 1960s – Era Sharples and her two cronies) is what people thought Northern life was like but, in fact, that was a vision from the early 1950s or 1940s or even 1930s. So modern storylines were being imposed on a slightly nostalgised (not quite romanticised!) vision of the North.

In other countries where pubs are not a tradition, of course, you have to find another central location.

But, in my opinion, if you lessen the humour and harden the gritty realism, you may maintain ratings figures in the short or medium term, but you are gambling. And if your spoken lines sound like written lines (as they often do in EastEnders) then you are a titanic success sailing close to an iceberg.

But what do I know?

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“No, I was not bounced on Bernard Manning’s knee,” says UK performer

Matt Roper with his dad George Roper

Matt Roper (left) with his dad George Roper

You have no idea how I and other people suffer for this blog.

At the moment, I have comedy performer Matt Roper staying in my spare bedroom for the next four weeks. Well, he may emerge occasionally. Matt performs as comedy singing character Wilfredo. His father was stand-up comedian George Roper, who rose to fame on Granada TV’s stand-up series The Comedians in the 1960s, along with Bernard Manning, Frank Carson and others.

“I don’t have a blog today,” I told Matt this afternoon. “You’ll have to give me one. I always tell people that, as a boy, you were bounced on Bernard Manning’s knee and you say you weren’t. There must be a blog in that.”

“I was bounced on Cilla Black’s knee,” said Matt.

“In blog terms,” I said, “Cilla Black is not as sexy as Bernard Manning.”

“We are not talking about Bernard Manning,” said Matt.

“Why,” I asked, “don’t you want to be associated with Manning?”

“It’s just that I didn’t know him that well. I might as well be associated with Hermann Goering.”

“Well, you are,” I said.

Matt introduced me to Hermann Goering’s great-niece for a blog last year.

Les Dawson: not to be confused with Bernard Manning

Les Dawson shared knee-bouncing with Cilla Black?

“Bernard Manning,” I persisted, “kept coming round for Sunday lunch, didn’t he?”

“No,” said Matt. “Les Dawson used to come round for Sunday lunch sometimes.”

“Did he bounce you on his knee?” I asked hopefully.

Matt did not answer.

“There’s a picture of me sitting on Cilla’s knee,” said Matt, “but she might not like me letting you put it online. She’s in a swimming costume. This is not interesting, John.”

“It is,” I insisted. “I WAS NOT BOUNCED ON BERNARD MANNING’S KNEE is the headline, then we talk about something completely different.”

“OK,” said Matt. “But I think Louis Armstrong kissing Molly Parkin is far more interesting.”

“Where did he kiss her?” I asked.

“Do you mean…” Matt started to ask.

“I mean whatever you think I mean,” I said.

“You’ve always got Johnnie Hamp as a blog,” suggested Matt about the legendary Granada TV producer.

“He’s very interesting,” I said, “but he’s up in Cheshire.”

TV producer Johnnie Hamp with The Beatles at their height

TV producer Johnnie Hamp with The Beatles at their height

“Next year,” persisted Matt, “it’s the 50th anniversary of a TV show he produced called The Music of Lennon & McCartney. Brian Epstein (The Beatles’ manager) was very loyal. Not the best businessman, but a very loyal man to people who had given him a helping hand.

“By 1965, The Beatles didn’t really need to do a Granada TV show but Johnnie had been one of the first people to put The Beatles on TV in a regional Granada show Scene at 6.30. It’s on YouTube.

“In 1965, Johnnie had this idea The Music of Lennon & McCartney and there was this huge spectacular in Studio One at Granada TV and he flew people in – Henry Mancini played If I Fell on the piano; Ella Fitzgerald;  Cilla was on it; Peter Sellers reciting A Hard Day’s Night as Richard III. That’s on YouTube.”

“What were Cilla’s knees like?” I asked.

Matt ignored me.

“Johnnie Hamp,” he continued, “brought Woody Allen over to do a TV special – it’s the 50th anniversary of that next year, too. It’s the only television special Woody Allen ever did. Just for Johnnie Hamp at Granada. There’s a clip on YouTube.

“Johnnie told me recently: Back in those days, we didn’t care about ratings; creativity was more important. I mean, The Comedians was interesting because, today, no-one would take a chance on giving twelve unknown comics a primetime TV series.”

“That,” I said, “was why Sidney Bernstein (who owned Granada) was a great man.”

“Was it him or his brother who had a wooden leg?” asked Matt.

“That was Denis Forman,” I said. “It might have been metal.”

“I’ve got a Beatles-related story you could end your blog with,” said Matt.

“Just tell me what Cilla Black’s knees were like,” I told him.

“My dad,” said Matt, ignoring me, “told a story of when all the Beatles’ brothers and uncles in Liverpool – all the men of the family – heard that The Beatles were smoking drugs. What’s all this? they went. They took the train down from Lime Street to Euston to sort the fookin’ whatever’s going on owt. We’ll sort this fookin’ droogs thing owt.

“And the story goes that, three days later, they all got off the train back in Liverpool Lime Street saying: Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it… Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

“I’d better take a photo of you,” I said, “for the blog.”

“Not if you’re going to go on and on about Bernard Manning,” said Matt.

Matt Roper refused to be photographed for this piece

Matt Roper refused to be photographed for this piece

 

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With sketch shows, it is impossible to know who will be famous in the future.

With comedy sketch shows, it is almost impossible to know which, if any, of the performers may become successful – famous, even – in the future.

I am old enough to have been stumbling around in the primeval alternative comedy mists of the last century and seen the Edinburgh Fringe show by the Cambridge Footlights group which included Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson and Tony Slattery. I was aware of their names because it got a lot of newspaper coverage afterwards – that’s one of the benefits of going to Oxbridge. But all I really remember, unless my memory fails me, is Stephen Fry sitting in a wing armchair wearing a smoking jacket and reading a very linguistically convoluted story from a book.

“Well,” I thought. “That’s very literate and he seems to aspire to being someone older than he is, but he’s not going to go very far with that as an act.”

I was also working at Granada TV when they made the long-forgotten sketch show Alfresco. I saw one being recorded in the studio. It starred Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Ben Elton, Robbie Coltrane and Siobhan Redmond. The writing was a bit rough-and-ready and the cast made no impact on me at all, except I remember feeling Robbie Coltrane thought a bit too much of himself and Ben Elton thought he was cock of the walk. I am sure they have changed.

Which is all a pre-amble to the fact that I have seen three sketch shows in the last three days at the Edinburgh Fringe. They may have contained the big comedy and/or drama stars of the future, but who can know for sure? Certainly not me.

I went to see The Real McGuffins’ Skitsophrenic because I had met Dan March at a couple of previous Fringes, notably when he performed his Goldrunner show about being a contestant on the TV gameshow Blockbusters when he was a kid.

I saw The Real McGuffins perform at the Fringe last year and, while they were OK and energetic – a better version of the more-publicised Pappy’s aka Pappy’s Fun Club – they were, in truth, nothing special. This year, they are something special. The scripts are sharper, the performances are even sharper and the show zips along at a tremendous pace. They have also kept and improved on a scripted interaction between the three performers which adds a semi-narrative thread – always a good thing in sketch shows which, by their nature, can be very disjointed.

This unification of their comedy sketch show is something The Durham Revue’s 33rd Annual Surprise Party! does not have. They try to paper over the unavoidable gaps between separate sketches with extremely good and instantly recognisable rock music. But choosing such good music turns out to be a mistake as the extracts are so strong it distracts from rather than unifies the various sketches. I mentally opted-out of the live show to bop-along in my head to the music between sketches, then had to opt back in to the live show. Bland music, ironically, would have been better. Or some live running link to creatively Sellotape over the gaps.

At least one of the Durham Revue team appears to have the charisma necessary to get somewhere in showbusiness in the future but (see above) who can tell?

As for Casual Violence’s Choose Death, which I saw last night, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. There were a lot of tears, a lot of shouting, several characters’ deaths, Siamese twin assassins, a clown and a serial killer who looked like Daniel Craig on acid, but what exactly was going on or why was utterly beyond me. Nothing made much sense at all but the characters seemed to believe in what was happening within their own fictional world. Casual Violence could have created a new genre of ‘realistic surrealism’. There was certainly an awful lot of shouting which seemed to work rather well. But I have no idea why.

The six performers and keyboard accompanist were uniformly good and strangely realistic while being totally OTT in a script which was from another plane of reality on another planet. The important factor was that the script seemed to make logical sense to the characters within the show. And, while played straight and getting plentiful laughs from a near-full house, there was such an element of complete surreality permeating the whole thing that I warmed to it after about ten minutes and enjoyed it thoroughly throughout – without knowing what was going on over-all. The words made sense. The sentences made sense. But what was happening had more than one layer of insanity. It had the logic of a long-term inmate in a mental asylum.

The Real McGuffins were slick, smooth and ready for television and Dan March is a star in the making.

The Durham Revue performers need another year at the Fringe but showed promise.

Casual Violence’s Choose Death was so strange it is beyond any sane description and, in a long-shot way, is the most interesting of the three. The show was written by James Hamilton. I think he may need psychiatric help. Though not creative help. He is doing something right. There is something very original in there. I just don’t know what the fuck it is.

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News of the World. Forget the hacks. It’s The Bill you always have to pay.

I have worked as a researcher and sub-editor for BBC TV News (via their old Ceefax teletext service) and, briefly, in the newsrooms at Anglia TV, Granada TV and ITN. I have known a lot of journalists. But even I was shocked by the News of the World and other tabloids’ amorality.

I don’t mean the telephone hacking scandal which has now seen Rupert Murdoch close down Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper.

I mean the cheap Killer Bitch movie and Katie Price’s ex-husband Alex Reid being caught on camera with his trousers down.

Police corruption comes later in this blog.

In what must have been a moment of madness I financed Killer Bitch without reading the script (look, it was cheap) and I was away at the Edinburgh Fringe for weeks when shooting started.

While I was away, a sex scene was shot between Alex Reid and the lead actress, the director’s girlfriend/partner.

Alex Reid’s chum/manager asked the director if it was OK to have a photographer on set that day – not to take photos of the sex scene itself but just of Alex arriving, being on-set, being glamorous. The director said Yes.

And, of course, when the sex scene happened, click-click-click and off in a corner Alex’s photographer goes to e-mail out his photos.

What the director didn’t know was that the manager guy had, all week, been playing-off the News of the World against The People to get a higher price for the sex scene pictures. The People ran their photos on the cover and in an “exclusive” double-page spread that Sunday.

But the News of the World, unknown to anyone else, had secretly set up a hidden camera in the grotto where filming took place. They took their own photos and ran a single-page ’spoiler’ about “sickening footage” in the “vile and degrading hardcore porn film” in which Alex had been involved in a “disgusting rape”.

In fact, it wasn’t a rape scene at all. Never was. Never scripted as rape (I read that bit later); wasn’t shot as rape; wasn’t edited as rape. I saw the uncut footage when I came back from Edinburgh and it simply wasn’t rape.

But, bizarrely, journalists often believe what they read in tabloid newspapers, so this story about the vile rape scene in a hardcore porn movie (which is wasn’t) quickly spread across the world, sometimes using the same words the original News of the World had used.

The movie, which had only just started shooting and which was months away from being edited, was reviled as “violent porn” by The Times of India, a “vile and degrading movie” on Australia’s Perth Now website and “violent, aggressive… icky stuff” by TheHollyoodGossip.com. Back home, totally unseen, the Daily Mirror slammed it as “a sick movie” with “vile scenes…stomach churning”

Fair enough. Good publicity for a small film, though sadly much too early to profit from.

Two weeks later, The People ran a new cover story and two-page spread about how Alex Reid had “returned” to the Killer Bitch set “to shoot more torrid outdoor sex shots”. This had never happened. It was a complete fiction. But The People had detailed descriptions, actual photos from this supposed second sex scene (they were re-cycled from the original scene) and they even had a direct quote from the director saying, “I can confirm that Alex filmed these scenes within the last seven days”.

The director told me not only that The People had never talked to him about this alleged re-shoot but, at that point in time, he had never actually talked to anyone at the newspaper about the film ever.

Obviously, you expect to be mis-quoted and have your words twisted by newspapers. Now, it seems, it’s common to simply make up entirely fictional stories.

The New York Daily News correctly reported that “the film’s producers don’t seem bothered by the publicity.”

Fair enough. Publicity is publicity.

But just as the Stephen Lawrence affair, to my mind, was not about racism but about police corruption – an investigating policeman was paid-off by the father of one of the accused – the current News of the World scandal is not about phone hacking but about endemic police corruption.

Two days ago, I saw a Sky News double interview with, on the one hand, Brian Paddick, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and on the other ex News of the World journalist Paul McMullan.

McMullan could be seen almost literally biting his tongue off after he said that, if you were investigating police corruption, the only way to find out the facts was to talk to other policemen. As they might lose their jobs by dishing the dirt on fellow officers, they could not be expected to do this for free or for a few pounds and it was not unreasonable to pay them £20,000 or £30,000.

This figure was picked up by the interviewer.

Brian Paddick, who was basically defending the Met, said this was terrible but “clearly everyone has their price”.

This is an interesting thing to say because it is an acceptance by a former senior Met officer that, if the price is high enough, any Metropolitan policeman can be bought.

Yesterday’s London Evening Standard led on a story that “Corrupt Met police received more than £100,000 in unlawful payments from senior journalists and executives at the News of the World.

It also claimed that two senior Scotland Yard detectives investigating the phone hacking scandal held back: “Assistant Commissioners Andy Hayman and John Yates were both scared the News of the World would expose them for allegedly cheating on their wives if they asked difficult questions of the Sunday tabloid.”

Today’s Guardian says: “Some police sources suggested there was no evidence yet that officers had actually received the payments and what would also be investigated was whether the journalists involved had kept the money themselves.”

Obviously some Met officer here, limbering up for a career as a stand-up comic.

Police in the UK taking bribes? Shock! horror! – And the Pope is a Catholic?

The system-wide corruption within the Metropolitan Police in the 1960s was supposedly partially cleaned-up.

Bollocks.

On 4th December 1997, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon gave evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee and said there were around 100-250 corrupt officers in the Met. By “corrupt” he meant seriously corrupt – they dealt drugs, helped arrange armed robberies etc.

Condon is also the man who coined the phrase “noble cause corruption” – the idea that some police justifiably ‘bend the rules’ to get a conviction when officers ‘know’ the accused is guilty but do not have enough proof to convict. So it could be seen by some as “noble” to plant evidence, lie under oath and generally ‘fit up’ any ‘known villains’ when there is no actual evidence which would prove their guilt.

In Stoke Newington the police did, indeed, ‘fit up’ guilty drug dealers who would not otherwise have been imprisoned. But their motive was not to ‘clean up’ the area but to clear away the opposition as police officers were themselves dealing hard drugs. Whether this comes within Sir Paul Condon’s definition of “noble cause corruption” I am not sure.

In 1998, the Telegraph got hold of (and one wonders how) a confidential document containing the minutes of a meeting organised by the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS). It quoted this police document as saying: “corrupt officers exist throughout the UK police service… Corruption may have reached ‘Level 2’, the situation which occurs in some third world countries.”

I once asked someone who had managed a ‘massage parlour’ – in other words, a brothel – how he had avoided getting raided by the police. He looked at me as if I was mad:

“Cos we fucking paid the Old Bill and gave them free services,” he said.

In Britain today, it remains a fact of life – as it always has been throughout my life – that you always have to pay The Bill.

Last night’s TV news shows reported that today the police would arrest former News of the World editor Andy Coulson. Now where would they have got that story from? Only the police would know. And today he was arrested.

Was the tip-off paid-for or was it just a nudge-nudge case of You do me a favour; I’ll do you a favour?

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Steve Coogan to play porn baron Paul Raymond in new Winterbottom movie?

Apparently plans are “well advanced” for Steve Coogan to play British porn baron Paul Raymond in a film directed by the extraordinarily prolific Michael Winterbottom – they previously worked together on the excellent 24 Hour Party People in which Coogan impersonated Tony Wilson to a tee. I encountered Tony Wilson when I was working at Granada TV and Coogan’s voice was uncannily spot-on though I found the hair strangely unsettling. Paul Raymond had a hairstyle even more extravagant than Tony Wilson, so this could be the start of a movie hair trilogy.

The planned new movie – currently called Paul Raymond’s Wonderful World of Erotica – is based on Paul Willetts’ biography Members Only: The Life and Times of Paul Raymond.

Willetts said he originally wanted to entitle his book Panties Inferno after a long-ago American burlesque revue but, mystifyingly, there were legal problems.

I heard about both the planned movie and the book title last night at a publicity event for the book on a suitably sweaty night in Soho. Other long-ago US burlesque show titles loved by Willetts because they tried to make strip shows classy were Julius Teaser and Anatomy & Cleopatra.

Those were the days.

Paul Raymond also tried to make strip shows seem classy – “nudity without crudity” was the phrase he used. And he is a perfect movie subject – larger than life and with pretensions beyond his art. The best biographies are often akin to naff 1950s travelogues:

Paul Raymond – Land of Contrasts…

When he was 13, he wanted to be a Catholic priest – so maybe his later porn career ironically turned out to be less sexually seedy than it might have done. And, in latter days, he bankrolled Mark Thatcher’s failed motor racing career. Perhaps as a thankyou, he was once invited to Downing Street by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as “an exemplary entrepreneur”.

When he got rich, he inevitably bought a boat and even tried to give that class by naming it ‘Get ‘em Off’ – but in Latin. His girlfriend Fiona Richmond’s mother was, at the time, a teacher in a convent and got the nuns to translate the words into Latin, though quite how she managed this without suspicions being aroused remains a complete mystery to me.

I only went to the Raymond Revuebar once, in the 1980s, when it was hosting alternative comedy shows. My clear memory is that regular comedy evenings were being run there by a young Eddie Izzard, though a quick Google tells me it was the Comic Strip.

Who knows?

In its early days, alternative comedy in the UK overlapped with dodgy Soho clubs.

In his early days, before the Revuebar opened, Paul Raymond had been a theatrical agent/producer with a winning formula he called ‘the comic, the conjurer and the girl with her tits out’.

In an interview in a 1969 LWT series called On The Record, Paul Raymond was interviewed by Alan Watson and rather bizarrely compared stripping to stand-up comedy. He said (I paraphrase): “Comedians tell gags to get laughs. Stripping is like comedy. If the act isn’t having the desired effect, then the stripper has to work harder.”

No wonder Margaret Thatcher thought he was an exemplary entrepreneur.

But the character Paul Willetts chatted about from the Soho ‘scene’ of that time who most interested me was not Paul Raymond but his acquaintance Paul Lincoln, an Australian who made his name in the ring as wrestler Dr Death, then started and co-owned the legendary 2i’s coffee bar in Old Compton Street, Soho – birthplace of UK Rock n Roll.

Paul Lincoln died in January this year but, back when Paul Raymond was starting his seminal Revuebar in Walker’s Court in 1958 – allegedly the first strip club in Britain – Lincoln was promoting wrestling bouts around the country as well as running the 2i’s.

The two Pauls – Raymond and Lincoln – had a falling-out over an allegedly genuine German aristocrat – a baron – who wrestled on Lincoln’s UK circuit. The baron lived in a flat above the 2i’s and had a pet cheetah which he took for walks in Hyde Park.

These were innocent days.

The Raymond Revuebar, at the time, had novelty acts performing in its entrance area and Raymond effectively nicked the baron from Lincoln and started having wrestling bouts in the Revuebar entrance. Not only that, but he got the baron to train his cheetah to join the strippers on stage and undo girls’ undergarments with its teeth.

These were, indeed, the much more innocent, golden days before Health & Safety rules kicked in.

The Raymond Revuebar also reportedly featured a horse removing girls’ underwear with its teeth – sugar lumps were attached to relevant parts of the underwear to encourage the horse.

What encouraged the cheetah or how they got the horse into the club I don’t know.

Some of life’s most intriguing questions are doomed never to be answered.

(There is a follow-up to this blog HERE; and the comedy industry website Chortle picked up on this blog as a news item HERE.)

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What makes a cult movie? Does it just have to be ramshackle, rickety and unhinged? Like these.

Yesterday morning, I received a DVD in the post of the 2006 movie Special – Specioprin Hyrdrochloride which mad inventor John Ward had sent me.

According to the cover, Nuts magazine called the film “A huge cult hit”

I must have blinked. I have never heard of Special.

I guess, ironically, that is often the definition of a cult film.

Last night, I saw a special screening at the Museum of London of probably the biggest cult film ever made in Britain: The Wicker Man.

It is a film linked to one of the reasons I stopped drinking and I have family connections with its shooting.

It is often called a horror film but, despite Christopher Lee’s involvement as both actor and producer, it is not. It is just plain weird to an extraordinary extent; it has been called “a pagan musical” which, while being totally and utterly misleading, is not too far from the truth.

In fact, it is not as weird as director Robin Hardy’s next film The Fantasist – released a whole 16 years later in 1989 – that one takes the biscuit as the only film I have ever seen anywhere near Michael Powell’s bizarre 1950 movie Gone to Earth: one of the few movies which manages to directly link sex and fox hunting. Alright, maybe the ONLY movie to directly link sex and fox hunting.

For maybe the first 60 minutes of both films I thought This is the worst acting I have even seen in my entire life and The direction of this odd movie is more than a bit ropey. By the end of both, I had got half-used to the non-naturalistic style. But only just.

I think The Fantasist lasted maybe one week in Leicester Square before it was quickly taken off. When I saw it there, I was the only person in the cinema. I saw Gone to Earth at a one-off screening at The Cornerhouse in Manchester. When I left at the end, I recognised someone I worked with at Granada TV who had also sat through the movie. We looked at each other, speechless, united in our confused disbelief.

Neither The Fantasist nor Gone to Earth has really reached cult status. In fact, The Fantasist has simply sunk without trace.

Umberto Eco, the Italian who has an opinion on everything, apparently says a cult film has to be “ramshackle, rickety and unhinged” and that certainly covers The Fantasist and Gone To Earth.

When I first saw The Wicker Man, I definitely thought it was very ramshackle, very rickety, very rough-edged indeed and that the director was almost certainly unhinged. Since then, I’ve see it five or six more times (there are at least three different versions of it) and it gets better on repeated screenings. Though no less weird.

One of the problems is that  you only realise on a second and third screening just how good and how tight the script is. You have to have seen the entire film to understand why you are watching what you are watching. It was scripted by Anthony Shaffer, who also wrote Sleuth; his brother Peter Schaffer wrote Equus and Amadeus. Those are a couple of siblings who must have had interesting parents.

Even the direction of The Wicker Man – more than slightly eccentric at best – seems better and tighter on repeated screenings

The Wicker Man was originally released in the UK as the bottom half of a double bill with Nic Roeg’s much over-rated Don’t Look Now.

As I mentioned in a blog last year, at the time The Wicker Man was released by British Lion Films in 1973, Michael Deeley, the highly-talented and highly-regarded head of British Lion, reportedly said that it was the worst film he had ever seen. Years afterwards, the equally highly-regarded Cinefantastique magazine devoted at entire issue to The Wicker Man, famously calling it “the Citizen Kane of horror films”, while the Los Angeles Times said it was: “Witty & scary! No one who sits through it to the end is likely to find it easy to shake off.”

One of the most impressive things in it, as far as I’m concerned, is Edward Woodward’s spot-on West Coast Scottish accent. Britt Ekland’s accent is pretty good too, though she has the advantage of being Scandinavian – always a bonus with the bizarre Western Isles accent.

I have a particular affinity for the The Wicker Man because some of the movie’s scenes were filmed in Whithorn, Wigtownshire, where both my parents went to school. And the climactic sequence with the Wicker Man itself takes place on Burrowhead, off which one of my dead relative’s ashes were tossed into the sea – not because of the film but because he had spent many happy childhood days there.

Also the film – which is so bizarre it must have turned many people to drink or drugs – ironically contributed to my giving up drink. I was never much of a drinker: in my late teens/early twenties, I drank weak lager to be sociable because it was less horrible than Bitter. All I really liked was vodka drowned in orange juice or champagne drowned in orange juice – and they were a bit pricey as everyday drinks.

But I was reviewing films when The Wicker Man came out and the press officer at its distributors British Lion was clearly a very intelligent man who had simply been drinking for too long – it was part of his job – and it appeared to have softened his thinking processes. The sharpness of mind which he presumably once had had melted away. It’s one of the downsides of being a PR man.

I thought I don’t enjoy drinking anyway, so why bother when this can be the outcome?

So I stopped.

Ever since then, because I don’t drink, people have thought I am weird.

Well, OK, there might be other reasons.

But if you want really weird, see The Wicker Man.

And if you want REALLY REALLY weird, see The Fantasist and Gone to Earth.

Ramshackle, rickety, unhinged. With knobs on.

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An anti-Semitic and possibly sexist story – unless it’s true, in which case it’s just very quirky

When I was working at Granada TV in Manchester in the 1980s, there was a story I was told by more than one person which was supposedly true, though who knows if it was?

It could well have been true.

Relevant to this story is the fact that the owner/boss at Granada was Sidney Bernstein, who was Jewish and who, though very liberal in his political and social outlook, could also sometimes be slightly strait-laced morally.

Granada, like all TV companies, had people working through the night in various parts of the building, doing all sorts of things. ‘Mr Sidney’ had an apartment on the roof of the Granada building in Manchester and it was not unknown for him to wander round the office building at night in his slippers.

But, on the night in question, it was a security man who was wandering amiably about the building, making sure that everything which should be locked was locked and that everything was generally safe and secure.

This particular night, in one office, the security man found a couple having sex over a desk.

He was duty bound to report it, which he did the following morning.

Discussions were had about what to do because, clearly, this was not behaviour to be encouraged; for one thing, the couple should have been working, not making the beast with two backs.

But what to do about it?

The decision went all the way up to Sidney Bernstein – literally “up”, as he lived on the roof.

“Sack the man!” Sidney said. “We can’t have this sort of thing going on!”

However, it was then explained to him that the man was a key member of staff in a very complicated on-going production and he could not easily be replaced. If he were sacked, it would stall the production process and it would cost a fortune.

“So, if we can’t sack him, sack the girl!” Sidney countered.

But it was pointed out to him that this might be seen as sexist.

“Well, sell the desk!” said Sidney.

And they did.

Granada sold the desk.

At a profit.

It was told to me as true by more than one person.

You’re right.

It can’t be true, can it?

Sometimes I’m just too innocent for my own good.

In the early years of Granada TV, every office had one – and only one – picture on the wall. It was of P.T.Barnum, to remind everyone employed by the company that – even if they were working on a serious programme – they were in showbusiness.

That is true.

Granada nourished myths.

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POSTSCRIPT

Blog reader Mike Taylor tells me:

“I’ve often heard a similar story about Lord Reith at the BBC, however in that story it was a high profile presenter they couldn’t sack. In this story though Lord Reith had the desk burnt.”

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Filed under Racism, Sex, Television