Posts tagged ‘1970s’


Why I don’t find the Asiatic characters on Little Britain and Come Fly with Me racist

11.06.2020


BBC

I have a problem with blackface and yellowface, generally when there are more than capable actors who could have taken the role, but I make exceptions in some situations.
   Take, for example, the news that Little Britain and Come Fly with Me are being removed from streaming services because of what are now deemed racist portrayals. Matt Lucas, who plays half the roles in each, has even said that the shows were right for the time but they’re not what he would make today. Yet I don’t find myself being troubled by his and David Walliams’s characters, since in both they are equal-opportunity about it, even going so far as to address racism head-on with Come Fly with Me’s Ian Foot, a clearly racist character.
   I always viewed everyone from Ting Tong to Precious as caricatures viewed through a British lens, and it is through their comedy that they shine a light on the nation’s attitudes. Matt and David might not like me grouping their work in with Benny Hill’s Chow Mein character, who, while offensive to many Chinese, tended to expose the discomfort of the English “straight man” character, usually portrayed by Henry McGee. I can’t think of one where Mein doesn’t get the upper hand. I like to think these characters all come from the same place.
   Sometimes, especially in comedy, you need people of the same race as most of the audience to point to their nation’s attitudes (and often intolerance)—it’s often more powerful for them as it’s not seen as preaching. Where I have a problem is when characters are founded on utterly false stereotypes, e.g. the bad Asian driver, the loud black man.
   And can you imagine the furore if every character portrayed by Matt and David in Come Fly with Me was white? They would be sharply criticized for not being representative of the many cultures at a modern British airport.
   I don’t turn a blind eye to brownface in Hong Kong (Chinese actors playing Indians) or the mangled Cantonese used to dub white actors, but the same rules apply: if it shines a light on a situation, helps open our collective eyes, and make us better people, then surely we can accept those?
   I Tweeted tonight something I had mentioned on this blog many years ago: Vince Powell’s sitcom Mind Your Language, set in 1970s Britain, where Barry Evans’s Jeremy Brown character, an ESL teacher, has to deal with his highly multicultural and multiracial class. The joke is always, ultimately, on Mr Brown, or the principal, Miss Courtenay, for their inability to adjust to the new arrivals and to understand their cultures. Maybe it’s rose-coloured glasses, but I don’t remember the students being shown as second-class; they often help Jeremy Brown out of a pickle.
   Importantly, many of the actors portrayed their own races, and, if the DVD commentary is to be believed, they were often complimented by people of the same background for their roles.
   Powell based some of his stories on real life: a foreign au pair worked for them and brought home her ESL classmates, and he began getting ideas for the sitcom.
   However, at some stage, this show was deemed to be racist. As I Tweeted tonight, ‘I loved Mind Your Language but white people said the depictions of POC were racist. Hang on, isn’t it more racist to presume we can’t complain ourselves? Most of the actors in that depicted their own race.
   ‘I can only speak for my own, and I didn’t find the Chinese character racist. Because there were elements of truth in there, she was portrayed by someone of my ethnicity, and the scripts were ultimately joking about the British not adjusting well to immigrant cultures.
   ‘Which, given how Leavers campaigned about Brexit, continues to be true. I get why some blackface and yellowface stuff needs to go but can’t we have a say?
   ‘Tonight on TV1 news, there were two white people commenting on the offensiveness of minority portrayals in Little Britain and Come Fly with Me. I hope someone sees the irony in that.’
   However, if any minorities depicted by Matt and David are offended by their work—Ting Tong, Asuka and Nanako are the only Asiatic characters they do that I can think of, so east Asians aren’t even that well represented—of course I will defer to your judgement. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like for someone of Pakistani heritage to see Matt’s Taaj Manzoor, or someone with a Jamaican heritage to see Precious Little. However, unlike some commentators, I do not presume that members of their community are powerless to speak up, and they are always welcome on this forum.

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A concert that takes you home

17.04.2020

One bonus of the lockdown was the live Easter Day concert held by Hong Kong’s own Sam Hui (許冠傑), perhaps fairly described as the king of Cantopop.
   I had no idea this was even on if it weren’t for the fire at the Baxter’s Knob transmitter that took out television transmission in our area. Faced with the prospect of no television during lockdown, and as I’m not a cat in an NZI commercial, I hooked up my laptop to the old LG monitor, relocated to the lounge, and streamed that evening.
   We put on TV1 but later that night, I headed to RTHK TV31, a government-funded channel in Hong Kong, and came across the commercial for Sam’s live concert at 5 p.m. HKT on Easter Day, which translated comfortably to 9 p.m. NZST.
   Hong Kong has some COVID-19 restrictions, with the safe distance a lower 1·5 m, though most people wear masks. Even TV hosts are masked on their programmes. There isn’t a big physical audience for the concert: just Sam, his guitar, sitting atop a building on the Kowloon side, with the Hong Kong Island business district skyline as the backdrop. The host is seated a suitable distance away. Some folks are seated in a roped-off area, sitting a bit closer, though masked. There’s a four-camera set-up. For such a massive star, this might have been his smallest physical audience, though on YouTube, the concert netted a six-figure audience (160,000 when I looked) around the world, and no doubt others will have watched on their television sets, while I watched on TV31’s stream. One source suggests a total viewing audience of over 2 million.
   Sam’s still got the same voice, despite being in his 70s—for the most part, he sounds like the young guy in his 20s that I watched on TV before I emigrated, and whose cassette tapes I cherished when they arrived from Hong Kong in the first few years we were in Aotearoa.
   For someone who missed contact with my birthplace, Sam’s music was a connection, something that took me back, a tiny slice of “home” that was both grounding and enjoyable.
   In those early days, Sam’s music struck a chord with HKers because he often sang about the working class, and in plain language. Few artists had done this at the time; most lyrics tended to be in properly structured Chinese, so Sam broke new ground by singing colloquially. A skilled composer and lyricist, we saw him regularly performing his own songs on programmes such as 歡樂今宵 (Enjoy Yourself Tonight), a variety show that was a big hit back in the 1970s.
   When he broke into films with his brothers, he was frequently cast as the hero type, and could genuinely claim to ‘star in it, write the theme tune, sing the theme tune.’
   His solo career as an actor hit a high in the 1980s and as the video cassette boom began, I indulged in the 最佳拍檔 (Aces Go Places) series. Most kids in the west watching Hong Kong cinema knew about Bruce Lee or that new guy Jackie Chan, but we locals knew that Sam was who you watched if you wanted decent entertainment with a mix of action and humour—and the obligatory Sam Hui theme tune.
   Watching the Easter Day concert brought back a lot of those feelings of connection, and Sam performed plenty of those earlier hits that anyone my age would know. You never lose your connection to the land in which you were born. Hong Kong might look different to how it did in the 1970s—the tallest building then, Connaught Tower, is dwarfed by the International Commerce Centre a short distance away—but the music took you back, and thanks to the cleaner air during the pandemic, the skies even looked as clear as they did back then. The city’s character remains intact, the concert a reminder of what unites Hong Kong people both there and abroad. We have a distinct culture, one that evolved through the will and the freedom of our people, that I hope will go on regardless of one’s political stripes.

The monitor, incidentally, was much easier to view than the television, with softer colours and less brightness. No matter how I played with the settings on the TV, I couldn’t get them to match. I suspect the TV has a lot of blue light, which makes prolonged viewing difficult. I notice that one can buy blue-light glasses, highlighting once again where we have gone wrong: we humans shouldn’t be adapting to technology, it’s technology that should be adapting to us. The LG (LED) monitor isn’t new, so clearly the technology is available to make TVs calmer on the eyes. Yet no one touts this as a selling proposition. Head into an appliance shop (outside of one’s lockdown) and all the TVs are set on the brightest setting, which would completely turn me off buying one.
   Friends tell me that OLED is the way to go in terms of getting the right setting. One of these days I’m going to look into it, but I will bet you that no one who sells these things in the shops will know what a “calm” screen is. They’ll just get excited about forkay, or maybe even atekay, not someone who wants 32 inches or less who wants to preserve their eyesight. ‘Big! Big! Big!’

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Roger Nichols performs the original Hart to Hart theme

13.03.2020

In 2013, I wrote a small note on my Tumblog about Roger Nichols’ theme to the TV series Hart to Hart. The music was played as the opening and closing themes in the pilot, and as an incidental theme to many episodes later, but few remember it. I’ve even seen websites proclaim that the Mark Snow theme that most of us know was the ‘original’, not unlike how The Love Boat attempts to exorcise the two pilot films starring Ted Hamilton and Quinn Redeker as the captains.
   The tune was later commercially released by the Carpenters as ‘Now’, among the final songs recorded by Karen Carpenter. However, that was with a different set of lyrics, and the original by Leslie Bricusse has never been heard. I suggested in 2013 that the closest might have been Mariya Takeuchi’s recording in Japanese, though that has since vanished from YouTube.
   However, there is now a post on YouTube at almost the original tempo, performed by Nichols himself, but the Bricusse lyrics remain unheard. You’d think that there’d be a fan somewhere who has the inside story.

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The 1970s: when TV shows were New

12.11.2019

As a child of the 1970s, I was exposed to this English word: new. Now, before you say that that isn’t anything special, for some reason, in the ’70s, there was an obsession with newness. It wasn’t like the news (by this I mean the plural of new) of Amsterdam or Zealand, but an adjective that was adapted to really emphasize that you should pay attention and consume, consume, consume.
   Perhaps the earliest exposure was a Tomica model I had: the Blue Whale Crown. The base plate and box read ‘Toyota New Crown’. Even as a child, I wondered: what happens to the old Crown models? And what happens to this Crown model when a new new Crown comes out? It didn’t matter: Toyota wanted us to live in the present and bask in the newness, and back in the early 1970s, this Crown certainly looked like nothing that had come from Toyota prior, or since. It was almost saying, ‘Yes, we know it looks weird, but hey, it’s “new”, so that means it’s good!’
   The real car flopped (relatively speaking; they still shifted plenty given top Japanese managers still needed transportation), and it was the last generation of Crown to be sold in the US, but to me it remains iconic, even if it is garish. After a mere three years on sale, very short even by Japanese standards, its ‘New’ successor emerged in 1974 with all the idiosyncrasies gone. Conservatism ruled in this segment, at least till fairly recently. The old toys hung round, still ‘new’, so even if your parents bought you one in 1975 or 1976, you could still relish the adjective.
   It wasn’t a case of Japlish. It was all over television as well. When we emigrated here, the Anglophone television introduced me to The New Dick Van Dyke Show. Never mind that I had never seen the old Dick van Dyke show at this point. This was the white-haired man doing the New Zealand Fire Service PSAs. Everyone knew him. And why was it The New? Because we needed to be told that despite the same network in its home country (CBS), Dick van Dyke wasn’t playing Rob Petrie, but a new character altogether. Please don’t take this as a continuation of the previous one.




Here are the News: The New Dick Van Dyke Show; The New Perry Mason; and The New Avengers.

   Van Dyke, in his autobiography, recounts a fan coming up to him berating him for leaving Laura (Mary Tyler Moore’s character from the earlier The Dick Van Dyke Show), so it’s not as though the qualifier worked; goodness knows how the same fan would have computed The Mary Tyler Moore Show, on the same night as The New Dick Van Dyke Show. Maybe that was proof that Rob had left Laura or vice versa and they were forging ahead with their separate lives.
   The New Dick Van Dyke Show wasn’t alone. A couple of years later, there was The New Perry Mason (1973), starring Monte Markham in the title role (though no one ever called him ‘New’). The Fred Steiner theme was nowhere to be heard. I’ve seen a few of these, and they are pretty good in a 1970s sort of way—which is to say more exterior filming and more flash cars (product placement was growing) on the back lot and on location. To make it more confusing, when Perry Mason returned in a bunch of TV movies in the 1980s, starting with Perry Mason Returns, it wasn’t Markham, but original actor Raymond Burr once more. You see, it wasn’t The New Perry Mason Returns.
   The New Perry Mason starred a different actor, so I can comprehend its Newness, and at least the presence of another actor underscored this. It didn’t do that well, which is probably why hardly anyone remembers it. Probably more people remember Markham as the Seven Million Dollar Man. I’m not kidding.
   One that I do remember extremely well was The New Avengers, in 1976. Again, given when I was born, I had no exposure to The Avengers, but The New Avengers was a favourite of mine then, and I bought the DVDs when I saw them decades later. Unlike the other two series, this was a direct continuation, though it wasn’t explained just how John Steed returned to Earth after Tara King blasted them both into space when they had their Endgame in 1969; but we do know they enjoyed Laurent Perrier champagne when they got back. It’s a third definition of new as far as the TV shows were concerned, with the same motive: if you want to be seen as in, hip and groovy, come watch the new.
   Perhaps more obscure were one-off TV movies: Halloween with the New Addams Family (1977), which had the same cast (grandmother aside, as actress Blossom Rock was ill), and where the new serves no useful purpose other than attempting to sell us on newness where there is none; and The New Maverick (1978), which sees the return of James Garner as Bret and Jack Kelly as Bart, though there’s no sign of Roger Moore as Beau (presumably too busy being James Bond) and Robert Colbert as Brent, but it did introduce a first cousin once removed called Ben Maverick (Charles Frank). I imagine Ben is the new Maverick, and a short-lived TV series, Young Maverick, did appear afterwards.
   No one really did much more New shows after this—it seemed to be a 1970s phenomenon. With one exception: CI5: the New Professionals in the 1990s, an attempt to recapture the glory days of The Professionals but winding up more like episodes of Bugs. There, new sort of meant old, reminding us that some of the writing and directing was out of step with late 1990s’ audience expectations; and, with the greatest of respect, showed that certain parties were past their prime. By then, we had had seven episodes of Bodyguards, which perhaps showed how a modern-day Professionals might be. All that needed was to be “laddified” for the FHM audience, at least in theory, and certainly, after 9-11, there may have been some scope for an élite, globally coordinated, anti-terrorist squad (which is what The New Professionals suggests the fictional CI5 unit morphed into, probably to accommodate its backers and the South African location filming in some episodes). But in 1998, there was less of an appetite for revival shows, especially when the top-rated series were ER and Friends, and the Americans were a year away from The Sopranos. Britain, meanwhile, was gripped with the tension of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and the FHM lads were more than catered for by Babes in the Wood.

PS., December 6: How could I forget this item of regular childhood viewing? From the US, in 1979.

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First night

16.09.2019

Forty-three years ago (September 16, 1976), we arrived in this country.
   As we flew from Sydney and into Wellington, my Dad pointed out the houses below to me. ‘See, those are the sorts of houses New Zealanders live in,’ he said. I thought it was odd they lived in two-storey homes and not apartment blocks. I was three at the time, so I had no clue about the population density of Aotearoa.
   I frequently point out just how cloudy and grey that day was. I don’t remember a summer of ’76–’77, just as no one here remembers a summer of ’16–’17. Only one other car, a Holden station wagon, went along Calabar Road in the opposite direction as we left Wellington Airport.
   Before we departed Hong Kong days earlier, my maternal grandmother—the person closest to me at that point and whom I would desperately miss for the next 18 months—gave me two very special Corgi models at the airport, large 1:36 scale Mercedes-Benz 240Ds. I said goodbye to her expecting to see her in weeks.
   As I was put to bed that night by my father—it wasn’t usually his role—he asked if I wanted to see the cars, since I had been so good on the flights. He got them out and showed me, and I was allowed to have a quick look before they were put back into his carry-on bag.
   None of us knew this was the trip where we’d wind up in Aotearoa. Mum had applied—I went with her to the New Zealand High Commission in Connaught Tower in Hong Kong to get the forms—but we had green cards to head to Tennessee. But, my mother, ever careful, didn’t want to put all her eggs into one basket. And like a lot of Hong Kongers at the time, they had no desire to hang around till 1997 and find themselves under communist rule.
   It was a decision that would change our lives.
   Whilst here, word got back home—and then out to us—that New Zealand immigration had approved our application. In the days when air travel cost a fortune, my parents considered our presence here serendipitous and decided to stay. What point was there to fly back if one’s only task was to pack?
   It’s hard not to reminisce on this anniversary, and consider this family with their lives ahead of them.
   I’ve had it good. Mum never wanted me to suffer as she had during the famine behind the Bamboo Curtain, and to many in the mid-1970s, getting to the Anglosphere was a dead cert to having a better life.
   I had a great education, built a career and a reputation, and met my partner here, so I can’t complain. And I couldn’t have asked for more love and support than I had from my immediate family.
   My grandmother eventually joined us under the family reunion policy in 1978. My mother and I were her only living descendants.
   Despite the happiness, you don’t think, on that night in 1976, that in 18 years my mother would die from cancer and that my widowed father, at 80, would develop Alzheimer’s disease, something of which there is no record in the family.
   Despite both parents having to make the decision to send a parent to a rest home, when it came time for me to do the same thing—and it was the right decision given the care Dad needed—it was very tough.
   A friend asked me how I felt, and I said I felt like ‘the meanest c*** on earth,’ even though I knew I would have made the same decision regardless of other factors as his disease progressed.
   Immigrant families stick together because we often have the sense of “us versus the world”. When Racist ’80s Man tells you to go back to where you came from, it’s not an experience you can easily share with others who aren’t immigrants and people of colour. So as our numbers diminished—my grandmother in 1990 and my mother in 1994—it was Dad and me versus the world, and that was how we saw things for the decades that followed.
   That first night he went to live in a home was the same night I flashed back to the evening of September 16, 1976—and how impossibly hard it would have been to foresee how things would turn out.
   He’s since changed homes twice and found himself in excellent care at Te Hopai, though he now needs to be fed and doesn’t detect as much to his right. The lights are going out.
   It’s a far cry from being the strong one looking after your three-year-old son and making sure he could fall asleep in this new country, where things were in such a state of flux.

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Reflections about Lee Iacocca—unfortunately, not all of it is positive

03.07.2019


The car Lee Iacocca will be remembered for, the 1965 Ford Mustang on the right.

Before I found out about Lee Iacocca’s passing, on the same day I Tweeted about one of the cars he was behind when he was president of Ford: the 1975 US Granada. Basically, Iacocca understood that Americans wanted style. That really was at the core of his thinking. It’s also why the Granada—really a warmed-over, restyled Falcon that had its roots in the late 1950s—was always compared to Mercedes-Benz models. It was a mass-market American pastiche of the German car, with the same size. It had a grille and hood ornament. But it was frightfully slow, underpowered, and heavy, one of the most inefficient cars that Americans could buy.
   It’s the antithesis of the Mustang, which Iacocca arguably spearheaded, though in his autobiography, he noted that so many people claimed to be the father of the Mustang that he didn’t want to be seen with the mother (or words to that effect—the book’s next to my partner who’s already gone to sleep as I write).
   That was a stylish car, too. It was a Falcon-based coupé. But it could be specified with the right power to match its looks, and it was priced and marketed brilliantly. Ford hit a home run, and Iacocca’s reputation as a car industry guru was sealed.
   He was also the man who came up with the idea for the Lincoln Continental Mark III. No, not the 1950s one (which technically wasn’t a Lincoln), the one that came out in the 1960s (Ford didn’t really follow a sequential numbering system—remember it went Mark, Mark II, III, IV, V, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII). The idea: stick a Rolls-Royce grille on a Thunderbird. It beat the Cadillac Eldorado, and Iacocca finished the ’60s on a high.
   I felt that history hadn’t been kind to the Mustang II, which also came out under Iacocca’s watch. The fact was it was a sales’ hit, at a time when Detroit was reeling from the 1973 fuel crisis. No V8s initially, which in the 21st century looks like a misstep; in 1974 it would have looked smart. Growing up, we didn’t think the II was as bad as history remembers.
   But the US range was, in some ways, lazy. GM was downsizing but Iacocca noted that people were still buying big cars. To give the impression of downsizing, Ford just renamed the Torino the LTD II. Look, it’s a smaller LTD! Not really: here was yet another car on old tech with another pastiche luxury-car grille.
   When Iacocca was fired from Ford, he went to Chrysler, and pulled off his greatest sales’ job yet: to secure loan guarantees from the Carter administration and turn the company around with a range of modern, front-wheel-drive cars. The K-car, and its derivatives, were a demonstration of great platform-sharing. He noted in his autobiography that Chrysler even worked out a way to shave a tiny amount from the length to fit more Ks on a railroad car. And Iacocca’s penchant for style re-emerged: not long after the original Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries, there were fancied up Chrysler LeBarons, and a woody wagon, then a convertible, the first factory US one since the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado. Most importantly, Chrysler got the T-115 minivans on sale before Renault got its Espace out, though after Nissan launched the first MPV, the smaller Prairie. Nevertheless, the minivan was an efficient family vehicle, and changed the face of motoring. Iacocca was right when he believed people want style, because it’s the SUV that has succeeded the MPV and minivan. SUVs are hardly efficient in most circumstances, but here we are in 2019, with minivan sales projected to fall, though Chrysler has managed to stay the market leader in its own country.
   Chrysler paid back its loans years early, and it was under Iacocca that the company acquired American Motors Corp., getting the Jeep brand (the real prize) in the process. And it’s thanks to François Castaing and others who came across from AMC that Chrysler wound up with its LH sedans, the “cab-forward” models that proved to be one of the company’s hits in the 1990s.
   While having saved Chrysler, it was burdened with acquisitions, and in Iacocca’s final full year as Chairman Lee, the company posted a $795 million loss, with the recession partly to blame. The press joked that LH stood for Last Hope.
   It’s an incredible record, with some amazing hits. They do outnumber the duds. But what really mars it is an incident of sexual harassment I learned some years ago that never appears in the official biographies. Now, I don’t have a sworn affidavit, so you can treat this as hearsay. But until I heard that from a good friend—the woman who was harassed—Iacocca was a personal hero of mine. I bought the autobiography. I could forgive the financial disgrace Chrysler was in for 1991—one year out of nearly a dozen isn’t a bad run, even though the writing was on the wall when so much money was spent on acquisitions, hurting working capital.
   I know, his daughters and their kids won’t appreciate what I just said. That it’s wrong to speak ill of the dead, especially when they can’t answer back. You could say that that was the era he was from, in an industry steeped in male privilege—his boss at Ford, Henry the second, was carrying on an affair behind his wife’s back. You might say that one incident that I know of shouldn’t mar this incredible business record. He has left his mark on history. It’s just when it happens to one of your own friends that it’s closer to home, and it’s hard for me to offer the effortless praise I would normally have done if not for that knowledge.

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There must be a different metric system on our roads these days

24.05.2019


The new metric system: I’m following the car in front at the correct distance. Cf. the drivers in the other lanes.

Now that I live in the northern suburbs, I have to go on the motorway far more frequently. It’s become apparent that New Zealand has had a complete change of measurement system and I was unaware of it.
   I thought we were on the metric system but apparently, there is a new metric system at play these days.
   When the “smart” motorway speed limit signs display 60 km/h, a handful of drivers, like me, go at the old 60 km/h. But there is evidently a new 60 km/h, which we oldies called ‘80 km/h’. If the other drivers are not breaking the law, the majority of cars in this country appear to have had speedometers newly calibrated to the new metric system. When the sign says 80 km/h, they will travel at between 90 and 100 km/h. It doesn’t quite explain why, when the sign says 100 km/h, so many drive at 90 km/h, but that’s the incredible nature of the new metric system: unlike the old, it’s not proportional.
   I’m not entirely sure how the system converts metres or seconds, as I seem to do double the following distance of the majority of drivers. From memory, it’s 40 m at 100 km/h, or, if you want to adopt the 1970s slogan from the UK, or the one uttered by the late Peter Brock, ‘Only a fool breaks the two-second rule.’ The new metric system at play in New Zealand means that the new 40 m is the same as what we old-timers called 20 m. Or, if they’re going by the clock, two seconds is what we used to call one second. I assume this new metric system also applies to penis length for men, so they aren’t too disappointed when their 7½ cm is now called 15 cm. Sounds so much bigger, doesn’t it, lads?
   Now, I could be wrong about there being a new metric system in this country. It’s simply that many people don’t understand speed and distance, or how road signs work. If you are male and think that 20 m really is 40 m, then maybe you have a small dick and have been convincing yourself otherwise, and the problem is multiplied on the roads. Sadly, however, this lack of awareness of time and distance isn’t exclusively a male thing.
   As a nation, we’ve been so busy for such a long time blaming “Asian drivers” that our standards have dropped like stones. It wasn’t that long ago when we Wellingtonians mocked Aucklanders for their ‘Merge like a zip’ signs in the mid-2000s—yet it seems an increasing number of us in the capital are now just as clueless on how traffic merges into a single lane.
   All this makes you wonder if Greg Murphy was right when he suggested we should re-sit our driving test every 10 years.

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Remakes: Widows joins other Euston Films series

04.11.2018

I see British filmmaker Steve McQueen has remade Lynda La Plante’s Widows.
   I was younger than he was when it aired, and didn’t appreciate the storylines to the same extent, though I have recollections of it.
   What I did recall was a Smith and Jones sketch, which had a voiceover along these lines: ‘From the makers of The Sweeney and Minder, Eusless Films presents Widows: exactly the same, but with women in it.’
   The reality was that La Plante wrote Widows because she was unimpressed with how men wrote female parts in scripts (she was the actress Lynda Marchal, and I still remember a small role she had in The Professionals). It was actually ground-breaking. Verity Lambert produced.
   I hope McQueen does well with his remake, with Viola Davis, and the setting shifted to Chicago.
   I worry a bit given that Hollywood also remade Edge of Darkness or State of Play: pretty decent miniseries that weren’t as good when transplanted and turned into feature films, according to period reviews.
   I saw the former and while it was a pacy actioner, even as far as employing the same New Zealand director, Martin Campbell, it lacked the depth and suspense of the original; I daren’t even see the latter as the original remains one of my favourite miniseries and I don’t want to see it butchered, even if Scottish director Kevin Macdonald helmed it. It was a wave of American efforts to remake anything with John Simm and Philip Glenister.
   But tonight I did think about the other famous Euston Films series that were remade or reimagined.
   The Sweeney was remade but with the action still in South London. The 2012 version by Nick Love had a tight budget but plenty of violence, perhaps recapturing the grittiness that audiences would have felt when they first saw the Armchair Cinema special of Regan. Ray Winstone, who guested on the original, took the lead, and channelled Jack Regan well; Ben Drew (Plan B) had even more of a coldness and wild tension on screen as George Carter than Dennis Waterman did. It’s perhaps best known for a car chase involving the crew from Top Gear, who took the opportunity to build a sketch around it during production. It wasn’t as special as the original, and I didn’t rush to repeat the DVD. Reviewers didn’t like it, but in my opinion it ranks above Sweeney!, the first attempt to turn the TV series into a silver screen film but using the original cast. There, we saw countless acts of violence explained away at the end in one meeting with Thaw and Michael Latimer’s characters after a plot that seemed to build up a complex conspiracy. Sweeney 2, by Troy Kennedy Martin (the brother of the creator), was far tenser and the better effort, and it was fun to spot the Ford press fleet vehicles with the VHK prefix on the number plates.

   Minder never went to the big screen, but a remake, or sequel, appeared in 2009, with Shane Richie and Lex Shrapnel. I sat through the first, found it tolerable, and at least in the spirit of the original, but it always felt like an imitation trying to live up to its forebear, not something that carved its own direction. Many don’t seem to remember that Minder was created as a vehicle for Dennis Waterman, not George Cole, even if more and more scripts wound up focusing on the latter’s Arthur Daley, leading to Waterman quitting the series. The 2009 series’ première followed on from that later formula, whereas to me it always required the two stars being on par with each other.

   So, will the Americanized Widows follow suit? Will it be ‘exactly the same, but with women in it,’ or, with McQueen as talented as he is, will it be a solid retelling with the same sense of ambiguity at the conclusion as the original? I might have to see it because of McQueen and screenwriter Gillian Flynn, and McQueen says he has been a fan of the series since he saw it as a teenager. Even the original Dolly Rawlins (Ann Mitchell) has a cameo.
   Now, who’ll star in a new Van der Valk?

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Just another Christmas for a staff nurse

22.07.2018

My late mother was a nurse. Before she was a midwife at Wellington Women’s Hospital, she was a staff nurse in wards 21 and 26 at Wellington Hospital.
   From what I remember, ward 21 was first, which meant she was working there some time between 1976 and 1978. This is a letter that she received from a Sheila Mahony. When I first blogged, I assumed it was from a patient, but a quick search suggests that there was a Sheila Mahony who was a supervisor there. I don’t know the story behind this, but between the lines you can work out that the kindness expressed here is typical of nurses. The letter is dated December 23, so this was likely in response to a gesture Mum made in the spirit of Christmas.


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Forced to take prime-time nostalgia trips

20.07.2018


‘There’s an old Polish proverb …’ I believe it’s ‘Reality television can’t stop the motorways in Warsaw from getting icy.’

I’ve always known what sort of telly I liked, and often that was at odds with what broadcasters put on. In the 1970s, my tastes weren’t too dissimilar from the general public’s, but as the years went on, they diverged from what New Zealand programmers believed we should watch.
   Shows I liked would prematurely disappear (Dempsey & Makepeace), only to return very late at night a decade later. Some only ever appeared late at night (Hustle), then vanish (in New Zealand, seasons 5 to 8 have never appeared on a terrestrial channel, and they have also never been released on DVD).
   We had a British expat visitor on Wednesday. He arrived here in 2008, and had no idea that TV1 had once been the home of British programming, and TV2 was where the Hollywood stuff went.
   By the late 2000s and early 2010s, I was watching either DVDs or finding a way to get to BBC Iplayer et al, because less and less of what was on offer had any appeal. We had boxed sets of Mission: Impossible, The Persuaders, and others.
   When the country switched to Freeview, I couldn’t be bothered getting a decoder. We were fine with online. Eventually, I did buy a TV set with Freeview, but only because the previous one conked out.
   On Thursday night, it became very apparent just how bad television had become here.
   Every English-language and Te Reo Māori terrestrial channel had unscripted drama, i.e. “reality” shows, or the occasional panel show or real-life event, other than Prime, showing the MacGyver remake.
   Who in the 1980s would have predicted that MacGyver would be the only scripted series on air during prime-time here between 7.30 and 8.30 p.m.?
   I realize the economics of television have changed, and there’s no such thing as a TVNZ drama department any more.
   Shows which might have had the whole country watching would be lucky to pull in a quarter of the audience today.
   But it is a sad reflection that the televised equivalent of the weekly gossip rag is what rates. The effort needed to produce quality drama is expensive, and not enough of us support it.
   I also imagine scripted Hollywood shows are cheaper than British ones, hence what we see on our screens is American—and why some kids these days now speak with American accents. Yet to some New Zealanders, Chinese-language signs on Auckland high streets are a bigger threat to the local culture. Really?
   In this household, we vote with our attention spans—and over the last month that has meant DVDs of Banacek and, in true 50 shades of Grade fashion, The Protectors. Sometimes, you feel it’s 1972 in this house—but at least the telly was better then.

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