Posts tagged ‘anniversary’


Twenty years on, the Hong Kong handover reminds us how impotent Britain proved to be

01.07.2017


Hong Kong’s skyline in 2008, photographed by Scrolllock.

Has it been 20 years since Dad and I sat in front of the telly to watch both Britannia sail out of the harbour and China set off a magnificent fireworks’ display to celebrate getting Hong Kong becoming one of her possessions again?
   Following some of the 20th anniversary commemorations through the media, notably the BBC World Service which followed them keenly, I had very mixed feelings.
   Having been born British in the then-colony (whilst cheering the All Blacks today, natch) I have some nostalgia for the Hong Kong of old. If it weren’t for some aspects of colonialism, my mother wouldn’t have secured a decent job at Wellington Hospital (viz. an English and Welsh qualification) and I probably would never have learned English before the age of three. It all helped.
   It was the spectre of 1997, specifically the fear of what the Communists would do after July 1, 1997, that prompted my parents to make plans to emigrate as early as the 1970s.
   Of course, history as shown that largely those fears have not come to pass, although the Umbrella Revolution highlights that universal suffrage is not a reality in the city.
   In a post-Brexit (or at least a post-Brexit vote) era, these past two decades also highlight that British nationalism is meaningless and little more than a tool for politicians to yield for propaganda.
   You can fairly argue that that is what nationalism always has been. It could also equally be argued that nationalism is founded on some rose-coloured-glasses past, painting a picture that actually never existed.
   American nostalgia looks back at a 1950s’ economic boom while ignoring segregation while British nostalgia shows a child pushing his bike up a hill to Dvořák’s New World Symphony.
   Brexiters, rightly or wrongly, want to reassert a British self-determination founded on a British national character.
   Most Britons I talked to, regardless of their politics, agree that if you are Hong Kong British, then you are British. That should be some solace to the families of those HKers who lost their lives fighting under the Crown in both World War II and the Falklands.
   Yet there is no reality to this claim when it comes to government. Fearful of an influx of Hong Kong British emigrating to the UK, the British National (Overseas) category was invented in 1985, to replace our previous status as Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. It didn’t do the wealthy any harm, mind: a lot went to Canada and Australia and took their money there. Others stayed and invested in China, and helped fuel the growth of Shenzhen as a technological powerhouse. The Hong Kong Chinese person is generally industrious, many having descended from refugees from China in 1949 who decided to make the most of the freedoms in the colony. That work ethic was certainly nothing any Briton in the UK needed to fear, yet somehow we were classed as Johnny Foreigner.
   When I went to the UK in 2001 with that BN(O) passport, I had terrible trouble at immigration, denied entry when queued up with other British subjects. I wound up at the back of the queue with some white South Africans, who were less than impressed and said, ‘But that’s apartheid.’ Correspondence to the High Commission, Foreign Secretary, and Shadow Foreign Secretary went unanswered, though I did get a response from the PM.
   In other words, the fears within Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech held more sway in Blair’s Britain than any sacrifice in the Falklands (even if, I should point out, Powell was not addressing immigration per se). Today, I wonder if they still do.
   The Tiber was greater than the Atlantic.
   Labour were quick to point out how wrong the Tories were with BN(O) back in the 1980s, but in 2001, Labour wasn’t working.
   Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said at the time of the handover in 1997 that Britain would ‘walk with you’, that Britain had won assurances that elections in Hong Kong would be free and fair, and that if China ever failed to live up to this pledge, Britain would take the matter to the United Nations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
   In 20 years, Britain has not lifted a finger.
   We might get lucky like the Gurkhas one of these days if Joanna Lumley wants to come to our aid. But we certainly can’t rely on any politician.
   Being British (I retained my nationality and applied before the deadline to be a BN(O)), you can see how the pro-Brexit position was hard to stomach to me. The likes of Nigel Farage and the “other” New York-born politician with funny hair, Boris Johnson, seemed to revel in some idea of British unity, but anyone from Hong Kong will tell you that in politics, that is an empty concept.
   Only one of my friends who was pro-Brexit voted based on the idea of an independent Britain being more efficient when freed from the whims of Brussels, and I respect him for it; most of what I saw was aimed against immigration. The current PM’s belief in safeguarding the interests of British subjects should be cold comfort to those affected: if they couldn’t defend our interests, will others fare any better, especially with a minority government in a Conservative Party that actually remains as divided as ever?
   Not that I am championing the People’s Republic of China for its handling of relations between mainlanders and Hong Kongers; it has equally been exclusive of us and our unique culture. I have already gone into the Umbrella Revolution elsewhere (even if the TV One website omitted my televised comments about Wikileaks’ reporting of US State Department interference as this goes against the western narrative), and this doesn’t need exploring again. The disappearance of publishers critical of Beijing should sound alarm bells—I note that one of them was a British subject, but the best the UK could muster was an expression of concern. I cannot help but wonder if this is the fate that awaits Britons on the Continent should something happen to them.
   Some negatives aside, I am happy that when I visited a “Chinese” Hong Kong in 2006, I found a city whose character was intact, and I remarked at how unchanged that was. In subsequent visits in 2008, 2010 and 2012, that core remained. Given all the paranoia before 1997, ‘One country, two systems’ has certainly not been as bad as many of us—including those of us who moved our entire lives abroad because of those fears—predicted. I wish all HKers well on this 20th anniversary.

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Alarm für Cobra 11 changes direction again, with Daniel Roesner as Paul Renner

18.08.2015
First publicity photograph of Daniel Roesner as Paul Renner, photographed by Frank Hempel/RTL.

First publicity photograph of Daniel Roesner as Paul Renner, photographed by Frank Hempel/RTL.

Poor Vinzenz Kiefer. The co-star of Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei, which commemorates its 20th anniversary next year, will be written out of the show, and not by his choice.
   Since the departure of Tom Beck as Ben Jäger a few years ago, the producers of the long-running German action series decided to take a darker turn. Cobra 11 has always been able to reinvent itself with the times, hence the long run, and the light comedy that crept in to such awful episodes as ‘Babyalarm’ or the predictable “bad guys with automatic weapons” plots of ‘Codename Tiger’ (which even had a homage to Michael Bay) was deemed to be at odds with what viewers wanted. Out with Beck. In with Kiefer, a grittier looking young actor who had had a single guest outing in Cobra 11 some years earlier in another role, as a troubled young offender called Dennis Kortmann out to avenge the death of his younger brother.
   The new character of Alex Brandt (incredibly close in name to Kommissar Rex’s Alex Brandtner, played by another short-lived Cobra 11 co-star, Gedeon Burkhard) seemed tailor-made for Kiefer, now 37, a deep, highly talented actor. Brandt had a back-story, caught amongst corrupt police officers which saw him go to prison, something that Cobra 11 producers tried to inject in the mid-2000s when Gedeon Burkhard replaced the ever-popular Réné Steinke. The writers and story editors introduced story threads that spanned the whole season. It was all in keeping with the Zeitgeist, but, ratings dropped, despite a spectacular season finalé inspired by Vantage Point but much more cleverly executed within the 45-minute running time. We finally saw some acting chops from the entire cast: star Erdoğan Atalay got to exercise his not inconsiderable talent as family man and cop Semir Gerkhan, and there was even a hint of “will they or won’t they?” between Brandt and Katrin Heß’s Jenny Dorn—who had previously been in a relationship with Niels Kurvin’s Hartmut Freund character. Yet on occasion, Alarm für Cobra 11 was even beaten by Germany’s Next Top Model, a show which it usually trumped. And Kiefer is the fall guy.
   Burkhard, too, presided over what was considered a darker, moodier season of Cobra 11 in 2007–8, yet ratings fell, and he was given the axe.
   It’s a given that the reinventions help the series, but the obsession with ratings has meant Cobra 11 returning to a level of humour and escapism each time the network, RTL, panics. In a Facebook poll this author set up with 786 respondents, fans regard Tom Beck as the best co-star (565 votes), with Kiefer a distant second (116). Old stars such as Steinke still hold up (67) despite their departure nearly a decade ago.
   Why ‘poor Vinzenz Kiefer’? Today, his successor, Daniel Roesner (top) was announced, which means Kiefer has to complete and, later, promote his work knowing that Alex Brandt may well be killed off (the fate of less popular co-stars) and that he’s on his way out. Alex Brandt may be the gloomy, moody DCI, but behind-the-scenes photos shared by Atalay and Heß show that there are plenty of hijinks, with everyone getting on well. Heß posted her sadness at the announcement her colleague would be given the boot on Instagram and Facebook, and Atalay ceased posting to his social media altogether (although whether that was the reason is unknown).
   Roesner has the ingredients for the escapist audience: he excels in light comedy, he has a friendlier face, and he is already known to Cobra 11 audiences for playing Tacho, whom we first met in 2010 while at the police academy. His character, along with Axel Stein’s Turbo, was so popular that he was brought back for a second guest spot in 2011, and Action Concept, the makers of the series, attempted a TV pilot called Turbo und Tacho, where it is revealed that his full name is Andreas Tachinski.
   Roesner won’t be playing Tachinski this time; instead, after a haircut and a new wardrobe, he’ll be playing a cop called Paul Renner, and whether he designed Futura or not while working at the Bauhaus has not yet been explained. His presence will likely see a return to the escapist, self-contained scripts, with the characters turning more two-dimensional again.
   Beck’s years proved that the show can rebound, but the past two with Kiefer gained him a loyal following, too. The core may well want escapism but Kiefer probably brought viewers who could leave; assuming they knew Cobra 11 had transformed to begin with. Do we want our TV heroes to be light while things are tough; or do we want them to reflect the hard times we have today? Whether RTL has calculated correctly or not will be seen when Roesner’s episodes start with the 20th anniversary of the series; but it will be looking to reclaim the Thursday night prime-time slot more regularly than Cobra 11 has been doing in the last year. Expect huge promotions for the 20th—and to establish Roesner in the new role as RTL attempts to get its audience back.

This piece first appeared in Lucire Men.

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7-7, 10 years on

07.07.2015

Remembering the victims of 7-7 today. Ten years on. RIP to my friend Colin Morley.
   I’m glad we toasted you this year at the Medinge London dinner, and we filled in the newer members on who you were, and why for many years we named an award after you.
   Medinge has changed greatly over the last 10 years but it’s the memory of people like Colin who help remind us of our purpose.

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Thinking to the future as Lucire turns 15

21.10.2012

I’ve written so many editorials about Lucire’s history for our various anniversaries that now we’ve turned 15, I feel like I’d just be going over old ground. Again. I’d do it maybe for the 20th or 21st, but the story has been told online and in print many times.
   But 15 is a bit more of an occasion than, say, the ninth—so it deserves some recognition. The biggie this week is not so much that we have turned 15, but that we have officially announced a print-on-demand edition to complement our others in print and online, one that sees Lucire printed off as it’s ordered. It combines what we know—the digital world—with an analogue medium that everyone understands. It also gets around that sad reality that for every 1,000 copies printed, 500 usually wind up getting returned due to being unsold and pulped. In publishing, two-thirds sold qualifies as having “sold out”. And that’s not really that great for the first fashion magazine that the United Nations Environment Programme calls an industry partner.
   We’re also celebrating the Ipad and Android editions, which actually launched in August but we didn’t get an announcement out till September. We also débuted a PDF download via Scopalto in France, and there’s one more edition that we’ll announce before the year is out.
   So rather than look back—which is what we found ourselves doing at the 10th anniversary, at a time when the recession was about to bite and there was just an inkling of a fear that our best days were behind us—we’re now looking forward with some relish and wondering just how these new editions will play out.
   If I were to take a look back to 1997, it would be to remark that being the first (at least for New Zealand) does not necessarily translate to being the most profitable. You carve out a niche that no one else had done before, prove a point, and someone else makes it work a bit better. So is the lesson in commerce.
   It used to bug me but no more; we have a good record of doing things in a pioneering fashion, and when you look at Lucire, it’s one of the very few fashion titles from the original dot-com era that’s still being published today, and in more forms than we had imagined. We were always happy to put value labels right next to pricier ones in coverage or in editorials, because that is how real people dress, and because we based our coverage on merit rather than advertising budgets. We looked at the advertising market at a global, rather than regional, level, something which we see some agencies taking advantage of as greater convergence happens in that market.
   I like to think that some day, all magazines will be printed as we’re doing them, but from more bases around the world, to alleviate the burden on our resources. They’ll be, as I predicted many years back, mini, softcover coffee-table books, publications to covet, and be less temporary. (I also said newspapers will become more like news magazines, but I live in a city where dailies are still printed as broadsheets, which reminds me that predictions can often take a lot longer to be realized.) Features will dominate ahead of short-term, flash-in-the-pan news, a path which the 28th New Zealand-produced Lucire issue takes, and something foreshadowed by Twinpalms Lucire in Thailand five years ago.
   We’re also in a very enviable position with a cohesive team. You could say it’s taken us 15 years to find them. At 1 p.m. local time on October 20—15 years and one hour after we launched—our London team met to toast our 15th anniversary, while fashion editor Sopheak Seng, Louise Hatton, Michael Beel and Natalie Fisher worked on a photo shoot today in New Zealand for issue 29. Around the world, our team continues to deliver regular content, and I hope they’ll forgive me for not naming everyone as I fear accidental omissions. Just as I felt a little uncertain but excited about where things would lead with Lucire on October 21, 1997–the 20th in the US—I have a similar feeling today. And that’s a good thing, because if we’ve managed to get on the radars of millions in those last 15 years, I’m hopeful of the changes we can effect in the next 15.


Above: Lucire copies get finished at Vertia Print in Lower Hutt.

Also published in Lucire.

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Autocade turns four, and it’s about to get its two millionth page view

10.03.2012

It’s hard to believe but Autocade is four years old this month. In fact, its actual birthday was some time last week.
   It’s been busy at work, so Autocade has received a little less attention in the last 12 months, though things were buoyed when Keith Adams (of AROnline) added a whole bunch of models. It’s also about to cross the two million-page view barrier.
   When I look back at the previous year, we’ve added a lot of Chinese models, for the simple reason that China is where most of the new-model activity is these days. There are a lot of translation issues, but Autocade may be one of the only references in English to the more obscure vehicles coming out from behind the Bamboo Curtain.
   Still, there are some oddities from other countries that have appeared over the last 12 months, including a Ford made by Chrysler, and a Hillman Hunter with a Peugeot body (kind of). Here they are, for your entertainment.

Image:Changcheng_Ling_Ao.jpgChangcheng Phenom (長城 凌傲/长城 凌傲). 2010 to date (prod. unknown). 5-door sedan. F/F, 1298, 1497 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Supermini that looked to all the world like a Toyota Vitz (P90) with an ugly grille, with the same wheelbase. Essentially a clone, though interior changed over Toyota version. Even Chinese media noted the similarity to the Vitz at the rear, but did not find the grille distasteful. Engines of Changcheng’s own design, with decent performance from the 1·5.

Image:1968_Chrysler_GTX.jpgChrysler GTX. 1968–9 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/R, 2414 cm³ (V8 OHV). Performance version of Esplanada, with go-faster stripes, apeing US imagery. Filled the gap of the earlier Rallye and Tufao in the Chambord series, which had been missing since the Regente–Esplanada took over in 1966. Offered only till the platform was finally retired in favour of the A-body cars from the US.

Image:1958_Dongfeng_CA71.jpgDongfeng (东风/東風) CA71. 1958 (prod. 30). 4-door sedan. F/R, 2000 cm³ approx. (4 cyl. OHV). First passenger car built by First Automobile Works of China, with bodyshell and interior apeing Simca Vedette (1954–7) and 70 bhp OHV engine based around a Mercedes-Benz 190 unit and chassis. Self-designed three-speed manual transmission. Laboriously built, as China lacked the facilities, and bodies were not cast but beaten to the right shape. Initially badged with Latin letters before Chinese ones replaced them on the order of the Central Committee. Used for propaganda, and Mao Tse Tung even rode in one around launch time, but faded into obscurity after 30 examples.

Image:Dongfeng_Fengsheng_A60.jpgDongfeng Fengsheng (東風風神/东风风神) A60. 2011 to date (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/F, 1997 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Uglified version of Nissan Bluebird Sylphy (G11) on a Renault Mégane II platform, developed for Chinese market by Dongfeng. Basically the Sylphy with the Dongfeng grille grafted on it, with production commencing December 2011 for 2012 sale.

Image:Emme_Lotus_422T.jpgEmme Lotus 420/Emme Lotus 422/Emme Lotus 422T. 1997–9 (prod. approx. 12–15). 4-door sedan. F/F, 1973, 2174 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Very obscure Brazilian luxury car, built on Lotus principles of lightness, with early Lotus Esprit engines. T model denoted turbocharging. Claimed 87 per cent of components locally sourced. Manufacturing techniques with advanced materials not particularly refined, leading to questionable build quality. Little known about the vehicle, but it faded without trace after currency changes in the late 1990s.

Image:2010_Hawtai_B11.jpgHawtai (華泰/华泰) B11. 2010 to date (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/F, 1796 cm³ petrol, 1991 cm³ diesel (4 cyl. DOHC). Ugly first attempt by former Hyundai affiliate at its own sedan, using Roewe 550 engine. Media centre with sat-nav and entertainment perhaps one of its few stand-outs. Petrol model first off the line in late 2010; diesel followed soon after.

Image:1978_Panther_de_Ville.jpgPanther De Ville. 1974–85 (prod. 60 approx.). 4-door saloon, 2-door coupé, 2-door convertible, 6-door limousine. F/R, 4235 cm³ (6 cyl. DOHC), 5343 cm³ (V12 OHC). Panther creates a new flagship to sit about its original J72 model, based around Jaguar XJ mechanicals. A pastiche of the Bugatti Royale, creator and “car couturier” Robert Jankel targeted his De Ville at the nouveaux riches, and they found homes with the likes of Elton John. Lavish, though never as quick as the Jaguars due to the weight and poor aerodynamics. Humble bits included BMC “Landcrab” doors. Cars were custom-made and De Ville was usually the most expensive car on the UK price lists. Few redeeming features other than exclusivity; caught on to the 1930s retro craze that seemed to emerge in the 1970s.

Image:2011_Peugeot_Roa.jpgPeugeot RD 1600/Peugeot Roa. 2006 to date (prod. unknown). 4-door saloon. F/R, 1599, 1696 cm³ petrol, 1599 cm³ CNG (4 cyl. OHV). The Rootes Arrow lives on, but with a Peugeot 405 clone bodyshell. Basic model offered by IKCO of Iran, blending the platform of the obsolete rear-wheel-drive Paykan with a more modern interior and exterior. Initially offered with 1·6 petrol and CNG engines; G2 model from 2010 has 1·7 unit.

Image:2011_Renault_Pulse.jpgRenault Pulse. 2011 to date (prod. unknown). 5-door sedan. F/F, 1461 cm³ diesel (4 cyl. OHC). Nissan March (K13) with a nose job, aiming at the premium compact sector in India, expecting to form the bulk of the company’s sales there. Designed by Renault staff in Mumbai. Largely identical under the skin, with diesel at launch, petrol models following later.

Image:Siam_di_Tella_1500.jpgSiam Di Tella 1500. 1959–66 (prod. 45,785 sedan, 1,915 Traveller). 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon. F/R, 1489 cm³ (4 cyl. OHV). Licensed Argentinian version of Riley 4/68 but with Traveller wagon (from 1963) adapted from Morris Oxford V Traveller. Very popular among taxi companies, especially as twin-carb OHV was willing, although compression ratio had been reduced to 7·2:1, affecting power (55 hp instead of 68 hp). Modified suspension to cope with Argentinian roads. From 1966, Industrias Kaiser Argentina (IKA) took over, modifying and renaming the cars. Pick-up (called Argenta) also developed, with at least 11,000 manufactured.

Image:FSM_Syrena_105.jpgSyrena 105. 1972–83 (prod. 521,311). 2-door saloon. F/F, 842 cm³ (3 cyl. 2-str.). Syrena switches factories to FSM at Bielsko-Biała, though it was briefly at FSO in 1972 before the company switched to producing only its Fiat-licensed models. Suicide doors now replaced with conventional ones hinged at the front. Lux from 1974, but with the same 29 kW engine.

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Alarm für Cobra 11: a 15th birthday celebration

12.03.2011

Today marks the 15th anniversary of Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei, a German show I have followed for just over a half of its run.
   I’ve watched it through budget cuts and some naff storylines of late. It’s of some interest to chart the course of the show over these many years.

Alarm für Cobra 11
Alarm für Cobra 11
Above, from top: Rainer Strecker and Johannes Brandrup: Alarm für Cobra 11 is made up of a short guy and a tall guy. A stunt involving an anchor and a Ford Scorpio.

The première episode, ‘Bomben bei Kilometer 92’ (1996)
Back in the day, no one believed Germany could do an action series. It was accepted that that was the province of the Americans. An English director of photography was hired for the first Cobra 11, and Action-Concept, the company that now produces the entire show, was called in just to do the stunts. Modern fans wouldn’t recognize it: Cobra 11 was a regular German Krimi, there is one nude scene, and the two stars—Johannes Brandrup and Rainer Strecker—have an Audi 100 (C3) and a Ford Sierra, in the pre-product placement days. Slow-paced by modern standards, but then, there are fewer holes in the story. Some similarities are there: a female boss (Almut Eggert) and the pairing of a tall guy and a short guy. The theme tune, by Reinhard Scheuregger, is in place—it is this version that remained till the 159th episode with Gedeon Burkhard, many years later. There seems to be a real difference in the filming styles of the drama and the action, given that two companies (Polyphon and Action-Concept) are involved. Ten million viewers watch the première on RTL.

Alarm für Cobra 11Episode 3: ‘Der neue Partner’
Contrary to some belief, actor Erdoğan Atalay, playing Semir Gerkhan, was not there from the beginning of the series. He was hired for the third entry, after Strecker’s Ingo Fischer character was killed off. Atalay looks youthful in his first outing, playing the apprentice to Brandrup’s experienced Frank Stolte character—very different to the mature family man in current episodes. This first season netted an average of 7·7 million viewers in Germany—numbers that the more recent seasons have not achieved, largely due to increased competition.

Episode 10: ‘Shotgun’, and the formula is set
For the second season, a new lead actor is hired to replace Brandrup. Mark Keller, as André Fux, is brought in; Atalay continues playing the sidekick. Charlotte Schwab, as Anna Engelhardt, is hired to replace Eggert, as the squad’s new boss. She has a secretary, Andrea Schäfer, played by Carina Wiese. Two supporting regulars are added: uniformed policemen called Horst Herzberger (Dietmar Huhn) and Dieter Bonrath (Gottfried Vollmer). Apart from actor changes, these six roles remain constant throughout the series, with a science lab geek (Hartmut, played by Niels Kurvin) added as a regular in 2004, probably with the success of American shows such as CSI.

Episode 32: ‘Die letzte Chance’, and the stuntmen take over
Action-Concept takes over all duties at the start the third season and cranks up the stunts. No longer filmed in Berlin, the show is moved to its new home base, nearer to Action-Concept HQ in Nordrhein-Westfalen. The stories are still plausible, but you can trace the stunts getting bigger from this point. Keller would see out the third season, with the last episode filmed in Majorca, to escape the German winter. Unlike Brandrup, Keller’s character is killed off in front of his partner Semir—a trend, sadly, whenever a lead actor exits the show.

Alarm für Cobra 11
Above: René Steinke, as Tom Kranich, in his final episode (for now).

Episode 48: ‘Höllenfahrt auf der A4’, and the début of Tom Kranich
Long-time fans speak admirably of the pairing of actor René Steinke (as Tom Kranich) with Atalay, and to many, this is the definitive team, commencing 1999. The stories, at this point, still have some semblance of reality, and it could be argued that the Cobra 11 franchise reached its peak during this era. While the Semir Gerkhan role remains the sidekick, it is maturing, especially with the on–off relationship he has with the secretary, Andrea. The stunts continue to become more impressive, easily beating out anything emerging from weekly American television.
   In 2001, requiring more episodes, a spin-off was created, Alarm für Cobra 11: Einsatz für Team 2. Since Steinke and Atalay had reached the maximum working hours under German employment law, two other actors were hired. The supporting cast remained the same, but the spin-off essentially dealt with two other cops—a male and an aristocratic female this time—who worked when the regulars didn’t. The series was successful—5·5 million viewers per episode—but sank without trace.
   Steinke, arguably, helped draw a big audience. My female friends all seem to agree that the actor is ‘hot’, rating him more highly versus his predecessors and successors.

Alarm für Cobra 11
Above: Christian Oliver and Erdoğan Atalay.

Episode 98: ‘Feuertaufe’, and Erdoğan Atalay is promoted to lead
With Tom’s fiancée, Elena, blown up in her Range Rover at the close of the sixth season, he leaves the force. The producers were, with hindsight, fortunate to keep the character alive, rather than kill him off in the same way as Fux. Christian Oliver, as Jan Richter, is the first new actor to be junior to Erdoğan Atalay’s Semir Gerkhan, finally promoted to lead. The dynamic changes slightly as a result.
Alarm für Cobra 11   At the beginning of the eighth season, Semir and Andrea are married, in a two-hour pilot film, ‘Fur immer und ewig’. The scripts are beginning to show some implausibility, and the villains begin to be more cartoonish.

Episode 126: ‘Comeback’, and Tom Kranich comes back
Richter disappears without trace, leading to the rehiring of actor René Steinke, who has to rejoin the force to help solve the opening crime. It’s not a two-hour pilot this time, but a fairly routine episode about a terrorist bomber. The scripts continue to have a mixture between a traditional crime show and ever-extreme stunts. Eagle-eyed viewers will see an Opel Calibra dressed up with a Mercedes CLK front and rear for storylines that require the car to be destroyed, and Toyota provides extra product placement.
   Atalay continues to have his name first, and the two characters are now equal partners.
   Wiese, leaving the show as a regular, has her Andrea Gerkhan character become a full-time mother. Martina Hill is brought in, after guesting at the start of the 10th season.

Alarm für Cobra 11
Above: Gedeon Burkhard and Erdoğan Atalay share top billing—the order changes depending on episode.

Episode 158: ‘Auf Leben und Tod’, and the guy from Kommissar Rex
When Steinke wishes to leave the show a second time, the producers decide to kill him off—so a second comeback is now out of the question. He comes back for the start of the 11th season to film his death scene, and Gedeon Burkhard, from Kommissar Rex, becomes Semir’s new partner. The on-screen relationship is more strained initially, and Burkhard’s Chris Ritter character is the first chain-smoking lead in the series. Ritter is used to undercover work, so the stories become grittier and darker, with the emphasis on characterization. A new introduction and rearranged theme song are introduced, and depending on episode, either Burkhard or Atalay gets top billing.
   Hill also leaves, replaced by Daniela Wutte as Susanna König.
   A disturbing development begins in production. While BMW and Mercedes-Benz now supply new cars to be written off, it’s during the Burkhard era that crashes from earlier episodes are inserted into the action.
   And Burkhard’s presence is limited. Claiming that he wanted to be closer to his daughter, the actor quits. Chris Ritter is also killed off at the end of the 12th season, this time by a Dutch criminal, and, like Kranich, dies in the presence of Semir Gerkhan.

Alarm für Cobra 11
Alarm für Cobra 11
Alarm für Cobra 11
Above, from top: Ben Jäger (Tom Beck) and Semir Gerkhan (Erdoğan Atalay) can see the sky out of Semir’s BMW 3er-Reihe. In ‘Die Braut’, aired March 12, 2009. A new Mercedes-Benz C-Klasse police car rolls in the opening chase in ‘Der Anschlag’, the season première aired September 2, 2010. And just to show how outrageous the stories have become, that is a nuclear warhead Semir has disarmed, in ‘Codename Tiger’, aired April 22, 2010.

Episode 180: ‘Auf eigene Faust’, and the Tom Beck era
With the introduction of new co-star Tom Beck, as Ben Jäger, the series takes on more fantastic elements. The action sequences pay tribute to the likes of Michael Bay—not exactly the best role model—and some very obvious inspirations from American films begin appearing. Lethal Weapon 4, Live Free or Die Hard, Assault on Precinct 13, and Bay himself (a US air base is named after him in one episode) are referenced, and the villains become even more cartoonish. The early episodes are transitional, but it’s discovered that Beck has good comedic timing, so a few more scenes are played for laughs.
   The show has become more of a caricature, though the occasional good story still surfaces.
   Schwab leaves the show, replaced yet again by a female boss, played by Katja Woywood (who, in fact, guested on Team 2, but played another character).

Episode 219: ‘Bad Bank’, the 15th anniversary episode
Which brings us to 2011 and the 219th story (I’ve used the production order, not the broadcast order). It’s supposedly the 15th anniversary episode. ‘Bad Bank’ sees Ben blinded in the opening chase, though his blindness heals very rapidly. A villain has such bad aim that he fails to shoot Semir despite the use of an automatic weapon, while Semir’s handgun blows up a helicopter. People move in slow motion to be cool. The action is passable though, in a recession, it’s not as extreme as it once was. There’s a rumour that Dietmar Huhn’s character—the second-longest-running in the show, after Atalay’s—will be killed off.
   Atalay believes the show will go on, although he has a film to shoot as well as his Cobra 11 episodes this year. The viewers seem to like Beck, and 5·5 million are still drawn to the show each week in Germany. It remains the top-rated show in its timeslot, beating off reality TV programmes. However, as a long-time fan, I’m hoping for some better stories or stunts—as there’s a feeling that Alarm für Cobra 11 peaked a while back. The numbers certainly did: ‘Bad Bank’, an exercise in style over substance, netted only 5·07 million against strong competition—though that’s up considerably from figures a few years ago that had Cobra 11 stuck between 3 million and 4 million. It does seem to be recovering its market share.
   On that note, I wish the show a happy birthday—15 years and 222 finished episodes are nothing to be sneezed at. It’s been renewed for autumn 2011, which is no surprise, given it continues to bring in the numbers, especially the crucial 14–49 age group. It’s brought us many good memories and continues to be fun, escapist viewing on RTL and, more recently, RTL Now.

Some links
Alarm für Cobra 11 international Facebook group
Cobra 11 Fanabteilung
Hank-Gert’s Alarm für Cobra 11 Homepage
Official site

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Surely something all Chinese can agree on

18.01.2011

It’s 2011, which, by my calculations, is the centenary of China kicking out the corrupt Ching dynasty.
   It’s the one event that both Republicans and Communists can agree on as being positive. It’s why Dr Sun Yat-sen is such a uniting figure for all Chinese, as the father of the nation.
   I can’t speak for all expatriates, but personally, I think this is an anniversary worth celebrating.
   Twenty-eleven might be the time to put aside the usual animosity and all the political rhetoric. Like New Year, we can look forward to some unity surrounding the formation of a Chinese republic.
   And since we’re unlikely ever to get the two sides agreeing on much more, then maybe a Chinese commonwealth is an idea we should entertain?

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Bonne 50e anniversaire, Renault 4

13.01.2011

Before there was the Twingo, there was the Renault 4. It celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, as I was reminded on Tumblr earlier today. From Autocade:

Image:Renault_4.jpgRenault 4 (R1121). 1961–94 (prod. 8,135,424). 5-door estate, utility convertible. F/F, 603, 747, 782, 845, 956, 1108 cm³ (4 cyl. OHV). Replacement for 4CV conceived as a response to Citroën 2CV, which was overtaking the Renault in sales. Soft suspension for rural buyers who might use 4s on the farm; front-wheel-drive transmission and four-wheel independent suspension. Separate chassis and body, rather than 4CV’s monocoque, for simplicity. Four-speed gearbox from 1968, the year of the 4’s facelift. GTL with 1·1-litre from 1978. Additional models added, such as fourgonette in 1962; limited-edition Parisienne in 1964 with a tartan pattern, in association with Elle magazine; Plein Air from 1968 to 1970; Rodeo from 1970 to 1987. Rebodied 4, called the Renault 6, from 1968, but the utilitarian 4 managed to outlive it. Billancourt production ceased 1987, with Slovenia the last country to put out a 4 in 1994.

   There was also its lesser known sibling, the Renault 3, a sort of poverty version of the 4:

Image:Renault_3.jpgRenault 3 (R1121). 1961–2 (prod. 2,526; other source lists 2,571). 5-door estate. F/F, 603 cm³ (4 cyl. OHV). Entry-level Renault based on the 4, but without any luxuries—no hubcaps, interior door trims, third side window, or grille. Engine in the 3CV class in France, but since a Renault 4L cost little more, most customers opted for the better specified car. Rugged and simple, rivalling base 2CVs as intended by Renault.

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Happy birthday, Lucire

21.10.2010

Lucire home page, October 20, 1997
Above The first issue of Lucire in 1997. Below right Lucire’s first iPad cover.

[Cross-posted at Lucire] An hour ago, we turned 13. Normally this wouldn’t have merited much of a mention, since 13’s not the sort of number people tend to celebrate. But I happened to be up, after a long day catching up on emails post-election, while head designer Tanya Sooksombatisatian sorted through our New York Fashion Week images.
   Earlier this evening, fashion editor Sopheak Seng and I attended a fashion show for La’ Shika Bridal, held at the Museum Hotel in Wellington, and had good chats to the bridal designers and jewellery designer Victoria Taylor, sister of Rebecca.
   I sat at a similar desk in 1997 when we started Lucire and uploaded the new home page, replacing a placeholder, at precisely midnight NZDT on October 21. (I even timed it.) That translated to October 20 at 6 a.m. in New York. At the time, the US market was the primary one online, so I tended to notice what the time was over on their east coast.
   It was a 386 running Netscape 1-point-something that displayed Lucire’s first edition here. The monitor had a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels. We developed it on Windows 3·1, but tested it on various Power Macs. I coded the home page by hand and did the first graphics.
   We’ve gone through a lot—a print edition from 2004, a short-lived venture in Romania in 2005–6, and we now face 2011 with print in four countries and an iPad app that will go live any day. A cellphone edition has been around for a little while, though it never took off. I was in it for the long haul, but I really didn’t think specifics. We had a general direction, and we seized the opportunities as they came.
   There have been many times when I have publicly thanked the people who got us here, and many of those who I named in December 2008, when I celebrated 21 years in business, were responsible for getting Lucire to where it is. Since then, Andrew Matusik, Victoria Jones, Sopheak Seng, Rola Saab, Jon Moe, Seka Ojdrović-Phillips, Samantha Hannah, Joseph Ungoco, Leyla Messian, Ashleigh Berry and Sylvia Giles must be added to the list. The many Massey University graduates who have tirelessly helped—Roanna Bell, Uma Lele and Brigitte Unger come to mind—as well as Gemma Conn from Waikato Institute of Technology.
   I won’t say the journey has been easy: in fact, it’s been very tough. But I’m very glad that Lucire has been a medium through which many people have been brought together to do something we all love. We have been a change agent in the past, and that’s something I’m conscious we need to continue, through being on the forefront of new media. And we’ve introduced our fair share of labels, many of which have become big names. We’ve provided many people with coverage when others ignored them—discovering then that all they needed was that leg up to get to the next stage.
Lucire Ipad edition cover, photographed by Andrew Matusik   I still remember the fact that we were one of the first to interview Zac Posen and Kathryn Wilson as she graduated from university, and covered Rebecca Taylor at Gen Art. Lucire published the first series of sustainable style editorials in an international fashion magazine with Summer Rayne Oakes in the earlier part of the century.
   To all our readers, thank you for being with us on this journey. I am mindful that we are merely stewards of the Lucire brand, and that it belongs to us not in law, but in spirit. We’re going to keep engaging and we plan to be with you for many more anniversaries to come.

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How could the Chinese republic celebrate its centenary?

21.02.2010

Next year marks the centenary of the founding of the Chinese republic. We got rid of our rather hopeless Ching Dynasty, and ushered in Asia’s first democracy.
   Both the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China see 1911 as an important year, and Dr Sun Yat-sen as the founder of the nation (here is a page from the Zhongshan government on Dr Sun which—shock—even mentions democracy). As the father of the country, his legacy one of the few things nationalists and communists agree on, even though technically the two sides remain in conflict and are in a state of Civil War. The Republic began on October 10, 1911, a date which tends to be celebrated by many, though it was formally declared on January 1, 1912.
   So, what might 2011 bring in terms of perspective?
   Idealists might point to some possibilities:

  • that closer economic ties across the Taiwan Strait mean the eventual formation of a Chinese commonwealth, with both sides maintaining the political impasse;
  • a review of the ideas of the republic as espoused by Dr Sun, and the greater acceptance of the political structure he believed in, which included cooperation between nationalists and communists;
  • that both sides of the political argument agree there are more commonalities than differences between all Chinese peoples.
  •    I doubt we’ll see political unity while Beijing is still governed by the Communist Party, which sees little point in changing its own structure to accommodate territories it considers its own. We see a similar view, officially, within the Kuomintang, interpreted in its favour. The regular triumph of ideology over practicality and the prospect of a joint future growth of ‘China’ gets in the way; the idea of an economic union or commonwealth might be the easiest way forward.
       Never mind what you call it internally, it is a solution in which both sides can claim victory, preserve face, and avoid bloodshed. The fact that no armistice has been signed by both signs is actually an advantage—because it means this difference of opinion can be solved technically as an internal matter, not one between two sovereign states.
       This is not an idea that the diehards like, so let the name-calling begin in the comments.
       But remember in whatever debate we enter, we should think of this question: since we all dislike what the Ching Dynasty did to China, what is the best way to honour the memory of the founding father of the nation in 2011?

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