Posts tagged ‘childhood’


A tribute to Lewis Collins: the top five reasons he was awesome

28.11.2013

A small tribute to actor Lewis Collins on his passing earlier this week (originally published in Lucire Men).

Lewis Collins

1. The cars
The Triumph Dolomite Sprint Lewis Collins’ character, William Andrew Philip Bodie (he was a ‘regal-looking baby’) had in The Professionals had more power than Doyle’s TR7. And his Capris were far cooler. So cool that eventually, even Doyle had to follow suit and get one to replace his Escort RS2000. (In real life: the RS2000 was stolen.)

2. The clothes
In his roles, Bodie was well dressed in The Professionals, sharp suits in the first season contrasting Doyle’s casual look. As Cmdr Peter Skellen in Ian Sharp’s Who Dares Wins, Collins showed that he could wear well tailored clothes as well as an SAS uniform exceptionally well. In one of the last appearances I saw him in, the German series Blaues Blut (which was created by The Professionals’ Brian Clemens), Lew showed he could pull off a bowler hat.

3. The hair
Not having a bubble cut is a good thing.

4. The machismo
After playing an SAS commander in Who Dares Wins, Lewis Collins signed up and passed the entrance tests, but was rejected for being too famous. He auditioned for James Bond but was deemed ‘too aggressive’. In a pub brawl, you’d want Lew, and not Ross Kemp, on your side.

5. The twinkle
Lewis Collins had a twinkle in his eye in everything he did, whether it was a bit-part in The New Avengers (where he teamed up with Martin Shaw) or spoofing his character on The Freddie Starr Show. That’s what we’ll miss the most.

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I wanted to grow up and be the Dean Martin version of Matt Helm

15.07.2011

As a child growing up in Wellington, there were a few TV series that shaped my beliefs about being grown-up in the occident. The first I’ve written about before: The Persuaders, which is in part where this blog gets its name. I’ve probably mentioned Return of the Saint elsewhere, not to mention the plethora of TV detectives and cops. It’s the old-fashioned idea that good beats evil, and that one man can make a difference.
   But there was also one movie that appealed to me. Tonight I watched, for the first time since the 1970s, The Wrecking Crew. This was the final Matt Helm spy pic starring Dean Martin, and it’s amazing what sticks in your memory from age five, when this was aired on television. Considering my memory goes back to c. nine months, I realize remembering stuff at five is not that remarkable, but I surprised myself at what visuals I recalled, nearly perfectly.
   It may have also shaped my idea that when you rescue the girl, you have to sing like Dean Martin. If anyone wants to lay blame somewhere for my impromptu crooning at parties (or, more embarrassingly, at restaurants), this is where it all started. This is also why I sing ‘Everybody Rock Your Body’ to the tune of ‘Everybody Loves Somebody’.
   As a child, I had no idea there was a series of Matt Helm films. So, as a teenager, I began renting them or recording them off telly. When I saw Murderers’ Row air on TV1 in 1982, I set the video recorder to tape it, but could see nothing from it that I remembered from the first time I watched a “Dean Martin spy flick”—I could not remember the title of what I had seen in 1977. At five, I actually didn’t care.
   Then there was The Silencers, actually the first movie, rented at the Kilbirnie Video Centre around 1990. Hmm, still not the one I saw.
   I then rented The Ambushers, the only other one they had there—still not it.
   So, by process of elimination, I knew it had to be the last one, The Wrecking Crew—or I could not trust my memory. Finally, thanks to DVD, over three decades on, I was able to relive what I saw as a five-year-old—and it was this one after all.
   This gives you an idea of what piqued my interest as a child.

The Wrecking Crew
1. That the bad guys had a Mercedes W111.

The Wrecking Crew
2. Elke Sommer. Probably not due to the fact that I was a perve at age five, but that she was the model flogging Lux soap on telly at the same time. (If I was a perve, then I would have noticed Elke’s very low-cut dress in her first scene. Then again, I remember the dancers from The Monte Carlo Show, but I was eight by then.)

The Wrecking Crew
3. Dino punching some guy in a Merc and running off.

The Wrecking Crew
4. This set, meant to be the interior of a train.

The Wrecking Crew
5. Villain Nigel Green’s trap door on his getaway train.

The Wrecking Crew
6. Dino making sure Sharon Tate didn’t fall through.

The Wrecking Crew
7. Dino making sure Nigel’s stuntman did fall through.

   I presume I knew who Dean Martin was probably because of my mother, who explained it—this was back in the day when parents made sure that what you watched was OK before they went off and prepared dinner. I can’t remember what was on the other channel, but I must have enjoyed this sufficiently to have stayed with it—and there were no remote controls for Philips K9 sets.
   Might have to watch it again tonight. It was genuinely ridiculous, but certainly better than The Silencers (whose theme you still occasionally hear on Groove 107·7 FM here in Wellington) or The Ambushers. Watch out for the second-unit actors on location and the fact that Dino and Sharon Tate stayed firmly in Hollywood; the fake grass on top of padding which moves when Dino pushes down on it; the director’s expectation that we could believe Dino’s character could build a helicopter from bits in a few minutes; and the really bad ride Mac (the boss) has in his Lincoln Continental.
   I’d still pick Murderers’ Row as the best one of the lot, thanks to Ann-Margret being very groovy, Dino’s Ford Thunderbird with rear lights that doubled as a dot-matrix display, the Lalo Schifrin score, and Karl Malden being evil.

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Posted in cars, culture, humour, interests, New Zealand, TV, USA | 3 Comments »


The changing accent of Gillian Anderson

09.01.2011

Gillian Anderson, Chicago-born, star of The X Files, grew up in North London and speaks with an accent that’s closer to Britain than the States. I noticed that she gets quite a bit of flak for this on YouTube comments, which is rather sad, perhaps revealing more about those who criticize her than anything else. (See the above video from 1’15”.)
   Critics say that when she’s on The Tonight Show or the less watched one with the cranky old guy, she has an American accent. To me, that makes sense.
   It’s not about “putting it on”. It’s because Anderson subconsciously switches between the two, because she’s had time in both countries.
   The story, as she tells it, was when she got back to the States at age 11, she had an English accent and wanted to hang on to it ‘because it made me different’. However, she learned to speak with a midwestern one, though it is not her natural accent. In my world, we all do this.
   I remember when I was once in London, the cabbie could not understand me when I asked him to take me to Waterloo Station. I summoned up my best Dennis Waterman and put in a guttural stop, asking for ‘Wa’erloo Station’, and there was an immediate understanding.
   Anyone who has grown up in two countries, or in two cultures, will have a very different approach to accents than those who grew up in one.
   I tend to waver between British and Kiwi for a number of reasons, mostly unconsciously. I’m typing this after getting off the phone to my friend Marie, who hails from Nottinghamshire. My colleagues here have often laughed at me when they overhear us because I go slightly northern without intending it.
   The fact is, despite having been raised in New Zealand for most of my childhood, I don’t have a natural accent.
   If the theory that your most impressionable years for learning to talk are between two and four, then I can say, hand on heart, that my exposure to spoken English was minimal: I was in a British colony where 99 per cent of spoken communication was Cantonese, though we learned some English at kindergarten. There were imported TV programmes but my parents and grandmother tended to watch the dubbed stuff.
   Ms Anderson was in London two to eleven, and that explains a lot.
   After moving to New Zealand, we never spoke English in the home. My godparents were English, one of my best friends at school was English, and one of the teachers I was close to at school was English. What was on telly back in those days? Mostly British programmes: The Brothers, Rainbow, Jamie and the Magic Torch, The New Avengers, Return of the Saint, etc.
   Unlike most Kiwi kids, my exposure to Received Pronunciation through media and family friends was not balanced by New Zealand-accented speakers around me. By the early 1980s, I would guess my accent was a mixture, which accounts still, 30 years on, for people asking if I had spent time in Britain or have some greater connection with the country than I actually do.
   By the time more American programmes began here, I believe my impressionable stage had passed. I have met one New Zealander who speaks with an accent closer to American, though I didn’t get to ask why. It wouldn’t surprise me if her story was not unlike my own.
   The fact I speak in the lower registers might make me sound more well spoken than I really am. When I really try to listen to myself, I hear a strong Kiwi twang, but others don’t seem to.
   By the time I was at uni I was embarrassed by the subconscious switching, which I couldn’t control. I attempted to sound more Kiwi—logically, since I was raised here, my accent should reflect that—but to this day, it jumps all over the place.
   The only accent I can actually “do”, as in switch with intention, but effortlessly so, is Scottish English, which I label ‘lower-register Aberdeenshire’—I’ve even been hired to MC a céilidh on one occasion.
   So poor Gillian, speaking so properly and still, many, many years after she was 11 and heading back to the midwest, still gets criticized for it.
   But there you are: this world is a big place and people have many reasons for speaking the way they do—and don’t deserve accusations of faking the way they speak.

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Posted in culture, general, New Zealand, TV, UK | 2 Comments »


A tribute to Bernard Schwartz—that’s Tony Curtis to most of us

01.10.2010

I can’t let the passing of Bernard Schwartz—a.k.a. Tony Curtis—go without some sort of tribute.
   I’ve bitten my tongue a few times this year on writing what I wanted to on this website. And with hindsight, I really should have just gone for it, as someone who preaches transparency. Yes, I do indeed have a sense of humour and a love for old movies, and dear Bernie Schwartz is one of the reasons this blog is named as it is.
   This blog did not start off all political. An early political entry was about the Mohammed cartoons in Jyllands-Posten, but generally, this was a marketing blog. It was called The Persuader for two reasons: the marketing book, The Hidden Persuaders, and the TV show, The Persuaders.
   While my German friends think Alarm für Cobra 11 is my favourite show, the truth is that it’s actually what they know as Die Zwei: a camp series made in 1970 starring Tony Curtis and Roger Moore. The rest of us know it as The Persuaders, or, if you are French, Amicalement votre—it’s still quite a popular show in France and not long ago, you could buy the DVDs at newsagents.
   When I visited Eze, France, in 2002, the first thing I thought of was not the parfumeries, despite owning Lucire, but the episode of The Persuaders, ‘The Gold Napoleon’. I understand from the official Roger Moore website at the time that Moore himself had read the piece.
   It was through Curtis and Moore that a kid in Newtown lived his fantasies of driving along the Corniches in sports cars in the 1970s.
   Of course rich playboys drove sports cars around the south of France, rescuing damsels in distress, and fought shady Mafia figures and dodgy politicians.
   The closest I got was bombing around in humble Opels and Peugeots around France and the dodgiest thing I ever fought in that country was food poisoning.
   And as I got older, with the ad libs that Curtis did in the series—including at least one reference to Bernard Schwartz—I began to think of the great matinee actor by his birth name. It’s why I Tweeted a farewell to ‘Bernie Schwartz’.
   I was a fan. As a kid, I thought Houdini was fabulous, and this stayed my favourite Curtis film for years. Unlike most of the tributes coming in today, I wasn’t that big a fan of Some Like It Hot, though I have seen it many times, and Operation Petticoat was a late-night filler for me. I’m old enough to have watched these as films on regular TV.
   I am aware that Bernard Schwartz could be a bastard. Sir Roger Moore, in his autobiography, mentioned that his co-star came in as a grump till he smoked a couple of joints. He called Joan Collins a ‘c***’ when filming with her on The Persuaders. Directors on the series had their share of complaints. He wasn’t particularly private about his private life, telling his friend, Walter Matthau, ‘Walter! It’s Bernie! I f***ed Yvonne de Carlo!’
   So while the serious film buffs go on about Bernard Schwartz and his 1950s’ classics, and The Boston Strangler, I will remember him for the 24 episodes of The Persuaders. Who cares that he made all of them while high? They shaped my childhood and I still think it’s a heck of a legacy.

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Posted in culture, France, interests, TV, USA | 1 Comment »


I remember 1973 more clearly than Sam Tyler

07.01.2010

I read a blog post tonight on my friend Jen’s Tumblr, about a memory that goes back to when she was about three or so. But she wondered if it was accurate.
   I believe it was, because for me, by age three I had over two years’ worth of memories. I have met two people in my life who can remember back, clearly, in a temporal, linear fashion, to before we were one. When we discuss this, our first comment to the other usually is, ‘No one believes you, do they?’
   Many doubt us, saying, ‘You must have heard that from your parents,’ or ‘You must have seen this in a photograph,’ until we start telling the stories.
   I wrote on Jen’s blog:

I have a few vague memories similar to this prior to nine months, and they are dream-like, almost like flashes. I assume the human mind does not string events together in a temporal fashion at earlier ages, so we recall them as unclear glimpses rather than moments that are anchored to past and future events on either side.

   I don’t know if studies have been done about this, about why those early memories are not stored. The above is only a theory, but I have a hunch it is right. We are not taught the concepts of past and future as babies, so we don’t store anything in a linear fashion. Why I began to earlier than most, I do not know. No single event triggered it.
   I usually tell people I began remembering when I was nine months old. That’s only a rough date, because at that age I had no concept of what a month was. The date does come from photographs, but that’s all I will give childhood photography. The rest is down to my own mind.
   The story that usually convinces people in regular conversation is this one: learning to walk. It was not my first memory—that was one of those “flashes” that I alluded to in the quote—nor was it the first one that I can trace right back. But I think most people will agree that getting on to your two feet should be quite a memorable event.
   I was a late walker and a happy shuffler. If we put the average baby learning to walk at around age one, then I was still shuffling at 15 months.
   My friend Tim, who remains in contact with me to this day, is younger than me by just over three months. His family came over to visit and he had just started walking. I believe I retold this to him when we were in our late 20s. Sadly, he does not remember it and cannot corroborate the events.
   I had already put up with encouragement to walk for ages (again, at this point, I had no concept of ‘months’, but it must have been) so, naturally, there was a lot of ‘Oh, look at Tim, he’s walking! Isn’t he a good boy?’
   My thought, because at this point I had attempted to walk (and fall) numerous times was: ‘This is peer pressure. I’m not doing it. Look, I can get across the room shuffling more quickly than he can walk. It’s safer, and it’s a known quantity. Just because everyone else is doesn’t mean I should, and so what if I don’t?’
   I should note that the thought was not structured as language, but as impulses, which, really, is the way most of us think. It’s only in recounting the event that we stretch it into comprehensible sentences. I also did not say this; if I did, it probably was as infantile babbles.
   And I could get across that room more quickly. Shuffling 1, walking 0.
   If you think back to when you were five or six, or whenever it was when you first began your set of memories, you might remember that inner voice of yours. It’s your own Jiminy Cricket. It’s not a weird voice telling you to do evil stuff, but your thought process. You know, the one talking to you right now as you read this. And I’m willing to bet that that voice has remained identical all these years in your own mind.
   For the fellas, that means that when your voice broke, it didn’t suddenly change. It’s as though it was the same all along.
   And that’s the voice I had at 15 months.
   It means that even at age one, I was a stubborn so-and-so.
   I should also mention that I was on “the leash” (which demeans us both). And from personal experience of being the leashed, it is bloody painful on your armpits when you get dragged up. It’s only natural for your parents to not want you to hurt yourself and they jerk you up. But by 12–15 months, you’re used to the pain of falling and you know how bad it is. In fact, the pain of falling was preferable to the pain of being yanked up. (In the 1990s, I went to Plunket to tell them of my experiences, and begged them to never recommend the leash to parents.)
   The leash might well have made me more rebellious than I normally would be, but eventually, as anyone who knows me today, I eventually learned to walk. I was about 16 at the time and wanted to pull chicks. Only kidding.
   Soon after (again, I cannot give you an exact time-frame), I discovered that I could run. Fast walking. And I loved it. (Driving on the autobahn gives the same thrill.)
   I then remembered thinking, ‘If someone had told me that I could run after I learned to walk, I would have done this ages ago [or, at least, in the past]. Why didn’t someone tell me?’
   Even at a time when we are not supposed to understand language as it is constructed, I am convinced infants actually understand any language as impulses, probably picking up vibes. They can reason, and it means that parents should be clear in explaining everything to their children, even at a very young age that they cannot remember back to.
   But it shows me that at around 12–18 months, I had a clear idea of ‘the past’ being the time when I was being encouraged to walk.
   The memories may well have been triggered by another phenomenon: the need to begin schooling at age two, as was common in Hong Kong.
   We are expected to attend kindergarten from 2½, and it’s not what occidentals associate with that term.
   We are talking nightly homework and getting graded. Sucks, I know. You don’t get much of a childhood, though there were really cool tricycles there.
   The idea is that if you don’t get into a good kindy, you don’t get into a good primary school, which means you don’t get into a good college, which means you don’t get into a good university. Therefore, in Hong Kong, in the 1970s, it was important to get the right start in life.
   However, to get into a good kindergarten, you have to sit an exam. Solo. With the examiner in the room in front of you.
   This would have been around two, and in the period before, while you are still one, you notice your parents buy join-the-dots puzzle books (I could count by this stage, thanks to my grandmother) and books with the alphabet.
   This was not exercising my mind: this was serious swotting.
   Because of the kidnapping of infants by Red Chinese back in those days, we also have the ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ message drummed in to us. By this point, my parents and grandmother were rationalizing with me, adding, ‘Because if you do, you might not see us again.’
   You can imagine that being abandoned by your mother with the examiner in a room is a pretty traumatic experience, because it goes against the whole anti-stranger thing.
   It didn’t make it easier that the bloody exam was not alphabet recitation or joining the dots.
   Maybe this is why, to this day, I still have nightmares about not having studied for an exam, though usually it’s set at law school, and it’s often constitutional law. (Thank you, Prof Palmer. Ironically, I did quite well with Sir Geoffrey’s exam.)
   The exam was putting shapes in to holes: the one Frank Spencer had to do when he joined the RAF.
   I eventually did it, crying through the process, but I guess at the end of the day, it was about the result and not the means. And I could see my Mum again.
   So by age two, most kids in Hong Kong had to rely on some form of memory, and when I was younger, I usually credited that with why mine went so far back. However, I wonder if others from the same place can report the same.
   Or, for instance, can actress Alicia Witt recall that she recited Shakespeare on That’s Incredible at age four? Considering her profession today—musician and actress—she must be blessed with a good memory, one that she’s had to exercise for a longer time than most.
   Emigrating to New Zealand in 1976 might have triggered a new set, because of the then-unfamiliar surroundings.
   I have a photographic memory, and I can tell you that the first car that went on the other side of the road as we left Wellington Airport on September 16, 1976, three days shy of my fourth birthday, was a Holden.
   There were few Holdens in Hong Kong but I remember the shape of the station wagon and finding out the brand later.
   It’s a little obsession I have always had, long before I even came to New Zealand.
   If anyone who worked at the Fiat dealership on the corner of Victory Avenue, Homantin, Kowloon, in 1975–6 remembers a two- to three-year-old who could tell them which was the 124, the 127, the 128 and the X1/9, and what years they were registered, then that was me. I still regret missing the launch of the 131, which was scheduled to take place in late September–early October 1976, but the cars were in the showroom, covered up.
   The dealership is no longer there, nor is the kindergarten, otherwise I would be asking Fiat Hong Kong for photographs of the launch event. It must have been the first launch to which I could have gone to, and had to miss.


Above The corner of Victory Avenue and Waterloo Road. At the far right, cut off, is where the Fiat dealership would have been. The laundry was there in the 1970s.

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Posted in cars, general, Hong Kong, interests, New Zealand, Wellington | 2 Comments »