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Armchair Theatre - Brown Skin Gal, Stay Home and Mind Bay-Bee (1971)

The Excellent Talking Pictures TV has hit gold again with the broadcasting each Sunday of Armchair Theatre which originally ran from 1956 to 1974. It was the brainchild of ex Dr Who legend Sydney Newman who wanted to change British drama from the ‘anyone for tennis?’ upper middle class sort of play to subjects that working class people were having to address, so it was more Angry Young Men. Thames TV took over production of the series from 1968 until it ended 6 years later.

I think it fair to say that the quality of the episodes do vary but the series was responsible for blooding a new generation of writing and acting talent in these isles, including such people as Colin Welland (Chariots of Fire), Harold Pinter ( The Caretaker) and Phillip Saville (Boys from the Blackstuff).

The most recent episode (10th February) was the first class Brown Skin Gal, Stay Home and Mind Bay-Bee (1971). The title -taken from the Harry Belafonte calypso folk song- stars the always excellent Billie Whitelaw who is riveting as Ruth, a bored and sexually frustrated psychologist abandoned by her husband and with a young daughter to care for. Her life appears listless and without excitement as it consists of coffee with her girlfriends (fellow suburbanites (Anna Cropper and Ann Firbank), reading Henry Miller sex opuses and tanning herself in her garden.

Her life though gets disrupted when she rents out her basement to Irish manual worker Roger (Donal McCann) and over a period of days and weeks the two of them get the hots for each other. Ruth imagines making love to him whilst he fantasies about them getting married. Her girlfriends joke about her having fun with Roger the Lodger whilst his friend (Mark Kingston) encourages him to “get in there!” (it is the 1970’s after all!).

However both are too frozen by their social mores to get close to doing something to get together and both back out and are ultimately frustrated. To be honest, I think Billie Whitelaw’s character would have eaten poor old Roger alive but both characters are desperately lonely and end up as they started – frustrated and unhappy.

The play though is very well scripted by Robert Hollies who is perhaps best known for the film based on his book about the fight over a newly created African state at the end of the British Empire Guns at Batasi (1964) and had previously served (and was then kicked out of) the Gloucester Regiment for his portrayal of Army life. He creates and sustains the tension needed between Ruth and Rodger but it is Billie Whitelaw who keeps you watching. This is not the Billie Whitelaw as the demonic nanny in The Omen (1976) or the pursuing widow in Payroll  (1962) also on Talking Pictures TV, but as a luminous divorcee bored out of her head and wanting adventure, lust, romance and companionship back in her life again.

Certainly well worth a watch.

My Top 60 -No 2: You Light Up My Life (1977)


I first saw You Light Up My Life on its release in 1978 and it was regarded as a ‘little’ film and something of a ‘sleeper’, in that it had no major stars in it, its production budget was not huge and you might think that it didn’t have a lot going for it. However it made 40 times its budget, it won an Oscar and Grammy for its title song which when re-recorded by Debby Boone became No1 in the US Charts for almost three months.

The writer, composer and director of You Light Up My Life was one Joseph Brooks. He first came to attention as a hugely successful writer of advertising jingles in the US until he started scoring movies such as The Lords of Flatbush  (1974), co-written and co-starring the then unknown Sylvester Stallone. You Light Up My Life was Brooks’ baby and he even paid $150,000 for the film to be screened to pick up a film distributor which he achieved. There was though a very bitter afternote however. In 2009, Joseph Brooks was investigated by New York police and was indicted on 91 charges of rape and other sexual charges but before he could attend trial he committed suicide in 2011.

But for me the real star and driving force behind the movie is one Didi Conn. Who is she? She is probably better known for the role she made her own a year after making You Light Up My Life – a small film called Grease where she played Frenchie as she did in its sequel in 1982. She was also recently the oldest competitior in ITV's Dancing on Ice. In You Light Up My Life, Conn plays Laurie who is under the thumb of her comedian father (Joe Silver) who includes her in his act- but what she really wants to do is write songs and to sing. She is already engaged but falls for a director of an upcoming film (Michael Zaslow) which she is told she will be the leading actress of, but when she calls off her wedding, the director, turned dirty rat, gives her role to someone else and leaves her standing. Laurie, distraught, tells her father he has to let her go and she sets off to New York on her own with her music and her ambitions. Later on, Laurie’s song (You Light Up My Life) is released and it and she goes to No 1.

Conn as the vulnerable Laurie is terrific in what was her first major film role and the film reaches an emotional climax with her singing the extraordinary theme song. Now the song in itself has a real story behind it. Didi Conn lip-synchs the song that on the film was actually sung by Ukrainian soprano Kvitka Cisyk, but it was re-recorded by Debby Boone when it was an enormous success and in fact was the biggest seller of any single in the 1970’s in the US (including those released from the blockbusters Grease & Saturday Night Fever). I still have the soundtrack LP (that dates me) and the theme song deservedly won the Oscar for Best Original Song, beating Nobody Does It Better from The Spy Who Loved Me.

You Light Up My Life is still a personal favourite of mine. Didi is always worth watching and you do root for her as she aims to live her own life. Catch the theme song performed (but not sung!) by her below:

My 'Top 60' Favourite Movies: 1. 'Where Eagles Dare' (1968)

OK, so I am 60 in June of 2019 –impossible I hear you cry! It is true and in order to celebrate (?)  that event, I am running a series of blogs of my ‘Top 60’ movies (did you see what I did there?) that I have enjoyed during my cinema going life so far and why I rate them so highly. Now they are not in any particular order as I think it near impossible to single out even a Top 10 when you have been viewing movies in my case over around a 50 year period – Mary Poppins was the first film I saw in a cinema which must have been around 1965. Personal tastes change over that breadth of time of course and some movies hold up better than most!

So as Mary Poppins said: “Spit spot and off we go!”

  1. Where Eagles Dare (1968)

I first saw Where Eagles Dare with my dad at the old ABC (Regal as was) Woolwich either on its first UK release (1969) or possibly a re-release. I do recall that it was a double bill of sorts as there were several Tom & Jerry features that played before it. Now, that made for some kind of a programme as Where Eagles Dare ran for 155 minutes –and that did not include an interval. My next memory of it was on one Christmas Eve when our family was returning from Eltham (London SE9 for the uninitiated) having visited my Nan. It was being shown on her Black and White TV when we left and was still playing when we got in at our home in Abbey Wood (London SE2) whilst the fire was being set.

Of course like a lot of people, I have seen Where Eagles Dare numerous times on TV and it is still a regular part of the ITV 3 schedules here in 2019, but I have always been drawn to it but I don’t think you really appreciate its raw emotional pull and power unless you see it on the Big Screen. Sadly, it has rarely been shown in the form it deserves. It had a screening as part of the 2009 Bradford International Film Festival but that version came with Swedish subtitles!

Now 2018 was the 50th anniversary of Where Eagles Dare being made and thankfully the British Film Institute held a special screening of it just last month (January). You couldn’t ask for a better way to start 2019…..

So, what for me is the appeal of the film? I think it is that it is a pure cinematic treat. It has, in my eyes at least, the greatest opening to any film. The MGM lion roars the film alive as we are treated to a Junkers 52 fly over the Alps to the beat of that incredible Ron Goodwin score- his incessant snare drumbeat builds to a crescendo interspersed by the growl of the aircraft’s meaty engine. As the movie develops, we get transported back to good old Blighty where military planners Michael Horden and Patrick Wymark lay out to their intrepid band of special forces the suicide mission to allegedly capture  a very special person from the Nazis in the Schloss Adler or ‘Castle of Eagles’ perched high up the Austrian mountains where no one can get at them- unless of course you are Major John Smith (Richard Burton), Ranger Lt Schaffer (Clint Eastwood) and their female companions Heidi (Ingrid Pitt) and Mary Ellison (Mary Ure).

The important thing to remember is this: do not worry about the plot! It is irrelevant to the numerous delights of the film- just leave your enquiring mind at the door and just relax and enjoy the Boys Own antics of in Steven Spielberg’s personal view “the best war film ever made”.

You have Burton having the time of his life as he cites those memorable words on landing in snowbound Austria “Broadsword calling Danny Boy, Broadsword calling Danny Boy…”,  Eastwood spends most of the film either squinting or taking out dozens of Nazis without even having to reload his weapon, you have two great Cable Car fights including Burton’s character fighting with just one hand (not easy) and laying into Nazi agent Donald Houston with a pickaxe-nasty! The women also earn their money as Mary Ure blasts away with her machine gun as if she is the leader of the Baader Meinhof Gang. And if that is not enough, you have the always reliable Derren Nesbitt doing his nasty SS man act as Major Von Happen who has the hots (don’t we all?) for Mary Ure but comes to a right sticky end.

Although Where Eagles Dare runs for 151 minutes, it goes in a flash and as someone said after the January screening “there’s not a dull moment!”.

I also think that for men in particular Where Eagles Dare is a rite of passage film- you see it as a boy and you remember it forever as a man….

Mamma Mia!- Here We Go Again


So it is a full ten years since the original Mamma Mia! hit the screens  and become a cinema phenomenon – it was the UK’s most popular film of 2008 and held the record as the most successful film in the UK until the last few years- even now it is still the UK’s 11th highest grossing film of all time.

A sequel had been talked about for a long time but no one had been able to come up with the right story or script until now. The trick this time was to do a Godfather 2 and have the sequel as a joint prequel as well. The idea came from Richard Curtis’ daughter (Scarlett – listed as ‘Creative Consultant’ on the film’s credits) and it was Richard Curtis (Love Actually & Four Weddings  et al) and Director Ole Parker (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) who have co-written Mamma Mia Here We Go Again (let’s call it HWGA!) who finally came up with the story and script that delivers.

You might think it rather dangerous to have a brand new writing team to pen the sequel (Catherine Johnson had written and Phyllida Lloyd had directed the original stage play and film) and you might think it would not work – but it works and how!

HWGA suceeds so well as it follows the spirit of the original very closely and still has its creator Judy Cramer on board together with the people who made it all possible in Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus – it weaves some great ABBA songs into a story that does not take itself too seriously and keeps the energy and fun at a consistent octane level.

The new movie though starts with Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) setting up ‘Hotel Belladonna’ with Sam, who is of course also one of her fathers (Pierce Brosnan). But there are problems ahead – she is having disagreements with her partner Sky (Dominic Cooper) and there are storms ahead (physical as well as mental) for the grand opening with 2 of her 3 possible fathers (Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard) not able to attend.

But it really kicks off when the film switches to Oxford 1979 when the young Donna (played by the ever effervescent t Lily James) graduates by an impromptu version of ‘When I kissed the Teacher’ with younger versions of fellow Dynamos band members Rosie (Alexa Davies) and Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn)- from there we follow Sophie as we learn how she meets young Sam (Jeremy Irvine), young Bill (Josh Dylan) and of course young Harry (Hugh Skinner). There are also a few surprises with Grandma (OK Great Grandma!) Cher (she does an amazing ‘Fernando’ with Andy Garcia) and more!

There are some great stand out highlights – my personal favourite is  ‘Dancing Queen’  which has always being the emotional heart of the show and film- but this time it is like the end of Dunkirk with numerous small boats approaching Hotel Belladonna to make sure it does have its grand opening after all. Hugh Skinner and Lily James have great fun in a light hearted version of ‘Waterloo’ and the climax of ‘Super Trouper’ with well, everyone is a great way to finish off the movie –but make sure you stay until the very end of the credits for a great little treat!

Like its predecessor, HWGA is also very funny. There is a great in joke with Omad Djalli about pretty much anyone who wants to get a boat to the hotel’s island and the rapport between the present day Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski) is as good and bitchy as ever.

Lily James confirms the promise she showed as Churchill’s secretary in the recent outstanding Darkest Hour and with Amanda Seyfried largely holds the film together as the central characters-but even they were almost outshined by Alexa Davies (who played Lance’s daughter in the brilliant The Detectorists) as the young Rosie. She is very sassy and is especially good when her attempt to get off with ‘Scandi dream guy’ Young Bill is thwarted- her answer with any failed romance is like with old Rosie cake and more cake….

Go and see HWGA and you will have the time of your life- it is about as much fun as you can have at the moment!