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Blameless? I Don’t Think So

In an article in Friday’s Guardian, Nicholas Tucker put forward the thesis that “naughty” words could be got away with in more innocent days.

The trigger for this was the change of name of one of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons from Titty to Tatty in a new BBC adaptation of the books, Titty being of course too (err…) tittersome for these days.

He mentions the innocent use in bygone times of “intercourse,” “screw”, “ejaculate” and, in the case of Dr Seuss, “Boners.”

However, the quotation he gives for his next example “cock” – as in a fairground giant cockerel which a maiden aunt of Just William mounts on a merry-go-round – undermines his thesis as the text goes on to say, “It seemed to give her a joy that all her blameless life had so far failed to produce.”

For what is the purpose of that word “blameless”? It seems to me to be present precisely to signal exactly that knowledge which Tucker claims to be absent. Otherwise why include it? If the point was the one Tucker is making then the phrasing, “a joy that all her life so far had failed to produce,” would make it far more effectively, and poignantly.

Tucker then uses the same word to describe Just William’s author, Richmal Crompton, saying she was a blameless ex-classics teacher. But are not the classics – of which she therefore must have had extensive knowledge – full of instances of sexual mayhem? (The Rape of the Sabine Women for one. In case this may be thought to be an egregious example unlikely to be mentioned in school, this incident was one of those encountered by the good lady in her Latin class.)

Tucker says a similar fairground cockerel also appears in an Angela Thirkell story and adduces for her innocence of any double entendre that she was a distinctly snobbish granddaughter of the pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones. As if artists (and particularly the pre-Raphaelites) were entirely free of sexual knowledge and/or shenanigans. Moreover a glance at Thirkell’s life story might suggest rather a lack of innocence.

1864

 1864cover

When this Danish TV series – the most expensive production in Danish television history – was first trailed on the BBC and I saw the blue uniforms I thought it would be about the War Between the States (known on this side of the Atlantic as the American Civil War) as the date fitted. I was immediately interested. I’ve read a lot about that conflict and watched the Jim Burns TV series several times. Looking more closely I realised that I didn’t recognise the painting shown on the trailer or the figures within it (I most likely would have for an American Civil War painting) and of course the uniforms’ details weren’t quite right.

I was therefore even more intrigued when it dawned the series was about the Second Schleswig War as that was something I knew vaguely about from History, at school. Once read, who can forget the comment the UK Prime Minister at the time, Lord Palmerston, made about the intricacies of the Schleswig-Holstein question – which in the series was uttered to that fine actress Barbara Flynn, in the person of Queen Victoria – that there were only three men who ever understood it; the Prince Consort, who was dead, a German professor who had gone mad and Palmerston himself, who had forgotten all about it?

As presented in the series, the war seems to have been provoked by Denmark in a fit of collective insanity. The programme, which has been criticised for historical inaccuracies (it would be difficult to portray any conflict televisually without some of that I’d have thought) certainly presented the Danish Prime Minister, Monrad, as an utter nutter. There seemed to be an element of hysteria in the air that prefigured the Germany of 1939. (Then again there was widespread welcome to Britain’s declaration of war in 1914, so no need to point fingers; except the UK hadn’t sought that conflict – at least not directly.)

However the dire results of the Second Schleswig War for Denmark meant that, to that country’s credit, no Danish military action outside its frontiers again took place until the NATO bombing of Kosovo in 1999.

Scenes were shown from both sides of the conflict and also the sidelines as Palmerston affected to intercede. The subtitles were no intrusion (1864 went out in the BBC 4 European detective slot on Saturdays at 9 pm.) As near as I could tell each nationality in the series spoke in its own language. (I have a smattering of German but no Danish except what I could glean from the dialogue’s similarities to German, English and, occasionally, Scots.)

For the series the necessity of introducing a human aspect to the conflict in the shape of estate manager’s daughter Inge and the two brothers Laust and Peter, with whom she has a special bond, allowed the introduction of those perennial literary concerns, love, sex and death. There was love to be sure, but not much sex – only four scenes as I recall, three of them having not much to do with love, plus another featuring boys attempting to masturbate – but enough death and destruction to slake anyone’s desires. The battle scenes were impressive – and visceral.

Overall the series was magnificent television, well worth checking out if you didn’t catch it, but I thought the elements of mysticism involving one of the soldiers from the village were unconvincing and the framing device wherein a disaffected young woman from our century sent to his house for a form of community service helps read out Inge’s memoirs to an old man (who is Inge’s grandson) was perhaps unnecessary, though it did give the sense of consequences cascading down the years and a contrast to the privations of the soldiers of 150 years earlier.

When I last looked in the BBC shop, the DVD of this was out of stock but the Blu-ray was available.

Yes, Dave, I Blame You

Today, on the BBC’s Reporting Scotland, there was a clip of David Cameron, aka Mr Irresponsible, saying that he was to blame for many things (well you’re right in that at least, Dave) but that Labour’s collapse* in Scotland wasn’t one of them.

Really, Dave? How un-self-aware can anyone get?

It’s got nothing to do with the speech you made on the day after the Independence Referendum where you slapped down those who had just voted to remain in the UK with a, “We don’t care about you, we only care about England,” attitude? Could anything have been more likely to enrage both those who had voted no and those for yes? A clearer demonstration that Westminster politicians just don’t get it as far as Scotland is concerned would have been harder to find. To anyone who knows Scots what response could have been expected other than a rise in support for the SNP (who ought to have been set back for perhaps decades by the rejection of their key purpose for existence?)

I suppose it could all be part of a diabolical (yes, I know it means of the Devil) plan to undermine the Labour party in the UK as a whole but I don’t believe Cameron actually is as cunning as all that. (His sidekick Gideon Osborne, aka George, is another matter, though.) I realise the Tories have more than something of the night about them but I doubt in their wildest dreams could they have deliberately conceived and implemented a coherent, rather than accidental, strategy to reduce the influence of Labour on the Westminster Parliament.

Labour having conspicuously failed over the many years of my lifetime to protect Scots from governments they have not voted for, many people seem to have come round to the view that only a large bank of SNP MPs at Westminster will ensure that Westminster cannot treat Scotland off-handedly.

So yes, Dave. I do blame you.

BTW: I suspect that Labour won’t lose quite so many seats in Scotland as the polls at present predict. There are still many “always been Labour” voters around.

Stargazing Live Hunting Supernovae

I’ve been watching BBC 2’s Stargazing Live the past two nights.

Not that it’s told me much I didn’t know but the hunt for supernovae they mentoned at the zooniverse site was intriguing. Apparently humans are required to check the comparison photos of patches of sky after the before and after subtraction has been made; computers can’t do it.

Up to when I looked just now over 26,000 people have taken part in the effort and over 1,000,000 comparisons have been checked. Out of these tonight’s programme said they’d found one supernova already.

There has been a lot about tomorrow’s solar eclipse in the two programmes so far. In the morning I’ll be out with my two pieces of card pinhole camera trying to image it. As I recall the percentage coverage for the last solar eclipse I witnessed (in 1999) was less than the 95 or so for my area tomorrow. I doubt I’ll see another.

Reelin’ In the Years 100: Light Flight (Take Three Girls)

Another TV theme from the (very) early 1970s – for the first BBC drama series to be broadcast in colour, Take Three Girls – except it wasn’t just a theme as it became a minor hit for the folk band Pentangle.

Pentangle: Light Flight

For completeness here is the title sequence from the first series of Take Three Girls.

Take Three Girls Titles

Friday on my Mind 116: Noggin the Nog

One of the enduring memories of my childhood and early adolescence is the animated BBC TV series Noggin the Nog, one of that long list of delightful creations from the team of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin which also included Ivor the Engine (a bit early for me,) The Clangers and Bagpuss (a bit late.)

Noggin the Nog was such a hit with my schoolmates that one of our secondary school teachers was dubbed with the nickname of the show’s baddie, Nogbad the Bad.

Each episode always had an intro narrated against the muted strains of Hall of the Mountain King, “In the lands of the North, where the Black Rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long the Men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale,” which then went on into that particular storyline.

Noggin the Nog intro:-

Noggin and the Ice Dragon:-

Wandering Light

I posted about my favourite painting in Kirkcaldy Art Gallery, Spring Moonlight by John Henry Lorimer, a while back. One of the things that makes it so effective is the way that light seems to shine out of the two table lamps depicted.

Well, I was in Edinburgh last week and to kill some time visited the Scottish National Gallery and in their Scottish section (for some reason tucked away in a basement at the back) and saw another painting that captures light wonderfully well, Wandering Shadows by Peter Graham.

Once again the reproduction here (from BBC Your Paintings) doesn’t do the painting justice but in the gallery the patches of light on the hill on the left were incredibly realistic.

Wandering Shadows by Peter Graham:-

Wandering Shadows

Dumbarton 0-3 Falkirk

SPFL Tier 2, The Rock, 20/12/14.

I wasn’t at the game but witnessed it via BBC Alba.

I needn’t have bothered. We didn’t turn up for the first half and should have been down by more than one goal at half time. With Mark Gilhaney and Chris Turner missing from the starting line-up we were short in midfield. The only spark at all was, as usual, Chris Kane – and we won’t have him in the New Year.

Once Chris Turner replaced Steven McDougall for the second half things improved but we never really tested their keeper. When the second went in and David van Zanten was taken off for Archie Campbell I knew Falkirk would score again… and they did.

And…. Did Scotty Linton even get a kick of the ball after coming on for Mitch Megginson? I don’t think Archie touched it either and he was on the pitch for longer.

I hope things are better at Central Park next Saturday.

Hartlepool United 1-2 Blyth Spartans

FA Cup Second Round, Victoria Park, 5/12/14.

Normally in a situation like this my sympathies would be with the underdog, in this case Blyth. However, long ago in my youth I conceived a liking for Hartlepool United, adopting then as my wee English team. (Not that I have a big English team.) This may have been because Pools were continually crap for much of my childhood several times having to be re-elected to the Football League. (In those days the Conference did not exist and there was no relegation from the League.) Under Brian Clough as manager – his first such job – their fortunes improved and they gained promotion just after he left. Immediate relegation was followed by two re-election close shaves. They had another such brush with loss of league status in the year before automatic relagtion came in and only just missed that the next season.

When Cyril Knowles took over as manager (yes, Nice One Cyril himself) things got better. Despite his tragic death they won promotion in 1992 but were relegated again two years later.

In the very early years of this century they endured promotion play-off defeats three years in a row before finally achieving elevation again in 2003, competed well in the higher division for a while but dropped back down in 2013.

This game was my first glimpse – courtesy of the BBC – both of Pools and of Victoria Park, which looks a tidy ground. At its start Pools were rock bottom of the Football League once more.

You couldn’t have told that from the first half, they played well, knocked the ball about, created chances which only desperate defending and an inspired goalkeeping save prevented and scored a beautifully crafted goal. But if you don’t put your opponents away when you’re on top football can punish you. A silly free-kick concession gave Blyth the opportunity to score – with a dead ball strike from a former Pools player – and the sucker punch came in the last minute of normal time, a defensive error allowing Blyth their one and only chance from open play, which they took.

In the first half I couldn’t understand how Pools were in the league position they are; they looked way better than Exeter whom I had caught sight of in Round One of this season’s FA Cup. In the second they just faded away. The Conference looms.

The Great War Anniversary

One hundred years ago today, at midnight Central European Time, the event that shaped the twentieth century came into being. Or at least the British Empire’s participation in it began.

Germany had invaded Belgium that morning so we were a bit late. (A squad of Germans had invaded Belgium the previous evening but had jumped the gun – so to speak – not getting the delaying telegram in time and were recalled. They were soon back though.)

Yet those were not the first shots. Hostilities had started seven days earlier on 28th July when Austro-Hungarian troops opened fire on Serbia in response to the true first shots – the ones fired by Gavrilo Princip and which killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie but even those had their roots in the welter of national entanglements which plague the Balkans even yet.

Those entanglements were mirrored in the system of alliances that dictated that Germany had to attempt to defeat France first before swinging round to take on Russia and so necessitated a march through neutral Luxembourg and Belgium.

Ironies abounded. Without attacking Belgium, Germany might have avoided war with Britain and so the holding up of the German armies by the BEF at Mons and later the Allies at the battle of the Marne might not have succeeded and so gained Germany the victory in the west it desired. Russia managed to invade eastern Germany earlier than the Germans had anticipated and troops were hurriedly withdrawn fron the Western Front to face the threat which I believe was actually defeated at the Battles of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes before these reinforcements could get there.

The Great War is remembered for the bloody stalemate of the trenches yet in these first encounters when it was still a war of movement daily casualties were enormous – especially for the French – much higher than in most later battles; though the Somme has a grim reputation in Britain.

I heard a woman on BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought this morning say she refused to call it the Great War “as there was nothing great about it.” Wrong meaning of great I’m afraid.

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