Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Film Review, October 1978 Issue

Did you have a favourite night to go to the "pictures"? I seem to remember that the programme changed every Thursday and my parents - when there was a suitable film showing - would take us on a Tuesday as by then it was a bit quieter. The circle was my favourite place to sit. Either at the front or at the front of the second block back, at the side of where the stairs from below came up.

We have reached October 1978 in our series drawn from the pages of Film Review magazine. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John get top billing on the cover and a full eight pages is devoted inside the magazine to Grease. I wonder whatever happened to my sachet of hair colour? I wonder whatever happened to my hair...

On the inside front cover Bacardi rum have yet again set up shop on a tropical beach and the bar tender has installed a notice saying "No coaches". I suspect it didn't do him any harm as I've rarely seen people pouring off coaches gasping "Bacardi and coke... find me a Bacardi and coke...!"

Let's scoot straight to Barbra Paskin's gossip from Hollywood, where it appears that the famous sign, which was dismantled in the August of 1978 as it was in imminent danger of falling down through age, was to be replaced at a cost of $250,000.

Playboy millionaire Hugh Hefner helped towards the total by throwing a gala dinner party at the Playboy Mansion where the $150 ticket price raised $50,000. Further money was raised by holding an auction to sponsor some of the letters. The idea had been started by rock musician Alice Cooper a few weeks before when he donated the equivalent of £15,000 to fund one of the letters O in memory of his close friend Groucho Marx. At the party Andy Williams donated a similar amount ($27,700) for the letter W and Hefner himself donated for the Y. The sign was replaced in October 1978 leaving a three-month gap where the famous hill was without its equally famous landmark.

Julie Christie was being tipped to play Scarlett O'Hara in a proposed remake of the legendary Gone With The Wind. She was just one in a long list - which still goes on. Why on earth Hollywood would even in a million years think that a remake was a good idea, I've no idea and frankly...

Meanwhile in the cloudy, smelly, slightly yellow-stained 1970s, a modern age cowboy is still coughing his guts up... His smoke is rising up out of the valley, causing the horses to stampede along the top of the ridge.

Roger Moore takes time out from his role as James Bond to make The Wild Geese, a film about mercenaries trying to rescue a deposed president in Africa. He admits that he hates firing guns and has a tendency to turn his head away from the noise which, given the roles he played demanding the use of firearms, shows a certain level of determination on his part!

"At last! The Thirty Nine Steps as the author intended" enthuses the header to a double-page article on the third version of the film. Starring Robert Powell, seen here with Karen Dotrice (the magazine mistakenly names her as her sister, "Michelle" but even her name was spelt wrong - there's only one L, i.e. "Michele"). It includes an exciting moment as hero Richard Hannay climbs out onto the face of the Westminster clock tower to stop Big Ben from striking after German spies have set explosives to be detonated when the bell's hammer strikes. The film was so successful that a TV series featuring Robert Powell as Hannay was to follow.

William Devane and Vanessa Redgrave star as American GI and the English girl with whom he has an affair in Yanks. Set in the north of England, the film featured local celebrities of the past in small parts. Comedians Leslie Saroney and Nat Jackley, names almost forgotten now, were both featured in straight roles for the film. Looking at the magazine today as I prepared this article, I wondered (never having seen Yanks) why I knew William Devane. A search of the Internet Movie Database reminded me that he played one of the key starring roles in the TV mini-series of From Here To Eternity in 1979.

Another of those witty Smirnoff Vodka adverts. "Well, they said anything could happen..."

An advert for boxes of Good News chocolates try out their wit in this ad where each chocolate is a reason to celebrate. No.1: "She's taken up knitting". No.2: "You help her unwind". No.12 "You spent a fortune on fireworks". No.13: "She gave you a rocket". Ah, yes, I'm going to have to go lie down for a minute...

"Grease is the word!" The eight-page extravaganza article on the new musical experience that is Grease kicks off.

Set in the 1950s - oh come on, you surely don't need me to set out the plot? It confirmed John Travolta as a star for the Seventies as bad boy turned mellow by the sweet teenage - er... well late twenties - innocence of Olivia Newton-John. At the end of the film she makes over her innocent self, donning skin-tight black and a hip - surely that's a before-its-time 1980s - hairstyle to create such an impression on young and middle-aged boys alike that her name gets changed to Olivia Neutron-Bomb... Towards the end of the film it was hard to drag your eyes away from her if you were a male...

"Tell me more, tell me more..." The entire film was filled with the oldest teenagers you've ever seen... John Travolta was 24; Livvy was 29 when making it, 30 by the time this magazine came out; Stockard Channing (the film's lesson in morals) was 34(!); Jeff Conaway (Kenickie) was 28; Didi Conn (Frenchie) was 27... The film also brought back to the big screen the fabulous Joan Blondell, the sexy minx from many a Busby Berkeley film of the 1930s and real-life 1950s popster Frankie Avalon.

And to finish for this time a black panther and a choice of stack systems. I think I'll just play my 45 rpm vinyl of Hopelessly Devoted To You... Are you? Are you really, Livvy...?

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Austria in Postcards

I've been somewhat busy the last few days so apologies for the short break in service and my apparent laziness in posting this, which features some of my postcards from Austria with a few of my more bizarre personal memories...

We have been to Austria and the Tirol three times between 2000 and 2003 and I loved the place. Would like to go back in fact. Unfortunately though, I took most of my photos on an early digital camera in the days when computer screens at best were 800x600 pixels and most were only 640x480. The photos I have of those holidays are a tiny 320x240 pixels. I'll have to see if I can do some articles based on those holidays but for now, this is a typical Tirolean scene with a river of glacier water which has a wonderful turquoise colour. In the shadow behind you can see a waterfall.

Heiligenblut translates as "Holy Blood", the church here is one of those reported to have a phial of blood taken from the body of Jesus as it was on the cross. There was a huge market for such relics and no doubt many of them were faked, but some may be genuine. In any case, a belief that something may cure you is often enough to have an effect - the placebo effect. Most of the relics of England were lost during Henry VIII's Reformation. Very few survive now but every single cathedral and abbey would have had something - a bit of wood from the Cross, or the bones of some saint.

I remember Heiligenblut mainly for searching a menu for something I could recognise on our first visit to a German-speaking country, never having spoken the language before and seeing "pommes frites" which my smattering of the French language told me was chips - literally potato fries. However I asked for it using the French pronunciation which had two immediate effects. One: the bloke sitting on his own at the next table, who had been watching amused at our perusal of the menu, suddenly burst out laughing and choked on his own chips and Two: the waitress snorted "Pommuss frittuss!!!" in a disgusted voice. "Er... and some ketchup?" I called hopefully to her disappearing back.

The hills are alive... This scene serves to remind us of The Sound of Music even though we struggled to find much in the way of reminders or souvenirs even in Salzburg where the film was made. Liberties were taken with the actual events for the film (I mean to say - at the end they trog off heading straight for Hitler's Alpine Headquarters...) but from the Austrian point of view perhaps they were less the heroes and more the ones who scarpered at a time of crisis. (For the record, in real life the von Trapps escaped by catching the train...)

More glacial rivers. The towns of the Tirol are absolutely beautiful. In summer, balconies are alive with flowers with streets having co-ordinated with each other for a pleasing colour scheme. Even in winter the walls of buildings are decorated with painted scenes, little plaster sculptures of faces and the streets alive with fur-wrapped people glowing in the light of shop windows and from too much spiced wine!

Kitzbuhel is one of my favourite towns, with a row of colour-washed buildings, a vibrant shopping centre full of surprises. The first time we were there we came across a silver holder for a bottle of Heinz tomato ketchup! There was no other bottle it could have held! There are cable cars to take you up the mountain which we have done both in summer and in winter, though I draw the line at strapping planks to my feet and throwing myself down mountain sides...

It was summer time when we went to the Krimml waterfalls and we walked up the path alongside of them, climbing some 750 feet without reaching the topmost fall. We had a meal in a restaurant halfway down, the only two people in the entire place. The landlord was effusive in his welcome, despite us not having a clue what he was on about. He showed us to a table and we ordered wiener schnitzel and apfel tart to follow. He came in whilst we were making our way through the meal and fired off a short question in German, which I took to be "Is everything ok with your meal?" I waved a fork in acknowledgement and said "Ja, danke!". God know what he had actually asked but he immediately nodded in delight, shut the windows and turned the music down...

Salzburg. What a beautiful city it is. There are many sights familiar from The Sound of Music, some of them hidden away and some of them - perhaps most of them - set in a totally different setting or context than you see them in the film. Once they left that concert at the castle they had walked a blooming long way to hide behind those graves...

Mozart lived here and it is far easier to find his house than it is anything to do with - you know... that film they don't mention... His house faces onto a large square and there was a market on the square when we visited. A woman was using a mini battery vacuum cleaner - then a fairly new development - to suck wasps off her display of bread! (They are clean insects - it's ok to eat stuff after they have been removed...)

Wintertime changes everything in the Tirol. In England half an inch of snow brings everything to a stop but over there you could stand on someone else's shoulders and it would still cover your head. Well, providing you could find someone willing to let you stand on their shoulders and not move themselves until they were six feet under the surface themselves... I tried my best but no one seemed ready to let me have a go unless I was on the bottom...

We took a pony and sleigh ride in Westendorf in January 2002, but whilst there was some snow, there wasn't enough for the sleigh to need its runners and most of the time the wheels on the side of the runners were in contact with the ground. Obligingly they took us through a wood where there were piles of snow that looked as though it had been trucked in overnight and spread about hastily. There were ten of us to each sleigh and we were in a middle row. The row at the back got dribbled on by the horse behind and those on the front row had to endure something else altogether...

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Vintage Postcard Time No.1

Today we'll take a look at some old postcards from my collection. These have all come from antique stalls at GB Antiques in Lancaster from a recent visit. The Edwardians were great ones for postcards. There was no email and alternatives were expensive. Postcards were a little cheaper than writing a letter and much cheaper than sending a telegram. Telephones had been invented in the 1870s but only started to become popular after World War One when prices came down and in any case telephones that you could carry in your pocket were a long way off yet.

Cameras too were expensive and few and far between as yet. Telephones in the early 1900s were totally rubbish at taking photos. To take photos of people on the not-very-sensitive film of the day, they had to sit still for anything up to two minutes. Many commercial photographers would have special clamps that they would attach to the back of your head so you couldn't move whilst the photo was taken. If you were of a mischievous bent, you could look one way for half the time and then the other way for the other half whilst your head remained steady in the clamp and the photo would look like you had two pupils in each eye! Try doing that with you iPhone! Hah! So with no telephones and very few cameras, people on holiday bought postcards. Sometimes to send to their friends saying things like "Wish you were here" - mostly a lie, but it was cheaper if you only wrote four words... Sometimes, in fact many times, postcards were bought to be kept by the buyer and stuck into an album as a souvenir of the holiday. Which explains why there are so many early postcards with no writing on them. Like this one of Bridlington.

Move up the coast from Bridlington and you come to Scarborough. This card too has not been used. People would hold postcard parties where postcard albums were passed round and used to re-live the excitement of a holiday. Later you would take your own photos and show friends and family your photos on slide film, with a projector and screen in a darkened room. Oh what fun we had... Now we don't have to do that as there are new ways through technology of boring our friends and even people we don't know, via websites and writing er... blogs... er... let's move on!

Postcard manufacturers realised that they could use more than one view on a single card in an attempt to appeal to the natural stinginess of some holiday makers. This card was sent between two sisters who it seems had each gone on holiday but to different places. The postmark is a little indistinct but it was sent on 17 August in either 1913 or 1915. I suspect 1913 really because the other sister had sailed to the Isle of Man and during wartime that might have been a bit more risky! The card was sent care of the recipient's guest house in Douglas.

The message reads: "Dear Sister," (Perhaps the sender was a bit forgetful and couldn't remember her sister's name?) "We arrived safely after a pleasant journey. Are enjoying ourselves immensely. Hope you are doing the same and I hope you had a pleasant voyage. Give my kindest regards to Janey. Your loving sis, Alice xxxxxxxxxxx" (Alice obviously was worried her sister might also be forgetful and either forget she had a sister or didn't realise that Alice was her sister?)

A postcard of Great Yarmouth with hand colouring and a painted cloudscape. Buildings and other details have been picked out in ink. These tricks of the trade are one of the joys of collecting old postcards for me. Night time shots that are just darkened and painted over photos that were taken in broad daylight, with obvious shadows from the sun, the moon in the wrong direction and cars with headlights shining the wrong way are great fun. This card has not been written on or sent through the post, so another collector's item.

A between the wars postcard showing The Pier and Sands, New Brighton. The water is the River Mersey rather than the sea and it's Liverpool that you can see across on the far bank. A collection of masts or cranes and derricks on the left side are on Liverpool Docks. The pier acts as a means of boarding steamers for a trip across the river or up and down the coast.

The card was sent by a child to her aunt in Deepdale, Preston on 12 August 1935. It reads: "Dear Aunty, We landed quite safely and the weather is lovely and we are having a glorious time. We have been in the water all the time and the lodgings are posh. Yours sincerely, Jean." It was quite common for Lancashire folks to say "landed" meaning simply "arrived". I suspect Jean didn't fly from Preston to New Brighton... Also to many people from industrial towns, guest houses did seem posh - some had a toilet on every landing for Pete's sake! At this time many people would still be using a toilet in a little out-house in the back yard.

Another unused card showing the Saxon water mill at Guy's Cliffe in Warwickshire. Postcards were produced at first by small family-owned studios by a single photographer, but then as they became more and more popular some very large firms came into being, employing photographers to take photographs of a region or even around the entire country. Francis Frith is still a very well known and recognisable brand. Tucks, Salmon, John Hinde Studios, Valentine & Sons, and many others sprang up to fulfil the demand.

A multi-view card by Valentines from Ilkley in Yorkshire sent on 10 September 1954 to a friend in Lytham St Annes in Lancashire. Somehow the card managed to get postmarked twice - once in Leeds and once, the day after, in... er... Ilford. Folks in Ilkley were obviously not quite sure where Lancashire was...? The postmark includes a post office advert that reads: "Save time. Buy 2½d stamps in books, 3'9d a book" (3 shillings and ninepence - 18.75 pence).

The message reads: "Ilkley 10/9/1954. Up north again, this time to Ilkley where my friends from Leeds have moved to. The country is wonderful round here isn't it? How are the ballet activities your way? I've been twice to Festival Ballet this summer. Bye now and best wishes from Pam."

To finish with for this article we'll go down to the far south of the country to Dover. On this card, sent in 1918, there are still masted sailing ships in Dover Harbour, though most of the vessels here sport the funnels of steam power. There is at least one paddle steamer with side paddle wheels to be found. The castle makes for a dramatic horizon towards the right of the photograph.

The card could easily be from a returning soldier, writing home to his mother in Glasgow. It was written in pencil in a very neat hand: "Dear Mother, I have arrived safe at Dover alright, so I am getting on champion. I met Mary at the station, so she was telling me that she doesn't like her new job. Well this is only a P.C. but I'll write a long letter on Sunday. I remain your affectionate J.M. Rae Dov(er)"

Monday, 13 June 2016

Musing In Morecambe

Wednesday 1 June 2016. We decide the day is too nice to stay in and drive up to Lancaster first for a look round the antiques warehouse. I come away with a plastic bag full of postcards, mainly from the 1990s but a full bag for a couple of pounds still seems like a bargain!

There are one or two interesting ones amongst them and there was also a few bits of ephemera - newspaper cuttings, bags from foreign postcard shops and an old paper bag from a Ministry of Public Buildings and Works souvenir shop. It carried an advert for a season ticket to ancient monuments for just fifteen shillings (75p) - sounds a bargain to me!

Then we went on to Morecambe where, bless them, there is still free parking to be found on the Promenade. It was a busy old day though - we didn't find our space on the first pass, but spotted it on the other side of the road and had to turn to come back to it.

Morecambe always got the brunt of the variety comedians even during the heyday of seaside resort holidays. It doesn't deserve it really, because here you will find much less of the dilapidation and neglect that is all too horribly visible in other resorts. Morecambe have worked extremely hard over the last decade or two. Whilst many Promenade properties are now shops with no connection to the holiday or tourist trade, they have saved the seafront from degrading to a peeling-paint shabby look.

This bit of land is what is left after the tidy up following the closure of the open air swimming pool. It's perhaps not ideal, but it's far from hideous. A spot of landscaping and the additions of some flower beds and seating in the concrete space in the middle distance would make it a very nice space.

The War Memorial is unusual in that it dates the First World War to 1914-1919. Most memorials date it as 1914-1918. Built in 1921, it commemorates 216 men from Morecambe and Heysham who died in World War One; 180 from World War Two and one more who died during the Korean War.

The Midland Hotel is Morecambe's Art Deco masterpiece. Designed by architect Oliver Hill, it was built in 1933 on the site of a previous hotel, the North Western Hotel of 1848 which had changed its name to The Midland in 1871. It has two three-storey curved wings off a central circular tower which contains the entrance and a spiral staircase.

Two Art Deco sculptures of seahorses sit at the top of the circular tower. These, a round plaster relief of Neptune and Triton on the ceiling of the spiral staircase, a map of the north west coast from Whitehaven to Birkenhead and a bas-relief mural of Odysseus welcomed from the sea by Nausicaa which formed a backdrop to the Reception desk, were all designed by Eric Gill. As a nice aside, he is the one whose name is remembered in the name of the font he designed: Gill Sans.

Birds play a significant role in the decoration of Morecambe's Promenade. You will find many examples of bird sculptures along the Promenade paths, in seafront gardens and in railings and stand alone sculptures. This cormorant is one of many, sitting atop the finials of bollards.

Trains still run to Morecambe, but these days they stop some 400 metres from this station building whose platforms have been demolished and whose ticket hall and waiting rooms now house a pub and restaurant and where today we found sequence dancing offered as a diversion to the seafront attractions. Where the platforms used to be is a new market hall and a cinema.

Brucciani's famous ice cream parlour opened its doors in 1939 and four generations of the family have managed it since then. It is another example of Art Deco - all geometric wooden panels, formica tables which evoke memories of the Forties and Fifties and with a traditional menu including knickerbocker glory - the monster ice cream dish of the connoisseur (and large appetite...)

We had a lovely lunch here just off the seafront at The Grove cafe bar and restaurant. The food was good as was the service and I imagine that we shall enter their door again at some time in the future.

Having fed the inner man, my appetite was for having a good rummage and just north of the restaurant and back on the seafront we found one of my favourite places in Morecambe. A bookshop where browsers are requested to switch off their mobile phones and where there are many alcoves just like this one, each containing just as many or more books with each alcove holding a different genre. Bliss - call for me in an hour or two...

When I came out, wincing slightly at the brightness of the sunlight and with my purchases clutched lovingly to my chest, we crossed the road and walked back slowly along the seafront towards the car. We paused halfway back to buy ice creams and sat on a bench to enjoy them.

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