And here's me in more positive form on some of amazing non-Bond films starring Sean Connery.
Thursday, December 31, 2020
Thursday, December 24, 2020
Blurb as follows:
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
You may like to now that I wrote a book about The Evil of the Daleks, and we recreated the sets of episode 1 for Doctor Who Magazine's recent production design special.
Thursday, December 10, 2020
The new issue of Doctor Who Magazine is full of festive treats. Rhys Williams, Gavin Rymill and I have attempted to recreate the studio sets of missing 1965 Christmas special The Feast of Steven by exhaustively picking over photographs and production paperwork, and interviewing production assistant Michael E Briant and fans Jeremy Bentham, Ian McLachlan and Marc Platt who watched it go out. Some archive interviews and Ian Levine's diaries also came into play. It has been quite the endeavour...
(Inevitably, the day the issue is released, a new photograph turns up with some additional clues, including traces of fake snow. But anyway...)
There's also the second part of my feature on David Whitaker's contributions to the early history of the Daleks.
Saturday, November 21, 2020
The time difference meant that the panel started at 1 am for me - so, rather fittingly, I was calling in from the future.
Thanks to Dr. Jessie Christiansen for inviting me and the expert team who put it all together.
Friday, November 13, 2020
The article coincides with a beautiful new edition of the Dalek comic strips from the mid-1960s that Whitaker probably wrote most of, and the brand new Daleks! animated series that takes many of its cues from that strip.
Saturday, November 07, 2020
It has been a fraught week, trying to anticipate changes to lockdown rules relating to funerals - whether we could go, whether I could stay over or would have to drive a 370-mile round trip in one day, whether we could get childcare so the Dr could come too. On Thursday morning, there were police outside the children's school checking that everyone socially distanced and did not mix households, and so I made sure I had the order of service printed and in the car in case I got stopped on the way down.
But we got there, and on a sunny, cold hillside just outside Winchester we gathered with family and a few friends. It was odd being with people anyway - the small gathering still the largest group I've been in since the beginning of March. And it was unsettling, being with family and Dad's friends but him not being there. I kept glancing round, expecting to see him.
Dad wasn't religious but a former bishop presided, an old friend of my parents' who nicely judged the God stuff. I read a short thing of Dad's various catchphrases which, to my surprise, got a lot of laughs. My elder brother read an email from Dad's brother stuck in the US, and my baby brother followed with a reading that Dad had read at his own father's funeral in 2002. There were other bits and pieces, and we ended with a bluetooth speaker playing Bach's Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C - the music Dad had played in the church while waiting for Mum to arrive for their wedding. That music was the only thing Dad had asked for when my elder brother asked him what he might want. Otherwise, he'd not been very helpful on that score. "I won't be there," he'd said.
It was exhausting and emotional, and I stumbled through the business of speaking to people. The rules don't allow a wake but we managed to have lunch and raise a glass of fizz, and then toasted the new grandchild Dad sadly missed by a couple of weeks. And then another cheer at the news Biden was ahead in Pennsylvania...
I made myself go into the room where he spent his last days, where we'd tended to him, where he died. Mum gave me the book Dad had clung to during his last stay in hospital and then when he'd come home, the last book he (re)read - HV Morton's In Search of England, a battered, cherished copy that Dad's mum bought Dad's Dad for Christmas 1936, when they were courting. It seems to be a book all about a lost but almost tangible past... I've also got one of his bright, colourful ties because he didn't want us wearing black at the funeral, and a couple of plants from the garden.
And then a long drive home through an extraordinary sunset, the last few miles down deserted roads as if it were the dead of night not early evening. There were fireworks all around as I got out of the car, defiant celebration that played havoc with the children's bedtime. So it was straight into that and emails and the various bits of work I'm late on. And so it goes. "It's just we've started a new chapter," as Dad would have said.
He was always keen on meeting bad news with something positive, and we've set up a memorial fund in his name with proceeds going to the charity Sense, whose work he knew first-hand:
Monday, November 02, 2020
Bookshop.org, which launched int the UK this morning, is an online bookshop "with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops", according to the blurb. That seems like a good idea.
Friday, October 30, 2020
An anthology of festive tales featuring Bernice Summerfield.
Christmas… Advent… Midwinter Festival… Spiriting… No matter what you call it on your home planet, this magical holiday at the end of the year, when the nights are dark, and the lights are sparkly, is the perfect time for telling stories...
And who doesn’t have a tale or two to tell about Christmas? Certainly not Benny.
Did she ever tell you about the time she had to escape from a herd of rampaging battle-armoured cyborg reindeer? Or the time she had to convince three tentacled young sea creatures that she was the real Santa? Or the time she nearly let an evil deity back into the world just in time for New Year…
These ten stories are collected from all across Benny’s eventful life, from St Oscar’s to the Braxiatel Collection, to Legion and even in the Unbound Universe...
The stories are:
- Collector’s Item by Eddie Robson
- Santa Benny at the Bottom of the Sea by Simon Guerrier
- Tap by Mark Clapham
- Glory to the Reborn King by Matthew Griffiths
- Signifiers of the Verphidiae by Tim Gambrell
- The Frosted Deer by Sophie Iles
- Vistavision by Victoria Simpson
- Wise Women by Q
- Null Ziet by Scott Harrison
- Bernice Summerfield and the Christmas Adventure by Xanna Eve Chown
Friday, October 16, 2020
I'm in it, too, talking to Dan Tostevin about my forthcoming audio trilogy, Wicked Sisters. And I'm busy on a fun thing for next issue...
Saturday, October 03, 2020
Threading the Labyrinth is the debut novel by my friend Tiffani Angus, published by Unsung Stories whose books I've followed closely. It's a strange and compelling story, as Toni - and we - learns the story of the house and gardens through the lives of the people who've tended them. We cut away to four stories from the past - in the 1770s, the early 1600s, the Second World War and then the 1860s. There are mysteries to unpick - the identity of spectres, the links between different generations - and it's never quite as simple as first appears. It's rich and vivid, full of characters who feel rounded and real.
Toni is an American in England for the first time, a little out of her depth and overwhelmed by the cultural differences. But Tiffani the author feels utterly at home in the English past, her characters and their worldviews all utterly convincing. Many of them share a love of the gardens, of grubbing in the soil, and that work compensating somehow for frustrated hopes and desires. It's a strange, unsettling ghost story, less about what is lost in the remains but how the past threads through us.
Thursday, October 01, 2020
Dr Who and the Daleks (1965)
Bill Constable was responsible for the look of the original Peter Cushing movie. I spoke to Bill's daughter Dee - who shared some previously unseen artwork from the film - and biographer Olga Sedneva, as well as Dr Fiona Subotsky, whose late husband Milton produced the movie. (Fiona also wrote Dracula for Doctors, which I read last year.)
The Evil of the Daleks (1967)
Michael Pickwoad (2010-2017)
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Big Finish have put up Tom Newsom's amazing cover art for Doctor Who - Wicked Sisters, the trilogy of audio stories I've written that is out in November.
Wicked Sisters stars Peter Davison as the Doctor, Louise Jameson as Leela, Ciara Janson as Abby and Laura Doddington as Zara, with Anjli Mohindra as Captain Riya Nehru and Dan Starkey as the Sontarans. It's directed by Lisa Bowerman and produced by Mark Wright.
ETA The Big Finish website has added a trailer for Wicked Sisters, blurbs for the three stories and a full cast list.
The Doctor is recruited by Leela for a vital mission on behalf of the Time Lords.
Together, they must track down and destroy two god-like beings whose extraordinary powers now threaten all of space and time. These beings are already known to the Doctor.
Their names are Abby and Zara...
1. The Garden of Storms
In pursuit of Abby and Zara, Leela pilots the TARDIS to the eye of a violent storm in time. Yet she and the Doctor find themselves in an idyllic garden city, the people contented and happy. They soon discover that this bliss comes at a terrible cost, and that Abby and Zara are determined to put things right… so how can Leela and the Doctor stop them?
2. The Moonrakers
Life is hard for the early pioneers building the first settlements on the Moon. The laws of Earth don’t apply here, and there are tussles over limited resources vital to survival. Arriving on the Moon, the Doctor and Zara discover that an aggressive alien species lies in wait. Yet there’s something very strange about these particular Sontarans: they refuse to fight.
3. The People Made of Smoke
Abby and Zara strive to use their powers for good but it’s clear they are damaging reality - and allowing monstrous creatures to bleed through from beyond. The Doctor knows he can only save the universe by destroying his friends. But just how much might he be willing to sacrifice if there’s a chance to save them?
Peter Davison (The Doctor)
Louise Jameson (Leela)
Ciara Janson (Abby)
Laura Doddington (Zara)
Lisa Bowerman (Smoke Creatures)
Pandora Clifford (Zeeb / Zeet)
Paul Courtenay Hyu (Wei)
Nicky Goldie (Polk)
Tom Mahy (Brody)
Anjli Mohindra (Captain Riya Nehru)
Dan Starkey (Stent / Sontarans)
Monday, September 21, 2020
You can still listen to the BBC radio documentary I produced on HG Wells and the H-Bomb, while "Alls Wells That Ends Wells" is an extra on the DVD of 1966 Doctor Who story The Ark:
Thursday, September 17, 2020
As preparation, back in March I read The Painted Banquet by costume designer Jocelyn Rickards. But sadly I didn't know about (because it hadn't been released) Paul Benedict Rowan's making of, which details the troubles I had only suspected...
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
As before, there's a wealth of telling historical detail worked deftly into the breezy tale, which I knocked through in a matter of days. It's so teeming with life and emotion. We really feel the outrage of Winnie the Warden discovering that her harrowing real-life experience has been filletted by her sister for a sexy novel. Or there's Noel's infatuation with a girl who's moved away:
"Noel recognized Genevieve Lumb's neat but forceful handwriting. Even the thought that she had licked the envelope was quite physically stirring." (p. 53).
The remarkable thing is that these extraordinary, unprecedented times feel utterly real. But it's also a delight to spend time in the company of good people just trying to get by, despite all the crap going on.
I was especially moved by the ending, where Vee and Noel face some tricky emotional stuff relating to his biological parents. It's so perfectly done, so impossible to describe here without spoiling. At one point, Vee wonders what might have happened if she'd not made a connection with this awkward teen at a critical moment, how nearly he might have been lost. But we leave them happy, the war over and a new world on the horizon. After all the devastation, what survives is the love.
Thursday, September 10, 2020
The rather fancy, well-to-do area has changed dramatically since Garner's wartime childhood. He vividly conveys dirt and poverty and childhood disease. There's his parents coming to wave at him through a window when he's in hospital with diphtheria, or the childhood friend who he shared adventures with, and,
"Then Marina died." (p. 92)
It's just one example of a devastating punchline. I was particularly hit by his sweet description of the US soldiers stationed nearby, who he'd saluted and call to from his porch as they marched by, and they'd salute and call back as if he were an official watchman. The Yanks include an American despatch rider - "the first black face I'd seen" (p. 72) who is respectful to Garner's mum and gives the boy gum and chocolate, and you feel the connection made, reaching across the ocean from Garner's small, parochial world. It's warm and fun - and then undercut by the final words of the chapter.
"The Yanks went. Their ship was sunk, and they drowned. From the porch, I kept watch." (p. 76)
It's not just the Yanks who are lost; Garner is mourning people, phrases and ways of doing things long since gone. Not all of it is rose-tinted: there's a constant fear of bullies and fights, the teachers are just as capable of violence, and with the war on there's a constant threat of death - a feeling I think we've got used to living with again recently. It's vividly conveyed from the perspective of a child, too, so we sometimes have to join the dots to understand what's happening, such as how seriously ill he was. He's also not always well behaved, such as when he shoves his friend Harold into a clump of nettles.
At the end, we skip forward many years, to the 50s, the 70s and then beyond, with short anecdotes that pick up on elements from before. The book begins with child-Alan finding what he think might be an unexploded bomb; in 1955 and with experience from National Service, he knows to spot a real one. Then there's a sweet coda to a story about a contest at school, where he finally gets his due prize. And finally, a catch-up with Harold in later life.
Garner won a scholarship when still very young which took his life in a very different direction to Harold's - who bunked off school but retained a connection to the local area which came in useful later. In just a few short lines, he's the vividly realised character, putting a bit of stick into local meetings. My first sense was of Garner's envy. But that's not the raw emotion behind this whole exercise in remembrance. In the penultimate sentence of the book, Garner casually mentions "Harold's funeral". Having walked through the world he was part of, we really feel his loss.
Wednesday, September 02, 2020
Monday, August 24, 2020
The removals people said they'd be here between 8 and 8.30 this morning but arrived just after 7.30 while I was still drinking tea in bed. So the Dr raced into the shower while I hauled on last night's clothes, and then we were in full boxing mode. They parked their enormous lorry in the middle of the street and none of our neighbours objected. I think that's a mark of how friendly things are here - or how pleased they are to be rid of us.
Tomorrow, we move from our house of nine and a half years, and from London where I've lived since October 1999. We're moving north for a new chapter and new life. The children are already there. So it feels momentous and yet anticlimactic. I'm glad to be going and sad to be gone.
With the house over-run by boxes, the Dr and I went for lunch round the corner at our local - the first time either of us have been in a pub since mid-March. It was strange to use the new app to order drinks and food, all part of the careful, socially distanced provisions to keep us and other punters safe, and yet otherwise pick up as if we'd never been away. And then having caught up with landlord Colin after all these months, he was busy when we had finished, so there was no chance to say goodbye.
The week has been full of notable lasts: my daughter's last day at the nursery that's been a fixture in our lives since my son started there in 2013; the last time mowing the lawn yesterday; the last time past the old landmarks. What with everything going on in lockdown, and some personal stuff too, I'm all a bit emotional at the moment, haunted by things past and things to come.
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Among the books, comics, audio dramas, escape rooms, figurines and whatever else, there's a whole page devoted to my short story Lesser Evils, including the following sentence from the thing itself:
Death descended on the planet Alexis one bright and crisp, clear morning...
Lesser Evils is performed by Jon Culshaw and features the version of the Master originally played by Anthony Ainley. It's set on a planet I named after the amazing Alexis Deacon, author of Geis.
Friday, July 24, 2020
Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari) is now a century old. Even if you've never seen it, much will be hauntingly familiar. The plot is simple enough: wild-eyed showman Dr Caligari (Werner Krauss) has an unsettling stage act involving willowy Cesare (Conrad Veidt), who we're told has been asleep for almost all of his 23 years. Krauss has complete power over this somnambulist, waking him for brief intervals to foretell the future. One eager member of the audience is horrified to be told he'll die that very night—and then does. We soon learn that Caligari sends Cesare out at night to commit murder but, in a shock twist, “Caligari” is revealed to be the director of the nearby asylum. Then, in another shock twist, all of this turns out to be the gothic fantasy of another of the patients (Friedrich Fehér). The staff and other patients at the asylum have all been given roles in his delusion, and the exaggerated, Expressionist production design of the film is the world as seen by, in the language of the time, “a madman”.
Saturday, July 11, 2020
“That is fraught with difficulty. Where does it stop? I'm reading Tintin with my son at the moment and an exhibition of tolerance it certainly is not. It reads like one long parade of racial cliches.” (Tweet by Amol Rajan, 10 June 2020)
“she turns up in the oddest places: Syldavia, Borduria, the Red Sea… She seems to follows us around!” (p. 13)
“EXTRACT FROM THE LOG BOOK BY PROFESSOR CALCULUS 4th June - 2150 hrs. (G.M.T.) Wolff and I spent the day studying cosmic rays, and making astronomical observations. Our findings have been entered progressively in Special Record Books Nos. I and II. The Captain and Tintin have nearly finished assembling the [reconnaissance] tank.” (p. 98)
Thursday, July 09, 2020
Written and recorded in lockdown, the eight 25-minute episodes are each written by a different writer and using the same cast of actors in different roles: Peter Davison (as the Doctor), Nicholas Briggs (the Daleks), Dervla Kirwan, Anjli Mohindra and Jamie Parker.
Something is very wrong. The Fifth Doctor is lost in the Time War, heading for an encounter with his oldest and deadliest enemies... the Daleks!
The Bookshop at the End of the World by Simon Guerrier
It’s very easy to forget yourself and get lost in a bookshop. But in some bookshops more than most...
Wednesday, July 08, 2020
Friday, July 03, 2020
Thursday, July 02, 2020
"Now my name isn't Harry, but in this business it's hard to remember whether it ever had been."
Sunday, June 07, 2020
Mason begins with her 90th birthday in 2003 - though a letter from 2005 pasted into my second-hand autographed copy says,
"In fact I wrote a lot of the book some ten years ago and then I looked at it last year and thought, no, it's too literary; I want it to sound as if I'm talking."It does. She's immediately engaging, bubbling with energy, enthusiasm and self-effacement, while keen for her next job. Mason, we're told, learned to scuba-dive in her 80s, and was competing in tennis matches until around the same time, while her anecdotes about performances all round the world are peppered with notes on the opportunities afforded in these far-flung locales to swim outdoors. She was also an active member of the Communist Party, an (she says herself) ineffective member of Equity, and wrote, directed and produced as well as acted.
Mason admits she's always keen on getting a laugh, and this fun, lively memoir often breezes over events that must have been hard at first-hand. There is a lot of casual groping in her early life - from an uncle, from a stranger on a train, from strangers when she's working for ENSA in Egypt, and from two successive therapists, one male and one female. She brushes over details of a rape during the Second World War, mentioning it only to mitigate her impatience years later when an assault means another actress misses some rehearsals. The sense is that his fun, funny woman was also ruthless and unrelenting to work with.
Of all the stories and revelations, I was most struck by the mention of Patrick Troughton, who played her husband in A Family at War between 1970 and 1971, the series recorded in Manchester.
"Patrick and I used to share driving up and down [from London] on weekends and he seemed confident enough with me, perhaps because he was a bit of a speed merchant himself, never able to resist doing the ton on a certain bit of motorway. We were pulled over by the police once in my car, not for any offences but because they were doing some sort of check. The dodgy thing was that among the luggage I'd flung onto the back seat was a large transparent plastic bag of marijuana. Pat had asked me to get some for him and although I'd long given up any hope of having it work for me I could still get hold of it easily enough - well everybody could. Pat had forgotten it was there so was quite happy to respond to the officers' excited recognition of him as an ex-Doctor Who. 'Come on Pat, we're late already' I said, frantically looking round for something to throw over the bag. But they were still burbling on with 'Who was the chap who took over from you? The one with all the hair?' Finally I put the car in gear and we were nearly on our way when, 'Just a minute, just a minute.' (Oh God!) 'Did you say you came from London? Can I see your licence?' 'What? Why?' 'You're sure you're not from Luton?' 'Luton?' 'I live there. I'm sure I've seen you around.' 'I've never been to Luton in my life. I live in London. I'm an actress. I'm Mrs Porter, for God's sake!' 'Who?' 'Pat, tell him. We'll never get away. Tell him!' Pat did, but it so happened he didn't watch A Family at War so we left him only half-convinced I wasn't a secret denizen of Luton. He'd been a great Dr. Who fan though and thought Pat was the best of the lot, so one of us was happy and Pat later said he'd had quite a good time with the pot." (pp. 68-9).Mason then proceeds to regale us with anecdotes about her much more effective experimentation with LSD.
As with Yootha Joyce and David Whitaker, Mason was with the Harry Hanson Court Players - in her case, on and off for 10 years from. She speaks of Hanson's "fondness for 'Anyone for tennis?' type plays" (p. 32), but counters the idea that weekly rep taught bad habits because there was little time for background research or navel-gazing (something she has little patience for anyway).
Short of work, between 1947 and 1948, Mason wrote her own play. Because "one of the characters had lesbian leanings", she had to go for a meeting at the censor's office. However, club theatres were exempt from the censor, so her play was put on at Oldham - where she'd been in rep alongside a very young Bernard Cribbins. You can still feel her pride more than half a century on:
"Sitting in an audience and hearing your lines get the laughs you'd hoped for takes a lot of beating." (p. 51)Soon after this, Mason wrote and produced Babes in the Wood, a pantomime, and having made money from it dared to apply to run a summer season of rep in Bangor. This was just as her husband absconded with the money from their joint account, and she gives a good account of the struggles that followed.
"I put on the play Oldham had done, trusting the long arm of the censor didn't stretch to Ulster, and another one I'd hastily finished, happy, like Clem [her later mother, also an actress and sometime writer] in the past, to save on royalties [to other authors]." (p. 54)With the 10-week season a success, Mason then established the New Theatre in Bangor, and ran it for 15 months.
She says in the book that this time in Bangor was in the 1960s, but my other research says that the opening night of the New Theatre in Bangor was on 4 October 1954, with the comedy For Better or Worse about a newly married couple. Mason produced and also played the bride's mother. Her husband was played by 26 year-old David Whitaker, who'd been with the Harry Hanson Court Players himself since 1951.
In the six months or so that Whitaker was in Bangor with Mason, he also produced (that is, directed) three of the productions and seems also to worked in radio serials in Northern Ireland - his first broadcast work, as far as I can tell. The energetic, enthusiastic Mason may also have encouraged him to write as well - for one thing, he was in the cast of a remounted version of her Babes of the Wood.
Within a year of leaving Bangor, Whitaker was co-writing with his mum Helen, and she made first contact with the BBC to get their work on screen. The following year, in 1957, Whitaker was performing with the York Repertory Company, who also staged his play A Choice of Partners. A member of the BBC's script unit was in the audience and the play was subsequently adapted for TV. By the end of the year, he'd given up acting to join the script department for three months. He was still there in 1963 when the department was closed down - and he was moved on to Doctor Who.
Mason doesn't mention Whitaker or anyone else in the Bangor company by name. So my hopes that she would acknowledge her influence on him were disappointed. But I read her book in a single sitting, caught up in her vivacious, steely energy - so how could he have not been?
Saturday, June 06, 2020
I was especially interested in Joyce's early life and career to see if I could overlap anything with that of David Whitaker (1928-80) - writer and story editor of significant bits of 1960s Doctor Who, whose life I'm slowly piecing together. In a 1986 interview, Whitaker's first wife June Barry (who sadly died last month after long illness) claimed that Whitaker had been "almost engaged" to Joyce.
Joyce and Whitaker were born a year apart and both grew up in London - but she was in Hampstead, Clapham and then Croydon, while he was in Barnes and then Kensington. Joyce attended RADA (in the same class as Roger Moore), while Whitaker went into accountancy, where he did amateur dramatics through Sedos. In the early 1950s, Joyce and Whitaker were both in professional repertory with the Harry Hanson Court Players - but for different companies, in different parts of the country. Joyce met Glynn Edwards in the summer of 1955 and married him the following year, so if she and Whitaker were ever together it must have before then - but as Curran says in the book we don't know much about this time in her personal life. (He's also been kind enough to respond to my inquiries and say that nobody he's spoken to about Joyce ever mentioned Whitaker's name.)
Even if this connection remains a mystery, Curran is good on the kind of theatrical world Joyce and Whitaker were both part of at that time. There's the glamour of showbiz:
“Whatever their background, Harry Hanson was known to pressure his actors to always appear glamorous, on and off stage. This filtered through to the other associated Harry Hanson companies.” (p. 28)There's the pretensions of the material performed twice-nightly for six nights a week:
[From an interview with Dudley Sutton] “But up until [Joan] Littlewood’s appearance, the English theatre was completely middle-class. It was run by the officers, and when an ordinary man or woman come onto the stage, they’d always have to be stupid, comic or both." (p. 34)And all of this under the condescension of the state:
[From an interview with Glynn Edwards]: “Of course you had the Lord Chamberlain’s rulings, where you were only allowed to say ‘bloody’ twice.” (p. 30)There's a horrible irony in what follows. Joyce escaped this kind of safe, sentimental theatre for bolder, more experimental stuff that dared to base itself in lived experience and to get political and sexy. Curran underlines the breadth of the work she was doing in the 1960s, from Littlewood's abrasive theatre to episodes of The Avengers and The Saint. Indeed, Mildred Roper is a bold character for her time - sexually assertive, frustrated, real, and immediately connecting to the audience. But the role overshadowed her life, and limited her options in an age of type-casting.
The last section of the book, detailing her sudden decline and death from alcoholism at 53, is hard going not least because there's a sense that it's the success of Mildred that killed the woman who played her. But Curran is shrewd in closing with a poignant last appearance, on Max Bygraves' show Max, screened after her death, where Joyce performed a song that seems to reveal something of what she was feeling in those last days. As Curran says, that made an impression on Kenneth Williams, who was haunted by it ever after:
"Years later, on 9th April 1988, not long before his own death, he added [to his diary] 'can't get Yootha Joyce out of my head - and the time she sang 'For All We Know', there was almost a break in the voice when she got to [the line] tomorrow may never come, but she carried on. She died shortly after [recording it]. A lady who made so many people happy and a lady who never complained." (p. 164)It's as if, I thought, even after death she could produce the goods: a role that was moving, surprising and real.
(You might like to know that Joyce's co-star Brian Murphy was in a Doctor Who story I wrote, released last year.)
Wednesday, June 03, 2020
"The Kotturuh have arrived on the planet Alexis to distribute the gift of the death to its inhabitants. The only person standing in their way is a renegade Time Lord, who has sworn to protect the locals. A Time Lord called the Master..."The release is paired with Master Thief by Sophie Iles, who had to suffer me as editor, and it's all part of the Time Lord Victorious cross-platform extravaganza wossname.
The Short Trips range gave me my first professional gigs as a writer of fiction, way back in 2002. Here's a list of my previous Short Trips stories. My very first one, The Switching, also features the Master and is being included in the special edition Masterful in January 2021.
Friday, May 29, 2020
It's a brilliant idea, beautifully presented with high quality painted artwork on high quality paper. The endnotes show how cleverly the plot weaves between events established in decades-worth of comics - though much of this stuff was new to me, a sporadic comics reader. More telling, I thought, was the way the story acknowledges the contradictions in the history: Human Torch and Sub-Mariner battle as mortal enemies, then are friends, then battle Nazis together, then battle one another again when Sub-Mariner for some reason turns on humanity... I guess readers - fans - familiar with the original stories would know what occasioned these abrupt switches of loyalty and motive, but Sheldon's distance from the heroes means it is here left unexplained.
Sheldon never gets close to his marvels - there's no exclusive access as when Lois Lane interviews Superman, or when Peter Parker tells us what Spider-Man is really like. The closest encounter, when Sheldon is near Spider-man at the time of Gwen Stacy's death, is still at a remove. The result is that for all the years he studies them, the heroes remain out of reach, aloof, and Sheldon can offer little insight or perspective.
That is probably the point. At the human level, Sheldon can intercede, such as when he calls out the hypocrisy of the newspaper editor Jonah Jameson from the Spider-Man stories:
Or there's the moment he turns on the population of New York for their (and his own) fickleness, praying for salvation in times on crisis and then turning on the superheroes the moment danger has passed. What with everything at the moment, the following panel struck a chord:
That feels just as real and innovative for the medium as the extraordinary artwork, and I can understand the impact Marvels had on its original release. Stan Lee, no stranger to hyperbole, speaks in his foreword of it being, "a new plateau in the evolution of illustrated literature" - that last word a claim to respectability, high art, the canon.
Such pretensions are of their time. Marvels is solemn and portentous in that 1990s comics way. The engaging, playful wit of the Marvel movies is seriously lacking. It's an impressive, arresting accomplishment, but feels more DC than Marvel.
Sunday, May 24, 2020
Back in 2011 I was much struck by a sketch of Mavis in the National Museum of Wales by Augustus John - believed to be Tristan's father. At the time I saw the portrait, I was reading Michael Holroyd's exhaustive, 600-page biography of John, and followed that up with Mortimer Wheeler's autobiography Still Digging - though in that Wheeler makes no mention of his second wife at all - though it was over Mavis that John famously challenged Wheeler to a duel; Wheeler consented, suggesting they fight it out with field guns.
Things never got that far, the quarrel was settled, and John was best man to Wheeler when he married Mavis - a newsworthy event given that Mavis was sister-in-law to the Prime Minister (her late husband's sister was Mrs Neville Chamberlain):
Beautiful and Beloved certainly doesn't shy away from that mix of celebrity, sex and wild goings on. Much of the later part of the book details the events of 1954 when Mavis shot her lover, Lord Vivian. A range of sources are used to piece together the night of drinking that led up to the shooting, the shooting itself - as best it can be understood - and the subsequent trial. The authors are in no doubt of Mavis' innocence - yes, she shot Lord Vivian, but they're sure she didn't mean to hurt or kill him. Despite this, the four different versions of events given by Mavis that suggest she wasn't entirely honest about what happened. They seem surprised that she went to prison for it but I didn't think there was much reasonable doubt.
In fact, Mavis' different accounts of herself were nothing new. Born Mabel Winifred Mary Wright on 29 December 1908, Mavis kept reinventing herself, changing her name to Mavis and then Maris, with other names such as Faith and Xara along the way. She was also horrified that news reports of her trial gave her real age. That constant reinvention helped her escape her modest background - she was the daughter of a grocer's assistant, and worked as a scullery maid and waitress before she met and married society prankster Horace de Vere Cole. He was much older than her and had already lived quite a life: the book includes a photograph of a blacked-up Virginia Woolf alongside Horace as part of the notorious Dreadnought hoax in 1910 (when Mavis was aged just one). By the 1960s, Mavis has risen so high through the social ranks that she could accuse her daughter-in-law of being bourgeois - for not being classy enough.
The book shares details of Horace's other pranks, but doesn't tell us exactly which rude word he contrived to spell out in the audience of a theatre by buying tickets for a bald-headed men. That's not from prurience. For one thing, details are sparse for this particular legend: Wikipedia says it was either BOLLOCKS or SHIT but can't name the performance, either. For another, the book isn't shy of f-words and c-words when it quotes the endless, bad poetry Mavis inspired from her various lovers. Or there's this, about John in 1957:
"To Mavis he wrote about an exhibition of drawings he was thinking of having, drawings of what a convention of the day would have had him refer to , in print, as c--s; but such evasions were not for him. He warned her that he would shortly be calling on her to provide the crowning feature of the lot, and he sent love from himself and [his partner] Dodo for good measure.The book is strikingly candid, and includes one of the nude photographs she sent to John in the 1930s. In fact, she sent such photographs to at least one other of her lovers - and each time the photographs were returned with a horrified response. John wanted to know who had taken the pictures and how she'd got them developed, and the authors add a footnote about practicalities here:
He wasn't just being shocking, in the time-honoured, intimate manner. John was known to have made a number of studies of private parts. And since Mavis came so easily to hand he was bound to have used as a model, even after a lapse of so many years, the girl who'd won the competition at the old 'Eiffel Tower' [restaurant] for the finest concealed charms." (p. 257)
"It wasn't until August 1972 that the Boots chain consented to develop and print snapshots showing full frontal nudity. 'The interpretation of what is obscene has changed in the minds of juries and public opinion,' stated their spokesman, quoted in the Daily Telegraph. 'A normal naked woman is not obscene." (p. 78n)The obvious candidate for photographer is Bet, the "local and very Cornish woman" who looked after Doll Keiller's cottage at Woodstock St Hilary near Marazion in Cornwall, where Mavis stayed while pregnant with Tristan in December 1934. We know Bet was taken by Mavis on first sight:
"But rushed round to spread the news [of the arrival] to her neighbour, Mrs Allan. 'You wait 'til you see what's in my cottage,' she boasted. 'Six foot of beauty, that's what I've got.'She's back in Cornwall with Bet in 1958, though Doll had died three years before:
But even Bet was taken aback when Mrs de Vere Cole opened the door to her next morning, completely naked. 'Look here, Bet, you'll have to get used to this,' said Mavis. 'You'd better begin now.' Even in December, if she could remove her clothes, she would." (p. 72)
"They took photographs. On returning to London she [Mavis] prevailed upon a manager to co-operate. She wrote to Bet, 'I told him that some were taken unawares, when I was getting out of my bikini. "Oh," says he, "I'll attend to the matter myself and will get them through by Saturday morning." So--Bet--what fun!" (p. 260)For all the detail of the letter, the dates and the brazenness, for all the honesty of the book, I find myself wondering what her relationship was with Bet.
Yet given her vivacity, the image of Mavis that really struck is the one from the opening chapter: in the last year of her life, in 1970, venturing out each day into the streets around Sloane Square with her Yorkshire terrier in her shopping basket, to buy tins of cheap food and a half-bottle of either whisky or brandy (or, sometimes both). This daily intake procured, we follow her back to her home in Cadogan Estates, dirty and full of junk as well as a stack of valuable pictures by John, the plumbing not always working, a huge mirror by the bed. It's tragic but honest, and this version of herself is entirely her own creation.