Thursday, 18 September 2014

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Autumn Leaves
Wild Horses
You Better Move On

Da Elderly: -
Is It Only The Moonlight?
Out On The Weekend
Heart Of Gold

The Elderly Brothers: -
If Not For You
I'll Be Back
When Will I Be Loved
So Sad (To Watch Good love Go Bad)
You've Got A Friend

A very quiet night indeed. Freshers week at York University saw the youngsters miss out on some fine performances, notably a young chap with a voice like Al Green's. Otherwise, the bar was half empty for most of the evening and The Elderlys left early, well early for us.

Two 'new' songs from the boys: a Dylan song, leaning more to the George Harrison cover than Bob's original and the evergreen Little Richard rocker given the Elderlys' treatment. Someone requested America so we obliged!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Clive James - Japanese Maple

Clive James adds new poem to valedictory work
In Japanese Maple, the terminally ill author writes that he expects autumn will ‘end the game’

Alison Flood
The Guardian
Tuesday 16 September 2014

“Your death, near now, is of an easy sort / So slow a fading out brings no real pain,” writes Clive James in a new poem in which the terminally ill author contemplates how the arrival of autumn will “end the game” for him.

Diagnosed with leukaemia and emphysema in 2010, James has over the last year given readers a glimpse into his life through his poetry, last month describing his love for his wife, academic Prue Shaw, in The Emperor’s Last Words. With a nod to Napoleon’s final words about his long-estranged wife, Josephine, James ended that poem: “It’s time to go. High time to go. High time. / France, army, head of the army, Joséphine.”

In Japanese Maple, which has just been published in the New Yorker, the author and critic gives the impression that his end is even closer. Writing about the tree given to him by his daughter, which is planted in the back garden, James celebrates its small splendour, asking his readers, “When did you ever see / So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls / On that small tree”, and insisting that he must “live to see” its leaves “turn to flame” in autumn.

“That will end the game / For me, though life continues all the same,” writes James. “A final flood of colours will live on / As my mind dies, / Burned by my vision of a world that shone / So brightly at the last, and then was gone.”

Japanese Maple follows James’s poem Sentenced to Life, about how his longing to return to his homeland, Australia, is now impossible, and how he might be “Here in the English autumn, but my mind / Basks in the light I never left behind.” Again, the poem sees James in contemplation of a garden, writing how “Once, I would not have noticed; nor have known / The name for Japanese anemones, / So pale, so frail. But now I catch the tone / Of leaves. No birds can touch down in the trees / Without my seeing them. I count the bees.”

The author of a series of autobiographies detailing his childhood in Australia and his move to England, James is also one of the UK’s best-loved critics. His last television review, published by the Telegraph in May, saw him take on Eurovision and Conchita, writing: “One hundred and eighty million people in 45 countries were blown sideways by the uproar emanating from a young woman pretending to be Russell Brand, or perhaps it was Russell Brand pretending to be a young woman.”

Japanese Maple, by Clive James

Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:

Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?

Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.

My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colors will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.

‘Japanese Maple’ by Clive James, first published in the New Yorker, © Clive James, 2014

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Joe Sample RIP

Joe Sample, Crusaders Pianist Who Went Electric, Dies at 75

By Peter Keepnews
14 Septemver 2014

Joe Sample, who became a jazz star in the 1960s as the pianist with the Jazz Crusaders and an even bigger star a decade later when he began playing electric keyboards and the group simplified its name to the Crusaders, died on Friday in Houston. He was 75.

The cause was mesothelioma, said his manager, Patrick Rains.

The Jazz Crusaders, who played the muscular, bluesy variation on bebop known as hard bop, had their roots in Houston, where Mr. Sample, the tenor saxophonist Wilton Felder and the drummer Nesbert Hooper (better known by the self-explanatory first name Stix) began performing together as the Swingsters while in high school.

Mr. Sample met the trombonist Wayne Henderson at Texas Southern University and added him, the bassist Henry Wilson and the flutist Hubert Laws — who would soon achieve considerable fame on his own — to the group, which changed its name to the Modern Jazz Sextet.

The band worked in the Houston area for several years but did not have much success until Mr. Sample, Mr. Felder, Mr. Hooper and Mr. Henderson moved to Los Angeles and changed their name to the Jazz Crusaders, a reference to the drummer Art Blakey’s seminal hard-bop ensemble, the Jazz Messengers. Their first album, “Freedom Sound,” released on the Pacific Jazz label in 1961, sold well, and they recorded prolifically for the rest of the decade, with all four members contributing compositions, while performing to enthusiastic audiences and critical praise.

In the early 1970s, as the audience for jazz declined, the band underwent yet another name change, this one signifying a change in musical direction. Augmenting their sound with electric guitar and electric bass, with Mr. Sample playing mostly electric keyboards, the Jazz Crusaders became the Crusaders. Their first album under that name, “Crusaders 1,” featuring four compositions by Mr. Sample, was released on the Blue Thumb label in 1972.

With a funkier sound, a new emphasis on danceable rhythms and the addition of pop songs by the Beatles and others to their repertoire, the Crusaders displeased many critics but greatly expanded their audience.

For Mr. Sample, plugging in was not a big step. He had been fascinated by the electric piano since he saw Ray Charles playing one on television in the mid-1950s, and he had owned one since 1963. Nor did he have any problem crossing musical boundaries: Growing up in Houston he had listened to and enjoyed all kinds of music, including blues and country.

“Unfortunately, in this country, there’s a lot of prejudice against the various forms of music,” Mr. Sample told The Los Angeles Times in 1985. “The jazz people hate the blues, the blues people hate rock, and the rock people hate jazz. But how can anyone hate music? We tend to not hate any form of music, so we blend it all together. And consequently, we’re always finding ourselves in big trouble with everybody.”

They didn’t find themselves in much trouble with the record-buying public. The Crusaders had numerous hit albums and one Top 40 single, “Street Life,” which reached No. 36 on the Billboard pop chart in 1979. Mr. Sample wrote the music and Will Jennings wrote the lyrics, which were sung by Randy Crawford.

By the time “Street Life” was recorded, Mr. Henderson had left the Crusaders to pursue a career as a producer. Mr. Hooper left in 1983. Mr. Sample and Mr. Felder continued to work together for a while, but by the late 1980s Mr. Sample was focusing on his solo career, which had begun with the 1969 trio album “Fancy Dance” and included mellow pop-jazz records like “Carmel” (1979).

His later albums included the unaccompanied “Soul Shadows” (2008). His last album, “Children of the Sun,” is to be released this fall.

He also maintained a busy career as a studio musician. Among the albums on which his keyboard work can be heard are Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” and “The Hissing of Summer Lawns,” Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer,” Steely Dan’s “Aja” and “Gaucho,” and several recordings by B. B. King.

His music has been sampled on numerous hip-hop records, most notably Tupac Shakur’s “Dear Mama.”

Joseph Leslie Sample was born on Feb. 1, 1939, in Houston, the fourth of five siblings, and began playing piano when he was 5. His survivors include his wife, Yolanda; his son, Nicklas, a jazz bassist with whom he occasionally performed; three stepsons, Jamerson III, Justin and Jordan Berry; six grandchildren; and a sister, Julia Goolsby.

Mr. Sample’s fellow Crusader Mr. Henderson died in April.

In recent years, Mr. Sample had worked with a reunited version of the Crusaders and led an ensemble called the Creole Joe Band, whose music was steeped in the lively Louisiana style known as zydeco. At his death he had been collaborating with Jonatha Brooke and Marc Mantell on a musical,“Quadroon,” which had a reading in July at the Ensemble Theater in Houston.

Angus Lennie 'The Mole' RIP

The Great Escape actor Angus Lennie dies aged 84

Scottish actor Angus Lennie, who was famous for roles in The Great Escape and ITV show Crossroads, has died in a London nursing home aged 84.

Born in Glasgow, he played a huge range of roles across stage, TV and film.

As Archibald "the Mole" Ives, Lennie performed opposite Hollywood icon Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. Director and co-star Richard Attenborough cast him again in Oh! What A Lovely War.

Lennie also had roles in Doctor Who and Monarch of the Glen.

For soap fans, he was Shughie McFee the chef in the ITV's Crossroads.

Lennie was also cast as a bagpipe-playing innkeeper during several appearances in Doctor Who.

He frequently returned to Scotland to appear in pantomime, often as a double act with his friend Stanley Baxter.

His last acting role was in Monarch of the Glen, before ill health forced his retirement.

Bob Crewe RIP

The Four Seasons
Bob Crewe dies at 83; songwriter behind Frankie Valli, Four Seasons

By Elaine Woo
12 September 2014

Bob Crewe — the songwriter and producer behind dozens of hits, including standards like "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," which boosted Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons into pop posterity — died Thursday in Scarborough, Maine. He was 83.

Crewe, a four-decade resident of Los Angeles, had been in worsening health since injuring his brain in a fall four years ago. In 2011 he moved to Maine to be closer to his brother, Dan Crewe, who confirmed his death.

With no formal music training, Crewe parlayed natural talents into a long and successful career, helping to advance the fortunes not only of Valli and the Four Seasons but also Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, Bobby Darin, Lesley Gore and Oliver.

Most of Crewe's songwriting hits were in the 1960s, but the 1970s brought one of his last chart-toppers, the soul hit "Lady Marmalade" for Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash of the vocal group LaBelle. The song, written with Kenny Nolan, launched a sexually suggestive line — "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)? — into the vernacular of a generation.

"He was an enormous talent," Valli said Friday. "He was making records from the early '50s to the '60s and '70s. He had his own record company for a while. Sometimes I wonder if the industry really realized what a talent he was. He was surely one of the most creative people I ever worked with."

Crewe, portrayed in the movie and Tony-winning Broadway musical "Jersey Boys," frequently collaborated with Bob Gaudio, the singer, songwriter and keyboardist who was one of the original members of the Four Seasons.

Although Crewe couldn't play an instrument or read music, "he sort of had a way of painting a picture of what he wanted," Gaudio told The Times. "He had a way of communicating with people — and they got it. He'd say, 'I want to hear some blue streaks here.' He's noted in the show as saying, 'I want to hear sky blue; you're giving me brown.'"

Often he "would sing the tune and the parts for the musicians. He would hear a horn and sing the horn part," said Dan Crewe, who helped run his brother's music companies.

With his unusual approach to composing, Bob Crewe, who was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1985, developed a style that resonated with millions.

"Crewe's productions for the Four Seasons (and some of his other artists) always had thick but cleanly recorded percussion, sometimes in an almost military-cadenced stomp," as in "Walk Like a Man"and "Rag Doll," Richie Unterberger wrote in Crewe's biography for Billboard magazine.

Crewe was born Nov. 12, 1930, in Newark, N.J., and grew up in nearby Belleville, where a couple of future members of the Four Seasons were born. He did not meet any of the four until much later, however.

Intending to become an architect, Crewe moved to New York to attend Parsons School of Design. But he had always liked singing and left Parsons after a year to try his luck in the music business.

Teen-idol handsome and model-thin, he recorded demos and teamed with Frank Slay, his first writing partner. Together they produced a number of successful tunes, including the 1957 doo-wop hit "Silhouettes" for the Rays.

By then Crewe had also been producing records for several years. "Bob was one of the first people who gave me a shot, took me in the studio and recorded me," Valli told The Times.

In 1959, Crewe signed Valli and the other members of his band, the Four Lovers. They became the Four Seasons in 1960 and with Crewe's guidance as producer scored their first top-selling song, "Sherry," which was written by Gaudio. It was followed by a string of Crewe-Gaudio hits — "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," "Rag Doll" and "Silence Is Golden."

"Can't Take My Eyes Off You," also co-written with Gaudio, became Valli's first solo hit, in 1967.

Between producing and writing for other artists, Crewe still found time to perform, recording a few hits under his own name, including a mellow instrumental piece by Sid Ramin, "Music to Watch Girls By," with his band, the Bob Crewe Generation, in 1967.

He also performed and supervised the score for "Barbarella," the 1968 science fantasy film that starred Jane Fonda.

Crewe, who was gay, established the Bob Crewe Foundation in 2009 to support AIDS research and support gay rights.

According to the foundation's website, he was spurred to start the charity by the success of "Jersey Boys," which opened on Broadway in 2005 and inspired this year's movie, directed by Clint Eastwood.

"He was elated with his portrayal and thrilled with the show. He talked about it incessantly," Gaudio said.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Late Turner at the Tate: Painting Set Free

Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth exhibited 1842.
Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth

Late Turner: Painting Set Free review – prepare to be dazzled
Tate Britain’s glorious exhibition of Turner’s late work shows painting ‘returned to its origins and refined to its essence’

Peter Conrad
The Observer
Sunday 14 September 2014

“Painting set free”: my query about the subtitle of Tate Britain’s show is “free from what?” In the 1960s, when Lawrence Gowing used the phrase to sum up Turner’s achievement, it complimented him for having released painting from the dreary chore of mimesis. The destiny of the art, supposedly, was to become autonomous, which meant abstract, so that Turner, whose canvases looked to a contemporary detractor like “pictures of nothing”, was acclaimed as a forerunner of Jackson Pollock with his labyrinths of dribbly pigment or Mark Rothko, whose panels resembled lakes of dried blood.
Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus exhibited 1839.
Ancient Rome – Agrippina Landing With the Ashes of Germanicus

The anachronistic tribute did help to rehabilitate Turner and make him fashionable again: not long before, Kenneth Clark had found some of his late, dazingly indistinct landscapes junked in the basement of the National Gallery, rolled up like lengths of mouldy tarpaulin. All the same, it was wrong to call him a “romantic abstract-expressionist”, as the poet Kenneth Rexroth did. Even in his last decades, as the Tate’s glorious exhibition demonstrates, Turner’s painting still carried a traditional freight of myth and political prophecy, with illustrations of randy Olympian gods pursuing terrified mortals or vistas of ancient Rome in decline that warned Britain about the fragility of its maritime empire; he went on painting anecdotal scenes of peasant revelry in Italy for sale to titled tourists, and had a journalist’s eagerness to document a news story, as when he hired a boat to get a better view of the conflagration that destroyed the Houses of Parliament in 1834.
The Story of Daphne and Apollo, 1837

But although Turner may not have freed painting from literary or topical subject matter, he certainly marginalised those sources. Often, in his maelstroms of agitated water and inflammatory blazes of light, the putative subject is hard to locate. A painting of Apollo chasing the nymph Daphne – who turned into a laurel tree to escape him – reduces the infatuated god and his prey to lookers-on, and transfers its attention to a hound and a hare that re-enact their chase. Where is the Roman consul Regulus in the painting in which his Carthaginian captors rip off his eyelids to blind him? He may be one of a few gesticulating figurines in the foreground; it doesn’t matter, because what interests Turner is the searing glare of the African sun. Another canvas purports to show the god Mercury ordering Aeneas to leave the Carthaginian queen Dido and resume his travels, which will end in the founding of Rome. Mercury, however, is too mercurial to be seen: in his place there is only a silvery, shimmering column of air, as if Turner had caught the winged messengers dematerialising
Regulus, 1828

The episodes Turner picked out from classical myth and biblical fable are boldly reinterpreted when he paints them. With Bacchus and Ariadne, another Ovidian coition between god and mortal, he made no attempt to compete with the ecstatic volatility of the figures in Titian’s painting of the same encounter. Instead the wine god and his tipsy revellers melt in a torrid sensual furnace, a river of molten gold that spills down from a flaring sky. Again Turner evokes something that can scarcely be imagined, let alone made visible: the transfiguration of Ariadne makes her a source of new light, as the jewels in her crown ignite as stars. We are glimpsing a metamorphosis, and Turner therefore paints a metaphor of sexual awakening.
Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory) - the Morning after the Deluge - Moses Writing the Book of Genesis exhibited 1843.
Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – the Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis, exhibited 1843.

Creation for Turner was not the act of rational enlightenment that Genesis describes; his world catches fire as it comes into being. He spoke of his sketches as “colour beginnings”, because for him nature first revealed itself in a display of iridescence. Rather than the white light that banishes darkness in Genesis, a spectrum displays the wonders of earth and the miracle of optics. “The sun is God,” Turner said on his deathbed, and the angel with the gesticulating wand whose pinions are inflamed by the sun in one of his last paintings does not function as an agent of apocalypse. This indeed might be the artist’s self-portrait: he was, as Ruskin said, an archangel, though packed into the squat body of an eccentric cockney, and he had been “sent as a prophet of God to reveal to men the mysteries of his universe”.
The Angel Standing in the Sun, 1846

In Turner’s cosmology, no tidy-minded deity divides the waters from the dry land. Elated as he was by cascades and whirlpools, floods and storms, he could hardly conceive of Noah’s deluge as a fatal reproof to mankind. He therefore painted that inundation as a combat between light and shade, the meteorological and metaphysical drama that always preoccupied him. When the waters recede, they leave a refreshed Earth and a glowing sky, with Moses afloat in mid-air writing Genesis – except that this Moses, as David Blayney Brown suggests in the Tate catalogue, may well be Moses Harris, an entomologist and chromatic theorist, so that God’s disciplinary book is actually being rewritten by Turner.
Sunrise with Sea Monsters, c. 1845

At times his version of primordial life looks Darwinian: in Sunrise With Sea Monsters a lucid sunrise has not yet cleared away the mists within which two unclassifiable leviathans, spouting or frothing and grinning with razory teeth, start the long evolutionary trek towards land.

These grand reveries about the moment when the world emerged from chaos are matched by Turner’s observation of contemporary society, where he found the same spectacle of creation and destruction happening simultaneously. Constable said that Turner’s canvases were filled with “tinted steam” not viscous pigment; for all its sarcasm, the remark was accurate. The industrial revolution harnessed the energy of steam to drive engines, which enabled Turner to portray a kind of second creation. Hence the packet boat that fumes its way across an otherwise unperturbed Lake Lucerne in one of his Swiss landscapes, or the Great Western train, a locomotive of the Firefly class, that parts the fog on a viaduct in Maidenhead in Rain, Steam, and Speed. An iron foundry looks like Vulcan’s forge, and rockets fired to warn shipping of shoal waters register for Turner as errant asteroids, evidence that our world remains unstable and combustible.
Rain, Steam, and Speed - The Great Western Railway, 1844

In 1839, when the painter Paul Delaroche saw the first daguerreotypes, he said: “From today, painting is dead.” He could not have been more wrong, as Turner’s final works demonstrate. Photography means “writing with light”, but light isn’t necessarily literate, and it doesn’t pencil in outlines or confirm the solidity and separateness of forms. Turner, more perceptively, scribbles, scrawls, doodles and free-associates with light. In his watercolours, composed with “wet-in-wet washes”, a liquid squiggle can suggest a fishing boat, a rapid brush-stroke is able to conjure up a mountain, and a splash of white looks spectral, literally appalling: is the colourless horseman galloping on a stormy beach a glimpse of death, the pale rider? On varnishing day at the Royal Academy, Turner dabbed highlights on his paintings and, to the stupefaction of his colleagues, seemed to animate them by doing so, startling them into life at the very moment when he should have left them fixed and finished.
Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Fishermen on the Lagoon, Moonlight' 1840
Fishermen on the Lagoon, Moonlight, 1840

What you see at the Tate is not painting liberated but painting returned to its origins and refined to its essence. The art after all is the exploration of light as it plays on or even sets fire to structure, and of colour as it prismatically opens up the radiance of nature; at its most sublime, it is the art in which sight is intensified and ignited so that it becomes a kind of supernatural vision. Emerging from Turner’s heliocentric cathedral, I felt I had cataracts: it takes time to re-accustom your dazzled eyes to the wan, monochrome mock-up we call reality.

Late Turner: Painting Set Free is at Tate Britain until 25 January
For details see

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Peter Lorre: Between the Silly and the Sinister

Peter Lorre: master of the macabre
Fifty years after Peter Lorre's death, a season at the BFI celebrates an actor who flourished in the uneasy territory between the silly and the sinister

Michael Newton
The Guardian
Friday 12 September 2014

Michael Powell once said about Peeping Tom, the movie that effectively wrecked his career: "It's full of sympathy. It just happens to be sympathy for a diabolical murderer." Fritz Lang's masterpiece, M depends on the same paradox; its coup de théâtre tests the limits of our pity, inviting us to share, if we can, compassion with a crazed serial killer. Played by a youthful Peter Lorre in 1931, this would be the first, the greatest and most representative major role in a career that, in its own fashion, goes to the heart of what makes the movies so intriguing and so potent.

M concerns the pursuit of a child murderer loose in Berlin; what's unusual about the film is that – frustrated by the police's lack of success – gangsters and career criminals unite to track down the predator themselves. In part, moral revulsion motivates these underworld gumshoes, though it's also clear that killing children is bad for illicit business. There are too many raids and too many police on the streets. The madman must be stopped so that everyday larceny can continue.

M still amazes. It influenced dozens of later movies, yet it is unlike anything else. It is hard to think of many other mainstream films that are so radically decentred, so reluctant to grant us a hero. Yet it's an unexpectedly methodical, measured picture; the only dreaminess attaches, just off-centre, to the spaces where the killer himself moves. The film's subject-matter could not be grimmer, yet Lang enlivens grey emptiness with an Otto Dix-like burlesque energy. Around the random murders, the film hones in on Berlin's melancholy, a landscape of puddles and prostitutes, a silent city – the hush broken by bells or shrieks, the tap-tap of a tool being sharpened, and haunted by the killer's eerie whistling of Grieg's "In the Hall of The Mountain King". Yet against this frosty atmosphere, the film revels in its satire, its playful equation of cops and robbers. The criminals so much enjoy hunting Lorre down that we tend to forget why they are doing so. These hunt scenes are oddly relaxed, even frivolous in a chilly way; the criminals are simply getting down to work. The only vital passion belongs to Lorre; while the criminals are rational figures, he releases despair and fury, a rage that finds its echo in the crowd that faces and judges him.

It's a film about murder that pays close attention to the business of living. For those who know Berlin, there's something beguilingly moving about the glimpses of the city's life – the Mickey Mouse figurines in the confiserie, the list of prices in a cafe, the faces of invalids and beggars. It is a "city film" at the end of the grand era of city films, though the city it depicts is a dark, troubled, paranoid one. Above all there are the glances into a child's metropolis of toy shops and school gates, of hurdy-gurdy men and balloon sellers. Lang looks on at a childhood world, seen from above and at a distance, not with the children but observing them. M's child victims are strangely on the edge of things, unknown by the film, hardly ever seen close up. The film's final spoken moral, "we must take more care of the children", is one that remains relevant, and with which nearly all will agree. Yet as an ending it feels somehow off-key, a heartfelt plea that is also a platitude, and that does little to resolve the weird energies of the movie itself.
Peter Lorre M
The first time we really see Lorre, he's at the mirror, darkly enjoying acting weirdly, pulling faces, indeed literally pulling a face, turning himself into another. It might be said that he would act out that craziness, professionally, for the next 30-odd years. He had not come from nowhere; M was his fourth film. But those other roles had been slight affairs, and in M, he was the closest thing to being the movie's star. Here his relative obscurity enabled him to personify anonymity; practically unknown on screen, he could also be frighteningly invisible on the streets. One message of Lang's film is that anyone might be guilty.

It is one of M's unintended ironies that in the end the killer should have one of the most distinctive and caricaturable faces in movie history, as identifiable encapsulating the macabre as a drawing in a Bugs Bunny cartoon as he was in peering around Sydney Greenstreet's substantial shoulder. Far from appearing anonymous, Lorre presented one more way in which cinema discovered uniqueness. There was only ever one of him.

Lorre looked like a sleazy baby, his face registering every passing petulance, ready to drop from a hopeful grin down to a sulk. When acting, he seems haunted, shiftless; he moves between an uncanny calm and fits of restless mania. This instability might be traced back to the desperate rhythms of his life as a morphine addict. His style depends on rapid transitions, his talent for letting an emotion leap towards its opposite. Dramatically, this proves vivid, but it also leaves us with a sense of the characters he plays as purely reactive, puppets of expression.

He was born in 1904, in Rosenberg, Hungary, as László Löwenstein. He fled the prospect of a life as a bank clerk for the stage, training in Vienna and making his debut in Zurich, before being discovered by Bertolt Brecht. Lang's film made him a star, but stardom was no defence against the Nazis, and in 1933 he fled to Paris. All but broke, he was rescued by a meeting with Alfred Hitchcock. That evening, all the English that Lorre then knew was "yes" and "no", but he impressed Hitchcock largely by using as often as possible the first of these two words, and by falling about with laughter every time he guessed that yet another of the English director's anecdotes had reached its punchline.

So it was that a few years after M, in his first English-language film, Lorre was endangering children again, kidnapping a teenage Nova Pilbeam in the first version of Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much(1934). Remarkably he learned to speak English even as he was playing the part. He's outstanding, a precursor of Graham Greene's Pinkie, a wicked boy with a blonde (or grey) streak in his hair. He offers the threat produced by the apparently unthreatening; small, plump, frail, he nonetheless conjures up a strangely devious menace. Quite rightly, he stole the show, transforming what had begun as a bit part into the movie's dynamic centre; when the film was advertised, it was Lorre's face that dominated the poster. Curled and moustachioed, he's almost as memorable in another Hitchcock film, Secret Agent (1936), based on Somerset Maugham's Ashenden stories, and a movie of marvellous moments. From Hitchcock, he would pass to Hollywood, where he would become one of the era's defining stars.

Two versions of Lorre face each other in uneasy connection: there's the respected Brechtian actor Peter Lorre (rhymes with "Gomorrah") versus Peter Lorre (rhymes with "sorry"), Hollywood's simulacrum of everything foreign, alien and fascinatingly toad-like. Lorre could stand in for any kind of suspicious foreigner – for instance The Maltese Falcon's (1941) Joel Cairo, a man with many passports, all equally unconvincing. InSecret Agent, John Gielgud hunts for a concealed German spy, though that movie's real secret German-speaker is Lorre himself. The East End shoot-out at the end of The Man Who Knew Too Much inevitably recalls the Sidney Street siege, and memories of murderous continental anarchists; here Lorre was an émigré actor touching on the nation's darkest fantasies of an immigrant intrusion. In the late 1930s, he achieved great success churning out a series of mediocre if charming crime films, as the inscrutable Japanese detective, Mr Moto. He's prone to murmuruing sagely, "Ah, so!" and offering up implausible lines such as (describing a drawing) "What harmony and colour. Truly this is a voiceless poem." At the time, this kind of thing went down well. After all, Lorre was inescapably alien, a man to whom the usual rules and social conventions may not apply. In Secret Agent, moral scruples perturb the decent English while, killer and clown, Hispanic Peter Lorre finds the murder business ludicrously comic. A dozen national stereotypes had coalesced in one man.

Mr Moto was an archetypally chaste detective, an oriental Father Brown. Though he could be lascivious in Secret Agent and Strange Cargo(1940) or erotically obsessed in Karl Freund's Mad Love (1935), onscreen sexlessness suited Lorre, who was rarely (if ever) allowed a successful romantic relationship. On set with Hitchcock, he was nicknamed "The Walking Overcoat" because the long coat he wore all but trailed on the floor so that it seemed to be wearing him. (Though it may not have been the coat that was long, but rather Lorre who was short.)

Some have felt that the Mr Moto films wrecked Lorre, turning him from a highly inventive character actor into a Hollywood hack, even though some of his most memorable roles (including Casablanca) came after them. He played best with a great foil, his ridiculous relish for excess up against John Gielgud's elegant Home Counties restraint, his penchant for improvisation unnerving the stage actor's disciplined regard for the script. In The Man Who Knew Too Much, matched by Leslie Banks, Lorre cannot help but steal each scene; he's a physically present actor, often, you feel, surrounded as he is by the pallid English, the only one in the room with a body. Paired by Warner Brothers in a recurring double-act with the imposingly corpulent Greenstreet (they have been memorably described as "the Laurel and Hardy of crime"), Lorre found a home in film noir, a genre receptive to grotesque vigour and the eccentric variety of life. Though both are excellent in The Maltese Falcon, their first outing together, the prize goes to Greenstreet, who (almost literally) fills the screen. Elsewhere honours are more even, though it's precisely the contrast between the two men – the secret connection present in the contradiction of types – that was the key to their achievement.

At his best, Lorre occupied that uneasy territory between the silly and the sinister. He was a great star, a quintessence of the enchanting variety offered up by mid-century movies. If an air of disappointment hangs around him then that too is somehow intrinsic to the vision of the world summed up by his image. It is unfortunate, but appropriate, given his world-weary, hangdog demeanour, that one of his last films was titled The Sad Sack. He was successful at embodying human unsuccess. None of his characters get what they want, unless it is to kill and be caught like Lang's urban murderer. He died in 1964; given his chaotic and driven life, it is miraculous that he survived so long. It is our luck that he left behind so many versions of himself, doubled, distinct, and yet all instantly recognisable as Peter Lorre.

• The Peter Lorre season continues at the BFI Southbank, London SE1, until 7 October.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Donald Sinden RIP

Sir Donald Sinden obituary
Formidable actor who embraced equally tragedy and farce, stage and screen

Michael Coveney
Friday 12 September 2014

"To hear him in full spate is not unlike being shot between the eyes by the world's largest plum," said the journalist John Preston of Donald Sinden, who has died aged 90. The remark was applicable to the actor's vocal delivery both on stage and off. No review was ever penned without "fruity" appearing somewhere near "voice" in the text. Judi Dench, who played a notable Beatrice to his Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing in 1976, said he had "a Christmas pudding of a voice, soaked in brandy"; while the director Peter Hall, who played a very big part in his career, likened it to a bassoon that could be terribly tragic, terribly moving – and extremely funny. Physically, too, Sinden was both imposing and endlessly, sometimes outrageously, inventive. In all, Michael Billington averred, he was a critic's dream, because he always gave you so much to write about.

He became nationally renowned as a Rank contract artist in the 1950s, appearing in notable films such as The Cruel Sea (1953) with Jack Hawkins, Mogambo (1953), directed by John Ford, with Clark Gable and Ava Gardner, and Doctor in the House (1954) and Doctor at Large (1957), with Dirk Bogarde and James Robertson Justice, and from the 1960s in TV sitcoms. Nonetheless, Sinden was unashamedly theatrical. He rarely went on stage without an item of historical significance: a pair of Henry Irving's boots, Fred Terry's eye-glass or John Martin Harvey's hat. He lived and breathed the traditions of his trade, and bent the technique he sought out from his elders – he learned about listening and timing, for instance, from Baliol Holloway – to the service of both tragic and comic gods.

He was a notable Shakespearean at Stratford-upon-Avon either side of his early film stint, playing a booming, militaristic King Lear ("Let me not stay a jot for dinner … dinner, ho, dinner!" has never sounded so heartfelt) in the same season as Benedick and, soon after, less successfully, a blacked-up Othello. He characteristically said that Lear became nice and easy after three acts, whereas Othello started quietly and just got harder and harder. Like one of his heroes, David Garrick, he believed that tragedy was easier than comedy: "The expertise you need for farce," he said, "is far greater than for Shakespeare, though with him there has to be greater intellectual awareness."

Sinden on the back foot, exposed and flummoxed in comedy, was one of the sights of the age; his great jowls would sag in a mask of stricken gravity, his eyes fixed wide open, and he would rake the stalls with baleful stares, reducing his audience to a state of gleeful hysteria.

The second of three children, he was born in Plymouth, the son of Alfred, a chemist, and Mabel (nee Fuller), and grew up in Ditchling, East Sussex. He suffered from asthma from an early age and attended a series of private schools before going to Hassocks primary. He failed the 11-plus, went on to Burgess Hill secondary and, at the age of 15, was apprenticed in carpentry and attended evening classes in draughting, with aspirations to become an architect and surveyor.

His workplace was in nearby Brighton, where he fell into amateur dramatics and was given a chance by the director of the Theatre Royal, Charles F Smith, who invited him to join his Mobile Entertainments Southern Area company, with his first professional appearance coming in 1942. His asthma kept him out of wartime action, and he continued with MESA and in joinery. Smith, who had seen Irving act, introduced him to the leaders of his new profession – John Martin Harvey, Irene Vanbrugh, Marie Tempest – and the critic James Agate.

In the 1944 volume of his diaries published as The Selective Ego, Agate records how he muttered, "Stick to your fretwork, young man," before asking "Don Sinden" to recite Wolsey's farewell from Henry VIII and finding evidence of promise: "Enough height, an attractive head, something of the look of young [Henry] Ainley, a good resonant voice, vowels not common, manner modest yet firm." Later that year, after four years of modern comedies and one-night stands for the forces, Sinden embarked on two terms of training at the Webber Douglas School, before making his regional debut at the Leicester Rep, moving on to the Stratford-upon-Avon Memorial theatre in 1946 for two seasons; his roles included Dumaine in Love's Labour's Lost, Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice and Paris (also understudying Romeo) in Peter Brook's Romeo and Juliet.

His contract with Rank followed seasons at the Old Vic in both London and Bristol. By 1960 Sinden was anxious to resume his place on the stage. He was an ideal Captain Hook (doubled with Mr Darling) in Peter Pan opposite Julia Lockwood at the old Scala, but Hall, he said, "rescued" him at the RSC, where he played Mr Price in Henry Livings's surreal comedy Eh? and the Duke of York in the legendary Wars of the Roses history play cycle at Stratford and the Aldwych in London for two years, and shown on BBC television in 1965.

In the latter, Peggy Ashcroft as the "she-wolf" Queen Margaret wiped his face with a rag soaked in the blood of his murdered son, and their brutish stand-off, ending in York's torture and death, was a highlight of the cycle. Still he maintained a wider public profile in the popular television comedy series Our Man at St Mark's (1964-66), where he succeeded Leslie Phillips as a country vicar kept in check by Joan Hickson's sarcastically overbearing housekeeper.

He consolidated his RSC status, and was made an associate of the company, with his Lord Foppington in Vanbrugh's The Relapse, a feast of frippery and ("Stap me vitals") asides. Sinden based his makeup on that of Danny La Rue, but went even further with the rouge, the ribbons, the giant poodle wig and the flutter of silk kerchiefs.

He was in full sail, and added three more great performances in the 1969-70 season: a comically puritanical, granite-featured Malvolio (his model was the Graham Sutherland portrait of Somerset Maugham) opposite Dench's exquisite Viola in Twelfth Night; a four-square Henry VIII based on Holbein; and another knockout fop, Sir Harcourt Courtly, in Boucicault's London Assurance, directed by Ronald Eyre.

In between, he somehow threaded long West End runs in two hit farces: Terence Frisby's There's a Girl in My Soup (1966), in which he executed a celebrated piece of "business", breaking two eggs (he played a celebrity chef) while seducing Jill Melford's "dolly bird"; and Ray Cooney and John Chapman's Not Now, Darling (1968), weaving a web of deceit and adultery in a fantastic double act with another great farceur, Bernard Cribbins.

Still refusing to erect barriers between the subsidised and commercial stages – at a time when others were busy doing so – he played in Terence Rattigan's In Praise of Love (originally After Lydia) opposite Joan Greenwood at the Duchess theatre in 1973 and in Ibsen's An Enemy of the People ("The strongest man in the world is he who stands alone") at Chichester in 1975.

His last hurrah at the RSC was that wonderful Much Ado (directed, as was their Twelfth Night, by John Barton), he and Dench dicing with love and the onset of middle age in the last-chance saloon of a colonial Indian sunset. Sinden's technique of embracing the audience in his confidence while building a complex character was breathtaking. His Benedick, the best I have seen, was hilarious and heart-breaking, vain, masculine, silly and romantically efflorescent.

He segued into his second big television series, Two's Company (1975-79), playing a Jeevesian butler to Elaine Stritch's acerbic, best-selling American author who had moved to London. Bill McIlwraith's scripts capitalised on both actors' gifts for laconic comedy, rife with misunderstanding and affronted dignity; the result was high-calibre warfare between two proud thoroughbreds.

Another compelling sitcom partnership, full of barely concealed or absolutely open outrage, came with Windsor Davies in Never the Twain (1981-91). The rivalry between the two antique dealers was in no way assuaged by the love and marriage of their respective offspring.

His West End appearances in the 80s included an overage matinee idol in Noël Coward's Present Laughter, an overage Uncle Vanya at the Haymarket (one role, perhaps, that proved beyond his considerable range) and Sir Peter Teazle in A School for Scandal. But he struck gold twice in this decade: first, as Dick Willey MP, a lascivious Home Office minister, in Ray Cooney's Two Into One (1984) at the Shaftesbury, raking the house with his trademark battery of stricken oiellades when caught with his trousers, as it were, down; then as Sir Percy Blakeney in Nicholas Hytner's sumptuous 1985 revival of The Scarlet Pimpernel, which transferred from Chichester to the Haymarket.

These monstrous star performances, the one a fond farewell to the old Aldwych farce traditions (aided and abetted by the brilliant Michael Williams, the RSC Fool to his Lear), the other an extravagant adieu to the Victorian stage, still revealed Sinden at the peak of his powers.

In the 90s, he played an outdated view of Oscar Wilde as a martyred music-hall act in Diversions and Delights, a retread of Dick Willey in Cooney's less delirious sequel Out of Order, and a somewhat tackily lecherous old Duke of Altair (one of Laurence Olivier's most dashing, moonstruck roles) in Christopher Fry's Venus Observed at Chichester.

He fared better with Hall, yet again, as a definitive, baffled Mr Hardcastle, the country squire who is mistaken for an innkeeper in She Stoops to Conquer ("I no longer know me own house!") and as a growling, highly political Polonius to Stephen Dillane's taciturn Hamlet, the inaugural production at the newly named Gielgud theatre (formerly the Globe). His last West End appearance came in Ronald Harwood's Quartet at the Albery (now the Noël Coward) in 1999, playing an operatic has-been in an old folk's home, stalking the stage with Ralph Richardson's walking stick.

In later years, he toured abroad, indefatigably and heroically, in both the RSC's The Hollow Crown, John Barton's entertainment about English monarchs, and his own compilation of poetry and reminiscences. He served on many committees, notably the Arts Council and the Theatre Museum, and was a highly visible and participatory member of the Garrick Club. His television work continued, notably as the father of the ex-wife of Judge John Deed (2001-07): of his own full-of-himself character he said, "He cannot understand why the series is not called Judge Joseph Channing."

Sinden was made CBE in 1979, but his "old actor laddie" public persona, exuding an air of fulsome ingratiation, made him a sitting target for Spitting Image, the television satire show, where his florid, fawning puppet yearned for further recognition. The knighthood duly arrived in 1997.

His appetite for absorbing, and preferably relating, theatrical anecdotes was unquenchable, and he produced two delightful volumes of autobiography, A Touch of the Memoirs (1982) – which contains a lovely account of a Sussex childhood – and Laughter in the Second Act (1985), an invaluable, idiosyncratic document in the history of the RSC and the West End. He was a great lover of architecture, the countryside and its churches, producing The English Country Church (1988) alongside two other collections, The Everyman Book of Theatrical Anecdotes (1987) and The Last Word (1994), featuring put-downs, final utterances and epitaphs.

Sinden married the actor Diana Mahony in 1948 and they were inseparable until her death in 2004. Their first son, the actor Jeremy, died in 1996. He is survived by their second son, Marc, also an actor, as well as a director and producer, and by his brother Leon, another actor.

• Donald Alfred Sinden, actor, born 9 October 1923; died 11 September 2014

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Richard Kiel RIP

Richard Kiel and Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me
Beau Maverick gets to grips with Richard Kiel

Richard Kiel obituary
Actor who played the terrifying villain's sidekick, Jaws, in two James Bond films, in which he used his steel teeth to chomp through electric cables – and human beings

Ryan Gilbey
The Guardian
Thursday 11 September 2014

The James Bond films could turn out magisterial villains well enough: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Auric Goldfinger. But they were business-class bores compared to the grotesque sidekicks who got their hands dirty snapping necks, hurling bodies from planes and generally doing their masters' gruesome bidding. Oddjob, whose bowler-hat concealed a razor-sharp rim, and Rosa Klebb, who wore the sort of deadly shoes a woman couldn't find at any old Freeman Hardy Willis, set the standard high in the 1960s. But for any cinemagoer coming of age in the 70s, there was no competition for the title of Most Terrifying Bond Villain's Accomplice. It was Jaws, played by the actor Richard Kiel, who has died aged 74.

Jaws was distinguished by his height (Kiel was 7ft 1.5in) and by his gnarled steel teeth, which could chomp through padlocks, electrical cables and, on special occasions, human beings. He was also the only accomplice to appear in two Bond movies. It had been intended that he would die at the end of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), and his death was even filmed, but positive audience reaction to his scenes ensured that he lived to bite another day.

He was employed on that first occasion by the dastardly Karl Stromberg, who hoped to trigger a nuclear apocalypse before starting a new underwater civilisation. But the balance of horror in the movie was skew-whiff: the third world war seemed like a picnic compared to being cornered at night by Jaws in an Egyptian catacomb, or trying to escape in a clapped-out van while he tore through the bodywork as easily as if it were flatbread.

Hugo Drax, the villain in Moonraker (1979), must have been alerted to Jaws's sterling work in the areas of looming, menacing and murdering when he began casting around for his own henchman – for here was Jaws popping up to try to finish Bond off in a thrilling confrontation on top of a cable car.

Kiel, who had played a thug with gold teeth only a year before The Spy Who Loved Me, in the 1976 Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor comedy-thriller Silver Streak, had been unenthusiastic initially about the role, for which David Prowse (Darth Vader in the Star Wars films) was also in the running. "I was very put off by the description of the character and I thought, 'Well, they don't really need an actor, he's more a monster part' ... I said if I were to play the part, I want to give the character some human characteristics, like perseverance, frustration." He brought even more than that. By the end of Moonraker, he had persuaded us not only that Jaws could renounce his psychotic ways, but also that he could find love, with a tiny blonde girl sporting Pippi Longstocking plaits.

Kiel was born in Detroit, Michigan. He was blind in one eye and also had the hormonal condition acromegaly, which causes excess growth hormones to be produced. He claimed not to have harboured any youthful ambitions to be an actor. Among his early jobs were cemetery plot salesman and nightclub bouncer. Even once he moved to California and began taking acting roles, he supplemented his erratic income by working as a night-school maths teacher.

His earliest acting roles were in the western series Klondike (1960) and Laramie (1961). Other television work followed in series including Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Wild Wild West and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. He also appeared in small and sometimes uncredited parts in films, but attracted attention in Robert Aldrich's 1974 prison comedy-drama The Longest Yard (released in the UK as The Mean Machine) starring Burt Reynolds.

He played the title role in two 1977 television pilot episodes of The Incredible Hulk, but was replaced by the bulkier Lou Ferrigno when it was decided that girth rather than height was the order of the day. Following his success as Jaws, he enjoyed a run of parts as assorted heavies. He cited as a personal favourite his role as a good guy gone bad in the belated Guns of Navarone sequel, Force 10 from Navarone (1978). He was also a loan shark chasing Ryan O'Neal, who played the inventor of a pair of buttockless jeans, in the screwball comedy So Fine (1981)".

Aside from his voice performance in the 2010 Disney film Tangled, Kiel's most high-profile work outside the Bond movies was in Clint Eastwood's western Pale Rider (1985) and in the Adam Sandler comedy Happy Gilmore (1996). In the latter, he walked with a cane, having had his balance affected adversely in a car accident in 1992.

Though Kiel was known largely for acting, he co-wrote and produced the 1991 family film The Giant of Thunder Mountain, and starred in it alongside Hollywood's go-to grizzly, Bart the Bear.

Kiel is survived by his second wife, Diane (nee Rogers), whom he married in 1974, and their four children.

• Richard Kiel, actor, born 13 September 1939; died 10 September 2014

Richard Kiel at the Interteen Fair with The Beach Boys at Burbank, April 1963. The other tall guy is 7' 3"" actor William Engessor. Carl Wilson is standing behind Kiel, looking at Brian, the top of whose head is emerging from Kiel's neck; Mike and Dennis are checking out the regular-sized chicks; David Marks is at Carl's right - that is, left as you look at the picture..

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
I'll See You In My Dreams
Wild Horses
Make You Feel My Love

Da Elderly: -
I Don't Want To Talk About It
You've Got A Friend
Tell Me Why

The Elderly Brothers: -
I've Just Seen A Face
Walk Right Back
Crying In The Rain
You Got It
You're Sixteen
Surfin' USA
Then I Kissed Her
People Get Ready
When You Walk In The Room

A packed house from the start: the punters were treated to rather indulgent solo sets from the Elderlys. The closing set induced a few folks to dance to the more upbeat numbers.

The after midnight unplugged jam was warmly applauded. Your humble minstrels were plied with drink, which fuelled even more terpsichorean delights from the late night revellers. A final shot of Fireball each finished off a most enjoyable evening in style!

Monday, 8 September 2014

Love and Mercy - Brian Wilson biopic review

Love & Mercy review – a warm tribute to the extraordinary life of Brian Wilson
Bill Pohlad's biopic of the Beach Boys mastermind is immaculate and respectful, but the arc of growth and redemption is too neat

Henry Barnes
Monday 8 September 2014

What a shame it would have been had a biopic of Brian Wilson not been well orchestrated. Director Bill Pohlad arranges his film into two motifs that offer a warm, neat tribute to the Beach Boys mastermind. Made with Wilson's blessing, and spinning a full roster of Beach Boys hits, Love & Mercy cuts between Wilsons young and old, skipping the really ugly bits of an extraordinary life in favour of a clean arc of growth and redemption.

Paul Dano (packing on a few pounds of podge) plays Wilson in 1963. The songs in his head are coalescing into Pet Sounds. The voices in his head are only starting to get in the way. He's left the rest of the band to take their surf-rock schtick around the world. Bored of writing about "sun and summer and summer and sun", he stays in California, dabbling with LSD, coveting "ego-death", preparing an album that will change pop music forever.

Twenty years later, the balance between majesty and madness has swung against Wilson (now played by John Cusack). He's having trouble keeping his head on straight. Can't listen to Pet Sounds without feeling he's being smacked in the face. His therapist, Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), helped him to break years in isolation following the death of his abusive dad. But Landy has turned from protector to gatekeeper. He's taken the role of abusive patriarch for himself. He'll turn his fire on Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), a car saleswoman whom Wilson met in the showroom, and who would eventually become his second wife.

Oren Moverman, Love & Mercy's screenwriter, also co-wrote Todd Haynes's multi-stranded I'm Not There, based loosely on the life of Bob Dylan. His Wilson story is less of an adventure, but it does a similarly fine job of avoiding oversimplification. Young Brian is manic and fragmented, even at his happiest. Songs float into his head uninvited. He can't stop the music, even when he wants to. He's worried that his brothers don't get him, he knows the Beatles are stealing his ideas. The pressure to make his records sound as good as he imagines them is hounding him.

Dano plays Wilson with the odd lapse into manic paranoia, but Moverman resists making the link between mental illness and creative freedom too strong. Similarly, the older Wilson isn't just a frightened drug casualty. He never loses his sense of wonder. There's a consistency between the character in the two stages of his life that smooths the jolt between the eras.

Both Dano and Cusack perform beautifully. The role suits their strengths. His shyness brings out a subtlely that Dano often lacks, while Cusack's dry charm gives the older man a sense of humour, as well as nobility. Banks and Giamatti's roles are more one-note. Landy quickly devolves into the kind of maniacal weasel we've seen Giamatti play too often. Banks is an angel of patience and understanding as Ledbetter, the only person who realises how unhealthy Landy's influence has become and the lone hero who can break Wilson free. The complexity of both characters is sacrificed, however, the grey areas of Wilson and Landy's relationship unexplored. Brian is a victim to be saved from a bad man by a good woman. It's all a bit too neat.

Wilson's life has been unusually rich. This biopic, like any biopic, is a cocktail of fact and myth. It's very sensitive to its subject, which can sometimes leave it feeling slight. There are areas of Wilson's story that are underplayed or ignored. Recreational drugs are present, but the idea of addiction, or even dependence, isn't addressed. The other Beach Boys are bit-parts in a life, which feels particularly unfair to Dennis, another complex character whose life drifted away from the fun-in-the-sun innocence of the band's early years.

There's a scene in the studio showing Wilson in his element. He wants the musicians playing in two different keys; he's happy for control room chatter to bleed onto his song. He's just recorded his dogs, Banana and Louie, singing backing vocals. His piano player hits a wrong note and Wilson loves it. The mistakes can make music perfect, he says. Love & Mercy – immaculate, respectful – doesn't follow that philosophy.

John Constable - a Revolutionary Artist

Constable: A Country Rebel

The Haywain by John Constable is such a comfortingly familiar image of rural Britain that it is difficult to believe it was ever regarded as a revolutionary painting, but in this film, made in conjunction with a landmark exhibition at the V&A, Alastair Sooke discovers that Constable was painting in a way that was completely new and groundbreaking at the time.

Through experimentation and innovation he managed to make a sublime art from humble things and, though he struggled in his own country during his lifetime, his genius was surprisingly widely admired in France.
Watch it on BBC iPLayer for the next seven days: 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Spike Milligan statue unveiled in Finchley

Terry Gilliam chats with Spike Milligan

Spike Milligan statue unveiled in north London
The life-size bronze by John Somerville shows the comedian sitting on a bench in his former home of Finchley

Mark Brown
The Guardian
Thursday 4 September 2014

No one, disappointingly, was dressed in a German helmet, battle dress, hobnailed boots and tutu at the unveiling of a new statue for one of Britain's most influential, funniest and unhinged comedians – Spike Milligan.

"That really would have made my day," said Michael Parkinson, recalling the bizarre outfit Milligan once wore when they met on a TV set.

There were plenty more stories as friends and admirers gathered in north London for a statue that has taken 10 years to be made. The life-size bronze, by the artist John Somerville, shows Milligan sitting on a bench and turning to speak to whomever might be there.

"It should have a little mechanism in it that you sit down and it farts," said the film director Terry Gilliam. He said he was hugely influenced by Milligan. "One of the reasons I came to England was I heard this thing on the radio called The Goon Show. I'd never heard anything like it. I thought: 'I want to go wherever that's coming from.'"

There was lots of affection for Milligan at the unveiling, but also an acknowledgement that he could be a difficult man. "You didn't know who you were going to be meeting, simple as that," said Gilliam.

Parkinson said Milligan was a boyhood hero of his. "He is responsible for my love of comedians, basically. He made me laugh more than anybody else as a kid growing up."

He interviewed Milligan several times. "He was the only man, when booked for a show, there'd be a sense of trepidation because you'd never know a) if he'd turn up, and b) what he would say."

Parkinson said there wasn't a single comedian at this year's Edinburgh festival fringe who would not have been influenced by Milligan.

He recalled recording a show for LBC once when an assistant came in to say there was a man downstairs calling himself Mr Spike Milligna and that he was a well-known typing error. Milligan was in his dressing gown and had turned up because he had heard the show and decided it was so bad be needed to liven it up. "He was indispensable, sometimes impossible and always glorious."

Other guests at the ceremony included Maureen Lipman, Roy Hudd, Denis Norden, Jeffrey Holland and Neil Pearson. The statue is in the gardens of Stephens House in Finchley, the north London suburb where Milligan lived for 19 years.

He was president of the Finchley Society. After his death in 2002, the society decided to honour a man who threw himself with some gusto into local affairs. "He didn't just say 'use my name'. He actually came to committee meetings," said the society's chairman, David Smith. "And he took it very seriously. He wasn't a Goon all of the time."

The statue has cost £60,000 and taken a long time to make happen. Barbara Warren, chair of the statue fund committee, first had the idea. It had, she said, been a long journey with financial disasters and refused grant requests.

Milligan joins a list of statue-honoured comedians that includes Eric Morecambe, Norman Wisdom and Laurel and Hardy.

Spike Milligan and me
At 16 years old, starstruck and vulnerable, I was lucky enough to find in the great Goon a hero worthy of worship – so I’m thrilled that we are finally unveiling a statue of him

Kathy Lette
The Guardian
Thursday 4 September 2014

Most teenagers are besotted with rebellious rock stars or cinematic love gods. But I was obsessed by a much more exotic, rare, enigmatic and entertaining species: the Milligan. At 16, I was madly in love with Spike. I knew all his poetry and books and songs by heart.

When I received news that he was touring Australia with a one-man show, I ran away from school and hitchhiked around the country after him, from Adelaide to Melbourne to Canberra. Hitchhiking, of course, means relying on the kindness of passing psychopaths, but I was willing to risk death just to be near the man I worshipped.

I bombarded the unsuspecting Goon with poems and songs written just for him - I even inflicted upon him my truly terrible first novel. (I was very busy at the time, I seem to remember, exhausting the literary possibilities of the labia.)

Instead of suggesting I put down my pen, Spike took me seriously and encouraged me to keep writing. He was the first grownup I’d ever met who wasn’t condescending. At that tender age, all a writer craves is reassurance that you’re not a member of the Illiterati, but I’d been sending snippets of my writing to publishers for over a year and had received a whole forest’s worth of patronising and pompous rejection letters from men who’d been at university so long they had ivy growing up their legs. They had all graduated in Advanced Pretension, especially to an aspiring female author in her teens. Spike was their antithesis.

Compassionate, passionate, profound and poetic, he was also exceedingly generous. Not just with praise, but also with practicalities. Having run away from Sylvania Maximum Security High School, I had absolutely no money. I was busking on street corners with a girlfriend for a living. Spike used to feed and water us and talk to us about life and literature, and even put us up in the odd hotel occasionally. It was like having a sugar daddy, but without the sex: a saccharine daddy. His manager, however, furious at the cost of another hotel room on the bill, brought round his undies and socks one night and demanded we wash them for him in the sink. But that was as dirty as it ever got on tour with the gentlemanly Spike Milligan.

As I watch the pathetic parade into court of famous men from the 1970s, courtesy of Operation Yewtree, it makes me respect my hero even more. Spike had two enamoured, spellbound 16-year-old girls in his grasp. Our devotion and naivety made us totally vulnerable. I remember the other men on his tour tended to look at us in the same way you might eye a fillet steak after a 10-day fast.

Spike could have used his celebrity power and emotional hold over us to his own advantage, and this tale would have ended very differently. Instead, we became such firm friends that he unofficially adopted us, drawing up the document on the back of a restaurant napkin. I have it still – my favourite memento of my favourite man. And when the black dog dragged him into the kennel, we sang him madrigals, lullabies and Celtic ballads ... until he got really depressed. No, until he picked up his ukulele.

It’s always perplexed me that the man who did so much to shape contemporary comedy – John Cleese, Maureen Lipman, Terry Gilliam, Barry Humphries, Joanna Lumley, Michael Palin and Denis Norden are all patrons of a memorial fund – has never had a plaque or some other lasting tribute to celebrate the joy he brought this nation. So it’s touching and thrilling that we are finally unveiling a statue today in London, near his Finchley home.

Considering how many male celebrities have recently been toppled from their elevated social positions, it seems even more deserved. For a man who liked to knock the pretentious off their pedestals, how deliciously appropriate that Spike finally ends up on one.