Thursday, 17 April 2014

Last night's set list

At The Habit, York, The Elderly Brothers: -

Love Hurts
Sea Of Heartbreak
Walk Right Back
Dead Flowers
Crying In The Rain
Bye Bye Love
You Got It

The Elderlys attended Joe Brown's excellent show at the Grand Opera House before heading for a busy Habit open mic session. As a tribute to Joe, Sea Of Heartbreak was added to the set. There were some talented new turns and host Mark Wynn closed proceedings with a superb Anji before a set of his trademark lyric-rich musical observations on contemporary and past times. A post show acoustic jam got folks singing along to songs such as I'll See You In My Dreams and There Stands The Glass. All in all a grand night!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Prefab Stout

A Life of Surprises indeed.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Jesse Winchester RIP

Jesse Winchester, Writer and Singer of Thoughtful Songs, Dies at 69

Jon Pareles
11 April 2014

esse Winchester, a honey-voiced singer who wrote thoughtful songs with deep Southern roots, died on Friday at his home in Charlottesville, Va. He was 69.

The cause was bladder cancer, said his manager and agent, Keith Case.

Mr. Winchester began writing songs in Canada, where he had moved in 1967 to avoid being drafted during the Vietnam War. He did not expect to return to the United States. Yet songs like “Biloxi,” “The Brand New Tennessee Waltz” and “Yankee Lady” on his debut album, “Jesse Winchester,” released in 1970, delved tenderly into memories of the South he had left behind.

“The Brand New Tennessee Waltz,” which Mr. Winchester said was the first song he wrote, was recorded by, among others, Joan Baez, the Everly Brothers, Anne Murray and Patti Page, who had a huge hit in 1950 with “The Tennessee Waltz.”

His songs were rooted in country, soul and gospel, and they strove to stay plain-spoken and succinct, whether he was singing wryly about everyday life or musing on philosophy and faith. In 1989 he told Musician magazine, “You can always find a way to say things in fewer words.”

James Ridout Winchester was born on May 17, 1944, in Bossier City, La., to James Ridout Winchester and the former Frances Manire. His father was stationed at Barksdale Field, an Army Air Corps base at the time. The family moved to a farm in Mississippi and later to Memphis. Mr. Winchester had 10 years of piano lessons, played organ in church and picked up guitar after hearing rockabilly, blues and gospel on Memphis radio.

He attended Williams College, where he majored in German, and enrolled for a year at the University of Munich, although he spent most of his time in Germany playing with a traveling rock band. Shortly after graduating from Williams, he received a draft notice and left for Montreal. “I didn’t see going to a war I didn’t believe was just, or dying for it,“ he said in an interview with No Depression magazine.

In Quebec he worked with bar bands and started playing the coffeehouse circuit, where he became a songwriter. “They expected you to write your own songs,” he told the online magazine Crawdaddy, “so I did.”

After a friend introduced him to Robbie Robertson of the Band, Mr. Winchester was signed by the Band’s manager, Albert Grossman. His debut album was produced by Mr. Robertson and received admiring reviews.

Sales were modest, partly because Mr. Winchester could not tour the United States to promote it. But “Yankee Lady” was a hit in Canada for Mr. Winchester, and later in the United States for Brewer & Shipley, and “Biloxi” became a staple of Jimmy Buffett’s repertoire.

Mr. Winchester released albums steadily through 1981 on Mr. Grossman’s label, Bearsville. The pensive, sparsely produced “Third Down, 110 to Go” — Canadian football has a 110-yard field — appeared in 1972; it included “Isn’t That So,” a bluesy song about God’s intentions and human temptations that was later recorded by Wilson Pickett. “Learn to Love It,” released in 1974, included “Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt,” a 1940s song Mr. Winchester updated to praise Canada; in it, he recalled himself in 1967, singing, “The call to bloody glory came and I would not raise my hand.” In 1976, Mr. Winchester released “Let the Rough Side Drag,” which pondered love, faith and commitment.

Three months after President Jimmy Carter issued an amnesty for draft evaders in January 1977, Mr. Winchester, who had become a Canadian citizen in 1973, played his first United States concerts in a decade. He was ambivalent about the newfound attention. “It doesn’t seem fair to turn your back on your country and then come back when the coast is clear and make money,” he told Rolling Stone in 1977.

With the amnesty, Mr. Winchester could record again in the United States, although he continued to live in Quebec. He worked in Nashville with Emmylou Harris’s longtime producer, Brian Ahern, on “Nothing but a Breeze“ (1977); with another leading country producer, Norbert Putnam, on “A Touch on the Rainy Side“ (1978); and in Memphis with Al Green’s producer, Willie Mitchell, on “Talk Memphis” (1981).

Those albums gave Mr. Winchester his first presence on the American country and pop singles charts, but sales remained low, and longtime fans missed the sorrowful undertow of his earlier songs.

“Talk Memphis” was Mr. Winchester’s last major-label album. He would record infrequently through the following decades, though he continued to tour and write. He built a home studio, and royalties supported him as his songs appeared on albums by Wynonna Judd, Reba McEntire, Emmylou Harris, Jimmy Buffett and many others.

“I took stock and thought, ‘The only thing making money for me in this business is songwriting,’ ” he told one interviewer. “I don’t make any from records, and what little I did make from performing wasn’t usually worth the aggravation.” But in later years, he grew happier with performing, and he continued to tour into 2014.

Mr. Winchester made two country-pop albums for the Sugar Hill label, “Humour Me” in 1988 and “Gentleman of Leisure” in 1999.

In 2002 he married Cindy Duffy and moved back to the United States, settling in Charlottesville. He credited her “nagging” with getting him to record his last album, the 1950s-flavored “Love Filling Station” (Appleseed), in 2009. He had recently completed another album, “A Reasonable Amount of Trouble.”

Mr. Winchester’s first marriage ended in divorce. In addition to Ms. Duffy, survivors include a daughter, Alice Winchester; two sons, James and Marcus Lee Winchester; a stepdaughter, Jennifer Slangerup; three grandchildren; two step-grandchildren; a brother, Cassius; and a sister, Ellyn Weeks.

He learned he had esophageal cancer in 2011 and canceled a tour, but after surgery, he was pronounced cancer-free and returned to performing. In February of this year, he was found to have bladder cancer.

A 2012 tribute album, “Quiet About It,” included performances of his songs by Elvis Costello, Jimmy Buffett, James Taylor, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, Lucinda Williams and Allen Toussaint.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

This week's set lists

Tuesday night at The Centurion, Newcastle upon Tyne: -

Till There Was You
Flying On The Ground Is Wrong
And I Love Her
Out Of The Blue (new song)
Laurel Canyon Home
One More Time
Don't Cry No Tears
I'll Follow The Sun
I Believe In You

A very thin crowd, including one other FNB, were treated to a range of musical styles during the Tuesday open mic night. The house band joined in on John Mayall's Laurel Canyon Home.

Wednesday night at The Habit, York - The Elderly Brothers: -

Dead Flowers
So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)
Light My Fire
When Will I Be Loved
Cathy's Clown
Surfin' USA

The usual players were supplemented by 4 or 5 newcomers who had made the trip from Bridlington. Entertainment was guaranteed with the excellent Tony Jawando and the duet Completely Bananas. The Elderlys introduced a 'new' song to their repertoire - Light My Fire.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Lorenzo Semple JR RIP

Lorenzo Semple obituary
Screenwriter highly regarded for his film work but best known for the hit 60s TV series Batman

Ronald Bergan
The Guardian
Wednesday 2 April 2014

There is a certain wry absurdity in the fact that the respected screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr, who has died aged 91, should be associated, above all, with onomatopoeic exclamations such as "POW!", "WHAM!", "CRR-ASH!" and "ARRGH!". These on-screen graphics, describing the action in Batman, the hit TV series that ran from 1966 to 1968, were an essential element of the campy, tongue-in-cheek satiric tone created by Semple, who was inspired by the more serious Batman comic books, first published in the 1940s.

In fact, Semple, who was story and script consultant on all 120 episodes, wrote only the first four teleplays, though his contributions to the adventures of Batman ("the Caped Crusader") and his adolescent sidekick Robin ("the Boy Wonder") – played in an amusingly straight-faced way by Adam West and Burt Ward – included such catchphrases as "Come on, Robin, to the Bat Cave! There's not a moment to lose!" and Robin's terse exclamations, "Holy crackup!", "Holy Titanic!", "Holy camouflage!" and "Holy happenstance!"

Despite having co-written two of the best conspiracy movies of the 1970s – The Parallax View (1974) and Three Days of the Condor (1975) – Semple believed that "Batman was the best thing I ever wrote, including those big movies. As a whole work, it came out the way that I wanted it to and I was excited by it."

Lorenzo was born into a wealthy family in Mount Kisco, Westchester county, New York, and was keen to become a playwright like his uncle Philip (The Philadelphia Story) Barry. However, he first served in the second world war as an ambulance driver for the Free French forces in the Libyan desert, for which he earned a Croix de Guerre, and then with the American army, which awarded him a bronze star.

After the war, Semple wrote short stories for the Saturday Evening Post and Collier's, and had two plays produced on Broadway, Tonight in Samarkand (1955) and Golden Fleecing (1959). Neither was a success, but the latter was picked up by MGM, retitled The Honeymoon Machine (1961), and made into a strained cold-war comedy starring Steve McQueen as a naval lieutenant who uses his ship's computer to break the bank at a casino in Venice.

Semple started writing regularly for television in 1958, culminating with Batman. He also wrote the screenplay for the feature film spin-off, which was released in 1966. The film, directed by Leslie H Martinson, had four villains: Catwoman (Lee Meriwether), the Joker (Cesar Romero), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) and the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), causing Commissioner Gordon to declare: "A thought strikes me ... so dreadful I scarcely dare give it utterance ..." "The four of them ... their forces combined ..." Batman interjects. "Holy nightmare!" Robin chimes in.

Semple then decided to concentrate almost entirely on writing for the big screen, although he always had a low opinion of screenwriting, which he considered a craft rather than an art. He and Martinson teamed up again for Fathom (1967), one of many 1960s James Bond spoofs, this one starring Raquel Welch in the title role. (She is repeatedly asked how she got her name, each time providing a different answer.)

Directed by Noel Black, Pretty Poison (1968), for which Semple's screenplay won the New York Film Critics Circle prize, was an early example of a movie with ecological concerns. The bizarre black comedy starred Anthony Perkins as a disturbed young man who, convinced that the chemical plant where he works is polluting the river in his town with a "diabolical substance", enlists the help of his psychopathic girlfriend (Tuesday Weld) to destroy the polluting factory. Although the film remained pretty poisonous at the box office, it gathered a well-deserved following over the years.

After five writers' scripts had been discarded by the director Franklin J Schaffner on Papillon (1973), based on the former Devil's Island convict Henri Charrière's semi-autobiographical bestseller, Semple was brought in to write a role for Dustin Hoffman that was not in the book. He spent six weeks writing three quick drafts to create the wimpish, thickly bespectacled Louis Dega, a friend for Steve McQueen's character in line with the trend for "buddy" movies.

Another 70s trend was the conspiracy thriller, which explored the dark underside of America in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate. This gave Semple a chance to get a screenwriting credit on Alan J Pakula's political thriller The Parallax View, an extremely disturbing no-holds-barred look at an assassination cover-up with a downbeat ending, and on Sydney Pollack's Three Days of the Condor, which creates an atmosphere of paranoia as Robert Redford, a lowly analyst, tries to reveal dirty dealings in the CIA.

Among the less distinguished efforts in which Semple was involved were two remakes: the heavy, charmless King Kong (1976) – "Put me down, you goddamn chauvinist pig ape!" says Jessica Lange – and Hurricane (1979), a multimillion-dollar flop, which might have been better if Roman Polanski's personal difficulties had not forced him to give up the project and flee the US.

Semple was then back to comic-book land with Flash Gordon (1980) and Sheena (1984), both eliciting intentional and unintentional easy laughs. But before Semple could say "Holy Sean Connery!", he was asked to write the screenplay for Never Say Never Again (1983). After a 12-year hiatus, the original James Bond returned to the role for the last time in this retread of Thunderball (1965) in which Bond is asked: "Now that you're on this, I hope that we're going to have some gratuitous sex and violence?" Semple does an adequate job in supplying it.

He is survived by his wife, Joyce, two daughters, Johanna and Maria, the latter also a writer, and a son, Lorenzo.

Stephen Weeks writes: Lorenzo Semple was an original – a man with deeply held beliefs and a passion for justice, but delicately wrapped in a delightful, mischievous veneer of humour. He broke off the comfort of his education at Yale after his fresher year to drive ambulances in north Africa before the US had entered the second world war. After it, he continued his studies and graduated from Columbia University, New York. Yale was from his comfortable youth, and he was keen to embrace the future – and to establish himself as a man with something to say.

He loved technology: in the late 1970s he equipped the house he'd had built in Aspen, Colorado, with a computer that turned on lights and in the morning drew blinds and opened windows, automatically, wishing him "Good morning" while it was at it. In 1985, he lugged his steel-cased "portable" to my 12th-century house in Wales to work on a script with me, and he was the first person I knew who had email. This fascination went way back: the plot of his 1961 movie The Honeymoon Machine demonstrates the early fun and even the malicious potential of computers, which stood him in good stead when he came to Batman later.

Lorenzo's last trip to Europe was in 2008, as a guest of honour of the Karlovy Vary film festival. The film he chose to represent his work was Pretty Poison, whose whole attitude towards small-town, white picket-fence life pre-dates David Lynch by two decades. It proved as disturbingly shocking as it had been when first released

• Lorenzo Semple, screenwriter, born 27 March 1923; died 28 March 2014

Peter Matthiessen RIP

Peter Matthiessen obituary
Environmentalist, novelist and wildlife author best known for The Snow Leopard

Michael Carlson
The Guardian
Sunday 6 April 2014

Although he saw himself primarily as a novelist, Peter Matthiessen, who has died of leukaemia aged 86, became best known for his non-fiction writing, a phenomenon he once described as "being pushed so far into a pigeonhole I now doubt I will ever get out". Indeed, Matthiessen's non-fiction earned him an important place among conservationists worldwide. His writing encompassed nature and travel, and its spiritual insights about nature, man, and himself, turned him into a sort of new-age guru. Even the careful craftsmanship of his fiction reflected an approach to writing that echoed the Zen Buddhism he practised.

Matthiessen was born into a privileged background, in New York, where his father Erard was a successful architect, who during the second world war designed systems to protect transatlantic merchant convoys, and later became an executive of the Audubon Society, an environmental association. The family had houses on Long Island and in Connecticut, and Matthiessen was educated at St Bernard's school, Manhattan, and Hotchkiss school, in Lakeville, Connecticut. At Yale University, he studied English and spent a year at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he met Patsy Southgate, who would become his first wife. After graduating in 1950, he stayed at Yale to teach.

One of his undergraduate stories won a prize from the Atlantic Monthly magazine but further success eluded him, and having been recruited, like many well-connected Yale old boys, by the CIA, he returned with Patsy to Paris. There, along with other struggling writers including George Plimpton, he founded the Paris Review, and created its most notable feature, the extended Writers at Work interviews. The CIA at this time was supporting a number of journals overseas, most notably Encounter, though Matthiessen later insisted that his function had been merely to keep an eye on "suspicious" expatriates.

On his return to New York, his first novel, Race Rock (1954), was published, followed by Partisans (1955), set in Paris. By now Matthiessen had settled in Sag Harbor, on Long Island, and supported his family by running fishing charters in the summers. In the wake of his divorce, he turned to non-fiction, transforming a series of articles written for Sports Illustrated into the successful book Wildlife in America (1959). He had a short story adapted into a film, The Young One (1960), by Luis Buñuel, but his third novel, Raditzer (1960), about the scion of a wealthy family going to sea, made little impact.

However, his journalism led him to the door of the New Yorker, and its editor, William Shawn, encouraged him to travel farther afield. The resulting books, Cloud Forest (1961), set in the Amazon and Tierra del Fuego, and Under the Mountain Wall (1962) in New Guinea, established his reputation.

In 1963, he married Deborah Love, a writer who introduced him to Zen Buddhism. Together they acted as "guinea pigs" in early LSD experiments, before the drug was outlawed. They settled on a six-acre estate in Sagaponack, Long Island, which became a summer meeting place for writers from New York and a venue for Zen retreats.

In 1965 he published At Play in the Fields of the Lord, a novel about fundamentalist missionaries in the Amazon, which began to establish the powerful synthesis of the two strands of his writing. It became a film in 1991, directed by the Brazilian Héctor Babenco.

It would be 10 years before his next novel, but in that time Matthiessen published five non-fiction works, including The Shorebirds of North America (1967) and Blue Meridian: In Search of the Great White Shark (1971), which chronicled the making of a documentary documentary about sharks, Blue Water, White Death. When he returned to fiction, it was with Far Tortuga (1975), set among turtle hunters in the Cayman Islands, whose impressionistic style James Dickey called "a turning point in the evolution of the novel".

Three years later, he won two National Book awards for a non-fiction account, The Snow Leopard (1978), in which the search for the animal in the Himalayas, his wife's death from cancer and his quest for Zen awareness were interwoven to create a seamless meditation.

Matthiessen had moved politically to the left, opposing the Vietnam war and becoming involved with the farm union leader Cesar Chavez, the subject of his 1969 book Sal Si Puedes. In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (1983) delved into the history of the Sioux nation and its relationship with the US, while arguing the innocence of the Lakota leader Leonard Peltier, convicted of killing two FBI agents in a South Dakota siege in 1975. Matthiessen and the book's publishers, Viking Press, faced libel lawsuits from one agent and the former governor of South Dakota, which caused the book's withdrawal. Although the suits were eventually dismissed, the legal costs went over $2m. A paperback edition of the book was finally published in 1992.

In 1980 Matthiessen married Maria Eckhart. Over the next 20 years he would publish eight more non-fiction works, including the elegiacal Men's Lives (1986), about fishermen in South Fork, Long Island, and reminiscent of his New Yorker predecessor Joseph Mitchell's At the Bottom of the Harbour. During this time, he also worked on a trilogy of novels based on the life of EJ Watson, a plantation owner who nearly ruled the Ten Thousand Islands section of the Florida Everglades. Killing Mister Watson (1991), Lost Man's River (1997) and Bone By Bone (1999) were remarkable works that drew on both classic American literature and elements of hard-boiled detective fiction. In 2008 he won another National Book award for Shadow Country, in which he reshaped the trilogy as one novel.

Active until the end, Matthiessen published two remarkable late works, Birds of Heaven (2001), about the search for cranes, and End of the Earth: Voyages to Antarctica (2003). A final novel, In Paradise, about a Zen retreat held on the site of a Nazi death camp, is due to be published later this week.

He is survived by Maria; a son, Luke, and daughter, Sara, from his first marriage; and a son, Alex, and daughter, Rue, from his second.

• Peter Matthiessen, writer and environmentalist, born 22 May 1927; died 5 April 2014

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Bob Larbey RIP

Bob Larbey obituary
Television sitcom and screenplay writer behind popular hits such as Please Sir!, The Good Life and Ever Decreasing Circles

Michael Coveney
The Guardian
Sunday 6 April 2014

Bob Larbey, who has died aged 79, was renowned as a television sitcom and screenplay writer with his professional partner John Esmonde for 30 years: they wrote The Good Life (starring Richard Briers, Felicity Kendal, Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington as the Surbiton neighbours) and a second Briers vehicle, Ever Decreasing Circles.

They had broken through with the highly popular late-1960s sitcom Please Sir! (rejected by the BBC but taken up by ITV) in which John Alderton made his name as a newly qualified teacher grappling with a crowd of mouthy fifth-formers in a rough London area. And they signed off with a BBC 1990s series, Mulberry, in which Karl Howman as the son of Death (disguised as a manservant) parried the barbs and put-downs of his employer, a cantankerous old spinster brilliantly played by Geraldine McEwan.

But Larbey was his own man, too, seriously under-acknowledged as the author of two subtle and civilised television series for Judi Dench – A Fine Romance and As Time Goes By – which not only catapulted Dench into the centre of the nation's affection, but also revealed a writer of rare talent, sly wit and popular touch. He played an equally significant part in the career of Dench's great friend and contemporary Maggie Smith, when in 1983 he adapted a William Trevor story, Mrs Silly, for ITV and the producer James Cellan Jones, and launched Smith on her gallery of women on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She was unexpectedly and disarmingly tragic, severe and angular like a Modigliani portrait, as a divorced vicar's wife disowned by her own son and humiliated by her ex-husband and his grandiose new wife at a parents' open day in a minor public school.

Larbey had no theatrical background, but his first stage play, A Month of Sundays, won the Evening Standard best comedy of the year award when it played at the Duchess theatre in the West End in 1986, starring George Cole. The play was set in a retirement home and won praise for its humour, delicacy and humane consideration of growing older, qualities evident in all of his, and Esmonde's, television writing, even the knockabout stuff.

How interesting it is that so much of our postwar television comedy writing originated from male professional couples with deep cultural ties and friendships: David Croft and Jimmy Perry (Dad's Army), Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (The Likely Lads), Ray Galton and Alan Simpson (Steptoe and Son). Esmonde and Larbey met at school, remained friends all their lives and tried their luck in BBC radio comedy because they loved listening to it.

They were both south London boys. Larbey was the youngest son of a carpenter who attended the Henry Thornton grammar school in Clapham where he met Esmonde, two years his junior, and was captain of cricket. He worked as a printing-block maker, then in an insurance office in Soho, and did his national service with the education corps in Germany. Three years of after-hours writing with Esmonde yielded a BBC joint fee of two guineas in 1965. Sketches for the comedian Dick Emery led to their first radio sitcom, Spare a Copper, starring Kenneth Connor (of Carry On films fame) as a hopeless policeman and, in 1969, Just Perfick, adapted from HE Bates's stories about the Larkin family; 20 years later, Larbey dramatised the first television series adapted from the same source, The Darling Buds of May.

Their television debut followed in 1966 with Room at the Bottom for the BBC, in which Connor led a bolshie crew of maintenance workers against a newly appointed internal security officer, and then came Please Sir! This was certainly a diluted, commercial version of several theatrical plays at that time dealing with secondary schools in inner cities, but it touched a national nerve, and even spun off into a secondary series in 1971, The Fenn Street Gang, in which Alderton's feckless charges left school and faced the world, each other, unemployment and parental duties.

Above all, Esmonde and Larbey wrote funny lines. They had that precious knack of translating how they spoke and what they heard into comic dialogue and entertaining characters. They weren't Tom Stoppard, and they weren't Alan Ayckbourn (whose 1973 trilogy The Norman Conquests provided a template for The Good Life), but they were very good indeed.

The pair exploited their national service days in Get Some In! (1975-78) which made a coming star of Robert Lindsay as a teddy boy new recruit. They developed their Briers association – with Michael Gambon as a glum-faced bachelor stooge – in The Other One (1977-79), before hitting their stride again big-time in Ever Decreasing Circles (1984-89); Briers – supported by Penelope Wilton and Peter Egan – was an interfering suburban fusspot with a manic drive worthy of Molière's most ridiculous egotists.

Between these series, Larbey went solo on A Fine Romance for Dench and her husband Michael Williams, a four-series saga (1981-84) of on/off social intimacy with ups and downs and looming elderly parents played by the unforgettable duo of Richard Pearson and Lally Bowers. And he rallied to the great actor again with As Time Goes By (1992-2002, with "reunion" specials in 2005) as Dench's Jean Hardcastle re-animated a long lost affair with Geoffrey Palmer's ex-army officer; her casual brilliance and comic timing in these Larbey scripts undoubtedly led to her Indian summer in British films and Hollywood.

The BBC ran two series, between 1986 and 1993, Brush Strokes and Mulberry, which attempted (and nearly succeeded) in projecting cheeky boy-next-door Howman into the Briers league of tele-stardom. In the first, Howman played a womanising painter and decorator in Motspur Park whose sexual fantasies usually evaporated in a wine bar run by a coarse-grained and very funny Howard Lew Lewis.

Larbey and his wife, Trish Marshall, moved from London to a thatched cottage in the Surrey village of Ockley in 1989 and promptly got involved with the local amateurs, the Ockley Drama Society. Though Larbey never repeated the success of A Month of Sundays, his theatre output continued and is often revived in repertory theatres and amateur companies around the world: A Small Affair (1990) charts the romantic perils of TV rehearsal rooms; Building Blocks (1992) was written from the heart about family traumas during a domestic building extension; and Sand Castles (2001) is a seaside comedy of beach-hut politics.

Esmonde and Larbey's last series together, again starring Briers, was Down to Earth (1995). They tried to make his character of an expat readjusting to life in Britain after many years in South America interesting, and failed; it evaporated after seven episodes.

Trish died in 2006. Larbey is survived by their son, Matthew.

• Robert Edward John Larbey, television screenwriter and dramatist, born 24 June 1934; died 31 March 2014

We'll forgive him Get Some In and anything with the Karl Howman for The Good Life, Ever Decreasing Circles and As Time Goes By.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Mickey Rooney RIP

Mickey Rooney at a screening of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in 2012.
Mickey Rooney obituary: women liked me because I made them laugh
Actor who spent a lifetime in Hollywood, making dozens of movies and marrying eight times

Ronald Bergan
Monday 7 April 2014 

In 1938, the extraordinary, multi-talented 18-year-old Mickey Rooney, who has died aged 93, was America’s No 1 box-office star, earning more than $300,000 annually. In 1939, he was awarded a special Oscar for his “spirit and personification of youth”.

In 1962, Rooney declared himself bankrupt, revealing that he had nothing left of the $12m he had earned over the years. After being an MGM luminary for a decade, he was forced to appear in dozens of B movies to pay off his debts and alimony payments (he had been married seven times). But this remarkable pint-sized entertainer always lived by the creed of his profession: “the show must go on”.

Rooney was in show business literally all his life. His Edinburgh-born father, Joseph Ninian Yule (known as "Red" Yule) and his Arkansas-born mother, Nell Carter, were in vaudeville, and Joe Yule Jr first appeared on stage as part of the family act at the age of 17 months, playing a mouth organ. When his parents separated in 1924, he and his mother took off, in a Model T Ford, for Hollywood.

There he made his film debut, aged five, as a midget pretending to be a child in a short called Not to Be Trusted, in which he had to puff on a cigar. In his first feature, Orchids and Ermine (1927), he played another cigar-smoking midget who makes a pass at Colleen Moore. Soon, he was playing a mischievous child called Mickey McGuire in a series of two-reel comedies, legally changing his name to that of the character. In his unreliable memoirs, he claimed that Walt Disney named his mouse after him, and that Al Capone cried every time he heard him singing Pal o’ My Cradle Days at a club in Chicago.

Mickey Rooney and Freddie Bartholemew
He became Mickey Rooney in 1932 when he started to appear in features at MGM, the studio with which he was to be associated for the next 16 years, beginning by playing a variety of brash kids, including Clark Gable as a boy in Manhattan Melodrama in 1934, among the 10 pictures he appeared in that year. However, he made his first real impact when loaned out to Warner Brothers, where he was a delightful Puck in Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle's all-star A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935), although he broke a leg tobogganing during shooting and had to be wheeled around on a bicycle by concealed stagehands.

Previously, Rooney had appeared in the Reinhardt stage production in the Hollywood Bowl for a month. The New York Times declared his Puck had “an elfin quicksilver grace ... and revealed a greater comprehension of his role than almost anyone in the cast”.

Back at MGM, he was the kid brother in Ah Wilderness (1935), based on Eugene O’Neill’s play. (He was to take the lead in the splendid musical version, Summer Holiday, in 1948.) Mostly, however, Rooney played tough, working-class boys, opposed to prissy, patrician Freddie Bartholomew in Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Devil Is A Sissy, and Captains Courageous.

In 1937, in a modest comedy called A Family Affair, Rooney played Andy Hardy, a small town judge’s son. It was the first of 15 vastly popular Hardy Family films — idealised, over-sentimental views of American life, but wonderfully entertaining. Although the indefatigable Andy was continually getting into scrapes, he respected his father (Lewis Stone), with whom he was always having man-to-man talks.

Off screen, Rooney was busily chasing women, and was seen at nightclubs with them, something Louis B Mayer objected to strenuously. “I don’t care what you do off camera,” he told Rooney, “just don’t do it in public. In public, behave. Your fans expect it. You’re Andy Hardy. You’re the United States. You’re the Stars and Stripes. Behave yourself. You’re a symbol.”

Besides appearing in other examples of warm-hearted Americana such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939), Young Tom Edison (1940) and The Human Comedy (1943), he was allowed to play a juvenile delinquent reformed by priest Spencer Tracy in Boys’ Town (1938).

Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry in 1937 launched Mickey and Judy Garland as one of Hollywood’s great teams. Their combined youthful exuberance was amply displayed in several lively musicals such as Babes In Arms (1939), Strike Up The Band (1940) and Girl Crazy (1943), in all of which Rooney sang, danced, played musical instruments, did imitations and handled comic and emotional scenes with equal aplomb.
Mickey Rooney and Spencer Tracey

Despite Mayer’s objections, Rooney married Ava Gardner, a new MGM contract player, whom he met when she visited the set of Babes on Broadway (1941). But they soon found out they had little in common. While he was at the track or on the golf course, she sat at home. One day, she exploded. “You know, Mick, I’m goddamned tired of living with a midget,” and left. Gardner was, in fact, 5ft 1in, the same height as Rooney, but she wore high heels.

“I didn’t ask to be short,” Rooney complained. “I didn’t want to be short. I’ve tried to pretend that being a short guy didn’t matter. I tried to make up for being short by affecting a strut, by adopting the voice of a much bigger man, by spending more money than I made, by tipping double or triple at bars and restaurants, by dating tall, beautiful women.”

In 1944, after completing National Velvet, in which he was suitably dour as a former jockey helping Elizabeth Taylor to win the Grand National, Rooney joined the army. While based in Alabama, he met 17-year-old Betty Jane Rase, a beauty queen, whom he married a few weeks later. On his return from entertaining the troops in Europe, he found his wife, now the mother of his first child, Mickey Rooney Jr, too intellectually narrow for him. After the birth of a second son, they were divorced, and he married the actress Martha Vickers, mainly known for playing Lauren Bacall’s wanton younger sister in The Big Sleep.

In 1948, his last year at MGM, in the fanciful biopic Words and Music, Rooney was well cast as the songwriter Lorenz Hart, who was 5ft tall, but who was transformed from a tormented homosexual into a man who suffers because he was jilted by a woman. At the same time, Rooney made one of his best films at the studio, Rouben Mamoulian’s colourful Summer Holiday, in which he was convincing as the adolescent suffering growing pains (he was then 26).

Having figuratively outgrown his juvenile roles, Rooney decided to go freelance, and his popularity started to wane. Yet he proved himself an able dramatic actor as a cocky racing driver in The Big Wheel (1949), a cocky roller-skating champ in The Fireball (1950) and a garage mechanic driven to crime in Drive A Crooked Road (1954). In the meantime, he had married another beauty queen, Elaine Mahnken, who appeared with him in The Atomic Kid (1954).

“Women liked me because I made them laugh,” he explained. "What is an orgasm, after all, except laughter of the loins?"

In 1956, with his career on the slide and his fourth marriage on the rocks, Rooney drank heavily and popped pills. His Oscar nomination in 1957 for his performance as a soldier in The Bold and The Brave gave him a slight lift, as did his title role in Baby Face Nelson, of which he had a percentage, and cabaret shows in Las Vegas. In 1958 he married Barbara Ann Thomason, wife No 5, with whom he had his first daughter.

Two daughters and a son later, Barbara left him for another man, an aspiring actor called Milos Milosevic. One fateful night, after a jealous row, Milos shot Barbara and then himself, with four of Rooney’s children in the house. Rooney was devastated and took more drugs and drink. However, he still worked hard, appearing (embarrassingly) as Audrey Hepburn’s caricatured Japanese neighbour in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961); as boxer Anthony Quinn’s trainer in Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962); and in such trash classics as How To Stuff A Wild Bikini (1966).

He briefly married Thomason's friend Marge Lane, then Carolyn Hockett, who worked in public relations. When that marriage fell through, Rooney turned to TV evangelists and Christian Science for help, as well as embarking on various doomed get-rich-quick schemes.

At the time of his eighth marriage, to Jan Chamberlin, a country and western singer in 1978, his career and morale began to pick up. He made his Broadway debut in the wonderfully corny tribute to vaudeville, Sugar Babies, a big hit for which he unwisely waived a percentage of the profits in favour of a salary. He was again nominated for an Oscar for The Black Stallion (1979), in which he played an old-time horse trainer, and won a Golden Globe award for his portrayal of a mentally-retarded man coping with life outside an institution in Bill.

In 1983, Rooney was presented with a special Oscar for lifetime achievement.
 He continued to work throughout the 1990s, appearing as a guest star on TV series such as ER, providing his voice for animated features and playing the title role in a stage version of The Wizard of Oz, though he was declared bankrupt again in 1996, owing $1.75m in back taxes.

Nevertheless, Mickey Rooney, shaped like a rubber ball, bounced back as always, so that he was never outside the public eye for long, and was still performing in his 80s.

He was last in the news in 2011 when he accused his stepson Christopher Aber and Aber's wife, Christina, of "elder abuse" and financial exploitation.

• Mickey Rooney, actor, born 23 September, 1920; died 6 April 2014.

Mickey Rooney as Huckleberry Finn
Mickey Rooney, legend of the screen, dies at 93
Star spent his entire life in show business and could trace his career back to Hollywood's golden age of the 30s and 40s

Monday 7 April 2014 

Actor Mickey Rooney, who became the United States' biggest movie star while still a brash teenager in the 1930s and later a versatile character actor in a career that spanned 10 decades, has died aged 93.

Rooney, who developed a reputation as a hard-partying, off-screen brat in his heyday and married eight times, died after a long illness.

Los Angeles police commander Andrew Smith said that Rooney was with his family when he died Sunday at his North Hollywood home.

"He was undoubtedly the most talented actor that ever lived. There was nothing he couldn't do," actress Margaret O'Brien said in a statement.

She said she had worked recently with Rooney on a film, The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, and he "was as great as ever" during the filming.

Actress Rose Marie, a long-time friend, said he was one of the greatest talents show business had ever had. "I shall miss him and the world shall miss him," she said in a statement.

Rooney was an entertainer almost from the day he was born in New York in 1920. His parents, Joe Yule Sr and Nell, had a vaudeville act and Joe Jr, as he was known then, was not yet two when he became a part of it, appearing in a miniature tuxedo.

As he grew older, Rooney added dancing and joke-telling to his stage repertoire before landing his first film role – a cigar-smoking little person in the silent short Not to Be Trusted.

After his parents split, Rooney and his mother moved to California where she steered him into a movie career. He was about 7 when he was cast as the title character in the Mickey McGuire series of film shorts that ran from 1927 to 1934.

Nell even had his name changed to Mickey McGuire before changing the last name again to Rooney when he began getting other roles.
Mickey Rooney and Kathryn Grayson
As a teenager, Rooney was cute, diminutive (he topped out at 5 feet 2 inches (1.6 meters) and bursting with hammy energy. Those attributes served him well when he was cast as the wide-eyed, wise-cracking Andy Hardy in a series of films that would give movie-goers a brief opportunity to forget the lingering woes of the Great Depression in the late 1930s.

The first Andy Hardy film, A Family Affair in 1937, became a surprise hit and led to a series of 16, with Rooney's character becoming the main focus and helping make him the biggest box-office attraction of 1939 and 1940. The Hardy films were wholesome, sentimental comedies in which Andy would often learn a valuable lesson from his wise father, Judge Hardy.

In 1938, Rooney and Deanna Durbin received miniature Academy Awards for juveniles.

"Call him cocky and brash but he has the sort of exuberant talent that keeps your eyes on the screen," the New York Times said of Rooney in a 1940 review.
Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland
It was in Love Finds Andy Hardy that he first worked with Judy Garland, who was on the verge of superstardom herself with The Wizard of Oz.

They made two more Hardy movies together and in 1939 were cast together in Babes in Arms, a Busby Berkeley musical about two struggling young entertainers that earned Rooney, then 19, an Academy Award nomination.

Movie-goers loved the lively "let's put on a show!" chemistry that Rooney and Garland brought to the screen. They were paired again in Girl Crazy in 1943.

"We weren't just a team, we were magic," Rooney said in a stage show about his life.

Rooney proved he could handle serious roles, too, with a notable performance in 1938 in Boys Town as a troubled kid helped out by a kindly priest played by Spencer Tracy.

He picked up another Oscar nomination for The Human Comedy in 1943 and starred with Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet in 1944.
Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor
Off the screen, the young Rooney was the Justin Beiber of his time. His fame, money, gambling, lust and mercurial nature were problems for the MGM studio, which did not like seeing its young star sully his reputation and box-office potential.

The studio assigned a full-time staffer to keep Rooney out of trouble but his antics still frequently ended up in gossip columns. MGM was greatly upset when Rooney, 21, married Ava Gardner, then a 19-year-old aspiring actress, in 1942. The marriage lasted barely a year.

From 1939 to 1941 Rooney had ranked as the top US male box-office attraction. After he returned from serving the military as an entertainer during the second world war, the public was growing weary of seeing him play teenagers and he would have to retool his career.

"I was a 14-year-old boy for 30 years," he once said.
Mickey Rooney and Leo Gordon in the 1957 film Baby Face Nelson.
After the rush of stardom, Rooney was battered by a stalled career, drug and gambling addictions, bad marriages, a failed production company and the deep financial problems they caused. He lost his hair and grew paunchy as he aged but he persevered.

"I'm a ham who wants to be a small part of anything," he said.

He took small parts, worked in lesser movies and tried a couple of television shows. He picked up two more Oscar nominations for 1956's The Bold and the Brave and The Black Stallion in 1979.

In 1979 he also broke through on Broadway, harkening back to his vaudeville beginnings with Sugar Babies, a burlesque-style revue with MGM tap dancer Ann Miller in which he sang, danced and dressed in drag. He said the role saved him from being "a famous has-been".

"The American public is my family," Rooney said. "I've had fun with them all my life."

Rooney won an Emmy and a Golden Globe in 1982 for the TV movie Bill, playing a mentally handicapped man trying to live on his own. He was given an lifetime achievement Oscar in 1983.

In 1978 he found a lasting marriage with country singer Jan Chamberlin. In his late 80s they toured the country with a song-and-dance act.
Mickey Rooney performs at the Milton Keynes Theatre in the 2009 pantomime Cinderella.
Rooney, who had five sons and five daughters, told a US Senate committee on ageing that he had been emotionally and financially abused by family members.

He later said Christopher Aber, Chamberlin's son, had deprived him of food and medicine, prevented him from leaving the house and meddled in his financial affairs.