Monthly Archives: May 2012

Sports review: Women’s handball EHF Euro qualifiers

A visit to the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre last night to watch Great Britain’s ladies play Montenegro in the handball qualifiers. Currently Montenegro are one of the top teams in the world, while Great Britain have started to climb the rankings in preparation for the London 2012 Olympics.

Handball is a very important sport in Europe, but less so in the UK – however in the last few years a young team have grown together and produced new athletes to watch such as Holly Lam-Moores, Louise Jukes, Lyn Byl, Sarah Hargreaves (a talented goalkeeper), and Britt Goodwin (perhaps best known prior to handball as the winner of the Norwegian Big Brother). Although Montenegro easily won last night, especially dominating the second half with players like Sara Vukcevic and Katarina Bulatovic, and a strong goalkeeping performance from Mirjana Milenkovic.

Handball is a quick and dynamic contact sport, with seven players on each side and two referees. Players can be swapped during the game, and fouls are punished by two-minute timeouts. The basic rules include no more than one bounce of the ball before passing, and having to score goals from within a defined section of the court with both feet off the ground.

As Olympic host nation, Great Britain have a free pass into the competition for both the women’s and men’s teams – however, the opportunity to become a team to reckon with looks likely to be grabbed with both hands, and with talented players like these on side, a quarter-final place looks a distinct possibility. For more on handball and GB’s journey, visit

The perfect butler: a tribute to Gordon Jackson

Prompted by the recent showing of ‘The Unforgettable Gordon Jackson’ on ITV1, this time we’re taking a look at this incomparable Scottish actor (1923-1990). Best known for his television roles as the pious butler Angus Hudson in the long-running series ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, and CI5 head George Cowley in ‘The Professionals’, Gordon Cameron Jackson had achieved prominence as something of a sensitive character in a range of war films (a good example being ‘Millions Like Us’, in 1943), plus typical Scots parts in films like ‘Whisky Galore!’ in 1949.

Never a showy lead or a romantic face, Gordon Jackson was seen as a professional actor, modest and level-headed, which kept him in constant work in the films. He might have appeared in small character parts, but he was always memorable, and classy. In ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ (1962) and ‘The Great Escape’ (1963) he contributed memorable performances to major draw movies. By 1965 he was starring opposite Michael Caine in ‘The Ipcress File’, and followed this by stage roles including Horatio to Nicol Williamson’s Hamlet at the Roundhouse Theatre (later filmed).

The role of Edwardian butler Hudson, however, made Gordon a household name and a most recognisable face. In the stiffly proper and religious persona of the Scottish head of the Bellamy staff, he became the quintessential butler. It’s a marvellous performance, full of nuances – we even see him having something of a breakdown during the Great War (in the episode ‘The Beastly Hun’), and falling in love with a young housemaid (in ‘Disillusion’). Without this actor in the cast, ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ would still have been a great series, but he certainly helps to make it rather more.

By ‘The Professionals’ Gordon was ready for a change of scene, and if anyone worried about his typecasting as Hudson their fears were allayed once he took on the mantle of Cowley, the tough professional taking charge of the young agents Bodie and Doyle. The series ran from 1977 to 1983, and was another great success for the unassuming actor.

Following his award of OBE in 1979, he went into his final years still appearing in memorable dramas – he was a police detective in the film of Holmes and Watson’s later years, ‘The Masks of Death’ (1984); and one of his final roles was as the father of ‘The Winslow Boy’ in 1990. This popular and mischevious actor died at the age of 66 later that year, of bone cancer. He would be greatly missed by television viewers and friends alike, and left behind his actress wife of forty years, Rona Anderson, and their family.

Archive DVD labels #1: Network

Network DVD ( is one of the premier archive television DVD labels in the United Kingdom, mainly releasing material first transmitted on ITV (with the exception of Southern Television programmes, which have been released through Simply Home Entertainment).

Starting life as a video label, they have built up a wide-ranging list of dramas, comedies, soap operas, and children’s programmes since moving into the DVD market, and have also started releasing a small number of Blu-Rays. One specialism has been compilation sets (ITC at 50, Look Back on 70s Telly, Soap Box) which provide sample episodes of series which may later get a full release, or to showcase orphan episodes which would otherwise languish in the archives.

Network release their titles either through the usual retailers, or via their website as web exclusives. You may find their titles on the high street, but usually at extremely high prices, so it is best to shop around. Their oldest titles, a compilation of Public Information Films (Charley Says) and the complete Robin of Sherwood, have remained top sellers, while well-loved recent series such as Heartbeat sell in high enough numbers to support more niche releases.

Early titles included booklets giving further information on the titles included, but this has stopped in the last couple of years; however, the product remains high-quality, with titles long forgotten now making it back into commercial release, and a policy of consultation which has led to some titles being suggested by customers and eventually cleared for sale. Recently Network have announced a partnership with Studio Canal to release material from ABC (Public Eye, Armchair Theatre), as well as the Edgar Wallace Mysteries, which were originally shown in cinemas as B features.

A sample of Network’s DVD catalogue:

Television drama: Armchair Theatre (2 volumes, a third in planning); Armchair Thriller (excluding the two dramas produced by Southern TV); Armchair Cinema; The Buccaneers; The Adventures of Robin Hood; The Adventures of William Tell; Alan Plater at ITV; Jack Rosenthal at ITV; Laurence Olivier Presents; Thriller; Band of Gold; Upstairs Downstairs; Thomas and Sarah; The Hanged Man; The Bass Player and the Blonde; South Riding; Floodtide; Travelling Man; Crown Court (6 volumes); The Adam Dalgliesh Chronicles; Napoleon and Love; Six Days of Justice; Justice; The Beiderbecke Trilogy; The Blackheath Poisonings; HG Wells’ The Invisible Man; The Caesars; Jamaica Inn (now OOP); Clayhanger; Disraeli; Will Shakespeare; Beasts; Scorpion Tales; The Good Companions; The Main Chance (3 volumes, a fourth in planning); Red Letter Days; Mr Palfrey Goes to Westminster; The Zoo Gang; The Protectors; Van der Valk; The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (2 volumes); Shadows of Fear; Tales of the Unexpected; Jemima Shore Investigates; Smuggler; The Gold Robbers; The Chain; Cause Celebre; Framed; Twelfth Night; Coronation Street – 1972; Dennis Potter at LWT (2 volumes); Espionage – Michael Powell; A Kind of Loving; Lady Killers (1 volume, a second in planning)

Television comedy: Ripping Yarns (BBC); Agony; Romany Jones (2 volumes); The Galton and Simpson Playhouse; The Strange World of Gurney Slade

Films: Hitchcock – The British Years; Movie Movie; Cottage to Let; Quartet / Trio / Encore; Paul Robeson Collection; Vice Versa; The Thief of Bagdad; The Private Life of Henry VIII; Black Narcissus

Children’s television: Pipkins (3 volumes); Saturday Morning Pictures (Children’s Film Foundation)

Compilations: Soap Box; Look Back on 70s Telly (4 volumes); ITC at 50

Miscellaneous: Frost on Friday / Saturday / Sunday; Sunday Night at the London Palladium (2 volumes); Unknown Chaplin; Buster Keaton Chronicles (most of Keaton’s silent features); The Royal Ballet

Whatever Network’s faults – and there have been comments about the quality of their transfers at times – they are to be applauded for releasing material which would never see the light of day elsewhere, particularly series made in black and white. Now they have started releasing material from the BBC again it is possible we might see a run of comedies to complement the archive BBC drama being released through Acorn (and to a lesser extent, 2entertain). They have also come back from potential disaster as a large chunk of their back catalogue was destroyed in the Sony warehouse fire last summer, and are now considering a move into the digital downloads market. Very much a case of ‘watch this space’.

Archive TV review: The Last Train Through the Harecastle Tunnel + Lost Yer Tongue

The second screening in the Peter Terson “The Artisan Playwright” season at the BFI Southbank again teamed a BBC play with one from Granada Television.

In 1969 The Wednesday Play made a return with ‘The Last Train Through the Harecastle Tunnel’, a quirky piece about a trainspotter (Richard O’Callaghan) who encounters lots of oddball eccentrics during his weekend. While one his work colleagues muse about painting his house near the golf club, and another plans a dirty weekend, young Fowler simply looks forward to riding the old ‘Knotty’ line through the about to be decommissioned Harecastle Tunnel. To him the railways are a place of dreams and adventure, obvious from his enthusiasm when discussing points and railway sleepers with a suburban new money couple (Victor Platt and Noel Dyson), his delight in trying on the old railwayman’s uniform (a lovely performance from Joe Gladwin, better known perhaps as Wally Batty in ‘Last of the Summer Wine’), or his afternoon operating the replica signals in Judge Grayson’s dysfunctional house (a scene-stealing performance from the peerless John Le Mesurier). Finally this journey leads him to the house of a concert violinist with a potentially dark secret (Emmerdale Farm’s Toke Townley).

This play might be a little hard to swallow (so many eccentrics in one place, including Army personnel and a sadly stereotypical gay cruiser, not to mention Le Mesurier’s weird daughter, played by Angela Pleasence, but it is very tightly written and rather charming, catching perfectly the mood that brings railway enthusiasts together. The most curious thing about this play is the director – Alan Clarke, now best known for productions like The Firm, and Scum.

The second play showing was ‘Lost Yer Tongue’, from 1975. With a largely unknown cast headed by Ronald Herdman, Bobby Pattinson, Lizzie McKenzie, and Deirdre Costello, this is a sharp look at working class millionaires and father and son relationships, and despite the rather dark subject matter it treats the subject with humour and very well-written characters and plot. It couldn’t be more different than ‘Harecastle’ in its mood, but it is equally excellent, as we watch everything slipping away from Bernie, the man who thought he had made it big and had nothing to lose. In fact he loses everything he holds dear and realises the amount of subterfuge that has been going on behind his back with the best intentions by those who care about him. Directed by Mike Newell, who has made a big success in international cinema.

Archive TV review: The Samaritan + The Ballad of Ben Bagot

Two plays by Peter Terson showed at the BFI Southbank this week as part of their season of his work (entitled ‘The Artisan Playwright’). The first example was from Granada Television in 1972, and the second from the BBC in 1973, so we are looking at television material from four decades ago, when there were only three channels and the amount of single drama available on the small screen was much more than today.

First up we had ‘The Samaritan’, a three-hander running just over an hour which starred Tom Bell, Martin Jarvis, and Kenneth Cranham (Cranham gave a brief introduction to the piece where he recalled this play as one of his first appearances on television). Jarvis plays Godfrey, a Samaritan who seems to live to listen and do good to others. Bell plays Vic, a hard drinking neurotic poet who is given to flowery speeches and impulsive gestures, while Cranham plays Terry, a nervy young man who is recovering from some trauma which we never quite identify. Wordy and clever, this play moves between character viewpoints and therefore leaves the viewer torn between what they originally saw and what they see by the end of the piece. Although all the cast are excellent, it is Bell who really dominates the play and shows us what a great actor he was.

The second play was ‘The Ballad of Ben Bagot’, which was written for the Scene strand of plays aimed at difficult teenagers, and it runs a sparse twenty-five minutes. Director Ronald Smedley recalled in his introduction to this his unease at receiving a script which was simply poetry which he had to shape into a narrative which worked using music and locations. Peter Firth, then eighteen years old, shows what a talented young performer he was in the pivotal role of Bagot, who has chosen to leave school early and get a job to support his pregnant girlfriend, but in-between the mundane parts of his life he dreams a fantasy life not unreminiscent of Billy Liar, where he triumphs with his shoehorn sword, beats a path through the jungle, and repurposes classic poems for his own heroics (‘Ben Bagot, may his tribe increase, awoke one day from a deep dream of peace ..’). His English Lit teacher (played by a twitchy Jack Shepherd) despairs of his charge while Bags sets fire to his school uniform and aches for a freedom where he can be a pop star or a great business brain.

An interesting pairing, perhaps linked together by the common theme of the poetic soul, and of course the words of Peter Terson, who was a writer of style, wit, and quirkiness, the type of playwright who would never get a platform on commercial television today. The season continues throughout May, and a future entry on LouReviews will cover another pair of plays showing next week.

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