Thursday, April 09, 2020

"Darkness & Decay & The Red Death Held Illimitable Dominion Over All"

Just, you know, for a wee bit of necessary perspective and all that, dear blog readers ... For, we are, all of us, currently living through strange, strange times. And the drums never cease.
Anyway, earlier this week the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House only went and received our long-awaited Letter From The Prime Minister, didn't we? Although, given where he was at the time of receipt, this blogger did wonder whether it was actually safe to touch it with anything other than a pair of those long, wicked-looking wooden tongs they use in laundries.
On a somewhat related theme, this blogger has a serious question. This whole, hashtag 'Clap for Boris' thing? Was that what we were supposed to be doing that particular evening or was that what was keeping him in hospital at the time? This blogger must confess he was really confused on that score. Anyway ...
Tragedy, of course, strikes in often the most unexpected of places. This blogger, for instance, wasn't even aware that the former Steps singer had been ill much less had passed on. The thoughts of all of us here at From The North, obviously, are with his family ...
That said, let it be noted it really is jolly nice to see the social distancing message appears to finally be getting through to everyone ...
According to a piece in the ever-reliable Sun, Brits turn to telly classics such as Dad's Army for comfort during lockdown. And, of course, given the current emergency powers which are in place for the duration, anyone caught not turning to telly classics such as Dad's Army for, ahem, 'comfort' during the current lockdown will likely be Pinched By The Fuzz. Or, perhaps something even worse.
Still, at least they managed to get the new - third - series of Killing Eve filmed before the world went to Hell in a handcraft, dear blog reader. It returns to iplayer from 13 April. And, the trailer - Dusty Springfield soundtrack and all - looks great. A few further clips can also been seen here. Albeit, inevitably perhaps, the series has been drawing some crass wanky criticism from the usual shitehawk Middle Class hippy Communist suspects at the broadsheets before it has even been broadcast to us 'ordinary people.' It's nice to know that, in an ever changing world, full of doubt and uncertainty, some things remain reliably consistent.
And, if you're desperate for something to keep your mind occupied until then - contemplating the inherently ludicrous nature of existence aside, obviously - check out The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat (OBE)'s new short story (The Terror Of The Umpty Umspublished on the BBC's Doctor Who website. That should raise a wry chuckle or two. Really talented lad, that Moffinator.
So, dear blog reader, you're probably all wondering what on Earth has been occurring at the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House since From The North was last updated. At that time (the end of last month), yer actual Keith Telly Topping was still well into a ten-day self-isolation period on account of him having contracted a nasty bout of bronchitis and his not wishing to spread his germs around the general population. By the start of the following week, however, this blogger was feeling well enough to venture back into the working environment and, at the crack of dawn on 30 March, this blogger left the safe and comforting confines of the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House for only the third time since this whole 'bring out yer dead' malarkey began. He travelled halfway across Newcastle into work to pick up the computer equipment that he needed to be able to work remotely from the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House. Keith Telly Topping took an effing 'uge plastic storage box with him to aid him in this endeavour. And, thanks entirely to Peregrine the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House all-purpose effing 'uge plastic storage box, this blogger made it home in more-or-less one piece.
Then, it was simply a case of working out how all the parts fitted together. Work, very helpfully, sent this blogger an 'idiot's guise to what plugs into where' type e-mail. And so, hours of endless fun in assembling the damn thing began that very afternoon. And, pretty soon this is a representation of the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House work-station. Yes, it was - and still is - a total health and safety bloody nightmare. But, never mind that, the commute from one side of the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House front room to the other was a mere 1.3 seconds at knocking-off time. So, that was nice.
If anyone was wondering the little white thing in the left-hand corner is, indeed, Eoin, the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House egg-timer which has found itself been pressed into service as an emergency 'make sure this blogger doesn't forget to get back to work after tea and lunch breaks if he gets comfortable in the armchair watching BBC News'-type implement. You're doing a grand job, Eoin.
Of course, somewhat inevitably, the PC that this blogger picked up so he could - in theory - work from home, only went and didn't work, didn't it? Hands up whom amongst you, dear blog readers, rather expected that outcome? Okay, you can all put your hands down now, thanks - me too, if truth be told. Apparently, it was missing 'a vital bit of software'. There followed two days of frustrated phone calls back and forth, lots of faffing about and various attempts to activate it remotely by our IT section. And, of course, none of that worked. So, on Wednesday morning at the crack of dawn this blogger had to hump the damn thing all the way back to Longbenton (on two buses). Then, it took around five hours for someone from IT to work out that particular computer was, effectively, cattle-trucked and arrange for this blogger to take another one back to the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House instead (during which time Keith Telly Topping did a brief spell helping out on the phones along with the skeleton staff still working on the call floor). It was, it must be noted, quite an experience to be back in the - now, virtually deserted - office. It was all very Twenty Eight Days Later.
As expected, passing through Byker on the way back to the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House, this blogger discovered it was, as t'were, 'comin' like a ghost town ...' In that it resembled the morning Bill Masen wakes up in hospital in The Day Of The Triffids. On the entirety of Shields Road - not a short road by any stretch of the imagination - this blogger believes there were but six establishments which didn't have their roller-shutters down (and, two of those were the bank and the Post Office). Still, bright-side, that meant social isolation on the trip back to the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House was really not a problem.
Even then, one of the shops which was open was sending out some damned disturbing signals with its window display. This blogger is not sure exactly what this message is trying to convey. 'Buy some Fanta or else Sausage-Cat's going to do you up the Gary Glitter with a skewer?' was a suggestion made by one of yer actual Keith Telly Topping's dear Facebook fiends. Though this blogger believed it was more likely to be something along the lines of the old Goodies 'Cap'n Fishface' parody of the BirdsEye adverts: 'Y'don't know what's in 'em!'
Anyway, back at the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House and, bugger me buttocks but the second computer lash-up actually worked. This blogger was, therefore, able to spend roughly the last hour of what had been - up to that point - both the shortest and longest day of work he'd experienced in a long time actually doing stuff. From his own gaff. Without issue. He managed to take a couple of calls - both from delightful ladies whom Keith Telly Topping was able to help with their problems and who were both utterly fascinated to learn that he was doing all of this from his front room in the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House whilst he, simultaneously, had a batch of washing in the machine going away in the background. Who said that men can't do multi-tasking?
Meanwhile, one of the takeaways close to the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House has become the latest victim of yer actual lockdown fever and a-boogie-woogie 'flu and is currently all roller-shutter'd up (or, roller-shutter'd down, if you prefer). However, fortunately, the other one within easy walking distance is still thoroughly open for both deliveries and for takeaways. Which is nice. Because, this blogger really deserves the vast majority of this menu ...
Especially this one.
And this one.
Thus, a cycle of working from the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House began; one day this blogger was mainly on calls, several of the other days it was mostly answering e-mails and a few call-backs. It been all right thus far, actually - no real issues and the novelty still hasn't worn off in getting to work mere seconds after having been sitting watching BBC Breakfast. I'll tell you what, though - the biggest difference that this blogger has noted in working from home rather than from the office is that you really don't realise just how much background noise there is in an office until it's not there. The Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House is now so quiet, it's like Bjork has come to tea.
This blogger is currently working from home, dear blog reader, he may have mentioned the fact previously. And, at this particular moment whilst you are reading this blog, like as not, this blogger will be at lunch. This is a typical Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House lunch. And this blogger really deserves it.
Since this blogger has been stuck in the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House, he is currently rocking three week's worth of shaggy beard. (He started growing it, incidentally, several days before discovering that many of his Facebook fiends - the male ones, mostly - were also doing so and that 'grow some fuzzy facial hair whilst Covid-Nineteen is keeping you indoors' is, apparently now 'a thing' on social media.) To be honest, this blogger is rather tempted to shave the damn thing off mainly because he is still just at the very end of the 'really itchy' phase. Then there's the grey hairs which, Keith Telly Topping admits, do make him look like a member of some ghastly, tuneless prog-rock hippy beat combo of the 1970s. Then again, this blogger is somewhat minded of Billy Connolly's famous routine about him finding his first grey pubic hair and thinking that grey hair - sometimes - can suggest dignity, wisdom and prowess ('in a certain light, my pubes look like Stewart Grainger!')
This blogger, of course, does get the odd day off, dear blog reader (just in case you were worried). One such day off was last Sunday. So, for first time since going into work on the previous Wednesday (and for only the, I think, fifth time in four weeks) this blogger nervously left the safety of the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House to combine a bit of - government recommended - exercise and taking in the fresh air with the - also government recommended - 'getting the weekly shopping in at your local ALDI so you don't, you know, starve' shenanigans. There was quite a queue to get into the store and it looked formidably long to begin with - mainly because everyone seemed to be following the 'two metres social distancing' thing to the inch. But, the queue cleared remarkably quickly, this blogger was in-store within ten minutes (stopping, briefly to thank the, very cheerful, lad on the door who had the unenviable task of saying 'next five customers in, number six onwards please wait a moment!' all day. Which must have been soul destroying). Inside, this blogger got a big set of purchases - almost twenty quid's worth since it'll be another full week before this blogger gets the opportunity to venture outdoors again. In ALDI, everyone seemed to be quite cheerful (at least, those who weren't wearing face masks and, therefore, were covering their undoubted joy), the shelves mostly quite full, the staff were doing a grand job and this blogger was around and out in fifteen minutes and home within an hour of leaving the gaff. Having, pretty successfully he thinks, avoided all physical (and emotional) contact with my fellow human beings.
And now, another amusing tale from the Wild & Wacky World Of Yer Actual Keith Telly Topping (Working Chap). Last Friday this blogger didn't, as he usually does each Friday, receive a pay slip by e-mail and nothing had been paid into his bank account that day (he was expecting Statutory Sick Pay for the previous week when he was still self-isolating inside the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House). So, he waited until the following morning and checked again and, when still nothing had arrived, he dropped a - hopefully, very polite - e-mail to his line manager saying, basically, 'look, I fully realise on a list of your one hundred top priorities, this is number ninety seven, but I haven't been paid for last week'). Keith Telly Topping did add, helpfully he thought, that this wasn't a particularly urgent issue since Keith Telly Topping can't spend much at the moment anyway (takeaways and the odd trip to ALDI aside). On the following Monday, this blogger got a lovely e-mail back from his line manager profusely apologising and saying pretty much what Keith Telly Topping had expected all along, that a few people who'd been self-isolating that particular week had, similarly, fallen into a crack somewhere and had been missed by Human Resources. The situation was quickly resolved to the satisfaction of near-enough everyone. However, the bit in the e-mail that really made this blogger smile was 'be assured, making sure my staff are paid on time is my number one priority!' Keith Telly Topping likes feeling appreciated.
The legend that was the late Sir Desmond Dekker (OBE) him did once note: 'Me get up in de mornin', slavin' for brecksa/so dat ev'ry mouse can be fed/wo-ah/woooo-ah/me ears are alight ...' Or words to that effect. Dunno what the Hell that was all about but this blogger can confirm that, earlier this week, there was remarkably little slavin' going down in preparing an excellent bacon and egg sarnie and a nice hot cup of Sweet Joe for us brecksa at the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House.
Then, later than evening, for us post-commute supper at Stately Telly Topping Manor, this blogger was having some hot crumpet. Titter ye not, dear blog reader, it was very nice.
Somewhat inevitably, this blogger got suckered into a current popular Facebook challenge-type affair: 'What are six movies you have watched countless times and never get sick of?' To which, of course, without even thinking too hard about it, this blogger replied: Apocalypse Now, Hot Fuzz, A Matter Of Life & Death, F For Fake, Help! and Doctor Terror's House Of Horrors. And then he realised that he'd missed off Live & Let Die, The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes, Performance, The Italian JobAlmost FamousThe Wicker Man, Goodfellas, Withnail & I and ... this could go on for a while, dear blog reader.
Do you know the single most annoying thing about the last few weeks? The fact that not one, not two or three, but four of this blogger's dear Facebook fiends sent him the following 'highly amusing' Dalek-related video link on the same day with exactly the same attached comment: 'Saw this and thought of you.' Ho, rilly? Is this blogger's life really that predictable? Okay, you probably shouldn't answer that.
Then, sadly, dear blog reader, there are people at large in society who are just, simply, scum.
It's nice to see the Daily Scum Mail have managed to find an EU dimension to the current crisis, is it not?
It's interesting to know that there are, seemingly, people in the world (well, people in America, anyway) who believe that Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, the Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Tunisia all in Europe. What the actual fek?! Mind you, we shouldn't really be too surprised - look at their President, after all.
And now, dear blog reader, a George Harrison quilt blanket. Very definitely a case of want one for the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House. Obviously, purely so that this blogger will be able to - truthfully - boast that he has 'slept with George Harrison.' You will also, hopefully - if you're an insufferable Be-Atles nerd like this blogger - note that they've included the wrong cover for Living In The Material World. They've got the cover of Martin Scorsese's 2011 documentary, George Harrison: Living In The Material World rather than the - similarly-named - cover for the 1973 LP from which Scorsese took the title of his film. Pfft. Call yourselves fans?!
It's also worth remembering that in a mere two week time - on 23 April, as it happens - it will be Saint George's Day. And, as Keith Telly Topping always reminds From The North's dear blog readers around this time of the year, the following day is Saint Ringo's Day. Celebrate them both in any way you see fit.
Even - indeed, particularly - if you are, at that stage, suffering from anything potential contagious. Or shameful. Or both.
'You are surrounded by armed bastards!' Life On Mars is to return for a third and final series set in the 1970s, 1980s and an alternate present, its creator has confirmed. The cult BBC series, which was broadcast to great acclaim between 2006 and 2007 and followed a detective - presumed dead or in a coma after a car accident - who was transported back in time to 1970s Manchester. A huge ratings success with an epic soundtrack and memorable central pairing of the cantankerous, sweary boss Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) and his time-travelling sidekick, Sam Tyler (John Simm), it also led to a - rather decent - 2008 to 2010 spin-off, Ashes To Ashes, starring Glenister and Keeley Hawes. In a Twitter Interweb chat to accompany an online watch-along for the show's two series, Life On Mars co-creator Matthew Graham said: 'We would never make another Mars unless we really had something to say and could push the envelope all over again. Finally, we have something.' Seemingly confirming Glenister's return, he added: 'There are bad things and there are monsters. These things are real. But to get to you they have to get through the Guv [Gene Hunt]. And the Guv is putting his driving gloves on.' Graham said the final series would be set in Manchester and London, 'set partially in the 1970s, partially in the 1980s and mostly in an alternate now.' He hopes that as many of its previous cast as possible will return, name-checking Annie Cartwright (Liz White) and Gene's rival Detective Chief Inspector Derek Litton (Lee Ross). 'When you wonder who will be coming back for The Final Chapter - think Avengers Assemble,' Graham said. Comprising 'four or five episodes,' Graham also mentioned a possible show-within-a-show format, featuring a programme called Tyler: Murder Division. Despite posting the tweets on 1 April, Graham later confirmed that it was not an April fool. A previous revival was reportedly turned down by the BBC, according to Graham's fellow creator Ashley Pharoah. In 2018, he said it had 'not made financial sense' for the corporation to make a mooted 1970s-set Christmas special.
Philip Morris, the lost episode specialist, has reportedly said that he 'knows' of 'at least six' episodes of Doctor Who, currently missing from the BBC's archives, which are currently in the hands of private collectors. Morris, the founder of the Television International Enterprises Archive, has already returned nine - previously lost - episodes of Doctor Who to the Beeb. At a recent public event he said: 'I have a lot of friends who are collectors and I will tell you straight away now that at least six episodes - missing episodes - exist, to my knowledge, in the hands of private collectors.' It is not known whether these six are in addition to The Web Of Fear episode three, which Morris reportedly found in Nigeria but which was missing from the shipment of footage returned back to the UK in 2013.
National treasure Stephen Fry will star in a new online radio play to raise funds for the theatre industry as it deals with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Emily Atack, Sarah Hadland and Russell Tovey will also appear in The Understudy, based on the novel by David Nicholls. The play will be broadcast online in two parts in May to members of the public who have bought a five knicker 'ticket'. All of the actors involved will record their lines separately at home. Nicholls said that he was 'hugely excited' to see his 2005 novel 'come to life on a new online stage.' Fry said he hoped lots of people would 'combine a good time with support for our wonderful theatre industry.' Proceeds will be donated to the Theatre Development Trust, Acting for Others and other charities. The Understudy tells of a struggling actor who is hired to understudy a film star in a West End show. Tovey plays the lead role of Stephen McQueen, while Jake Ferretti plays the actor whose shoes he hopes to fill. Minar Anwar, Sheila Atim and Layton Williams are among the other actors involved. Produced by the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, the play will be broadcast on 20 and 27 May at For but four smackers, meanwhile, theatre fans can stream Fleabag, the original one-woman show that spawned Phoebe Waller-Bridge's hugely over-rated BBC sitcom. Waller-Bridge's solo performance, recorded at London's Wyndham's Theatre in 2019, is available from the Soho Theatre's website for just three weeks. Proceeds will be donated to UK-based charities 'on the front lines of combating the Covid-Nineteen pandemic.' Waller-Bridge said she hoped the film of her performance 'can help raise money while providing a little theatrical entertainment in these isolated times. Now go get into bed with Fleabag!' she continued. 'It's for charity!' On Monday, the Society of London Theatre announced it was cancelling all West End theatre performances until 31 May. 'We are sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for,' it told ticket holders in a statement.
And, speaking of online entertainment to keep our spirits up in these strange and troubled times, dear blog reader, here's another national treasure (and From The North favourite) yer actual Elvis Costello - from self-isolation - performing a stunning version of Nick Lowe's '(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love & Understanding?' as part of the Artists4NHS campaign.
Sadly, now we come to what is rapidly becoming the part of this blog which attracts the most traffic, the regular obituaries. And we start with a big one. Honor Blackman, the original feisty female agent in The Avengers, has died at the age of ninety four. The series made her a role model for an emerging generation of empowered women and an object of desire for men. The characters that Honor played were both sexy and intelligent and more than a match for her male co-stars. She was often compared to Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, although one cannot imagine them throwing villains around like her Avengers character, Cathy Gale.
Honor Blackman was born into a lower Middle Class family in Plaistow in August 1925. Her father, a civil servant, reportedly offered Honor a choice of presents for her sixteenth birthday; a bicycle or elocution lessons. She chose the latter. She described her elocution teacher as 'an inspirational woman' who introduced her to poetry and the theatre and who advised her father to enrol her in the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Honor studied part-time while holding down a clerical job in the Home Office and, with war raging, she also worked as a motor cycle dispatch rider.
Her first acting job was as an understudy in a West End play called The Guinea Pig and, when the lead actress became ill, she was asked to step in and take over. Further theatre roles followed before she made her film debut in Fame Is The Spur, starring Michael Redgrave in 1947. Her character died following a riding accident, a fate she narrowly avoided in real life when, during filming, her horse stepped on her hair as she lay on the ground. Her first major role was alongside Dirk Bogarde in Quartet the following year.
In the early 1950s, British cinema was dominated by the Rank Organisation and Blackman joined their Company of Youth, set up to promote up-and-coming actors and actresses. Dubbed The Charm School by the press, it nurtured the careers of, among others, Diana Dors, Joan Collins, Christopher Lee, Claire Bloom and Anthony Steele. Over the next ten years Honor appeared in a string of British films including A Night To Remember, which told the story of the Titanic disaster and the much-admired So Long At The Fair, again with Bogarde.
Her other movie appearances included 1949’s A Boy, A Girl & A Bike and Conspirator (also 1949) alongside Elizabeth Taylor. She also appeared in the comedy The Square Peg (1958), Life At The Top (1965) with Laurence Harvey, The Virgin & The Gypsy (1970), the Western Shalako (1968) with Sean Connery and Brigitte Bardot and Something Big (1971) opposite Dean Martin. She also played Hera in the action classic Jason & The Argonauts (1963).
Having spent a decade developing her film career, Honor moved into television with a regular role - as Nicole, the secretary to Dan Dailey's character, Tim Collier - in ITV's The Four Just Men (1959). In 1961 the producers of the ATV series, The Avengers, were looking for a new partner for Patrick Macnee, to replace his original co-star, Ian Hendry, who had decided to leave the series. Blackman's character, Cathy Gale, became something of an icon for the growing numbers of women who were taking advantage of social changes to assert their rights to equality in British life. A widow and 'a woman of independent means' Cathy showed that women could have it all. She was intelligent and witty, had her own life and career (as an anthropologist) and, with her skills in unarmed combat, was capable of holding her own in both a melee and in a male-dominated world.
As the series developed, Blackman skilfully used flirting and innuendo to create an unspoken sexual tension between Mrs Gale and Steed, although they were never intimate. Both characters had far too much style and charm for anything as awkward as The Sex to get in the way of their easy, relaxed friendship and witty badinage.
During her time with The Avengers, Blackman and Macnee recorded a - cheerfully dreadful - novelty single, 'Kinky Boots'. A flop on its first release, in 1964, the record became a surprise hit when it was re-released twenty six years later, leading to an appearance by the duo on Top Of The Pops. A fact which says far more about the wretched state of the charts in 1990 than it does about any inherent musical quality to the song, let it be noted.
Blackman stayed with The Avengers for two series but left when she was offered the role of Pussy Galore opposite Sean Connery in a third James Bond film, Goldfinger (1964). The producer, Cubby Broccoli, cast her on the strength of her appearances in The Avengers, despite the fact that the series had not yet been shown in the US. 'The Brits would love her because they knew her as Mrs Gale,' he said. 'The Yanks would like her because she was so good, it was a perfect combination.' The film watered down Ian Fleming's original character - who, in the novel, is aggressively lesbian - but, nevertheless, Blackman's Pussy combined all the best characteristics of Cathy Gale, although she was eventually seduced by the womanising Bond in the final scenes.
At thirty nine, Blackman was actually five years older than Connery and, at the time, was the oldest actress to play a Bond girl. 'Most of the Bond girls have been bimbos,' she once said. 'I have never been a bimbo.'
While Goldfinger made her internationally known, it failed to provide a springboard for her film career. By now, she was forty and producers tended to overlook her undoubted skills in favour of younger actresses.
Nevertheless, in the UK at least, she remained a major figure. Blackman made use of her judo and martial arts skills on The Avengers and even published Honor Blackman's Book Of Self-Defence in 1965. She was, famously, photographed with The Rolling Stones at a reception for The Supremes in the same year. And, she was politically active from an early age. She campaigned on behalf of Tom Houston, the Liberal Party candidate for the City of Westminster in 1966.
Nevertheless, in an interview in 2009, she deplored the lack of good roles for older women. 'We have all these older men with their guts hanging out still acting - they can barely put their belts round their stomach so have to belt up round their crotch - and they all carry on getting roles and are accepted and praised, whereas older women are given rather boring parts or are cut off at their prime.' She appeared in a number of films, including Hammer's adaptation of The The Devil ... A Daughter (1976) and also in the theatre, particularly in musicals. She was in the 1981 stage revival of The Sound Of Music, which starred Petula Clark and opened to rave reviews. She also appeared in A Little Night Music, On Your Toes and Nunsense.
In 2005 she toured as Mrs Higgins, in a production of My Fair Lady, before taking over from Sheila Hancock in a West End production of Cabaret. She also returned to television including a role in the 1986 Doctor Who serial, The Trial Of A Time Lord, alongside Colin Baker. Sadly, it was a crap story, best forgotten and wasted Blackman's talents on a nothing role. She also won a new generation of fans when she played Laura West in the long-running ITV sitcom, The Upper Hand.
She had a brief spell as the glamorous Rula Romanoff in Coronation Street in 2004 and made a number of cameo appearances including a part in John Malkovich's black comedy Colour Me Kubrick in 2005 and the BBC series, Hotel Babylon, in 2009. Blackman took a guest role on Midsomer Murders, as an ex-racing driver. In 2007, she participated in the BBC project, The Verdict. She was one of twelve well-known figures who made up a jury to hear a fictional rape case. She guest-starred in Casualty and By Any Means and also appeared in a number of episodes of Never The Twain with Donald Sinden and Windsor Davies as the vet Veronica Barton and in the 2012 movie Cockneys Versus Zombies. Her final screen appearance was You, Me & Them (2015). In 2000, Blackman received a special BAFTA award along with Joanna Lumley, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson recognising their work on The Avengers.
She also toured a number of one-woman shows entitled, Honor Blackman As Herself. Away from the set Blackman was a supporter of Republic, an anti-monarchy pressure group and was alleged to have turned down the offer of a CBE in 2002. She was also active in politics as a high profile member of the Liberal Democrats.
She was married and divorced twice, to Bill Sankey and the actor Maurice Kaufmann and had two children - Lottie and Barnaby - with the later. After her divorce from Kaufmann, she did not remarry and stated that she preferred 'being single, watching football!' Honor owned a summer home in Islesboro, Maine and also spent quite a bit of time on the US West Coast in California as a guest of her former Avengers co-star and long-time friend Patrick Macnee prior to his death in 2015.
Wikipedia have reported the death this month of one of this blogger's favourite screenwriters, the great Roger Marshall at the age of eighty six. The critic Leslie Halliwell's description of Roger Marshall as 'a writer of superior thrillers' is somewhat faint-praise for one of television's most inventive, classy authors. Cambridge-educated, Marshall's introduction to TV was as an (often uncredited) member of Ralph Smart's writing team on late-1950s ITV film series like William Tell, HG Wells' Invisible Man and Danger Man. He subsequently moved to America to work, briefly, on Sea Hunt. Returning to England, Marshall wrote for No Hiding Place, The Edgar Wallace Mysteries (including one particularly well-remembered episode, Game For Three Losers), Redcap, Armchair Theatre and The Avengers, where his witty scripts were perfectly suited to the  style of the production. That was before a - rather public - falling out with producer Brian Clemens in 1967 led to his departure from the show (which, arguably, never fully recorded from his loss). 'The name of the fecund and indefatigable Brian Clemens is all over the show,' he later noted. 'No exaggeration to say his influence pervades almost every scene. Lead writer, associate producer and story editor. In my book that was at least one job too many. I wrote six episodes for the first Diana Rigg series; Clemens and I wrote fifty per cent of the series between us, only two of which - three at the most - I can view with [any] pride and pleasure. Working on the show had started to become a chore. No longer was a writer able to write what he wanted and in the way he wanted. Wit and style were being squeezed out. It was time to say goodbye.' He also wrote, with his good friend the late Robert Holmes, one of the best - and certainly most under-rated - British science fiction movies of the era, Invasion (1965). Marshall co-created ABC's long-running Public Eye the same year and, later, became a regular contributor to Euston productions like Special Branch and The Sweeney. His attempt to create an intelligent BBC variant of the latter, however, was sabotaged by production follies and he disowned the resulting Target (1977). He worked on Zodiac, Rooms, Hunter's Walk, Van Der Valk, Kids, Survivors, The Gentle Touch and The Professionals and created series like The Travelling Man, Mitch, Missing From Home and Floodtide. Marshall also contributed to London's Burning and The Ruth Rendell Mysteries. His screenplays include Solo For Sparrow, What Became Of Jack & Jill?, Hello-Goodbye, ... And Now The Screaming Starts and Theatre Of Death. Roger was married to Jill with whom he had two sons, Rodney and Christopher. He was a noted fan of Ipswich Town and Northamptonshire county cricket club.
Bill Withers, the influential US soul singer who wrote 'Lean On Me', 'Ain't No Sunshine' and 'Lovely Day' has died aged eighty one of heart complications. Withers wrote and recorded several other major hits including 'Use Me' and 'Just The Two Of Us', before retiring in the mid-1980s and, for the most part, staying out of the public eye. He is survived by his wife Marcia Johnson and their two children, Todd and Kori. The family statement reads: 'We are devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father. A solitary man with a heart driven to connect to the world at large, with his poetry and music, he spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other. As private a life as he lived close to intimate family and friends, his music forever belongs to the world. In this difficult time, we pray his music offers comfort and entertainment as fans hold tight to loved ones.' Withers' songs are some of the most beloved in the American songbook. 'Ain't No Sunshine' - which Bill memorable performed on the BBC's The Old Grey Whistle Test - is regarded as one of the all-time great break-up songs, while 'Lean On Me', an ode to the supportive power of friendship, was performed at the inaugurations of two presidents, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Heavily influenced by the church hymns and gospel music of his childhood, it was his first and only number one single on the US Billboard charts, in 1972. It has also become an anthem during the coronavirus outbreak, sung by schoolchildren and in impromptu balcony renditions to show support for one another. 'Just The Two Of Us', another song of solidarity, was successfully covered by Will Smith and sampled by Eminem (as well as being spoofed by Bill Cosby and Mike Myers). The joyous 'Lovely Day', with its signature eighteen-second-long held note, was Bill's only UK Top Ten hit, reaching number seven in 1978 and then, in remixed for, number four a decade later. Withers also won three Grammy awards from nine nominations and entered the Rock and/or Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. Born William Harrison Withers Junior in 1938, he faced a difficult childhood in Slab Fork, West Virginia. A stutter held him back from making friends and, after his father died when Bill was thirteen, his grandmother helped to raise him. Withers would write a tribute to her with the song 'Grandma's Hands' from his 1971 debut Just As I Am: 'Grandma's hands used to issue out a warning/She'd say, "Billy don't you run so fast/Might fall on a piece of glass/Might be snakes there in that grass."' The intro was sampled by Blackstreet for their 1996 'No Diggity'. Withers spent nine years in the US Navy before pursuing a career in music. After moving to Los Angeles in 1967, he found a job making toilet seats and recorded demos during the night after his shifts ended. Possessed of a smooth and soulful baritone, he signed to Sussex Records and enlisted Booker T Jones to produce Just As I Am (on which he was backed by most of Booker T & The MGs). That LP spawned 'Ain't No Sunshine', which won Withers his first Grammy for best R&B song. He then poured his experiences of growing up in Slab Fork, a tough coal-mining town with a strong community ethos, into 'Lean On Me'. His time with Sussex Records didn't end well, however. 'They weren't paying me,' he told Rolling Stone in 2015. 'They looked at me and said, "So, I owe you some money, so what?" I was socialised in the military. When some guy is smushing my face down, it doesn't go down well.' He claims to have erased an entire LP that he had recorded for the label in a fit of pique. 'I could probably have handled that differently,' he said. Withers subsequently signed with Columbia Records and married his second wife, Marcia Johnson, shortly afterwards, in 1976; she became his manager. Withers continued having hit records with Columbia, including the laid-back and optimistic 'Lovely Day'. After three LPs in three years, Withers claimed Columbia's head of A&R, Mickey Eichner, prevented him from going into the studio, leaving a gap of seven years between 'Bout Love (1978) and Watching You Watching Me (1985). After the latter failed to chart, Withers went into early retirement. The 2009 documentary, Still Bill, explored his reasons for quitting the music industry and painted the picture of a fulfilled musician and human being. Writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, the film critic Roger Ebert said: '[Withers] still lives and survives as a happy man. Still Bill is about a man who topped the charts, walked away from it all in 1985 and is pleased that he did.'
The former Emmerdale and Foyle's War actor Jay Benedict has died at the age of sixty eight. The American born actor's agency announced that Benedict died on 4 April as a result of contracting Covid-Nineteen. Benedict was born in Burbank but moved to Europe in the 1960s and spent most of his working life in the UK. He appeared as Newt's father in James Cameron's Aliens and as 'rich twit' in the final film of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises. He is perhaps best known in the UK for playing Doug Hamilton in Emmerdale and John Kieffer in Foyle's War. His first film role, at the age of eleven, was in the 1963 Tony Saytor movie La Bande à Bobo. In 1977, he played Deak in the Tosche Station scenes in Star Wars, which were deleted from the film before release. Subsequent film appearances include the extended, The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission, Icon, The White Knight, The Russia House, Saving Grace and Rewind. In 2003 he was third lead in Vicente Aranda's version of Carmen, playing Don Prospero. In addition to English, he also worked in French and Spanish and performed widely on the continent, appearing as Paul Matthiews in the French day-time soap opera Cap Des Pins and William Wilbur in Le Grand Charles (a French mini-series about the life of Charles De Gaulle), among many other roles. He was married to actress Phoebe Scholfield and together they ran Sync or Swim, an ADR/Loop group. They also translated and wrote movies together - such as The Card Player (Il Cartaio) - which they translated into English. They had two sons: Leopold and Freddie. Jay also had a daughter from a previous marriage.
And, finally, an 'Edited To Add' moment, dear blog reader: It occurred to this blogger shortly after posting this latest From The North update that looking back over the recent posts that I've made both here and on Facebook since this lockdown malarkey began, there has been plenty of humour - examples can be found above - but, along with most other people I suspect, there's been a slight undercurrent of grumbling. Whinging about the whole coronavirus thing and how it has affected the smooth(ish) running of my/our lives. Now, that's fair enough, don't get me wrong, we all of us want a peaceful, straightforward, relatively quiet life in which things go according to some sort of plan. But, of course, this is The Real World and every now and then, life has a habit of throwing us a nasty googly (that's a cricketing metaphor, incidentally. If you want to use baseball, football or croquet instead, be my guest). This current situation, admittedly, has been (and remains) nastier and googlier than most. Therefore, here is a necessary statement of gratitude.
I'm grateful. There, I've said it.
I'm grateful that, touch wood, I have my health more-or-less in tact when many others - through absolutely no fault of their own - do not. And that, despite some underlying health conditions, I am as safe as it is possible to be in the current circumstances.
I'm grateful that I have a job which allows me to work from home and still get paid without having to depend on the generosity of the state.
I'm grateful that I have friends and family with whom I am in - virtual ... and, via the telephone, actual - contact and who, as far as I am aware, are also managing to survive the present difficulties to the best of their abilities.
I'm grateful - and this is a really big one - that I live in a country which provides World Class universal health care for all, regardless of status or wealth, staffed by dedicated, hard-working and brilliant people. Others in the world are not so fortunate.
I'm grateful for the supermarkets which are still open, that the buses are running (even if it is a reduced service), that the banks and Post Offices haven't closed so that, on the odd occasion, approximately once a week, when I do have to leave the safety of my own gaff and venture out to run some - necessary - errands, I am able to get there and back as swiftly as possible. And thus, minimise my risk of exposure to anything nasty or exposing any one else to anything nasty I might have.
I'm grateful for those who are currently working their knackers off to keep this country's infrastructure up and running - the carers, the council workers, the police, the broadcasters and, yes, even the politicians; often under-appreciated, under-paid and whinged-about by those for whom the phrase 'First World Problem' doesn't seem to have penetrated their thick heads. It sometimes takes a situation as apocalyptically dreadful as the current one to make people realise just what is 'an essential service' and what is, most definitely, not.
I'm grateful that I have 'stuff to do' around the house when I'm not working to keep my mind off Covid-Nineteen for, at least, a little bit of each day. Sanity demands that you can't spend every twenty four hours thinking about nothing except this awful virus.
I'm grateful for the Interweb, for Facebook and e-mail and for TV and radio as ways of keeping in touch with the world outside the four walls of Stately Telly Topping Manor.
I'm grateful that most of us seem to have adapted to the 'new normal' and, the odd - sometimes understandable - whinge aside, we have done so with characteristically British acceptance, humour and resolution. Resolution to, hopefully, come out the other side of all this better, wiser and perhaps more compassionate people. It's asking a lot of us as a society, I realise, but surely it isn't too much to hope for?
And, most importantly, I'm grateful that I'm alive. When many others are not.
I'm grateful. Just thought I needed to say that out loud. Once. Or possibly twice.
Stay safe, dear blog reader, be brave, be appreciative, be magnificent and, to quote someone with far more money - but also, rather more class - than myself, we will meet again. And, for the second blog running, a necessary reminder that whilst you may be on your own at the moment - on several levels - you are not alone.