Saturday, April 18, 2020

"We Have Heard The Chimes At Midnight ..."

It is another melancholy beginning to the latest From The North update Keith Telly Topping is very much afraid, dear blog reader. Because, to quote yer actual Peter Davison in The Five Doctors: 'Great chunks of my past [are] detaching themselves like melting icebergs.' Which is, you know, sad.
After a spectacular start to his TV career in the 1960s, when he played leading roles in two classics by Dostoevsky, the actor David Collings, who has died aged this week seventy nine, became a cult favourite of SF fans with appearances in UFO, three Doctor Who stories and, most notably, as the popular character of Silver in the 1979 supernatural detective series Sapphire & Steel. Although he started out as a stage actor, Collings did not consolidate his reputation there until completing more than a decade of TV appearances, after which he took a string of important roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company. At the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park he was Polonius opposite Damian Lewis's title character in 1994's Hamlet, directed by Tim Pigott-Smith; David had first played a pretentious if benignly-intentioned Polonius for an RSC touring production with Philip Franks in 1987. Collings was a delicately-featured, red-haired actor with sensitive blue eyes who was equally good at playing neurotic and sweet-natured parts. On TV he also had a good line in eminent characters from history: Percy Grainger in Ken Russell's Song Of Summer (1968), Sir Anthony Babington in Elizabeth R (1971), John Ruskin in The Love School (1975), William Wilberforce in The Fight Against Slavery (1975) and William Pitt in Prince Regent (1979).
David Cressy Collings was born in Brighton in 1940 to George Collings, a greengrocer and his wife, Lillian. At Varndean Grammar School David enjoyed acting but had no intention of following the profession and, on leaving, started work as a designer in lettering, inheriting that interest from his father, a keen artist. From 1960 David was happily involved in amateur dramatics for the Withdean Players and the Lewes Little Theatre, but then was recommended by the actor Freda Dowie to director David Scase, who had been appointed to run the Liverpool Rep. After six months on Merseyside, Collings found himself pitched into TV through another unsolicited recommendation, this time from the actor John Slater, who thought he might be suitable casting in a 1964 Play Of The Week presentation of Crime & Punishment. Thus David found himself playing the impoverished Raskolnikov, murderer of an old pawnbroker, in a three-and-a-half hour existential epic alongside Steven Berkoff, Peter Bowles, Julia Foster and Sylvia Coleridge. Five years later he was in another Dostoevsky production, a six-part BBC adaptation of The Possessed, as the charismatic rabble-rouser Pyotr Verkhovensky, alongside Rosalie Crutchley, Joan Hickson and Angela Pleasence. In the same year he was the Clerk in a seven-episode BBC version of Canterbury Tales. Other early TV roles included a memorable episode of Gideon's Way - The Prowler - in which he played an emotionally disturbed man attacking young women. His movie debut came in an uncredited walk-on as one of the King's Messengers in 1966's A Man For All Seasons. David made a rare movie appearance as a lovable Bob Cratchit in the musical Scrooge (1970), with Albert Finney. In the same year as he was captured by aliens and imbued with superhuman powers in a very weird episode of UFO - The Psychobombs. In Doctor Who he was an unrecognisable alien, Vorus, with ideas of blowing-up The Cybermen with a home-made (stock-footage) rocket in 1975's so-bad-it's-brilliant Revenge Of The Cybermen, the robot-phobic Poul in the classic 1977 four-parter The Robots Of Death - which mixed an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit with hardcore SF elements straight out of Isaac Asimov - and, in 1983, the immortal title character in Mawdryn Undead. Mark Gatiss described Collings as 'the greatest Doctor we never had.' David finally got to play his own incarnation of the Time Lord in an audio adventure - Full Fathom Five - for Big Finish (2003), capitalising on his vast experience in radio drama.
Having played Legolas in The Lord Of The Rings on Radio 4 in 1981 and making a guest appearance in the final episode of Blake's 7, Collings joined the RSC for the first time as Newman Noggs in the 1985 revival of David Edgar's Nicholas Nickleby on tour and on Broadway. He also appeared in a star-studded chorus in the Don Taylor television script of Sophocles' Oedipus (1986), with Michael Pennington, Claire Bloom and John Gielgud. He voiced the eponymous lead for the long-running Japanese series Journey To The West, released in English-speaking countries as Monkey. The show was a popular hit and had a cult following, particularly with younger viewers. For the RSC subsequently, between 1996 and 2001, he played Thomas Cranmer in Henry VIII, Baron de Charlus in Tennessee Williams's Camino Real, Count Lerma in Schiller's Don Carlos, Sir Politic Would-Be in Ben Jonson's Volpone, Cardinal Pandulph in King John and Sancho in Lope de Vega's Madness In Valencia. After the millennium, he played a neat double of Sir Henry Green and the Duke of Surrey in Kevin Spacey's Richard II (2005), directed by Trevor Nunn at the Old Vic and graced a startling revival of Middleton and Rowley's Jacobean shocker The Changeling (2006) for Declan Donnellan's Cheek By Jowl company at The Barbican; the cast also included Will Keen, Olivia Williams and a then-unknown Tom Hiddleston. One of his favourite roles was appearing with his son, Samuel, in Toby Frow's 1950s revival of Marlowe's Edward II at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, in 2011; he was old Mortimer and Matrevis while Sam doubled as the king's lover, Piers Gaveston and his poker-wielding murderer, Lightborn. His CV also included guest-starring in Z-Cars, Holby City, Knock On Any DoorThe Professionals, Danger Man, By The Sword Divided, Mystery & Imagination, The Troubleshooters, Love Hurts, Them & UsThe Regiment, The All Electric Music Arcade, The White Rabbit, Fame Is The Spur, The Strange ReportTake Three Girls, Breakaway, The Shadow Of The Tower, Special Branch, Sinister Street, Point Counter Point, Front Page StoryThis Man Craig and Fall Of Eagles among many others. He was also noted for his children's television appearances including the role of Julian Oakapple in Midnight Is A Place. In 1989, he played the villainous Charn in Through The Dragon's Eye and had a recurring role as the headmaster in Steven Moffat's TV breakthrough, Press Gang. He was terrifying as the titular Lord Dark in Dark Shadows (part of the BBC's Look & Read strand). He also had roles in most of the major drama anthologies of the 1960s - Armchair Theatre and Play Of The Week on ITV and The Wednesday Play, Out Of The UnknownTheatre 625, Omnibus, Play For Today and Thirty Minute Theatre for the BBC. David was married firstly to Deirdre Bromfield, whom he met at the Lewes Little Theatre, in 1962 (they divorced in 1975) and subsequently to the actor Karen Archer in 1983, from whom he was separated, although they reportedly remained close friends. He is survived by Karen, by their children, Samuel and Eliza, his daughter, Kate, from his first marriage and his sister, Nola. He was predeceased by Deirdre and two of their children, Matthew and Bethian. And, if you want to read a far better written obituary of David, check out Toby Hadoke's outstanding and touching piece for the Herald.
According to Wikipedia another of this blogger's favourite TV actors, James Garbutt has also recently died aged ninety four. Born in 1925, in Houghton-le-Spring, James worked as an art teacher at schools in and around Newcastle and was a key member of The People's Theatre in Heaton, during the 1950s and 1960s where his contemporaries included Alan Browning and John Woodvine. He made his TV debut in Sid Chaplin and Alan Plater's acclaimed 1969 Wednesday Play, Close The Coalhouse Door, an affectionate history of the mining industry in the North East told through family drama, comedy sketches and songs. His subsequent credits included: The Troubleshooters, The Borderers, Z-Cars, The Onedin Line, Warship, Doctor Who (in the 1975 serial Genesis Of The Daleks), Bill Brand, Juliet Bravo, One By One, All Creatures Great & Small, Soldier, Soldier (in the episode Band Of Gold which launched Robson Green and Jerome Flynn's brief-but-spectacular pop career), Boon, Between The Lines, Casualty, The Witch's Daughter, Woodstock, Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?, Centre PlayThe Stars Look Down Can We Get On Now, Please?, Play For Today, Floodtide, Rockcliffe's Babies, Gems, The ManageressSpender, The House Of Eliott, Coronation Street, Badger and The Franchise Affair. He appeared in several movies including 1979's The Thirty Nine Steps (alongside David Collings), Superman (1980) and High Heels & Low Lifes (2001). He is probably best known as the proudly defiant socialist coal miner turned capitalist shop-keeper Bill Seaton in the first three series of When The Boat Comes In (1976 to 1977).
Another veteran actor and From The North favourite, Brian Dennehy has died aged eighty one. 'It is with heavy hearts we announce that our father, Brian passed away last night from natural causes, not Covid-related,' his daughter Elizabeth tweeted. 'Larger than life, generous to a fault, a proud and devoted father and grandfather, he will be missed by his wife Jennifer, family and many friends.' Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1938, Brian entered Columbia University in New York on a football scholarship before enlisting in the Marine Corps from 1958 to 1963, including a brief stint on Okinawa. Dennehy was known on the big-screen for roles in films such as Cocoon, Presumed Innocent, Tommy Boy, Romeo + Juliet and Gorky Park. His breakthrough role was opposite Sylvester Stallone in First Blood. He was also a celebrated stage presence, winning two TONY awards for Death Of A Salesman in 1999 and Long Day's Journey Into Night in 2003. Dennehy also won a Golden Globe for the TV mini-series adaptation of Death Of A Salesman. He was long associated with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago for his many performances in adapted works of Eugene O'Neill. His last appearance on stage was in 2016's White Rabbit Red Rabbit. 'Theatre is something that I've always enjoyed and that I care about,' Dennehy said in 2016. 'But as you get older, it is harder and harder to do, but it's always worthwhile.' He also amassed six EMMY nominations throughout his career, most recently in 2005 for sexual abuse drama Our Fathers. He featured in episodes of The West Wing (albeit, sadly, not a very good one), Thirty Rock, The Good Wife, Miami Vice, Kojak, Serpico, M*A*S*H, Dallas and Hunter. He starred in the popular crime drama Jack Reed TV movies and also appeared as a recurring character in the NBC sitcom Just Shoot Me! Most recently he was in the NBC series The Blacklist and he will be seen posthumously on the big-screen in Son Of The South.
     'I don't look like an actor, I don't sound like an actor, I'm just another person,' Dennehy said in 2018. 'Which really is the whole point of acting, is trying to be just another person.' Built like a truck but with the capacity to be as gentle as a pussycat, Brian Dennehy was smarter than the average bear-like character actor. The six feet three inch performer made his screen breakthrough as an adversarial small-town sheriff in First Blood (1982), the thoughtful opening instalment in what would become the Rambo series. It was the first in his hat-trick of hits from that decade: he also starred as one of a group of aliens who have a rejuvenating effect on an elderly community in Cocoon (1985) and played a grizzled but amiable cop in F/X (1986), a highly enjoyable thriller set in the special effects industry; it was popular enough to spawn a 1991 sequel - F/X2: The Deadly Art Of Illusion - reuniting Brian with co-star Bryan Brown. Unusually for a character actor, Brian had a handful of movie leads, including The Belly Of An Architect (1987), a rare foray into arthouse cinema. Dennehy's range, from cowering vulnerability to a righteous fury, was given full rein in Peter Greenaway's otherwise austere tale of an esteemed architect dying of stomach cancer; the critic Janet Maslin called it 'one of the best things' the actor had done. He also gave a complex and probing performance as the serial killer John Wayne Gacy in the TV mini-series To Catch A Killer (1992). 'I've had a hell of a ride,' Dennehy also said in 2018. 'I have a nice house. I haven't got a palace, a mansion, but a pretty nice, comfortable home. I've raised a bunch of kids and sent them all to school and they're all doing well. All the people that are close to me are reasonably healthy and happy. Listen, that's as much as anybody can hope for in life.' He is survived by his wife, the costume designer Jennifer Arnott, whom he married in 1988 and by their children, Cormac and Sarah, as well as by three daughters, Elizabeth, Kathleen and Deirdre, from his first marriage to Judith Scheff, which ended in divorce in 1974.
Norman Hunter, who died this week aged seventy six, was labelled indelibly by Leeds United fans during the 1972 FA Cup final victory over Arsenal. The slogan on the banner - Norman Bites Yer Legs - became synonymous with one of the toughest, most uncompromising defenders of the post-war era. But, this actually did a disservice to an outstanding footballer who was known for his steel, but who could also produce silk. Gateshead-born Hunter moved to Elland Road when he was fifteen, forsaking a career as an electrical fitter. He made his first team debut as an eighteen year old in 1962, establishing a formidable central defensive partnership with Jackie Charlton and going on to play seven hundred and twenty six games in all competitions in fifteen years at the club. Only three men played more matches for Leeds - Charlton, Billy Bremner and Paul Reaney.
Hunter was a key component of Don Revie's talented but little-loved side which won the First Division title in 1968-69 and again in 1973-74, the FA Cup in 1972, the League Cup in 1968 and the Inter Cities Fairs Cup in 1968 and 1971. It was at Elland Road where Hunter wrote his name into legend, a man who epitomised the style and philosophy of Revie's team that won many plaudits and - sometimes grudging - respect within the game but also attracted fierce criticism for their ruthless, win-at-all-costs approach. Nothing, however, should detract from the stature of a man who was so highly regarded and respected by his peers that he was named the first winner of the Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year award in 1974. Off the field, Hunter was a warm and friendly personality. He was hugely popular with all he met, enjoying a long career as an astute analyst and summariser of Leeds games for BBC local radio. He was also part of a group of hard men who populated the game in the 1960s and 70s, along with the likes of Liverpool's Tommy Smith and Chelsea captain Ron 'Chopper' Harris. When he sustained an injury at Leeds, Revie's veteran right-hand man Les Cocker was allegedly informed 'Hunter has broken a leg.' The coach is claimed to have replied: 'Whose is it?' The Norman Bites Yer Legs tag stuck after Brian Clough, later to manage Hunter for an ill-fated forty four days at Leeds, referenced it in his 1972 FA Cup final analysis. Norman himself, with his noted dry humour, called his own 2004 autobiography Biting Talk.
Hunter was as tough as nails and one of the most enduring images is his full-on fist fight with Derby County's Francis Lee (an England team-mate) that saw both men sent off at the Baseball Ground in November 1975. The result of the fight, if anyone is interested, was celebrated in a memorable chant heard across the country 'Norman Hunter chinned Francis Lee!' (somewhat ruder variants also existed). But he was also a defender of the highest calibre and was perfectly at home in the top flight, as well as the more nuanced surroundings of Europe. Revie's Leeds should have actually won far more trophies than they did but were dogged by misfortune. And, losing to Sunderland, obviously. One such occasion saw Hunter sent off when his frustration boiled over in the closing seconds of the defeat by AC Milan in the 1973 Cup Winners' Cup final and he decked Gianni Rivera with a vicious right-hook. It came after a series of highly questionable decisions by the Greek referee Christos Michas and fans inside the stadium in Thessaloniki threw missiles during Milan's lap of honour in protest. Michas was subsequently banned for life. Leeds felt similarly aggrieved when they lost to Bayern Munich in the European Cup final in Paris two years later, most notably when Peter Lorimer's volley was ruled out for a dubious offside call with the score still nil-nil.
Hunter was the permanent understudy to England's World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore, limiting his career to a mere twenty eight caps when so many more would have been collected in the modern era. But Moore was immovable in the early years and squad rotation was seldom considered. Hunter made his England debut in a win in Spain in December 1965, yet while he was a trusted member of Sir Alf Ramsey's 1966 World Cup squad, he did not play a game. Only the eleven who played in the win over West Germany in the final at Wembley received a medal, although Hunter finally got one after a successful campaign to have them awarded for all members of England's triumphant squad at a Downing Street ceremony in 2009. Hunter was also in England's squad when they defended their crown in Mexico four years later, making a solitary appearance as an eighty first-minute substitute for Martin Peters against West Germany. Sadly for Hunter, his England career is best remembered for an uncharacteristic mistake which led to their failure to qualify for the 1974 World Cup in Germany and Ramsey's subsequent sacking. Hunter had been picked ahead of Moore, whose form had been indifferent and who had also made an error leading to a goal in England's two-nil defeat in Poland. In the return game at Wembley, England needed to win but were being thwarted by Poland's eccentric but brilliant goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski. In the second half, Hunter missed the sort of routine tackle on the half-way line that he had completed thousands of times, allowing Grzegorz Lato to run clear and set up Jan Domarski for the goal that, ultimately, stopped England from qualifying. There is an infamous image of the inconsolable Hunter trudging from the Wembley turf.
    A small piece of social history: On that same day - 17 October 1973 - in response to the escalating Yom Kippur war, OPEC, the Arab oil producing countries, summarily cut production and quadrupled the world price of oil. This, effectively, ended the relative affluence upon which, as Ian MacDonald would subsequently write in Revolution in the Head, 'the preceding ten years of happy-go-lucky excess in the West had chiefly depended.' It's a less sentimental suggestion for 'the day the Sixties (conceptually) ended' than some symbolic musical event perhaps, but, it's probably a much more realistic one. The resulting financial crisis in Europe sent inflation spiralling and led to all sorts of ramifications in unexpected places - not least, the virtual destruction of the British film industry for the next decade and a vinyl shortage which meant the record industry almost went the same way. It was the chilling moment where the Swingin' Sixties turned, overnight, into the 'Sober-and-Soon-to-be-Unemployed Seventies.' That this occurred on the same day England's football team failed to reach the final stages of a tournament they had won eight years previously may seem insignificant to some. But, just as that famous 'some people are on the pitch...' victory in 1966 appeared to encapsulate the spirit of an era - when England (and, specifically, London) was, quite literally, on top of the world - so the gloom that settled over the country during the winter of 1973-74, with its three-day weeks, powercuts, 'Cod War' with Iceland and general austerity amidst national strife and whispers of a right-wing military coup in the offing, was inextricably tied to the failing fortunes of Sir Alf Ramsey’s ageing side. And there are many that will still tell you it was all Norman Hunter's fault for missing that bloody tackle.
Hunter's final England appearance came, fittingly, in his mentor Don Revie's first game as England manager, a three-nil win over Czechoslovakia in October 1974. Hunter left his beloved Leeds for Bristol City in a forty thousand quid deal in October 1976, playing more than one hundred games for The Robins in three years before a brief stint at Barnsley. Hunter succeeded his former Leeds team-mate Allan Clarke as Barnsley manager in October 1980 and guided them out of the former Third Division in the 1980-81 season, staying at Oakwell until February 1984. He also had a spell in charge of Rotherham United and in more recent years contributed his expertise on radio, as well as a successful after-dinner speaker. Hunter's enduring footballing image may be as the archetypal hard man but those who saw his career in the wider context will attest that he was an outstanding player, one of the finest ball-playing defenders of his generation and a man who deservedly attained legendary status for his magnificent career at Leeds. In 1968 Hunter married Susan Harper and the couple had two children, Michael and Claire who survived him.
It was Peter Bonetti's sad misfortune that, despite his outstanding goalkeeping agility - his nickname 'The Cat' was well deserved - and despite the many matches he played (more than seven hundred for Chelsea), he is remembered above all for one disastrous day in Mexico in 1970. A match in which Bonetti, who has died aged seventy eight, should not even have been playing. It was the quarter-final of the World Cup against West Germany, whom England had beaten four years earlier in the final. The first-choice England goalkeeper was, of course, Gordon Banks but on the morning of the match in Léon, scheduled absurdly for the intense heat of noon so it could be shown during TV prime time in Europe and at a breathless altitude, Banks was to be seen outside the England team hotel, pale-faced and being supported by the anxious England doctor, Neil Phillips. He was suffering from a nasty case of food poisoning. So it was that Bonetti played instead of Banks, though hardly in the ideal condition to do so, as he had not had a competitive game since the FA Cup Final seven weeks earlier. Nevertheless, he made several fine saves during the first hour. When England squandered a two-nil lead to lose, however, Bonetti was largely made the villain of the piece. He was undoubtedly at fault for the first German goal, when he allowed Franz Beckenbauer's low shot to squirm under his body and into the net. The equaliser, however, scored by Uwe Seeler, was a complete fluke. When Karl-Heinz Schnellinger lobbed the ball into the English goalmouth, Bonetti, off his line, was arguably out of position, but Seeler knew little about the back header with which he scored. As for the third and decisive German goal, it had as much to do with the defenders' weariness as with Bonetti's positioning. Terry Cooper, the England left-back, was too tired to prevent West Germany's substitute, Jürgen Grabowski, from crossing. Bonetti did not get to the high ball, Hannes Löhr headed it back and Gerd Müller volleyed home from close range. It would prove to be Bonetti's seventh and last game for England. But his international record, until then, had been excellent. The first match came in July 1966, a two-nil victory against Denmark in Copenhagen and before the Léon match he had conceded only one goal in his previous six.
Standing five feet ten inches tall and weighing eleven stone, he was something of a contrast with the giant goalkeepers to whom we have become accustomed over the last two decades, but Peter was brave and spectacular and, pre-Léon, had shown no signs of nervousness. He had also been a member of the victorious 1966 England World Cup squad, although Banks had played all the matches in that tournament. Born in Putney to Swiss parents, Bonetti moved with his family, as a child, to the Sussex coast, where his parents opened a cafe in Worthing. His talents as a goalkeeper were soon apparent in local schoolboy football and he was enlisted by Reading for its youth teams. Then, after his mother had written to Chelsea asking them to give her son a trial, he was signed at Stamford Bridge. In the 1960-61 season, at the age of nineteen, he became the first-team goalkeeper. Chelsea were relegated to the Second Division but, under the managership of Tommy Docherty, they bounced back in their first season. Initially, the young Chelsea team flourished under Docherty and in 1965 Bonetti played a significant part in helping them win the League Cup final, then a two-legged affair, against Leicester City. That achievement was outshone when his inspired goalkeeping enabled Chelsea, after a replay in the final against Leeds in 1970, at last to gain the FA Cup which had eluded them since their foundation in 1905. Bonetti was just as good when, in Athens a year later, Chelsea beat the formidable Real Madrid to take the European Cup Winners' Cup. His last game in goal for Chelsea was against Arsenal in May 1979 - his seven hundred and twenty ninth for the club, during which he had kept clean sheets in two hundred matches, conceding one goal or fewer in more than two-thirds of his appearances. In 1975 he briefly left Chelsea on a free transfer for a spell in the US with the St Louis Stars, but returned the following year. He played five games for Dundee United in 1979, and on retirement he lived on the Isle of Mull, where he worked as a postman. He then became a goalkeeping coach with Chelsea, Newcastle United, Fulham, Manchester City and the England team, and in 1986, at the age of forty five, appeared for non-league Woking as they beat Weymouth one-nil in the FA Cup. Latterly he worked on match days at Chelsea in the hospitality section. With his second wife, Kay whom he married in 1992, he had a son, Scott and he had four children - Suzanne, Kim, Nicholas and Lisa - from his first marriage, to Frances Jennings, which ended in divorce.
After all that death and depression, dear blog reader, this blogger rather fancies something nice to eat. One wonders if this lady does takeaways, for instance.
On Thursday of this week, this blogger knocked off from work at 6.30pm and at 6.30pm and about three seconds he rang up the local takeaway for a nice, fattening king prawn and beef curry with boiled rice. Which was subsequently delivered to the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House inside twenty minutes and scoffed almost immediately it came out of the tin-foil carton. Seriously, this one hardly touched the sides of yer actual Keith Telly Topping's stomach on the way down, this blogger was so utterly Hank Marvin at the time. Note to self for future reference; never try to get through the day on a bag of crisps, a bottle of pop and one (one!) Rich Tea biscuit. On a scale of one-to-ten in terms of how much this blogger deserved this, with one being 'I sort of quite deserve this but I could live without it' and ten being 'I REALLY, REALLY deserve this', well ... you do the maths.
So, another week of lockdown at the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House is over and this blogger currently has the novelty of two - yes two - days off in a row. First time that's happened in three weeks. This blogger must say, he is still rather enjoying working from home - the novelty hasn't quite worn off yet. The commute, in particular, is jolly impressive. But, there is one thing that this blogger misses about the office and that's when one has come off the phone from a particularly challenging or lengthy or sometimes, not even an awkward call but rather a touching or strange one, is it can be quite pleasant to turn to a nearby colleague and say 'you will not believe the call I've just had!' You can't do it when you're on yer Jack Jones, dear blog reader. Well, you possibly can, but you get locked up for talking to yourself. Hang on. I am currently locked up ... and I am talking to myself. See. Told you.
One of the most singularly melancholy aspects of wandering around a virtually deserted Newcastle city centre - as this blogger did when getting in the weekly shopping this very morning - was seeing all of those businesses that this blogger knows so well (many of them old, established firms going back decades) all completely shuttered-up. Pubs, restaurants, stores ... And this blogger couldn't help but wonder just how many of them will be reopening when all of this horrid virus malarkey is over. Because, this blogger is fairly certain that some of them won't be. Mind you, walking down Northumberland Street Keith Telly Topping noticed that signs saying 'We Are Closed' in McDonald's window were accompanied by all of the lights in the gaff being on. So, when all this is over, don't be at all surprised if the price of a Big Mac goes up by twenty pee. Cos, someone's going to have to pay for leaving the lights on.
Watching one of this week's official government Coronavirus briefing - this one led by the legend that never will be Alok Sharma - caused this blogger to reflect upon something. Listen, dear blog reader, this blogger is sure that yer man Alok is a really nice chap who is kind to his mother and all that but, every time this blogger sees him, he can't help but be reminded of Mad Frankie Boyle's description of Nick Griffin on an episode of Mock The Week: 'He looks like a shaved owl who's been fast-tracked for a management position at Greggs.'
And finally, dear blog reader, many, many (many) years ago, before most of you were born, this blogger will wager (we're talking about the 1970s, here), this blogger's beloved England cricket team spent an entire winter Down Under (when women glow and men chunder, they reckon) getting their bums thrashed and their knackers bruised by a Sheila called Lilian Thomson. Or something. It was right chastening stuff (particularly for poor Bumble Lloyd's googlies).
Nevertheless, this blogger still used to watch the Australian Broadcasting Company's nightly highlights programmes on BBC2 - introduced by Richie Benaud - which had been satellited over to the UK just to see if it was all as wretchedly horrible as the early morning radio commentaries made it sound (it was ... and then some). That said, this blogger became utterly obsessed with the theme tune from the highlights programme. It was a highly whistle-able jaunty little flute-and-synthesizer-dominated number - the Aussie equivalent of the BBC's use of Booker T's 'Soul Limbo' - and, this blogger presumed, it was some obscure instrumental either from an Aussie movie nobody had heard of or that it had been knocked up in a basement studio in Sydney by the Antipodean equivalent of a member of the BBC Radiophonics Workshop. This blogger doubted that he would ever hear it again but that tune haunted the edges of his memory for years and Keith Telly Topping tried everything he could think of to discover what the Hell it was and if it was commercially available. He wrote to the BBC. They couldn't help. He wrote - airmail - to ABC in Australia. Never even got the courtesy of a reply. He asked his cousins in Brisbane if they could find out. Nothing. It was a mystery this blogger thought would ne'er be solved. Cut forward now many, many (many) years to around 1995(ish) and this blogger was siting watching Midnight Cowboy late one night on TV (a film, let it be noted, he must have seen half-a-dozen times, at least, over the years) and blow me cornet stiff but, there it was - accompanying the Florida dream sequence of Ratso Rizzo and Joe Buck running on the beach. The end credits told this blogger the tune was called - not unreasonably - 'Florida Fantasy'. And that, far from being obscure or unheard of, it was an instrumental on one of the biggest selling movie soundtracks of the decade, had been written by one of this blogger's heroes - the legend that was John Barry - and had won a bloody Grammy! The point of all this, dear blog reader, is that sometimes, the really fun part of any search for knowledge isn't the discovery, it's the search itself.
So, here endeth yet another From The North bloggerisation update from the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House. Where life, just for the moment, has taken on an aura of rampant surrealism unmatched by anything in this blogger's experience. Except, possibly, that time this blogger - with a case of bronchitis that was threatening to turn into consumption - spent a day overdosed on Benylin watching Performance, Blow Up and Scream & Scream Again back-to-back. That was a bloody odd day. I must try to repeat it at some stage.

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