Saturday, October 31, 2020

Icon II: He Shailed Into Hishtory

For many punters Sean Connery, who died on Saturday aged ninety, was the definitive James Bond. Suave, yet a cold-hearted ruthless killer, his 007 was every inch the Cold War warrior of Ian Fleming's novels. He strode across the screen, licensed to kill, shaken but never stirred. He moved - in the words of his producer - 'like a panther,' hungry and in search of his prey. But whereas Fleming's hero went to Eton, Connery's own background was noticeably short of Aston Martins, beautiful women, casinos and vodka Martinis.
Thomas Sean Connery was born in the Fountainbridge area of Edinburgh in August 1930, the son of a Catholic factory worker and a Protestant domestic cleaner. His father's family had emigrated from Ireland in the Nineteenth Century potato famine; his mother traced her line back to Gaelic speakers from the Isle of Skye. The area he grew up in had been in decline for years. Young Tommy Connery was brought up in one room of a tenement with a shared toilet and no hot water. He left school at thirteen with no qualifications and delivered milk, polished coffins and laid bricks, before joining the Royal Navy. Three years later, he was invalided out of the service with stomach ulcers. His arms by now had tattoos which proclaimed his twin passions: 'Scotland forever' and 'Mum & Dad.'
Connery was a keen footballer, having played for Bonnyrigg Rose in his younger days. He was offered a trial with East Fife. Later, while on tour with South Pacific, Connery played in a match against a local team that Matt Busby, manager of Manchester United, happened to be scouting. According to legend, Busby was impressed enough with Sean's physical prowess to offer Connery a contract worth twenty five quid a week immediately after the game. Connery admitted that he was tempted, but he recalled: 'I realised that a top-class footballer could be over-the-hill by the age of thirty and I was already twenty three. I decided to become an actor and it turned out to be one of my more intelligent moves.'
In Edinburgh, he gained a reputation as hard man when six gang members tried to steal from his coat. When he stopped them, he was followed. Connery launched a one-man assault on the ruffians which the future Bond won hands down. He scraped a living any way he could. He drove trucks, worked as a lifeguard and posed as a model at the Edinburgh College of Art. He spent his spare time body-building. The artist Richard Demarco, who as a student often painted Connery, described him as 'too beautiful for words, a virtual Adonis.' But, bitten by the acting bug when odd-jobbing at a local theatre, he opted to pursue his luck on the stage. In 2009, Connery recalled: 'When I took a taxi during a recent Edinburgh Film Festival, the driver was amazed that I could put a name to every street we passed. "How come?" he asked. "As a boy I used to deliver milk round here," I said. "So what do you do now?" That was rather harder to answer.'
In 1953, he was in London competing in the Mister Universe competition. He heard that there were parts going in the chorus of a production of the musical South Pacific - during which period he first met another jobbing actor, Michael Caine, who became a lifelong friend. By the following year, he was playing the role of Lieutenant Buzz Adams, made famous on Broadway by Larry Hagman. American actor Robert Henderson befriended Connery and encouraged him to educate himself. Henderson loaned him works by Ibsen, Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw and persuaded Connery to take elocution lessons. Connery made the first of many appearances as a film extra in the 1954 movie Lilacs In The Spring and, later, had a more substantial role in the 1957 noir classic Hell Drivers (with a cast that also included Stanley Baker, Patrick McGoohan, William Hartnell and David McCallum).
There were roles on television too, including a gangster in an episode of Dixon Of Dock Green.  Connery, however, was struggling to make ends meet and was forced to accept part-time work as a babysitter for the journalist Peter Noble and his actress wife, Marianne, which earned him ten shillings a night. He met the Hollywood actress Shelley Winters at Noble's house, who described Connery as 'one of the tallest and most charming and masculine Scotsmen' she'd ever seen. Around this time Connery was residing at TV presenter Llew Gardner's house. Robert Henderson landed Connery a role in a six pounds a week Q Theatre production of Agatha Christie's Witness For The Prosecution, in which he was cast alongside a fellow-Scot, Ian Bannen, forming another lasting friendship. This was followed by Point Of Departure and A Witch In Time at Kew, Pentheus opposite Yvonne Mitchell in The Bacchae at the Oxford Playhouse and a role opposite Jill Bennett in Eugene O'Neill's production of Anna Christie.
In 1957, he got his first leading role in Blood Money, a BBC reworking of the acclaimed Requiem For A Heavyweight, in which he portrayed a boxer whose career is in decline. The role had been made famous on TV in America by Hollywood legend Jack Palance. When Palance refused to travel to London for the remake, the director Alvin Rakoff's wife - the actress Jacqueline Hill - suggested Sean with whom she had previously worked. 'The ladies will like him,' she said.
A year later, he was cast alongside Lana Turner in Another Time, Another Place. Her boyfriend, the mobster Johnny Stompanato, reacted badly to rumours of a romance. He stormed on set and pulled out a gun. Connery grabbed it from his hand and overpowered him, before others stepped in and kicked him out. Two Scotland Yard detectives then 'advised Stompanato to leave' and escorted him to the airport, where he scuttled off back to the US. Connery later recounted that he had to 'lie low for a while' after receiving threats and menaces from men linked to Stompanato's mob boss, Mickey Cohen.
In 1959 Connery landed a leading role in Robert Stevenson's Disney film Darby O'Gill & The Little People alongside Albert Sharpe, Janet Munro and Jimmy O'Dea. The film was a tale about a wily Irishman and his battle of wits with leprechauns. The New York Times reviewer praised the cast, except for Connery whom he described as 'merely tall, dark, and handsome.' Sean also had prominent television roles in Rudolph Cartier's 1961 BBC productions of Adventure Story and Anna Karenina, in the latter of which he co-starred with Claire Bloom. His star was rising; he played Harry Percy in the An Age Of Kings, the title role in a major TV production of Macbeth and, on the big screen, appeared - along with just about every other actor in the world - in Darryl Zanuck's production of The Longest Day. And then came Bond.
Producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had acquired the rights to Fleming's novels but were having trouble finding an actor to portray 007. Richard Burton, Cary Grant, David Niven and Rex Harrison were all considered. So were Lord Lucan and the BBC's Peter Snow. It was Broccoli's wife, Dana, who persuaded her husband that Connery had the magnetism and sexual chemistry for the part. That view was not originally shared by Bond's creator. 'I'm looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stunt-man,' Fleming allegedly said. But Broccoli was right and Fleming, as he later happily admitted, was wrong. The author quickly changed his mind when he saw Connery in action. He even wrote a half-Scottish history for the character in some of his later works.
The director Terence Young took Connery under his wing, taking him to expensive restaurants and casinos, introducing him to his tailor and teaching him how to carry himself, so the slightly gauche Scot would pass as a suave and sophisticated assassin. Connery made the character his own, blending ruthlessness with sardonic wit. Many critics didn't particularly like it and some of the initial reviews for Dr No were scathing when it was released in October 1962. But the public did not agree. The action scenes, sex and exotic locations were a winning formula. Dr No, made a pile of money at the box office. Even abroad it was hugely successful; President Kennedy was a fan, requesting a private screening at the White House.
More Bondian outings followed: From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965) and You Only Live Twice (made in 1966, released the following year). It was exhausting and occasionally dangerous. During the filming of Thunderball, he was thrown into a pool full of sharks with only a flexi-glass screen for protection. When one of the creatures got through, Connery beat the hastiest of retreats. On that occasion he was, most definitely, shaken and stirred.
There was other widely-praised work during this period outside of Bond, including a fine starring role in Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie (1964) and The Hill, a tough and much-admired 1966 Sidney Lumet drama about a wartime British Army prison in North Africa in which Connery gave one of the finest performances of his career.
But, by the time You Only Live Twice was completed, Connery was tiring of Bond and feared being typecast. He turned down On Her Majesty's Secret Service and made Edward Dmytryk's western Shalako opposite Brigitte Bardot instead. Saltzman and Broccoli lured him back for Diamonds Are Forever in 1971, meeting the actor's demand for a then record one-and-a-quarter million dollar fee. Connery used it to set up the Scottish International Education Trust, supporting the careers of up-and-coming Scottish artists. As part of the deal, he also got to produce Lumet's The Offence (starring in it opposite his old friend Ian Bannen), a sensationally raw and visceral police drama about as far removed from Bond as it was possible to get.
There were attempts to get him to stay on as 007. Diamonds Are Forever's author Tom Mankiewicz recalled taking Connery to dinner and explaining what he was planning for the next movie, Live & Let Die. Connery politely declined. 'I only ever wanted two things in life,' Sean reportedly told Tom. 'My own golf course and my own bank. I've got the first and I'm working on the second!' Instead, he made John Boorman's mad as toast futuristic SF movie Zardoz. Ridiculed at the time (not least for the costume Connery was wearing) it has, subsequently gained something of a cult following.
Connery starred in John Huston's long-cherished Rudyard Kipling adaptation, The Man Who Would Be King (1975), alongside his friend Michael Caine - a particular favourite of this blogger - but most of the next decade was spent in supporting character roles, such as a grand turn in Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits or as part of an ensemble cast in blockbusters like Murder On The Orient Express and A Bridge Too Far.
He was terrific as an aged Robin Hood in Dick Lester's Robin & Marion (1976, opposite Audrey Hepburn and Robert Shaw) and also in Michael Crichton's The First Great Train Robbery (1979, with Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down). Having lost a lot of money in a Spanish land deal, he accepted a lucrative offer to play Bond again, in Never Say Never Again in 1984. This time 007 was an ageing hero; older, wiser and self-deprecating (thanks to Connery insisting on having two of his favourite comedy writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais write most of his dialogue) but ultimately still as hard as nails. The title was allegedly suggested by Connery's wife, Diana Cilento, who reminded her husband he had vowed 'never to play Bond again.'
He continued to play memorable parts in the 1980s, winning a BAFTA for his performance as William of Baskerville, in Umberto Eco's The Name Of The Rose. And, he gained a whole new, younger audience as the flamboyant immortal Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez - the world's first Scottish-Egyptian(!) - in Russell Mulcahy's Highlander in the same year, 1986. (Just pretend that all of the Highlander sequels - one of which Connery was persuaded to appear in despite his character having been, you know, beheaded in the first movie, never happened.)
A year later, his performance as a world-weary Irish cop - albeit still with that Scottish accent - in Brian DePalma's The Untouchables, won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. In Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade, he was truly outstanding as Harrison Ford's archaeologist father, despite being only twelve years older than his co-star. Steven Spielberg memorably recalled casting Connery with the words 'who on Earth could possibly play Indy's dad other than someone with the charisma of Sean Connery?!'
There was a further knowing nod towards Bond, alongside Nicholas Cage in The Rock, where he was a British secret agent kept imprisoned for decades. Connery had box office success in The Hunt For Red October (as the world's first Scottish-Russian submarine commander!), The Russia House and Entrapment; although First Knight, The Avengers and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen were less highly regarded - even though Connery was, as always, very watchable in all three.
He turned down the role of Gandalf in The Lord Of The Rings in 2006, declaring himself tired of acting and sick of the 'idiots now making films in Hollywood.' After a difficult experience making The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, during which he reportedly clashed with the director Stephen Norrington, Connery 'retired' from acting in 2003 and refused an offer to join the cast of the fourth Indiana Jones film three years later, claiming 'retirement is just too damned much fun.' However, he did complete one more film, voicing the title role in the Scottish-made animation Sir Billi (2012). He was briefly considered for the role of the gamekeeper in the 2012 Bond movie, Skyfall, but the director, Sam Mendes, wisely felt it would be distracting to have a previous 007 appear with Daniel Craig and cast Albert Finney instead.
Sean Connery began life in an Edinburgh tenement and ended it with a villa in Greece, sharing a helicopter pad with the King of the Netherlands. Always hating the Hollywood lifestyle, he preferred to play golf at his homes in Spain, Portugal and the Caribbean, with his second wife, Micheline Roqubrune, an artist he had met in Morocco whilst filming The Man Who Would Be King. His previous marriage, to the Australian actress, Diane Cilento, had ended in 1975 amid allegations he had been violent towards her and had a string of affairs. They had a son, the actor Jason Connery. At various times, Connery had well-documented extramarital affairs with Jill St John, Lana Wood, Carole Mallory, Magda Konopka and the singer/songwriter Lynsey de Paul.
Despite his exile (he hated being called a tax exile and once released all of his financial documents to prove that he paid what he considered to be his fair share), he retained a full-throated passion for Scotland, despite once misguidedly endorsing a Japanese blend of whisky which went down like a sack of shite North of the border. In the run-up to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, Connery's brother Neil claimed that Connery would not come to Scotland to rally independence supporters, since his tax exile status greatly limited the number of days he could spend in the country.
He attributed his notoriously short temper and his reputation for 'moodiness' to his Celtic genes. 'My view is that to get anywhere in life you have to be anti-social,' he once said. 'Otherwise you'll end up being devoured.' A long overdue knighthood, finally awarded in 2000, was reportedly held up by Donald Dewer because of his support for Scottish independence. In truth, his Bond is now something of a museum piece; the portrayal of women in those early films seems impossibly dated. The action scenes are still properly thrilling, but the sex too-often bordered on the non-consensual. Thankfully, it's been a while since 007 slapped a woman on the bottom and forced a kiss from her. But Connery's performance was of its time, enjoyed by millions of both sexes and gave the silver screen a genuine twenty four carat Twentieth Century icon. He leaves behind him a body of work that any actor would be proud of and, not least, a vacancy for the title The Greatest Living Scot.

Friday, October 30, 2020

"I'd Beat Thee, But I Should Infect My Hands"

Health, dear blog reader. It can be a jolly amusing thing at times. 'My heart was really pounding and I felt a funny tingling all over,' Woody Allen said in one of his earlier, funnier movies. 'I was either in love or I had smallpox.' (He also said 'I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Actually, make that "I run through the valley of the shadow of death' - in order to get out of the valley of the shadow of death more quickly' so, you know, he clearly knew what he was talking about.)
This blogger's health continues to be a matter which baffles medical science the mostest, baby. He's got a bad back, a dodgy knee and ankle, a nasty case of RSI on his mouse-hand, several extremely unwelcome problems with his naughty bits (which you really don't want to hear any further details about, trust this blogger) and, to top it all, he believes he's got a cold coming on. And yet, last week, this blogger attended his bi-annual Type Two Diabetes check-up thingy with the lovely Nurse Janice and, once again, it was mostly good news. This blogger's weight has shot up since the last check-up six months ago, which was disappointing as he'd worked so hard to get it down last time. Then again, judging from media reports, he's hardly alone in that regard and his medical professionals didn't seem at all worried about it.
Elsewhere, however, it was all largely positive. Blood glucose level was slightly down (forty six last time, forty five this), bloody pressure was, similarly, in the borderline low-risk range. As was this blogger's cholesterol level (slightly up on the last check up but nothing at all concerning). Kidney, eye and feet tests were also fine. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping will be having a telephone chat with Doctor Chris next week but, the general consensus seems to be, once again, 'whatever it is you're doing, keep doing it.'
Meanwhile, on a marginally-related note, this blogger managed to break one of his teeth a couple of weeks ago - not even biting on anything particularly hard, either. Only Keith Telly Topping can manage such malarkey, dear blog reader. Here was what was left of the filling after said soft-biting incident.
Nasty, eh? Anyway, he rang his dentist, explained that he was not in any pain and, therefore, he realised that he was not an emergency case but he thought he'd better let them know about the situation. This blogger was pleasantly surprised by the response - they are running a limited service at the moment but, obviously, they're prioritising certain cases over others so the receptionist told me that a dentist would ring me back in a few days and arrange a convenient time for me to pop in and get it sorted. God bless the National Health Service (dental division). Indeed, that happened and, last Friday, this blogger rocked-up for his appointment with the drill. The broken molar was capped and well-filled and the Novocaine eventually wore off (coming down was not, especially, unpleasant, let it be noted). The appointment was supposed to be at 3pm but they rang the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House that morning and asked if this blogger could come in a bit earlier? '2.30,' the reception asked. 'Not particularly, but it's a bit awkward trying to eat everything on the other side of my mouth' this blogger replied. True story.
As noted in the last bloggerisationisms update, this blogger is currently busy compiling the From The North 'best and worst TV of the year' awards. And, it's going quite well thus far even if this blogger does say so himself. There will be, approximately seventy or thereabouts TV shows featuring in the various award lists and Keith Telly Topping has already managed to research and write up the entries for about a third of them. Usually, this highlight of the From The North calendar is written in one long coffee-fuelled writing session around late November and takes this blogger about a week to ten days of non-stop work to pull together. But this year, having had to previously amend his modus operendi in 2019 due to work commitments, this blogger has again taken to writing it in smaller, more manageable chunks over the course of a couple of months. It's rather therapeutic as it happens, albeit, this blogger is mainly doing the 'best of' entries at the moment; by the time he gets down to the twenty five or so programmes that he really didn't like, one imagines his state of temporal grace will have worn somewhat thin. As with previous years, Keith Telly Topping Presents ... The From The North TV Awards (2020) will be published for all the world to see on this blog in a few weeks time. Book your seats early, dear blog reader, it's going to be large.
This blogger was jolly startled to wake up on Tuesday morning and be confronted by the following staggering sight from the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House front room window. It was looking like there might be a wee bit of rain later in the day. Either that of The Apocalypse was a-cometh. Which, hey, given the current state of the planet might not, necessarily, be an entirely bad thing.
Yer actual Keith Telly Topping, however, decided it was (just) more likely to be the former and so grabbed an umbrella for his forthcoming trip down the shops. All the sensible kiddies do it, they reckon.
Earlier this week, this blogger received an e-mail from someone asking if Keith Telly Topping's IMDB page is, indeed, his. Odd question, you may think. This blogger told the enquiree that no, it actually belongs to that professor from Dundee University who also shares Keith Telly Topping's Amazon page. As for whomsoever the chap is that's featured on Wikipedia your guess, dear blog reader, is every bit as good as this blogger's.
Meanwhile, dear blog reader, it's Friday night at the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House; a nice, tasty chicken and king prawn curry and an episode of Qi. What more, in all honesty, could any person wish for? (All right, a Big Dirty Woman would be the deal-breaker, admittedly ...)
An important observation: By Hell, but TV continuity announcers get their money for nowt, do they not? 'And now on Dave, tonight's movie The Da Vinci Code, based on the international best seller. Of the same name.' Well, it's not going to have been based on the international best seller Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, is it?
And now, a public service announcement. With guitars. And, you know, pom-poms ...
Mad as toast. From that, dear blog reader, to the semi-regular From The North favourite 'a few items which caught (and, briefly, retained) this blogger's attention on the BBC News website.' Starting with 'Murder Hornet': First Nest Found In US Eradicated With Vacuum Hose. Cos, it's the only language these Murder Hornet understand, clearly.
Next, Lily Allen: 'Women Masturbating In A Relationship Isn't Wrong' in which Lil opines: 'If you're hungry, you don't wait until your partner gets home to have a slice of toast.' Can't argue with that. In fact, this blogger rather fancies a hot slice right now. Smothered with plenty of butter. 
Then, there's Sunderland Bar Burglar Found Asleep Beside Cheesecake. Because, let's face it, whom amongst us could honesty resist such a yummy delight whilst mid-burgle?
Covid: Don't Let North Get 'Left Behind' Tory MPs Warn PM was also fascinating. If only because the Conservatives have always been such big supporters of The North, haven't they?
On a related-note, there's Some Blackburn Families 'Ignoring Guidelines'. Which may be true but it's hardly unique to Blackburn.
Frank Bough who died earlier this week was one of the highest-profile and highest-paid presenters on BBC Television. In a career spanning over three decades, he won a reputation for his relaxed and unflappable style on camera. He presented the BBC's flagship sports programme, Grandstand, and launched the corporation's Breakfast Time TV programme in 1983. But his career abruptly ended after lurid tabloid revelations.
Francis Joseph Bough was born in a two-up, two-down terrace house in the Fenton area of Stoke-on-Trent in January 1933. His father, who worked as an upholsterer, lost his job and the family moved to Oswestry in Shropshire, where Bough attended the local grammar school. He was a keen sportsman and also enjoyed acting, taking parts in a number of school Shakespeare productions. Although not particularly academic he won a scholarship to Merton College, Oxford, in the days when, as he later put it, 'Oxford valued a good all-rounder.' He was a talented footballer, winning a Blue, although his side were beaten by Cambridge in the Varsity match at Wembley. Bough did his National Service in the Royal Tank Regiment before getting a job as a graduate trainee with ICI in Billingham. He continued to play amateur football in the North East but became increasingly unhappy with his job, finally deciding he wanted to be a broadcaster. He pestered the BBC for two years and, in 1962, the corporation relented and gave him a three-month contract reporting on football matches in the Newcastle and Sunderland region. Other programmes followed on radio and television, mainly on sport, interviewing people like the golfer Peter Alliss, the runner Chris Brasher and the cricketer Cyril Washbrook, but also presenting the regional news programme Home At Six, later to become Look North. With his love of and knowledge of sport, he became the presenter of Sportsview in 1964, taking over from Peter Dimmock. The programme went out midweek and featured football as well as a number of pre-recorded items. He also presented and commentated on some of the early Match Of The Day's when regular commentators Ken Woolstenholme and David Coleman were otherwise occupied. He also began an eighteen-year stint hosting the BBC's Sports Review Of The Year, which later became Sports Personality Of The Year. Bough was part of the BBC's World Cup commentating team in 1966, notably covering one of the great upsets in the tournament's history when North Korea beat Italy at Ayresome Park. His stint on Sportsview ended in 1968 when David Coleman took the reins and the programme was renamed Sportsnight. However, it marked Bough's move to Grandstand, the BBC's flagship Saturday afternoon TV sports programme. In the days before sport sold its rights to the highest bidder, Grandstand covered a host of sports every week, including high-profile events such as the Olympic Games, FA Cup finals and the Grand National. These were mixed, depending on the season, with regular horse races, motor sport, athletics, cricket and rugby league.
It was on Grandstand, with its multitude of live feeds providing the potential for things to go wrong, that Bough's bomb-proof presenting style came into its own. Here he gained his reputation for remaining an oasis of calm no matter what technical hitches were occurring. His style prompted Michael Parkinson's remark that 'if my life depended on the smooth handling of a TV show he'd be the one I'd want in charge.' Bough, when once asked the secret of this ability to keep his head when all about him were losing theirs, said simply: 'I have a very long fuse.' He was a perfectionist, however. He said: 'We're not in the business of just getting by on this programme.' In 1972 he began presenting Nationwide, the BBC's magazine programme that went out after the early evening news. It was usually a fairly light-hearted programme, with opt-outs for BBC regions to focus on local news. However, he recalled some resistance from managers in BBC current affairs who were aghast that a man from the Sports Department was to present one of their programmes. In the same year, Bough had the harrowing experience of anchoring the BBC coverage of the Munich Olympics during which eleven members of the Israeli team were murdered by members of the Palestinian Black September terrorists. 'It was a bizarre situation,' he later said. 'The athletics continued while people were getting killed.' As one of television's best-known faces he appeared on the 1977 Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show. Together with a number of other presenters (like Parkinson and Michael Aspel) and newsreaders, including the rugby league commentator Eddie Waring, he donned a sailor suit to perform the legendary 'There Is Nothing Like A Dame' routine with Eric and Ernie.
By now Bough was beginning to tire of Grandstand. He still loved fronting the big sporting events but, as he later remarked: 'I began to feel I was play-acting when it was Widnes versus Batley on a wet November afternoon.' Hearing that the BBC was about to launch a new breakfast TV service in 1983, Bough approached the editor Ron Neil. Few presenters at the time had experience of presenting long and largely unscripted programmes and his stint at Grandstand got him the job. He proved a natural when the BBC launched Breakfast Time in January 1983, his laidback and comfortable style becoming an immediate hit with his early morning audience. His fellow presenter, Nick Ross, later recalled that Bough brought a much needed 'sense of serenity and composure' to the programme. In 1987, fed up with early mornings, Bough quit Breakfast Time to present the Holiday programme. It was to be a short stint. In 1988 he was sacked by the BBC after a newspaper carried lurid revelations that he had indulged in cocaine parties with prostitutes. The story came as a particular shock, given Bough's hitherto clean-cut family-man image. After being sacked by the BBC, Bough went into therapy to address his drug habit and picked up work with the London commercial radio station LBC, with LWT, presenting its Six O'Clock Live show and with Sky TV and there was a return to sports broadcasting for ITV's initial rugby World Cup coverage, but his renaissance was short-lived. In 1992 he was photographed leaving a sadomasochistic prostitute's flat that, according to newspaper reports, featured a cage and school canes. Bough felt he was being got at, complaining to the Evening Standard: 'It is a horrendous experience. You are followed day and night. One paper fully admits that they have dogged my footsteps for seven years, waiting for me to trip up. They catch you, they strip you bare and ravish you and then they move on to other people. Everybody in this country has a sex life. Surely they have a right to enjoy that? I have been weak and I have been silly: what can I say?' There was a brief return to the airwaves on an independent local radio station but, by 1996, Bough had disappeared from public view. In the following years he remained out of sight, turning down a chance to return to the screen when Breakfast celebrated its twenty fifth anniversary in 2006. However, in 2014 it was announced that he would step back into the public arena and contribute to a BBC documentary looking at thirty years of Breakfast TV in the UK. Frank Bough was one of Britain's most consummate broadcasters, who won a legion of fans for his calm and friendly manner. He was always worried that he would be remembered only for the tabloid headlines rather than for his many successful years in front of a camera. 'It was a brief but appalling period in my life,' Bough said. 'Don't condemn my entire career for a brief episode I regret.' In retirement, Bough joined a local choir near his home in Berkshire and largely refused to give interviews. He tended his garden and listened to music. In 2001 he underwent a liver transplant following the discovery of a tumour. Bough is survived by Nesta, whom he married in 1959 and their three sons, David, Stephen and Andrew.
Bobby Ball, one half of the comedy double act Cannon and Ball, has died at the age of eventy six after testing positive for coronavirus. His manager, Phil Dale, said in a statement: 'It is with great personal sadness that on behalf of Yvonne Ball and the family and Tommy Cannon, I announce that Bobby Ball passed away at Blackpool Victoria hospital on 28 October 2020. Bobby had been taken to the hospital for tests as he started with breathing problems. At first it was thought to be a chest infection but a test proved positive for Covid-19. His wife, Yvonne, said the hospital and staff could not have been more wonderful, as they were outstanding in their care of duty and they did everything possible for him and she cannot praise them enough. She said that the family and Tommy would like to express their sincere thanks to the many, many people who have been fans of Bobby and they know that they will all share in part the great loss and total sadness that Yvonne, the family and Tommy all feel.' Ball was born Robert Harper in January 1944. A keen amateur singer, he found fame on the comedy circuit and later with The Cannon & Ball Show alongside his lifelong friend Tommy Cannon.
The pair, who met in Oldham, where they worked at a welding factory, began their careers playing pubs and clubs before their first forays into television on Opportunity Knocks in 1969 and on Granada TV's The Wheeltappers & Shunters Social Club in 1974. The Cannon & Ball Show was first broadcast on ITV in 1979 and it continued until 1988, garnering huge audiences. Although somewhat 'old school' in terms to format, there was a certain surreal anarchy about the duo - in particular Ball's aggressive joke-telling and physical comedy - which drew several of the new wave of British comedians to them as guest stars (Rik Mayall, for instance). In 1982, the duo made a film The Boys In Blue although it was a - not entirely undeserved - flop at the box office. Bobby also created the BBC children's cartoon series Juniper Jungle, which was broadcast in 1992. Though their popularity on TV waned as tastes changed, the pair continued to perform in theatre and panto together through the 1990s and into the following decade. Ball also appeared in TV series as diverse as Last Of The Summer Wine, Heartbeat, Mount Pleasant, Benidorm, The Cockfields and won a whole new audience playing Lee Mack's reprobate father in the popular sitcom Not Going Out.
With Cannon, he took part in I'm A Z-List Former Celebrity Desperate To Get My Boat-Race Back On TV ... Please Vote For Me To Stay Here As Long As Possible (I'll Even Eat Worms If You Want) in 2005. In an interview in 2014, Ball recalled falling out with Cannon for three years in the 1980s. 'We started on the shop floor as welders, we went through eighteen years in the clubs and then we got big. We were surrounded by all these people who were gossiping. They wanted to divide and conquer and instead of sitting down and saying "what's wrong?", we stopped speaking,' he said. The pair later reconciled and both became devout Christians, eschewing the hedonistic lifestyle they had enjoyed at the height of their fame. In 2015 it was reported that Ball had begun giving comedy lessons to vicars so they could liven up their sermons. In a statement quoting Ball's catchphrase 'Rock on, Tommy,' Cannon said: 'Rock on, my good friend, I can't believe this, I'm devastated.' Bobby is survived by Yvonne, to whom he was married for forty six years and their children Robert, Darren and Joanne.
According to legend, in 1968 Manchester United arrived in Argentina to play Estudiantes (striped shirts, black panties) in the World Club Championship. As their coach drove down the motorway they saw four banners. The first three read, 'Bobby Charlton, El Campeone', 'Denis Law, El Rey' and 'George Best, El Beatle'. The fourth read: 'Nobby Stiles, El Bandido'! Triumphant, toothless and twirling. Nobby Stiles' dancing was one of the defining images of England's 1966 World Cup victory - he jigged around the perimeter of the Wembley pitch, false teeth out, red socks pulled down to his ankles, tightly gripping the Jules Rimet Trophy in his raised left hand. It was quite a sight. Stiles, who has died aged seventy eight after a long illness, endeared himself to an entire nation with those impulsive, now iconic, post-match celebrations. And, that feeling is not limited just to the generation lucky enough to witness his country's finest football moment first hand. 'Kids of my grandkids' age, they come up to me and go: "Hey, you, you're the fella with no teeth who danced round Wembley, aren't you?,"' he told the Gruniad in 2002. 'In a way, you end up belonging to everyone.' Earlier in that glorious summer of 1966, England's enforcer was not unanimously popular. He was with the supporters, of course - they mostly loved him - but definitely not with the media or with the Football Association. Eventually, the one-time Catholic altar boy won over the critics who were far from enamoured with his combative style. But the modest Mancunian - a kind, warm and unassuming family man off the pitch, rather contradictory to his on-field persona - will be forever remembered as a national hero.
Born Norbert Peter Stiles in May 1942, in Collyhurst - a post-industrial suburb to the North of Manchester city centre - he realised his childhood dream by joining his beloved Manchester United as an apprentice in November 1959. In his 2003 autobiography, he wrote that he had been born 'a half-blind dwarf who was bombed by the Germans and run over by a trolley bus when he was on.' His father, Charlie, was an undertaker: 'When we got the call to go to Old Trafford to sign my contract, he said: "Jump in son and I will take you down there." Now "jump in son' meant in his hearse,"' Stiles remembered. A schoolboy international, he had first joined the club as fifteen year old in 1957 and shared a dressing room with legends including his idol, Eddie Colman. 'My uncle Peter used to take me to Old Trafford and Colman was my hero,' he said. 'Two hours before every match, we would arrive at the ground and because we were so close to the pitch, I could literally touch him as he ran down the wing. At five foot seven he was, like me, one of the smallest in the team. But he had a swagger. Although he looked chunky for his size, he was devastatingly quick over ten to fifteen yards and - something not many people appreciated - [and] he was a strong, committed tackler.' In Eamon Dunphy's book A Strange Kind Of Glory the author (a former teammate) recalled Stiles being given Colman's boots after Eddie's death in the Munich disaster. Nobby, a five foot six inch full-back, was handed his first-team debut in 1960, though only after being sent for an eye test by United's manager, Matt Busby, who was concerned about the number of 'mistimed' tackles made by the teenager. Fitted with jam-jar spectacles off the pitch and contact lenses on it, Stiles' eye for a tigerish tackle instantly improved. A bit. Then Busby had the vision to make a brave tactical decision which would change the trajectory of Stiles' career. The Scot's dilemma was this: he needed an energetic half-back (a defensive midfielder in modern parlance) to break up the opposition attacks and feed his forward line of Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law. Stiles fitted the bill perfectly. He became the fulcrum of the United side which won the 1965 First Division title, eventually catching the eye of England's manager Alf Ramsey as he tried to mastermind the host nation's World Cup assault the following year.
Like Busby, Ramsey knew he had to maximise the talents of Charlton who was central to his plans. He had youngsters like Martin Peters and Alan Ball to do the running leaving Bobby time to find space and create chances for himself, Jimmy Greaves and Geoff Hurst. But, he needed someone to actually win the ball first. Like Busby, Ramsey turned to Stiles. Nobby made his England debut against Scotland at Wembley in April 1965, cementing his place over the next twelve months with a series of zealous, tough performances. But his aggressive ball-winning technique did not please the purists in the media, even during the 1966 World Cup. 'I got absolutely slaughtered in the papers,' Stiles said. 'My job was to win it, give it to Bobby and let him get on with it. The criticism never put me off.' That criticism was not only from journalists, though. Even the FA did not like the balding midfielder's destructive manner. After receiving a retrospective booking following the final group game against France - for what can be somewhat euphemistically described as a 'robust' challenge on Les Bleus playmaker Jacques Simon - the governing body demanded Ramsey drop Stiles for the quarter-final against Argentina. Ramsey refused. 'I was a liability, they said,' Stiles recalled. 'Alf told them he'd resign if he couldn't pick who he wanted. He was prepared to resign in the middle of a World Cup over me. I never found that out until he had died. What a man.'
Ramsey's resistance was vindicated. Not only did Stiles help see off a hostile Argentine side - furiously described as 'animals' by the usually placid Ramsey - he then nullified Portuguese superstar Eusébio in the semi-final as England reached the Wembley showpiece. 'Alf always called me by my full name, Norbert. Just before the Portugal match he took me to one side and said: "Norbert, I want you to take Eusébio out,"' Stiles said. 'I replied: "Do you mean for the game Alf, or for good?"' Eusébio survived, but Portugal didn't. And the rest is etched in English sporting history. Tenacious, aggressive, dirty - descriptions all given to Stiles' style. After all, he did not earn his 'Toothless Tiger' nickname for nothing. But dismissing Stiles as some sort of football Machiavelli would be a gross misjudgement. 'I remember asking Sir Alf once about his 1966 World Cup team,' former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said. 'He says he had five world-class players and Nobby was one of them. A great reader of the game - Bobby Charlton always mentions that - influenced the team, could tackle, could pass.' Stiles was selected for the England squad which contested the 1968 European Championships, but the holding role in midfield had been taken by Tottenham's Alan Mullery. Nobby played just once for England in 1969 and twice in 1970. He was selected by Ramsey for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, but only as Mullery's understudy and remained on the bench. While Stiles will forever be remembered for his influential part in England's 1966 triumph, he will also remain a hero in his home city. Stiles made almost four hundred appearances for The Red Devils between 1960 and 1971, helping them win two league titles (1965 and 1967) and - more notably - the European Cup in 1968 where, once again, he had the task of keeping Eusébio quiet as United beat Benfica at Wembley.
He remains one of only three Englishmen - along with Charlton and Liverpool's Ian Callaghan - to win both a World Cup winner's medal and the European Cup. After leaving Old Trafford, he ended his playing days with brief spells at Middlesbrough and Preston North End, before moving into coaching at Deepdale. However, his managerial career failed to match the same success he enjoyed as a player. The low times which followed his retirement from football and unsuccessful foray into management culminated in thoughts of suicide as he drove his car down the M6 early in 1989. 'Everyone remembers you for the good times but obviously people have bad times as well, everybody, not just me,' Stiles told BBC Sport in 2003. 'You have to go through things - it is the only way you gain experience. The time I had in management was all part of learning and all part of life. In my case it made me realise I was no good at it.' While Stiles felt he had nothing left to offer in management, others saw an opportunity to maximise his talents - namely a wealth of football experience and a trait of being refreshingly honest. United invited him back as youth team coach in 1989, nurturing the likes of Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, David Beckham and Nicky Butt - a player who reminded Stiles much of himself - from the academy to the first team. Known for being vocal on the pitch, he became a big hit on the after-dinner speaking circuit, regaling attentive punters with dressing-room tales before deteriorating health eventually took him out of the public eye. One common story revolved around the simple instruction he used to be given by Busby before every match: 'Norrie, let him know you're there in there first five minutes.' It was not meant to be a pleasant introduction. But the likeable Stiles, who once said he wanted to be 'remembered as a happy person,' has left a more positive lasting impression on millions of English football fans. In 1968, Stiles released his first autobiography, Soccer My Battlefield; his second, After The Ball, followed in 2003. In 2007, he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame. In November 2013, it was announced that Stiles was diagnosed with prostate cancer and in 2016, that he was suffering from advanced dementia. He was too ill to attend a celebration dinner to mark the fiftieth anniversary of England's 1966 World Cup win. In 2017, an acclaimed BBC documentary on the subject of brain injuries amongst retired footballers presented by Alan Shearer included an interview with Stiles' son, John talking about his father's distressing illness. Stiles married Kay Giles in June 1963. His wife was the sister of Nobby's then-teammate at Old Trafford, Johnny Giles. He is survived by Kay and their three sons - John, Peter and Rob. 
This week the BBC have announced new social media guidance for staff. Perhaps fortunately, yer actual Keith Telly Topping finished freelancing for his beloved Beeb a few years ago otherwise, in all likelihood From The North might be subject to more scrutiny than is entirely healthy from The Sixth Floor. That said, of course, this blogger will defend his own right to free speech to the end and, will also note, that at least in regard to political balance, this blog has always been entirely even-handed there. Treating, as we do, all politicians with the same level of utter contempt that they so richly deserve.
A case in point; this week's news that Comrade Corbyn has been extremely suspended from The Labour Party for his naughty (alleged) anti-Semitic ways (or, let's be charitable, his apparent laissez-faire attitude towards some properly horrible, wicked elements within the party that he was, until recently, responsible for the conduct of) led to a predictably rabid response from his more loony supporters. This blogger particularly enjoyed reading the crass frothing-at-the-mouth ranting of that Bitter Old Red oaf Len McCluskey. McCluskey - whose union is one of Labour's biggest donors, giving around seven million knicker since the start of last year - warned that any failure to reinstate Comrade Corbyn, like, instantly, would leave 'a split party doomed to defeat' at the next general erection. Because, of course, under the great and wholly benevolent leadership of Comrade Corbyn they had such a fantastic result in the last one, didn't they? Jeremy Corbyn's favourite role, it would appear, is that of 'the victim.' He led Labour to such a calamitous defeat at the last general erection that its parliamentary representation it currently its lowest level since 1935. Yet, he seems to see himself not as the perpetrator of this disaster but as its casualty. He presided over an anti-Semitism scandal unprecedented in the party's history but that, also, in his own eyes (and those of his acolytes) cannot be his fault. He has been suspended from the party after refusing to accept the - damning - findings of the Equality & Human Rights Commission's investigation into that scandal and - yet again - someone else is again to blame rather than Jezza. All he had to do this week was to say, publically: 'I accept the findings of the Commission. I'm sorry.' But he couldn't even do that. As the Gruniad's Andrew Rawnsley put it Corbyn’s 'shameless self-pity betrays the victims of the anti-Semitism scandal.' Revolutionary socialists, dear blog reader. They haven't got a bloody clue ...
And, just to provide a bit of - necessary - BBC-style 'balance', dear blog reader, this blogger noted with something approaching righteous great vengeance and furious anger the comments of the (gobshite) Workington Tory MP, one Mark Jenkinson (no, me neither): 'I know in my constituency that, as tiny as a minority it might be, food parcels are sold or traded' for illegal substances. Which brought the magnificent response from a lady interviewed by BBC News: 'Dealers don't swap drugs for a tin of beans.' As for (gobshite) Workington Tory MP, one Mark Jenkinson (no, me neither), dear blog reader - 'oh, chinny reck-on. Pure Jimmy Hill.' If you're in Workington and you voted for this clown at the last general erection then you really need to take a good hard look at yourselves and work out when, exactly, you drank the Kool Aid and your heart turned to stone. It remains a truism, dear blog reader, but it's a necessary one to repeat with some regularity; there are many good people in the world, there are some bad people and there are some, genuine, twenty four carat wicked fekkers. Most of us are somewhere in the middle just trying, hard (and not always successfully), to get through life without causing too much damage to either ourselves or anyone else. And then, there are some people who are just scum. Most of them Tory MPs, seemingly.
The winner of the latest From The North headline of the week award. Leeks Mistaken For Machete Spark Aberdeen Police Probe. Err ... right. 
Although, Should We Make Holograms Of The Dead? ran that one a very close second.
And finally, dear blog reader, Hallow'een fans are in for 'an extra spooky treat,' apparently, as a full Moon is set to light up the night sky on Saturday. Traditional festivities will look very different this year because of The Plague. However, on the plus side, aspiring werewolves will be able to practise their howling to good effect. This will be the first time since 1974 that there has been a Hallow'een full Moon across the UK, according to Astronomy Ireland. So, make the most of it because, according to rumour, you might not have the chance of getting out much in the immediate future.
Speaking of which ...
This blogger's old mate Ian Abrahams noted, in relation to Bashing Boris's - much-delayed - State Of A Nation In Distress on Saturday night: 'This is like sitting through Grandstand waiting for Doctor Who to start circa 1972... Cut to the chase.' To which this blogger replied: 'To be fair, Little Mix: The Search got postponed. So, you know, every cloud and all that ...'
This blogger is also indebted to another good mate, Christian Wheeldon, for this observation. Oh. God.
Take care of yourselves, dear blog reader. Stay safe and avoid all contact with ... well, anyone, basically. From the Stately Telly Topping Manor Plague House, it's goodnight and, you know, 'be lucky.'