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Media Studies – A View From The Boundary.

‘The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be ignited.’ (Plutarch)  

When I hear some tedious old trollop talk about what life was like ‘in my day’, I realise that there are times when extreme violence is not only highly enjoyable but absolutely necessary for the future evolution of humanity. Consider the phrase for a moment: ‘in my day’. So, what, was there some special day in a particular year that was reserved solely for this person and no other? ‘This is my day – it belongs to me so bugger off.’ I think not. No, sadly, the truth is far worse. When people speak of ‘my day’ what they actually refer to is a time, usually during their youth, when they were young, fit and belonged to some fashionable peer group, real or imagined. I recall Fred Trueman, the England fast bowler, saying on Test Match Special ‘Well, in my day you wouldn’t see batsman wearing helmets.’ What he refers to, of course, is the time when he played for England and Yorkshire as an active bowler and fielder. Well, fair enough but it’s simply not acceptable for me. ‘In my day’ implies one has relinquished a degree of control over and therefore responsibility for oneself. My day is now, this hour, this minute. That is the primary difference between me and all those sad old buffers. I never say ‘in my day’ but if I did then it would have to be in the present tense! That’s the crucial difference. This is primarily because what I’m doing now, the activities in which I am currently engaged, are so superior, so more exciting, than what I was doing 10, 15 or 20 years ago that ‘my day’ is now. I know when ‘my day’ started, too: in 1994 when I commenced work for the Patients Council in a psychiatric hospital. It started again in 1998 when I commenced work for Hackney Chinese Youth Club and then again in 2000 when I commenced work for the contemporary, definitive version of UNIT.



‘In my day’ I don’t watch the television because I know for a fact it is used purely as a means of social control and I will not be cajoled, brainwashed and manipulated by the corporate media machine. When I was a child, I did watch the television occasionally because I didn’t know any better. My experience of watching the television on a regular basis spans part of the ‘golden age’ period from 1969 to 1981. In fact my earliest memory of the television is the Apollo manned moon landing of July 1969. It was the first time programmes continued after midnight. In those days, all broadcasting ceased after the national anthem (of course) as if to remind decent, law abiding people that they should have gone to bed by 11pm anyway. I remember sitting in our little front room with this fuzzy black and white screen flickering. There were these 2 clumsy men in chubby white suits shuffling around in slow motion on the lunar surface. According to my uncle, when asked my opinion of these momentous events, I allegedly retorted ‘That’s silly.’ The moon was way up in the sky so how could anyone possibly walk on it? Mind you, I couldn’t have held such a Calvinist view for long as I remember buying Patrick Moore books, being bought an Airfix lunar module by my uncle for Christmas and, after much pleading and blackmail, being allowed to stay up late one Sunday each month to watch The Sky At Night with my first boyhood hero giving me a 20 minute glimpse of the universe in all its unfettered glory.

Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, Michael Collins (Apollo 11); Pete Conrad, Alan Shepherd, Dick Gordon (Apollo 12); Jack Swigert, Fred Haise, Jim Lovell (Apollo 13);  Alan Shepherd, Ed Mitchell, Jim Rousser (Apollo 14); Dave Scott, Jim Irwin, Alan Warden (Apollo 15); John Young, Charlie Duke, Ken Mattingly (Apollo 16); Eugene Cernan, Jack Schmidt, Ron Evans (Apollo 17) are the astronauts who ventured to our natural satellite, the Moon. 11 human beings have walked on it. All of them are men. All of them are white. Well, it could be coincidental, I suppose. We should remember the 6 men who travelled to the Moon but never walked on it: the command modules that remained in lunar orbit flown by Michael Collins, Dick Gordon, Jim Rousser, Alan Warden, Ken Mattingly and Ron Evans were what made possible the landings and launchings of the craft that actually landed on the lunar surface. Swigert, Haise and Lovell flew in what is regarded as the only failure in the Apollo programme, Apollo 13. ‘Houston, we have a problem.’ Well, I say it was an unqualified success – 3 men were rescued from certain death in the implacable hostility of space by the sheer ingenuity of the scientists and technicians of Mission Control in Houston, Texas.


I think that’s what inspired me to take notice of Doctor Who. Perhaps the only slight inkling of any taste beyond the banal exhibited by my parents was their enjoyment of this weekly children’s science fantasy series broadcast every Saturday at around 5.15pm. Television programmes generally started with children’s shows in the early afternoon. Prior to that was the Test Card, a static image of geometric lines and circles accompanied by some of the most bland, boring and tediously irritating music ever heard on the airwaves…and it would go on for hours. Occasionally there would be an exciting break from this monotony with a Trade Test Transmission. These were specially made films designed either to test the new colour televisions which were beginning to appear on the market or to provide educational stimulus to people in various trades. I recall an especially gruesome 20 minute affair targeted at people who worked in power stations with its obsessive message that was repeated like some desperate survival mantra for those of us who lived at the end of the world: ‘remember S.I.D.E. – switch off, isolate, dump, earth – many lives depend on it, including yours!’ Riveting stuff indeed. One of the colour test transmissions was a short programme about some architect called David Piper who designed Liverpool cathedral. I remember thinking it looked very much like the Airfix lunar module model my uncle bought me for Christmas.

I currently possess every Doctor Who DVD that’s been issued to date. What I didn’t know then but, to my great disgust, I realise now, is that there is a whole caboodle of sick, sad and sorry ne’er-do-wells who attend conventions, collect Dr Who memorabilia (including mugs, which seems somehow appropriate) and spend interminable hours debating who was the best doctor, who was the worst companion, was Season 12 when too much plastic began to be used on Dalek casings or was it later and so on. Because the series ended in 1989 (no, bear with me, it did end in 1989 and it hasn’t returned), certain sections of humanity, particularly among the bored white middle class in Britain, devoted most of their lives to dissecting, analysing, re-interpreting and discussing the most inane aspects of Doctor Who, reliving their adolescent fantasies through a children’s science fantasy television show that, despite superb performances by Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, was way past its sell by date by 1981 anyway.

In 2005 the BBC tried to bring the programme back to your screens inna 21st century stylee. As a children’s fantasy show it is a complete success, being one of the most inventive and interesting shows currently on television. Yet as Doctor Who it fails miserably. From 1963 until circa 1979, suspense, tension, clever dialogue and intriguing stories took precedence over mere ‘special effects’ and scenery so the paltry budget allotted to the show was irrelevant. Even the 1980s format could occasionally circumvent the crass, glitzy, ludicrously camp limitations foisted onto it by the atrocious tomfoolery of producer John Nathan Turner, who almost single handed all but wrecked what was once the most intriguing science fantasy programme on television.


Sunday provided the worst television entertainment of all. Children’s hour was restricted to one ‘classic serial’ which meant we had to endure a tedious tale set in the 19th century about some cantankerous old steamer in a top hat bullying some insipid young tart in a bonnet. At some intuitive level I knew it was the sort of television show my teachers would endorse, therefore it was the enemy and had to be avoided. This was followed by the obligatory religious programmes, the nadir of which was Songs Of Praise. Why would anyone want to look at a bunch of miserable old middle class cunts stuck in a church moaning tiresome old dirges to a non-existent deity? Most television programmes for children were just abysmal. I couldn’t play sports (obviously) and I found all pop music absolutely horrible so that omitted 70% of the programme content for a start. Blue Peter was one of the few boats of reason afloat on a sea of dark forces, probably because it was so safe, white and middle class, where the worst disaster that could conceivably befall anyone was to witness the wanton destruction of the Blue Peter garden by vandals. My sense of outrage was only mild, however. Maybe I was jealous because I’d like to have been one of the lads who trampled on the tulips and duffed up the daffs?


I do remember The Stone Tapes. BBC2 I think it was, fairly late in the evening, I was on my own (with our 2 dogs who were better company than literally any human beings I knew at the time). My complete cowardly shit of a stepfather was away playing with his boats (and, it transpired, another woman) and my dead loss of a mother was in a mental hospital or other, following the death of her father. Yes, he was one of the very few almost decent people our otherwise wretched family has ever sired. So I was actually happy for a while: no stupid people to interfere with my daily pursuits of war comics, long walks in the country and stealing groceries from the local shops. I never was caught, either – those ridiculous Royal Family loving Tory voting Radio 4 listening yokels. With biological detritus like that populating the nation, how we ever won the second world war I shall never know. We lived in Sway, some two cow village in Hampshire, for a brief period when my parents decided to go rustic until their marriage split up. Oh yes, The Stone Tapes…well, it was the very first television programme I ever saw that frightened me. There were no bug eyed monsters, no special effects, no silly romances to remind us it’s all safe and cozy. Instead we’re given a team of scientists employed by the government to discover a new source of cheap energy to counter the national crisis. This was 1972 with the middle east oil price farrago still a year away. Nigel Kneale wrote it, he of Quatermass fame (see the film section later), beyond doubt one of the greatest television science fiction writers of the 20th century. The proposition: what if certain emotional traumas are so extreme that they are of sufficient strength to be stored in stone? The action occurs in a 19th century folly that is built around one room, the sole survivor of the original building, a strange burial mound from the pre-christian era. The murder of a young woman in the 19th century is accidentally uncovered by the devices used by the team who decide to investigate the possibility that stone may be used as a storage facility for other forms of data. They manage to erase the ghostly apparition of the screaming woman amid considerable cheers and congratulation…only to find that underneath that recording is something much older and far more dangerous. It is never explained, never accounted for…but it kills! At the end of the story, this nameless horror released from the ancient stone is the victor. It was reissued on DVD last year and I watched it again…yes, it still sends a chill through me even now. The central performance by Jane Asher is faultless.


The Ascent Of Man is a documentary in 13 parts written and presented by one of the greatest science writers and philosophers of the 20th century, Jacob Bronowski. By the 1970s I had almost stopped watching the television entirely, my asceticism broken only by my weekly dose of Doctor Who. As far as I am concerned, television in the 1970s was dominated by 2 broadcasts: The Ascent Of Man and then everything else. Dr Bronowski travelled throughout the world over a period of 3 years on a BBC budget that vastly exceeded any previously awarded to a mere documentary, to compile a history of the evolution of civilisation by humankind. For the first time in the west, there was no exaggeration or undue emphasis on the European contribution to civilisation, science and the arts at the expense of non-white races; here all nations and all peoples were treated with the attention and detail they merited. When the BBC issued the entire series on DVD recently, I purchased it and then watched the entire series, 1 episode a day, over a period of 13 evenings. My initial impression was tempered now by all that I had learned since I first watched it as a fascinated and rather perplexed 7 year old. I knew the documentary was important because teachers and pupils talked about at school. It was written about in the newspapers. Yet when I watched it again in December 2006, I was absolutely astonished at how modern it appears. Only someone with a decent knowledge of astronomy and contemporary medical research or a film technician au fait with current editing techniques would realise that this magnificent testament to humanity was first broadcast in 1973. Dr Bronowski correctly regarded this as the most important work of his career. He died peacefully the following year, justifiably convinced he would be unable to do anything better or more worthwhile. It could be argued that no other human being has managed this either.

Remember: BBC stands for Broadcast Bourgeois Culture.


The main reason I spent so little time in front of the television was because my parents lived in front of it from the first kiddies show until the national anthem at midnight. Any time spent in their vile company was destined to be miserable (and often violent) so I avoided them as much as possible. Only Doctor Who could persuade me to endure the threats, sarcasm and insults which inevitably resulted from me being in their presence for more than 5 minutes – it was a fair exchange I suppose. Instead I chose to stay in my bedroom and surround myself with my 2 favourite pastimes, which were also 2 forms of entertainment that didn’t require much physical co-ordination: corgi toys and war comics. The Heinkel bubble car, Volkswagon beetle and Austin Cambridge generally provided brief respites from the hours I spent drooling over my primary passion: the 4 series of comics produced by the immortal Fleetway Publications – War Picture Library, Air Ace Picture Library, War At Sea Picture Library and Battle Picture Library, all thrilling stories of world war two told in gripping pictures. Cop this, square-head! Wallop!


These comics are 5 inches in width by 7 inches in height and were 64 pages long, generally split into 4 chapters although there were occasional departures from this format where the story required it. A typical story will feature a few primary characters, often with a central narrative between them which is set against a general narrative of the wartime events through which they struggle. Each page usually has 2 frames per page (with occasional departures to aid visual impact or dramatic tension). The very first series (War Picture Library, published by what was then the Amalgamated Press – it wouldn’t be called Fleetway until issue 21) tended for its early issues to adhere to a conventional ‘boys own’ generic format where the Germans are rather ugly and somewhat stupid, whose inept attempts to defeat us are inevitably foiled by our bold, dashing chaps. This is initially amusing, even endearing but soon becomes tedious with repetition. Fortunately the style changed significantly before the end of the first year and the stories became serious and far more realistic (in general). Our brave boys were often twisted, cynical or murderous. The enemy (if they were Germans) were frequently depicted as normal human beings with normal fears and foibles who could be as heroic and daring in their own manner. There were occasional departures: a two part story by Nevio Zeccarra was featured where the central hero was a French aviator fighting for the RAF.

An interesting aspect here was the frequent attempt (no doubt due to editorial intent) to emphasise the difference (real or imagined) between ‘ordinary German soldiers / sailors / aviators’ and ‘fully fledged nazis’. There are stories which include conflict (usually at officer level) between patriotic German soldiers who clearly despise Hitler and fanatical nazi party members. The latter, not surprisingly, never quite manage to succeed in their heinous intents. The Japanese, on the other hand, are always depicted as cold, cruel, callous, brutal, sadistic and without honour of any kind. My own experience of talking with British Legion members over the past 20 years sadly confirms this apparent stereotype to be firmly founded on fact, if perhaps a little exaggerated in the comics. Because the halcyon days of these comics covered the middle period of the cold war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, it may not be coincidence that very few stories feature Russian troops in any detail. However, of the dozen or so which do, the Russians from lowest private to highest general are portrayed in a generous fashion guaranteed to find favour in the Kremlin. Of the millions of Jews murdered under the orders of Stalin, there is no mention; I have yet to find a reference to this repugnant fact in any of the comics. Victims of the nazi holocaust and the Chinese who suffered almost indescribable horrors under the Japanese butchers are featured occasionally but the issue is rarely discussed in any detail. Perhaps due to a combination of political sensitivity and the average age at whom the comics are targeted, deeper political issues like this are generally either absent or at the most only alluded to in rather vague or fleeting terms.

In the allied forces, fighters from noble aristocratic families generally faired far worse than rugged, dependable chaps from solid working class backgrounds. At the rapprochement near the end of the story, it was generally the wealthy son of nobility who had learned some kind of valuable lesson from the honest yeoman stock, the son of a fishmonger in Stepney etc. Those Fleetway folk soon learnt to recognise the demography of their primary readership and capitalise on it, bless ‘em. Besides this, rarely is war ever depicted as glorious or exciting. When people are shot or blown up, there is blood and agony. Because the readership was assumed to be between 12 and 16, there was a limit to the level of gore and brutality allowed but where it was considered inappropriate to graphically portray such scenes, they were clearly implied by the text.

A common feature of these stories is the partisan group of civilian militias who assist the allies to combat the invading axis forces. The main protagonists here are the French Maquis and the Greek resistance fighters. The Chinese and other resistance combatants of the far east are featured less often but they tend to be depicted with greater nobility in one key respect. Most of the European battle zone stories to feature resistance fighters will invariably include one or two traitors, bribed by the nazis or acting out a family feud, who (naturally) come to a grisly end, usually at the hands of their compatriots. Stories of this kind set in the far east theatre of conflict rarely depict Oriental resistance fighters turning traitor or behaving badly. In general, however, although the resistance fighters are portrayed in a rather one dimensional manner, they are usually depicted as being even more brave and heroic than our troops. In a sense, there would be some justification for this because such people had nowhere to run; like the Vietnamese, they were defending their own land from a foreign invader and so had nothing to lose by such bold tactics as they employed.

The first series, War Picture Library, started in October 1958 with Fight Back To Dunkirk as Issue No.1 – an odd choice considering the story told was centred on the first major defeat of the second world war for the allied forces. Stories were published initially at 2 per month and were spread across the armed forces with tales of the RAF, royal navy and army, primarily against the Germans and Japanese. Less than 2 years later it was decided to give the RAF their own series of comic books so Air Ace Picture Library commenced with Target Top Secret in March 1960. It lasted until issue 545 in 1970 when it was incorporated into War Picture Library. In January 1961 Battle Picture Library was launched. This series concentrated solely on the various armed conflicts on land and ran for 1709 issues although almost all those after issue 450 were reprints of earlier stories. The royal navy was given similar treatment with the introduction of War At Sea Picture Library in February 1962 but strangely this series continued for only a mere 36 issues before being incorporated back into War Picture Library. The War, Air Ace and Battle series continued throughout the 1960s until 1969 when they started to reprint earlier stories, the few new stories printed tended to be rather poorly drawn and children began to take an interest in more fantastic tales as Doctor Who, Star Trek and a new era replaced the trenchantly ‘boys own’ mien of innocence and generally simple heroes. By 1970 these comics were old hat and you could pick up most of the earlier issues in junk shops for 5p or less even though the grand-dad of them all, War Picture Library, soldiered on until 1984. That’s how I gradually collected all the early issues that were published before I was born. By 1973 I had most of the first 300 of the 3 main series plus most of the War At Sea series. As an aside, a copy of Air Ace No.1 was recently sold on e-bay for £97.23p!

Seriously, forget Commando or any of those lesser comics that were only read by pussies anyway. The Fleetway comics shared certain attributes which, in retrospect, I realise now, definitely aided and abetted my education where school invariably failed. At school, the teachers managed, with formidable success, to destroy any interest I might have had in geography, history, English and science. Thanks to Mr Weston, one of the few decent teachers I have ever met, I maintained a fascination for and interest in mathematics that has remained to this day even though it was usually futile for me to attempt any calculation beyond long division. That old adage that ‘you like the subjects you’re good at and hate the subjects you’re bad at’ is simply not true. I retain a passion for mathematics despite being crap at it. Comics are not generally regarded as educational – but these marvellous little books most certainly were. You see, I soon realised that when I read these magnificent little war stories, I wanted to know where to find Anzio and Salerno since these were the places where the allied forces finally turned the tide against the nazi occupation of Europe. I knew where Normandy was, of course, but that was too easy, I wanted to know more. When the 8th Army finally confronted the Afrika Korps at Tobruk, I wanted to see where it was on the map. The desperate defence of Crete, the air battle over Malta and the incessant struggle against those snot nosed slant eyed yellow devils in the far east throughout Burma, the Philippines and southern China, all provoked an increasing desire for bigger and better maps so I could locate these places. I was learning geography and I didn’t even realise it.

The Fleetway comics also maintained a fairly rigorous attention to detail: most (but not all) of the stories were fictional but every historical battle occurred with the correct dates and locations given. The major characters (political and military leaders) were genuine and accurately portrayed. Such arcane facts as, for example, Tiger tanks not being used by the Germans in the desert campaign until 1943, were common. When ships, aircraft and other hardware appeared, they were placed in their respective areas of conflict in the correct battles and during the appropriate campaigns. The fuel injection systems of aircraft, different modes of acceleration, the importance of air turbulence and so on were explained in considerable detail in the Air Ace comics. How to triumph over the adversity encountered in various difficult terrains is frequently described. My subsequent interest in physics and geology can thus be traced directly to these comics as a result. The text appeared in two forms: narrative in rectangular boxes at the top of each frame and dialogue in speech bubbles. The narrative frequently used words unfamiliar to me which meant I soon developed the habit of looking them up in a small dictionary I acquired (oh all right, stole) from school. I was improving my grasp of English despite being blissfully unaware of the fact at the time.

Finally, while I’ve never been interested in art for itself (other than as part of social trends, i.e. the explosion of the futurists in pre-war Italy or the advent of abstract expressionism in post-war America), if someone wants to draw a Hawker Hurricane, a Junkers 88 and a Messerschmitt 109 then show the difference between them; if someone seeks to depict a destroyer, a corvette and a pocket battleship and render them recognisable as such; if someone decides to portray a Sherman, a Tiger and a Panzer while retaining the individuality of these 3 tanks, these comics will provide sufficient detail and accuracy to provide any art student with the means to do so. The best comics pay as much attention to the backgrounds as the central characters. Cheap and nasty affairs portraying a story set in Burma will present generic ‘jungle foliage’ that could be any vaguely exotic plants anywhere. The Fleetway artists generally depicted such jungle terrain with faithful accuracy such that a botanist might even tell where the story occurs just from a study of the flora alone. Some of the frames are quite staggering and cinematic. This is why I never had any interest in and absolutely no respect for all those dreadful Marvel comics published in America by D.C. or whatever they were called. Besides, Batman and the Hulk were obviously sexual deviants and I wanted none of that kind of behaviour in my bedroom if you don’t mind.

Certain artists exhibited a clearly recognisable style, not only in their art but often in the kind of stories they wrote. Unlike comics elsewhere, the artists in Fleetway comics tended to provide the story text also. Unfortunately the names of the artists were never credited and this is my one serious complaint about these booklets. In fact, one of my favourite tasks was to group together comics by artist and then see if I could recognise his style elsewhere. Certain artists must surely have served in particular armed forces for some of them tend to favour, say air force or naval stories rather than others. I recognised the style used in a daily cartoon strip of James Bond in the Daily Express (the formidable Czechoslovakian artist Yaroslav Horak) as one of the Fleetway artists. One of lads at school showed me his Hotspur annual (or it may have been Lion or Valiant, I’m not certain) and there was this tatty old football story featuring one of my favourite artists (Jorge Macabich) from the war comics.

Diligent research during the first month of 2007 finally unearthed some names – and nearly all were Italian or Latin American. I admit I have heard of none of them but perhaps avid comic collectors out there may recognise one or two? Victor De La Fuente it turns out was one of the most prolific artists although he concentrated almost exclusively on land battles (i.e. British army). To date I’ve not encountered a navy or air force story by him. His style is highly recognisable and sometimes obviously imitated although, to be honest, I can’t understand why since it is rather cartoon like and occasionally clumsy. Fred Holmes was one of the earliest artists to be involved and although I’ve not encountered an Air Ace story by him, he wrote a fair few air force stories for War Picture Library in their early days as well as a few navy sagas. His work also appeared in colour when he drew the Dan Dare strip for Eagle comic in its early days. Nobody can mistake his rather eccentric style that is immediately recognisable anywhere.

Solano Lopez is one of the most prolific artists to work on Fleetway war comics. Known primarily for his air force stories (he wrote and drew many of his finest stories for the Air Ace series, including the very first issue), he also tried his hand (with equal success) at both naval and army stories, all of which were highly original with character development and intelligence not normally associated with childrens’ comics. The sheer breadth of his interests is indicated by comparing 2 comics. Man Of Destiny is a humorous farce centred upon a fat Italian mayor who is, against his will, caught up in the conflict for his little town by the British and German paratroop forces. No Escape on the other hand is a grim tale of 3 sailors stranded at sea, a young idealistic naval officer, a cynical veteran naval N.C.O. and a German u-boat rating. The friendship that forms between the British officer and the German sailor is savagely ruined when the trio find a small island in the Atlantic and discover there a hidden German submarine base.

Consider this: these are British war stories, often bristling with patriotism…now look at the names of the other artists responsible for the majority of the comics: Nevio Zeccarra, Renzo Calegari, Roberto Diso, Jose Bielsa, Aurelio Bevia, Annibale Casabianca, Vittorio Cossio, Gino D’Antonio, Luis Bermejo, Leopold Duranona, Ferdinando Tacconi, Kurt Caesar, Ian Kennedy, Hugo Pratt, E Scott and John Severin. Do you notice a theme arising here? How was it that the vast majority of Fleetway artists were Latin American, Spanish and Italian? I have absolutely no idea. None of these names mean anything to me but maybe a few real anorak types out there might have heard of some of these artists. Ugolini (the theme continues) in particular is especially memorable not only for his highly individual style but his often unusual stories, such as Brute Force which is actually 4 short stories linked only by a central character – a tank called C13.

I have reserved 4 other names until last because they are (after Horak) my own personal favourites for their highly individual styles, magnificent clarity and frequently unusual and original stories. Aldoma Puig has the most extreme style, almost cinematic in content. In Jaws Of Hell, a lorry driver who was constantly bullied by his boss becomes a captain who takes over a platoon led by a cowardly lieutenant who was the same erstwhile boss who had made his working life a misery. At the end of the story, rather than the noble rapprochement we expect (many such stories opt for the ‘once enemies, now friends united against a common foe’ cliché), there is only the barest hint of a grudging respect shown by the embittered lieutenant towards the ex-employee. On The Warpath, while over the top as a romanticised idealisation of a native American unit fighting in Europe against the Germans, is typical of his trenchant, violent style. Harry Farrugia is a complete contrast. He has the most clean, finely crafted style of all the artists involved and must surely have been a sailor and worked on ships because almost all his stories are naval adventures and he draws clippers, corvettes, cruisers, destroyers and carriers with such obvious devotion to detail and accuracy. His stories are consistent not only in their narrative content but in their visual style. I have yet to see a single character drawn clumsily. This is craftsmanship at its very best and any art critic who still maintains that comics don’t count as ‘real art’ deserves to have his eyes gouged out with a Stanley knife. One frame by Mr Farrugia is worth more than any truncated nonsense slapped onto canvas by Kandinsky, Klee, Matisse, Miro, Picarsehole or any of those pompous, grossly over-rated rat-bags.

The artist who is better known for his weekly football strip is Jorge Macabich who manages to combine an extreme cartoon style with a fine art attitude towards his landscapes, skies, seas, vehicles and buildings. Again, all his stories are unusual and highly imaginative. No Higher Stakes: a Japanese officer and an English officer, both chess fanatics, play a game for high stakes indeed: the freedom of all the English and Indian P.O.W.s or the ritual suicide of the Jap depending on who wins. War Drums: a jazz band are called up into the services but the trumpet player claims to be a conscientious objector so is accused of being a coward by all his band mates – then later rescues them from the battlefield since he has joined the ambulance corps. I could go on but you have the general drift. Finally, the doyen of all Fleetway comic artists must be Jorge Moliterni whose series of stories commenced with Battle Library No.23 in 1961 and continued throughout the rest of the decade, each one resplendent in depiction of characters, attention to detail, light and shade. Day Of Wrath tells of an Irish boy who witnesses the brutal murder of his father and swears he will never take the life of another human being – then he’s drafted into the army after the Nazis invade Poland. Again, he effects a compromise by joining the medical corps but ultimately is forced to machine gun a German spandau emplacement that is about the slaughter the rest of his unit which is at rest and blissfully ignorant of their impending doom. It is a particularly harrowing tale but typical of his stories which often contain very tortured relationships between central characters. Another frequent hallmark of Moliterni is his penchant for drawing anything up to 25 tiny figures all engaged in conflict. His battle scenes always look horrific and extremely unpleasant. There’s scant glory and no romance in his war stories – they are brutal, cold and grim. This, of course, is how war should be portrayed.

By 1962 each of the 4 main series published 4 comics each month. That’s 192 comics each year. If each 64 page comic features an average of 2 frames per page, that’s 128 frames per comic. Therefore in the 192 comics published in a year there’ll be an average of 24,576 separate frames, that is to say individual drawings. (See? The comics even helped me with my mathematics as well.) The high standard of art that prevails in most of these comics (there are occasional infrequent lapses) combined with the generally high quality of the stories perhaps explains why they are now highly sought collectors items today. I’m glad I kept all mine! If any of this has made you curious for further information, check out a website run by Steve Holland whose book, due out in August, provides a long overdue appreciation of these marvellous little comic books. He also took time from his busy schedule to provide me with many of the artist names included above and for that I am most grateful.


I find most poetry boring (apart from some W H Auden and Gaston Salvatore but the latter must be in German) and I’m not a particular fan of fiction. I do have a large number of fiction books but they are mainly in one genre (science fiction) and by a small number of authors: John Wyndham, Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Michael Moorcock, Fred Hoyle, Angus MacVicar and Patrick Moore. Do we include the Harry Potter books of J K Rowling? Fair enough. I also have the collected works of J R R Tolkien but then I’d be a feeble white patriot if I did not. Perhaps out of a sense of perversity I also have a reasonable collection of books by William Burroughs, just to prove I’m not a total Tory.

Despite Patrick Moore being a boyhood hero, my first memory of reading (and actually finishing) a book is the truly wonderful Red Fire On The Lost Planet (1959) by Angus MacVicar. At our junior school we were invited to join The Tufty Club. Tufty was this diabolical cartoon squirrel who could read books and just to look at him, you knew he voted Tory, listened to Radio 4 and thought Alistair Cook was our greatest export. His foul grinning features adorned a weekly leaflet our teacher would hand out to the class and we were urged to choose a book from the list. Well, at 2/6 I felt cheated – I could buy two and a half war comics for that! Sorry, for younger readers that’s two shillings and sixpence. We were told it was 12 ½ ‘new pence’ but the books had 2/6 marked on the front covers (oh for the days when items were sold with the price marked on them so these damned foreigners in local shops couldn’t simply charge what the hell they liked). Anyway, there were just 4 science fiction books amid all the horse and cowboy crap so I chose one of those, virtually at random. As a result of that superb little book (with social stereotypes on every page, I was in heaven) I bought the other MacVicar book and, later in life, hunted down any childrens story written by the fellow. Odd how his name is MacVicar for he was, as it happened, the son of a vicar. In Scots, the prefix ‘mac’ means ‘son of’. Most odd.

When I bought Planet Of Fire (1969) by Patrick Moore, I suddenly realised that here was an author even better than MacVicar (ah, the naïve confidence of youth). The advantage of this novel is that young teenager Barry Nolan (the main character) is not the archetypal middle class boy every school and parent would love their child to be – he is wild, surly and on the run from a childrens’ home. By the end of the decade I had most of the novels for children he had written (at least, all those I could find – a few still elude me to this day) and by then, because I had started to read other books (both for children and adult fiction) I realised that writing for children is actually far more difficult than writing for adults. Provided there’s a surfeit of sex, violence and clichés, you can churn out virtually any old pap for adults and they’ll read the stuff. Children are not so easily fooled. If you start preaching to them or, worse still, make it obvious you’re teaching them, they’ll see through the ruse and fling the book into the sunken wastes of Mictlan.

I wonder how it is that when we’re children we’ll accept any disgusting bollocks our parents and teachers tell us (at least for a while) yet we are rarely fooled by fake writers. I call such writers the trendy vicar brigade. You know the type, the local town parson who rides a motorcycle and wears a leather jacket to prove he’s cool and down with the kids, man, you know? If a writer is a neo-fascist (i.e. Ezra Pound or George Orwell) then I want him to be open and honest about it, which is why I have far more respect for Pound than that condescending, patronising old bore Orwell. Marge Piercy (for example) never disguises the fact that she’s a rampant feminist with Marxist ideals. That doesn’t stop Woman On The Edge Of Time from being a damn good read. Perhaps it is because we are unaccustomed to guile and sophistry so we take the text at face value. We don’t look for hidden meanings and metaphor. Then again maybe it’s part of an ancient survival extinct, akin to the ability of very young babies to hang onto a branch or a horizontal pole with its hands – below a certain age we are hyper-aware of such deceit in order evade capture by hostile tribes and so forth. I don’t know, I’m sure – but it’s a skill we can either retain or regain provided we are first aware that we have it or have had it. As an aside, this is why I am rarely fooled by modern art and avant garde music: I am the 40 year old boy who can still see when the emperor wears no clothes. 

Proper science fiction need not sacrifice character development in favour of technological gadgetry. I ask only that there be more science than fiction and, please, an absence of bug eyed monsters. We need no silly romances or galactic empire rubbish, either. A top hole SF tale constructs a convincing scientific dilemma and an equally convincing scientific solution to it as the basis for the story – but the solution need not actually work, of course. Happy endings (or indeed any ‘endings’) are not essential. In earlier times this was known as ‘hard science fiction’ although I’m not sure why. I find it easy to enjoy a finely crafted scientific mystery, for example, but very hard to tolerate a tale of 90th century spaceships firing super-neutronic something or other at reptilian jellies from Zorg. Two superb examples of all that is excellent in the genre are A Fall Of Moondust (1961) by Arthur C Clarke (possibly the best ‘hard’ science fiction story ever written) and The Black Cloud (1957) by Fred Hoyle (which could, with a stretch of the imagination, be accused of including a B.E.M. but since the offender is a gigantic molecular cloud which happens to be sentient and devoid of any malice whatsoever, he can be forgiven). Possibly the best (certainly most intelligent) science fiction novel of all time (to date) has to be The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) by John Wyndham. In fact, virtually any of his novels written after 1950 could be sent into space to be picked up by aliens as an example of superlative writing by an Earthman. There was a fairly decent film adaptation (renamed Village Of The Damned) made in 1963. If you are under 30 years old and reading this then you won’t have an attention span long enough to cope with a full length novel so instead read his short story Child Of Power (1939) to appreciate the power of his writing.

I spent far too much time during the 1990s reading ‘the great classics’ because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. My first acute disappointment was Charles Dickens: preposterous coincidences occur with alarming frequency in order to allow characters to meet and feeble plots to function; all the heroes and heroines have to be wealthy aristocratic types or landed middle classes at the very least (in both Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, for example, the central characters, after apparently being poor orphans or working class scum-bags, are revealed to be descended from the gentry at the conclusion of the books) because 19th century philanthropy required exploited working class people to be victims in order that their own status of wealth and privilege be preserved; middle class reforms require only more charity to be granted to the poor wretches who are then expected to express their gratitude accordingly whereas genuine working class revolution would probably threaten the system that allowed such wealthy middle class philanthropists to bestow their charity and that would be utterly repugnant to the Victorian wasters who read such trash.

I was then on my guard. I did the obligatory Percy Shelley, William Blake and John Milton because these are names that cultured people tend to quote when they seek to impress other equally vacuous folk. Well, there were a few decent couplets in Shelley. His Ode To The West Wind is just about tolerable. Most of the rest is pure pish. Milton wrote nothing special and the whole of Paradise Lost contains barely 5 or 6 lines worth memorising, although I’ve since forgotten all but 1 – it is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven – and, fair enough, I’ve used that in conversation since (as one would). Blake has to be the most over-rated, boring, tedious old fart it has ever been my displeasure to encounter. What a tiresome of wind-bag! I read his collected poetry because Jacob Bronowski rated Blake as his favourite poet. Forget it, it’s nothing but a pile of pretentious drivel from start to finish. Thanks to the music of Henry Purcell I did discover John Dryden, a poet for whom I have considerable sympathy, if only because I can actually enjoy many of his pieces, despite having little in common with him politically…but be fair, he was writing in the second half of the 17th century. I was even inspired to write a monograph on Dryden in 2002 in celebration of the 300th anniversary of his death. With these wild, woolly 19th century romantic bards, it’s all so much nebulous waffle – there’s no strength, no substance and no discipline. Nothing bloody well happens. With Dryden, you know where you are and there’s a recognisable technique. I admit that often the nuts and bolts are showing in places where he’s hammered his couplets into place, but at least his works express something concrete and approachable rather than all that airy fairy nonsense Blake, Byron, Shelley and their peers spew out with incessant prolixity.

As an aside, Resonance persuaded some actor to recite the entire collected works of Blake in a series of weekly programmes throughout 2006 and 2007 and I’ve deliberately listened to them (whilst doing something of value in the meantime, of course) in order to confirm or refute my earlier assertion. Well, I was right first time: he really is a boring, tedious, tiresome old wind-bag with nothing much to say and a truly wretched way to say it. Could I do better? Yes I damn well could…and I have…so don’t even think about trying that one on me, boys. Remember: honesty is the most important social attribute of all – so if you can fake that, you’re more likely to succeed!

Finally, at a concert we performed at Chats Palace near Homerton Hospital on May 13th, Chris Low gave me a book – Antifascist (2006) by Martin Lux.  The simple, direct and utterly unequivocal title of his book displays more eloquence than any amount of middle class white Marxist twaddle peddled by such sick jokes as the SWP (known now as the Social Workers Party) and its contents are a damn sight more relevant to the struggle today than all the contrived waffle stuffed inside the cover of any Crass record. If only this marvellous little tome had been published in 1983 when all those pathetic, wretched black clad youths sacrificed their scant revolutionary beliefs at the altar of a hippy band from Epping whose most trenchant statement was ‘fight war not wars’. That was it, that was the most angry they could possibly dare to be without risking their woeful pacifist philosophy of which I was merely very suspicious back then but which I now hold in utter contempt and derision today. MESSAGE TO CRASS: WHEN THE PEOPLE YOU REGARDED AS LEFT WING THUGS CAME AND TROUNCED THE BRITISH MOVEMENT FASCISTS AT YOUR GIG AT CONWAY HALL, MANY ORDINARY INNOCENT PEOPLE, MOST OF WHOM WERE FANS OF YOURS, WERE RESCUED FROM BEING BATTERED, BRUISED AND BULLIED BY PEOPLE WHO FOLLOW THE SAME CREED BY GRANFATHER FOUGHT AGAINST IN 1945. REMIND US AGAIN, JUST WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO TO STOP IT? WHAT WAS YOUR RESPONSE? TO CRITICISE THE PEOPLE WHO CAME TO THE VENUE AND STOPPED PEOPLE LIKE ME BEING BRUTALLY BEATEN BY NEO-NAZI SCUM.

Understand this, all you trendy types wallowing in nostalgia for the 1980s and the anarcho-punk pantomime. I know from personal experience how it feels to be on the receiving end of neo-nazi violence – when my home was gutted by fire from  petrol bombs lobbed through the front window by neo-nazi cowards in 1984 – when 4 members of a wretched little motorcycle gang barged into Daves’ flat, shoved on a cassette of Wehrmacht marching songs and attacked me with a pick-axe handle in 1985. How do you expect me to react when a bunch of white middle class hippies tell me, from the safety of their Epping commune, that ‘left wing, right wing, it’s all the effing same’? Bollocks is it – wake up! How many times have I been beaten up, assaulted and had my home attacked by communists? None. How many times have our non-white band members been threatened with violence and called Chinks and Gooks by Marxist audience members? None. Welcome to the real world, chaps. Yes, the SWP are a sad joke. Yes, Marxists have the blood of Jews and homosexuals on their hands. Yes, we are aware of Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, Cambodia 1975 and Tian An Men Square 1989. Meanwhile, on the council estates and housing schemes, gangs of vicious drugged up teenagers try to make life a misery for local residents. Do the police stop them? No. Do we stop them? Yes. How? We mobilised with the local tenants, battered seven bells out of their leaders and threatened the others with hospitalisation should any further antisocial behaviour occur. Did it work? Yes.

Why is it now virtually impossible any longer for the BNP to assault innocent Pakistani people in Bradford? Because a couple of years ago they tried it and large groups of Pakistanis mobilised their forces against these neo-nazi rat-bags and hospitalised the bastards, that’s why. That’s why it’s now safe for Asians to walk the streets of Bradford and other northern towns. These Pakistanis didn’t say ‘fight war not wars’. They didn’t quote from Ghandi. They didn’t go and see a poxy punk band. They fought back – hard. That’s the only language neo-nazi cowards understand and respect. ANTIFASCIST by MARTIN LUX published by Phoenix Press, PO Box 824, London N19DL. It’s only £5.95 – so buy it and clear that old fashioned anarcho-punk crap from your heads.

Radio – Before Resonance

My relationship with government sponsored radio started in 1969 when I discovered Radio 3 and ended in 2004 when I discovered Resonance. From September 2004 until today, Resonance 104.4 FM is the only radio station I listen to with 1 exception: I turn over to Radio 4 long wave to hear the commentary on Test Match Special when important cricket matches are being played. (Yes, I know, the phrase ‘important cricket matches’ is an oxymoron at the very least, if not a blatant lie, but I defend this impertinence on the grounds of artistic license. 


I still can’t quite remember how and why I began to listen to the radio each morning before I went to that daily living hell which was school. I’d sneak into my parents bedroom in the morning (my parents never bothered to wake up and prepare breakfast, that was only for normal households, so I always had to take care of all that myself). I’d then spirit away the Bush radio, take it to the kitchen and tune it Radio 3. Maybe it was still called the Third Programme in those days, as opposed to the Light Programme – Radio 2, favoured by my culturally vacant parents – or the Home Service, what we now know as Radio 4, which only rich old people bothered with because they were too senile to know any better. From 7am until 9am there was the Morning Concert, generally short works, often from the baroque period, bisected by a news report at 8am. How did I know Radio 3 existed? How did I know where to find Radio 3 on the dial? I can’t answer either question. My culturally vacant parents never listened to it. I knew nothing about classical music but I soon learned to love it. By 1970 I had acquired a personal set of social signifiers that certainly separated me from my peers. They still thought Deep Purple, ELP and Fleetwood Mac were cool, the saps. None of them knew about the real joy to be experienced from Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Jean Baptiste Lully, Marc Antoine Charpentier, Henry Purcell or the sheer brazen exhilaration derived from even a cursory encounter with Paul Hindemith, Sergei Prokofiev, Gustav Holst or, mightiest of them all, Jean Sibelius. My theory is that I might have asked someone the name of the theme music to The Sky At Night (At The Castle Gate (1906) by Jean Sibelius) which possibly motivated to investigate further. Until then my favourite piece of music was the Doctor Who theme.

It was through Radio 3 that I discovered the annual Promenade Concerts held each summer. It was in the early 1970s that first heard the Symphony No.5 (1915) by Jean Sibelius. I was proud of my concentration, being able to lay on my bed for well over an hour and listen to superlative music. I remember then being utterly astounded when I looked at the clock to discover that barely 35 minutes had elapsed. How could so much happen in so short a time? By sheer chance my grandmother bought me what I still believe to be the best recording of it ever made (The BBC Symphony Orchestra under Malcolm Sargent) and that clocks in at little over 29 minutes. It still sounds far longer. This is what Robert Simpson meant when he talked of the concise, compact nature of most Sibelius works written after 1900. If someone like Bruckner or (heaven help us) Mahler had tried to include all the musical arguments and drama in that symphony, they’d have still been writing it now. That’s the trouble with so many of these 19th century types: take away all the padding from one of their hour long slabs of histrionic nonsense and you’re left with barely 15 minutes of actual substance worth keeping.

 Jean Sibelius single handed put Finland on the international musical map. I should know – I have virtually every choral work and every orchestral piece he wrote, at least that has been recorded. We all know that his symphonies (at least from No.4 onwards) are superb but his series of patriotic cantatas, such as The Ice Break On Oulu River (1900), The Origin Of Fire (1910) and Our Native Land (1918), deserve far wider recognition as do his orchestral songs and the tone poems The Wood Nymph (1894) and The Bard (1914) which tend to be overlooked due to the popularity of Finlandia (1899), En Saga (1901) and Tapiola (1926). He can sound larger and more dramatic with a small string ensemble and double woodwind than any of those preposterously bloated battalions of brass, wind, percussion, strings and a wind machine or two favoured by such tedious old wind-bags as Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler or such absolute nonentities as Richard ‘More Tubas’ Strauss. This is the man who wrote the Sinfonia Domestica. Well honestly, I ask you, who can take seriously a man who requires a 130 piece orchestra to depict his wife doing the washing up? As far as I’m concerned, there is Jean Sibelius and then there is everyone else.

 When I discovered Gustav Holst it was due to a little known masterpiece called Lyric Movement (1933) – never mind about the Planets and all that stuff, in this 8 minute gem, all he requires is a solo viola (that much neglected member of the string family) backed by a small string ensemble plus clarinet, flute, oboe and bassoon – no blaring brass and no battery of percussion is required for this sublime contemplation of stillness. Sadly, most British composers of this era did not possess the discipline nor the crystal clarity of Holst. Bax? Tedious waffle. Vaughan Williams? Cow pats and hay stacks. Elgar? The sound of British colonialism at play. Consider British composers circa 1990 to 1950 – the majority of these doddery old fuck-wits constitute one big yawn from start to finish. Tim in Harold Moores once told me that the whole ‘British Music’ section of the shop should be exposed to a large explosive device to make way for all the good stuff.

 It was Radio 3 that introduced me to Music In Our Time, a weekly survey of what was then contemporary music. That is how I discovered Roberto Gerhard, Luigi Nono, Luciano Berio, Iannis Xenakis, Hans Werner Henze and all those crazy Japanese composers, the best of whom has to be Akira Miyoshi. I don’t pretend that I understood most of it. An art teacher, Mr Mastrand, at our school a couple of years later tried to explain to me the raison d’étre behind such music and art. It was through him I discovered Mark Rothko, Jasper Johns and Jackson Pollock, for example but I still find the Italian futurists produced the only kind of high art that I can tolerate because it includes movement as an integral aspect of its function. He played Arcana (1927) by Edgar Varese in class one afternoon followed by Sinfonia (1968) by Luciano Berio and it was those two pieces of music, together with the Concerto For Orchestra (1964) by Akia Miyoshi that I discovered on BBC2 during one of their Promenade Concert relay broadcasts, which inspired me to enter the 20th century and which motivated me to investigate the second Viennese school, Darmstadt and all that followed (for better and, usually, for worse).

 I spent far too many hours indulging in pompous, pretentious aural wallpaper before I realised that the whole period from 1955 to 1975 produced only a tiny fraction of valid and vital works from out of the plethora of sonic doodles that Radio 3 thought we should hear. To make matters worse, genuine composers active in Britain at the time (Alan Bush, Robert Simpson, Gordon Jacob, Malcolm Arnold and Havergal Brian) were virtually ignored because they had the audacity to compose music that dared to include those 3 enemies of the avant garde: melody, harmony and rhythm. I recall with joy a remark made by Holst in one of his essays to the effect that the 2 most important tools for a composer are a pencil and an eraser, the latter for the removal of every note that isn’t strictly necessary. Imagine if that dictum was rigorously applied to all the truncated drivel spewed out by Boulez, Stockhausen and most other avant garde nonentities of the 1960s – there’d be virtually nothing left on the manuscript paper!

 When William Glock, controller of music for Radio 3 during this period, thrust all this noisome garbage at us for 2 decades, it made us all the more grateful for those rare boats of beauty on this ocean of cacophony. The epitome of this is the work of scholar and composer Robert Simpson. He drew the attention of the public the work of Danish composer Carl Nielsen (who even in the 1950s was virtually unknown in Britain) and rescued from oblivion the mighty works of Havergal Brian. He also wrote the best string quartets (15) and symphonies (11) I’ve ever heard by anyone as well as a truly superb flute concerto that I would rate as equal to that by Carl Nielsen. I cannot pick out individual pieces – well, I could cite the Symphony No.9 (1987) of course but to do so is churlish – for every work is vital. I can think of not one work (and I’ve heard them all, mate) that is clumsy, second rate or uninspired. When he set pen to paper, if it wasn’t superb, it went in the bin. This is the man who wrote 3 whole, full length symphonies (in full score) in the late 1940s then decided, on second thoughts, that they didn’t make the grade – so he consequently set fire to the lot! In the final years of his life (he died in 1997) he started corresponding with me and I still have his letters.

 So are there no examples of the avant garde period worth keeping at all? Actually, to be fair, yes, there are a few. The Raft Of The Medusa (1968) by Hans Werner Henze for speaker, soprano, boys choir, mixed choir and orchestra, is a gigantic oratorio on a text by Dieter Schnebel which relates the disgusting tale of how a small raft of survivors (naval ratings and ordinary seamen) from a shipwreck was cut adrift from the main flotilla of lifeboats by the officers and dignitaries who sought to improve their own chance of survival at the expense of the lower ranks. Collage (1960) by Roberto Gerhard for orchestra and magnetic tape, is a 20 minute exploration of the uneasy co-existence between humanity and technology in a society that had only recently discovered computers and was often alienated by the concept. Symphony No.1 (1953) by Humphrey Searle proves that serial music can be far more emotionally vibrant and exciting than any of that late romantic tosh churned out by Richard Strauss, for example. Searle is one of those British composers who were completely forgotten and overlooked (along with Elizabeth Lutyens) during the nations’ brief flirtation with all the squeaks, snaps, crackles and pops to emanate from Europe during the 1960s. My favourite choral work is the mighty Requiem For A Young Poet (1969) by Bernd Alois Zimmermann, for speakers, soloists, choir, jazz group, orchestra and tape. This has everything in it! It sounds to me like a damning indictment of all that is violent, brutal and hypocritical in the 1960s. Stars End (1974) by David Bedford is the first and to date only completely successful marriage of electric guitars and full orchestra composed by anyone that I’ve ever heard.

 Is there no contemporary music written by living composers that merits attention? No, not much. There is that bizarre and vituperative attack on monarchism called God Save The Queen (2002) by Gerald Barry for boys choir and small orchestra that deserves a wider audience but probably won’t receive one due to its political content. Barry is an Irish composer I was introduced to courtesy of a radio programme called Dead & Alive on Resonance presented by Tim and Josh who also work at Harold Moores Records (see below in the Radio – After Resonance section). He has composed other music also worthy of investigation and is one of the very few living composers writing anything even remotely interesting today. James Dillon is another composer who often has something interesting of value and worth to say, best exemplified in Ignis Noster (1992) which means ‘our fire’. Dillon is Scottish and has his origins in rock music although mercifully you’d never suspect this from his works. I interviewed him (with astronomer Pete Williams) at his home in Queens Park back in 1997 when I produced Smile magazine. There is tension in his intervals and drama in his music, despite the advanced idiom used. The rest are all so many bourgeois white middle class spoilt brats who’ve left the Royal Academy of Music with top marks and no personality whatsoever.

 However, to this day, there are still certain composers I despise and detest – if their disgusting racket starts to emanate from the Radio, I have to turn it off. Hector Berlioz, Johann Strauss, Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky form the most loathsome quintet imaginable. Their music is so simply so annoying, so irritating, that even to have it warbling away in the background is offensive to me. They exhibit no redeeming qualities at all. Those grim, pompous fools who I dislike intensely such as Giuseppe Verdi and Gustav Mahler, even they I do not actually find offensive – I can tolerate them at least, Verdi for his patriotic stand against the Austro-Hungarian empire and Mahler for his occasionally interesting ventures into advanced harmony. Would I rather be forced to listen to punk rock or Wagner and Strauss? That’s like asking me if I’d rather have my testicles impaled on barbed wire or my toes shredded through a cheese grater.

 The main reason music interests me but art does not is because art is static, it doesn’t move, it doesn’t go anywhere. Films are what I use for a visual medium instead of art – they can be paintings that move when they’re done well. You can keep a piece of old tat like Guernica by Picasso (whom I shall forever think of as Picarsehole because, as Peter Cook so astutely observed, he ‘takes shit from peoples arses, shoves it onto canvas and sells it to other cunts’) and even Jackson Pollock, while initially interesting, soon becomes so much ephemeral twaddle after a while. I’ve seen equally intriguing work in the mess left behind after a toddlers playgroup. I rate (for example) Videovoid (1993) by a group of French and English film students as a far more interesting and disturbing work – this is art that moves!


 Test Match Special. The only sport for which I ever developed a serious interest was cricket, not because I could play it then (I couldn’t play any sports due to my disability) but because it was beyond doubt the most ludicrously silly game I had ever encountered. It was wonderful! I never understood either the terms used or the rules until I started to play the game nearly 30 years later. (I played my first serious club game in 2001.) I found by sheer chance that Radio 3 medium wave (when Radio 3 was actually broadcast on medium wave) carried full coverage of the test matches. This would have been sometime in the early 1970s because I can recall listening to matches before Ian Botham came on the scene. My earliest memory of Test Match Special is Brian Johnston moaning to (I think) Don Mosey about the excessively slow run rate (and subsequent high boredom rate) of Geoff Boycott and Chris Tavare. Maybe that’s what motivated me to become a bowler all those years later?

 Poet Ian MacMillian once described cricket commentary on Test Match Special as ‘posh people telling you interesting things.’ In any case, I discovered the English class system, snobbery, hypocrisy and colonial values through cricket (albeit indirectly) which led me to become a fervent supporter of Australia by 1984 and I have remained loyal to them ever since. How could I not when their captain was Ian Chappell, one of the best role models I ever had? It was he alone (well, with assistance from an abrupt change in attitude by Alan Border in the 1980s) who wrenched the Aussies into the 21st century (30 years in advance of the end of the 20th) and helped the game evolve into its modern form with a hard, competitive attitude that resulted in Australia being the best team in the world for 2 decades, a situation that remains unaltered to this day. With a recent history of teams that include such superb performers as wicket-keeper Ian Healy, batsmen David Boon, Alan Border and Ricky Ponting, bowlers Dennis Lillee, Merv Hughes, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, why bother with the ‘also-ran’ players of lesser nations?

 True, India gave us spin bowler Bishan Bedi and Kapil Dev who is one of the greatest all rounders the world has ever seen, for which we should forever be grateful. Sachin Tendulkar never did live up to his early promise. Sri Lanka are strong as a result of everyone in their team being fairly strong and solid rather than there being any one or two outstanding individuals (which is probably the ideal state of affairs for really successful team). Forget Muttiah Muralitheran, he’s just a chucker. If I wasn’t allowed to continue my allegiance to Australia then I would support Pakistan, if only because they irritate Beefy Botham so much. They also produced 2 of my all time favourite fast pace bowlers, right armer Waqar Younis (352 Test wickets at an average of 22.65) and left armer Wasim Akram (414 Test wickets at an average of 23.62). Amusingly, their intense dislike of each other meant that crafty captains would try to ensure they bowled together – their rabid sense of competition generally resulted in each of them trying to do better than the other and thus the only losers were usually whatever team they were playing against at the time. Their current star attraction, fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar, I also admire because he possesses that rare quality – being able to combine speed with accuracy.

Well, I really should be fair and mention Gary Sobers (West Indies) who is still (probably) the greatest cricketer there has ever been. How do I come to that conclusion? Simply because he was excellent at batting, bowling and fielding; one has the distinct impression if there was any way he could have kept wicket to his own bowling he’d have done so. The formidable battalion of fast bowlers from the West Indies that continued to dominate the world game for 2 decades also deserves recognition. The mere mention of the names Andy Patterson, Sylvester Clarke, Colin Croft, Joel Garner, Curtley Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and whispering death himself, the mighty Malcolm Marshall, would turn many seasoned batsman into quivering jellies and rightly so. Finally, when I think of West Indies batsmen, there’s one name that comes to mind – Vivian Richards – then there’s everyone else. Ian Botham once accurately described the futility of most bowlers trying their best to confront this magnificent player who never wore a helmet: ‘then Viv Richards took guard…it was like bowling at God.’

 Of course, being raised in England (and being denied a passport so I can’t even escape if I want to) means that I could hardly avoid being entertained by England players over the past 3 decades. Of these, certain names I hold in affection and not always because they are brilliant players: batsmen Brian Close, David Gower, Mike Gatting (a fellow Doctor Who fan), Graham Gooch, Alan Lamb and Nasser Hussein, wicket-keepers Alan Knott and Jack Russell, bowlers John Snow, Bob Willis, Phil Edmonds, John Emburey, Devon Malcolm, Phil Tufnell and Mudhsaden Panesar and of course the magnificent all rounder Ian Botham. Unfortunately there are also scoundrels like Peter Roebuck, Ray Illingworth and Geoff Boycott who were fine cricketers but crap people.

 If you’d like to discover why I am unwilling to support the cricket team of my adopted land, I strongly recommend you read Anyone But England by Mike Marqusee (1998), an American socialist and cricket lover (all manner of unlikely contradictions there) who reveals the ugly truth behind the game of gentlemen and the concept of English fair play. There are English players I do admire. We all know Ian Botham is a prize wally but if I had to go to war, I’d want him as my N.C.O. any day, not only because less of our platoon would die but also because we’d be more likely to win the battle and, rest assured, he wouldn’t let any of us give up hope or surrender. He’s not a bad role model for people, either, despite his eccentricity. After all, when his critics become too uppity, I simply say to them: just how much money have you raised for Leukaemia and how often have you walked from John O’ Groats to Lands End to achieve it? A role model more suitable to people from my background is Phil Tufnell who, against all the odds, despite all the horrors, managed to succeed where most others would understandably have failed. If you doubt this statement, read Phil Tufnell: The Autobiography (2000); if you find the game boring, don’t worry: less than half of it is about cricket!

 There was one decent programme on Radio 4: the Reith Lectures, broadcast as a series of six programmes. Often I was unable to fully comprehend all the subject matter but it fascinated me to hear this incredibly intelligent old man (whoever he was) or, less often, erudite educated woman, speak with cool, inflexible authority for an hour on a meticulously prepared topic. Otherwise Radio 4 was old fashioned but bereft of the quaint charm normally associated with anachronistic media. The World Service in the 1970s was more like Forces Radio of the 1950s. It really was an anachronism which is mainly why I enjoyed it so much. Marches played by military bands would introduce the news (Lillibulero), Radio Newsreel (Imperial Echoes) and Sports Report (Out Of The Blue).

 But there was one programme I never missed: Discovery. This had as its theme tune the 4th movement of the Suite No.1 by Igor Stravinsky and to this day it remains the only single piece of Stravinsky I actually like; everything else I’ve ever heard by that boring old windbag has been utter bollocks. Discovery was a weekly science magazine programme usually in 3 parts with latest scientific developments separated into biology or medicine, physics or astronomy and another area, say geology or meteorology. To this day it remains the only programme on the world service to which I would ever deliberately choose to listen. Even this usually excellent programme, which should, in the interests of scientific impartiality, be unsullied by the famous BBC bias towards neo-liberalism, the nanny state and the defence of the apartheid system in Israel, is occasionally marred by its presenters making sure they remind listeners of the strict BBC party line. In fact, there is considerably more preaching and rather less hard science in the programme now than when I used to try never to miss an episode back in the 1980s. Despite this, Discovery, combined with my monthly fix of The Sky At Night, resulted in the acquisition and development of what has become a life long love of science. My bookshelves reveal this: 1 shelf for cricket books, 1 for Doctor Who, Harry Potter and J R R Tolkien, 5 shelves devoted to science and science fiction and 3 devoted entirely to astronomy and physics.

In case you believe I exaggerate the BBC attitude described above, consider this: on June 7th their Outlook magazine programme chose to interview some daffy sheep shearer from Australia, the guy who currently holds the world record for the most number of sheep shorn in the shortest period of time. This wally has decided to start a campaign against the use of illegal drugs among sheep shearers. He related how, in 40 years of doing his job, he’s met over 3,000 sheep shearers. Out of all those, only 2 had he ever discovered to have used any kind of illegal drug: pep pills to keep them awake during a particularly gruelling week. From this we can safely conclude that illicit drug taking among Aussie sheep shearers isn’t exactly endemic to the trade. In fact it might even be fair to say the problem is virtually non-existent. So what the hell is this buffoon playing at? I suggest he wants to appear cool and popular among the trendy media types and, like all good self publicists, jump on whatever band-wagon is currently in vogue. His main focus, it transpires, is marijuana. Later in the programme he tells us he likes to relax with a couple of beers each night. Right, so, never mind about the increasingly high frequency of alcohol related acts of violence throughout the world, never mind about the pollution in our streets and lung cancer caused by motor vehicle exhaust fumes, no, this jerk wants to start a war against a natural herb that has medicinal properties and has been used beneficially by folk all around the world since we first climbed down from the trees. But the point is not that this Aussie Mary Whitehouse is a big Jessie – the point is that the BBC chose to interview him, very sympathetically, on their programme and give him air time when quite evidently he’s a crank and a crack-pot (but without crack or pot, naturally).

Radio – After Resonance

As I became more involved in UNIT and began to study history and politics as well as keep abreast of astronomy and physics, I listened to the radio less often. Finally, when I’d given up on the BBC and only listened to the news once a week (and then through a thick haze of extreme cynicism), Achoi sent me an e-mail to tell me about this incredible new radio station he’d discovered called Resonance. This was in September 2004.


In America there are highly educated people who have made it their task to travel around colleges and universities to give lectures, talks and interviews about politics, history, the media and culture, with a special emphasis on American foreign policy. They are not generally part of any group, faction or sect; many of them would argue vehemently with each other over certain matters. However, they all share certain crucial beliefs and this is why I refer to them as ‘the collective voice of reason’ in America. AR has archived decades of these lectures, talks and interviews with such people as Arundhati Roy, Howard Zinn, Tariq Ali, Manning Marable, Edward Saïd, Vandana Shiva and Ward Churchill among many others. There are also historical speeches such as the famous one given at the Riverside Church in 1967 by Martin Luther King in which he militantly attacks with savage accuracy the brutal invasion of Vietnam by America. AR is not, despite its name, a radio station but a content provider which makes available to a wide audience these valuable and pertinent audio documents and it is a credit to Resonance that they have always reserved a space in their schedules every week for this magnificent programme presented by David Barsamian. To make an order for recordings on CD or transcripts of any programme call toll free on 1800 444 1977. Go to alternativeradio.org.


Another American import is this highly charged, meticulously researched political magazine programme presented by Amy Goodman, one of the most ubiquitous political commentators in America today. Current affairs are presented in a manner that is incisive, intelligent and courageous. If there is injustice, imperialism, colonial expansion, government corruption or military dictatorship happening anywhere in the world (and it’s sickening how often American money is behind it), this programme will not only expose it bravely but they’ll have someone on the spot to talk about it in detail. This is investigative journalism at its very best. When I hear this programme I’m reminded of the paraphrase (i.e. improvement) upon the sermon on the mount made by the great American political activist Eugene Debbs: so long as there is an underclass, I’m a member of it; so long as there is a criminal class, I’m part of it; so long as there are people in people, I am not free.


We were fortunate enough to meet Ivor Kallin, the presenter of this magnificent programme whose gentle Scottish accent eases you into what can be a riot of S&M: strange sounds and mad music. Generally the emphasis is on free improvisation and avant garde jazz but there have also been traditional bagpipe music, prog rock from High Tide, old fashioned jazz from Charlie Parker and even tracks by UNIT played on the show. My earliest encounter with it included a marvellous duet between Ivor on viola and a colleague whose name I cannot remember on saxophone – this was free improvisation at its very best, live in the studio on Resonance FM.


Joshua Meggett and Tim Winter are two young chaps who work in Harold Moores, one of the very few genuinely independent record shops left in London. It specialises primarily in classical music (with a smattering of jazz and world music) but with a particular emphasis on contemporary and unusual repertoire. They present this weekly programme where they play on air the kind of music you can expect to purchase at the shop but minus the typical Mozart-Brahms-Tchaikovsky twaddle we’re all told is ‘great’ but which, much of the time, is just boring drivel. An iconoclast? Me? Surely not. No, I just resent all these snooty old bastards on Radio 3 and at school telling me that this composer and that artist are great and to be revered without criticism simply because they propagate the hegemony of white colonialism and provide the soundtrack to all the corporate boardrooms of global capitalism. Prove that Wolfgang Mozart is ‘better than’ Robert Simpson (or Ice T for that matter). You can’t so don’t even try. Stockhausen does serve imperialism whether you like it or not. Be warned: although it purports to be mainly a forum for classical music, I have heard both The Sex Pistols and Dolly Parton played on this show which, of course, is utterly unforgivable in normal circumstances but it’s Resonance so we’ll allow them…this time…but please, chaps, don’t make a habit of it. (Note: that piss poor punk outfit has allegedly reformed so I strongly suggest those tedious old bastards should now be called The Sucks Pastilles. Anyway, at least old Dolly had a decent voice.)


This marvellous weekly half hour of bizarre prose is presented by Frank Key, a writer whose continued obscurity remains a savage indictment of our culturally vacuous society. He has published a book Befuddled By Cormorants which is available from his website for just £8 including postage. Go to www.resonancefm.com for more details. Every member of UNIT now possesses their own copy of this superb item! Digression: send some money to ReR, 79 Beulah Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey, CR7 8JG and ask for Recommended Sourcebook 0401. It contains a superb article by Alan Jenkins ‘How To Be In A Pop Group’ with marvellous illustrations by Mr Key. For prices and other inquiries type Rer Megacorp into Google. Sourcebook 0402 also contains ‘The Administration Of Lighthouses’ by Frank Key so you’ll want that one, too.


How many of you have heard non-commercial pop music from Cambodia? Add to that everything from traditional folk dances of the Ainu from Japan, punk rock from China, drum ’n’ bass from Thailand and pop songs from Vietnam to avant garde classical works from Japan and you have just some idea of the wealth of music from south east Asia covered in this regular series of shows by Paul Fisher. He doesn’t just download obscure gear from the net…he travels to tiny villages in Cambodia and Thailand, traverses mountain slopes in Burma and bustles around the streets of Hong Kong and Japan to track down interesting and often bizarre music. He takes his show seriously.


Hear what the enemy have to say as an apparently endless stream of miserable Marxists drone on about why everyone in the world is wrong except them. These shows, even at their worst, are still educational and informative so they deserve your attention. There are occasions (now growing frustratingly rare) when they’ll devote a programme to science and / or rationalism so you can then listen and learn without feeling you want to join the BNP after 20 minutes. Be warned: they won’t reply to any letters or e-mails you send so don’t waste your time writing to them.


Staying with people who refuse to reply to letters or e-mails, Ben Watson has been writing intelligent, difficult, incisive and occasionally vituperative magazine articles and CD sleeve notes on free jazz / improv for more than a decade now. His cutting edge Marxist critiques on the whole business of music making (in addition to merely tearing apart the music business itself) have earned him a justifiably formidable reputation. But if we should ever become The Peoples Revolutionary Republic Of England, just how long would it take for some Marxist Cultural Committee to decide that free improvisation and avant garde jazz (which comprise much of the music Mr Watson enjoys and advocates) are examples of bourgeois formalism and have it all banned? Besides, how can a Marxist love Frank Zappa yet hate Henry Cow? It probably doesn’t matter. Listen to his show and check out his (very colourful) website. You’re unlikely to agree with or even fully comprehend all he says but it’s always thought provoking and never dull.


Now hear how it should be done. This is the one political magazine show listened to by every member of UNIT. Nadim Mahjoub speaks not only with intelligence and eloquence (obviously – this is Resonance after all) but also an intriguing absence of polemic or bias about the historical, cultural and political scenes in every nation in the middle east. There is (understandably) an emphasis on Palestinian affairs but there is no place here for diatribes against this or that faction. Muslims, Jews and Christians all receive praise when merited and criticism when deserved. Nadim is consistently astute – he confronts difficult questions yet is never rude or bombastic (Jeremy Paxman has much to learn from this gentleman) and always treats his interviewees with respect. We all urge you to check out his website!


Finally, consider Headroom presented by Rob Simone whom Achoi refers to as ‘the coolest American on the planet’. Now my background is based on hard science; my origins are in the discovery of facts about our world and our universe which are amenable to tests with results that can be repeated elsewhere by other researchers, where evidence is available to provide proof of any assertion or theory made. This is partly why I summarily dismiss the ‘big bang’ theory of the universe as the insubstantial clap-trap I believe it to be. However, I also accept that the steady state theory, while preferable, is also at best incomplete and at worst promising but inadequate. I do not believe in ghosts. I do not believe in gods, devils, fairies (outside Earls Court, Soho or Greenwich Village) or leprechauns. I do not believe the Earth has ever been visited by extra-terrestrial beings from outer space. I am convinced that all U.F.O. sightings relate to advanced craft constructed by military cadres of purely human origin. I am equally convinced that it is extremely unlikely that there are any intelligent, technologically advanced life forms elsewhere in the universe. I have even proved it – see my essay ‘U.F.O.s – Shot Down In Flames’.

I do accept that there are highly intriguing mysteries as yet unsolved by science but – and this is crucial – it is only through rigorous scientific investigation that these mysteries will ever be explained in a satisfactory manner. Extra sensory perception, psycho-kinesis and ball lightning are just 3 such mysteries on which I thrive. In fact, I have formulated my own theory to account for ghosts. The human brain creates thoughts and experiences its perception of  external reality as a consequence of the action of axons and neurons firing off the synapses – via electrical energy. The majority of ghosts are witnessed shortly before, during or shortly after thunderstorms. Such storms are the result of a change in electrical charges that occur in the atmosphere. Water conducts electricity and so amplifies its power. The human body is comprised of over 90% water. Therefore it is obvious that the human brain is liable to be affected by any changes in the electrical properties of the environment. Visual and aural hallucinations are a most likely consequence of how the brain could react to such changes. A common argument offered as proof of the existence of ghosts are that the same group of people witnessed such an apparition. Well, if this group of people are all in the same place then they are all within the sphere of influence of the atmospheric electrical disturbance so it would be surprising if they were not all susceptible to it.

Think of the most interesting people in the world. Include every extreme individual thinker you can imagine, the paranormal, psychic phenomena, secret government conspiracies, ritual magick but, most of all, the political affairs that governments would prefer the public not to know. Now imagine them being interviewed for 2 hours by someone who has an impressive knowledge of science, politics and occulture. The presenter, the inestimable Rob Simone, has never been heard to be abusive, sarcastic, intimidating or even slightly rude. He is, quite simply, the epitome of cool. Pretentious arty jazz types and boring old Marxists take note: when you send Rob a letter or e-mail, he always replies to you. His book Around The World & Beyond is essential reading for everyone who wants to think and live outside the box.

So, why is Headroom one of my all time favourite radio programmes? First: Mr Simone is beyond doubt the best presenter and most professionally competent interviewer I have ever heard. He is never sarcastic, condescending or patronising to those he interviews (unlike those hysterical mods on Radio 5). He maintains a superb balance of discipline and fun throughout the 2 hours of his show. Second: each programme features a chosen subject, usually but not always taken from a supernatural area. Extra terrestrial visitations, interstellar wars, alternative religions, alternative explanations for human evolution, photographic orbs, alternative dimensions and, most importantly, cutting edge investigations into political and economic developments in the world are all just some of the subjects covered in his programme. However, Rob inevitably contrives to ask a few difficult questions of his interviewees, primarily to keep the show interesting but also to satisfy the sceptics in his audience like myself. Third: when you send him a letter or an e-mail, he replies to you personally.

Just look at some of the more entertaining and impressive people he’s had on his show over the past 2 years: author Jim Marrs, the purveyor of free energy Dr Steven Greer, political activist and actress Janeane Garofalo, NASA consultant Richard Hoagland, author Leah Haley, personal representative of reptilian beings on Saturn Riley Martin, behavioural scientist Dr Richard Boylan, UFO disclosure lobbyist Stephen Bassett, Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Dr Albert Haldemann, elder and lecturer Red Elk, investigative journalist Linda Moulton Howe, former FBI chief Ted Gunderson, author Zecharia Sitchin, UFO investigators Colm Kelleher, Bob Dean and Nick Pope, nuclear physicist Stanton Friedman, author Nick Redfern, UFO magazine publisher Graham Birdsall, inventor Trevor Baylis, hypno-therapist Dr Bruce Goldberg, the only known possessor of UFO physical evidence Bob White, nanotech scientist Sir Laurence Gardener, remover of alien implants Dr Roger Lier, astronomer Dr Tom Van Flandern, radio presenter of ‘Bohemina Grove’ Alex Jones, Major Ed Dames and Dr Frank Stranges who spent 3 weeks on Venus.

Mr Simone has had essays and articles published in Fate magazine for years now. He has appeared in strange, independent films, usually because the film makers have asked him to appear in them. If your book, your film, your magazine or your rock album is cooking but not quite totally radical yet, the addition of Rob Simone to it will make the project completely cool. When I heard his 2 hour programme years ago exposing all the anomalies, problems and difficulties involved in the official version of events that surrounded the destruction of the world trade centre towers (and the other one, building number 7 that nobody wants to talk about), which was the first time I had ever heard an American brave enough to tackle such a sensitive topic, I realised then that this was not just some UFO nut, this was someone who saw all the crap that was going on in the world and knew it was his duty to challenge it. Then, last month, I discovered that, in all seriousness, he has arranged to accompany Dr Brooks Agnew in 2008 on an intrepid journey…to the centre of the Earth.

Digression: American patriots who read this may be disgusted by my praise of Alternative Radio, Democracy Now and Headroom – but if so then let me ask you this. How does your constitution start? ‘We, the people…’ Well, who formulated this famous constitution? I tell you who did not write it – it was not hillbillies, farmers, bakers, butchers, ranchers and liquor store owners, no sir, the American constitution was written by 55 wealthy white men in Philadelphia who wanted to maintain their positions of power and privilege so they constructed the first document that lays out the blueprint for what we now call neo-liberalism. Look at one of your favourite presidents: Andrew Jackson, the slave owner, the Indian killer. As for Bush baby’s ‘war on terrorism’, how the hell can you have a war on terrorism? War IS Terrorism! I claim that David Barsamian, Amy Goodman and Rob Simone are among the best patriots you’ve ever had. A patriot is someone who cares not only about their country but also about how the world regards their country. Who therefore is a better advertisement for America, Mr Barsamian, Ms Goodman and Mr Simone or, say, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney…you want me to continue? Mr Simone goes one stage further: his patriotism extends to the whole Earth, to the Solar System, to the universe. Like me, he is a child of the universe. When someone asks me where I come from, I don’t say ‘Scotland and proud of it’ any longer. No, I answer ‘Earth’ because, after all, it’s a more intelligent and more interesting answer.

Even when Rob interviews someone who is quite obviously bonkers, the show still manages to maintain its integrity and it is often these that are the most entertaining. I think now of the elderly chap who spent 3 weeks on Venus in one of the underground cities built by its inhabitants and who gave a lurid account of his enforced holiday (he had been abducted, naturally). The atmosphere of Venus is primarily composed of carbon dioxide with clouds rich in sulphuric acid. The ground atmospheric pressure is 90 times that found on Earth at sea level. The mean temperature is around 900º Fahrenheit. Any normal human being who landed there and stepped out of his spaceship would be fried, squashed, poisoned and corroded in less than 1 second. As I said to Rob afterwards, if this fellow is able to withstand all that unscathed and still return to Earth safely then he’s evidently as hard as hell and I’m not about to start an argument with him! Again, we all urge you to check out the website: www.robsimone.com. In his own words: “We need holistic science.”


No, not ‘movies’. I have never watched a movie in my life – but I have watched films – lots of films – gargantuan shed loads of films. From 2001 to 2003 I must have watched nearly 300 Chinese films, made in Taiwan, China and Hong Kong. During that time I completed my first book: a history of Chinese cinema from the first known short silent reel in 1905 to 1997 when Hong Kong ceased to be a British colony and was officially handed back to China. However, since I’ve done Chinese films to death in the 300 pages of that book, I’ll not bother to repeat myself here.

So what are the properties that create a good film? That’s too small – or too big – a question so I’ll ask another one. What are the properties that create a film which I value highly? It must avoid all cliché, all sentimentality and all predictability. It must not use background music unless the film is about music in some manner. It must be honest and able to stand up like a man and say what it means unequivocally. It needs high quality acting that is convincing, natural and believable. I don’t want to sit through some pox ridden crap about the love lives of white middle class tarts in the 19th century or some testosterone twaddle featuring a machine gun toting Yank who always teams up with (and ultimately shags the arse off) some dozy bitch with a hair style that always stays rigidly in place. I don’t do Hollywood so don’t even go there, I’m not interested. If it is intended to be arty and pretentious then it should be precisely that and go the whole hog instead of trying to faff around with metaphor and post-modern commentaries about how we’re all victims of socio-bollocko fuckism due to a disillusioned shit, for the love of God, you’ve just left film college, you want to do a Channel 4 job and you have more money than sense because your parents are a couple of rich scum bags, okay, fine, go for it and don’t try to be something you’re not. If you want to make a film about working class suffering, you have to be working class and you need to have suffered – otherwise, don’t bother, because if you try then you will fail and your abject failure won’t even be interesting, it’ll just be an embarrassment to us all.

The Thing (1982) directed by John Carpenter. This is basically a pulp science fiction comic set to film with live actors but it succeeds partly due to the superb direction, lighting and sound but mainly because the actors all play this for real with total dedication and seriousness. A scientific research team in Antarctica discover an extra-terrestrial craft buried in the ice, uncover the remains of its occupant and unwittingly grant it just the conditions required for it to reanimate itself and brutally murder the entire cast in novel, horrific ways, much to the delight of us all.

Gojira (1954) directed by Ishiro Honda. To choose this film might appear to contradict all I have just written above. If so then tough, I don’t give a shit. However, I find that I can still watch this bizarre spectacle today and be amazed by it. On one level it’s a roaring frolic as a gigantic reptile rampages through Japan and totally devastates Tokyo. On a deeper level, it’s a searing indictment of nuclear weapons, a subject about which the Japs could speak with a certain degree of authority, after all. While I don’t usually tolerate music soundtracks, this one is by Akira Ifukube so of course it’s allowed.

Triumph Of The Will (1936) directed by Leni Riefenstahl. This is quite simply the first genuine masterpiece of the cinema. All those Russian films by Sergei Eisenstein (particularly Strike, Battleship Potemkin and October 1917) were excellent but flawed. This documentary (deliberately stylised, intentionally contrived) offers a master class in how to construct effective propaganda. The entire film is a record of the famous Nuremberg rally. All your old favourites are there: Rudolf Hess, Herman Göhring, Heinrich Göbbels and the lad himself, Adolf Hitler, all giving large about how to rescue Germany from poverty, crime and depression with the aid of boys in shorts, men with trumpets and huge flags adorned with swastikas, all marching with a precision that even Busby Berkeley couldn’t surpass. The music is (of course) provided by Richard Wagner.

It Happened Here (1966) directed by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo. I first saw this on television in a version cut by those frigid old Jews at the BBC who thought some of us might find offensive the scene where genuine British fascists tell us how to put the Great back in Britain. When the film was issued in DVD, this scene was restored and the balance of the entire work is vastly improved. Nobody but an absolute moron could watch that scene and take seriously (let alone be inspired by) these fat, thick and rather pathetic old men as they whinge about the Zionist menace and drone on about the perils of race mixing et cetera. The film is not only highly original in its conception but stands the test of time remarkably well. It depicts with unnerving accuracy what life would have been like in Britain had Germany invaded England in 1940 and the nation surrendered. This remains the most potent example of ‘what if…’ that I have ever seen. The central character (played by Pauline Murray) of the nurse who attempts to remain apolitical (and is obviously doomed to fail) is the analogue of every ordinary person who strives to maintain some sense of decency in a society where law, order, rationality and humanity have all been eroded or crushed. There is no musical soundtrack really apart from a brief snatch from the Symphony No.9 by Anton Bruckner that accompanies the nurse as she first encounters and wanders around the bomb blasted ruins of London.

The Hill (1965) directed by Sidney Lumet. Sean Connery shows why he was utterly wasted in all that James Bond crap and Ian Bannen steals virtually every scene in which he appears. If that chap ever gave a substandard performance then I haven’t seen it. Ossie Davis appears in one of his first roles; who’d have predicted that by the 1990s he’d be a political activist in America? Based on a play (like many films directed by Lumet), this is set during world war two in an army correction camp for soldiers who have allegedly transgressed the absurd laws and regulations formulated by the armed services at the time. There is no background music, no romance, no cliché ridden plot. Instead there’s a blistering indictment of the military penal system that deserves to be seen. At the time of writing (June 2007) no company has yet made this magnificent film available on DVD. Why?

The Offence (1972) directed by Sidney Lumet. Sean Connery and Ian Bannen are the lead actors again – and not only do both actors give their best performances in any film in which they have ever appeared, I can think of very few other films that feature acting that is of the same standard, let alone superior to it. Connery plays a tired, cynical and mentally disturbed police inspector called on to interrogate a suspected paedophile after a series of brutal child murders in a grim new town that could be Milton Keynes but its name is never stated. The suspect is played by Ian Bannen. At no time is the guilt or innocence of the suspect ever proved. Much of the story is told in a non-linear sequence (so Quentin Tarrantino was not the first to adopt this method). That the film is relentless in its barbarity, its brutality and its desperate tension gives an impression of incredible violence but on closer inspection we find this is rarely depicted on screen. It is implied by mood, dialogue, editing and the central performances. Unfortunately there is background music but it is used very sparsely and never intrudes on the film. It’s a haunting work for bass clarinet and electronics by Harrison Birtwistle. This is quite simply one of the very best films ever made by any director anywhere.

X The Unknown (1956) directed by Leslie Norman. Dean Jagger and Leo McKern together with an unfortunate unit of the British army are subjected to horrific and continual suffering from a gigantic radioactive jelly that escapes from the interior of the Earth. Don’t knock it, this is pure class, mate. Actually, this is why British science fiction films are generally superior to those made by any other country, especially the crap churned out by Yankeeland at this time. There’s also a delightful screen debut for Frazer Hines aged about 12 who later became famous as Jamie MacCrimmon, the longest serving and most popular male travelling companion in Doctor Who.

The Quatermass Experiment (1955) directed by Val Guest and written by Nigel Kneale. Brian Donlevy (complete with toupee and brandy filled hip flask…which never remained filled for long) is the imported Yankee scientist engaged in the pursuit of an astronaut who has returned from the first space expedition (British, naturally) and been infected by an alien virus that gradually causes him to mutate into a huge jelly. Where would science fiction films be without jelly? There’s a delightful screen debut for Jane Asher aged about 12 who later appears in another Nigel Kneale story, The Stone Tapes.

Quatermass 2 (1956) directed by Val Guest and written by Nigel Kneale. I remember seeing this in about 1970 it scared the shite out of me. In the original television broadcast the reporter is played by Roger Delgado (later to achieve renown as The Master in Doctor Who) but here we are greeted with Sid James who proves he can play serious roles when required. Although it lacks much of the impact and tension of the original, there are compensations, particularly the sets and the music. Also, Brian Donlevy (toupee and brandy intact), despite being American, is a damn sight better actor than that tired old oaf who hams his way tediously through the television version.

Quatermass & The Pit (1967) directed by Roy Ward Baker and written by Nigel Kneale. Andrew Keir shows why a British actor should play the leading role (as Kneale had always insisted) and he’s ably supported by Julian Glover. Undoubtedly the best film of the 3, this is almost (but not quite) as good as the original television version. The idea that humanity is descended from Martians and that we were all brought to the Earth by insectoid creatures 2 million years ago is a totally bonkers concept but when played with such alacrity by the cast, we can all be carried along by the plot regardless. Great fun and wonderful atmosphere.

The Abominable Snowman (1957) directed by Val Guest and written by Nigel Kneale. The third in the trilogy of films directed by Guest and written by Kneale, this is not really science fiction but a thinly veiled metaphor that calls to our attention the extreme disrespect shown by humankind for other animal species. Peter Cushing treats the role of the professor with considerable sympathy and there is virtually no blood, no gore and hardly anything is seen of the Yeti itself – because it isn’t necessary. Perhaps the intelligent dialogue resulted in the poor box receipts for this film compared to its predecessors.

Scum (1979) directed by Alan Clarke after the play by Roy Minton. This is the first film ever to expose what life was actually like in a British borstal and it created sheer furore at the time of its release. This despite the fact it was a cinema version of a television play of the same name made by the same director and writer 2 years earlier. The television version, although finished, was never screened and we were only finally able to see it 29 years later when it was issued on DVD together with the more familiar cinema version. Apart from the theme song at the end, there is no music in this film and quite right too. At the time, none of the actors were known to the public. Many of those who participated had never been in a film before yet the performances are of such a consistently high standard that I must conclude that Clarke enjoyed a particularly fluent relationship with his young actors. The sheer relentless brutality of the institution is portrayed with superb attention to detail. There is no respite, no relief and no hope. The only vaguely likeable character in the entire film is Archer, the misfit, who uses intelligence rather than physical power to survive the regime and this itself is perhaps the most important lesson to be learned in the story.

Made In Britain (1983) directed by Alan Clarke. A short, sharp shock of a film that follows the brief, frenetic events of Trevor, a teenage skinhead (played by Tim Roth in his first major role) who finds himself given a last chance to reform himself as he’s sent to a rehabilitation centre run by weak, useless social workers. Actually, it’s been my experience that social workers are rarely anything else, other than soft cops. Trevor refuses to obey the rules, refuses to play the game and ultimately ends up in a borstal. He claims it to be some sort of victory – in the damp police cell his brutal grin is the last image on the screen. No music is used in the film except at the start and finish, an excerpt from UK82 by The Exploited.

The Firm (1984) directed by Alan Clarke. When this brutal tale of a typical Essex firm of thugs was released, people spoke of its portrayal of football violence, football crowd behaviour, football this and football that. Actually, this film is not about football at all. There is a brief scene towards the end set in a terrace at an anonymous match but we never see the field or the players. This is deliberate. Clarke himself was an ardent football fan and so he was careful to show that the ‘firms’ who travelled all over the country to pick fights with rival gangs were absolutely indifferent to the game. These are the new style gangs – gone are the skinheads, the hooligans at which the Daily Mail would rant – these thugs dress in suits during the week, work in estate agents, drive expensive cars and make the most of the affluence that was briefly available when Thatcher was grüppenführer of Britain and we all thought we were going to be wealthy. Again, there is virtually no music in this excellent film apart from a brief snatch of some cabaret type thing early on. This features Gary Oldman in one his first major roles.

Harry Potter & The Philosophers Stone (2001) directed by Chris Columbus with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint as Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley respectively. Robbie Coltrane gives us a slightly Scottish Rubeus Hagrid, Richard Harris provides an excellent Albus Dumbledore, Alan Rickman is superb as potions master Severus Snape and John Cleese is on top form as Nearly Headless Nick, the Griffindor ghost. Fiona Shaw and John Hurt (as the Defence Against Dark Arts teacher) also provide sterling performances in the first of these magnificent films. To attempt to set the Joanne Rowlings books to film is a formidable task even in the best of circumstances but they succeed.

Harry Potter & The Chamber Of Secrets (2002) directed by Chris Columbus with the same cast as before only here they are augmented by Julie Walters while Kenneth Brannagh enjoys himself in a rare moment of self parody as this terms’ defence against dark arts master. Jason Isaacs deserves a mention, too, for while his role is small, it is convincing and believable. By this second film we realise (if we have any intelligence) that while all the superb special effects are impressive, it is the story, the dialogue and the acting that take centre stage at all times which is why the Americans never succeed when they try to make films in this genre.

Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban (2004) directed by Alfonso Cuarón with almost the same cast as before but, sadly, Richard Harris died in 2003 and so a replacement had to be found for a central character. Michael Gambon was chosen and, unfortunately, he is unable to do justice to the role. Too much arm waving and histrionic shouting do not compare favourably with the Harris portrayal whose disciplined restraint added to the mystery of the character, a sense of awe absent from Gambons’ performance; the slight Irish accent doesn’t help, either. David Thewlis plays the defence against dark arts teacher Remus Lupin in what must be one of his finest performances to date. He is aided and abetted by a typically convincing support from Gary Oldman as Sirius Black. The change in director, however, is an improvement, primarily because there is a more fluid, reckless character to the film where the sheer enjoyment of the fun bursts onto the screen which helps balance the narrative which is often dark, violent and necessarily unpleasant.

Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire (2005) directed by Mike Newell. The regular cast requires no augmentation (other than Brendon Gleeson as the defence against dark arts teacher for this term – you just can’t get the staff these days) since the 4th book features many of the same characters as its predecessor although Gary Oldman has only a tiny role in the film. My primary problem with this film is that the books had gradually become longer with each instalment but Goblet Of Fire was huge and necessarily so because it was the most complex and detailed of the stories to date. While the film is the longest of the four at 151 minutes, still there are important aspects omitted while time is wasted on the Yule Ball that could have been better spent including more interesting story elements from the book. In all 4 films I have only one major complaint: too much loud music is used too often with the result that atmosphere and dramatic tension are diminished. This is a lesson so many modern directors have still to learn.

Lord Of The Rings (2001-2004) directed by Peter Jackson. What can I possibly say about the greatest fantasy adventure film epic ever made that could even remotely do justice to it? To film one of the greatest novels in any genre ever written in the English language was believed to be impossible if one genuinely respected the work. That the participants succeeded beyond all our expectations is a testament to the director, the actors and the New Zealand film industry. I cannot imagine that this supreme artistic achievement will ever be surpassed.

When I was asked to list my favourite films a couple of years back, this tart complained that most of the films I rated were grim, aggressive, depressing, violent and predominantly male. Well, perhaps I can relate to films of that nature because much of the first 25 years of my life were grim, aggressive, depressing, violent and predominantly male.

There – the cultural icons that have (combined with the parents from hell, schools full of bullies and perverts, jobs as pointless and futile as the people responsible for creating them and my time in Springfield psychiatric hospital) made me what I am today.


Andy Martin, June 2007.




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