Thursday, 3 April 2014

Goodbye to the Gothic at the Morpeth Herald

A brief post between work on late seventeenth-century bishops... but given my earlier posts on Northumberland newspapers, I couldn't overlook the relaunch of the Morpeth Herald today. The compromise between the paper's traditional look and the Johnston Press house templates introduced when the paper went tabloid last year has been moved past and from this week the Morpeth Herald is much more recognisably a Johnston Press weekly, adopting the same headline and text fonts as its northerly neighbours the Northumberland Gazette, Berwick Advertiser, Berwickshire News and Southern Reporter and I think the News Guardian in Whitley Bay to its south-east too.

Most radical is the decision to finally drop the gothic masthead which is a simplified but never wholly redrawn version of that adopted on Saturday 5 March 1892, as seen in the image left (which belongs to and is best explored at The British Newspaper Archive). What newspaper would put a semi-colon in its logo now? For a logo to endure 122 years from the hot metal era well into the digital age, as can be seen from the screengrab from the Herald website this morning, is an achievement, though in its final print form it was looking a little well-worn. Still, I'm not sure that the somewhat anonymous serif heading, very much from the modern Johnston Press repertoire of typefaces, is an improvement, being insufficiently distinct from some of its neighbours. It's good to see that the fashion for emphasising the name of the locality at the expense of the paper's full name has not spread to the Morpeth Herald, which is as well given that it seemed to misunderstand the weight of local newspaper brand identities and has already been beaten back in West Yorkshire where the Harrogate Advertiser and its close siblings have improvised more traditional looks within the Johnston templates, including amended mastheads, since they were part of the first wave of group relaunches in 2012.

I'm away from Northumberland at the moment so can't review the whole paper. The lead story, about the possibility that County Hall in Morpeth will close, is a strong one though the headline a little ambiguous. On a final note of continuity, the redesigned masthead still includes the words 'Incorporating the Ponteland Observer', two months short of thirty years since the two papers began to be brought together.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, Wes Anderson)

The Grand Budapest Hotel seemed to promise acerbic whimsy to amuse a world facing hard and unwelcome truths, and Wes Anderson's film delivers satisfactorily. It might be surprisingly bloodthirsty for those beguiled by its world of courtesan au chocolat pastries, who don't anticipate the hammers and chisels within. Ralph Fiennes carries the focal role of M. Gustave without succumbing (as other actors one might imagine wielding his parfum would have done) to an excess of manner; Gustave is vain but his pettinesses serve the great narrative which is the ideal of civilisation he projects through the eponymous hotel. Anderson's pink and purple imagined pre-war (but which war?) Mitteleuropa (but which and whose Europa?) might irritate some with its denial of naturalism, but these are characters who dress in clothes the colours of exotic inks and speak within inverted commas or speech bubbles.  The 1930s of folklore is here, not far removed from the non-specific military manoeuvres of Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes; and the 1985 of the second layer of framing device (for this is a mutant garlic clove of a story, with three outer membranes and five captioned segments within) derives its browns and oranges from The Lives of Others. The paranoia about immigrants, a war in the East, the rich determined to stay rich at the expense of the culture they supposedly guaranteed, and a small country being annexed by its neighbour demonstrate that the pink-icing heaven (and the hotel is just that, staff and guests ascending from the grey streets of the town below through a 'magic door' and ornate funicular railway) whose destruction F. Murray Abraham's M. Moustafa relates to Jude Law's Young Writer is as much a fable of early twenty-first century anxieties as it is a lament for the rich and varied central Europe destroyed by Hitler, Stalin and their accomplices. There are enjoyable cameos from several familiar actors, especially Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton; a brutal enforcer from Willem Dafoe whose black comic excess is a harbinger of things to come in the film's beleaguered Republic of Zubrowka; and while it took me a little while to recognise Tony Revolori's Zero as the strong link in the chain that he is, Saoirse Ronan's Agatha is both recognisable as a remembered adolescent ideal of love and of an innocence preserved in memory despite the compromises of maturity.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Libraries and Dictionaries of National Biography, old and new

In connection with my current post, I've been in and out of several libraries recently in both Oxford and London, tracking down references relating to the projects I've taken over. This is an Oxford week, and I've been reacquainting myself with several Oxford libraries and getting to know the new configurations of some of them. Accessibility demands mean that the Taylor Institution is now approached from a larger door a little further up St Giles and relying less on steep stone stairs, though it still needs to remind people that it is not the Ashmolean, a determination reinforced by a sign that it is not a public building. The enquiry desk has moved, though thankfully Celtic periodicals were still in their old basement haunt. One never knows when one will need to refer to the Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, after all, as there is usually something useful about Welsh people, places and institutions within its covers.

The Oxford History Faculty Library has been through a period of dislocation in the past few years. First, it left its long-established home on the upper floors of the Old Indian Institute Building, and was relocated to part of the Lower Radcliffe Camera and to the Gladstone Link beneath Radcliffe Square, itself a recent creation from the old underground bookstacks. The form the collections have taken in their new homes, how they have been classified and located, seems to have gone through several reevaluations. Construction work to create a new entrance on the ground floor, facing St Mary's Church, has had an effect. After a few visits I'm getting used to the new entrance and the need to swipe in twice to get through the doors and entrance gate, and the oddness, for someone who has been in and around academic Oxford for most of the last quarter-century, of actually borrowing books from and taking them out of somewhere which was once a strictly non-lending reading room. Old associations, learned in younger days, fade slowly: I still expect English and Theology collections to be on the Lower Camera shelves somewhere, hiding from view; just as part of me suspects that if one enters what is now the Oxford Martin School at the right time, perhaps after walking widdershins round the Catte/Broad/Holywell Streets/Parks Road crossroads, one can climb the spiral stairs and found oneself in the old History Faculty Library again, and borrow books using pink-tinted carbon paper slips just as one did when I was an undergraduate.

In its tangible form without the realms of faerie, the Bodleian History Faculty Library (as it is now styled, but hereafter HFL) has been rationalising its collection, and there is a small book sale behind the new Radcliffe Camera entrance, much as there often was behind the main doors on the first floor of the Old Indian Institute. Yesterday I picked up the second edition of The Memoirs of Sir John Reresby with the idea that it would be useful in my current job, but it's also full of entertaining gossip informative about late-seventeeth century social norms. There were also a few volumes from the former HFL set of The Dictionary of National Biography. Today, there were more, but still not a full set; I decided to resist the temptation to ask if the missing volumes were in a cupboard somewhere (carrying them all back on the bus was one deterrent, and where to put them in my flat another) and acquired for £2 a bound volume labelled '7 - 8 / FINCH - HARRIOTT'.

This volume had some particular significance for me. I worked as a research editor for seven years at what was first referred to as the New Dictionary of National Biography, and which was eventually published as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. I'd also been a contributor, first on the 'ten-pound factchecks' and then on full honorarium articles, since 1997, and since leaving the staff in 2006 have been an associate research editor with irregular involvement as a consultant, editor and writer. (This post, I should add, is written in a personal capacity.) I have three articles in hand for the tenth anniversary release this September. Of those articles written or revised by me published in the 2004 sixty-volume set of the new dictionary, six fall within this volume's range, including the longest article contributed by me, Frederick Lewis, prince of Wales. Since 2004 I've added a few more articles to the online edition, and two of those - Anne Fitzpatrick and William Gibbs - would have been included in this volume's alphabetical sequence.

The set of the DNB now being sold by the HFL is unusual in that at some stage its twenty-two volumes were rebound into eleven, with two India paper-printed books in one set of rust-brown covers, rather than Oxford University Press's usual blue. The spines display the HFL shelfmark. The two volumes thus united which I acquired, at least, are from the 1921-2 reprint, the first to be published by Oxford University Press after it acquired the DNB from Smith, Elder and Co. (the more commercial parts of the Smith, Elder list were bought by John Murray). This in turn was derived from the revised 1908-9 edition of the DNB, which reduced the original sixty-three volumes and three-volume supplement of the 1885-1900 serial run to the twenty-two which is still often found on library shelves. A short history of old and new dictionaries, to the publication of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in 2004, was published in the first volume of the new dictionary and can be found at the Oxford DNB website. The subjects in this HFL volume are spread through seven volumes of the 2004 dictionary, though they can be found more quickly as part of the online collection.

Revisiting the late-nineteenth century articles which I replaced for the ODNB, I'm inclined to look more favourably on them than I might have done when I was ensconced in the new dictionary's former office of 37A St Giles. Most of the old dictionary's writers were on staff, expected to research at the British Museum Library in the morning and write up at the DNB's office in Waterloo Place in the afternoon. They were largely reliant on published sources which were much more scarce than they were a century later. Thomas Finlayson Henderson's entry on Frederick, prince of Wales, is much shorter than mine and dependent on the dismissive though entertaining memoirs of catty political opponents of the prince like Horace Walpole and Lord Hervey, or would-be mentors such as Sarah, duchess of Marlborough. My piece on Frederick might lack Henderson's elegance, but unlike Henderson didn't set out to disparage the prince as the worthless product of a degenerate age, a minor literary character rather than a person. We did have in common the wish to represent recent scholarship, in my case requiring many hours original research in the British Library and the Bodleian to help fill gaps, and my Frederick is someone whose actions had lasting consequences - the strengthening of the conventions of parliamentary opposition, the character of the monarchy under his son George III - even if they took on a theoretical and ideological shape which were beyond his intentions.

Other old DNB articles whose subjects I inherited were constructed on similar if less partial lines. 'His life was uneventful,' wrote James McMullen Rigg of Charles FitzRoy, second duke of Cleveland and first duke of Southampton; but there was enough to fill a column, and enough to ask the question (to which I sought to fashion an answer from sources to hand, much as my DNB predecessors did) as to why this son of Charles II and Barbara Villiers didn't play the leading part in English politics and society for which his parents (or at least his mother) had wanted to prepare him. Rigg spotted that George FitzRoy, Cleveland's brother, was recognised by John Evelyn as the 'most accomplished' of Charles II's children, but missed what I thought his most dramatic role, his attendance on his uncle James II on the night of 10 December 1688, when he probably looked the other way while James II fled the country. With other subjects, like Samuel Green the organ-builder, Lydia Miller Middleton in the DNB had had nothing much more than Grove's Dictionary of Music to work with; since then enough work has been done on Green, for successive Groves and New Groves as well by authors of  scholarly works on the organ, for a slightly more informative piece to be fashioned. One of the shorter pieces which I was able to replace with a longer entry was that on John Geddes, coadjutor vicar apostolic of the lowland district of Scotland, a Catholic bishop serving a Catholic community whose practice and existence was proscribed. Again, this was the beneficiary of twentieth-century scholarship which provided me with a better guide to Geddes's career than was available to Thompson Cooper, the veteran journalist and DNB staffer who shouldered the burden of more DNB articles in the 1880s and 1890s than any ODNB contributor in the 1990s and 2000s. The range of secondary sources was much broader and as a whole the published ODNB included more original research than may have been envisaged when the project started; my impression is that this trend has increased in the updates published online three times a year since January 2005.

The old dictionary text survives as part of the online ODNB (behind a link on the left-hand panel called 'DNB archive') and (proceeding on the assumption that the original DNB is out of copyright) as a Wikisource project. The impact of volunteer-led projects such as those curated by Wikimedia on conventional publisher-led research and reference works such as the ODNB has yet to be fully assessed, but demand still exists for peer-reviewed professionally-published reference such as the ODNB. For now, and at this moment, I am happy with my much-thumbed, sometimes crumpled, ninety-two-year-old impressions from stereotyped plates furnished to Oxford University Press by Messrs. Spottiswoode and Co., while celebrating too the merits of the work of myself and colleagues on the new dictionary in the past two decades.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Dramatic Spaces at the BFI: Let's Murder Vivaldi (1968) and Miss Julie (1965)

Since I last wrote about employment I've become a full-time staff member of an historical research project again; but earlier today I left early eighteenth-century bishops behind at my Bloomsbury office, and travelled to the South Bank and 1960s by bus, to see a couple of 1960s television plays in the BFI's Dramatic Spaces season, which ties in with the recent AHRC-funded project Spaces of Television, based at the University of Reading. The two plays were Let's Murder Vivaldi by David Mercer (1968) and Miss Julie (1965) by August Strindberg, translated by Elizabeth Sprigge. Both plays were directed (and in the case of Miss Julie adapted) by Alan Bridges, who died in December. There's an accessibly educated and informed post about the choice of these plays on the Spaces of Television blog, which also confirms the suspicion I had that at least one had suffered cuts at some point. Miss Julie suffers from the abrupt realisation of a sex scene which seems an all-too-brief excursion into the surreal, but was intended to be much longer and better integrated into the play as a whole.

Let's Murder Vivaldi was up first, perhaps because it was part of the most well-known strand of the single television play on the BBC, The Wednesday Play, or because it contained the most familiar faces among its cast, with Glenda Jackson as young civil servant Julie, and Denholm Elliot as her boss, Gerald, with whom, at the start of the play, she is on the verge of an affair. Paul Sumner as Ben, Julie's draughtsman lover, a frustrated violinist, was perhaps the weakest link in the cast, but Gwen Watford was calmly authoritative, patronising, manipulative but honest as Gerald's wife Monica. The play is one of those where the characters' dialogue comes across as shared inner monologue, but is of interest when what is revealed is an emptiness. The play even has a touch of horror-comedy in what its knife fixation builds up to - the slicing of Julie's face by the misarticulate Ben is in part misdirection. In the end, those who learn to accept their 'peculiarities' and stop trying to conform to other people's ideas of what they should be are the happiest. Denholm Elliot is a uniquely soluble actor, often looking as if he has consumed gallons of water and is having trouble keeping which is perhaps appropriate given one of Julie's 'peculiarities', which also works as a comment on television censorship. It's a powerful piece of 1960s rage against sexual, social and workplace conformity, though noticeably the voice of a simpler time.

Miss Julie - produced for BBC2's Theatre 625 strand - was a contrast in that it included some sequences filmed on location rather than being entirely in studio. Where Let's Murder Vivaldi is a series of two-handers (Ben/Julie, Monica/Gerald, Gerald/Julie, Monica/Gerald, Ben/Julie), the 1965 Miss Julie is a play with three speaking characters and in this version several non-speaking ones, all appearing on film. Bridges's Miss Julie reminded me of another television play of this era, Philip Savile's version of Huis Clos, with its largely location-filmed scene-setting. The use of a foreign-accented Gunnel Lindblom as Julie alongside a very English Ian Hendry as Jean and Stephanie Bidmead as Christine seemed odd at first, but perhaps it works as an indicator of class divisions, Jean and Christine being presented as audience identification figures while Julie is exotic and remote. Expectations are teased and confounded several times as sex brings complication rather than a gateway to permanent happiness and class and gender confine by education and expectation. It's mostly Hendry's and Bidmead's play, though, Hendry showing a range as Jean works through his many facets, and Stephanie Bidmead looks on, quietly confident that Christine is one of God's elect.

The BFI notes suggested that camera and performance in Let's Murder Vivaldi turned rooms into cells; this is too blatant an analogy for the way the play used the television camera, often stalking character by character, portrait shot by portrait shot, perhaps suggesting the characters are prisoners of their preconceptions. There are many ways out, all the same - characters go through doors in bedsitland or country hotels, or negotiate fashionable partitions. Gerald chooses to actualise his imprisonment, but blames only one of his jailers; for Julie and Ben, it's a question of coming to terms with who they are, not what they ought to be.

An Alan Bridges camera script must have kept the camera operators of Television Centre going up and down on their platforms. The many changes of tight angle in Let's Murder Vivaldi were noticeable, providing a fluidity which emphasised the brittleness of the harsh alternation of conversation partners in the penultimate Monica/Gerald scene. Miss Julie used yet lower angles on a staircase set, suggestive of moral hazard as well as the space's geographical location; but compared to Let's Murder Vivaldi and its parallel use of the domestic, especially the kitchen, Miss Julie's set and the way it was captured were more suggestive of space, and so perhaps of choices which could be made in the world outside Julie's father's estate, but in the end were not.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Savile legacy

I've noticed recently that the posts I wrote immediately following Jimmy Savile's death have been gaining more attention. They were written before the revelation of his long history of sexual assaults, often directed against people towards whom he too frequently had a duty of care. From what has been reported, one can infer that witnesses seem to agree he abused children and adults both systematically and opportunistically. The post-Savile inquiry into the conduct of leading figures in British entertainment in the 1960s and 1970s is still going on, with police investigations underway and in some cases criminal prosecutions completed or pending.

In the later years of his life I and it seems many others looking back on the popular culture giants of their childhoods had come to believe in Savile's offensive, cold, calculating persona as a shell within which a more sensitive and vulnerable man hid. Evidence is still to be codified but (as many have said in the last two years) it seems likely now that Savile was quite deliberately hiding in plain sight, protected by media and political leaders who respected and needed his connections to a youth culture they did not understand and who were either frightened of him or did not know how to interpret his manner. The examination of these errors of judgement of grievous consequence will take years. In the meantime the man some of us thought we knew and with whom we could sympathise has long been revealed as a creature of imaginations misled and power structures within which it was easy for the skilled deceiver to hide for their own purposes.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Danger UXB, part two

Continued from part one
Danger UXB negotiates two production house styles. The early successes of Euston Films could be characterised as concentrating on the underbelly of society: criminals and the police who pursued them with dubious methods. In contrast John Hawkesworth, co-creator, producer and lead writer of Danger UXB, was conservative by reputation and just as interested in the upper echelons of stratified British society as the lower ones. This was seen in his previous series Upstairs Downstairs for LWT and The Duchess of Duke Street for the BBC. This formula didn't preclude social mobility, with dramatic tension being extracted from cross-class liaisons and the accumulation of wealth and status by outsiders. 

Danger UXB is something of a barracks Upstairs Downstairs, with its cross-cutting between barrack room and officers' mess. The series' low-intensity character arcs, burning fiercely in a climactic episode, recall Upstairs Downstairs too. That concerning the brittle insecurity of Major/Captain 'Fanny' Francis is perhaps the most successful. It casts, possibly somewhat against type, Kenneth Farrington then best known to audiences for a long on-off stint in Coronation Street, and more recently a regular in Emmerdale. Francis's obsession with discipline is the barely disguised sadism of a self-hating man and his enthusiasm for reviving pre-war regimental mess dinners a sign of his retreat from the realities of the world as well as his hatred of Ash, transferred from the officer whom Francis blames for the end of his marriage. It's not the wisdom of the hierarchy which resolves the crisis, but Ash pulling strings through Susan's father Dr Gillespie. The episode displays a respect for human beings but a cynicism towards the ability of established structures and those educated through them to manage the ongoing crisis, a sentiment as appropriate to Britain in 1979 as in 1941. 

Another more specific borrowing from Upstairs Downstairs is the presence of nightclub and music hall sequences in occasional episodes. There was little room for niche television in the three-channel era, when programmes had to build a broad audiences. Consequently there's singing and dancing from Micky and her colleagues in 'The Silver Lining' and 'Butterfly Winter'. A further indication is the appearance of variety artiste Sapper Binns, played by real-life variety artiste Bryan Burdon in 'Butterfly Winter' and 'The Pier', which seem to have been made as part of the same block. 'Butterfly Winter' just happens to include a sequence filmed presumably in Chipping Norton Theatre (given where the relevant exteriors are shot) where Burdon/Binns can do his act. Not only is the sequence nostalgic for an audience which could remember pre-television variety, it draws on Burdon's own pedigree, his father being Albert Burdon, a star of music hall most associated (I learn from Louis Barfe's Turned Out Nice Again) with the slosh-spreading wallpapering routine. Binns's stagecraft, specifically his knowledge of theatrical mechanics, is presented as an asset to the company and he becomes, perhaps, Hawkesworth's tribute to the multi-skilled theatrical turns of his early career.

Binns only appears in two episodes, both directed by Douglas Camfield and presumably made as one block. The disappearance and reintroduction of regular characters without explanation was part of the reality of television production at the time, but is used to give an impression of the realities of war service and wartime lives, as people are transferred in and out of the unit with little notice, or husbands are unexpectedly invalided back to otherwise-entangled wives. It also helps suggest the passage of time. As in Upstairs Downstairs, the series had an internal chronology mapped onto the historical chronology of the period covered, but was not presented so rigidly that it could not be retroactively revised should a second series have been commissioned. 

The series was launched in ITV's listings magazine, TV Times, with features concentrating on the experiences of the real bomb disposal squads of nearly forty years before. Danger UXB was promoted as a drama with a public service mission, restoring an obscured part of the war to public memory. This complemented one of the themes of the early episodes, the early publicity given to the skills of the anti-explosive squads in the press, which gave way to silence when it was realised that the increasingly complex charges were designed with the intention of killing trained personnel. The first TV Times article provided a diagram of a typical excavation shaft and images of several types of wartime German bomb, accompanied by lurid headlines such as 'Your guide to a deadly war game' and 'Rain of death that fell on Britain'. The second article, 'The men who had only 10 weeks to live' was accompanied by a photograph showing Anthony Andrews in the company of four real-life bomb disposal men and related some of their experiences, in some cases pointing out that these tales would be fictionalised for Danger UXB. Coverage for the rest of the series was restricted to the occasional photograph on the listings page, aggravated by the end of the run by a printing strike which led to TV Times being published in an abbreviated form with fewer credits.

Press reaction to Danger UXB seems to have been cautious. Nancy Banks-Smith in The Guardian (9 January 1979) thought it "not... an important series" fixed on "nostalgia and noise". Banks-Smith did however note the appeal of Anthony Andrews as a leading man, "one of those golden lads with sensitive mouths", and the Daily Mirror also remarked upon Andrews's emergence as part of a new trend in male lead towards "The new, gentle man", contrasting him with the "aggressive virility" of Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins in The Professionals and likening Andrews to Patrick Ryecart of My Son, My Son (21 May 1979). Andrews continued to be raised by Mirror writers as a point of comparison with later male leads that year, such as the "mean, powerful and ruthless" John Duttine in The Mallens (who was careful to emphasise that in real life he vacuumed the carpet and helped with the cooking) (31 July 1979). The Mirror's coverage also promoted Danger UXB's public service credentials, not only through a profile of John Hawkesworth as 'TV's Past Master' (5 February 1979) but reporting how the episode 'Butterfly Winter' had led a Brighton man to realise he had put a butterfly bomb in his daughter's toy cupboard. (15 March 1979). This followed the defusing of another butterfly bomb in a bedroom in Rainham in Kent (The Guardian, 14 March 1979).

With a large cast, high production values - with at least one explosion required a week - the assumption that Danger UXB was too expensive for ITV to recommission has a ring of truth. Though dismissed as a "potboiler" by one television historian, the juxtapostion of lectures on bomb engineering every few episodes with the continuing rollercoaster love lives of the male protagonists, together with a sense that the series is consciously revising the collective memory of the Second World War in Britain, encourages curiosity. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there was at some stage thought of a second series, and there was even a Danger UXB annual published later in 1979. However, associate producer Christopher Neame's memoir A Take on British TV Drama: Stories from the Golden Years (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2004) makes no mention of a second series, instead moving on to preparations for the next Euston-Hawkesworth collaboration The Flame Trees of Thika, then pausing to note that the thirteen-episode run of Danger UXB would have had a longer and more profitable life had it been made in 35mm colour film as wished by the creative team, rather than the 16mm imposed upon it as a budgetary measure. Danger UXB was assumed to be still fresh in the public imagination when the Daily Mirror profiled Judy Geeson under the headline 'Blonde bombshell on a short fuse' on 21 July and on 30 October when it ran a news story about Anthony Andrews, but the latter was leaving the UK to seek work in the USA following the indefinite postponement of Brideshead Revisited.

Compared to other Euston Films series of the time, Danger UXB was not an overwhelming ratings success. Only four episodes made it into the top twenty, episodes five, nine, twelve and thirteen. The latter did well, with 16.05 million viewers, only 600,000 viewers behind Coronation Street, boosted perhaps by the heavy promotion given to Thames's Michael Crawford sitcom Chalk and Cheese which ran in the half-hour 8pm slot for the last two weeks of Danger UXB's run. Its series format masked serial elements (as Neame notes in his book) and if the difficult shoot he recounts prevented it from becoming a Thames/Euston banker, then as it stands it occupies a transitional space between Euston's long-running series such as The Sweeney and Minder, and the format which other Euston projects of the time (such as Out and perhaps also Quatermass) were exploring, the self-contained 'television novel'.

Danger UXB is available on DVD from Network

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Transatlantic Tomorrows: reinventing The Tomorrow People

Having republished a review of the original 1970s series earlier this year, some thoughts on the new version of The Tomorrow People might be in order. The two episodes of the CW's commission which I've seen sadly lack a vital spark. More than that, they miss the hope, however naive, which sustained Thames Television's series even as the budget drained away and changing trends in youth and political culture began to challenge writer Roger Price's ideals. Instead unattractive characters find ways to hurt each other and express their anomie within the confines of a reworked The Slaves of Jedikiah, now hung over a framework of paranoia about government surveillance and genetic modification tied up with off-the-peg concepts of a messianic hero's search for his missing father. The recreators of the series, Greg Berlanti, Phil Klemmer and Julie Plec, need to find more imagination, extract more charisma from their leads, and give the new Tomorrow People more to live for than the freedom to be citizens of a world viewed through a dystopian lens.