Wednesday, 13 April 2011

We Have Moved


Exciting News For Optimists

Depressing News for Pessimists

I started this weblog exactly two years ago, and it’s given me a lot of pleasure to share all this odd stuff with the world even though, for the first six months at least, there was very little evidence that anyone else in the world was watching.

Over time, however, the blog gathered momentum and a fair few followers, and it felt a very worthwhile activity, a sort of online scrapbook, a way of recording some of my daft obsessions and passing phases in an almost therapeutic way. But despite your support and some great comments, standard blogging remains an essentially solo activity, and it requires the individual to be motivated and excited and brimming with ideas they want to communicate. For me, my motivation, excitement and ideas now all focus on ‘Island Of Terror’, my other blog, so I will be suspending this blog and moving all activity over to there.

If you currently follow this blog, or look in occasionally, it would be great if you would bookmark or follow ‘Island Of Terror’ instead. It’s less general, or rather more specific, but I’m still behind every post, so you can expect a similar approach and some familiar subject matter: I’m too old to change.

Thanks to everyone that ever read this blog and liked it, special thanks to people who read it regularly. I don’t see this as a funeral, I see it as wedding announcement, a merger, much in the same way that Valiant merged with Vulcan, Battle merged with Action, 2000AD merged with Starlord, then Tornado (well, maybe not Tornado, it was rubbish).

All content will remain here for future generations of nerds, and all links will, I hope, remain live. Let me know if they don’t. Thanks again, and I hope to see you on The Island.

Paul Bareham (aka Ray Wittering)

To see us out, a stone cold fucking classic, and that's swearing.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Disco Wrestler

Every seventies icon needs their own record and although not speaking didn’t stop Marcel Marceau from recording an LP, Kendo Nagasaki decided to let others pay tribute rather than blow his own trumpet.

Lloyd Ryan is a drummer, and a good one, or a bad one when you consider that he taught Phil Collins to play. Impressed by a mighty Kendo television appearance in 1975, he recorded ‘Kendo’s Theme’. It wasn’t a hit, despite a lot of airplay, but Kendo liked it and used it for his entrance music for several years. Lloyd later became Kendo’s manager.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Kendo Attitude

Kendo Nagasaki is one of the great enigmas of British wrestling and, as such, also counts as a cultural icon of that wonderful, awful decade, the 1970’s.

Televised wrestling was hugely popular in the seventies, although most of the stars were grizzled old hands from the national circuit, veterans of a thousand bouts, some of whom had been plying their trade since the fifties.

Kendo Nagasaki was a different type of wrestler entirely.

Rather than the usual costume of a paunch, boots and briefs, Kendo came to the ring in Samurai regalia and fought in a full face mask. He never spoke, he rarely acknowledged the crowd. No-one was quite sure if he was a goodie or a baddie, although, in full flow, he was a pretty scary individual regardless of his motivation. He always won, or got disqualified. No other wrestler could defeat him. Under the management of the flamboyant ‘Gorgeous’ George Gillette, Nagasaki became one of the shining stars of the sport, a massive success.

His mask first slipped (or rather was ripped off) in a 1971 bout, but Nagasaki successfully covered his face and the fight was ended. In 1975, hugely popular tub of guts Big Daddy got the better of Nagasaki (as if) unlaced his mask and tore it off on live television but, instead of settling a mystery, only deepened the enigma. Nagasaki’s face, half glimpsed between Nagasaki’s covering hands, was very odd indeed. His hair was long but shaved at the front and sides. There was a tattoo on the top of his head. His eyes were jet black. It was a disorienting and disturbing experience. I was glad when he put his mask back on.

In 1977, apparently fed up with being famous and unknown at the same time, Nagasaki arranged an elaborate and ridiculously overblown public unmasking: very public, as it was televised live on World of Sport to a massive, eager audience, including me and my Nan. It was, ultimately, an anti climax, but the anticipation was very exciting.

Nagasaki spent most of the late seventies retiring and un-retiring. He acted a little, and had his portrait painted by Peter Blake, a process captured in a memorable BBC Arena documentary. The popularity of WWF in the nineteen nineties gave British wrestling a little boost, and Kendo returned to the ring. Unbelievably (or quite plausibly given the limited actual physical demands of a staged wrestling match), Nagasaki was still wrestling up until 2008 when, by conservative estimate, he would have been in his mid-sixties.

I met Kendo in 2005, at a book signing in Leeds for ‘The Grapple Manual’. Even sat down, he’s a formidable looking figure and, of course, he had all the gear on. He didn’t say anything, or even look at me, he just signed my book very, very slowly. When I looked at what he had written I had a very familiar reaction to this most enigmatic of sporting legends: confused and slightly scared.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Exile On Planet Gonk

Ever since I started looking at the work of Robert Hartford-Davis I knew that this awful moment would come: 'Gonks Go Beat'.

Regular readers will know that Hartford-Davis' work is of, how shall we say, variable quality but 'GGB' really takes the piss.

The premise is that intergalactic ambassador Kenneth Connor is sent to Earth to resolve the ongoing conflict between two rival states, Beatland and Balladisle.

Beatland, as you may have guessed, is full of polo necks, sunglasses and hair that touches collars, and Balladisle is all ties and hushpuppies and songs with spoken middle eights that make you want to be sick. If Ken doesn't manage to heal the rift he'll be exiled to the Planet Gonk, a fearful place apparently inhabited by close cousins of Humpty Dumpty from 'Playschool', i.e. the sort of flammable spike concealing soft toys they fill the grabbers with at the fair.

It's one of the most stilted productions I've ever seen. You can get Connor and people like Frank Thornton to say 'swinging' and 'groovy' but Hartford-Davis can't get them to look anything other than deeply pained when they do. The budget is virtually non-existent, and most of the scenes look like they were shot in The Beachcomber Bar in Butlins Bognor Regis. Most of all, though, it's the awful, awful music and the ugly, ugly people, a string of sub-standard fourth division groups and singers performing derivative, boring and old-fashioned songs (the worst are co-written by Hartford-Davis himself), culminating in an appearance by Lulu. I fucking hate Lulu.

Here's a couple of clips which should settle the whole 'come on, it can't be that bad' debate. The first takes us inside Kenneth Connor's head for a while to watch the aforementioned toxic toys and a dated dance routine. Una Stubbs must have been out when they called.

The second clip comes at the 'climax' of the film, and, despite a nice array of vintage musical equipment, more than supports the maxim 'war is hell'.

That concludes our business with Robert Hartford-Davis. Thank Christ.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Hartford-Davis, You Bastard

After the moderate success of ‘Black Gunn’, Brit director in (self-imposed) exile Robert Hartford-Davis blaxploited for a second time with ‘The Take’ (1974), his last ever feature film.

Based on a novel about corruption in the London Metropolitan Police Force (the subtly titled ‘Sir, You Bastard’ by G.F Newman), Hartford-Davis transposes the action from the UK to the US, and the sleazy cockney copper lead into the smooth personage of Mr. Billy Dee Williams.

Billy Dee plays Terry Snead, a dirty cop who is transferred from San Francisco down to Mexico to help the local force fight organised crime. This doesn’t make any sense, of course, especially as he’s taking bribes from the mob before he’s even unpacked and swapping tips with his new, equally bent captain on how best to store their ill gotten gains.

Lord knows why the Mob pay him, though, as it doesn’t appear to have any benefits whatsoever. When he’s not shooting knife throwing gangsters he’s setting up sting operations or dragging in mob associates and torturing them for information. Inexplicably, though, the kickbacks keep coming. His Police colleagues know he’s on ‘the take’ but don’t seem to care either. When their one feeble attempt at incriminating him fails they seem to lose heart and let him do whatever he likes from then on. At the end, he gets promoted.

Snead is basically a massive arsehole, and although some attempt is made to tell us why (he was once a good cop but, after being unjustly accused of corruption, deliberately turned bad and stayed that way) and to show us his pain (he occasionally phones his ex who refuses to take his calls) he doesn’t elicit any sympathy from the audience, only disbelief that the two timing twister doesn’t up in a ditch with a bullet through his bouffant. His nadir as a human being is perhaps when he forces a fat man to take off his kaftan and do star jumps wearing just his pants as part of an interrogation / ritual humiliation before planting some drugs on him. He also makes Frankie Avalon cry, so he's not all bad.

With a better script, ‘The Take’ could have been an intricate, cynical tale, and nead a master manipulator, a man who can be under arrest one day and made a Captain the next, but it just doesn't happen. The direction too is lacklustre, and limited by obvious budget restrictions. Apart from the odd shot, Hartford-Davis doesn’t direct so much as simply film, and the finished product lacks tension and energy as a result.

Unabashed, Hartford-Davis took his quick and cheap methodology to the small screen, and was working on the cop show ‘Cat & Dog’ when he keeled over from a massive heart attack and died. He was 53 years old.

And with that, we’re nearly at the end of our year long Hartford-Davis odyssey. It’s been an interesting, occasionally mind numbing journey, but it’s not quite over: we haven’t done ‘Gonks Go Beat!’ yet...

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Things that keep me awake at night

The milk float that drives up my street at 4am, then reverses back down it at 4.15. The driver looks like Jimmy Cricket.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Gentlemen Broncos

‘Gentlemen Broncos’ is the third feature film from the ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ co-writer and director Jared Hess.

It concerns Benjamin, a dirt poor lonely boy from a very small town in Utah. Benjamin dreams of being a sci fi / fantasy writer but, when his ideas are stolen by his literary idol, Dr. Ronald Chevalier, he falls into despair.

A low-key mix of dry deadpan comedy and the plain silly, ‘Gentlemen Broncos’ was denied a general release because of poor test audience reactions, but has had a second life on DVD and satellite TV. I won’t make any claims for it as a flawless masterpiece, but it’s one of the most enjoyable new films I’ve seen in recent years: a charming, ridiculous, cheap, nerdy pleasure.

In a brilliant touch, scenes from Benjamin’s book (‘Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years’) are presented twice, sometimes three times: as Benjamin sees them, as the fraudulent Dr. Chevalier has revised them, and through the no budget camera of the appalling Lonnie Donaho, a local ‘auteur’ who has purchased the rights to the story with a postdated cheque. Not only does this allow some fantasy counterpoint to a story that largely takes place in the mundane spaces of the rural American west, but it also lets the director parody sci fi films and low budget movies in general, including the awful melodrama that Benjamin is induced to appear in, playing a sensual stable hand.

Michael Angarona plays Benjamin with an air of desperate resignation, his hangdog face and dying puppy eyes permanently prepared for the next kick in the teeth. Sam Rockwell gives a broad but highly enjoyable performance as Benjamin’s fictional mono-orchid hero, Bronco, carrying off both wild beard and, in Chevalier’s version, white disco mullet and porn star moustache. Perhaps the best performance comes from ‘Flight Of The Conchords’ Jermaine Clement as the distinguished (but increasingly desperate) sci fi guru, Chevalier. The bad doctor, with his nasal voice, literary pretensions and Native American jewelry is a perfect comic creation, a pompous, ridiculous character, a King of the Dorks who will do anything to avoid losing his crown.

Here’s the trailer.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Friday, 4 February 2011


Questions arising from this early 80's wrestling clip:

1. how big is Giant Haystacks?
2. how old is Rasputin, and
3. how was anyone ever fooled into thinking that this was real?


1. 6 feet 11 and 45 stone
2. 74, and
3. God only knows, but they were, they were.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Shit, Man

‘Black Gunn’ was reprobate director Robert Hartford-Davis’ first American film (he'd quit the UK after the ‘Nobody Ordered Love’ debacle, remember?), and it’s an undemanding and uninspiring slice of blaxploitation (I had to watch it twice for the purpose of this review, as I couldn’t remember anything from the first viewing).

Heavyset former American Football star Jim Brown plays Gunn, one of those ridiculous wish fulfilment characters that crop up in action film scripts like this: he’s rich and well-connected, a pillar of the community; he has a nightclub in the basement of his mansion; he drives women wild, and he’s deadly when crossed.

The only problem Gunn has in his ridiculously perfect world is his younger brother, Scotty, a Black Panther who is obsessed with sticking it to The Man. When Scotty and his angry beret wearing pals rob a mob fronted business things go heavy at the bottom and tapered at the top: Scotty winds up dead and dumped on his brother’s lawn, so Gunn loads up his shotgun, flexes his big fists and gets ready to kick some Mafioso arse.

Brown is his usual quiet, capable self, but the best characters are in support, like supercool Bernie Casey (no man ever wore an afro like Bernie), Oscar winning Martin Landau (as a bad ass mob boss) and the deeply creepy Bruce Glover (Crispin’s Dad) as an incredibly repellent and racist hit man. The whole undertaking is rather low key and by the numbers, but then presumably Hartford-Davis was trying to prove himself professionally so reined in his natural impulse for sleaze and shock. The action sequences are okay, but marred by obvious stand ins. The climactic confrontation between Gunn & the hit man is a real disappointment, firstly because he doesn’t kill the creepy bastard and secondly because the two men fighting are quite clearly not Jim Brown and Bruce Glover.

In the end analysis, ‘Black Gunn’ is competent, professional and, by Hartford-Davis standards, relatively tasteful and restrained. Oh, Robert, Bob, Bobby, what went wrong?

Here’s the wonkily synched clip in which Gunn’s brother meets his end. It’s notable for this eloquent, moving exchange between the brothers as they say their final farewell.

Sonny: ‘I can't believe this shit. Oh Man, this shit has taken me out, man’.

Gunn: ‘Shit’.

It's rather beautiful.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Megaton Music

We will return to Twemlowville in the future but, for now, it is time to leave. Before we jump in the Jag and put our foot down, however, there's just time to sample some more of Cliff's library music.

Recorded under the pseudonym 'Peter Reno' for the historic and distinguished De Wolfe music library, the three tracks presented here are not particularly stylistically diverse but they do showcase Cliff's skill with a crunching tune and a funky arrangement.

Perfect soundtrack music for chasing down a lead, preventing an assassination, beating up a suspect, entering a nightclub or simply loading up guns and preparing yourself for a suicide mission.

Here's 'Megaton', 'Hard Crust' and 'Bora'. Great stuff.

Oh, and before we motor, here's the trailer for the 1988 Twemsploitation film 'Eye Of Satan'. I've never seen the film, and that makes me feel sad and empty. No wonder I drink so much Malibu.

Exotico! Erotico!

As previously reported, Cliff Twemlow's autobiography 'Tuxedo Warrior' was made into a film in 1982. Bizarrely, the film makers turned the Mancunian bouncer protagonist into a bar owner in South Africa, then embroiled him in a love triangle and a diamond smuggling operation. Always game, Twemlow appeared in a supporting role but must have made a mental note to be the star of his own show in future (he's in the trailer, by the way, the big blond bloke kicking the star in the head at the start who then loses his shirt).

The trailer is in Spanish (I think, it's not one of my languages, i.e. English) which is amusing in itself, but the moment when the announcer breathlessly says 'lo lo erotico' is when I usually start giggling.