Silly Walks

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With tongue in cheek, John Cleese once said that Monty Python’s silly walks sketch was only funny because of the ‘brilliance of my performance.’ There was probably a kernel of truth here, as several sketches from the anarchic Pythons were hit-or-miss – and certainly, without the gangling figure of Cleese, this sketch probably wouldn’t have worked. 

 

But who could forget the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch, as Cleese ludicrously perambulates to a job in the aforementioned ministry?  And along the way, he also takes the stereotypical bowler-hatted political drone and ruthlessly skewers him: All the self-importance, bureaucratic inefficiency and laughable circuitousness of Whitehall is summed up in one balletic extension of his slender leg.

 

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There’s no denying it: The Gerry and Sylvia Anderson puppet shows were the backdrop to my childhood.  The first I can very dimly remember was the monochrome, primitivist, slightly eerie Supercar (the same age as me, launched  in 1961) with its goofy ensemble of mad professors, all-American heroes and sinister foreign agents. Then there was Fireball XL5.  Then came the great central works of his canon, Stingray, and Thunderbirds before the stranger late-period masterpieces of Joe 90 and Captain Scarlet.

 

Looking fondly back, there was a lot of casual stereotyping going on, particularly of foreign types with no hair or perhaps bad hair, and a tendency with a heat-seeking missile to blow someone’s car off the road. But of all of them, it was the Tracy brothers – Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John – who stood out in my cathode childhood. Every week, some devilish disaster would occur – invariably involving the Hood – and the good ol’ Tracy boys would pilot their awesome Thunderbirds to the scene to save the day.

 

And here is where you have to excuse my childhood indulgences, because for someone of a very young age (not to mention a somewhat vivid imagination), from a certain angle and at a distance, the historic St. George’s-Tron Church, in the heart of Glasgow, would always – and still does to this day – reminded me of Thunderbird 3, the giant orangey-red SSTO (that’s Single Stage to Orbit for those not altogether au fait with all things International Rescue) that hardly anyone liked compared to the other Tracy assets, but I actually had as a toy.

 

FAB, as the boys would say.

 

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Every decade has its own kind of cop show, and in the 1960s and early 70s, following years of national love and acclaim we had for dear old Jack “Evening All” Warner in Dixon of Dock Green, there came to our screens on a Saturday evening a new breed of cocky young Brylcreemed policemen with the groundbreaking Z-Cars.  

 

Z-Cars was the BBC’s first proper British cop show that brought with it grit and realism – and an unforgettable Fife and Drum theme tune adapted from a local folk song called ‘Johnny Todd’. It was set in Newtown, a fictional setting in the dockland area of Liverpool, and it captured a time when coppers were leaving their well-trod beats for fast-paced response vehicles that were the ‘Z-Cars’ of the title: shiny white Ford Zodiacs and Zephyrs.

 

It was written and conceived by Troy Kennedy Martin (famous for the original The Italian Job and Kelly’s Heroes) and included young directors such as Ken Loach.  The stars included Stratford Johns (Detective Inspector Barlow), Frank Windsor (Detective Sgt Watt), James Ellis (Sgt Bert Lynch) and Brian Blessed  (PC ‘Fancy’ Smith); there was also Colin Welland (PC David Graham) in his early acting days, before he moved on to cut his teeth as a screenwriter for the series, en route to winning an Oscar for his screenplay for Chariots of Fire.

 

And at last week’s Merchant City Festival Classic Car boot sale, there were no Z-Car Zephyrs but quite a few Zodiacs on show – but even they didn’t last very long on the streets, as high winds and torrential rain sadly forced an early cancellation of the weekend event.  Ah, the joys of a good Scottish summer! 

 

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Don’t you just hate it when the person behind you in the coffee queue is getting just a tad impatient and showing signs of becoming über-aggressive, just because they’ve not had their double frappuccino fix yet?  It could be worse, I suppose, it could be a Dalek standing in the line at the ‘Tardis‘ coffee kiosk on Wilson Street in Glasgow, during the recent Merchant City Festival – and the double frappuccino fix might explain why they continually whizz around like demented dodgems while frantically shouting “Exterminate!”.

 

It’s the phrase that’s become synonymous with the TV cult classic Doctor Who that I adored as a kid (and still do today), but  just how many times do you think we’ve actually heard it uttered (or rather shouted) by the natives of Skaro? How often do you think each Doctor hear that menacing threat? Which Doctor had it said to them most? And when was “Exterminate!” first said at all? 

 

Luckily for us, there’s a nerdy Whovian – surprise surprise – keeping a tab on all those stats for us. 

 

It turns out, we’ve actually heard the Dalek catchphrase quite a lot – and a lot more often than you may think.  Across the 53 years Doctor Who has been running, the Daleks have said the famous words to the Doctors no less than 514 times, including times they have said “Exterminated”. On average, that’s nine times each year for the show’s run.

 

While the average per Doctor’s regeneration was fairly low, the actual number varies heavily for each Doctor. Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, had quite a peaceful reign with just 12 threats of extermination. This is quite odd when you remember Tom Baker’s seven-year reign as Doctor was the longest regeneration – and also despite being in at their birth, in what many believe to be the best-ever Dr. Who adventure, ‘Genesis of the Daleks‘. The highest instances came from David Tennant’s tenth Doctor, with a staggering 83 “exterminates” from Daleks across his five-year stint in the Tardis.

 

The very first time the Daleks uttered the word was in the second story, fittingly titled ‘The Daleks’. This early William Hartnell story may only have featured two instances of the battle cry, but it was a start of a long cultural reference still alive and well today. 

 

Just don’t get one behind you in the coffee line, that’s all I’m saying on the matter.

 

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“Look!  It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive…It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, IT’S ALIVE!”  And with that famous Henry Frankenstein line, from the late 1931 Universal horror classic, Frankenstein, there entered Boris Karloff in the tragic role that made him a star overnight, in what many consider one of the greatest horror movies ever made.

 

Ironically, the part of the Monster in James Whale’s iconic horror movie was originally offered to Bela Lugosi, after his success earlier that same year in Universal’s Dracula. But Lugosi famously turned it down, saying that there was no dialogue in it for him. A few days after Lugosi rejected the defining horror role, Whale discovered Karloff at the Universal canteen and was immediately taken by his gaunt, jaundiced-like facial features and somber eyes. The rest, as they say, is history.

 

The English director paired the unknown English actor with the legendary Jack Pierce from the Universal make-up department, and his artistry combined with a rare pathos in Karloff’s stand-out performance meant more to horror than anything else that had gone before, including Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula – and indeed, it also defined the starting point of the intense rivalry that developed between those two legendary masters of the macabre.

 

I described in an earlier blog how STV’s early 1970s Friday Night Horror feature, ‘Don’t Watch Alone’, influenced me as a kid – and the first movie they showed in that series was also Frankenstein,  and I was so taken by the movie and Karloff’s performance that I was immediately hooked (and still even today) on all those old wonderful Universal and RKO horror classics.

 

Today’s iconic Frankenstein image from that first 1931 Universal movie comes from the Strathclyde University ‘Wonderwall’ series, located on George Street, that covers more than 1000 square meters and several stories, making it the UK’s largest outdoor mural.  It’s part of the City Center Mural Trail and was commissioned in 2014 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Royal Charter that conferred the university’s status, and created by street artists Rogue One and Ejek.

 

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Recent years have seen an explosion of street art in Glasgow, providing a welcome burst of colour in this often grey city, which in the rain stakes makes my previous haunt of Seattle seem more like an all-the-year-round, 24/7 sun-kissed tropical hot spot.  The playful nature of these colourful murals – part of the City Centre Mural Trail – is a fitting complement to the city’s “gallus”  and welcoming character. 

 

And this mural of a taxi floating at the end of a cluster of balloons, titled ‘World’s Most Economical Taxi’, which can be found in Mitchell Street, is so detailed that artist Rogue-One even went to the lengths of painting bricks onto the wall. He later commented, with just a touch of irony: “Can’t believe I painted a wall to look like a brick wall just because I wanted a brick wall!”

 

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Benny Lynch was the archetypal Glasgow “wee man” boxer: measuring 5 foot 5 and a half inches and weighing in at 8 stone (or 112 pounds/ 52 kg) in his prime – and he had no peer in his time, or since it could be argued, becoming Scotland’s first world boxing champion.  

 

He was born in the Gorbals and the notoriously tough district bred a tough youngster who through his quick fists and ring artistry managed to escape the poverty and deprivation of the area through the even tougher times of the late 1920s.  In all, he fought more than 100 times, winning most of them.  In one year, 1933, he fought 17 times – can you imagine that now?

 

In September 1935, his return match in Manchester with title-holder Jackie Brown (after their March bout in Glasgow was fought to a draw) saw Lynch stop Brown in just two rounds, winning the British, European and world flyweight titles – and more than 100,000 cheering fans lined the streets of Glasgow when he returned home with his weighty haul of titles.

 

Lynch successfully defended his title three times but was stripped of it in 1938 for being 6lbs overweight.  Sadly, this led to his fall from grace as he succumbed to the bottle.  He took to heavy drinking and died, aged only 33, in 1946, and over 2,000 attended his funeral when he was buried in St Kentigern’s RC cemetery, in Lambhill. 

 

There have been many calls for a lasting city tribute to Benny, with movie star Robert Carlyle part of the Remember Benny Lynch Campaign group who are arguing and raising funds for a statue to be raised in honour of this true working class hero. In the meantime, the only visible recognition he has comes in the form of a mural outside of the city’s Clutha Bar, not far from his Gorbals home.

 

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As well as helping to brighten up unloved buildings, the Glasgow Mural Trail – part of the Style Mile city centre strategy – is also helping to support young artists.  But it has a very serious side to it, helping to rejuvenating streets and revitalise buildings and vacant sites that are looking a bit tired and reincarnating them as beautiful pieces of public street art.

 

And taking influence from the Beastie Boys and Run DMC, Rogue-One’s Hip Hop Marionettes graces the side of this Strathclyde University building on John Street, adding more than just a splash of colour, life and humour to what was an otherwise drab, plain brickwork to brighten up our streets.

 

And as one reader eloquently put it in his comment in our previous entry, it certainly beats a time and era in Glasgow when the only thing we would see daubed with paint on the side of buildings would be the once ubiquitous gangland catchphrase of “Tongs ya bass”!

 

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Street art in Scotland has long since escaped the stigma of vandalism that once rendered now-revered works by the likes of Banksy as rebellious eyesores rather than cherished landmarks. And Glasgow has wholeheartedly embraced and encouraged its local street artists.

 

In 2014,  Glasgow City Council officially set up the Glasgow Mural Trail, mapping eighteen different pieces of large-scale, original street art at various locations across the city, some of which have been around since 2008.

 

The number of murals on the trail continues to grow, although sadly the temporary nature of the pieces – which for the most part are sprayed onto the side of vacant Glasgow buildings – means that preservation of the Mural Trail isn’t guaranteed. The upside here is that the project is far more flexible than a conventional art exhibition and, with no confines to speak of, has the potential to develop and grow indefinitely.

 

Many are designed though to raise a smile. Running around the corner of Howard Street and Dunlop Street – beside St. Andrew’s Cathedral – is this fun one, Big Birds, created by Rogue-One and Art Pistol, that features birds in and escaping from captivity – and facing dangers!

 

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BHS’s stores are a pretty depressing place right now, as administrators crack on with the closing down process while the poor staff soldier on at minimum wage to sell off what’s left of their ransacked stock to the circling vultures, such as at the main BHS Glasgow store on Sauchiehall Street and Renfield Street in today’s photo – which has always been there since I can long remember, and many, many more years besides (thanks for the childhood memories of the legendary macaroni cheese & chips in the restaurant!). 

 

It’s grim walking through the entrails of this once fine high street institution.  And as this anonymous diary from one of their loyal workers puts it in today’s Guardian, “If there were a Dignitas for department stores, I would make the call.”   It’s no different in Glasgow as it is in London, as the retailer has fallen prey to the unacceptable face of capitalism, as 11,000 loyal hard-working staff are now without a job and a massive pension deficit thanks to a systematic plunder by former owner Sir Philip Green (aka “Sir Shifty”), as he extracted millions from BHS and then sold it on to a bankruptee who went on to receive further millions from the company.  

 

In the midst of all this, Sir Shifty (and his Monaco-based wife, who is in-name-only in charge of the family money laundering operation) has taken delivery of a £46m private jet and a new £100m superyacht to add to his collection of superyachts. Meanwhile, after a very damning Commons committee report was published today, politicians say he should be stripped of his knighthood if he doesn’t make good on the near £600m pension shortfall.  

 

My haemorrhoids really bleed for him with the “threat” hanging over him of losing his gong.  But the choice of returning the money or losing his knighthood shouldn’t be an option here after such an audacious act of avarice against a loyal workforce and pensioners – but automatically being stripped of one should also come along with the return of the money or a lengthy prison sentence. 

 

Preferably all three, if I had my way.

 

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