Monday, 4 November 2019

Alice Through the Looking Glass & White Rabbits in Sussex

Peter Howell & John Ferdinando - Alice Through the Looking Glass
In 1974 a young composer named Peter Howell joined the BBC Radiophonic Workshop where he stayed for the next 23 years composing some of the Workshop's most memorable pieces of that time including "Greenwich Chorus", "The Children of Green Knowe" and the reworked Doctor Who theme used throughout the early 1980s.  Previous to his time at that venerable institution though he, along with his friend John Ferdinando, had been part of several psychedelic folk bands - Agincourt & Ithaca - who produced several - now insanely collectible - albums.

The duo were also responsible for one particular beautiful oddity when they composed the 'soundtrack' for The Ditchling Players 1969 amateur performance of Lewis Carroll's 'Alice Through the Looking Glass'.  Originally only released as a private press (50 copies) on Howell's own label it is the single most perfect audition tape he could ever have made for his later employers; full of odd instrumentation and tape experimentation it's pastoral folk experimentalism meaning it's every bit as eccentric and idiosyncratic as both the source material and his future workplace.

Peter Howell & John Ferdinando - Alice Through the Looking Glass
You can hear the album in the embedded player below and whilst it may not be to everyone's taste I encourage everyone to give it a try as personally I think it's fabulous but before you do please also allow me to point you in the direction of a fantastic 30 minute documentary on the album produced by BBC Radio 3 a couple of years back.

Presented by David Bramwell it tells the story of the album and beyond that of the influence of the landscape of the Sussex Downs with the participation of the two composers, some of the Ditchling Players themselves and musical luminaries such as Shirley Collins and Arthur Brown.  It really is very much worth 30 minutes of your time and can be heard at the link below...

White Rabbits in Sussex

And then there's the album itself...



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Sunday, 3 November 2019

Night of the Big Heat

night of the big heat
The original novel that spawned 'Night of the Big Heat' was written by UK writer John Lymington (real name John Richard Newton Chance) who produced a seemingly endless stream of sub John Wyndham sci fi through the 1960s, 70s and even into the 80s - indeed fellow sci fi writer Brian Stableford suggested that Lymington chose his nom de plume specifically because of it's similarity to Wyndham's name - and this, his first, is very much in that category.

Set on the island of Fara where despite it being winter the locals are suffering in an intense heat wave.  Onto the sweltering island comes vampish secretary, Angela Roberts (Jane Merrow) in an attempt to rekindle her affair with novelist / publican Jeff Callum (Patrick Allen).  Already on the island are various locals including Dr Vernon Stone (Peter Cushing), a team of meteorologists and a brash scientist called Godfrey Hanson (Christopher Lee) who is investigating the heatwave and uncovering some unexpected results.

night of the big heat
Directed by Hammer stalwart Terence Fisher (The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula) and starring that companies two biggest stars - although Cushing is very much a supporting cast member here - it seems strange that this was made by the obscure Planet Film Productions but perhaps that goes a long way to explaining just how cheaply made it seems but continuity errors and dodgy effects are the stuff that all our favourite B-movies are made of and this is definitely a B (possibly even a C).

The film is often achingly slow being a creature feature with an uninspiring creature that resembles a stranded jellyfish and with a script that was, at least in part, written by  Pip and Jane Baker - more familiar for their work some 20 years later on Doctor Who - this is a film that is saved by it's cast as Lee is obviously relishing his role, Cushing dominates each of his few scenes and Merrow is deliciously vindictive as the bonkers femme fatale.

In all it's a mess but it's a mess with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing at it's heart and that's a pairing that is always going to make me happy.

Buy it here - Night Of The Big Heat - or watch it below



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Friday, 1 November 2019

The Vorpal Blade

Peter Cushing The Vorpal Blade Tales of the Unexpected
In this sixth series episode of Roald Dahl's 'Tales of the Unexpected' Peter Cushing, as an ageing German officer, tells the story of a duel fought while at school.

Told in flashback Cushing himself appears only in the the framing sequence and as the narrator and whilst age may have robbed him of the physicality he used to bring to his performances it certainly has had no effect on the grandeur of that voice.

Peter Cushing The Vorpal Blade Tales of the Unexpected
With it's title taken from the name Lewis Carroll gave to the magical blade that slays The Jabberwock in his nonsense poem featured in 'Through the Looking Glass', Cushing here tells the tale of a schoolboy duel; of jealousy, of pride and of fear.  He tells of a time in 'his' younger days when he was forced to fight a duel and of the consequences of the decisions and actions of the participants.

The story he relates is, in all honesty, a little weak and the final revelations are easily deduced long before they are played out but a chance to catch one of the final performances - he was to act on screen only 5 more times after this - of one of the greats of wyrd British cinema is not to be passed on.



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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much appreciate a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain