Friday, 12 August 2022

When The Wind Blows - radio play

Wyrd Britain reviews 'When The Wind Blows' by Raymand Briggs.
In memory of Raymond Briggs who died earlier this week - 9th August 2022 - I thought we could take some time to listen to a radio adaptation of one of his seminal works, 'When the Wind Blows'.

I know for many people he'll be most fondly remembered for 'Fungus the Bogeyman' and for his contributions to Christmas with the books and films of 'The Snowman' and 'Father Christmas' but for me it's the delicately desolate beauty of 'When the Wind Blows' for which I'll remember him.

Published in 1982 'When the Wind Blows' tells the story of a nuclear war between the UK and the Soviet Union from the perspective of an elderly couple named Jim and Hilda Bloggs.  The story follows their futile attempts to survive the nuclear exchange through their home made shelter - doors leaning against a wall - and the advice given in the government's useless 'Protect and Survive' leaflet.  It's both warmly amusing as the pair reminisce about their experiences in WWII and devastatingly sad as the effects of the blast takes it's toll.

This radio adaptation, originally broadcast on 6th February 1983, stars Peter Sallis and Brenda Bruce and received the Broadcasting Press Guild award for the most outstanding radio programme of 1983.

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Thursday, 11 August 2022

Zenith: Phase Four

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Zenith: Phase Four' by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell published by Rebellioon.
Grant Morrison - writer
Steve Yeowell - artist
Rebellion

With the Lloigor defeated nothing can stand in the way of the superhumans and universal domination! The remaining members of the original British super-team Cloud 9 with some additional powered affiliates (including Zenith's infant son) have destroyed America in retaliation for an attempt on their lives. Now they plan to incubate in the sun and evolve to the next level of existence, destroying the Earth as they do so.
Once again Zenith and St. John must make a stand for humanity and this time it's personal! Grant Morrison (WE3) and Steve Yeowell (Devlin Waugh) bring you the mind-blowing finale to one of the most celebrated series in British comics.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Zenith: Phase Four' by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell published by Rebellioon.
The fourth and final volume of Morrison and Yeowell's Zenith relocates the story slightly into the future and brings back, unsurprisingly, 'The Lloigor' for one last attempt at dominating the universe.  The end of Book Three saw a number of the supes poised to put their long term plan that's been getting occasional cryptic mentions since the start into action and here we see the consequences.  I'm not entirely sure I thought this story could become more cosmic than 'Chimera' becoming his own universe in Phase Two and the dimension hopping romp that's gone before but Morrison manages it with the black sun that looms over London and the machinations of those superheroes not preoccupied with popstardom and political gain.  Their plan is suitably grandiose and transcendently egomaniacal on a universal scale and unfolds with the type of twisted gothic grandeur that Morrison would later occasionally return to during his run on 'Doom Patrol'.

It's a fitting end to the story and one that is very much in sync with how other, earlier, parts of the story resolved themselves and whilst it's missing the elaborately pulpy joie de vivre of Phase Three's transdimensional shenanigans it's more intimate nature is perfectly suited to bringing the story to it's conclusion and yes I'm aware that describing a universe spanning storyline as 'intimate' is a little odd but this is esentially a story of a family at war. Admittedly a family that can wipe out America in an afternoon but still just a family. 

In the final reckoning though this series proved itself to be big and bold and suitably epic in scope and it was refreshing to see the main character utterly fail to learn anything from his experiences and finish the series just as much of a dick as he started it and depressingly realistic to see the Tory politician at the heart of the story not only get away scott free but to profit from it.

A brilliant series and well deserving of these big, beautiful, deluxe reprints and of your time and attention.

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Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Zenith: Phase Three

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Zenith: Phase Three' by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell published by Rebellion.
Grant Morrison - writer
Steve Yeowell - artist
Rebellion

After saving London from the supernazi Masterman and a nuclear missile strike, the shallow superhuman popstar Zenith has found that his fifteen minutes of fame are almost up. With his career on the downturn, he agrees to go to Alternative 23 where another version of the WWII superhero, Maximan, is gathering an army of superhuman beings from alternate Earths to take part in a multidimensional battle for survival. With the fate of all reality in the balance, will Zenith be able to drop the sarcasm and take things seriously for once? It's doubtful.

Zenith: Phase Three finds our unheroic hero recruited into the fight to save the multiverse from 'The Lloigor - The Many-Angled Ones'.  To do this an alternative version of the WWII British superhero 'Maximan' has brought together a team of heroes from across the various alternative Earths that includes amongst a host of others 'Cat Girl' (from Sally Comic), 'The Steel Claw' (from Valiant comic), 'Thunderbolt Jaxon' (from Knockout comic and incidentlly one of the reasons why Zenith has been out of publication for so long) and 'Robot Archie' (from Lion comic) now an acid anarchist with an occasional penchant for riding a dinosaur to pursue his plan that involves sacrifices on a planetary scale.

After the fairly sedate plotting of Phase Two where Zenith dealt, quite calmly, with a nuclear threat and we learned more about his history and met some of the characters that were about to play a much larger part in the proceedings Phase Three is a pretty breathless affair.  Hopping between universes in the company of an army of those half forgotten heroes from the heyday of British comics in pursuit of Maximan's plan Morrison and Yeowell really come into their own here with a wonderfully uncompromising and brutal tale. 

The big twist is fairly obvious to spot and my partner is never going to forgive Morrison for what he does to 'Cat Girl', her childhood favourite, but this penultimate book is a series highlight, a great big, fun, transdimensional crossover event of the kind that DC comics used to do in the 1970s but with extra added Lovecraft.

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Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Zenith: Phase Two

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Zenith: Phase Two' by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell and published by Rebellion.
Grant Morrison - writer
Steve Yeowell - artist
Rebellion

It’s 1988 and Zenith is as popular as ever thanks to his victorious battle against Masterman. The threat from the Lloigor has been quashed and now Zenith must face an all-too human threat – Dr. Michael Peyne – the creator of Britain’s post WWII superheroes and ‘father’ to Zenith’s parents, has teamed up with the megalomaniac billionaire Scott Wallace who is intent on taking over the world. Together with C.I.A. agent Phaedra Cale, Zenith must stop Wallace from destroying London whilst also confronting his past and a less-than-happy reunion with his father!

Zenith's second act opens with the pop star superhero riding the success that his part in the defeat of the Nazi Masterman brought him.  It's short lived however when he gets attacked in his own flat by a giant robot type thingy and whisked off to Scotland by an exotically named CIA agent to stop a rogue superhero programme funded by a Richard Branson style billionaire.  

Meanwhile we get a much more detailed look at the bigger picture as former heroes return and new ones appear from across the multiverse as we start to see the extent of the bigger threat that will soon face our arrogant and barely competent hero whilst he himself is shown winning the day thanks to his own unrepentantly shallow world view.

It's beautifully paced and treads some similar ground to the "Project Zarathustra" storyline in Alan Moore's 'Miracleman' although with a decidedly more 'pop culture' bent as we discover some of the truths behind the genesis of the superheroes from the mouth of the comic's very own Dr Frankenstein-esque 'mad' scientist creating new life as Morrison adds depth and mythos to an already genuinely intriguing plot and cast.  With the exception of the, fairly pointless origin story coda, the book ends particularly strongly going fully - and I do mean fully - cosmic as we meet and discover the fate of 'Chimera' a character mentioned in passing earlier in the book in a sequence that allows Yeowell's pristine art to truly shine..  

Phase Two, whilst having a fun but fairly inconsequential menace confronting Zenith,  provides a step back from the main event slowly coming to the boil in the worlds of the supporting cast and a welcome chance to learn the back story of how our superbrat came to be.  Storytelling wise it's real step up from an already strong but breathless start that gives a solid foundation for what's to come and it's going to be a trip seeing where it goes next.

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Monday, 8 August 2022

Zenith: Phase One

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Zenith: Phase One' by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell and published by Rebellion.
Grant Morrison - writer
Steve Yeowell - artist
Rebellion

Berlin, 1945: The allies unleashed the second world war hero Maximan upon the German supersoldier Masterman. Maximan’s defeat was only kept secret by the nuclear bomb which destroyed both men. Forty-plus years later, and twenty years after a generation of ’60s British superpowered heroes came and went, the teenage pop star Zenith is the only superhuman left – and his only interest in women, drugs, alchohol and fame.
So when he is contacted about the threat from the many-angled ones and the impending destruction of our world, his first reaction is to steer well clear.But the superhumans of the past have other plans.

Back in 87/88 when Zenith was first published I was an intermittent reader of 2000AD.  I was working in a comic shop and occasionally flipping through the one copy that was ordered through us so I was aware of Zenith but having read this first of four stunning, large format, hardback reprints I think I only ever read the very first episode, at least from this first story arc.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Zenith: Phase One' by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell and published by Rebellion.
Zenith is a pop star superhero. The only active superhero in the world following the deaths of the original WWII era superpowered pair and the disappearence and retirement of those active in the 1960s.  He's a party brat, selfish and hedonistic only drawn into any actual heroics by the return of the original Nazi Ubermensch powered by the 'Many-Angled Ones', dark gods from another dimension.

What we see at this early point in the story is Morrison playing around with the same sort of ideas of reinventing superheroes as many of his peers were at the time but, as would continue to be the case throughout his career, doing so with a lot more affection for the genre than was perhaps more often the case at the time with those others.

Partnered with Morrison here is the brilliant Steve Yeowell which means that along with the transdimensional storyline the book has a very strong feel of kinship to the pairs brilliant 'The Invisibles'.  Yeowell is a beautifully delicate artist with the ability to give his characters depth and weight and a sense of realness even in the most ludicrous of situations and, as you can see in the image above above a fantastic flair for the dynamic and the dramatic.

So, this first book, despite being all wrapped up a tad too quickly and neatly it all made for a very satisfying read and I head onwards to book two with high expectations.

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Sunday, 7 August 2022

The British Surrealists

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The British Surrealists' by Desmond Morris from Thames & Hudson.
Desmond Morris
Thames & Hudson

Honored for their idiosyncratic and imaginative works, the surrealists marked a pivotal moment in the history of modern art in Britain— pioneering the Surrealist movement between World War I and II. Many artists banded together to form the British Surrealist Group, while others carved their own, independent paths.

Hands up who knew Morris was a surrealist artist before he became a zoologist? Not me but apparently so and here he provides an overview of many of the artists he knew at the height of the movement with a beautifully presented series of pen portraits of thirty four British Surrealist artists and featuring 107 illustrations, most of them in colour. 

Featuring artists such as Francis Bacon, Leonora Carrington, Ithell Colquhoun, Tristram Hillier, Paul Nash. Roland Penrose and Ceri Richards if you're already fairly knowledgeable on the artists included then this book perhaps isn't for you as the portraits provide a pretty brief - and occasionally bitchy - overview of the lives of the artists with little to no critique of their work. But if like me many of these folks are new to you then this makes for an attractive primer giving a couple of examples of each artists work with just enough background info to tantalise. 

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Saturday, 6 August 2022

Fifty Forgotten Books

Wyrd Britain reviews R.B. Russell's 'Fifty Forgotten Books' published by And Other Stories.
R.B. Russell
And Other Stories

Fifty Forgotten Books is a very special sort of book about books, by a great bibliophile and for book-lovers of all ages and levels of experience. Not quite literary criticism, not quite an autobiography, it is at once a guided tour through the dusty backrooms of long vanished used bookstores, a love letter to bookshops and bookselling, and a browser’s dream wish list of often overlooked and unloved novels, short story collections, poetry collections and works of nonfiction.

There is a small but much loved and growing section of my collection that can be described as books about books including Nicholas Royle's love letter to Picador and Penguin Books 'White Spines', Mark Valentine's championing of forgotten and underappreciated authors in, amongst others, 'A Country Still All Mystery' and Mike Ashley's celebration of British science fiction 'Yesterday's Tomorrows' to name just a few and now joining them is Ray Russell's 'Fifty Forgotten Books'.

Wyrd Britain reviews R.B. Russell's 'Fifty Forgotten Books' published by And Other Stories.
This new book from Tartarus Press publisher Ray finds him discussing the fifty books (and referencing many more) both old and new that, along with the shops and the people he discovered them through, have impacted on his life.  Featuring authors such as Arthur Machen, H.P. Lovecraft, M.P. Shiel, Aleister Crowley, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Walter de la Mare, David Lindsay, Robert Aickman, Rosalie Parker, Mark Valentine, Avalon Brantley, and many, many more it's an enthralling, and very gracious, wander through a love affair with literature that has, in many ways, defined his life.

Presented as a nifty dust-jacketed paperback 'Fifty Forgotten Books' tells a literary autobiography as Ray relates a life spent amongst books and of the various folks he has encountered on his quest for the next perfectly formed sentence.  It is a sublime read that's heartily recommended to everyone with a love of books and in particular of those beautiful obscurities that seemingly only exist on the lowest shelves, in the dustiest corners of the most charismatic of second-hand bookshops.

Published on 13th September 2022.

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Thursday, 4 August 2022

The Hobbit (Jackanory)

Between the 1st and the 12th of October 1979 Jackanory -  a long running Children's BBC series where actors and authors would read a story directly to camera - the BBC undertook a 10 episode telling of J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Hobbit'.

To do this director Roger Singleton-Turner turned to his most reliable reader, the man who had very much become the face of the show as well as being the voice of 'The Wombles', Bernard Cribbins here ably supported by the brilliant Maurice Denham, Jan Francis and David Wood.

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