Showing posts with label BBC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BBC. Show all posts

01 April 2020

The Night Big Ben Fell


I expected this piece to be the highlight of my January 15th column on Today in Mystery History.  Unfortunately it turned out that my original source was wrong: the event in question happened a day later.  Rather than hold back until 2030, the next time January 16 falls on a Wednesday, I decided to make this a free-standing entry, so to speak.

Our subject is a radio hoax, one that terrified large parts of a nation and led to furious condemnation of the brilliant man who conceived it.  It happened--

Excuse me?

I believe I heard some of you saying: "Slow your roll, Lopresti.  You are off by a lot more than one day.  Orson Welles famous broadcast of 'War of the Worlds' didn't happen in January at all.  It was the night before Halloween, 1938."

Right you are, dear friend, and completely wrong as well.  Because I was referring to a different hoax. One with a mystery writer front and center.

Monsignor Ronald Knox was an English Catholic priest, and a mystery writer.  He is best remembered today for his  Ten Commandments of detective fiction, which were at least partly tongue in cheek.  Example: "Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable".

In 1926 the  British Broadcasting Company (It didn't become the Corporation for another year) was being criticized for being boring, so they hired the famously witty Knox to give them some spark. And spark he did.

On January 16th, in a studio in the back of an Edinburgh music store he performed a one-man show.  The BBC warned that the show was going to be humor, but it began like any news show.  Then it reported that protesters had gathered in Trafalgar Square, led by Mr. Poppleberry, the leader of the National Movement for Abolishing Theatre Queues.

In between less-interesting news reports came announcements of mob violence, explosions, and the roasting alive of one official who "will therefore be unable to deliver his lecture to you." And then a mortar attack on the Houses of Parliament:  “The clock tower, 320 feet in height, has just fallen to the ground, together with the famous clock Big Ben.” Finally the BBC itself was attacked.

It may seem crazy that anyone could take this nonsense seriously, but radio was still a new medium (having started in the UK in 1920) and sound effects - used liberally here - were unheard of, so to speak.  Keep in mind that the Bolshevik Revolution was a fresh memory, and a national strike in Britain was being planned for the spring.

So people called the BBC demanding to know what was really going on.  Some people wanted the Navy to attack the entirely fictional rioters.  "People Alarmed All Week-End" ran one newspaper headline.

Martin Edwards, in his excellent book, The Golden Age of Murder, suggests that this disaster encouraged the BBC to look for a less risky form of entertainment and led to some of the greatest British crime writers, including Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, and yes, even Father Knox,  to create a round-robin mystery for the radio.

So, that's the true story of a radio hoax.  And none of this has been an April Fool's joke.

24 November 2018

ACK Not Again! Five Crime Series Plots that Deserve to Die


You have to admire the Brits.  If they have a successful crime series, they don't automatically grow it
beyond one season (Midsomer, excepted.)  But the trouble with most crime series filmed, and also successful crime series in print, is they go beyond their best before date.  And by this I mean, they start to run out of plots - healthy original plots - and search madly for something, anything they haven't done before, including things that have been done to death <sic>.  The following tropes drive me crazy.

1.  The protagonist sleuth is the murder suspect.
By far, this one has me fired up to throw things.  Inevitably, every long-running series has one episode where the Detective Inspector, the PI or the well-respected amateur sleuth, becomes the prime suspect for a murder well into the series.  Into jail they go.  They've done it with Father Brown.  They've done it with Don Matteo.  Hinterland.  You name it.  Whenever I see this happening, I grit my teeth.  Why?

That plot is boring, man.  Obviously, they didn't do it.  If they did, then it is 'series over'.  And it can't be series over, because there are several episodes left, or a new season to download, and I can see that right on the screen.  So all we're doing is tediously waiting for the sidekicks to get proof that our beloved protagonist didn't do it.

2.  The protagonist and/or sidekick is held hostage.
This is the second plot trope that has me screaming Italian curse words at the screen.  This month, it was Don Matteo and Rosewood.  You can name others.  And again, this is boring. If they are all killed and don't get out, end of show.  But there are more episodes, so they obviously get away.  If we know the ending at the beginning, what's the pleasure in watching?

3.  The police officer protagonist is hated by his immediate superior.
One of the reasons I like Endeavor is because Morse's boss Thursday is such a good guy to young Morse.  In so many shows, including the original Morse, the detective superintendent or chief constable behaves like an out-of-control teen, lambasting our hero with manic fury.  He hates the protagonist, for no good reason we can see.  Or is it that he is so insecure, he can't stand someone who makes him and his department look good?  How demeaning.  By all that's holy, make this stop. 

4.  Young female sargeant has affair with older boss.
Okay, we all learned in the 80s and 90s: you don't have an affair with your boss.  It's stupid. It's career-killing.  It's also unethical, if he's married or you're married.  And yet, time after time we see this on the screen.  STILL.  IN 2018.

I cringe, because it perpetuates the ancient stereotype that young female police officers are not serious about their jobs.  They are slaves to their emotions.  They are willing to risk all for romance.  Writers, DON'T take me back to the seventies.  Just don't.

5.  The male Detective Inspector invites prime female suspect/witness to a romantic dinner.
Similar to the 'affair with the boss' above, this scenario gives high-ranking police officers I've talked to apoplexy.  No police officer is that idiotic.

Look, we all understand that tension is ramped up if there is personal involvement.  But come on, writers!  Don't make our extremely professional boys (and girls) in blue look adolescent.  It's insulting.

Just do the right thing.  Tell us a damn good story. And wrap things up before you sink to these tropes.

Melodie Campbell writes seriously wild comedy. You can find her latest crime books (The Bootlegger's Goddaughter and The B-Team) at all the usual suspects.  See this latest ad in Mystery Scene Magazine.   www.melodiecampbell.com




26 April 2018

April Miscellaney


Between April 14th and April 18th we got 22-24" of snow.  This led to a lot of eating, drinking, and calling April a drunk who wouldn't go home.  But now it's almost 70 degrees, and 99% of the snow has melted, and people are back out in t-shirts and shorts, and if you think we're all back in a good, trusting relationship with April you're crazy.  We're just humoring her until May gets here...

It did give me plenty of time to catch up on the news:

Don't you wish these baboons succeeded in their escape from a bio-medical research facility?  They baboons moved a large barrel, climbed over a wall, and ran for it:  (See  Baboon Escape).   Apparently, the facility has been cited "multiple times for animal welfare-related issues, including some deaths".   

Calling Caesar - it's time to show up and rescue.

Caesar, with a rifle and Nova behind his back, on a horse with the film's logo and "Witness the End July 14" at the bottom.And, while he's at it, if he'd take care of Mr. Slager, who is horrified to find out that he's in the middle of the first case of someone testifying at their own murder trial, in which a Woman Burned to Death.  (Well, not quite - there's a Renaissance Italian lady who did, but that's another story, for next time).  Anyway, Mr. Slager and his girlfriend, Judy Malinowski, were arguing on Aug. 2, 2015, when he doused her with gasoline and set her on fire outside a gas station in Gahanna, a suburb of Columbus. “I never knew that a human being could be so evil,” Malinowski said in a videotaped interview on her deathbed. “He just stood there and did nothing. God, please, please help me.”   I hope they hang the bastard. 

Domestic terrorists went on trial in the town of Liberal (you can't make this stuff up), Kansas, before an all-white jury.  The 3 militia members plotted to detonate a bomb at a housing complex in western Kansas where Somali immigrants lived and worshiped.  The men stockpiled guns and composed a manifesto about their anti-Muslim motives.  “Their rhetoric and their speech have revealed a hatred for Muslims, Somalis and immigrants,” an FBI agent wrote in affidavit related to the case, and that is an understatement, to put it mildly:  you can read some of it at the Huffpost Article here:  Domestic Terrorism.  None of it is fit to print.  Thank God, they were convicted.

The tragic part, the absolutely totally completely EFF-ED UP part of it is that they got all their ideas from conservative news:  Ben Carson, HUD Secretary, raving on Breitbart about "civilizational jihad"; Fox News' Monica Crowley raving about the same on The Washington Times; Ben Shapiro, Frank Gaffney, and John Bolton all have spread at least some of what got these men to decide that they had to blow up every Somali in sight.  (See Charles Pierce for further links here:  Right Wing Paranoia.)  And that's without going to the kool-ade crazy Alex Jones...

But there is good news:  The New York Times reported that on April 18, 1930, the BBC's evening bulletin was surprisingly brief: “Good evening. Today is Good Friday. There is no news,” and followed it up by 15 minutes of piano music.  (I'd wax nostalgic and all that, but I know what came next.)

No news was NOT the case for the United States on that date:

The BBC may have had no news on April 18, 1930, but The New York Times did.

Once the snow was melted enough to get out of the driveway, we took a few days off from the daily grind and spent the weekend visiting the kids and grandkids in Colorado.  We also left behind our cell phones, and totally ignored the news, on or off the internet.  It was great.  We played endless games of "Settlers of Catan", and I only won twice.  We went for walks.  We ate a lot.  We saw the sights.  And we talked, talked, talked, talked, talked.

That's what an early spring vacation, or a long summer vacation should be.  That's the way it was when I was kid, when we played Canasta, Sorry, Chinese Checkers, and Gin whenever it rained or got too dark to run around capturing fireflies in glass jars.  Even back then the news loomed large and seemed dangerous, but it faded over a couple of days, and we had time again to talk and run around getting mosquito bites and grass stains everywhere, and then back for more lemonade and beer (for the adults, of course) and more talk.

Very relaxing.  Days where nothing much happens, except you're there, together.

And now we're back, and I've caught up on the news.  Most of it is the same old wars and rumors of war garbage we've been dealing with since Cain decided that Abel was dissing him and his vegetables.  But there's also the shining moments:

Image result for duchess of cambridge

The Duchess of Cambridge had her baby boy.   Most of my friends are amazed that she walked out of the hospital 6 hours later in high heels and a dress, but apparently an entire team of hairdressers, make-up artists, and a maid were there to make her look good, and I suspect drugs to give her the ability to walk while feeling that most of her is inside out.  And I'll bet - and I don't blame her a bit - that she went home, handed baby to a nanny and had a stiff drink in bed.   

There's a great article on the NYTimes about "The Synchronized Swimming of Sea Monkeys". The video of them is absolutely hypnotic, but then my husband always dreads it when we go to the zoo in Omaha and I stand in front of the transparent jellyfish exhibit and watch them floating, up and down and up and down and up and...

And, from the NYTimes, this man saved God only knows how many lives at a Waffle House in Nashville, TN, from yet another mass shooter with an AR-15.

James Shaw, Jr., 29 year old electrician, saw the shooter, scuffled with him, and grabbed the rifle, and hurled it over a countertop.  He was grazed with a bullet, and the barrel was hot, and it burned his hand, which is why it's bandaged in the photo.

In classic asshole style, the shooter cussed him out.

Mr. Shaw:  “He was mad at me.  I was just trying to live. I wasn’t trying to get no money from him, I wasn’t trying to do anything from his standpoint. I just wanted to live, and he was, like, astonished, that I wanted to live.”

Typical:  the shooter couldn't understand why his victims wanted to (or should) live.

Wonderful:  Mr. Shaw was there to stop him.  God blessings, and a speedy recovery!  I hope you get all the electrician work you can handle in Nashville, and may you be blessed in your children and grandchildren forever.

Meanwhile, for those of you who are still tense, jellyfish.














22 November 2017

"...This Sad Havoc"


East London, the 1890's. Whitechapel is still scarred by Jack the Ripper's terrors, and the men who police her streets are haunted, too. The late Victorian, a time and place of huge instabilities, that masquerades as a somehow immutable and granite-solid social and political norm, with its seething discontents just barely contained.

Ripper Street. A period series that's run five seasons. You'd think this ground had been pretty well ploughed and harvested by now, but not so. Sharp writing, animated characters, a terrific cast, and solid production values. This is the kind of thing the BBC does incredibly well when they bring their A-game. Downton Abbey as cop shop.


Matthew Macfadyen as Reid
Inspector Edmund Reid, commander of H Division, holds down the center, but Reid is nowhere near as foursquare as he first appears. His sergeant, Bennet Drake, later himself promoted to inspector, is likewise morally compromised. And the American surgeon, Homer Jackson, a former Pinkerton's man, may well be a fugitive living under another name. The whorehouse madam, Long Susan Hart, of suspect origins, also in flight. Lastly, the Yard's eminence grise, Chief Inspector Abberline, at one time lead detective on the Ripper case, who never caught his man.


Jerome Flynn as Drake
It's a charged dynamic, and it keeps shifting. The orbits erratic, the gravitational influences uncertain, as each major player moves their own boundaries. Drake, for example, is a bare-knuckles guy, what the Irish call a hard boy, but it's his softness that leads him astray. Reid is a self-righteous bastard, and trips on skirts because he sets the bar so high. (He carries the enormous guilt of blaming himself for his daughter's death.) All of this, and more, the scenery not a backdrop, but an ecosystem, a laboratory, a Petri dish that cultures infection. The medium is a character. Social position is destiny, capital is corrupt, brute strength is master.


Adam Rothenberg as Jackson
This is noir well before the term gained currency, and the interior darkness a dread that isn't named. The broken men who 'copper' these sooty tenements and narrow cobbles are honorable if not always honest - least of all with themselves - but they fear the deadening of their own hearts. The 'abyss,' Reid calls it. "Is it ourselves?" he wonders to Sgt. Drake, and Drake has no ready answer.


MyAnna Buring as Susan Hart
Bennet Drake, over time, comes to seem the most conflicted of the characters. Not that all of them don't have their individual weaknesses and ambiguities, but at first glance, Drake presents the fewest doubts and afflictions. He's muscle. He doesn't philosophize. Reid is supposed to be the brains. More often than not, though, it's Drake who shows the greater wisdom, and even restraint. They have a careful balance. Reid doesn't always know when to hold his tongue. Drake speaks less, and reveals more.


Clive Russell as Abberline
A mystery surrounds the two Americans, the surgeon Jackson and the businesswoman Susan Hart, but what they seek in London is reinvention. This might be counterintuitive, in a place so stratified by class, but in fact it gives them an advantage, because they can choose to erase the past. It's no disqualification, for an American. After all, they arrived from the New World. Others, however, are trapped. Whitechapel is both opportunity and quicksand, each of them a lure. There are masks, of convenience, of propriety, there is nakedness, of both flesh and ambition. There are predators and victims. The faint of heart don't prosper. "I would spare you," Bennet Drake tells the whore Rose, "from this sad havoc." But the knight of deliverance is no proof against calamity.

Ripper Street isn't allegory. It's flesh and blood, and plenty of it - full frontal gore, by and large - vivid and convincing. And this visible despair is always grounded in the iron courtesies and awkward frictions of class, a comedy of manners, you might say. Black comedy, and bad manners. An overcast of melancholy. A pinch of solitude. And the historical ironies, thrown into relief. It's an age of wonders, of industry and invention, the coming of a new century, but the dislocations of that new century are unlike anything we could have imagined beforehand. From this remove, Ripper Street foreshadows our loss, the end of innocence.

14 December 2011

A Little Sound Advice


by Neil Schofield

I have chosen this winter scene to begin with, because I am nothing if not obvious, but also for two other - interconnected - reasons. The first is that it was painted by Claude Monet about 130 years ago and about 10 miles from where I live in Normandy. I know this road near Honfleur and it hasn't changed that much. Today, you'd be likely to see an abandoned Renault Five in the foreground and - given the season - a UPS truck fighting its way up the road. Seriously, do we really entrust our precious, fragile belongings to a carrier whose name looks suspiciously like Oops!?

The second reason is that as, you can just perhaps see, it is a Christmas card. More pertinently, it is a card I received some years ago from Dell Magazines. Within are kind messages from Janet and Linda. It is a seasonal and constant reminder of how lucky I have been. Without the help of those redoutable ladies, I wouldn't be here now.
So a painting by Monet finds its way onto a Christmas card which in turn finds its way back to where it was painted. Is that synchronicity or co-incidence? Or simply a proof of the interconnectedness of all things? Whichever it is, it still pleases me.
Christmas is now ten days away, and grizzled and grumpy though I may have become, I still feel that same anticipatory prickling in the soles of my feet as the 25th approaches.

France is another country and they do things differently there. For instance, the celebration and heavyweight eating happen on Christmas Eve. Turkey is becoming more and more popular but the dish of choice has always been a leg of lamb - the Christmas gigot. So since living in France, I have had to change my habits a bit. For example, the Queen's speech on Christmas Day is not the same here. For one thing, the President of France speaks very little English. Perhaps that's because he is very little.

One habit I have never changed, and never will. What I shall be doing on Christmas Eve afternoon, is listening to the Nine Lessons and Carols  from King's College Chapel in Cambridge. And this via BBC Radio. Phew, made it.
Radio is what I really wanted to talk about. I am a radio man, and always have been. Very often, I prefer it to television. As that legendary small boy once said, "On radio, the pictures are better." And in the BBC's case, the small boy was right on the money.
The BBC - or "the Beeb" as we sometimes call it, or "Auntie" as we used to call it, has many different stations, both television and radio. I want to tell you about Radio 4 which is the station of the spoken word, or more particularly about Radio 4 Extra, its offspring, which is devoted to comedy and drama. Especially drama, and readings.
Here are some of the things I have listened to in the past several months on Radio 4 Extra. This is not an exhaustive list.
  • The Complete Smiley - all eight books featuring George Smiley, dramatised and serialised with Simon Russell Beale superb as Smiley
  • The Philip Marlowe Novels - with Toby Stephens - the megaheavy in 'Die Another Day' - as Philip Marlowe. Included, interestingly, 'Poodle Springs'.
  • The Tom Ripley novels - also dramatised and serialised.
  • Rogue Male read by Michael Jayston - who was Peter Guillam to Alec Guinness's George Smiley
  • Busman's Honeymoon
  • A Margery Allingham Albert Campion novel, again beautifully dramatised
  • Deadlock by Sara Paretsky, with the amazing Kathleen Turner as a convincing Vic Warshawski
  • The House of Silk by Antony Horovitz - the only new Sherlock Holmes novel to be authorised by the Conan Doyle Estate
  • The Return of Inspector Steine - a comedy crime series by Lynne Truss (the very same)
I have also heard two  excellent series of short stories called 'Pulp Fiction' which included 'A Candle for a Bag Lady' (Lawrence Block), 'Forever After' (Jim Thompson) 'A Really Nice Guy'(William F Nolan) and 'So Fair, SoYoung, So Dead(John Lutz) All read by Peter Marinker who is a superbly talented American reader. I have more recently been listening to short stories by Bradbury and Colin Dexter.

Dear oh dear, how I am wittering  on. I know a list would lead to trouble.
What I really wanted to say to you is that you can dip into this trove anytime on

www.bbc.co.uk/radio4extra

Its extremely easy to find your way through the site. Just bring up the day's schedule, click on whatever takes your fancy and the player will pop up. (I think you will have to download the player but that's easy; the guidance is excellent)
If you're a born listener like me and like to read with your ears, I'm sure you'll find something to suit your criminous tastes.

So that, my beloved 'earers, is my Christmas present to you. If you already knew all about it, then pass it on to a friend.
That's the end of the radio commercial. We're handing you back now to your regular programme schedule.

And a very, very happy Christmas to all of you.