Writing Prompt #3

February 22, 2024

This was originally written on Wordpress, in response to a daily writing prompt.

What’s your favorite game (card, board, video, etc.)? Why?

Explorer for the ZX Spectrum, from “The RamJam Corporation” in 1986. It’s said to be the world’s first walking simulator. I only had a demo from a magazine covertape, but it was enough for me – I liked the fact you just walked through an alien jungle terrain and the gameplay was neglible. To me, there’s more to interactive entertainment – and any kind of game, full stop – than goals and points and leaderboards. Asthetics, atmosphere, mystery. This had all that in spades and I don’t care who finds it boring.


Pointless Muppet Christmas Nostalgia

December 9, 2023

A version of the following article was originally posted to Tumblr in 2022.

Tis the season, etc. Here’s a bit of very specific Christmas nostalgia…

Above is a local newspaper article / advert for a live version of the Muppet Show, which ran in late 1986 at the now-demolished Wembley Conference Centre in London. (Sadly, the venue was chosen on its suitability, and not because its name reminded people of a character in Fraggle Rock.)

I attended this on one of the dates listed – I have a feeling it might have been before Christmas. My dad only took me along – my younger sister was still too young at the time to attend. We went as part of a special booked party for the employees and employee’s children of Rank Xerox, which was based in Uxbridge in North London.

That’s a low-res photo of the front of Wembley Conference Centre there, taken at an unknown date. (I took it from Wikipedia.) I have a memory of all of us (employees and other kids) gathering in the car park in the sodium-lit winter evening dusk before we went in.

I remember there was a party beforehand held for us Rank Xerox people in one of the smaller conference rooms, and one of the pre-show “entertainments” laid on for us was a clown. I did not like the clown, but not because of the usual obvious reason. I’ve always viewed clowns more as tiresome nuisances rather than Brothers Of Pennywise.

Rather, I didn’t like him because this clown’s makeup reminded me too much of a clown I saw in an episode of The Avengers – not the Marvel Comics one, but this entirely different surrealist TV show from 60s / 70s UK TV – where both that clown and everyone else at a party died of bizarro germ warfare due to some James Bond-esque megalomaniac or something. I was faintly concerned that I was going to die of every disease ever, like in that episode, but there was a child-friendly buffet available so I quickly pushed it out of my mind. Incidentally, in that Avengers episode I think the scene afterwards went something like:

STEED: So, Doctor, what did the guests die of?
SCIENTIST: Everything.
STEED: What? That’s impossible! How could they have died of everything?
SCIENTIST: They died of measles, the common cold, typhoid, malaria, smallpox… and every other disease known to man. As I said, everything.

During this party we got to have our photos taken with one of the Muppets. As you might have figured out from the top picture, these were full sized costumes worn by actors. They sort of mimed to specially pre-recorded dialogue from Jim Henson, Frank Oz, etc, while on stage. The one Muppet who didn’t have to talk was this janitor character who I can’t remember the name of, and I assume that was the Muppet they chose for the photo op, as so not to break the illusion. For years we had a big framed picture of a grinning young me sat on the lap of this giant Muppet, next to my school photos. It’s since vanished and I have no idea where it’s gone. Maybe Oscar The Grouch nicked it.

As part of the merch we picked up at the show, my Dad bought me a felt flag thing of Kermit… and something like this:

It didn’t have that same base (it was a long blue plastic handle thing containing the batteries instead), but it was a fibre optic light toy doodah which I think were relatively new at the time. Nowadays you get them for sensory rooms, for autistic children. Here’s a link to something that looks a bit more like what I had, sold on a store that’s to do with toys like that. It’s probably why I liked it so much – this is before I suspected I was autistic (currently waiting a billion years to be officially diagnosed), and I loved shaking it about and seeing the bright pin points of light swing about, attached to the plastic handle by long strands of glowing colour.

…And that’s what I did on a Christmas 37 bloody years ago.

(The newspaper cutting came from the British Newspaper Archive, and the paper it was taken from was the Harrow & Northwood Informer, October 30th 1986.)


One Day Murun Buchstansangur Was Repeated For The Last Time, And He Got Very Depressed Over It

October 21, 2023

(This was originally posted on Tumblr.)

Out of nowhere, I suddenly found myself wondering something – when was the final repeat of Murun Buchstansangur, Channel 4’s almost uncategorizable miserabilist 1980s cartoon? (If you haven’t a clue what the holy hell I’m talking about here, read this. It’s worth it.) I decided to take a quick trip to the British Newspaper Archive’s website, where I could search all the TV listings of various national and local papers.

So: the show’s last air date (as far as I can tell) was on Tuesday July 30th 1996, at five minutes to six in the evening. That feels way too far into the nineties for such an incredibly eighties-ish show, and it was “eighties” in a very real life / lived experience way that’s the polar opposite of yer usual vaporwave ‘n’ VHS nostalgia. (Not that I’m against that sort of thing, of course. It’s just that living through it in real time as a kid was very different, particularly in the UK…)

Murun’s final outing followed the airing of a Terrytoons cartoon, perhaps further emphasising that Channel 4 probably never bothered watching a single episode of it themselves. (See the entry for Episode Seven at the above link.) The mid-nineties also marked the point where you’d start to have a tough time arguing that Channel 4 was still “Channel 4”, in the sense of it being a TV station that would do something in the spirit of the Red Triangle season of films from the previous decade. There would still be some notable highlights for a few more years, but the rot had set in by now. (Stuff like Jonathan Glazer’s 2015 idents were a nice throwback, though ultimately didn’t amount to much when they were used to introduce programmes like fucking Gogglebox.)

By this point the schedules were changing. Despite Murun being followed by a repeat of The Avengers (as in Mr Steed and Emma Peel, not Marvel), which also graced the fourth channel in 1982, another programme that had been on earlier was Ricki Lake’s talk show. The following morning would feature Nickelodeon imports Rocko’s Modern Life and The Secret World Of Alex Mack, plus of course The Big Breakfast.

And something else that blows my mind in a way very few people can understand or appreciate: Chris Morris’s Brass Eye was in production during this time, originally due to air later that year (the first show got pushed back to 29th January 1997 due to legal concerns). The fact that the final repeat of Murun Buchstansangur and the first episode of Brass Eye are separated by a period of time just shy of six months feels impossible, but there you have it.

If you’re still reading this, you may be interested to know that the first series can be streamed from here, albeit in a weird semi-official way that’s intended for TV production companies to view as potential stock footage they can use. (There’s a bloody great watermark in the corner of every available episode, and there seems to be no way to download any of it.)

They all seem to have production clocks at the start as well, which is more thrilling than sex. Spot the deliberate error by an exasperated IBA technician, who clearly had to check and re-check the title of the program one too many times:


VHS Review: “Bad Taste Movie No. 1” by Karl Tosner (79 mins, 1982, UK)

July 24, 2023

I’ll begin this review with a quick history lesson.

In November 1982, The Young Ones debuted on BBC2. It ushered in a new age of comedy on British television, coming from the formation of a radical new wave of performers that were all placed under a hotly-debated banner: Alternative Comedy. These included people such as Rik Mayall, Ade Edmonson, Alexei Sayle, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, and many others. The show was loved by younger audiences and generally hated by older ones, and that was in part down to the way it mocked the racism and sexism of more established comedians.

Earlier in 1982, the final season of Not The Nine O’Clock News was broadcast. This was a satirical sketch show which started in 1979, and was seen as the biggest thing since Python. Despite starting nearly four years previously and having a very different feel to The Young Ones, it was seen as loosely adjacent to Alternative Comedy, with a number of its performers and writers going on to work with the aforementioned cast. It also had a similar cutting wit and overall genuine anger against the British establishment. In its own way, it also demonstrated a new method of performing, writing, and even thinking about comedy.

Around the same time, another slightly younger wave of performers were starting to appear in live venues, just as those who had come before them were starting to appear on television. These comedians, many of whom were more “cult” in their appeal (to use an increasingly unsuitable term) went further into the realms of sheer absurdism. Over the rest of the eighties, successive waves of comedy acts showed the public that comedy didn’t need to follow understood formulas – you could do practically anything you wanted.

And while all this was happening, Karl Tosner decided to make a complete load of shit.

This is Benny Hill smashed over the head with a baseball bat, Kenny Everett gone septic. It is a miserable death in VHS form, a 70s pub burning down with no survivors. It is the inevitable downside of cheaper technology allowing any budding director to make… something. And this is certainly a thing.

There’s a couple of moments in this video (it’s not really a movie) where a middle aged man at a desk just does an endless, forced, and weirdly aggressive laugh. He’s doing that because he’s just told some dreadful old groaner of a joke (which all basically boil down to “ha ha sex is rude”) and he’s telling you COME ON LAUGH IT’S FUNNY. At other points we see embarrassed, non-conventionally attractive strippers (“ha ha not being thin is hilarious”) and anonymous men act out “comical” tasks or vague semblances of pranks, which feel like Beadle’s About or Candid Camera if they were scripted by people with nothing but polystyrene packing peanuts in their heads.

The most important actor in this video is the near-continuous laugh track, which oscillates between hysterics and a standing ovation. At times it’s played into the studio where they’re filming, as if trying to emulate an actual audience being present. Obviously, it sounds like a Walkman in a cardboard box. When it isn’t being used, really shitty post-70s disco music is played, like offcuts that Hot Gossip rejected. It too is often recorded via the camera’s actual mic, all boxy and horrible.

At other times they’ll be filming something out on the street, and the most interesting things are the glimpses we see of old shop fronts, obsolete fashions, and long-gone advertisements. During one prank shot on a road, I spied a delivery truck with “Go To Work On An Egg” on the side of it, and that got me much more excited than the poor blonde woman overlaid on the footage, trying to be sexy.

The latter represents the other main part of this – straightforward attempts at titillation using conventionally attractive models, with the blonde being the main person featured. Others just sort of dance around in a horrid disco, with vast amounts of dry ice floating across the dancefloor. There are various early 80s video effects plastered over some of this, for no good reason. Though I may have hallucinated this, I think there’s a bit where one of the “joke” strippers joins the others, and she’s wearing a Miss Piggy mask.

This isn’t me saying I’m offended by all this, it’s the misery of the whole thing that lingers. A leaden pall of unstated sadness lies across the whole production, present in everything from the desultory prank footage with frowning, irritated bystanders; the aforementioned desperate laughing man; the looooong takes of stuff to help get the thing to a decent runtime. It’s not enjoyable, it isn’t funny, it isn’t sexy, it’s more sad than offensive. And yet I know that if someone uploaded this to Youtube, it’d get dozens of gammony comments saying it was “proper comedy from the days when comedy wasn’t banned!!!”, before someone at Google zapped it.

An earlier version of this review was first posted at Letterboxd.


Animated Short Film Review: “Paul Revere Is Here” by Mary Beams and Susan Rubin (7 mins, 1976, USA)

July 24, 2023

America’s bicentennial celebrations took place in 1976, coming in the midst of a generally worn out and disillusioned period in that country’s history. Nixon had left the White House in disgrace only a couple of years prior; the oil crisis had left its mark on the entire West. It was during this time when Mary Beams and Susan Rubin interviewed various passers-by near a statue of the famed historical figure Paul Revere. The visuals are animated renditions of live action shots, and were produced by Beams using the technique of rotoscoping. As it happens, rotoscoping is different in an animation context compared to the more recent VFX term – basically, an artist traces successive photographs or film frames to produce moving visuals. The sources for these drawings were presumably filmed the same day as the interviews.

Despite the importance of Paul Revere to American history, a number of those interviewed didn’t have much of an interest or knowledge of this man who had made his mark about 200 years prior. One woman mentions that she only occasionally thinks of Paul Revere when she uses a brand of silver polish named after him. Two other women (Beams and Rubin?) try to work out the first name of another famous individual who was associated with Revere, via the vague memory of a poem. A man who associates this historical figure with “courage and zest and life and death” ends up admitting “I get nothing from that statue”.

The animated visuals which accompany all that are done in a wonderful style – white outlines on dark blue, sometimes effectively silhouettes, sometimes with sparse details added. I loved one bit near the beginning that looked unclear to me at first, until I realized what I was looking at – it was a shot of the statue being filmed through a thick covering of tree branches. Figures are sometimes drawn blinking in and out of existence, and what were shadows in the original footage are rendered almost like bites taken out of the source forms. At one moment, the line-work explodes like a firework.

Early on, a man talks about all the things he had to memorize by rote at school, which given the age he sounds like, might have been during the 1930s or 40s. He begins to recite a poem about Revere, starting off confidently: “On the 18th April ’75, hardly a man is now alive, who remembers that famous day and year…”

And then through either forgetfulness or a cheeky bit of editing, he abruptly stops. “That’s all I got,” he says off-mic. The filmmakers praise him anyway. The man then goes on to ask if they had to memorize other related things when they were younger. Either Beams or Rubin start to reply, but he cuts them off and starts rambling about those very things; meanwhile, sarcastic line drawings of kids dance in front of letters spelling out “PAUL REVERE”, scratchily wobbling around where the base of a statue used to be.

This review was first published in a different version on Letterboxd.


Short Film Review: “Transmogrification” by Anne Rees-Mogg (9 min, 1980, UK)

July 24, 2023

The layers of real-life irony are kind of too much with this short film, directed by Anne Rees-Mogg – sister of William Rees-Mogg, who in turn was the father of the hated Jacob. Considering that the latter, who briefly appears in this film about change and transformation, is currently part of a crumbling Tory administration who are pining for the 80s / 50s / 30s (depending on what the weather’s like) and trying to eliminate people like me… man, it’s too much. I must also note that in this short, the concept of change involves dressing up as rich people from the 1700s.

For those who have heard of this film, it’s infamous for inexplicably featuring Alexei Sayle. I must stress that his contribution shouldn’t be taken as any kind of secret sympathy for the rich – it seems to have just been a quick gig for him, performing a bit of his stand up for some old lady and then walking around a tree. He’s the most interesting (and obviously bewildering) inclusion here, and it’s him who I’ll be focusing on. While I’ve always liked Alexei and hold him in high regard, I can’t take any of the Rees-Mogg family seriously as artists. For an explanation, look up what Jacob’s been up to, read up on William, and remember that the ultra-rich are not our friends.

I’m not sure what Anne Rees-Mogg’s intention was with including Sayle, but his very presence seems to send up and challenge the images we’re seeing in a way she doesn’t register. Without him, it’d literally just be some posh kids in frocks walking about to harpsichord music – which is a sentence that feels like something he’d spit out into a microphone on stage at the time. He is genuinely the only interesting thing about this, and the short would be nothing without him.

As stated, his part mainly consists of a bit of his stand-up routine circa 1980. This was him very early on, having already received some fame at the Comedy Store the previous year, and his comedic voice is pretty much fully formed already. We get a combination of an artistic/political/historical subject (in this case, it’s Futurism) undercut by references to barmen disdainfully crushing uneaten crisp packets and saying the phrase “bollock brain” – it’s quintessential Sayle, and in its way far more “English” (and also of far more worth) than anything the Rees-Mogg family have done.

At the moment Sayle’s routine goes into mentioning Futurism’s latent fascism, an eerie thing happens – the film quality gets a little wonky due to some shoddy editing, and then we visually cut back to Rees-Mogg’s nieces and nephews (one of whom – Jacob? – is being a kind of human clapperboard) while Sayle’s voice continues underneath. This happens as Sayle says the words “…Don’t you think it degraded the human spirit in its abject homage to the machine age?”. He then delivers his punchline – the absolute opposite of the “refined” visuals – and then the film continues: rich kids at play, endlessly and pointlessly walking up and down in 1700s frocks. Like I say, the layers of both intended and unintended irony (plus over 40 years worth of hindsight) are too much.

I don’t think Anne Rees-Mogg really understood Sayle; I guess she liked the idea of a working-class comedian referring to Futurism and art in general. The fact that he was ostensibly having a go at an art movement about “the future” very well might have appealed to her too. But the way the film seems to nervously shrink back when Alexei mentions fascism says a lot. On Letterboxd, this movie is described as “a short film about the assumption of roles”. That’s what the intention might be, but it really has nothing to say about change or the assumption of roles or anything. Instead it fears actual change and transformation, regressing terrified into the distant past while taking its only energy from a much more interesting working class person – who actually has something to say.

There is a reoccurring joke throughout an episode of Alexei’s much-loved sketch show, Alexei Sayle’s Stuff. A BBC announcer (played by Angus Deayton) pompously announces the arrival of William Rees-Mogg, only for him not to appear. Instead we get a picture of Rees-Mogg’s glowering face, while bawdy 1960s strip-club music plays, with added yelps and hoots from unseen men. The picture is hurriedly faded out, and Deayton’s announcer apologizes over a BBC2 logo. In an odd sort of way, this sums up the last 40 years of British life.

This film was available via the BFI Player, but has since been removed. However, it can be seen via “other methods”.



April 18, 2023