Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling (BBC1 2017)- A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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(To be read in the style of  a Craig Cash “Gogglebox”voiceover) “In a week where a Cookery Programme found its own soggy bottom and lost over four million viewers by switching to Channel 4 we watched lots of great telly”.  I was one of those missing four million as I decided not to tune in to the revamped “Great British Bakeoff”, the first time I have ever missed an episode.  Sometimes you have to take a stance!

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I did, however, watch BBC1’s Bank Holiday potential crowd-pleaser, “Strike- The Cuckoo’s Calling”, the first two episodes of a three parter based on the JK Rowling 2013 thriller written as Robert Galbraith.  I was a little late getting to the novel, having only read it earlier this year and my motivation for doing so was because I had heard about the tv adaptation and wanted to experience the book first.  I wanted my own pictures to form in my head.   I really enjoyed the book and in my review focused in on the warmth and humour in the relationship between down-on-his-luck private detective Cormoran Strike and temporary secretary, Robin.

Much hinged I felt on the casting of Strike, an undeniably larger-than-life character. I got the impression of a kind of man-mountain from the book and at six foot Tom Burke doesn’t quite have the bulk that was in my head.  Best known to me as Dolokhov in the BBC1 “War and Peace”extravaganza, he is perhaps generally best known as swashbuckling Athos in “The Three Musketeers” series.  The 36 year old son of noted thespians Anna Calder-Marshall and David Burke has scooped one of the most prestigious TV roles of the year with the other Galbraith novels already having been filmed for later transmission. 

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Within the first half-hour Burke had become Cormoran Strike as the book-derived image in my head faded and he became the perfect fit. Not quite as convinced by Holliday Granger as Robin, but that will come in time.  After her turn as Lucrezia Borgia in “The Borgias” I’m finding it hard to trust her wholesomeness.  In the first two episodes there was a little less Robin than I was expecting- we had less of her putting her mark onto the office than I remembered from the book and a little less of developing the relationship between the two characters although it took only the odd glance from Strike to make us realise how valuable she is making herself to his enterprise.

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Characters nicely established the plot followed along expected lines.  The presence of acting heavyweights, the great Sian Phillips and Martin Shaw in the cast gave the whole thing kudos and showed the BBC’s commitment to the project.  I was a little concerned after the TV adaptation of “SS-GB” which the BBC had sat upon after filming and put it out without a great deal of fanfare where it limped along somewhat in dark scenes and mumbled lines, but this was altogether a very different proposition.  Liked the music, liked the opening credits, which gave it a moodiness and recalled the opening of some of those great ITC Entertainment series like “Man In A Suitcase” and “Danger Man”.  In days of technological glossy thrillers this seemed pleasantly old-fashioned, making it perfect Bank Holiday viewing, when we don’t want anything too demanding.

There was always going to be an issue with Strike’s false leg and there was a “how did they do that?” moment as well as some obvious cut-aways.  The leg almost feels like a character in the novel so I was pleased it was given air-time here.  It was hard to forget that the television Strike had lost a leg, just as it is in the novel.  I wondered if three episodes would cause the plot to rattle along too quickly but it established a good, steady pace.  I wonder if the decision to film “The Silkworm” and “Career of Evil” as two-parters will impact on the overall pace.  I hope they are going to be hour-longs and not “feature length” as the hour long format seems most fitting for this.  I wasn’t as struck on the book of “The Silkworm” which will air on television straight after “Cuckoo’s Calling”- I felt it was overlong, so perhaps two episodes will suffice.  It is a much darker piece and it will be interesting to see how it translates to Sunday evening television.  I’ve yet to read “Career Of Evil” but I am pushing it up the To Be Read list so I can get to it before it is shown.

With two parts down of “The Cuckoo’s Calling” and one to go I’m looking forward to the conclusion of this.  To be honest, even though I only read the book six months or so ago some of the plot details have blurred in my mind so I’m getting plenty of enjoyment as the story unfolds. It does seem perfect for television, will push up sales further of the three novels and is likely to give the BBC another big worldwide hit.

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Strike- The Cuckoo’s Calling is shown on Sundays at 9pm on BBC1.  The final episode is due to air on the 3rd September.  Previous episodes are available on the BBC I-Player.  “The Silkworm” is due to be transmitted from Sunday 10th.

 

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My 400th Blog Post – A What You’ve Been Reading Special

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Today reviewsrevues hits the big 400 (thank you wordpress for letting me know, I wasn’t keeping count!).  Since my 300th celebration I’ve moved house and changed jobs but thankfully I’ve still been able to find the time for the reading and reviewing.  I am probably increasingly reading more new books, certainly far more than I was when I started the site.  Thank you to the publishers that have supported me and please keep those book parcels coming! I like to celebrate these big milestones by having a look at what you have been reading.  I did my last retrospective at the end of 2016  and then set the dials back to zero. So, what has been attracting the most attention in the last six months? 400 posts so top 3’s in 4 sections –  Books- Recent publications ;  Books-Back catalogue; CDs and TV. Here goes … (clink on the titles for the full reviews)

Books- Recent Publications

3. Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult (2016)

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Posted in my 100 Essential Books thread at the end of January, I am delighted to see people want to read about this book as it is still going to be one of the strong challengers for my Book Of The Year.  I’ve been recommending it like mad at the libraries where I work and the feedback from those who have followed my advice has all been positive, both from Jodi Picoult fans and those, like me, who have chosen to start their Picoult experience with this book.  Just yesterday a lady told me it would be a book she would “remember for a long, long time”.  Great praise.

2. When We Rise – Cleve Jones (2017)

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American gay activist’s account of life in San Francisco in the 1970’s/80’s. I posted this review in March.  I was told that Cleve appeared on “Newsnight” this week and had been surprised that his book was attracting a good general readership.  The six part TV series made of this book written by Dustin Lance Black has not yet appeared in the UK.  (I took out a Netflix subscription thinking it was on there but it isn’t.  There are rumours that Channel 4 have bought it).  When that is shown sales of this book will continue to soar.

1.A Life Discarded – Alexander Masters (2016)

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Posted in April.  Masters’ non-fiction work is about a discovery of a large number of diaries found dumped in a skip.  Part biography, part detective work, I am going to continue to say nothing about the subject of this book and urge you to read it- a lot of you seem to want to know about it, making it the most read review in the recent publications category.

Books – The Back Catalogue (Older publication dates)

3. The Noel Coward Diaries – Edited by Graham Payn & Sheridan Morley (1982)

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I posted this back in May 2015 and yet it is really only this year that it has been attracting this much attention, showing that perhaps Sir Noel is coming back into vogue.  This is one of my 100 Essential Reads and if you fancy spending close to thirty years in the company of this fascinating man this is a must-read.

2. Motown: The History – Sharon Davis (1988)

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I’d read Sharon Davis’ Motown based column in “Blues and Soul” magazine for years and this book is a thorough study of the label from a British point of view.  I posted this back in November 2015 and once again it has been a slow burner which has taken off this year.  I have Davis’ biography of disco pioneer Sylvester on my To Be Read list.  Seeing the popularity of this makes me think I should get that read.

1.SS-GB- Len Deighton (1978)

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Posted in February this year there has been significantly more interest in my review of this, the book, than the BBC 1 Sunday night adaptation.  To be honest, I wasn’t totally convinced by either.  I think the book has dated rather and doesn’t live up to the premise of an alternative history of  London just after the Nazis won the war,  but this is my most read review in the older books category.

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3. Light Years- Kylie Minogue  (2000)

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Posted in May this is Kylie’s finest hour, a culmination of the pop princess, the disco queen and consummate entertainer.  Rated number 34 in my Essential CD list.

2. Very Best Of Kathy Kirby (1997)

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Posted in October 2016 is number 79 in my Essential CDs. I claimed in my review that this was one of my guilty pleasures, but now so many of you have read the review I don’t need to feel guilty about one of the great under-rated artists in 60’s pop.

1.Let’s Groove – The Best Of – Earth Wind & Fire (1996)

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Since it was posted in October 2015 this has consistently been the most read CD review and things have been no different this year.  It just shows how loved this group was around the world.  Number 30 in my 100 Essential CD list.

TV

3. Roots – BBC4 (2017)

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The high standard was maintained throughout this re-make of the classic TV series.  It feels valid to question why it was re-made but if it brought home the issues raised to a new generation then it was very important that it was.  It lacked the impact of the original which had everybody talking about it when it was first shown but it had good performances, high production values and was equally compulsive viewing. I posted this review in February.

2. Jamestown – Sky 1 (2017)

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I wasn’t sure what to make of the first episode of this (too) glossy historical drama “from the makers of Downton Abbey” when it appeared on Sky 1 in May.  The tale of “maids to make wives” in Seventeenth century Virginia wasn’t without promise.  Here’s a post-review confession, I only ever watched the first episode.  The rest were series-linked in my planner but when it came down to it I didn’t feel the need to watch any more.

1.The Level – ITV1 (2016)

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I posted this review in October after the first episode.  By the third episode this was my most read review ever, something which has continued ever since.  It actually kept me watching the series.  This Brighton-based series had finished before the start of 2017 and yet this year it is over 500 reads ahead of its nearest rival.  In 2016 it finished 1300 away from the number 2 read.  This seems to be the review that is bringing new visitors onto reviewsrevues.com.  Long may it last.

Just writing about these 12 most read out of the 400 reviews has got me recognising that you readers out there like a bit of variety.  There’s quite a range in these twelve reviews alone. It’s part of the fun that keeps me guessing as I’m never sure when I’m posting what will attract the biggest audiences and the continuing readership of “The Level” from countries around the globe has me a little bewildered as the series did not seem to make that much of an impression when it was on TV- but it’s clearly the reviewsrevues readers’ favourite.  Right, it’s heads down now and onwards to the 500.

Many thanks to all of you who take the time to read my ramblings and those of you who feel motivated enough to comment on what you read.  That’s a huge thank-you to my Big 5 commenters who have stimulated thought and conversation on here – that’s Kay Carter, Monika, Fiction Fan, Geoffrey Valentine and Cleopatra Loves Books.  Keep on reading……………..

 

 

 

This Is Us (Channel Four- 2017) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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For the last fifteen weeks tucked away in the shifting transmission time-zone of  Tuesday late evening Channel Four has been this real gem of a series.  “This Is Us” has been feted in its homeland where the American Film Institute has awarded it as a Top Television Programme and has been nominated for Golden Globe, Critic’s Choice and Screen Actor’s Guild Awards whereas here (because of its scheduling?) it has largely slipped under the radar.

“This Is Us” is the story of the Pearson family.  Kate and Kevin are two thirds of triplets and when the third was still-born their parents adopted an African-American baby, Randall, who had been found abandoned at the hospital.  The story is shared between modern day with the siblings in their thirties and at various times in their childhood and in their parents’ lives.

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In the present Randall is a high-achieving businessman with wife, two daughters and a rediscovered birth father, who has terminal cancer.  Jack was a successful TV sitcom actor until he jacked in his lead role as eye-candy male au-pair “The Manny” in an attempt to be seen as a serious stage actor and Kate, his former assistant, is attempting to deal with weight issues and a new romance as well as trying to establish her own identity and position within the family.  Their father is dead and their mother is now with his best friend.  In the flashback sections Dad is very much a central character as the couple cope with the dynamics between the three children and their relationship with one another.

It is very much an ensemble piece with a collection of executive producers (the show was actually created by Dan Fogelman) and writing teams (common enough in US TV) but also with an ensemble cast, not terribly familiar to British viewers who inhabit their roles with great style and intelligence.

Inevitably, awards committees will single out performers from ensembles and so far it has been singer and actress Mandy Moore (who became an international music star back in 2000 with hit single “I Wanna Be With You) who plays the triplet’s mum Rebecca in both time frames, Chrissy Metz (best known her role in “American Horror: Freak Show) who plays Kate and Sterling K Brown (who plays adopted brother Randall) who have received the acting nominations.

The two faces of Mandy Moore in “This Is Us”

Chrissy Metz and Sterling K Brown

Probably the most familiar cast member is Dad Jack, played by Milo Ventimiglia (Peter Petrelli in international hit “Heroes”) and there have been some lovely performances from Justin Hartley as the third sibling Ryan; Susan Kelechi Watson as Randall’s wife, Beth and Chris Sullivan as Kate’s boyfriend Toby.  Because of the time lapses in the narrative structure these actors are all pretty much the same age.  The gravitas performance is an excellent turn by Ron Cephas Jones as William, Randall’s biological father who is dealing with his failing health, coming to terms with a whole new family and a male partner.

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Mandy Moore with Milo Ventimiglia

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 Ron Cephas Jones

The whole thing is character led and beautifully written and the flashback sections work just as well as the present day narrative, with the two linking together, often subtly but always convincingly.

In the latest episode shown this week on Channel 4, Valentine’s Day and an impending band tour caused tension between Jack and Rebecca; Ryan’s “serious” play was due its opening night and the strain of work and family were getting to Randall leading to a conclusion which was both heart-warming and eye-misting.  If character led drama with the natural comedy of families interacting with one another appeals this is a prime example.

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This Is Us is currently being shown by Channel 4 in the UK on Tuesdays at  around 10.30pm.  The last few episodes can be found on the All-4 catch up TV service.

 

Roots- BBC4 (2017)- A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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In the 1970’s and 1980’s a British television staple was the American Mini-Series.  Over three or four nights we were entranced by much higher budget productions than we were used to seeing over here of works by the likes of Irwin Shaw, Colleen McCullogh, Barbara Taylor Bradford and (yes, unfortunately) Jeffery Archer. All these were big heavyweights in the publishing industry who were rewarded by this exposure with life-long buoyant careers.  But the best of these, the one that made the most impression certainly in the playgrounds I was hanging around in at the time was “Roots”.  Based upon a memoir of his family by Alex Haley this was first shown on BBC1 in 1977.

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The original “Roots”

Overnight it turned the name “Kunte Kinte” into one of legend in schools, colleges and workplaces.  It starred those standard mini-series Big Hollywood names – Burl Ives, George Hamilton, Lorne Greene, Ed Asner, Lloyd Bridges but it brought to the fore the largest number of African-American actors to be seen on British television.  (Remember, at this time a Saturday night regular on BBC1 was still “The Black And White Minstrel Show).  It introduced many Brits to Black American history and brought home the horrors of slavery like never before.  The plight of Kunte Kinte stayed entrenched in a generation’s consciousness.  In the US its ratings alone made it a significant landmark in television history.  I do remember watching it all over again when it was repeated and last watched it only a few years ago when I thought, all things considered, it had pretty much stood the test of time.

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Time Magazine cover Feb 1977

Those in television perhaps do not agree as tucked away on BBC4 this week, forty years on, was the first part of a four part remake with (probably) a bigger budget and scenes of perhaps greater intensity and violence.  The remake has lost the washed-out brownish tones of 70’s television, the nightmare of slavery was now depicted in crisp HD, but I wondered, being someone who remembers the original whether a remake is a worthwhile enterprise.

The answer is a conditional yes, if the intention is to once again bring this story to a public’s attention.  It is now an American classic and we don’t usually object too much to classics being remade for a new generation.  I think we will need to accept that it would not stop the world in its tracks like the original, as we are far more aware of this aspect of American history.

I have only watched the first episode which did seem to feel faithful towards what I remembered of the original series.  Over the one and a half hours we got the sense of some of Kunte Kinte’s life in his homeland, his abduction and sale into slavery, his introduction to life in a tobacco plantation where attempts to beat the African-ness out of him look, to his owners, as if they are becoming successful.  Fiddler (Forest Whitaker and a very memorable Lou Gossett Jnr in the original) advises the horrifically beaten Kunte Kinte, now renamed by his new owners, Toby, to “Keep your true name inside.”

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The role of Kunte Kinte, which was so brilliantly played by LeVar Burton as a young man and John Amos as the older was here taken on by Malachi Kirby, a twenty-seven year old British actor who before this had appeared in an episode of “Dr Who” and a handful of “Eastenders”. A huge casting achievement for him and he takes on the mantle of this legendary tv character with great aplomb.  Fellow Brit, James Purefoy, is playing “Massa” John Waller.  We don’t seem to be departing too far from the time-honoured tradition of having Brits play the most repugnant characters with Scottish actor Tony Curran playing the hideous overseer, Connelly who tracks down the fleeing slave and beats him to within an inch of his life.  In fact, this scene, together with those of the sea journey down in the hold of the ship makes for extremely difficult viewing and both may have been ramped up a little from the original to permeate through our post-Millennium thicker skins.

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Brits in Roots- Malachi Kirby, James Purefoy, Tony Curran

This remake of “Roots” was commissioned by The History Channel.  I am working from memory here but the only real significant change was to make Kunte Kinte’s life in Juffure seem more precarious than in the original.  I seem to remember it more as an idyllic African existence that he was unknowingly plucked from.  Here there was an attempt to give this a bit more context with rival tribes, an especially eye-watering initiation to Mandinka manhood ceremony and Kunte Kinte’s conflict in wanting to move away to study at Timbuktu University in the moments before his abduction.  Perhaps we will get a feel of a more contemporary perspective as the series continues.  The other moments that made such an impression the first time round were all present here.

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I’m still not totally convinced of the need for a remake (there is a danger that remakes dilute the power of the originals).  I will stick with it, however, because it is important we watch, especially in these fractured times and I am looking forward to upcoming performances from Anike Noni Rose as Kizzy, Jonathan Rhys Meyer as Tom Lea and Anna Paquin, Mekhi Phifer, Laurence Fishburne and the original Kunte Kinte himself. LeVar Burton, in the cast.  I am interested to see where it goes.  The original had its wobbles, after the first couple of so impressive episodes it did occasionally veer towards soap opera and sentimentality so it will be interesting to see what happens here when the intensity of the pace is reduced.

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Roots is shown on Wednesdays at 9.00 pm on BBC4.  The first episode is available on the BBC I Player.

American Horror Story- “My Roanoke Nightmare” (Fox 2016)- A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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Series 6 of another show I have watched every episode of.  I’m drawn to this because, apart from the chills (variable) I very much like the repertory approach of the company of actors who take part in the different set-ups each season.  The show takes a “horror anthology” format which I approve of and throughout the series we have had some fascinating casting (Lady GaGa, Patti Labelle and Adam Levine have all temporarily moved away from the day job).  Some have been there right from the start (including Evan Peters, Lily Rabe and Sarah Paulson) and have enjoyed a wealth of different acting experiences through this one show, whilst some, including Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jnr and Andre Holland are making their debut in “My Roanoke Nightmare” which has premiered this week both in the US and UK.  The production team of this show must also be the biggest US television employer of out gay actors, producing great roles for Sarah Paulson, Denis O’Hare, Cheyenne Jackson, Matt Bomer and Zachary Quinto.

 

Paulson, O Hare, Jackson, Bomer and Quinto

This season has been effectively cloaked in mystery with no plot reveals.  I didn’t even know what a Roanoke is to have a nightmare about.  (I’ve since found out it is an island in North Carolina where there was a real-life disappearance of a group of colonists in the sixteenth century.)  Here we have a modern-day haunted house set-up presented in the form of a drama-documentary.

 

This format allows doubling up of the actors with some playing “talking heads” the “real” protagonists and some portraying them in the television dramatisation.  Thus Lily Rabe (superb in Series 2 “Asylum” when she played a nun) and Sarah Paulson (superb in Series 4 “Freak Show” when she played conjoined twins) both play Shelby, with Rabe being the talking head (the “real” Shelby).  Newcomers Gooding Jnr and Holland play Shelby’s husband Matt and the wonderful Adina Porter (Tara’s mum from “True Blood) and the even more wonderful Angela Bassett (at her most outstanding as the Voodoo Witch Marie Laveau in Series 3 “Coven” where she joined the show) as Matt’s sister, ex-cop Lee.

Paulson and Gooding Jnr, Angela Bassett and Lily Rabe

The thing about “American Horror” is that it is impossible to predict where it is going to go, so this format may very well be abandoned in future episodes.  What we do know is that Lady GaGa is rejoining the cast and now series regulars Kathy Bates, Denis O’Hare, Evan Peters, Cheyenne Jackson, Matt Bomer and Finn Wittrock will be around (they may have already appeared- sometimes it is hard to see through the disguises) and Jacob Artist who lit up the latter episodes of writer Ryan Murphy’s other mega-hit “Glee” is also making his “American Horror” debut.  I cannot wait to see what Evan Peters is playing as he has been excellent in each of the stories.

 

A montage of Evan Peters’ roles

There were a few jumpy moments in the first episode and a hailstorm of human teeth but I don’t feel it has yet managed to establish an original identity (probably because the premise of a couple moving into a new house was reminiscent of Series 1 “Murder House” and the ghostly corridor wandering of Series 5 “Hotel”).  I do have confidence in writers Murphy and Brian Falchuk in coming up with the goods in this series which has scooped many US TV awards (and has given the now-departed Jessica Lange some of her best roles in her career) yet is a little tucked away on the Fox Channel here in the UK.  It will have to go some to eclipse my favourite of the anthologies (Series 4- Freakshow) and will have to ramp up the horror to be more disturbing than Series 2 (Asylum) but confident writing and an exciting, dynamic and good-looking cast there’s heaps of potential.

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American Horror Story “My Roanoke Nightmare” is broadcast in the UK on Fox at Friday nights at 10.00 pm.  Episode 1 was shown on 16/09/16 and is available on Sky catch-up channels.

 

My 300th Blog Post!- What You Have Been Reading

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With a roar of triumph not too unlike Gerard Butler’s in the 2007 movie I have reached my 300th post.  As I seem to spend a lot of my time telling you what I am reading I thought I’d turn the tables somewhat and take a look of what you have been reading since the start of the year when I did my last little retrospective for my 200th post.  Back then “Mary Portas Secret Shopper” was at the top of the pile but there has been quite a bit of change since then- although there is one in that February Top 5 which has remained very popular ever since, but more of that later.  Looking back the site has broadened a bit with more reviews of CDs and TV programmes  and the author interviews alongside the books so I thought this time I’d section things off and with the Paralympics still going strong have my own bronze, silver and gold medals in each of the categories.  Thank you all very much for continuing to read reviewsrevues.com, for the followers new and old and for all your comments which are always much appreciated.  Now before I get too emotional to carry on, here is what you have been reading, all nicely linked so you can follow up any you might have missed.

Author Interviews

Bronze- Vaughn Entwistle– .Posted in May 2016, Vaughn tracked me down on this site after I posted my review of his “The Angel Of Highgate” I was delighted that he was keen to take part in my Author Strikes Back thread.

Silver – Benita Jayne – Posted in July 2016,  Benita found me on a School Reunion Site and after a touch of reminiscing on school days mentioned she had written a book and would be up for an interview.  A lot of people have read Benita’s interview and it was great to welcome her to reviewsrevues.com

Gold- Chris Whitaker – Posted in April 2016, Chris was such a good sport I got to interview him twice- once for this site and once for my good friends over at Nudge  where his book was chosen as Book Noir featured book of the month.  The Nudge interview can be found here.  Chris was really prepared to get us to see the real him in these interviews!

Books   (And proof that the author interviews do drive readers to check out the book reviews – with only Vaughn just missing out on “doing the double”.

Bronze- Day Of Judgement – Salvatore Satta – Posted in May 2016.  This was not my favourite of the Apollo Classic series I read but it is the one that became the most popularly read review.  It seems a lot of you are interested in this tale of Sardinia in the early twentieth century.

Silver – The Sacred Crystal Pyramid – Benita Jayne – Posted in June 2016.  Just in case Benita needs a little prompting to complete her second novel in her Angel Messenger series here is proof that a lot of people wanted to read  about her novel intended for older children.  Benita has been getting quite a bit of attention in the press (double page spread in “Soul And Spirit” magazine)  and has had a busy summer of promotion.

Gold – Tall Oaks – Chris Whitaker – Posted in March 2016.  It was great to see Chris’ deserved inclusion in the alternative Not The Booker Longlist published by The Guardian.  As well as this he also has the glory of having the most read book review on reviewsrevues.com!

CDs – Unlike the other sections the CD reviews tend to be slow burners with two of the most read actually being posted last year.

Bronze- Greatest Hits – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons – Posted in February 2016. 82 year old Frankie had recently announced a Four Seasons UK tour in April 2017

Silver – You Change – Lindsey Webster– Posted in November 2015 as one of my Music Now reviews (which seem to have taken a back seat of late – sorry about that).  Great voice and since this review has topped the Billboard Jazz charts but there are greater commercial things to come I would imagine especially as this review gets a lot more interest here than a lot of very established artists.

Gold – Let’s Groove – The Best Of – Earth Wind & Fire – Posted in October 2015.  The winner in this category by a clear mile and one that was sitting pretty at number 2 in my Top 5 most read reviews 100 posts ago.  I thought then that was because of the interest in this group following the sad death of Maurice White in February this year  but the interest in this group and this review has sustained throughout the year.  There’s a lot of people yearning for a real-life Boogie Wonderland!

TV Reviews

Bronze- Giles Coren: My Failed Novel – Posted in March 2016 A one-off documentary on Sky Arts which proved that this writing game is not always easy.  Giles was lamenting his sales of his novel “Winkler” but the interest here might suggest that it’s worth re-issuing!  Part of Sky’s Failure season this was a joy.  Giles has managed to overcome failure by hosting a week of ITV summer quiz show “500 Questions”!

Silver – Make! Craft Britain – Posted in June 2016. Another one-off documentary, this time on BBC4- a lovely relaxing programme which should be made into a series.  It has attracted a lot of interest here and for those of you wondering, yes I did finish making my Clanger and I was pleased with the result even if it looks like he has had open heart surgery.

Gold – Scott and Bailey – Posted in 2016.  Now cancelled first-class ITV cop show is already being missed judging by the number searching and finding the review of Series 5.  Not only is this the most read TV review it has managed to knock-out all competition as the most read review on reviewsrevues.com this year.

 

And where do these readers come from?  The Top 5 countries

  1. UK (no surprise there)
  2. US
  3. France
  4. Brazil
  5. Australia

It really is a world wide web, isn’t it.  Thanks for all your support!

 

The Great British Bake-Off (Series 7 BBC1 2016) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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Series 7!  Doesn’t time fly.  I’ve watched every single episode.  It began back in 2010 tucked away on BBC2, where it felt like as long as you could turn out a Victoria Sandwich you were laughing.  Six series on and after a veritable mountain of croquembouche, pork pies, those things that resembled nuns that were so hard to make and those floating island thingies- all “bakes” that remain firmly in the memory, it’s back.

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In fact it was back last week- we are already one episode in.  If you missed that you would have missed them making Jaffa Cakes which would not be on the top of too many baking lists I would imagine- fiddly to make, dead easy to buy.  (By the way, I’m concerned now that my Jaffa Cake anecdote may just be an urban myth.  I’ve always been led to  believe that the jelly in a jaffa cake was actually apricot and it is that which gives it the deliciously tangy citrus taste rather than orange, which when combined with chocolate, as far as I am concerned transforms into the food of the devil.  (A Terry’s Chocolate Orange – not if my life depended on it!)  Yet, in the series opener they were making orange jelly, but then, mind you, some of them were making their Jaffa Cakes upside down!

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The Bake-Off Team

Onto episode 2- Biscuit week and Sue Perkins was unavoidably absent leaving Mel in the tent with Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry.  Sue was in the mid-way educational bit, looking at the history of biscuit dunking, a very important aspect of British history.  I like the bits in the middle, there wasn’t one last week and I thought they might have been abandoned, that after 7 series there wasn’t a biscuit or cake left that we do not know the history of so I was relived to see Sue and food expert Anastasia Edwards wiggling langues du chat into wine and digestives into tea.

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In case you’ve been living in a tent for the last 6 years there are three challenges taking place each week in the bake-off marquee.  A signature dish upon a theme, a blind baked technical challenge and the ostentatious showstopper round which shows what the amateur bakers can really do and to sort out those who play it too safe from those whose confidence leads to recklessness.  Paul and Mary are there to award “Star Baker” and weed out the contestants one at a time and Mel and Sue do the double entendres (to the consternation of the Daily Mail who take a very dim view of discussing cream horns on a family show!)

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cream horns – ooh er missus!

This week, being biscuit week there were 24 identical iced biscuits to make, a technical challenge of Viennese Whirls and some autobiographical gingerbread work.  This showstopper provided us with the most thrills of the series so far.  Despite Paul Hollywood saying that Xmas gingerbread if made properly, should still be standing in February we saw much snapping of walls, statues, turrets and a glorious moment of complete collapse.  Herein lies the hypocritical joy of “Bake Off”.  We get to know and to really like the contestants and will them on to perform patisserie wonders but we enjoy it if something goes wrong.  (Who can forget the melted Baked Alaska ending up in the bin incident in Series 5?) So as the gingerbread started to fall we ooh’d and ah’d with delight but couldn’t help but feel sorry for those whose cookies crumbled.

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Two weeks in.  Have you spotted the winner yet?  It’s usually the middle of the pack participant who starts to shine only after the early favourites have had some culinary cropper or overstretched themselves with fondant icing.  Whatever happens, it is great to have it back as a mid-week treat although my waist-line is not so happy.  As we all know, baked goods are an essential accompaniment to watching the programme to try and watch it without is just too difficult.  There’s added pleasure in watching them plough through the recipe for a Swedish Prinsesstarta Cake whilst chomping on a shop-bought Garibaldi.

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The Great British Bake Off is shown on BBC 1 on Wednesdays at 8pm.  Catch-up episodes should be available on the BBC I Player.

 

B Is For Book (BBC4 -2016)- A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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This one-off programme filmed, animated and directed by Sam Benstead featured a group of children in the Reception and Year 1 classes of Kingsmead Primary in Hackney learning to read over a period of a year.

I was drawn to it because I have always been fascinated as to how we become readers and these very early experiences can often shape our experiences for the rest of our life.  The teaching of reading in this country is also fascinating and the complexities of the English language has tended to mean that different approaches come and go in favour and there isn’t a method that fits everyone equally.  When I was teaching infant children the “ phonic method” was a little bit overshadowed by the “look and say” approach.  There were moves towards learning to read from “real books” using context cues as the main impetus for unknown words.  Since the introduction of the Literacy Hour in Primary classrooms phonics have once again come back in fashion and this was certainly where the emphasis was at Kingsmead Primary.

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I learnt to read myself at a slightly confusing time for phonics as in my school for a while a new system was temporarily introduced.  This was known as the Initial Teaching Alphabet (ITA for short) and our classrooms became full of books that were written in another phonetic alphabet which used unfamiliar symbols as diphthongs and joined consonants.  For some reason (probably to do with the lack of confidence of the teachers with this new method, which admittedly did soon fall out of favour) the methods were run side by side and when we went up to the read to the teacher we would read the ITA books in this strange elongated voice, reminiscent of the vowel sounds of Janet Street-Porter.  At time watching this programme I was reminded of this.

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Got it?  Now use this to read this?

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The children certainly had the phonic sounds hammered into them.  It actually looked quite fast and fun.  Phonics was described in the programme as “a language only children can understand.”  The school’s aim was to get the children reading independently by the time they left the Reception Class and obviously, children being children and developing at differing rates this had differing results.  We met a number of new readers including Sienna who had decided at age four that she didn’t like books and Taijah, a Year 1 girl with extraordinary reading skills who provided a fair amount of the narration for the programme.  It was compulsive viewing to be let back into a world which we, as adults, whose school days are far behind them have largely  forgotten what happened- how we ourselves learned to read.

Once you have children, however, the memory comes back.  The parents of the children were given an important role in the acquisition of skills and this programme showed that where this was thorough and consistent then very good results can be achieved.  The parents of twins, Nicholas and Stephan, found themselves with one child who wanted to read and one who wanted to spend “just some more time under the table to think.”  In a rather telling scene for the disadvantages of phonics and a lot of early readers in general   Stephan went through a book with his teacher predicting the text and claiming that the book was boring.  (He was right).  At a parents’ meeting his mum and dad expressed the concern that phonics did not really work for him, but they continued to persevere and towards the end of the summer term we saw  Stephan again, a changed boy and one who was well on the way to achieving the school’s aim of making him an independent reader by the end of the year.  There was also a lovely family visit to a Waterstones bookshop.

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The budding readers were given a sheet of paper which said “My name is X. I am y years old” and it was interesting to see their strategies.  They were having a go at sounding anywhere on the sheet rather than going from the beginning.  This did seem to confuse a number of them as they were doing it in such a disjointed way that it was too much for them to put together.  This have a go at sounding wherever you recognise a sound must be a method taught to them at school.  The results were not always successful but at least they had the confidence to take a crack at it.

Maria’s Portuguese parents were also shown having great determination.  Maria was not reading at all for a chunk of the programme.  A list of days of the week with Dad were reliant on her memory which failed her whenever she came to read Sunday (Monday? Thursday? Tuesday?) but once again as the narration said “When we started this journey words were monsters but now they have become our friends” – and, as we book fans know, that is a life-long friendship.

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You might have noticed at the opening of this I credited the film-maker with also animating.  This was mainly some story sequences that were filmed with puppetry and stop-motion animation.  I actually found some of this a little unnerving.  It reminded me of children’s television from when I was young which came from Europe and which often scared the pants off me.  I’m not sure how necessary it was for Sam Benstead’s programme other than being another string to a bow.  I personally found the school based scenes involving enough without it.  Maybe the effect was to give a chill to the adult audience and bring back some childhood recollection of them learning to read.

The programme showed you were going to get children to be readers by immersing them in books both at school and in the home.  The school would provide them with the techniques to get them reading but this needed to be supported by the parents and enriched with stories and the whole world of books.  The twin’s mum found a way of introducing death which they had been facing as a family through a book (“The Journey” by Francesca Sanna) illustrating  another very important purpose of books which will remain with us throughout our lives.

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The programme clearly showed the method of getting a child to become a reader.  It did suggest for many it might be initially an uphill struggle but consistency, perseverance and finding the right books would definitely pay dividends.  We all know all this but it was good to see this proved over a year at Kingsmead Primary.

fourstars

 

B is for Book was shown on BBC 4 on Tuesday 5th July.  It is currently available on the BBC I-Player catch up service.

Gogglesprogs –A What I’ve Been Watching Review (Channel 4 2016)

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I didn’t watch the initial one-off special at Christmas time.  It seemed a spin-off too far.  We’d only had a couple of editions of a Celebrity Gogglebox for charity and they were okay but didn’t have the natural feel of the original, which has been one of the best shows on TV series after series I’d managed to fast forward all the trailers for this that I’d seen but then a friend told me she’d seen a clip of a little girl observing that Donald Trump “had a black heart” and was ready to change my mind.

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And I’m glad that I did.  Two episodes in and to an extent it seems as if we have entered the Gogglebox time machine, flipped the switch and found younger versions of the adults we’ve grown to love as these junior armchair critics seem to share many of the same characteristics.  That must be down to the genius of the selection process.  I thought we would be watching children showing off, but we are not.

What we are watching is children entranced by television and taking in the stories in a way which their video-clip dominated world might suggest was a thing of the past and from their viewing we can glean perceptions of the way they view the world.  The reason for Britain staying in the EU should be our continued participation in the Eurovision Song Contest, how buying the Queen vouchers for her birthday would be the most appropriate idea and there was something very poignant in watching children’s jaws drop and eyes spontaneously fill with tears at the sight of the Calais refugee camp.

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The show itself is less topical because it has to be filmed over a longer period of time.  The first programme reviewed was an episode of “The Undateables” where the children really rooted for Tom, a young man with Tourettes Syndrome causing a sever twitch.  “How did he get his tattoo done if he has Tourettes?” might not occur to the adult mind but it is an extremely valid question.

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Children watching adult television means that there is the potential for greater misunderstanding which makes for good TV.  Meryl Streep is confused with Britney Spears and Madonna, Sarah Palin becomes a place-name read from the rostrum she’s standing at and Jacob and Connor (who could be the childhood versions of Brighton hairdressers Stephen and Chris) have a discussion when a documentary about Trump states that his father drilled a mantra into his head.  Not knowing what a mantra is Jacob is horrified by such parental physical cruelty.  A few minutes later he is channelling loveably grumpy old man Leon with his “Oh no!” response to teen vampire flick “Twilight”.

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Some things never change.  Enthusiastic responses to films such as “Harry Potter”, “Star Wars” and the enduring appeal of the music of Abba for successive generations through “Mamma Mia”.  Cue Ashton from Wales – “I’ve no idea who wrote that music but whoever you are I will take my dog off for you” (removing a toy dog off his head).  There was the childhood joy of watching a giraffe being born perhaps on a par with discovering “panties” and “penis” amongst the letters in an episode of “Countdown”.

Gogglebox itself was a interesting concept which has become a brilliant programme because of the way in which it has been thought out and because of the choice of individuals involved.  It looks like the junior spin-off will succeed for the same reasons.  If you like the adult version and haven’t yet plucked up the courage to watch this – seek it out.

 

fourstars – and by the time the series ends and we’ve got to know the children this will probably move to five stars.

Gogglesprogs is shown on Channel 4 on Friday at 8.00.  There have been two episodes so far, at least one of which will be available on the All-4 catch-up services

Make! Craft Britain (BBC4 2016) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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In the week leading up to one of my scheduled TV reviews I’m on the look-out for new  or one -off programmes  to write about.  I can usually make up my mind quite quickly on what is going to receive my attention but this week has seen my indecision causing a number of watched programmes to languish in my Sky Planner in case they need re-viewing for reviewing (see what I did there?)

I thought I might write about “Paul O Grady’s 100 Years Of Movie Musicals” (More 4) in which there was a valiant attempt to cram a century into a hundred minutes in a format that seemed rushed and ultimately a little unsatisfying. “24 Hours In Police Custody” (Channel 4) continues its run as one of the best programmes on TV because of its jaw-dropping access and story-telling with this week’s unsavoury episode “In Plain Sight” appropriately recalling the book of the same name about Jimmy Savile as it related two disturbing tales of paedophilia in Luton.  There were also two new series worthy of consideration, “Outcast” (Fox) which was incredibly dark (not dark in the sense of the latest series of “Game Of Thrones” as in “Put a bloody light on!” dark but dark in the sense of exorcisms in small-town America starring Brit Philip Glenister) and Anthony Horowitz wrote a very promising opening episode of a fast-paced BBC1 series “New Blood” which was full of likeable performances and much potential.

However, late Thursday night, after a stressful day I viewed the one-off BBC4 showing from 9pm – “Make! Craft Britain” not the snappiest of titles but an hour of surprisingly good television.  Presented by Martha Kearney who told us were are in the midst of a huge growth in crafting and that we are keen to relearn skills that the previous generation had at their fingertips.  To prove this Martha sat with her crafting mother who had made a beautiful quilt for her some years back which was obviously such a cherished possession for them in terms of the item itself and what is said about their relationship.  From colouring books (sales of which have provided the book market as a whole with greater buoyancy) to gadgets used to produce pom-poms we are spending money on craft materials.craftbritain

Martha Kearney

I am not a crafter but my partner is- just a few feet from me as I write this there is a spread out patchwork quilt which seems to be growing alarmingly with new hexagonal pieces being added.  I attend a monthly craft group but really just to make the tea and cake but the ladies have taught me how to knit, initially for a charity item but I’ve gone on to make a bobble hat and am three-quarters of the way making one of BBCTV’s “The Clangers”  I am around craft and it is actually fascinating watching the ladies of the craft group work- the range of skills and the choices made and the satisfaction of seeing something through to completion.

A bobble hat I made earlier     This is what my clanger should look like

In “Make! Craft Britain” we visited two craft sessions with participants with a range of expertise from none at all to seasoned makers.  We alternated between a lampshade embroidery group in Lealholm in Yorkshire and a paper-cutting group on London and it was fascinating stuff.  You could sense the enthusiasm, the concentration, the decision-making and ultimately the thrill of crafting.  This would have beneficial effects on the viewer at home.  This was a one-off programme but  I could see a series here.  There’s always great feedback for the occasional “Slow TV” BBC programmes of sledges going through snow or railway journeys but I could happily watch a mixed group of people wielding a scalpel onto a piece of photocopy paper.  There was none of the frenetic rush to the fabric store and race against time of “Great British Sewing Bee” and no competitive element so no need for presenter or judges.  People just did what they were told, made their own choices and were delighted by the results.  I think we need more television like this.  The BBC needs to see the potential of this little gem of an idea and act upon it.  It would be cheap enough!  It was both relaxing and inspiring.  I slept very well after watching it.

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Rightly proud of their paper-cutting!

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Make! Craft Britain was shown on BBC4 on Thursday 9th June at 9pm.  It is available for catch-up on the BBC I-Player.