Thursday, 26 June 2008

The Scottish Soupy Sales

If you follow this link ( it will take you to a British Film Institute site that claims to show the 10 longest running children's programs in the UK. It's slightly out of date, but much as I hate to criticise such an august body as the BFI it has a big mistake in it.

You see, there was a program that ran from 1966 to 1992, a period of 26 years, that is not mentioned there. It can lay claim to having entertained children throughout that run, yet if you lived or grew up south of somewhere south of, say, Berwick or Carlisle the chances are you may never have heard of the show, or the person who hosted it.

North of there however, every kid knew who Glen Michael was - and I was one of them.

Glen Michael himself started out as a comedian/straight man to the likes of Ricki Fulton and Jack Milroy, and played one or two parts in films in the 40's and 50's. If you've ever seen The Blue Lamp, in the scene where George Dixon is shot he's the male half of the onlooking couple. For kids of my age, however, he was best known for Glen Michael's Cartoon Cavalcade, a Sunday afternoon television staple of our youth.

In the title, I call him the Scottish Soupy Sales, and again that's as obscure a reference as you can get. If you have a minute, go and peruse this site - - then come back here. I'll wait.

All right? Cartoon Cavalcade was a simple idea - Glen linking a number of cartoons with characters such as Paladin, his talking oil lamp, Rusty and Rudy his dogs, and the occasional guest star. By all accounts it should not have worked - but it did and it held me fascinated.

Maybe it was the cartoons he showed - not the Warner Brothers classics (although they did crop up) nor was it the Hanna-Barbera or DePatie-Frelang classics. These were the ones that were then staples of Saturday Morning television in the US. Things like Space Ghost (sorry, SPPAAACE GHOOOSSTTTT!!), Atom Ant, Teen Titans, Aquaman, the Bakshi Spider-Man, even Jonny Quest. When people ask why I took the moniker of The Culture Vulture, one of the reasons I can cite is the fact that Glen opened my eyes to what was going on with animation at the time. Even if they were introduced by his disembodied head posing as the Space Guardian...

As I say, the show was an institution from the moment it started in 1966. Certainly my earliest memory of it would be 1967, watching in it my parent's house as they packed to move to our new home. Sunday afternoon on Scottish Television for many years would be a black and white film, ScotSport, Cartoon Cavalcade and The Golden Shot. The skits between the cartoons were probably nothing to write home about, but if your name was read out when it was your birthday it was a rare treat. During the 1980's he also took the show on the road to schools in Scotland - my younger sister appeared in one or two TV specials, as her primary school was the location for filming some of them.

The show was taken off the screen in 1992, and Glen Michael entered a kind of retirement where he occasionally appeared on screen. I remember seeing him in one Taggart story based around a theatrical agent, complete with Paladin in hand. He also did some radio shows, but I believe these days is mostly to be seen in his home town of Ayr just enjoying life.

Chances are he will never see this brief piece, but I just wanted to say thank you, Glen Michael, for the way you helped to shape my childhood.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The Elephant Looms Larger

and the knot in the pit of the stomach gets bigger.

Doreen had a call today from her nurse - the date for her operation has been set for 15th July. Before that takes place, however, she needs to have a preliminary biopsy of her lymph nodes to ensure that the cancer had not become invasive.

This is our biggest fear - that because of the delays in getting tests done and co-ordinating calendars for consultants, the bloody thing has changed its character and began to spread out. If all is clear, then the operation proceeds as planned. If not, then we have the prospect of further treatment and possible delays to any reconstructive surgery.

Having that date fixed in my mind, however, has perversely removed one of my huge fears. For whatever reason, I am one of those people who work best with fixed deadlines and targets. Doreen isn't, but I am - one of those opposites attract things. Knowing when something is going to happen makes it easier to deal with than the big "How long is it going to be" and the unknown nature of such a statement.

A friend of mine put it best - Just take each day for now as it comes. Thank you for letting me share each of these days with you.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Celebrating an Anniversary and Music

Last Saturday, 21st June 2008, was the Golden wedding anniversary of Mary and Jim Clark, the parents of my wife Doreen. As they are both staying with us at the moment, we decided to make this a special weekend for them.

So Saturday morning kicked off with Croissants and Buck's Fizz - and let em reassure you that while one glass of the stuff is OK in the morning, two can leave you feeling extremely merry for the rest of the day. It's also not the greatest idea in the world to have that second glass while watching croissants warming in the oven, but fortunately they didn't burn.

We then headed into the city centre, and while I went to pick up the show tickets we'd ordered they went to order lunch in John Lewis in Oxford Street.

Sidebar - you think it's tough trying to get show tickets in London normally, try getting them for a Saturday matinee that is suitable for ages 9 to 80. Fortunately, I managed to get some for the Sound of Music at the London Palladium. Even better, we got upgraded from the Upper Circle to centre seats in the Royal Circle. It doesn't sound much, but when you have your father-in-law to consider it's a lot less steps.

So after lunch we make our way back to the theatre. This particular production opened two years ago after a TV show to pick the person to play Maria, which was imaginatively called How do you solve a problem like Maria?. The person who won that has since left the show, but the person who came third was starring in this performance. No other real star names, but that wasn't a problem.

Be honest with yourselves - who doesn't start to well up with tears at the sound of Climb Every Mountain?

All right, most of you, but sung it was the way it was on Saturday I'm not ashamed to admit I had a lump in my throat. That song is the climax of both parts of the stage show, sung in each case by the Mother Superior, and the person playing the part here played a blinder. Forgive me for not remembering her name - the one fact I do remember is she "did a Marnie Nixon" for Minnie Driver in the film of Phantom of the Opera. Actually it was a uniformly excellent cast, and we all enjoyed it immensely.

There was an added resonance to where we were sat. When they were married, my in-laws took the night train to London and stayed there before going to Jersey for their honeymoon. They decided to take in a show while there - Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Turns out they were sat in the front row of the Royal Circle directly in front of where we were sitting last Saturday.

We left the theatre, and made our way to one of the local Garfunkels restaurants for dinner. London residents alike will tell you where not to eat in London - the Aberdeen Steak House - but Garfunkels is a nice place if you want reasonably priced food.

Sunday was also busy for other reasons. I ran my youngest son, Stuart, up to the local Scout camp for a Cubs open day, then headed to church while Doreen and her parents did some shopping. The theme for the service was "going into the green fields" - this is not the place to go further into that, but I was reminded of a few lessons I need to keep remembering these days about letting go and letting God.

In the afternoon, Jim and I tackled the weed patch that covers part of our front yard - mainly cutting down to size and spraying with double industrial strength weed killer - before going to pick Stuart up, taking said cuttings to the local recycling centre (or dump as it should really be called) and catching up with the latest episode of Doctor Who. No spoilers here folks - you'll just have to watch it for yourselves.

So, dinner and a show, driving and gardening, and a good time had by all. It's good to have times like these before the storm hits.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Seventies Saturday Morning Telly - UK style!

One of my jobs as a moderator at the Captain Comics community ( is to paste up articles by a couple of the contributing authors, in particular Commander Benson's Deck Log. He is currently writing about the way Saturday Morning television developed in the US during the 60's, and reading his stuff brought to mind memories of the equivalent in the UK when I was growing up in the early 70's.

Those were the days before TISWAS, when there were only three channels, and only one of them really did anything for children before lunchtime on a Saturday. That was the British Broadcasting Company, and (unless my memory is really starting to fade) a typical Saturday morning until the mid-70's would consist of the following.

A program designed to encourage you to learn a sport

The BBC, after all, was designed to be educational, so the morning would always start with something like Play Tennis! or Swim or Play Chess! These were designed to encourage you to start doing something other than watching the television at 7.30 in the morning, but to someone like me they were idiosyncratic even then on two points. Firstly, how was a working class kid like me expected to find a tennis court willing to let me on it, much less try to play? Secondly, even then I knew the way to learn was to practice yourself, not to watch someone else do it. Don't even get me started on the chess program....

A cartoon

These was the days before Scooby Doo, and The Flintstones was shown in the evening in the UK, so we're into Yogi Bear or Huckleberry Hound. One exception to this was my first exposure to Japanese Anime - Marine Boy! Apart from this and the very rare occasions something like Astro Boy or Speed Racer came on, it would be years before Battle of the Planets would mislead the western world into a false impression of Japanese animation.

A fun and musical show

Of these, the king at the time had to be The Banana Splits. Note the lack of the word hour in that title - this was the BBC, and such nasty things as commercials could not be shown. No, it was simply the four "boys" having fun, showing cartoons, and singing surprisingly passable songs. I loved that show - I still have it as a guilty pleasure - and it was a nice way to pass the time whilst eating your corn flakes.

When that wasn't on, the choice de jour would almost certainly be Here Come The Double Deckers!, a series about a gang who met in a London Double Decker bus - hence the name. Originality was not the most common thing in those days for show ideas. What was really unusual, however, was the future (and past) careers of some of the cast. the gang leader was played by Peter Firth - later to star in Equus and more recently Spooks/MI5. The drummer was Brinsley Forde, who went on to be part of the band Aswad. Melvin Hayes, who played the adult friend, was in the old Cliff Richard movies, and later starred in It Ain't Half Hot Mum! An eclectic bunch, I'm sure you'll agree.

A Serial made on the Continent

Ah, shows like Robinson Crusoe and The Flashing Blade! Dubbing that made Hong Kong Chop Suey movies look like works of art! History the likes of which you'd never seen before! Stories with no obvious ending! I loved them all - and don't get me started on The Singing Ringing Tree.....
If it wasn't this, it was a forties Republican serial - but that's a story for another time...

The Children's Film

If you weren't watching television or out kicking a piece of leather around a field on a Saturday morning, the chances are you weer down at the local cinema watching the Saturday Kid's Show - and the films made by the Children's Film Foundation would often take you up to the sports programs as well on the BBC. Good Clean fun for all the family, as they used to say.

I loved all of this as a kid - but did that mean I was deprived of the sort of shows our American cousins were seeing at this time? Oh no - I also got to see the likes of Atom Ant, Space Ghost and The Teen Titans - but that was thanks to a unique person who was our equivalent to Soupy Sales in the US. More of him on another day...

Thursday, 19 June 2008

The Elephant In The Room

This could get nasty. If any of you watch the BBC quiz program QI you may familiar with the elephant in the room - the question or issue that is staring you in the face but you can't see it. Seriously, if you don't want to know what my elephant is, leave now.

Still here? It's as simple as this - my wife has breast cancer.

Actually, she has Ductile Carcinoma In Situ, or a non-invasive form of cancer in her left breast, but it's wide spread enough that within the next couple of weeks she will face a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Outwardly, she looks fine, but it's there - I've seen the pictures as well.

There's no history of this in her family, but her sister died a few years back of liver cancer, so the fear level is upped already. There's also the nagging fear that she could be really unlucky, and they find something malignant when they remove the breast.

So why is it the elephant in the room? Simply this - I love her more than words can say, but I probably fear what is about to happen more than her. I'll be there every step of the way with her, yet I also know that this is her fight, and sometimes I don;t know what else I can do to help her. You feel you would give anything for this not to happen, but it's going to and dealing with it is hard on both of us.

If you're reading this, and you've been through a similar thing, this may or may not strike a chord. At any rate, remember us, and I'll use this as way of noting my thoughts through the weeks ahead. If I shout and swear, forgive me.

Now that I have a blog, what will come here?

A very interesting question, because (as I suspect is the case with the majority of people who do this) what I write about is going to depend on how I feel today.

Some things will remain constant, however. Take the picture at the top there. The scene is of Linlithgow Palace and St Michael's Church from the sout side of Linlithgow Loch - and as you will have guessed if you read my opening salvo, this is the major feature of the town I grew up in. It's also a beautiful, peaceful scene to think things over under.

Then there's the thought of the week on the right hand side. That will be something froma song, story or prose that captures what I'm thinkign of at the moment. If you recognise the source, give yourself a pat on the back. If not, take it for what it is.

I'm actually at home today, havign some lunch before etting back to clearing things up before my in-laws arrive tonight. They're visiting for a reason I'll post about in a little while, but suffice to say it's going to get busy around here.

I'm also looking at my son's notes from the exam he sat yesterday. It only seems like yesterday I was holding his new-born body in my arms, yet here he is sitting national exams that could determine his future. Suddenly I start to feel old again...

I have something else to say, but that needs another post. You'll see why.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

How do you start something like this?

So here I am, joining the growing world of bloggers, and wondering just what the hell I'm meant to say by way of introduction. After all, this is meant to be a place where we share our thoughts, fears and aspirations, and why should I be any different?

So let me offer ten things about myself, and then you can decide if you want to stick around, OK?

I'm not a writer No, really, I'm not. I'm actually a medical statistician, but at school I was encouraged to do other non-mathematical subjects, such as English and History, hence the polymath nature of my interests. My doctorate thesis was rejected on the first submission not so much because of the content, but because of the appalling level of the grammar - that's how bad I am. And yet....

I am a comic book geek There, I've said it. I have been since I was three years old, and probably always will be. I cannot draw to save my life, even though my oldest son is studying Art and wants to be an architect, but I love the works of Lee and Kirby, Morrison and Yewell, even Dudley Watkins. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I never met an artist I didn't like.

I am a Christian I need to say that off the bat - I am, and have been for the last 26 years, an evangelical non-denominational Christian with a big C. It informs my life, guides what I do, but doesn't stop em swearing and cursing.

I'm married with children I married Doreen eighteen years ago this September, and we have two sons, Alastair who is 15 and Stuart who is 9. I'll talk about Doreen a lot over the next few days, I suspect.

I've met James Fox That's the actor, father of Emilia. A story for another day.

I'm Scottish Not by birth, but by naturalisation. I grew up in a town called Linlithgow, halfway between Edinburgh and Stirling, and lived there until I was eighteen. Since then, I've lived for eight years in Newcastle upon Tyne, eight in Nottingham, and ten now in London.

I have incredibly catholic musical tastes I love the music of the sixties, ska and two-tone, Dylan and Springstein, Tom Lehrer and Weird Al Yankovic, Nigel Kennedy and John Williams, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sondheim. Live with it.

They don't call me The Culture Vulture for nothing. I've soaked up television and theatre, literature and other arts like a sponge all my life, and that knowledge comes to the fore at the most unusual moments. We'll see how as the days progress.

I'm doing this for a reason. I need somewhere to vent, somewhere to share my views, somewhere to let off steam. I apologise in advance if that happens.

I have one last thing to say I hope you'll come back and see what I have to say on things.