Saturday, 12 May 2012

Missing Believed Missing

The size of a misfortune is not determinable by an outsider's measurement of it but only by the measurements applied to it by the person specially affected by it. The king's lost crown is a vast matter to the king but of no consequence to the child. The lost toy is a great matter to the child but in the king's eyes it is not a thing to break the heart about.
Mark Twain

When I was a child, videos were a rarity (due to expense, not technology) so I cherished my video. Taped in long play off the telly, it had six hours of Thomas the Tank Engine, SuperTed and Fireman Sam, and so at age four it was the greatest prize possession in the world. Then one day I accidentally taped over one of the episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine with Bodger and Badger. Oh no! It was gone, all bar the closing shot of Gordon the Engine going over a viaduct bridge as the sun set. I didn't even have an episode title, and it was before the days of cramming all those stats to memory. For years, I sat up watching all the repeats of Thomas, waiting to see the episode I had lost. Finally, when I was about ten, I found out it was called Better Late Than Never.


Now, if I want to admire the lovely model work again, I can just go onto YouTube. (The lovely *modelwork*, not the absymal CGI remakes!)

This was my missing TV horror as a child, but it had a happy ending.

It prepared me for my horror as an adult, finding out that the BBC had also taped over or wiped episodes of a vast chunk of their archives, even Doctor Who. Only this time UK Gold didn't pop along with a last minute anxiety saving repeat.

So this article focuses on lost art that lack of existence means something to me personally. It will be merely a drop in the ocean compared to all the many millions lost.

An anthology series concerning horrific matters, you say? Sounds like it will be right down my street. Twenty three episodes were filmed, of which two exist today.

Well, that's a bugger. At least there was nothing really good lost in tha...

Including in the missing episodes is the story Boys and Girls Come out to Play, a wonderfully creepy tale starring Peter Jeffrey and a young Sarah Sutton. I first heard of this about six years or so ago when Keith Topping raved about it. Since then, it has been brought up in my presence several times.

The plot as I can get the jist of is roughly as follows: Sutton plays a girl who begins to dabble in drugs and sees the ghosts of Victorian girls in the street. Her dad, Jeffrey, is a cop who takes bribes but beats himself up mentally over it. Sutton and a pal start to take part in smaller crimes which become bigger ones, and when the pal gets cold feet, Sutton kills her.  Her dad is the policeman on the case for the "missing girl" and begins to suspect something is up closer to home. Yet, when questioned, Sutton's killer line to her dad is: "I won't tell them about your secret if you don't tell about mine."

How it develops from there is a bit murky, as forty year old memories argue with each other over detail. It does sound fascinating though, and would allow us to see Sarah Sutton in a whole new light. Her performance was said to be first class. Peter Jeffrey, who was involved in George Sewell's first episode of Secret Branch accusing Sewell of taking bribes (he was innocent, don't worry), now gets to play the other side.

There was rumours of this existing recently, but they seem to be just that: rumours.

Other interesting episodes gone include "Deliver Us From Evil" with Sir John Gielgud as a priest in harms way, and "The Haunting" which seems to have been loosely based on the Borley Rector hauntings, a story which I'm no doubt sure Mandy will regale you all with on her blog at some point soon.

One of the two episodes that is left, Killing Time, does include a superlative performance by actor George Cole, however. Small mercies.

Similar to Menace was Dead of Night. I've seen the strange Exorcism tale, and two others exist (one, Return   Flight, was written by Robert Holmes). A further episode was filmed but not used under the Dead of Night banner, and still exists. You may know it as The Stone Tape. For all that we do have, four episodes remain missing.

No, seriously. Man walking on the moon was a historic moment, but you wouldn't know that for all the care that was taken of the footage. Both ITV and BBC wiped their full coverage of the landings, and although off-air recordings of the BBC version was found a few years ago, it was found to be unrestorable or watchable quality. We have roughly 10 minutes of footage from 27 hours worth of BBC coverage. The event James Burke called "the greatest media event of all time" has little left.

Burke was said to be on fine form on the BBC, explaining the technicalities of the mission with great ease and aplomb to the watching audience.

Over on the ITV, it was circus time hosted by David Frost, with, as British TV History suggests:

"Between news updates from ITN, David Frost hosted a Moon Party in front of a studio audience at London Weekend Television’s Wembley centre. Guests included Dame Sybil Thorndike (actress), Roger Bannister (4-minute miler), Dr. Desmond Morris (zoologist), Wally Herbert (Arctic explorer), Quintin Hogg MP, AJP Taylor (historian), with entertainment from Peter Cook, Cliff Richard, Cilla Black, Lulu, Mary Hopkin, Sammy Davis Jnr., Hattie Jaques, Eric Sykes (1) and Engelbert Humperdinck. (2) The author Ray Bradbury had also been invited, but he took exception to the style of the programme, and walked out of LWT before appearing. (3)"

 Now that sounds compelling and brilliant, which are not terms often used to describe ITV produce these days. AJP Taylors infamous declaration that the whole thing was a hoax is especially something I'd have liked to see. It's not often the finest historian of the 20th Century (not named Mum) got something wrong!

ITV also Quatermass himself, Sir Bernard Lovell, showing up from time to time to do interviews. (Lovell, for those interested, is still with us at the grand age of 98, and by accounts still of sound mind though frail.)

Of course, given NASA themselves lost their own copies of the moon landing at one point, we can't blame the BBC or ITV too much for this. Be thankful at least some record of the historic achievement exists.

Other TV Musings
- Doctor Who. You knew it'd be mention. There will never be a missing episode found ever again for the show, not in any of our lifetimes. Especially not a Troughton with Cybermen on the moon. You might think that's an attempted jinx. I couldn't possibly comment.

- The 1960s versions of Casting the Runes and Lost Hearts. The 3 minutes that survive of Runes make it look stunning, and possibly better than Night of the Demon. The Lost Hearts adaptation is completely gone, but reputation claims it was scarier than the lauded 1970s Lawrence Gordon Clark version. Which, given that is meant to be "the scariest thing ever", would have taken some doing.

- Nineteen episodes of Hancock's Half Hour, and ten of the Peter Cushing Sherlock Holmes stories. Including the wonderful Dancing Men.

- Many episodes of Take Hart, wiped by Adam Lee in 1993 on his own decision. There was TV shown since I was born that no longer exists. It doesn't need a man as brilliant as the sadly departed Tony Hart to mourn that decision.


For one who doesn't believe in vampires, you've taken a sudden interest in them!
Arthur Hibbs

A film I was lucky enough to see a "recon" of some years ago, but the actual thing would have been most interesting to see. It's a Lon Chaney film par excellence, with a solution to the supernatural plot that borders on the insane. Chaney plays both the antagonist and the policeman set to solve the case.

Bill Everson claimed it wasn't one of Chaneys finest films, but what little we could make sense of what exists suggests it could have been a cult classic in modern geek circles, if an MGM fire in 1967 hadn't wiped it off the face of the Earth.


If I could envy any man for successful ill nature I should envy Lord Byron for his skill in satirical nomenclature.
Sydney Smith

Burned by the Executor of his Estate after consultation with his friends, for fears it would ruin his reputation. Whilst we can guess what it would have contained - this was Byron after all - I would like to guess, given the  book will never show up to prove me wrong, that it consisted of Byron telling us where the dragons were hiding in Europe, and how to communicate in friendly terms with them. Given this would be the Greatest Book Ever, it was clearly thus burned to give all literature, before and since, a fair shot.

Or it might have just been about debauchery.

But we can't discount dragons either. Ahem.

An autobiographyis an obituary in serial form with the last installment missing.

Quentin Crisp

Literature history is full of such things. We only have two books in the Trojan cycle. And we are missing pretty big events in the "missing episodes", like the death of Achilles. Luckily, the Ancient Greek versions of TV Without Pity were on hand to recap the episodes for us, so we have the jist if not the substance. Anything written by Socrates or before him is gone. What is left of them live on in the ancients telesnaps and off air recordings.

Music too. Recording and writing music down as we know now it is a relatively recent idea.

The whole nature of what we have lost, as a civilisation, was summed up in brutal fashion:

The glory of the Alexandrian Library is a dim memory. Its last remnants were destroyed soon after Hypatia's death. It was as if the entire civilization had undergone some self-inflicted brain surgery, and most of its memories, discoveries, ideas and passions were extinguished irrevocably. The loss was incalculable. In some cases, we know only the tantalizing titles of the works that were destroyed. In most cases, we know neither the titles nor the authors. We do know that of the 123 plays of Sophocles in the Library, only seven survived. One of those seven is Oedipus Rex. Similar numbers apply to the works of Aeschylus and Euripides. It is a little as if the only surviving works of a man named William Shakespeare were Coriolanus and A Winter's Tale, but we had heard that he had written certain other plays, unknown to us but apparently prized in his time, works entitled Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet."
Carl Sagan, Cosmos

It is the not knowing that kills you.

I myself have lost works, lost on floppy discs, Amstrad failures, and sometimes losing the only handwritten copy of the piece. This includes, I am saddened to say, everything I wrote before 2005, as well as 99% of all poetry and articles I have ever written.

What can I remember is lost?

Leper Messiah, a tale about a shipwrecked couple who wash up in a community seemingly brainwashed by an excommunicated priest. A girl disappeared in the area, which no one seems to want to talk about, and her ghost showed up at one point. There was some mysterious fires, and the wife of the couple disappeared. It was written originally for English, and was considered too dark to mark on first draft, which I loved. I think a copy exists on Floppy Disc at mums, not that we have any way of getting into those discs if they are still usable. I recall re-reading this one around 2005 and thinking it had actually held up surprisingly well.

The Night Before, a tale of every day folk getting on with their lives and their loves, with the punchline that it was Hiroshima the night before the bomb was dropped.

Another Nail in the Wall, a strange piece about a scientific experiment going wrong, and the dying last few seconds of the universe looping forever. It was described by showing a man hammering a nail into a wall for a picture.

There were others, but they were drafts and some incomplete before they got lost. Of those three, Night Before is no great loss. Another Nail was bizzare, and made The Deluge look straightforward. So it goes. I wont rewrite them.

The first copy of the poem Innocence is gone too. A rewrite did happen, since the first was praised by the RSPCA.

But before this gets too bogged down in Stories I Have Tried to Write, we'll end it there.

Also recommended:

The first part of my and Jon Arnold's team roundtable articles looking at Euro 2012.

A rare chance to hear me reading my acclaimed Daddy Kicked Doggy into the Fire. (And in the comments, a rare chance to see my Dad deny responsibility for a fictional event. Hehehe)

The Watcher, one of the more popular stories of late.

A defence from last year of accusations of sounding like a Tory.

The Outpost has nearly 100 views without my having done anything to promote it, so rather belatedly, there's a link there.

Finally, my Better Half has started writing herself, and the product can be found at her Ghostly Aspects site.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Myths and Local Elections

So, the other day I was listening, yet again, to a friendly Tory. Not necessarily an oxymoron to start off with, always it is important to separate the person from the philosophy, else you will have no one to talk to. And I am well aware of the dangers of starting off on an anecdotal footing, but so it goes. Anyhow, they were telling folk about that old adage, how Labour always bugger up the economy and the Tories have to fix it.

Which got me thinking. Is that so? Well, let's see. Taking modern history into account, and by that I mean post World War Two. Before that is, to misquote L.P. Hartley, a "different country, they did things differently then". So, World War Two ends and Attlee takes over. And at the end of his reign, the economy is on a shaky pole. But we must forgive him that, for the extenuous circumstances. A Second World War doesn't happen very often, and it left the UK economy up a creek without a paddle. A sizeable debt to the Americans, bought after extensive bargaining by Keynes, was to add subtext to many issues until it was paid in 2006. So terrible economic problems, yes, but they would have existed whoever was in power, and even then Stafford Cripps economic policies are regarded to have paved the way to better economic times. So we can discount Attlee.

The 50s economy got better through the mid 50s, dipped after Suez, but then got better just in time for the 1959 election. This was due to Harold MacMillans genius for political timing, and was Prime Minister just in time to benefit from the policies he had put forward as Chancellor. (A sort of reverse Gordon Brown if you will!) Subsequent successors to his Chancellorship were not in the same top brand as "Super Mac" though, and we were left in the position when Harold Wilson took over in 1964, only for Jim Callaghan, the New Chancellor, to get a note from his Tory predecessor, Reg Maudling. It read: "Sorry to leave in such a mess." So despite MacMillans economic tricks - which Wilson later admitted nearly worked again in 1964 - that goes down as a bit of a failure.

Then we had the white heat of technology government, which is primarily remembered for devaluation, economically speaking. We wont speak of the Vietnam subtext to that here. We wont even speak of that rare lapse of public tact from Wilson, speaking about the pound in your pocket. But we can focus on Jim Callaghan's replacement as Chancellor after devaluation, Roy Jenkins. Jenkins legacy is such he often gets credited for Home Office successes that occurred before he even had the post! His budget came across as harsh at the time, extensive taxation, but it worked. Britain moved from the brink of disaster to being in economic surplus by 1970. The only problem was Jenkins! His inability to move from a point he had previously reached, which was to be the end of him politically in decades to come, cost Labour the election. He created a budget surplus and then wouldn't use it, and so gave it all to the Tories!

So 1964-70 is a prime example, like MacMillan, of rescuing an economy from the fire.

It'd have been interesting to see how Iain McLeod dealt with that surplus, but alas he was to die far too young. Anthony Barber took over instead, a man of great highs and lows. So the economy of the 70s had great highs and lows. Barber was quick to cut down on Jenkins high taxes but was unable to deal with the  twin issues of high inflation coupled with high unemployment. His flip flopping on issues made the economy Jekyll and Hyde like, but when it fell, coupled with the strikes, it fell hideously.

So Labour were back. And couldn't fix the mess. Oh well.

Then came Thatcher. You might have heard of her. Her economic success, like everything else, depends on your individual point of view. Major's government were in charge for Black Wednesday. Even so, Kenneth Clarke did well in pure economic terms to cut the British deficit by 30 million, before Gordon Brown got to finish the job.

And then we see the tale of two Chancellors. Browns policies worked for a time, but he was unable to foresee the slight snag, which hit him right as he finally became Prime Minister. And now we have George Osbourne, a man with an economic acumen something akin to a sunbedding tortoise.

So where does this leave us? Well, at a draw. Both sides hurt the economy, but both helped save it too.  Great men existed on both sides as much as great errors were committed by both. To say either side was "solely" responsible for economic hardships is to do the topic of political discourse in this country a great disservice.

But that is purely on economics, and they alone do not make a government. And neither do myths.

It is important to think of political myths, for this week saw local elections in the UK, and so all parties are swiftly coming up with their own political narrative of what happened.

We saw this on the night, as the various Tory pundits kept upping the limit of seats Labour would need to win to call the night a success. All eyes were on London, and Boris Johnson just about won the Mayoral election there to give the Tories some good news at the very least. No such joy for the Liberal Democrats, massacred throughout the country.

So who won? It would be easier to list who lost.

The BNP lost every seat they had, and many people rejoiced.
The Lib Dems continued to haemorage councilors and members like it was 1959.

The Green Party, however, got stronger. Gains across the country and a credible third place showing in the London Mayoral. A strong Green Party, and thus showing the closest political bias I have, are fundamental to the political discourse in the country, so more power to them.

UKIP got their highest share of the vote in a "locals only" election, and their increased vote KO'd many a Tory councilor. They didn't make many gains, but that would be a worrying thing for our beloved Prime Minister, as the UKIP vote was taking support away from the Tories. They seemed to concentrate this on the topics of gay marriage and the BNP, rather than look at the real issues within. I wouldn't say an SDP style split is coming in the UK's right - it usually finds a way to avoid it - but the rise of UKIP is a genuine worry for the Tories, and indeed anyone who isn't anti-immigration and multiculturalist.

The Tories kept their London Mayor, just about, despite having many benefits in that race; not least their most Popular Politician (polling 13% or so above his own party) going against one of Labours seemingly least popular. (Ken was polling well below his own party's polling, and roughly 200k Labour voters on Thursday didn't vote for Ken. Had they done so, he'd have won an improbable victory.) Even with that advantage, it was a closer thing than many expected, the 2nd preference votes for the Greens being almost crucial. (That in itself, a justification for the stance Sunny Hundal took as much as the end result was a vilification of Dan Hodges stance.) That the Tories golden boy nearly went down to defeat shows the extent of the backlash against the Tories in these elections. That he won is of greater worry in the long run to David Cameron.

It's a bit like being Kaiserian Germany in World War One. Cameron has two fronts to fight, a renewed Labour party on his left, and the potential challenger to be on his right, Boris. It will make things very interesting and unsettling for our beloved Prime Minister in the future, especially if his Chancellor continues to prove as a worthy successor to Barber.

Calling that Boris win as a success for the Tories is papering over the cracks though. In 2011, Labour won over 800 council seats but the Tories managed to gain 80 - mostly through Lib Dem collapse. In 2012, Labour won over 800 seats, but the Tories managed to lose over 400.

At the start of the night: "350 or so" was Labour's figure for a good night, and also the number Eric Pickles suggested would be a bad night for the Tories. Ouch.

The SNP gained council seats and were winners over all, but disappointingly lost out to the horrid Labour council in Glasgow. And here we repeat the mantra: do not take local events and make them appear as national ones. Correlation does not imply causation!

As I said to my SNP friends, so I repeat here:

"The weather has been blamed for the turn out. A red herring, it was great weather here for those who like the sun. When it is raining, they blame it for low turn out. When it isnt raining, its also. Its other factors.

Complacency, I'd suggest. In the entire election run we got two election leaflets. One small "please vote for SNP" one that didn't detail any policy or why they should be voted for, and an anonymous anti-gay marriage one. Theres been nothing about it outwith the media, and most people dont tend to watch or read that. So it doesnt seem like a vast chunk of people didnt even know there was locals yesterday, and none of the main parties seemed to made much bother to tell folk.
Also, Labour tended to attack Salmond here, and that didn't work as much because Glasgow is Nicola's city. So they linked Nicola to the Murdoch stuff.  There were reports from stations all over the city of people coming out announcing they'd vote against SNP because of their Murdoch links. Which is bringing national politics into local ones, something I had warned *both sides* against (repeatedly, like a broken record), as it not only leaves you looking petty but also leaves you a hostage to fortune. Glasgow wasn't a referendum on Ed as much as it wasnt one on Eck, but when both sides play into that, its going to hurt the smaller core base party more. Which is still the Nats here.
Smarter political minds than mine will point out bigger reasons, I only speak from ground level. And with massive levels of dissapointment, this was a 97 Tories level open goal missed."

Since then, I have learnt that the SNP would have won more seats in Glasgow, but for several ballot papers rejected due to voters voting in First Past the Post Method and not in STV fashion. Jennie Kermode tells me that an SNP leaflet showed a X instead of numbers in the build up. 

I may repeat it many times, but it remains true: you cannot take base national expectations on local events. Time and time again, this proves a political folly. One Tory source, who will remain anonymous, admitted the Tories took Labour lightly due to George Galloways win in Bradford West. Like Galloway, Boris's win was a personality victory in special circumstances. Neither can be seen as evidence of Ed Milibands leadership woes. Just like failure in Scotland can't be seen as failure in David Cameron. I was as worried when the SNP started to gloat that victories in Scotland would see the end of Michelle Forsyth's favourite Outraged Ed. Not only is it unpretty, but it leaves you open to political karma, which likes to grab at people. 

Indeed, Ed Miliband, for all that he isn't, is beginning to remind one of Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher won her leadership election because she wasn't Ted Heath, kept in the job because of potential election, won the election because she wasn't Labour, and found herself PM through not being other people. Only then did her greatness, for better or worse, begin to assert itself. I am feeling parallels with Ed Miliband here. His greatest strength at the moment is not being David Cameron, and who knows where that will take him.

On a more serious note, I have noticed that his new style of talking - sans speeches or notes - makes him come across far more realistically in public speaking, and sound more like he means things. Sounding like you mean things is a good trick in politics, so the man who can't be King (surely) takes another step in the right direction.

It was an election that nearly couldn't go wrong for Miliband, even a protesters egg brushed off him with litle notice. Even the Mayoral election could be spinned. Even Glasgow was won when it had seemed lost. Wales nearly became his own little fiefdom, as seat after seat went home to the Labour party. The results, we are reminded, do not have the same swings as we saw under Tony Blair, or even Kinnock. But that is to look at the results in the wrong way. Kinnock and Hagues gains did not equal to an electoral success, but they were fighting from losing landslides. The scales were inbalanced. Miliband is fighting from the position of Hung Parliament. Swings to Labour need not be as strong as the previous two to produce governmental change. A thing to remember.

So what can we learn of these polls?

Well, we need to remember the caveat that few vote in locals, the core supports if you like, so taking those results and extrapolating them to a General Election is foolish, despite the BBC trying to do exactly that.

What it shows me, and I add a further caveat that I am no political genius, is the following:

1. The SNP must learn from the mistakes of Glasgow, else they will repeat them in the future to greater loses. And I mean all of the mistakes, one or two might have been OK, the lot led to a perfect storm.

2. The Coalition must take their loses on board and realise what they mean. Instead they seem to be fighting at both sides. The idea that loses for right wing policy must be dealt with with right wing policy is ideological to the stupid extreme. The fight between "Lib Dem ideals" of reform, and the Tory ideology, will make or break this government in pure governing stances.

3. Labour must unite. All the bickering must end. Never mind David Miliband losing the leadership, that's done and dusted (and possibly a bullet avoided given last years events), you have Ed to deal with. Never mind harkening back to Tony Blair, else you will become like the monetarist Tories who continue to mourn their fallen Thatcher, and hold back their party from properly evolving. The local elections show this as clearly as the London Mayoral. United, Labour can make great gains and even see off this coalition at the first opportunity. But if they continue to be split, as they were in London when several thousand Labour supporters didn't vote for Ken Livingstone, then the only result will be Tory domination. Too often the Left argue about the paragraph when on the same page. There is a time and a place for that. Now is the time to unite or perish.

And finally, if you remember anything, remember this: local events cannot be used to describe national trends. 

Having no doubt written myself into circles, I'll now stop. Its very tricky, balancing on this here fence after all.