This Happened: Robby Benson


One of the movies I remember most from my childhood is ‘Ode To Billy Joe’ the tale of a country boy who dates a country girl, gets drunk at a Jamboree, ends up in bed with his boss & chucks himself off the Tallahatchie Bridge. I liked the lazy indifference of it. All that melodrama but life goes on.

And it turns out the star – Robby Benson – was in quite a few 1970s movies that all share a kind of earnest, drippy Catcher In The Rye via Fiddler On The Roof vibe. His films are glossy, schmaltzy, angsty, coming of agey – proto-Brat Pack without the high concept. He’s the missing link between the swinging teens of the 60s & the cynical teens of the 80s & beyond.

He retired from acting because of a heart condition and became a composer and teacher, which explains his unjust pop culture obscurity.

Here’s some of his 70s highlights.

Jeremy (1973)

A shy 15 yr old New York cello student has his heart broken by a 16 yr old ballet dancer who has to move back to Detroit. A slightly dodgy film beloved by middle-aged men for reasons we’ll ignore.


One on One (1977)

A basketball player wins a scholarship to a college and has to overcome bullying and reading issues to get the girl and defy the coach. (similar to All The Right Moves – an early Tom Cruise vehicle).


Ice Castles (1978)

A figure skater dates a hockey player and has to overcome cheating and blindness to win a championship… I can’t tell you how much I loved this film when I was a nipper – love and winning a competition – what more can a girl dream of (apart from ponies – obviously)?



Mid-20th Century Realism

I was going to be cruel and entitle this blog plodding melodrama but that implies a lack of affection. I find the language of serious, realistic books on the dull side – but the world they conjure up is the only one I truly feel at home in.

It goes like this:

Pre-history. Ancients: Greek, Roman, Pagan, Biblical.

Dark Ages. Renaissance. Reformation. Elizabethans. Jacobeans.


Gothicks. Romantics. Regency. Georgians. Victorians. Edwardians.

Ist World War.

Roaring 20s. Depression 30s.

2nd World War.

50s Austerity. Rock ‘n’ Roll. Mrs Thatcher. Brit Pop. Reality T.V. Social Media.

These are the great European landmarks I think by and in a quiet, and methodical way they were set in stone by the realist novels of the mid-20th Century… Three of my favourite examples being: Winston Graham, Howard Spring and R.F. Delderfield.

Graham (1908 – 2003) is famous for the Poldark saga set in Cornwall in the late 18th Century. The plots centre on love triangles, banking, mining, politics, and business rivalries. He also wrote suspense novels that explore sex and crime, and seem more old-fashioned than his historical works.

Spring (1889 – 1965) was a Welsh journalist who wrote about idealistic young socialists bumping up against establishment forces. He’s most famous for Fame Is The Spur, Shabby Tiger and My Son! My Son! (filmed as O Absalom).

Delderfield (1912 – 1972) also centred the rise of socialism in his works. His sprawling tales of school masters (To Serve Them All My Days), journalists turned spies (Diana), and nouveau local squires (A Horseman Riding By) typically take decades to unfold, most often starting before the 1st world war and ending after the 2nd.

There were angrier writers like Alan Sillitoe, more satirical writers like Kingsley Amis, darker writers like Patrick Hamilton, and deeper writers like Graham Greene, whose work will last longer… but the sheer humane normality of these three writers as they pieced together epic historical events with small lives lived as best they can creates our social history even as their books slip from our collective memory.

Stalked By Doctor Christian Jessen

UPDATE: The minute I published this the abuse seemed to stop unless he’s been cackling at me on his twitter feed while telling his fans to leave me alone… I wouldn’t know… I will never look… And it’s fine by me.

Doctor Christian presents a couple of medical programmes on Channel 4 (in the UK).

I don’t watch them.

I think he’s a bullet-head.

So he was harassing women on twitter for asking questions about breastfeeding. Not a subject I know anything about – or need to know anything about – but I tweeted to 2 women this:

I can’t stand him. He’s a misogynist narcissist.

I didn’t name him or @ him in – but because he was stalking these women (because he IS a misogynist narcissist) he came across it & he decided to set his followers on me.

About 10 of these little flying monkeys dutifully came flapping into my notifications – not a lot – he’s clearly not a popular man – but they tweet relentlessly. And I’m not one to slink off when under attack.

I replied to whatever bit of crap was in my notifications & some of them had @’d in Doctor Telly – so he saw them too.

This made the hypocrite decide I was playing the victim & harassing him.

I have never been on his profile page. I have never put his name into a search. I have never replied to a tweet that wasn’t in my notifications.

Since he started this I have called him:

a jerk

a creep

a stalker






no guts

a dreadful z-lister


a crap celebrity




a tosser

a worthless tossbag of the highest order

that kind of arsehole


not empathetic

& said that he’s breaking the recommended social media code of his profession & has orchestrated a pile-on.

I stand by it.

He came after me – I had no interest in engaging with him.

And he does this a lot:

I have no idea why he has the time for this – or why he’s so insecure he can’t let other people’s opinions go – but I wish he would bog off & leave us alone.


I Love Gerald Harper


Gerald Harper starred in two huge UK t.v. hits of the 1960s and 1970s – Adam Adamant Lives (1966-67) about an Edwardian who gets frozen in 1902 and wakes up in 1966 and who fights crimes while coming to terms with the permissive society and Gazette (renamed Hadleigh – 1969-76) where he played a laid-back country squire/newspaper proprietor who solves thorny problems for himself and the community.

He also starred in a great Francis Durbridge thriller ‘A Game of Murder’ (1966) and as Detective Inspector Alan Milton in ‘A Man Called Harry Brent’ (1965). As well as guest turns on great shows like Thriller, The Avengers and Emergency Ward 10 – and in one-off plays for ITV and the BBC.


His great charm was in his energy and authority combined with the way his voice would become quiet and sympathetic in times of great stress or injustice. If aristocrats were anything like Gerald (and they’re not) the Empire would still be flourishing and I would be doffing my cap at all times. Technically he was no looker – he had a thin face and beady eyes – but he had a warmth and charisma that made him incredibly handsome (which should be a lesson to all actors – and modern casting directors – buff can be bland – personality wins every time).

Gerald is near forgotten by the under 50s – although occasionally he’ll turn up in the press with a much younger girlfriend… but in his day he was constantly featured in magazines, newspapers and on chat shows. He became a radio host on BBC 2 and would give champagne and chocolates away as prices in between playing classic tunes. Since the show ended he’s been touring in theatre productions including Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None for Bill Kenwright.

He deserves to be remembered as one of our finest stars and while his hit shows have dated they’re still well-written romps through our recent(ish) past. *

*many of them are available on DVD.



UPDATE : Rejoice left-wingers! Clarence Mitchell is a Tory… this probably isn’t another instance of New Labour-types using 20 lies when 1 would do..! Along with Clarence – there’s a Northern Irish ex-cop with a private company called Jim Gamble who seems to be driving the persecution of TROLLS ie. anyone that points out the publicity is weird… the timeline is weird… the sightings are weird… etc. etc. etc. Here’s an interesting blog that charts the institutionalized oddity :

UPDATE UPDATE : I found this interesting (albeit hyperbolic comedy?) blog about Kate & Gerry’s enemy-making capacity…  Because I actively want to like the parents of a missing child I hung on longer than most of my friends who decided they were ‘balloons’ by the end of the first week…

The suicide of Brenda Leyland – after a media monstering – took me back to 2007 when I used to comment fairly relentlessly about the McCann media coverage on the website Anorak.

I wasn’t interested in the true crime aspect – but I did chat to commenters who were… They were nicer than me – even the ones who thought the McCanns were murderers. They had the ability to empathise with the missing child at the heart of the story whereas I could never get past the ludicrous press coverage. I was the first one to label us pro and anti McCann while trying to explain why we were slagging each other off so viciously to a confused newbie.

I was very fond of whoever we all were – even the trolls, flamers and sock-puppets. We were essentially Live Tweeting Martin Brunt and Kay Burley on Sky – the first time I was aware of rolling news. We had no narrative consistency and no spin… if Martin looked tired, we said he looked tired, if Gerry was playing tennis we wondered why he was playing tennis…

I was intent on deconstructing the press, others were intent on solving the disappearance, some were caught up in the soap opera, some felt their opinions weren’t being reflected in the newspapers, some were already steeped in establishment conspiracy theories and after the McCanns hired Labour Party media monitor Clarence Mitchell they were added to a list that even in 2007 included Jimmy Savile and Elm Guest House (I thought the theories were entertainingly loopy – but it seems half of them were grimly true).

The McCanns were famous on an unprecedented scale for a crime story. Their life stories were serialised in The Mirror. They went on lecture tours.  They met the Pope. A lot of us tried to pin down the hook. Was it class? Was it Kate’s beauty? Was it religion?

It was probably just the mystery. Not just the mystery of Madeleine. But the mystery of Kate and Gerry – as people they’re hard to read. Even harder when they come packaged by a P.R. machine.

When the first wave of intense publicity started to wane (after about a year) I had nothing left to say… I forlornly moved on to digital spy… but the true crime fans and the hardcore pro and anti factions moved on to private forums, YouTube and finally twitter – arguing about the case and everyone involved in intricate detail… It’s not sad, lonely, sick or twisted. It’s sociable, crusading and less damaging than a red top screamer.*

But it’s also libelous and contested… It appears that some pros (who may be paid) gave a dossier about the antis (who have many threatening and insulting tweets aimed at them) to the police and Sky News… and this led to Martin Brunt door-stepping Brenda… which led to her suicide… Because she’s nicer than me… She wouldn’t think he was merely chasing ratings and filling time with hypocritical hyperbole… She’d feel humiliated, cornered and in danger.

*The tabloids are still claiming she sent 4,220 hate tweets to the McCanns in one year… She tweeted on the subject 4,220 times… Behold the taste and sensitivity here :

Yves Saint-Laurent!!!


Oh, dear Lord – this is my dream.

On June 25th they release a movie of the life of Yves Saint Laurent!

Yves is responsible for every trash fashion that old ladies wore from the 1960s to the the 1980s… Back then – if you stared at a 90 year old and wondered where her exquisite sofa fabric trouser suit came from – it came from Yves (or at least a knock down version she bought from British Home Stores). Safari Suits, giant pussy bows, ruffled duvet flamenco dresses – he did it all – while looking like an intense bespectacled newt sex god.

The film’s French – so it should be reverential, serious, beautiful – and slightly hilarious. Fabulous!

yves yves 3 yves 4 yves 5

Toe Dipped Back In Telly-Drama Water

Joan Hickson as Miss Marple - old school 80s drama.
Joan Hickson as Miss Marple – old school 80s drama.

I read lots of novels, I go to the cinema and the theatre, I have lots of DVDs of British dramas from the 70s and 80s written by greats like Alan Plater, Colin Welland, and Dennis Potter, I listen to radio dramas…  but I haven’t watched British television dramas on a regular basis since 1999 when the Reality T.V. boom began.

I don’t think the quality of t.v. drama dipped, I think its concerns stagnated. You still had black drug dealers, Jehovah’s Witness’s whose children needed blood transfusions and absolutely everyone had at least one speech in a concluding episode about being abused as a child.

Also a combination of Liberal melodrama, Marxist realism and fashionable nihilism had given serious drama a sort of blood libel feel. You wondered who killed Christ and who was going to get pogromed for it, if only we could work up the enthusiasm. Usually it was a police officer or a social worker.

And the cheerful trash was thrown for a loop by American dramas like E.R. Stoical British types joking over cups of tea in over-lit studio sets seemed old hat. The camera started to roam alarmingly. The lighting could be so dim you wouldn’t recognize your own mother, never mind Charlie from Casualty, and EMOTION became more important than plausibility.

None of which was as exciting as the high-stakes desperation of ordinary folk competing for attention – doomed to long-term failure – on intense social interaction-based game-shows and talent searches.

But Reality is dying (by which I mean I’m bored to death of it) and having been forced into watching slick US dramas from Lost to Homeland by my brother, I felt it was time to consciously start watching t.v. drama again.

There are some new norms to get used to. Digital has given everything a slightly distant look. Women very rarely get their boobs out (in the olden days if it was after 9 o’clock, there were definitely boobs on show). Action-adventure isn’t so much about lifestyle and consumption, it’s more about alienation and confusion. And there aren’t the same number of glamorous posh pundits on the telly discussing it.

Firstly I caught up with some of the output of BBC4 and BBC3. They’re quirky, so I like them the most.

BBC4 has decided to specialize in bio-pics of 60s and 70s light-entertainers and personalities. The bio-pics are very cheap, and hip-hop through the main events of the person’s life without quite making them real people, although they do capture a kind of sadness behind their happy showbiz personas. So far I’ve seen dramas about Fanny Craddock, Kenny Everett, Kenneth Williams and David Bailey. I’ve also seen a few BBC4 ghost stories for Christmas, and they’re as good as the classic M.R. James adaptations of the 60s and 70s. I especially loved Crooked House by Mark Gattis, a creepy anthology set in the one haunted location.

BBC3 led me to Funland, Catterick and Nighty-Night – all of which are brilliant dark comedies. The 90s and naughties were a golden age of dark comedy from Steve Coogan, through the League of Gentlemen to Julia Davies. Dark Comedy managed to do all the things drama couldn’t. They made well-rounded, flawed characters, caught in humdrum or outrageous dilemmas that defied conventional morality, and told us about the human condition. I also watched ‘Casanova’ with David Tennant. It clattered along nicely, the acting was great, but it did suffer from the entirely modern naffness of having a character spell out to another character what the subtext of their emotional involvement is… eg. ‘You’re only interested in me because I represent what you lost when your mother dropped you down a well as a baby’ (I made that up)… I blame this on ‘The Hero’s Journey’. Writer’s are far too knowing about archetypes and story arcs, and are possibly flagging them up to a producer “I’m not just wittering on, I’m MYTHIC!!!”.

Which is the main horror of BBC1’s New Doctor Who. Bits of it are brilliant. The pace, the characters… and bits of it are terrible. The villains, the plots, the milking of emotions, the relentless musical score, the turning of the Doctor into the Messiah, the bombastic direction that can make cheese out of good plot points. Every episode is marred by some sickeningly sentimental intrusion, and the Imperialism of it (I’m the Doctor and what I say goes) is incredibly simplistic and crass. But perhaps it reflects the mood of authority. The re-assertion of the right (and need) to impose and reject, and I’m just being nostalgic for the days when the Doctor battled green-painted bubble-wrap and took Intergalactic Enlightenment Principles for granted.

Robin Hood and Merlin have passed me by. But I did enjoy catching the trailers.

The backbone of the BBC schedule, things like Eastenders and Casualty and Holby City are settling down after that horrifying genre shift from basically social realism with melodramatic touches to basically melodrama with humorous touches. It was like watching ‘The Thing’ morph from dog, to alien, to plant pot – but it’s all fine now. Surgeons can slump crying to the theatre floor and you don’t wonder why they keep their jobs.

Call The Midwife is snuggly. The Secret of Crickley Hall made me cry. Both prove that cliches can work if you’re sincere enough about them. Sherlock is fabulous – apart from Sherlock taking two seconds to infiltrate a middle-eastern terrorist organization and save a crook he fancies from a beheading, and the old dancing around to classical music while executing some bit of action shtick which should never under any circumstances be stolen from Stanley Kubrick but constantly is. But two duff moments in two series’ is practically no duff moments at all.

And on the 23rd of December 2012 I watched ‘Mr Stink’ and ‘Loving Miss Hatto’ and I loved them both. New drama, for Christmas, that worked and was a treat. Like it’s 1972 again.

I’ve never entirely given up ITV dramas – mainly because I’m a Paul McGann fan and he’s always turning up as the potential murderer in something. I liked Midsommer Murders till the ‘keeping it white’ debacle and now I don’t even watch the repeats. Which is a shame because I thought it was a gentle satire not the last bastion of the National Front. But once you’ve been made suspicious of something, it’s impossible to go back.

What I truly love though is ITV crime dramas, the ones with two or three parts, where nice middle-class people look pensive and sad while the suspense ratchets up around them. The two most recent were ‘The Poison Tree’ – a kind of sub-Ruth Rendell about a man going to prison for his sister and then his wife killing his sister so she couldn’t take him away from her – and ‘The Town’ about a man returning home to find out why his parents committed suicide.

The Poison Tree worked the best. It was ridiculous but glamourous, and knew exactly what it was up to. The Town was probably meant to be more serious. Perhaps even an examination of contempory England through the medium of brooding close-ups. But it didn’t quite work. The set-ups were shoddy. Who goes into a florist to get a dress adjusted? The sub-plots weren’t needed. The milliu was ridiculous but unglamourous. And Martin Clunes is too big a name to have nothing to do without it being obvious he’s the villain.

It might have found a happier home on Channel 4. Channel 4 has a niche for derancinated lower classers – from Shameless to This Is England. A sort of Stephen Frears, Derek Jarman sensibility. Gritty realism with Catholic lushness. Their political thriller The Secret State was a bit too flashy, but I still enjoyed it. Teen soap Hollyoaks is still the British Beverly Hills 90210, but with sex and more shouting. Of all the soaps it’s my favourite. Maybe because youths really do have daily dramas in a way that most adults don’t. Not getting a like on facebook can cause a meltdown, without you nessesarily having mental issues.

I still wish t.v. would do more films and single dramas. I’m not loyal. I have the brain of a grass-hopper. I rely on box-sets. And I pray we don’t get too many Downton Abbey clones. It’s enough flouncy fun for one tiny nation. I also worry about who will do romping adaptations once Andrew Davies is gone. T.V. needs to start training. And Sky may be a channel to watch. It’s got subscribers and it needs prestige. Future gems may come from odder stations. Odd to me (I’m an 80s child).

So Farewell X-Factor, Hello Sally Wainwright. *

(*writer of ‘Last Tango In Halifax’).

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock - new school 10s drama.
Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock – new school 10s drama.