Archive for the ‘films’ Category

Scare fiction and War of the Worlds

December 29, 2019
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War of the Worlds by HG Wells as re-envisaged by the BBC

The BBC’s Christmas adaptation of the War of the Worlds has brought the HG Wells work to fresh audiences. The original serial is an iconic piece of fiction and certainly boosted the reputation of Pearson’s, the monthly magazine that first published it, in 1897. It was part of a genre called ‘scare fiction’ that was popular – and influential – from the 1870s into the First World War. The inspiration for such works came from the changing European alliances of the Victorian era.

Britain was at war throughout the nineteenth century. Having put Napoleon’s ambitions to rest – with Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar and then Wellington’s at Waterloo in 1815 – there came the Crimea War against Russia. That ended in 1856, after which the hostilities were mainly outside Europe. The conflicts were about cementing the empire – the Zulu war, Abyssinia, two Anglo-Boer wars, Afghanistan, Sudan and the Nile campaigns among them. The British were able to win using small, well-drilled forces on land and sea, local allies, and superior weapons. Meanwhile, alongside these far-flung conflicts, writers were imagining how war might look closer to home, against a modern European power.

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The Battle of Dorking by George Tomkyns Chesney sparked a new genre, scare fiction

A short story in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine fired the starting gun for scare fiction in May 1871. The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer, told of an invasion and was to influence public debate right up to the start of the Great War. Blackwood’s was an influential right-wing monthly – known as ‘Maga’ – that was sold globally as well as at home. Blackwood’s established the careers, among others, of Middlemarch author George Eliot and Joseph Conrad with Heart of Darkness. The initially anonymous Battle of Dorking (by army engineer George Tomkyns Chesney) describes how a secret weapon deployed by the unnamed enemy (though clearly Prussians – who had secured  the victory against Napoleon at Waterloo) destroys the Royal Navy, with the ineffectual defenders on land being defeated near Dorking in Surrey when they try to block the invaders’ road to London. The invading force conquers Britain and the empire is then broken up.

The work sold more than 100,000 copies as a pamphlet and was published in a number of editions as a book and translated into several languages. In the Second World War, a German edition was issued to Hitler’s army as Was England Erwartet (What England Expects). The Blackwood’s story was mentioned is several parliamentary debates from June 1871 and such was its influence that William Gladstone, the prime minister, had to speak out against the ‘alarmism’ it had generated. Four months after the May issue of Blackwood’s appeared, army manoeuvres involving 30,000 men were held on the Hog’s Back, a ridge between Farnham and Guildford in Surrey. Later, forts were built in the area. Chesney went on to become a reforming general and was knighted for his work in Britain and India. For one academic, Patrick Kirkwood:

The Battle of Dorking was central to the parliamentary, military and public ‘invasion’ controversies of the 1870s. Subsequent developments, ranging from recurring print and parliamentary debates, to military manoeuvres and the eventual building of a series of forts along the North Downs support this position … The Battle of Dorking was equal parts fantasy ‘invasion literature’ and policy document. Its frequent citation by members of both houses of parliament, and by military men engaged in public and private debates, serves to back this claim, as does Chesney’s rapid integration into the pro-military reform wing of the Conservative Parliamentary Party of the 1890s.

Adding to the genre, Liverpool-Irish journalist Louis Tracy wrote several books about future war, the best known being the 1896 Final War, a book dedicated to ‘Private Thomas Atkins’ (a nickname for the average British soldier that dates back at least to the time of the Battle of Waterloo – from which we get ‘Tommy’). He saw his work as describing ‘a great war to be the end of all war’ and it ends in victory for the British with the help of the United States against the Germans and French. Tracy’s books include elements of science fiction, with a British secret weapon, the ‘Thompson Electric Rifle’, helping ensure victory.

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A Martian machine wreaks havoc in War of the Worlds, illustrated by Warwick Goble, 1897

The invasion theme was taken up by HG Wells in War of the Worlds, which was published in Pearson’s Magazine in parts from June 1897. The brilliant illustrations were by Warwick Goble. For Wells, the enemy comes from another planet and, though the aliens easily overwhelm the defenders, they are ultimately defeated by nature, in the form of bacteria. As with Chesney’s book, the Surrey stockbroker belt is pivotal, with the Martians landing on the edge of the town of Woking, just fourteen miles from Dorking.

The big-selling penny weekly magazines did not miss out on the invasion craze, with Northcliffe’s Answers, one the best-selling, serialising Frederick White’s The Lion’s Claw, which has the old enemies, the French and Russians, invading. And the next week in 1900, Pearson’s Weekly put out one of Tracy’s thrillers The Invaders: A Story of Britain’s Peril, with the Germans as the villains of the piece.

Three years later, Germany returns as the enemy when a gathering invasion force is discovered in Robert Erskine Childers’ ripping yarn, Riddle of the Sands. In 1906, The Invasion of 1910 by William Le Queux adds German fifth columnists to the mix. Two years after that, in War Inevitable by Alan Burgoyne, an MP who specialised in naval affairs, a fictionalised Lord Kitchener comes to the rescue after German motor torpedo boats devastate the British fleet in a sneak attack.

A year before the horrific real war breaks out, When William Came by ‘Saki’ (Hector Hugh Munro) was published. This book follows on from Chesney’s theme of forty years earlier, describing life under German occupation: the ‘William’ of the title is Kaiser Wilhelm II – ‘Kaiser Bill’ to the British people at the time. With the outbreak of the real war, a new edition of The Battle of Dorking was published.

Ralph Straus wrote a summary of ‘scare-fictionists’ in the second issue of Bystander magazine after the Great War was declared. The genre is often referred to by academics now as ‘invasion literature’. The article, ‘Armageddon – in prophecy’, is illustrated with a painting of aerial warfare by Guy Lipscombe from Burgoyne’s War Inevitable. He discusses how ‘About the middle of the century Germany definitely emerged to take France’s old place as our potential enemy’ and describes how such writers ‘have come to the truth’.

The greatest writer of the era, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was slow to come to the genre, but addressed it in a prophetic way, for both world wars. In its July 1914 issue, The Strand published ‘Danger! Being the log of Captain John Sirius’ by the Sherlock Holmes creator. He envisaged Britain being starved into submission by enemy submarines. The enemy was the fictional country of Norland, a thinly disguised Germany.

These fictional works spurred debate in the real world. As the new century began, Britain was the only European power that did not have a large conscript army, even though prominent figures had been pressing for compulsory military service since the first Boer War. Among these advocates was George Shee, a barrister and Liberal imperialist, who in 1901 published The Briton’s First Duty: The Case for Conscription in which he argued for a compulsory home defence army to protect against invasion. Despite the strength of the Royal Navy on the high seas, it could not guarantee being able to prevent an invasion force crossing the English Channel, only that it would be able to cut the invaders’ supply lines. Out of the conscription movement came the National Service League, a group founded in 1902. It argued the army was too weak to fight a major war and that national service was the only answer. Boer War hero Lord Roberts later led the league and saw its membership increase from 2,000 to about 95,000 by 1913.

And the success of The Invasion of 1910 – built on Le Queux’s ability to secure the backing of Lord Roberts and the media might of Lord Northcliffe – has been identified as a factor in the founding of the Secret Service in the form of MI5 and MI6. As a result, 41 German agents were identified and arrested in Britain between 1911 and the outbreak of the war.

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This post is based on a section from the book, ‘Kitchener Wants You’, by Martyn Thatcher and myself.

Magazines in the movies: Playboy in Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove

November 7, 2019
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A pilot in Dr Strangelove reading Playboy. The Playmate pin-up has a copy of Foreign Affairs  preserving her modesty

Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove is the latest film that’s come to my attention using a magazine on the big screen, in this case – along with the likes of Steven Seagal and James Bond – a copy of Playboy.

Kubrick is famed for his attention to detail and a pilot in the cockpit of a B-52 Stratofortress reading the issue of Playboy from June 1962 is a classic example of this trait. 

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Playboy‘s controversial cover: ‘A toast to bikinis’ 

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, to give the 1964 film its alternative title, was making a nod to the atom-bomb reference in Playboy‘s only cover line for June 1962, ‘A toast to bikinis’, and the cover photo of a woman’s torso and her bikini bottom.

Louis Réard, the French engineer who invented the two-piece swimsuit in 1946, named it after Bikini atoll, where the US had just set off the first of 23 nuclear bombs it would detonate there until 1958.

The photo by Marvin E Newman was regarded as controversial and promoted a series of his images on the theme of how bikinis were finally reaching US shores from Europe.

The reference is reinforced by a shot of what appears to be the issue’s Playmate of the Month fold-out pin-up. This shows a woman lying face down on a rug with a copy of Foreign Affairs magazine covering her derrière! If you reckon the appearance of a copy of that esoteric magazine for diplomats  is odd, you’d be right, because the actual Playmate for June was Merissa Mathes, a US model and actress photographed by Glenn Otto.

According to IMDB, the centrefold being read by the pilot of the nuclear bomber was posed by Tracy Reed, the only woman in the film, and specially mocked up. She was billed in some early adverts as ‘Miss Foreign Affairs’, a reference to the scene. In the actual movie, she plays Miss Scott, the secretary to George C. Scott’s character, General ‘Buck’ Turgidson.

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Headline for ‘From Lilliput to Brobdingnad’ by the sci-fi writer Arthur C Clarke 

But the filmic links from that copy of Playboy don’t end there, for the issue also contains an article, ‘From Lilliput to Brobdingnad’ by the British science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke. He later worked with Kubrick on the seminal book and film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was released in 1968. And 2001 was in turn featured in Town magazine.

Dr Strangelove is an amazing film, shot like most of Kubrick’s later films in Britain, in this case at Shepperton Studios in Surrey. It’s a rare surreal comedy by Kubrick, but, as with all his films, has great characters – such as Peter Sellars as the mad Nazi scientist – and superb dialogue. I love the line in the Pentagon war room – ‘Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here, it’s a war room!’ And in the B-52 cockpit as they set out on their gung-ho mission to bomb Russia and the pilot ditches his flying helmet for a cowboy hat (an act repeated in a later apocalyptic movie, Dark Star): ‘At last, nuclear combat toe-to-toe with the Ruskies.’

 

What to do with old magazines

July 30, 2019
Tommy Handley, a famous face in 1955, on the cover of weekly magazine Tit-Bits

Tommy Handley was a famous face in 1955

 

People often ask me about selling old magazines and I’ve done several posts about selling on Ebay and the rare titles that are worth taking to auction.

But what about those that don’t sell or even the charity shops don’t want?

Chatting on eBay with a woman from Oxfam reminded me that care homes are another option.  I had a correspondence a few years ago with a dementia nurse who was trying to trace a particular magazine that one of the women in her care had appeared in. It was a needle in a haystack and we never found the specific issue. However, in the process I sent her some 1950s women’s weekly magazines. She said the result was amazing when she passed them around!

The people there, particularly the women, kept each other entertained for weeks afterwards with their reminiscing sparked off by the magazines. Pop and film stars, celebrities and household names they were then, but they are hardly known today. The likes of George Formby, Tommy Handley and Frankie Vaughan have all long since died, but these women were teenagers at the time and the oldest memories live on the longest.

 

 

Magazines in the movies: Gangster No 1

October 9, 2018

Magazines often pop in TV series and the movies, from Doctor Who to Steven Seagal thrillers to James Bond, but a surprise appearance was in the gruesome Gangster No 1, the film that established Paul Bettany in 2000. There’s a scene where Bettany’s character has butchered a rival in the man’s flat, and he sits in his vest and underpants spattered with blood with copies of three magazines at his feet.

They are: Condé Nast’s House & Garden, Michael Heseltine’s Town and and Football Weekly. The full covers are not visible but I reckon the Town is from September 1962 with the first couple of letters of the white sans title on a dark background. The Jimmy-Hill-fronted Football Weekly is from October 11, 1968, with Liverpool’s Ian Callaghan dribbling past a Manchester City player (no change there then).

The House & Garden is trickier, but it will have been at the time when the typographer and polymath Robert Harling was editor. The title has the first word reversed out of a dark background and then the & Garden in black on a second line. Pretty distinctive, but I don’t have set of cover images from House & Garden across the sixties for reference. The magazine does have a cover archive, but only of the ‘best 100’ House & Garden covers.


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

 

 


 

 

Gracie Fields sings for Woman’s World

April 20, 2017
Songs ‘Our Gracie’ Sings from 1933 included a flattering pencil portrait of Gracie and included stills from her films

‘Songs “Our Gracie” Sings’ from Woman’s World in 1933

Sally in Our Alley was a film by Radio Pictures in 1931, and it turned Gracie Fields from a music hall star into a film star, singing her signature song, Sally. ‘Our Gracie’ was also one of the biggest radio stars of the era. Woman’s World, a weekly magazine from Amalgamated Press, recognised this popularity and published at least three Gracie song books from 1933 to 1938 as giveaways with the magazine.

Portrait of Grace Fields form Radio Pictures in the song book

Portrait of Grace Fields from Radio Pictures in the song book

The booklet here, Songs ‘Our Gracie’ Sings from 1933 included a flattering pencil portrait of Gracie and stills from her films, Sally in Our Alley and Looking on the Bright Side. The cover photograph was by Eric Gray. Fields was famed for her Northern accent, and the song book included two songs, ‘Ee-By-Gum’ and ‘Stop and Shop at the Co-op Shop’, that reflected her heritage.

Fields was born above her grandmother’s fish-and-chip shop in Rochdale, but lost her British citizenship when she married the Italian director Monty Banks in 1940. The British authorities then refused to give her a passport at the end of the war, even though she had entertained the troops as a volunteer. No such problems for Vera Lynn.

A First World War Woman's World bases its cover on on 'Sally in Our Alley'

A First World War Woman’s World with a ‘Sally in Our Alley’ cover

The film, Sally in Our Alley, took its title from an 18th century poem that became a popular song during the First World War. And Woman’s World magazine was part of the spread of that song’s fame – a year before a British silent film of the same name was released.

The 27 February 1915 issue of ‘The favourite paper of a million homes’ carried the music and lyrics and featured a cover devoted to the song. ‘Sally in Our Alley’ by H. Gregory Hill took its first stanza from a poem by Henry Carey (1687–1743).

The poem was set to music on p177:

Of all the girls that are so smart
There’s none like little Sally,
She is the darling of my heart,
And she lives in our alley.

Oh, when I’m dressed in all my best
To walk abroad with Sally;
She is the darling of my heart,
And she dwells in our alley.

Stills from Gracie Fields' films in the song book

Stills from Gracie Fields’ films in the Woman’s World song book

When Brad Pitt celebrated his wedding in Soho’s French House pub

March 14, 2017
Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in Allied

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in Allied

Watched the film Allied on the jet from Sydney to Hong Kong the other day in which the Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard characters get married and celebrate in the York Minster pub. She’s French (in the film as well as in real life) and it’s in London. I thought, can that be Soho? Sure enough it was the York Minister in Dean Street, as became clear from the interior scenes – though it’s amazing how they made it look so big!

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The French House in Soho 

The York Minister was the meeting house for the Free French in London during the Second World War but had gained the nickname ‘The French House‘ because of Gaston Berlemont, the landlord (though he was, in fact, Belgian). De Gaulle is supposed to have written his famous BBC rallying speech there. In 1984, it changed its name to the nickname.

John Taylor, founder of Man About Town magazine drank in the French House, York Minster, in Soho

John Taylor, founder of Man About Town

The Minster was always popular with writers and artists. Also, among the many pictures that cover the walls is supposed to be a photograph of John Taylor, the founder of Man About Town magazine and editor of Tailor & Cutter, the world’s most influential style magazine for much of the past century. I’ve never spotted it though.

I was in The French House a few weeks ago with a couple of friends. Highly recommended is a bottle of the house red and a plate of bread and cheese with homemade chutney. Lunch for three for £30!

It was also The French House that gave me my favourite piece of graffiti, on a theme that has been much in evidence since the US presidential election.

Magazines in the movies: Playboy in Steven Seagal’s Under Siege

December 28, 2016
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Playboy magazine, July 1989, as seen in the film Under Siege

A few weeks ago, it was James Bond reading a copy of Playboy magazine. Tonight, it’s a sailor goggling over a copy with a Playboy bunny in Under Siege. The crew of the US battleship Missouri are anticipating the arrival of the July 1989 Playboy playmate of the month, Jordan Tate. In fact, the playmate that month was Erika Eleniak, who actually plays the Jordan Tate role in the 1992 film. She ‘wears’ a captain’s dress uniform, something that she also does in the movie, when she jumps out of a giant cake in front of Steven Seagal, playing the ship’s cook, Casey Ryback.

Eleniak also had a role in Baywatch, a TV series that later produced another popular magazine pin-up, Pamela Anderson.

It’s far and away the best Seagal film, and was followed three years later by Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, which takes place on a train. Watch out for the cameo role for an Apple Newton. This was the US computer company’s first attempt at an iPad-type device, though called a personal digital assistant in the jargon of the time. It featured handwriting recognition and was built around a British-designed ARM chip, the processor powering just about every Apple product since.


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

 

 


 

James Bond’s Playboy days

December 13, 2016
Playboy, February 1969, as read by James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Playboy, February 1969, with Nancy Chamberlain on the cover, as read by James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Saw On Her Majesty’s Secret Service the other night and couldn’t help but notice that, after cracking open the safe of a lawyer who works for Spectre arch-villain Blofeld (Telly Savalas), Bond (George Lazenby) walks off reading a copy of Playboy magazine that he found in the lawyer’s office. He takes a good look at that month’s centrefold pin-up, Lorrie Menconi! On the cover of the US magazine is Nancy Chamberlain. Prominent product placement for the February 1969 issue.

There is a long history of connections between Bond and magazines. In 1962, the first issue of the Sunday Times Colour Supplement (now the Sunday Times Magazine) carried The Living Daylights. Even earlier, The Hildebrand Rarity, another short story, appeared in a 1960 issue of Playboy. And that same top-shelf magazine serialised On Her Majesty’s Secret Service over three issues in 1963, six years before the movie came out.

Yet the links don’t end there. In real life, Fleming worked for the Sunday Times, where his friend Robert Harling, the typographer and editor of House & Garden, was a design consultant from after the war until 1985. Harling had redesigned Admiralty reports and then served with Fleming’s 30 Assault Unit capturing German military secrets during the war. When the hardback books came out, Harling designed the Tea Chest font for the early Bond dust jackets. He is regarded as one of the men on whom Bond is based, and is mentioned in The Spy Who Loved Me (page 47).

Vivienne Michel, the woman at the centre of the novel, gets a job on the Chelsea Clarion, a ‘glorified parish magazine’ that is ‘stylishly made up each week by a man called Harling who was quite a dab at getting the most out of the old-fashioned type faces that were all our steam-age jobbing printers in Pimlico had in stock’.

The film also makes reference to the Bond family motto, The World is not Enough, which, of course, becomes the title of a later movie.

Night of the supermoon

November 14, 2016
Bite Me magazine

Bite Me magazine

The papers are full of talk of a supermoon tonight and how this will not occur again until 2034. The last time I covered this aspect of astronomy was when a copy of the first issue of Bite Me magazine sold for £21, at a time that coincided with the supermoon eclipse. [BTW, this is a difficult post to write, my Mac keeps turning ‘supermoon’ into ‘superman’ – all this talk of AI, but computers are just getting more stupid!].

Hammer Horror film vampire superstar Ingrid Pitt was the main feature of that issue. No such interest tonight, though a set of 10 issues of Bite Me on ebay sold recently for £19.99.

Tonight, it’s all about a “perigee full moon” – when the moon is full and at its closest to the Earth on its orbit. The opposite is an “apogee”, when the moon is at its farthest distance from Earth. Tonight, the moon will appear about a third bigger than when it is at its apogee.  It’s a difficult comparison to make, but the moon certainly looked bigger last night, particularly as it rose. A real harvest moon.

Magazine mantra: ‘No heads above the masthead’

May 9, 2016
Front cover title from Woman's Own from 19 May 1955

Front cover title from this 1955 Woman’s Own magazine overlays actress Dawn Addams

The typographer Dave Farey reminded me of the magazine designer’s mantra ‘No heads above the masthead’ at the recent launch of A History of British Magazine Design. So he immediately came to mind when I saw this front cover design from Woman’s Own dating back to 19 May 1955.

The full magazine front cover from Woman's Own ahowing the Dawn Addams knitted jacket

The full magazine front cover from Woman’s Own showing the Dawn Addams knitted playtime jacket

The actress Dawn Addams is photographed modelling a knitted jacket, but quite what the designer was up to is a mystery.

Were the film star’s eyes deliberately positioned to peer round the letters? Was the photograph cropped to show the most of the jacket? Whatever the intention, the end result is a mess.

Addams was a ‘delightfully vivacious’ British-born actress who had recently married an Italian prince, the ‘darkly handsome’ Vittorio Massimo, and had her first baby.