Saturday, October 6, 2007

Ned Sherrin Passes On

Ned Sherrin,perhaps best known as the creator of the news satire series That Was the Week That Was, passed on October 1 at the age of 76. He had throat cancer.

Sherrin was born Low Ham, Somerset on February 18, 1931 into a farming family. He attended Sexey's School in Bruton, Somerset and law at Exeter College, Oxford. He could have been a barrister, but instead he took an interest in theatre while still at Oxford. With the introduction of commercial television to Britain in 1956, he found himself producing shows for ATV. By 1957 he found himself producing Tonight for the BBC. It was in 1962 that he created That Was the Week That Was. That Was the Week That Was was a live, satirical television series. Known for its irreverence, it sent up politics, religion, and the news of the day. The Profumo scandal (in which John Profumo, a Secretary of State for War, was found to have had an affair with a showgirl) became a popular target of the show. That Was the Week That Was was wildly popular, but it ran for only a little over a year. The BBC, under pressure from the Tories (then in power), cancelled the series because it was thought it would unduly influence the upcoming election. That Was the Week That Was can be considered a forerunner of such series as Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show.

While it went off the air in December 1963, That Was the Week That Was did not disappear entirely from TV screens. An American version debuted on NBC in January 1964. This version was also produced by Ned Sherrin. Like the British original, the American version of That Was the Week That Was lambasted political figures, former Vice President Richard Nixon and Republican Senator Barry Goldwater were favourite targets. Because of this, the cancellation of the American version, like its British forebear, was largely due to politics. Senator Goldwater, then running for President, repeatedly had That Was the Week That Was preemepted for his own political programmes from September into October. As a result, the show's ratings suffered and it left NBC in May 1965.

Sherrin went on to produce such series as Where Was Spring, BBC 3, and World in Ferment. Sherrin was also behind such television productions as A Last Word on the Election, My Father Knew Lloyd George, The Great Inimitable Mr. Dickens, The Alf Garnett Saga, The Cobblers of Umbridge, and The National Health. He also entered film production, producing such films as Up the Junction, The Virgin Soldiers, Every Home Should Have One, The National Health, and Up the Front. In addition to television and film, Sherrin also worked in radio. He was the host of two long running radio shows, Loose Ends and Counterpoint.

Sherrin also worked on stage, beginning with the musical Come Spy With Me in 1967. He would finally see success on stage with Side by Side by Sondheim, in collaboration with Stephen Sondheim. Sherrin not only directed the musical revue, but appeared in it as a performer as well. Eventually Side by Side moved from the West End to Broadway. There it earned him the 1977 Tony award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Sherrin would later have success with Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, which had a long run on the West End.

Sherrin also wrote several books, including many volumes of memoirs, books devoted to theatrical anecdotes, and I Wish I'd Said That (a collection of humorous quotes). He edited The Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations. He also wrote the novel Scratch an Actor and co-wrote the novel Rappel 1910 with Caryl Brahams.

While Ned Sherrin worked in film, radio, and the theatre, he will probably always be remembered best as creator of That Was the Week That Was. At the time sketch comedy was nothing new, on either side of The Pond, but That Was the Week That Was broke ground that even Your Show of Shows (here in the States) or The Goon Show dared not tread. Not only did it satirise powerful politicians and other public figures, but it did so with an utter tone of irreverence. What is more, it was funny while doing so. In this respect That Was the Week That Was was the forerunner of many modern day sketch comedy shows and other shows that poke fun at the news. Even if this had been the only thing Ned Sherrin had ever done, he would be worth remembering.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sputnik Turns 50

It was on this date fifty years ago that the U.S.S.R. launched the satellite Sputnik 1. Sputnik 1 was absolutely primitive by today's standards. Despite that fact, its launch caused a furore in the United States, which has assumed it was ahead when it came to the development of space technology.

Indeed, in his book Danse Macabre Stephen King talks about how he was at a Saturday matinee when the theatre's manager stopped the show to announce that the Russians had launched a satellite into orbit. The response the manager received was essentially stunned silence and then utter disbelief. This was the reaction of many Americans. As for the United States government, I think it is safe to say that the launch of Sputnik 1 kick started the United States space programme. After all, it was only less than a year afterwards, on July 29, 1958, that Dwight Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act,bringing into being the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA. It was the beginning of the Space Race, in which the two superpowers competed in achievements of space exploration.

Despite the impact the launch of Sputnik 1 had on the American public and the American government. it did not seem to have much impact on American pop culture. Much of this may have been because paranoia about the Soviet Union had already infiltrated American pop culture to a large degree. After all, this was the era of The Thing and Invasion From Mars. With regards to American pop culture, the primary contribution that the launch of Sputnik 1 made was in reinvigourating the American space programme. And it would the American space programme that would have a huge impact on American pop culture in the Sixties.

Its effects were felt as early as 1959, when the Disney series Men into Space aired. That series sought to realistically portay space travel in the near future. Eventually science fiction style plots would appear in sitcoms ranging from Gilligan's Island to The Monkees. A few sitcoms would even have Space Age themes--My Favourite Martian, My Living Doll, and I Dream of Jeannie (while Jeannie was a genie, Major Nelson was, after all, an astronaut). It would be the Space Race between the United States and the U.S.S.R. that would inspire such TV series as Lost in Space and the legendary show Star Trek. Its impact on movies in the Sixties would be less--the only major movie of the Sixties to centre on space was 2001: a Space Odyssey. Of course, that movie would help legitimise science fiction in film, thus paving the way for such movies as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

The effects of the launch of Sputnik 1 can still be felt today. While we might have an American space programme without Sputnik, it might not be as far along as it is now. And without an American space programme that made amazing advances in the Sixties (including ulitmately landing on the moon), we might not have such series as Star Trek or such movies as the Star Wars franchise. In a strange sort of way, we owe a lot to a primitive, beach ball sized satellite.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

George Grizzard R.I.P.

Tony winning actor George Grizzard passed yesterday at the age of 79 after a long battle with lung cancer. He had an extensive career on Broadway, as well as in television and on film.

George Grizzard was born in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina on April 1, 1928. He grew up in Washington D.C. He had planned to go into radio, but elected to be an actor instead. He appeared on the stage in various venues before breaking onto Broadway with the play The Desperate Hours in 1955. Throughout the years Grizzard would appear in many major plays, among them Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the 1965 revival of The Glass Menagerie, California Suite, the 1978 revival of Man and Superman, the 1996 revival of The Delicate Balance, and the 2001 revival of Judgement at Nuremberg. He won the Tony Award in 1996 for his role in The Delicate Balance. He was nominated for Tony Awards for The Disenchanted in 1959 and 1961 for Big Fish, Little Fish.

Grizzard also appeared extensively on television. He made his debut in television in an episode of the TV series Appointment with Adventure. He would go onto to appear in such shows as The Kaiser Aluminum Hour, Goodyear Television Playhouse, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, One Step Beyond, The Twilight Zone, Thriller, Rawhide, and Murder She Wrote. As Arthur Gold he was a semi-regular on Law and Order from 1992 to 2000. He won an Emmy for his role in the live teleplay The Oldest Living Graduate.

Grizzard also appeared in several feature films. He made his big screen debut in 1960 in the film From the Terrace. He would go onto appear in such films as Advise and Consent, Warning Shot, Wonder Boys, and Small Time Crooks.

Grizzard was a gifted actor who play a multitude of roles. from the pushy senator in Advise and Consent to the frightened husband in A Delicate Balance. He was versatile in a way that actors these days rarely are. It is this for which he will be remembered.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Lois Maxwell R.I.P.

Lois Maxwell, best known for playing Miss Moneypenny to both Sean Connery and Roger Moore's James Bond, passed yesterday at the age of 80 after a battle with cancer.

She was born Lois Hooker in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada on February 14, 1927. At the age of fifteen she ran away from home and joined the Royal Canadian Army during World War II. Eventually she found herself in Canada's Army Entertainment Corps. It was in London that the military learned she was under age. She joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts to avoid being forcefully returned to Canada. By 1946 she would make her first appearance on film, in a small, uncredited part in A Matter of Life and Death. She would receive the Golden Globe for Best Newcomer for her role in the Shirley Temple comedy That Hagen Girl. She appeared in such Hollywood films as The Dark Past and The Crime Doctor's Diary before moving to Europe.

Maxwell appeared in a few Italian films before moving to England and appearing in films there. Throughout the Fifties she appeared in such movies as Lady in the Fog and Passport to Treason. She made her first appearance on the small screen in the ITC TV show O.S.S. in 1957. It would be the Sixties that would bring her fame. In 1962 she was cast as Miss Moneypenny in Dr. No. She played the secretary to M, who flirted with Bond and with whom he flirted back, in every Bond movie from Dr. No to A View to a Kill. She also appeared in the films Lolita, Come Fly With Me, and The Haunting. Throughout the Sixties she made guest appearances on TV shows, including The Avengers, Zero One, Danger Man, The Baron, and The Saint (with future co-star Roger Moore). She was a regular on the Canadian series Adventures in Rainbow Country.

Maxwell continued to appear in movies from the Seventies into the Naughts. Besides the Bond films, she also appeared in the films Endless Night, Lost and Found, Summer Rain, and The Fourth Angel. She also appeared on the TV shows The Persuaders (once again with Roger Moore), and the new version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in the Eighties.

Caroline Bliss. Samantha Bond, and Barbara Bouchet have since played Miss Moneypenny, but none of them have matched Lois Maxwell in the role. She should convey the affection she held for Bond in little more than a glance. Indeed, in Fleming's novels there is no such sexual tension between Miss Moneypenny and 007. That was a innovation of the films. And Lois Maxwell pulled it off wonderfully. Although many of the Bond girls may have been more physically attractive than Miss Moneypenny, I rather suspect that it was Miss Moneypenny that most male Bond fans would rather take home. Lois Maxwell endowed her with intelligence, independence (throughout the movies she is the only woman to resist Bond's advances), and a wholesome sort of sexuality that the Bond girls lacked. Miss Moneypenny surely would not have been so appealing if someone other than Lois Maxwell had played her.