BOYS FROM THE BLACK STUFF. (1980-1982) A SUPERB TV SERIES REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

BOYS FROM THE BLACK STUFF. (1978/1980/1982).

TELEVISION DRAMA SERIES WRITTEN BY ALAN BLEASDALE.

DIRECTED BY PHILIP SAVILLE.

STARRING BERNARD HILL, MICHAEL ANGELIS, ALAN IGBON, TOM GEORGESON, PETER KERRIGAN, JULIE WALTERS AND JEAN BOHT.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Gissa job. Go on, gissit. I could do that.’

‘I’m desperate, Dan.’

I was blown away by this magnificent television drama series, which I only watched for the first time this year. It’s the story of five working-class Liverpool men, trying to get by in the Britain of the late ‘Seventies/early ‘Eighties, their progress hampered by mass unemployment and the loss of life savings.

The loss of the live savings was their own fault. They were diddled by some Irish ‘gyppos’ while doing a sneaky job known as a ‘foreigner’ on the side of the job they were meant to be doing on a building site, which was unlawful as well because the lads are all claiming the dole. It’s complicated, but that’s the way it was. Here in Ireland, we’d call a side job or ‘foreigner’ a nixer.

The ‘black stuff’ is the tarmac the lads use when they’re laying the roads. It’s a hard, dirty job, but it’s what the five lads are used to, and they want to do it; it’s just that the jobs aren’t there. The dole offices are packed to the rafters with depressed, demoralised, even suicidal men who want jobs but can’t get any.

Dixie Dean and his wife, who has a little side job delivering leaflets, are being watched and followed by the dole people, nicknamed ‘sniffers,’ whose main pleasure in life seems to be shopping people who need the little illegal side jobs to supplement their dole, which is barely enough to keep body and soul together.

Dixie, whose ‘nixer’ is a job working nights as security on a ship in the docks, is so strapped for cash he has to send his eldest son Kevin out of the house and out into the world to make his own way, as there are simply no jobs round their way.

His wife is scared out of her wits to answer the door, because, in this world, knocks on the door are always bad. They come from bailiffs and repo men, social security ‘sniffers,’ social workers, rent and debt collectors, pissed-off landlords, school attendance officers and the people who come to cut off your gas or electricity. It’s no way to live, is it? Afraid to answer your own door.

Chrissie, whose wife (played by a very convincing Julie Walters) and kids are in very real danger of going actually hungry, homeless and worse, is pursued for doing ‘nixers’ by a savagely punitive and unsympathetic social security system. His mate, the younger Loggo, who at least has no hungry dependants to feed, is similarly witch-hunted.

Jean Boht plays Miss Sutcliffe, the woman in charge of Chrissie’s and Loggo’s dole cases, but it’s clear from her capricious nature, given to unaccountable, bizarre mood-swings as she is, that all she’s fit for is caring for the plants she obviously prefers to humans.

Okay, so she has a senile elderly mother whose behaviour is a nightmare, but that doesn’t give Miss Sutcliffe the right to play God with her clients the way she does. They are people too, a fact she appears to forget.

Incidentally, David Neilson, better known now as anorak-wearing, shopping-bag-carrying and trainspotting Roy Cropper, Hayley’s bloke, from CORONATION STREET, plays one of her minions down at the dole office.

Back to the tarmac-laying lads. George is very old now (he still wants to work, though, even at his age) and is terminally ill. He was a political activist for the working man in his day, and will be missed by everyone who knew him when he goes.

His ‘last ride,’ when Chrissie wheels him around his old work haunts in his wheelchair, is very sad indeed. As is the bit where he loses one of his sons, Snowy, in a tragic accident caused indirectly (or directly, depending what way you look at it) by the social security sniffers.

Yosser Hughes is the loudest, the most aggressive and the most unpredictable of the group. He’s also the one who most wants to be ‘someone,’ to be rich, respected and ‘noticed’ in his life, and his ego literally can’t handle the collapse of all his hopes and dreams when it happens.

He seems to be a man literally driven out of his mind and his sanity with the loss of his life savings, gainful employment, his wife (she’s an auld bitch, but then he was very violent to her), his home and finally his children, in some very harrowing scenes of violence, terror and heartbreak.

Yosser, whose catchphrase is ‘Gissa job. Go on, gissit,’ and who is accustomed to headbutting his problems away, is so desperate for help, solace and guidance in his predicament that he even turns to the church in his hour of need, but there’s nothing doing there either.

What we’re witnessing here is probably the total breakdown of a man’s mind, after he’s lost everything in life that anchored him to his place in the world. Can Yosser ever be helped? God knows. The breakdown seems pretty absolute.

Ricky Tomlinson (Jim Royle of THE ROYLE FAMILY) turns up here as the doctor who attends George when he’s in the hospital, and so too does Janine Duvitski (Pippa, Patrick’s wife, in sitcom ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE), as a student hitching a lift who gives Yosser a well-deserved piece of her mind on a journey into Leeds.

The writer, Alan Bleasdale, has his own kids play Yosser’s poor little long-suffering sprogs. Yosser’s dream sequence, in which a park full of people, including his mates, watch him and his kids drowning in a lake, is an extremely powerful one, and gives you a direct insight into the man’s life: he’s going under at the rate of knots, and everyone around him can see it, but they either don’t care (the dole office, the ‘system’ itself, the medical doctors) or they have their own troubles (his pals from the ‘black stuff.’)

This series has won a ton of awards and accolades. It’s gritty realism at its finest. You must see it, if you haven’t already. There’s a stand-alone episode from 1981 called THE MUSCLE MARKET which is not on the box-set I own and which I therefore haven’t seen, so if you can find that one too from somewhere, more power to your elbow.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.

JEEVES AND WOOSTER: THE COMPLETE C0LLECTION. (1990-1993) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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JEEVES AND WOOSTER: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION. (1990-1993) BASED ON THE NOVELS BY P.G. WODEHOUSE. DIRECTED BY ROBERT YOUNG AND FERDINAND FAIRFAX. MUSIC BY ANNE DUDLEY.

STARRING STEPHEN FRY AND HUGH LAURIE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This complete series is just such a treat, a delight, the televisual equivalent of afternoon tea with tons of cream cakes and jam and little sandwiches with the crusts cut off. My kids and I re-watched the entire series during the Lockdown of 2020 (well, of course we’re still in it!) and it brought us nothing but pure absolute joy.

The stately home and country garden settings are utterly exquisite and the period costumes and motor cars stunning. The attention to period detail is just incredible.

The series decamps to ‘Thirties America for some of the episodes and the detail in these episodes is equally painstaking, even if the series does somewhat imply that you can pop over and back to the States from Blighty in the blink of an eye, and not the several weeks on an ocean liner that it would probably have taken…!

Bertie Wooster is an English toff from the ‘Thirties, and Reginald Jeeves is his butler or valet or gentleman’s gentleman. Bertie is forever getting into scrapes, whether romantic or downright criminal (for example, involving the theft of a country copper’s helmet!), and the infinitely learned Jeeves, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of everything from the Life Cycle of the Worm to Greek and Roman classics, is called upon to exercise his ‘little grey cells’ to extricate his master from yet another jam.

Bertie loves to booze it up at the Drones Club for Gentlemen with other young bucks of his class (Hammer Horror’s Michael Ripper plays the porter there in several episodes), and he’ll put a bet on virtually anything that moves.

He loves to sing and uses his ‘pleasing baritone to great effect about the flat,’ in the words of the inimitable Jeeves. Check out the episode in which he decides that Irving Berlin has ‘come a cropper somewhat’ by putting too many words in his classic song, ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz…’

Bertie is a highly eligible bachelor with his own classy London pad. He’s also very easy-going and generous in nature, which is why his aristocratic peers from the Drones Club downtown are constantly trying to take advantage of him.

They’re always embroiling Bertie in their zany schemes, usually involving inheritances, allowances, young ladies of their acquaintance and disapproving relatives who would stand in the way of their romantic dalliances with said young ladies.

Bertie gets into the most hilarious scrapes trying to help his friends achieve true love, familial approbation and the weekly or monthly stipend which would enable them to continue living the work-and-worry free life of the idle rich.

Bertie’s closest friends all have ridiculous names such as Gussie ‘I gave her a newt’ Fink Nottle, Tuppy Glossop, who is very fond of his grub, Bingo Little, a hopeless romantic, Oofy Prosser from the Drones Club and Barmy Fotheringay (pronounced ‘Fungi’) Phipps, whose real name is Cyril.

One such hilarious scheme involves Bingo Little and his desire to get married to a waitress, a match he was sure his uncle would frown upon. Jeeves’ plan in this instance was to get Bingo to read a series of books to his uncle, all involving the romantic unions of waitresses and toffs.

‘SHE WAS ONLY A FACTORY GIRL’ by Rosie M. Banks went down particularly well, especially when Bertie was persuaded to masquerade as the aforementioned Rosie M. Banks. How was Bertie, never mind the dozy Bingo, to know that Bingo’s waitress lady love, a Rosemary Bancroft, was in fact the illustrious female author in disguise, working undercover as a waitress to acquire material for her next book…?

Women are drawn to Bertie like flies to jam. They frequently decide that they want to marry him, and Bertie is too much of a people-pleaser to say no to them. It is left to Jeeves, then, to extricate his master from the romantic entanglement.

Although we, the viewers, adore Bertie, you’d be surprised how many fathers, uncles, guardians and casual observers violently oppose the match of their precious female relatives to ‘that idiot Wooster…!’ Death before Wooster, even.

Some of the women who give Bertie the most trouble are the hale and hearty, mannish Honoria Glossop, the revoltingly insipid and brainless Madeline Bassett, the terrifyingly bossy Florence Craye and Pauline Stoker, daughter of American business billionaire, J. Washburn Stoker.

Stiffy, aka Stephanie, Byng, a cousin of Madeline Bassett’s who doesn’t even want to marry Bertie as she has her own bloke, Stinker Pinker the Vicar, has no compunction about using blackmail to get the poor hapless Bertie to do her bidding.

This usually involves Bertie’s putting himself at great risk by stealing something from her old uncle and guardian Sir Watkyn Bassett, and breaking into this unwitting uncle’s stately home to either pinch the thing in question or put it back.

Bertie therefore spends a lot of time running away from the law, which at Totleigh Towers in Totleigh-in-the-Wold comprises Constable Oates, who thoroughly loathes Bertie and thinks he is an imbecile Hooray Henry.

Bertie gets no end of trouble from his Aged Aunts Agatha and Dahlia as well, who are always forcing him to look after dud relations, get engaged to women he can’t stand or (yes, again!) steal something or put it back.

The actresses playing these Aged Aunts changed a lot over the course of the four series. My favourite incarnations of both were Elizabeth Spriggs as the last Aunt Agatha and Brenda Bruce as the first Aunt Dahlia.

My favourite character by miles, apart from Jeeves and Wooster themselves, is one Roderick Spode, a friend and frequent house-guest of Sir Watkyn Bassett of Totleigh Towers. Spode is hilariously made out to be a sort of English equivalent of Adolf Hitler.

With the toothbrush moustache, the passion for oratory, his political organisation, the Blackshorts, and their swastika-like symbols, their Hitler Youth-style marching and rallying and their Hitlerish breast-beating and right-arm-extended salute, the comparisons are obvious and hilarious.

Spode hates Bertie’s guts, denouncing him for an idiotic toff waster, and several times threatens him with actual bodily harm. But, never fear, Jeeves has put Bertie in possession of the one little word designed to scare the manners back into this belligerent, blustering British Fascist. Come closer and I’ll whisper it in your ear. That’s right, Eulalie. No, Bertie, not Euripides, Euclid or Eucharist, it’s Eulalie…! Try not to forget it. It could come in very useful…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

BOUQUET OF BARBED WIRE. (1976) THE CONTROVERSIAL SEXY TV SERIES REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

bouquetofbarbedwire

BOUQUET OF BARBED WIRE. (1976) WRITTEN BY ANDREA NEWMAN. DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY TONY WHARMBY AND JOHN FRANKAU. MADE BY LONDON WEEKEND TELEVISION.

STARRING FRANK FINLAY, SHEILA ALLEN, SUSAN PENHALIGON, JAMES AUBREY, DEBORAH GRANT, ROLAND CURRAM, ROGER REES, ANN BEACH AND CAROL DRINKWATER.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Wow. I watched this vintage British television series over the May Bank Holiday this year and it practically fogged up the screen with the smouldering sexuality. I believe it was the critic Clive James who said of it that, by the end, everyone in it except for the baby had slept with everyone else, a pretty accurate assessment, if you ask me.

Not that you see any nudity or actual sex happening on screen, but you see the before bits and the after bits and it all leaves you with the distinct impression that you’ve actually seen the middley bits too, if you know what I mean.

It’s a family saga with lust, physical violence and forbidden desires simmering away under the surface, with a generous dollop of guilt, remorse and consequences thrown in for good measure, just in case any of the characters should be seen to be enjoying the deliciously illicit sex too much…!

Frank Finlay does a phenomenal job as grey-haired paterfamilias Peter Eliot Manson, a wealthy publisher with the ‘perfect’ family: Cassie, his lovely wife, who’s devoted the best years of her life to supporting Peter and bringing up her family (but she has her secrets too); their twin sons of about ten whom we hardly ever see, because they’re ‘away at school;’ and a beautiful, spoiled adult daughter called Prue…

The series was mired in controversy on its release because of the overtones (never mind the undertones!) of incestuous desire between Peter and his daughter. They’ve never actually slept together, as far as we know, but Peter is head over heels in love with the flirty, mischievous, shit-stirring Prue who, all her life, has always gotten exactly what she wanted from both parents. Now she’s as manipulative and dangerous as any other spoiled child to whom no-one’s ever said the word ‘no…’

Peter is sick with jealousy that Prue, a university student (for all the work we ever see her do…!), has met and married an attractive but independent-minded fellow student, an American chap called Gavin Sorenson.

Gavin’s had the exact opposite upbringing to Prue and therefore has no problem in calling her out when she’s out of line. Prue is having Gavin’s baby now too, and Peter wants to kill Gavin for sullying the virginal body of his beautiful perfect daughter. It’s all very uncomfortable, albeit thrilling, to watch…

Into Peter’s complicated life (and office) then comes his new secretary, Sarah Francis. Sarah is one of those independent working girls who shares a house with other girls, the kind where there are always knickers and tights hanging in the bathroom to dry. Her house-mate Annabel is rich and a walking bitch, just thought I’d mention it!

Anyway, Sarah doesn’t come from a rich, privileged family. In fact, she hails from quite a dysfunctional one and she’s never been able to depend on them for anything. She has to fight for her place in the world. She has two lovers, the impoverished artist Simon and the handsome son of a rich businessman, Geoff, and she can’t decide between either of them. (Geoff would be my choice, lol.) In fact, Sarah never seems to really know what she wants in life and this could spell trouble for her down the line.

Sarah has a delicate beauty and an air almost of damaged fragility that draws her restrained, prim and proper cold fish of a boss Peter to her in his hour of need. He feels betrayed by his precious daughter, he hates Gavin’s guts and he and his wife are barely communicating.

Sarah is like a soothing balm to Peter’s many wounds. Knowing the risks, but nonetheless supremely confident that they can be the first two people in the world ever to have an affair where absolutely no-one gets hurt, not even themselves, they embark on a secret relationship. No-one gets hurt, right, because no-one ever needs to find out? Talk about famous last words…

The series was also famously controversial for its dark themes of sadomasochism, a shady subject that probably had never been openly portrayed on the screen before. Prue Manson-Sorenson has a powerful need to be knocked about by her husband Gavin, and she manipulates him into doing it by pushing him to his limits.

He needn’t respond, of course. He could of course just walk away with his hands in his pockets, but he’s such a hothead that he can’t resist getting into it with her every time. They need to be very careful, these two, especially with Prue’s being pregnant and everything. This is a dangerous game they’re playing and, if they’re not prue-dent, excuse the pun, the consequences could be deadly…

The Manson family is a hotbed of secrets, lies, terrible betrayals, sex, violence, resentment and, buried deeply somewhere underneath all that, love. The aristocratic Frank Finlay at fifty, with his cut-glass accent and meticulous dress, would put one in mind of Christopher Lee, who was only four years older.

Both men would attract you in the same way, with their same aura of stern austerity and regal command. I’m getting weak at the knees now at the thought of it all, lol. I hope to be back to you all in a few days’ time with my review of ANOTHER BOUQUET, the follow-up to the original BOUQUET, so until then, stay safe and we’ll talk again soon.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com