Monday 4 December 2023

Doctor Who and the Flux


The BBC's Dr Who, soon to be  Disneyfied, is now sixty years old and much loved around the world - it has a legion of committed fans - some of  whom should indeed be committed if the message boards are anything to go by.

Over the years the show has taken many bold moves; some which worked, some which did not.

 Sadly, casting a female Doctor in the form of Jodi Whittaker was a notable failure, but this was largely down to the fact that the show seemed to have lost its way under the guidance of the then show-runners, rather than any shortcomings of the actor. And given the show's concept it was not really a bold move in the first place. The Doctor after all is an alien who can regenerate when a current body has been worn down and regeneration is not limited by gender, so there is no real reason why the character can't be female. It's such a pity the Whittaker era was defined by dumb scripts and needless re-writing of the show's history.

To put this right the BBC brought back Russel T Davies as showrunner and fan favourite David Tennant as the Doctor for a run of three episodes before regenerating (as I write this is only a few weeks away) into Ncuti Gatwa, who will make history as the first black actor to take on the role.

The show is in a state of flux.

The show itself is regenerating.

The BBC have now gone into partnership with Disney for future production of the show and some fans are dubious - it is arguable that Disney have managed to ruin both Marvel and Star Wars, with franchise over saturation.

"The deal with Disney will elevate the show to even greater heights and reach new audiences so it's an extremely exciting time for fans in the UK and across the world." Charlotte Moore, BBC Chief Content Officer.

Accused of extreme wokery it has now been decided that the iconic villain, Davros will be able bodied rather than a disabled character - though, the fact that the character was never represented as disabled but rather as someone who had replaced most of his body with cybernetic parts so that he is half man/half machine, seems to have been overlooked. This move has even attracted criticism from disabled viewers and rightly so, because it just may be one of the dumbest moves the show has ever taken.

“Speaking out as a disabled man in a wheelchair, I am highly offended by Russell T Davies’ claim to change Davros to no longer be in a wheelchair, for fear of offending people like me."

“What the hell comes next? Changing a Dalek for fear of offending a salt shaker? World gone mad.”

“What’s offensive is treating all ­disabled people as the same, assuming we all automatically identify with one another.”

Another iconic villain given a wokeformation is the Celestial Toymaker who is now just the Toymaker, but that upgrade is genuinely understandable given the racist connotations of the original character .

The original appearance of the toymaker even featured a character using the, N word. I kid you not, but remember this was the 1960's and the character is reciting the rhyme eenie, meenie, miney mo. 

Schoolkids everywhere used to recite the rhyme and yep, it contained the N word. It's not a word any decent person would use these days, I certainly wouldn't in any context, though back then if I recited the rhyme then I would have and wouldn't have thought anything of it. Times have changed, so I guess I understand why the Celestial Toymaker is now just the Toymaker. 

That, at least makes sense.

What makes no sense is that now every character, hero or villain, is non-gender specific with an axe to grind. It is supposed to be a sci-fi adventure show, but these days it undoubtedly has some sort of agenda attached to it. Good intentions may be driving this agenda, but it can come across as preachy.

Yes, Doctor Who is in a state of flux.

But that's always been the case.

Right from the beginning the show has been in a state of flux, - it's had it detractors, its critics and the show has never been truly secure, always teetering on the edge of cancellation. 

It would seem though that the show is truly indestructible and even during the wilderness years, when the show was off-air, it continued in one form or another - books, comics, audio-dramas and even an ill-fated TV Movie which featured in Paul McGann a rather excellent Doctor, all added to what the BBC are now calling the Whoniverse.

So what next?

Who know?

Monday 25 September 2023

Write Drunk, Edit Sober

 Write drunk, edit sober - Hemingway said or didn't really but the much repeated quote has long been attributed to the writer and it's a good story. It sums up the public image of ole Papa even if it is actually the opposite of the truth. Hemingway was indeed a man who liked, nay loved a drink but he wrote in the morning, and didn't start drinking until the afternoon . 

Still, when legend becomes fact print the legend.

Image, pop culture and exaggeration have done the business, built the myth and it's easy to visualise a slavering, red eyed, finger-stumbling, Scotch-scarred Hemingway at the keyboard.

Still, as I sit at my screen, three O'clock in the morning and raise a glass of Johnny Walker Black and mouth that salacious quote - 'Write Drunk, Edit Sober' - It is Hemingway I think of.

Cheers mate!

Tuesday 5 September 2023


 Last night, lounging in front of the TV, aimlessly pushing buttons on the remote control I stumbled upon an episode of Murder She Wrote - this is not my usual type of show, though I have seen some episodes. Is there anyone who hasn't?  - but I watched it anyway. Drinking a smooth Penderyn malt, I just let the show run it's course. It's cozy style may be out of fashion - these days crime drama tend to be gritty, moody and introspective but there's a lot to be said for old school crime/mystery shows where the murder victims never bleed from gun or knife wounds, and fall to the ground without leaving an untidy mess.

12 seasons, 268 episodes and scores of murders - Cobot Cove, the fictional setting for the show, has a murder rate of 1,490 to the million which basically means that you are safer in a war zone than in the leafy New England town. The show was actually filmed in Mendocino, California and still today hordes of fans visit the area to walk the streets where Jessica Fletcher solved baffling crime after baffling crime. The show ended in 1996 but it remains a favorite of TV schedulers across the globe.

It may come as a shock to many to learn that the brilliant  Angela Lansbury was not the first choice to play Jessica Fletcher - originally the show runners approached Jean Stapleton, best known as Archie Bunker's long suffering wife, for the role. In fact the role had been created for the actress but she turned the producers down as she was going through a lot in her personal life having recently lost her husband. Looking for a replacement Angela Lansbury entered the scene - she had recently played Agatha Christie's Miss Marple in the movie, The Mirror Crack'd and this made her a natural choice since the role of Jessica Fletcher is basically a transatlantic Jane Marple in any case.

'When I read the first script, I was immediately taken by Jessica Fletcher,' Lansbury told People Magazine back in 1984. ' I felt the script could have been written for me.'

As twee as the show is it must be remembered that when it first aired in 1984 it was a bit left field - at that time most TV cop shows were filled with car chases, colourful shirts and gun fights but this show featured a star in her 60's who favoured intellect over brawn. Yeah, it's the TV version of easy listening, like a celluloid version of  James Last and his orchestra performing Iron Maiden but it's all good fun and there are some curious episodes out there - like the Magnum PI/Murder she Wrote crossover in which Jessica is on vacation in Hawaii and trying to prove Magnum (Tom Selleck) was framed for two murders he's a been accused of. Now, that's a fun evening for anyone who loves old 80's trashy television.

The show had always been a big hit for CBS but when its 12th season was moved from its traditional Sunday evening slot and broadcast on Thursdays, putting it in competition with NBC's Friends, the ratings took a nose dive and it was decided to pull the plug before a 13th season.

Four TV movies followed and the show has never really gone away  -  there are the re-runs but there are also a series of books, credited to J B Fletcher but written by a series of ghost writers, that are still going strong today.

Thursday 31 August 2023

Check out a great crime Audiobook...written by Gary Dobbs, Narrated by Aubrey Parsons



Get it on Audible - free with a subscription.

The bestselling crime novel now in audio format and read by the talented Aubrey Parsons.


If you've not yet seen the Justified sequel, City Primeval then you may not want to read on because there's A BIG FAT SPOILER - coming up. Go watch the series and then come back. You have been warned.

I was, and remain a huge fan of the original run of Justified which starred Timothy Olyphant and Walter Coggins, and I've very much enjoyed the limited mini- series City Primeval. The new series (said to be a one-off) is set some years after the events of Justified and sees an older Raylan Givens chasing down another gun crazed madman, but this time in Detroit.

It has a different feel to the original series, the grimy city setting sees to that, and it took some time for me to settle into the show, without yearning for the Kentucky setting of the original show and the beloved characters who populated that universe - mind you many of the great ones died in the original run - Dewey Crow remains a much missed character but of course Boyd Crowther put a bullet in his head in the final episode of the original series.But would we see Boyd again, or Eva? That question seemed to hang over City Primeval - remaining even after the series got into its stride and became something excellent in itself. The absence of Boyd, Raylan's nemesis, was glaringly felt and time and time again we were told that the character would not return - he was still incarcerated and he'd be a very old

man before and if he ever saw freedom again.

This time out the thorn in Raylan's side is Clement Mansell, played by Boyd Holbrook so we do sort of get a Boyd. And in fairness the actor chews up the screen in each and every scene he appears in. He's just as deadly as Boyd Crowther was - if anything he maybe a little more so because he comes off as far more sadistic - where Crowther always had a justification for his actions, as bad as they were, this guy simply seems to enjoy killing and it means nothing to him; just like swatting a fly. One second he guns down several guys and the next he's taking a drink or chowing down on an undercooked steak without a care in the world.

”There are only two kinds of guys out on the street chasing bad guys your age — the ones who got passed over for the ‘big chair,’ and the ones who just love it so much they’re going to have to be dragged off.”

City Primeval was a darn good series, a worthy tie in to the original series which is one of very few series that maintained a solid standard from beginning to end and when the sun set in City Primeval and we were left with a freshly retired Raylan Givens off on his boat with his daughter, played by his real life daughter, we got that fan pleasing epilogue. Right at the dying moments of the show we are back in Kentucky and there he is - Boyd Crowther. In a skillfully put together ending we see Boyd break out of prison and ride off into the sunset. The scene shifts once more and we see Rylan's phone ringing - that's about as open an ending as you can get.

Will Justified return or is this really the end? Either way it works - if it is the last time we see Raylan and Boyd then it works. Raylan's off enjoying his retirement, while Boyd continues to live his life in mexico. It all feels kind of satisfying, but both Olyphant and Coggins have said they would be up to revisiting the characters again so I wouldn't be surprised if there is indeed more to come, and that would truly be something to look forward to. Though it really is perfect as it stands and another comeback has the risk that it could sully what has been a truly excellent run, so I guess the creators have a difficult decision to make. I, for one though, would love to see more, see Boyd and Raylan once more going head to head.

Justified and City Primeval are based on Elmore Leonard's stories about the character Raylan Givens

Tuesday 29 August 2023

Welsh Crime Writing - Taff Noir


Taff Noir and the Rise of Welsh Crime Fiction


Wales; once a medieval principality is proudly a country in its own right and although it shares a land border with England it is very much its own thing. 

It is complicated, though and it wasn't until 2011 that Wales was officially declared a country  when the International Organisation  for Standardisation said so -  though in truth Wales hasn't been a Principality since the 16th Century.

 So why did the ISO step in, when there was no real need since the Welsh have long considered Wales to be its own country? It started when the ISO defined Wales as a Principality in a newsletter, which prompted the Welsh politician, Leanne Wood to start a campaign to have its status changed. Yes, Welsh politicians, just like those all over the world chose their fights on the basis of it creating good press rather than what really matters.

Though it gets even more complicated - in the Thirteenth century the Princes of Gwynedd ruled most of North and West Wales. They were called Princes of Wales and had to swear an oath of allegiance to the King of England. In 1216, at the council of Aberdyfi, the Welsh princes declared Llywelyn the Great to be their main leader, and this prompted the King of England to agree that Llywelyn's heirs would be known as the Prince of Wales. 

Then the Welsh had a level of independence from England but this ended in 1283 when Edward 1 conquered the principality, and after that Wales was split into two separate Principalities - Gwynedd in the North and Cardigan in the South and these were ruled by the English King. The rest of Wales was then ruled by the Marcher Lords.

It was the Act of Union in 1536 that actually made Wales a country again - though until September 1997, Wales was governed from Westminster by the UK government. It was a vote for devolution that sparked the creation of the Welsh Assembly, but Wales still has a Prince of Wales (that Charley blokey with the big ears)  and that title is given to the eldest son of the reigning English monarch. It is this last fact that creates the confusion with many still claiming that Wales is a Principality rather than a country. It still causes problems from time to time and in 2017 the English rugby coach, Eddie Jones sparked controversy by calling Wales a Principality.

 “They’re countries where rugby is the main sport and the support is absolutely fever pitch. And the results affect the country, in South Africa’s case, and in Wales’ case, the Principality.” Eddie Jones

Now that's all out of the way (sort of) let's get on with the real thrust of this article and that is the Welsh crime fiction movement. For a country of little more than three million people, Wales has a vibrant crime fiction movement. We've had Nordic noir and Tartan noir - so it the next big thing Taff noir? I'd like to lay claim to that phrase, Taff Noir - you heard it here first. So, is Taff Noir to be the next big thing? I do hope so, since I'm very much a part of the movement myself. Quick plug for my valleys set crime thriller, Down Among the Dead - available now. Listen to the Wind,  a second book featuring Chief Inspector Frank Parade will be published next year.

Wales - 870'ish miles of stunning coastline, from the industrial scars of the valleys to the breath-taking beauty of rural Wales the country has a plethora of fictional crime, and always has - Agatha Christie set her 1934 novel in the fictional Welsh town of Marchbolt. 

Though these days the real Wales features in a range of crime fiction, taff noir if you like. Take Henry Bingham for instance, who has penned a truly amazing series of crime thrillers  featuring the character of Detective Fiona Griffiths. Or there's the great Belinda Bauer  whose novel Rubbernecker used the A470 (The Welsh answer to Route 66), 180 odd miles of Welsh road to set up the premise of what is a truly stunning thriller. In fact all of Belinda's books are brilliant.

"Honestly, I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be writing crime fiction in Wales. Author, Beverly Jones

The Welsh International Crime Festival ( Gŵyl Crime Cymru Festival ) is now an annual thing, and then hopefully soon we will see Taff Noir (that phrase again) become a thing in the crime fiction world. Though, those who keep their ears to the corpse strewn ground have always known that Taff Noir is a thing - it's just never been as well publicised as say Tartan Noir or Nordic Noir. Let's hope all that is about to change.

The entire spread of Wales is covered by crime fiction - Dylan H Jones (Anglesey),  Rose Claverton (Cardiff), Gary M Dobbs (The South Wales Valleys), Simon McCleave (Snowdonia), John Williams (Cardiff), Alis Hawkins (the Teifi Valley) and the list goes on and on with many great writers and well realised locations to discover.

Ever since Hinterland appeared on TV, people have been getting more interested in looking for Welsh crime, and not just on their TVs,  Gail Williams, CWA

Wales had produced a lot of great crime writing and continues to do so -  and apologies for the many many writers not mentioned here, but the list of all of the excellent writers working in Taff Noir would  end up reading like one of those telephone directories that used to sit in everyone's hallway.

Suffice to say Wales is an amazingly picturesque country, with landscapes steeped in ancient myth, with valleys that still hold the scars of the industrial might that once held sway, with clear lakes that hide secrets a'murky beneath their pristine surface and inner city mean streets that even Chandler would think twice about sending his tarnished knight a'walking down.

Slow Horses and Dead Lions - Slough House series books one and two comparison to TV series


Over the last few weeks I've read the first two books in Mick Herron's deliciously moorish Slough House series - I didn't come to the books via the TV series, indeed it had somehow slipped under my rader. I discovered the books after  listening to some old episodes of Radio Four's Book Club and one episode (HERE) featured the author chatting with a studio audience about his books. I liked the author's style so much, particularly his modest humour and the audiences genuine love for the books that I had to check them out.

 The books, espionage thrillers with a twist since the main characters, an ensemble cast, are as far removed from James Bond as it's possible to be, even George Smiley is the height of glamour in comparison to the grimy gang that populate this world . The radio chat suggested that the books contained much humour as well as genuine thrills and feeling intrigued I took up my Kindle and downloaded the first book. That I immediately read the second and then watched both TV seasons that adapted the books is an indication that I very much enjoyed them. Oh yes indeed - I'll definitely be reading the rest of the series, as well as tuning into the wonderful TV series, Gary Oldman has never been better, whenever the third season arrives.

So what are the Slow Horses? Or rather who are the Slow Horses? Well, basically they are a team of British intelligence agents who for a variety of failures have found themselves relegated to the MI5's Slough House department - think of it as a school for losers, somewhere for incompetents to serve out their time until retirement, death or even both. Now you also need to know that Slough House is not in Slough but is called that because of a joke, apparently someone once said the department is so far from the action that it may as well be in Slough. So, that's basically it - the slow horses are a bunch of fuck ups, addicts and fools. Only they're not really - each character, from Jackson Lamb down are well rounded, realistic and just so lovable. Everyone loves an underdog.

The first novel and the TV series are very close to each other, though in truth the elongated climax of the TV version does improve on the book with the incredibly tense garage scene in which a kidnapped young man has to fill a van with petrol while his blood-soaked kidnappers hide inside the van. That scene is absolutely edge of the seat stuff but the book, although differing at the climax is just as thrilling and I do think the book offers a deeper understanding of the characters.

The second book, Dead Lions and the TV series differ a lot more and this book is undoubtedly the better of the two, but both are worth the effort. The plot of the book is if anything a little more fantastical than the TV version but it remains on the right side of credible thanks to the way the writer plots the story so that by the time we venture into JAMES BOND SAVING THE WORLD territory we are so invested that we go along with the story.

So TV series or books? Well, it must be remembered that they are two different mediums and what works in one may fall flat in the other, but I've always been a book guy and I am inclined to almost always favour the books, but the TV version is quite incredible in itself and Gary Oldman's portrayal of the odious and yet somehow endearing Jackson Lamb is a masterclass in characterisation. There's no need to chose when you can have both - each have their merits, and both are excellent.

A refreshing take on the espionage genre.

Tuesday 7 March 2023

The Last of Us

 It's my new favourite show - apparantly, it's based on a Playstation game but that was completely off my rader - I'm not a gamer so I've come to this fresh, with no pre-conceptions other than being told that it's a little like The Walking Dead. I suppose comparisons between the two are inevitable, but other than that fact that both shows contains zombies there are very few similarities.

The show opens with a TV talk show from the 1960's - guests on the show smoking cigarettes as they chat away about the possibilities of a fungus evolving to control humans rather than ants in a slowly warming world. And then we fast forward to the modern day where the worse case scenario has come to pass. With the world in ruins we are introduced to Joel (Pedro Pascal), and the opening of his arc is shocking and totally unexpcted, at least to those of us not familiar with the game - BIG FAT SPOILER ALERT -  When his daughter is killed early in the first episode we see and understand his loss of humanity and later when he is paired with Ellie (Bella Ramsey) we see some of that humanity return as he reluctantly accepts the responsibility of protecting her as he travels this post apocalyptic landscape.

Both leads are excellent with the best lines coming from Bella Ramey, while Pedro does his utmost to provide a brooding hero, who is often the straight man to the young girl's histrionics. I'm currently up to episode eight, there are ten in this first season, and already there have been a few offbeat classic episodes that I have no doubt will be remembered as classic TV. The third episode is a tender love story between two aged men, and sits largely outside of the main narrative of the story, but it's so well done and played out that it even connected with this grizzled old hetrosexual. It was quite beautiful and will provoke a tear in all but the hardest of hearts,

Following that detour of an episode it's been pretty much brutal, violence but not once has it lost it's core wonder - I'm very much enjoying this. Bring on episode nine and ten.

Friday 17 February 2023

A whisper of love, a whisper of hate: an unofficial James Bond novel by Gary M. Dobbs


James Bond relaxed as he shifted gear and took the Jaguar XJ through the country lanes. The sun was behind him, a cloudless sky above him and he felt good to be alive. He was now completely recovered from the mission last summer that had left him as close as he’d ever been to dead. His ribs had healed, the reconstruction work on his jaw no longer pained him, and once again he was able to take pleasure from the simple things in life. He reached down to the console and slid one of the cigarettes, made especially for him by Moorland’s and containing a mixture of Balken and Turkish tobaccos, out of the gunmetal cigarette case and lit it with the aged Ronson lighter he habitually carried in his right-hand hip pocket. Bond was a creature of habit, likely the worse thing to be in his profession, but now in the moment he didn’t need to worry about that.

            At the moment, James Bond didn’t feel that he had anything in particular to worry about and it felt good.

            He shifted gear again as he approached the hill, the incredibly powerful 4.2 litre engine, responded immediately and Bond felt himself pushed back in his seat as he built up speed. There was a woman waiting for him at the end of this road and Bond anticipated a pleasant evening ahead. Good food, a few drinks and an early night. Though Bond knew that much of the coming night would be spent enjoying the delights of the woman’s body.

 Elizabeth Lyon possessed a particularly fine body.



Thursday 16 February 2023


It's back for a five issue mini-series from Rebellion Publishing.... Battle Action, 2000AD publisher’s relaunch of the title inspired by two classic British weekly comics, Battle Picture Weekly (aka Battle) and Action, returns as a five-issue miniseries, with writer Garth Ennis playing a principal role in its latest incarnation.

Battle Picture Weekly,  still holds an exalted position in my memory - in fact it is probably my favourite comic book ever. But besides that Battle displayed a stunning use of the medium over its run and of course gave us a genuine comic book masterpiece in Charley's War - but more on that seminal strip later.

Battle was launched in answer to rival D C Thompson's  successful war strip title, Warlord and although born out of imitation Battle did better Warlord and is perhaps one of the, if not THE, most important British comic titles ever.

Battle's answer to Warlord's main character, Lord Peter Flint was Mike Nelson codenamed The Eagle - however readers preferred the more gritty strips in Battle and Mike Nelson, although featuring in several series of adventures, was soon dropped. 

Early stars of Battle Picture Weekly were D-Day Dawson, The Bootneck Boy and the truly exceptional Rat Pack which was based very much on the popular movie, The Dirty Dozen.

So well remebered are The Rat Pack that Titan Books have a trade paperback collection  that collects together many of their most popular stories.

which one is Lee Marvin?
"We were looking to movies like Dirty Harry and the spaghetti westerns for inspiration," writer Pat Mills said in his introduction to the story in Titan's Best of Battle. "And with Rat Pack we got it from the movie, The Dirty Dozen. It's an archetype that will never go away."

Another early strip that was hugely popular was D D Dawson - it told of Sgt. Steve Dawson who took a bullet during the D-Day landings but survived. However the bullet moved closer to his heart with every adventure and he knows that it will inevitably kill him. And so he vows to fight on until his own personal D-Day finally arrives. And arrive it did in the issue dated 22 Jan 1977 when the character finally went down. The next two scans depict D Day Dawson's last adventure - click on the images for a bigger readable version.

                                                                                       The comic merged other titles into it during its long run and the details are:

  • Battle Picture Weekly (8 March 1975 - 16 October 1976)
  • Battle Picture Weekly and Valiant (23 October 1976 - 12 November 1977)
  • Battle Action (19 November 1977 - 20 February 1982)
  • Battle (27 February 1982 - 1 October 1983)
  • Battle Action Force (8 October 1983 - 29 November 1986)
  • Battle (6 December 1986 - 17 January 1987)
  • Battle Storm Force (24 January 1987 - 23 January 1988)
When the Battle itself began to fail it was merged into the new relaunched Eagle but by then the glory days of British boy's comics was long over.

The world of Battle was a non-PC world where the Americans were Yanks, the Japanese were Japs, the Germans were Nazis and the British were Limeys, but it wasn't always as clear cut and one strip in particular, Charley's War  created by Pat Mills with almost photographic artwork from Joe Colquhoun, was an anti-war strip in a boys war comic and today stands as a true masterpiece of British comics. Titan have published several deluxe hardback volumes collecting the stories with still more to come.
True depth in the comic book medium

It's a bleak and terrible story, but despite the overwhelming cynicism and negativity that surrounds the trenches, there's just a grain of faith in the human spirit. Not enough to ever make this remarkably sad tale ever attractive to Hollywood, but there's something genuinely moving in Charley's letters to his parents and the real friendships forged among the men in the front line. Like most of the great comics Pat Mills created during his most vibrant period of, say, 1976-89, the power of humanity is greater than the power of the "authority" which commands it to do terrible things in the name of royalty, nation or planet.

                           Battle truly was an exceptional comic book and it's great that the legacy is still remembered and felt even today. It may have started off as a typical gung ho style comic book but the skill of the creators soon led it into avenues previously unexplored in the comic book medium. It was incredible reading for a young kid to be presented with war in a realistic fashion in strips such as Charley's War and Johnny Red. to be presented with the unglamorous truth and to discover that bullets really did hurt and that the glory of fighting for one's country soon becomes secondary to surviving when the reality of war is felt.

Oh you are awful but I do like you!
             On a lighter note Battle had the popular Airfix Modellers Club page which was presented by British comedian, Dick Emery. And the letter's page was supposedly edited by Captain Hurricane that hangover from the days of Valient Comic.

To fully cover the importance of Battle would take more than one, two or even several blog articles - indeed a full scale book would be called for, but the article here is merely a taster of a time when British Comics really were a formidable creative force.

Now bring on the new version

Sunday 12 February 2023

Retro Comics feature - MACH 1

 The acronym stands for Man Activated by Computer Hyper

puncture - the strip ran in boy's comic 2000AD and ran for 64 issues. The strip was created by Pat Mills and was initially the most popular strip in the comic - bigger even than Judge Dredd during the early years of the comic.

The strip was heavily influenced by TV's The Six Million Dollar man which was huge at the time - the character of M.A.C.H 1, agent John Probe even looked like Steve Austin as played by Lee Majors. In the introduction to the Extreme M.A.C.H 1 magazine, editor Alan Barnes said John Probe was not so much Steve Austin as an Austin Allegro and he confirms that during the comic's early days the character was more popular than Dan Dare and Judge Dredd combined.

The earliest strips saw John Probe battling terrorists, enemy agents and killers but as 2000ad found its legs and became more subversive, Probe found himself battling against his own government.

 Probe's boss Sharpe was revealed to have insisted a piece of code be written into the computer inside Probe that would self destruct, killing the agent if he disobeyed orders. This added much depth to the character and made Probe less Steve Austin and more a tortured man forced to work for a shadowy government organisation.

The first truly epic story for the character was M.A.C.H 0 in which Probe discovered that he wasn't the first man to be turned into a secret agent (again a plot that had been used in The Six Million Dollar Man) but this earlier experiment had gone wrong. 

Of course Probe saved the day. In the final strips of M.A.C.H 1 we saw John Probe turn on his boss and kill him . He then sacrificed his own life to save the world from alien invasion. This was a massive shock to the readership. This was not Marvel or DC and when a character was killed he usually remained dead.

M.A.C.H Zero would return to the comic for his own short lived series, but this was more Frankenstein retold than anything else.

Stories from M.A.C.H 1 have been reprinted in several versions - Reprinted? 2000 AD Extreme Edition #6 (12/04) reprinted 9 of the first 10 episodes (all but #3), along with "Airship," "The Planet Killers," "Everest" and "MACH Woman." 19 episodes in one handy package, with a great cover by John Burns. A second batch of 20 episodes were reprinted in Extreme Edition #9 (6/05). These included "UFO" and the final 16 instalments. Many other episodes had previously been collected by Quality Comics in a series that ran nine issues.

The character was so fondly remembered that a spoof, entitled B.L.A.I.R. 1, a satire on Tony Blair appeared in 2000 AD in the late 1990s, and gained considerable media attention at the time. The story was not popular with readers, however, and was soon killed off.


 The first episode of my new You Tube series...a life in books

Saturday 11 February 2023

Those deadly Cooks

 History has not bestowed upon them the notoriety of The James Gang, nor are they as well known as The Daltons but in their day The Cook Gang were every bit as feared as any of the Old West's outlaws.

"They are a stench to the nostril of lawful men." Said one Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) newspaper in 1890. and during the height of their crimes they were pursued by a team of U. S. marshalls, the Army and even The Texas Rangers.

Their leader was William Tuttle Cook but their ranks changed so often that it is impossible to pin down all the names of the actual members.

The first recorded incident of Bill (William) Cook falling foul of the law was in 1892 when the half Cherokee, was charged with selling whisky in Indian Territory. Later Bill worked as a posseman for U.S. Marshall Will Smith. But when his kid brother Jim was charged with larceny and jumped bail in 1894 he moved over to the other side of the law and joined his brother on the lam. It was not too long before the two brothers met and joined up with Crawford Goldsby, an outlaw, better known to history as Cherokee Bill.

Together with other men, drifters mostly, including Jim French, Skeeter Baldwin and The Verdigris Kid (Sam Mcwilliams then only 17 years old), they started stealing horses whilst keeping one step ahead of the law.

In the Spring of 1894 the U.S. Government passed the law that became to be known as, 'Strip Money'. This was $7 million of compensation to be paid to the Cherokee Nation at Tahlequah. Now Cherokee Bill and the two Cook boys were entitled to payment under the scheme but being on the scout, as they called it, they didn't see how they could claim it. They eventually gave written persmission to one Effie Crittendon to collect their shares on their behalf.

When the law learned of this they sent a Cherokee posse out to Effie's home at Fourteen Mile Creek to capture the outlaws. The posse included Effie's husband, Dick Critterdon. There was a shoot out and Sequoyah Houston, a respected member of the Cherokee police, was killed. The two Cook brothers and Cherokee Bill managed to escape. Though Jim Cook was wounded by buckshot.

Following the incident the newspapers were calling the men 'The Cook Gang' and so began a trail of theft, murder and unspeakable violence that would turn The Cook Gang into household names across America.

Yet they are not remembered today in the way other Old West Badmen are -there was nothing romantic about the Cook gang, nothing to really mythologise though some did try - legend says that as Cherokee Bill was finally led to the hangman his last words were - "I came here to die and not make a speech. It is a good day to die." Though in fact documents record that he had no last words.

Bill Cook, leader of the gang, died in prison in 1901. His brother Jim had died the year earlier when he came second place in a gunfight over an argument about a steer.

If this brief article has prompted anyone to want to learn more about The Cook gang then I suggest getting hold of Black, Red and Deadly by Art Burton, or then again you can check out this video which was made by Samantha Ponce and tells the story using her children's toys. Or click HERE

Full Length Western


Tuesday 7 February 2023

The Rise, fall and rise of Hollywood

 1946 was a bumper year for Hollywood - demobbed soldiers were eager for films to entertain them and their dates . after the uncertain war years. That year American cinemas sold more than 4000 million tickets and produced a total box office take of just under $1700 million. That figure would not be matched until 1974 when cine

mas sold only a quarter of the number of tickets but inflation made things look better than they truly were.

Today the cinema is as vibrant as ever(financially if not creatively) but in the years immediately following 1946 movie moguls were convinced they were witnessing the death of cinema. Not only were they selling less and less tickets each year as the new medium of Television worked its way into more and more homes but the industry was altered by new laws which created distrust and paranoia in the creative camps. Between 1946 and 1948 movie attendances dropped by 16.9% but what was worse for the major American studios was the interest the government was showing in the cosy cartels that controlled Hollywood. From the mid-Thirties, the Department of Justice had been trying to break the stranglehold the major studios had over independent cinemas. The aim was to force the majors into selling off their highly lucrative cinema chains. But as the majors made most of their money from distribution they resisted. AS far back as the early Thirties the Department of Justice had brought legal cases against the major studios but these were delayed by the war. However in 1946 the Department of Justice started to strip away the powers of the major studios.

The war years had already seen Hollywood have to make major changes in the films they produced - their foreign markets, with the exception of Britain, had become out of bounds. Attempts had been made to create a larger market in South America with the Carmen Miranda films but this would never replace the loss suffered by the closing of the lucrative French, German and Italian markets. When the war ended and the markets opened back up it would seem Hollywood was once again onto a certain winner but soon the way they did business would be gone forever. Old Hollywood and the so called studio system was about to die, killed by the Department of Justice and their anti-trust laws.

When the world market opened up after the war it was only the US that had an abundance of film stock - in 1946 20 films were made in the Soviet Union, 54 in Italy and 432 in America. Films from the US dominated Europe with most of the profits coming back to the Hollywood studios. In 1948 France would rebel against the system and only allow only $3.6 million of a $14 million take to go back to America. The UK for their part would only allow £17 million to go to the US while $40 million remained tied up under foreign exchange regulations.

The next problem for Hollywood was with their labour. Post war prices meant that wage structures had to be improved. There was a major strike at Warner Brothers in 1946 and now that the unions were being closely scrutinised by the government it made the earlier practice of the studios paying off union bosses impractical. Ronnie Reagan was a union leader during this period.

The movie industry was in a state of turmoil when in the late 40's the House Un-American Activities Committee starting to take an interest in the film industry. The flimsy alliance between the US and Russia broke down after the war and there was paranoia that movies made in America, by American were spreading communist propaganda. At the infamous hearings Jack Warner, eager to explain several pro-Soviet movies made during the war, said that communist writers were poking fun at the US political system and picking on rich men. Blacklists were quickly drawn up of actors, writers and directors suspected of having communist leanings. It was revealed by the committee that Danny Kaye's real name was Daniel Kamirsky and June Havoc was actually June Hovick. This was enough to stop these two performers finding work for a long while and of course there was the jailing of the infamous Hollywood Ten

Communist paranoia entered the American psyche. John Wayne played Big Jim Mclain, an heroic investigator for the committee in 1952. And such was the paranoia felt by the studios that by the time McCarthy arrived on the scene in 1951 Hollywood was politically clean.

At the end of the 50's Television had gained a place as the entertainment of choice for the masses. However more films were made in 1950 than 1946 as a leaner and fitter Hollywood emerged.

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