RICHARD THE THIRD – A study in music

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With the possible exception of Henry the Eighth more has been written about Richard the Third than any other monarch. Works of scholarship and novels of dubious provenance abound. As with other aspects of culture in the fifteenth century little is known about what music may or may not have been played at court.

Ian Churchward and a friend were used to getting together in the small recording studio located in the basement of his house. They would try various songs and experiment with lyrics and melodies. One evening Ian was called up from the basement by his wife to watch a documentary about Richard the Third. This was the famous documentary about that amazing moment when the fallen hero of Bosworth became ‘The King in the Car Park.’ (A media invention of course but if nothing else it brought Richard III to the front pages!) Ian had always been interested in history but this programme awoke an interest that continues to this day. He decided the next song he wrote would be about Richard III. With his friend Mike (aka Lord Zarquon) a tune was developed, the lyrics honed into shape and the song recorded under the group name, ‘The Legendary Ten Seconds.’

The group presently consists of: Ian Churchward – Vocals and rhythm guitar

Rob Bright – Lead guitar

Lord Zaraquon – Keyboards

David Clifford – Bass guitar

Adrian Maxwell – Drums Thus was born the ‘House of York.’

Ian & Rob of The Legend 10 Secs at Torquay museum 2016

Ian and Rob of ‘The Legendary Ten Seconds’

Writing the lyrics is all very well but if you are going to write music representing the fifteenth century then it needs to have a certain mediaeval influence in its sound. The sound has that distinction and is hard to place. There are echoes of the Byrds intros and Ian’s own ideas that the Moody Blues have influenced him. It is a sixties style with a certain echo on the tracks. At times it seems as if some of the tracks were recorded in a large baronial hall with atmosphere oozing out of the stone walls! Ian has a distinctive voice and it is well suited to the material. I used to live in Newquay when I was stationed at RAF St Mawgan back in the late sixties and every so often we would join our friends at a folk club in Wadebridge (We knew how to live!) There the singers were rarely accompanied. Tending to have the head back, stare at the ceiling and sing with the occasional clapping of hands. Sounds odd but it was very effective. At times Ian’s voice takes me back to that folk club. With his band Ian has created a kind of medieval folk-rock sound that is perfectly bound to the lyrics. Apple Music describes it as ‘Alternative Folk.’ I am not a musician and certainly not a music expert but I know what I like! (Is anyone counting the clichés?) I think the one instrument that provides the background of the unique sound is the keyboard. I suspect the man on the keyboards has it set to its highest pitch so that it sounds like an ancient harpsichord or clavichord. I like it!

For the passing public Richard the Third means the Princes in the Tower, Bosworth Field and a car-park in Leicester; not necessarily in that order! And it was not helped by having the outstanding actor of his generation play the King in that brilliantly executed film, but total work of fiction by Mr Shakespeare’s son. The ‘Now is the winter of our discontent’ speech is a brilliant piece of propaganda concentrating on the supposed deformity of Richard. It should be remembered that the Tudors had been in power for over one hundred years when Bill wrote his play. Ian’s song‘Shakespeare’s Richard’ by ‘The Legendary Ten Seconds’has some great lyrics about the play.

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There was more to this monarch than all of the above. Through various tracks on a number of albums Ian paints a large canvas of the life and times of Richard Third. Subjects as diverse as ‘Lady Ann Neville’, ‘Middleham Castle on Christmas Eve,’ ’Lord Anthony Woodville,’ and ‘Ambion Hill’ fill in the background to the whole period of the life of Richard the Third.

I have only had time to sample a few of the songs but I do like ‘York City Fayre,’ and its companion piece, ‘Tewkesbury Medieval Fair.’ My favourite of those I have heard and the lyrics of others I have read is ‘White Surrey.’ The song features the final, fatal charge of Richard upon his White Surrey. The song builds nicely and I found it very evocative. There are four albums to choose from; ‘Loyaulty Me Lie’ (a motto used by Richard which translates as ‘Loyalty Binds Me.’) ‘Richard III,’ Tant le Desiree (Which translates as ‘I have longed for it so much.’ A line found written in one of the books owned by Richard.) Tant le Desiree also has narrative introductions to the tracks which provides the listener with the setting for that particular song. The most recent and fourth album is called ‘Sunnes and Roses.’ The latter about the period rather than the main character. All are available on Amazon and iTunes.

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Here are three links to whet your appetite:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bdp5-XAmSrc – Shakespeare’s Richard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0D-h3CFeq4I – White Surrey https://www.amazon.co.uk/Loyaulté-Lie-Legendary-Ten-Seconds/dp/B00H7SF3UU Loyalty me lie

Ian Churchward donates a percentage of his sales to a scoliosis charity called S.A.U.K. Scoliosis being the curvature of the spine from which Richard suffered. Well done to Ian!

To undertake a project in music with such a specialist subject was a brave decision. While the Richard III Society continues to challenge and discuss the many ‘fake news’ stories about Richard there are other historians who take a different view. The story has been running for over five hundred years and it is no doubt good for another five hundred! The Legendary Ten Seconds have set these stories to music and have presented a brilliant evocation of the last years of Plantagenet England in a unique and delightful way. Have a listen?

Rod Pickles

P.S Perhaps I should reveal I was born in Yorkshire where the White Rose blooms!

P.P.S I would like to have given readers the chance to listen to some of the music but this edition of WordPress does not allow me to embed music links. Now if I get another one hundred thousand readers and carry adverts I can upgrade then who knows. We could show videos!

 

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 SATURDAY NIGHT

AT THE MOVIES

          (and the occasional Friday?)

Movies, films, pictures, flicks; what is in a name? The first film I can remember anything about is the ‘Red Shoes.’ My parents took me along when I was only three! The one scene that I can remember is the one where Moira Shearer (as I found out later) falls in front of an oncoming train. Not good viewing for a three year old! Thinking about it that is probably my earliest memory of anything. Other films from my early days staying with my grandma in Bradford include ‘Quo Vadis’ (1951) and ‘The Robe.’(1953) Both epics of the Roman Empire during the rise of Christianity. The Robe was the first film to be shown in glorious Cinemascope and starred Richard Burton in one of his first Hollywood roles. Both films seen at the Odeon.

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My next movie memory is Saturday Morning Pictures at the Regal Cinema in Salisbury. For about six old pennies you could spend the Saturday morning watching a couple of ‘Shorts’ as they were known. A shortened Pathe newsreel, the B picture and then the A movie, usually a Western. Sometimes the western was a running serial so if you had missed the previous week then you had no idea what was going on!

The amazing thing about all this was our behaviour. Yes it was a bit noisy but there was never any trouble, As the lights came up at the end we all trooped out without any bother. Not sure who I went with but I remember using my season ticket on the bus from Old Sarum where we lived. Happy days!

So what was your first film?

We go back to the mid 1890s to find out where it all began. Thomas Edison invented the first movie camera in the hope that it would boost sales of his phonograph. He had hoped to match sound to the pictures but could not find the solution. Although the French would claim otherwise and say that in 1888 Loius le Prince recorded the first true film.

Early films were around a minute long. Still the process had begun. Celluloid film had been invented a few years earlier and the technology waited for the next inventor to come along.

D W Griffiths was one of those. By 1910 the films were longer, credits for actors started appearing, panning shots, close ups but still no sound. Movie theatres started to appear under the name ‘Nickleodeon.’ In time they of course dropped the Nickle? The movie industry had begun.

From Old Sarum my Mum and I departed Southampton on the SS Empire Orwell bound for Singapore. No films on board ship as we sailed for 31 days out to the Far East. My Dad was waiting for us to disembark and then it was an RAF coach to the railway station. The journey to Prai in northern Malaya would take 24 hours. My Dad had a sten-gun packed in his case as we would be travelling through terrorist occupied areas and they had been known to block the line while they attacked the trains. Exciting or what!? We were heading for Penang. I think we arrived in our accommodation some 35 days after we left our prefab at RAF Old Sarum. We spent about a year on the island. The Rex cinema was our favourite place, next to Batu Ferringhi beach! The Man from Laramie with James Stewart is a film I remember from that time. Saw it again recently and to be honest it was dire! Another of those westerns where all the characters look as though they have just stepped out of the shower, had their hair done while they wore their freshly laundered clothes! Davy Crockett was another one we saw. Best remembered for the song I guess. Two war films pass through my memory: ‘Strategic Air Command’another Jimmy Stewart film, but an improvement on the earlier one. The other is a film that my Dad would describe as having ‘bags of action’ a phrase my family know well! To Hell and Back’ starred Audie Murphy as himself and related the story of his war. Murphy despite his diminutive size was an exceptional soldier. In 1945 when the rest of his comrades had retreated he single-handedly held off a whole company of German soldiers until reinforcements arrived. He was wounded but survived and was awarded the Medal of Honour. Murphy won just about every medal going and was one of the most decorated soldiers of WWII.

From Penang we moved to the mainland and a very nice bungalow at RAF Butterworth. Like all large RAF stations around the world there was an Astra Cinema just a short walk from our bungalow. The beach at Butterworth was not that good but the swimming pool made up for it! To think my parents put me through this terrible childhood! The Astra held Saturday Morning pictures only this time the Pathe News was watched a little more closely as it let us know what was happening back home in the UK. Film over it was a stroll to the swimming pool, lunch, and then in the pool until the sun went down! Which was usually around 6:30. The Ten Commandments, High Society, The Dambusters, and The Searchers I can remember seeing at the Astra with my parents.

Time to head home on a three day flight! (Night stops in Karachi and Baghdad!)          Such, such were the joys!

My Dad was posted to RAF Watton in Norfolk but Mum and I stayed behind in Bradford waiting for accommodation to become available. He came home for weekends. I remember one film he took me to at the Victoria Cinema, Pork Chop Hill starring Gregory Peck. A film about the war in Korea and of course ‘bags of action!’ I went with my Mum to see Anastasia at the Essoldo cinema. They don’t name them like that anymore!?

So to Norfolk, where the news that I had lived in Malaya and survived the experience was met with amazement from my new classmates. Their idea of adventure was a bus ride to Norwich!

Watton yielded another Regal cinema. Like the Essoldo mentioned earlier sadly demolished some years go.Films I remember include Bernadine starring Pat Boone. Mum and Dad were big fans and surprise, surprise Pat sang a song called Bernadine! A Night to Remember and The Vikings are two that come to mind. On a trip back to Bradford I returned to the Essoldo with my Aunty May to see Ice Cold in Alex. Certainly a better class of war film.

Autumn 1958 saw us heading back to Yorkshire and an umpteenth change of school! We lived in Acomb and my Dad was stationed at Rufforth just up the road. To digress slightly. Rufforth was where I saw my first motor race. The British Racing and Sports Car Club used the perimeter track of the old airfield as a racing circuit. My first view of a D- Type Jag and an Aston Martin neck and neck approaching a bend. Magic! Meanwhile back at the Regent in Acomb. My Dad was on detachment in Aden so Mum and I went along to the Regent Cinema to see Frankie Vaughan in The Heart of a Man. Mum was a fan!

Time to head to the Far East once more! This time it only took twenty-four hours, stopping for fuel at Istanbul and Bombay. My Dad had been posted to Seletar in Singapore so it was just a coach ride to a hostel and then to our bungalow the next day. RAF Seletar was the largest RAF station in the world. It had a nine hole golf course, a floodlit football pitch, an Olympic size swimming pool and best of all, TWO yes TWO Astra cinemas! Sink the Bismarck, Reach for the Sky, Some Like it Hot, Rio Bravo were all seen at either the East Camp Astra or the West Camp Astra. Downtown at the brand new all-happening Lux cinema there was, Ben Hur, North to Alaska, Psycho, Elmer Gantry, The Apartment, Spartacus and many, many more!

So those are my early memories. Going to the cinema was something of a habit in the fifties and sixties. Not so much now as the prices of admission seem to go up every other week! Gone are the days of the one and nines and a fish and four on the way home! And of course films are not just shown at a cinema anymore. Still the collective experience of watching a good film in the company of a hundred or more people is one to be enjoyed?

Time to head for the lists and put my films on the table!

So let us take a peek through each genre and see what I think and you can then shout at the screen or nod in agreement? Do we have a deal?

Comedy may seem a funny place to start but at least we begin with a groan!

In ascending order then here are my top five comedy films:

5.Good Morning Vietnam – Robin Williams (Sometimes classified as a war film but I put in the comedy section!)
4.The Italian Job – Michael Caine
3.The Producers       – Zero Mostel
2.Some Like It Hot – Marilyn Monroe
1.My Favourite Year – Peter O’Toole

There are so many funny films out there but I think ‘My Favourite Year’ has to be top of my list. ‘Some Like it Hot’ runs it close but My Favourite Year features a tour-de-force performance by Peter O’Toole. The film is set in the year 1954 and O’Toole plays the part of Alan Swann. Television is still in its infancy and Alan Swann a famous actor is in town to be interviewed. He is a notorious drunk and the shows producer does not want him interviewed. He is persuaded to go ahead by a young up and coming comedy writer on the understanding that he will babysit Swann. Cue chaos! Mel Brooks was executive producer and of course was also responsible for ‘The Producers.’

The film contains one of my favourite lines: Swann enters the Ladies Toilet by mistake:

Attendant: ‘This is for ladies!’

Swann: (Sound of zip being undone) ‘ So is this ma’am but every now and then I have to run a little water through it!’

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And of course ‘Some Like it Hot ‘ contains one of the best last lines in film history. Jack Lemmon still dressed as a woman informs his enamoured would-be lover that he is a man.

Would-be lover replies: ‘Nobody’s Perfect!’

In ascending order my top five war films:

5. Das Boot   – Jurgen Prochnow
4. Paths of Glory – Kirk Douglas
3. The Bridge at Remagen – George Segal
2. Catch -22 – Alan Arkin
1.Saving Private Ryan – Tom Hanks

‘Saving Private Ryan’ contains an outstanding performance by Tom Hanks. For its first twenty minutes alone it would be the best war film. In content it is beaten only by the TV series ‘Band of Brothers.’ In both productions Steven Spielberg cannot resist an anti-British dig but I will forgive him given the outstanding nature of both productions. Catch-22 could easily be in the list of best comedies but it is an anti-war film. To adapt such a complex novel took some doing and I have to say it is one of the best adaptations of any novel in the history of cinema. It is not better than the book but it certainly matches it. The portrayal of utter lunacy and total disintegration of human relations is brilliantly portrayed. In Alan Arkin they found the right actor to portray John Yossarian. My favourite line of all time comes from Yossarian in Catch-22:

‘I am going to live forever or die in the attempt!’

In ascending order my top five western films:

5.The Magnificent Seven – Yul Brinner
4.The Unforgiven   –           Clint Eastwood
3.Rio Bravo       –               John Wayne
2.High Noon   –                 Gary Cooper
1.The Searchers   –             John Wayne

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‘The Searchers’ has been my favourite western for some time. This, despite it being another ‘clean’ western. For once the plot overrides such concerns. The tale of a young girl captured by Indians was not fanciful and occurred more often than you would think out there in the Wild West! John Wayne leads the search party across a good few years to find his niece and bring her home. The final shot of the film through the doorway of the ranch house out into a sunlit Monument Valley is one of the most evocative in cinema history.

During the film Ethan (John Wayne) is asked if he wants to quit. He replies, ‘That’ll be the day.’ Deep in the heart of Texas one Charles Hardin Holley watched the film. On hearing the above quote he says to himself, ‘ I can do something with that.’ And the rest as they say is in the charts!

In ascending order my top five drama films:

 5.Shawshank Redemption
4.Godfather Part II
3.The Third Man
2.Casablanca
1.Citizen Kane

Difficult to classify some films. Citizen Kane is a dramatic film and so is The Shawshank Redemption but is the latter a crime film? Likewise the Godfather. Still and all it seems a reasonable place to park them.

Orson Welles did just about everything on Citizen Kane. He wrote, directed, produced, edited, acted and probably did everything else bar make the coffee! It is a tale of overweening ambition, Shakespearean in its concept. Welles is brilliant in the production ably assisted by Joseph Cotton. And of course there is the famous ending as we finally discover the meaning of why the character Charles Foster Kane, played by Welles, utters the word, ‘Rosebud.’

Welles gives another tour-de-force performance in ‘The Third Man.’ For once all Welles did was act. Carol Reed directed a screenplay written by Graham Greene. The camera work was so good it won a Oscar for cinematography. The film music played by Anton Karas on the zither was infectious and is instantly recognisable.

Undoubtedly one of the great figures of movie history I find it sad that Orson Welles ended his career advertising alcohol. I guess he spent his film life chasing money so having it come easy was a no brainer?

And a word for ‘Casablanca.’ A very thin plot, dodgy scenery, but brilliant over the top performances by all concerned. And so many quotes:

‘What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?

My health, I came to Casablanca for the waters.

The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.

...I was misinformed.’

‘Round up the usual suspects!’

.and of course the most famous mis-quote, ‘Play it again Sam!’

..and one quote that has a special place in my heart, ‘We will always have Paris.’

In ascending order my top five musical films:

5.The King and I
4.My Fair Lady
3.Cabaret
2.Camelot
1.South Pacific

South Pacific contains the best playlist of any musical. The songs are some of the best ever written by Rodgers and Hammerstein. This Nearly Was Mine is as close to perfection as any writer of a musical could get. You have probably gathered that I don’t rate any musical post 1970! I have seen ‘Return to the Forbidden Planet’ three times and think it is brilliant. Likewise ‘Mamma Mia’ which I have seen twice. But they are Rock and Roll shows not musicals in the true sense of the word. Ditto ‘The Jersey Boys.’ Camelot has a special place in my memory. Nina and I saw the stage show when we were in London for our honeymoon. Cabaret contains a brilliant performance by Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles. Musicals are best seen on the stage and with Cabaret the stage intensifies the claustrophobia of the Kit Kat club and underwrites the serious aspect of the musical. And it is great to see ‘Money’ performed live.

In ascending order my top five Adventure/Epic films

5.Master and Commander
4.The Name of the Rose
3.The African Queen
2.Dr Zhivago
1.Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia introduced Peter O’Toole to the greater viewing public. Much debate as to whether it is David Lean’s best film. I think so. It is filmed on an epic scale and Omar Sharif was another new face who gave a masterful performance. The film had a stellar cast that included Alec Guinness, Anthony Quayle, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins and Jose Ferrer.

The opening scene, which starts with a shimmering dot on the far horizon is one of the best in movie history. Maurice Jarre, always Lean’s go-to composer ,provided a stirring sound track. The recent Directors Cut restores missing scenes and gives credit to one of the original screenwriters Michael Wilson. Omar Sharif would take the starring role in another Lean epic, Doctor Zhivago, some years later. The snow-laden Russian steppes provide a shimmering background for certain scenes in this film. Once again Maurice Jarre was the composer of the film score. Lara’s Theme being its most memorable tune. The film gave international stardom to Tom Courtney in the role of Pasha Antipov.

The African Queen is the best film two-hander you will ever see. Bogart and Hepburn light up the screen and it is a film I can watch time and again. Master and Commander stars Russell Crowe and I think it is his best film. The Name of the Rose stars a very different Sean Connery and young Christian Bale. The producer and the author of the book did not want Connery originally. Umberto Eco left the project in dismay and Columbia Pictures withdrew their funding. Jean-Jaques Annaud eventually invited Connery for a reading. He stopped him at the third page when he realised he was perfect for the role. And indeed he was. Far and away his best film.

There are other genres but horror films have never taken my money. I have seen the occasional Star Trek, Star Wars, Indiana Jones films in the company of family and friends but they are just passing entertainment. The latest fad for Iron Man, Spider Man, Superman, Batman and every other man leave me unmoved.

And so shuffling the cans of film and assessing my options here is a list of my ten favourite films.

In ascending order:

10.Some Like it Hot
9.Paths of Glory
8.Catch 22
7.The Third Man
6.Saving Private Ryan
5.My Favourite Year
4.Casablanca
3.The Searchers
2.Lawrence of Arabia

Favourite – Citizen Kane

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                                   Orson Welles as the young Charles Foster Kane

 Your list may bear no resemblance whatsoever to mine! Feel free to add your favourite films in the comments section?

I have mentioned most of the films above bar a couple. Paths of Glory is a WWI story of the French Army. Kirk Douglas at his dimpled best plays an officer tasked with defending four soldiers who have been charged with cowardice having refused to be part of a suicidal attack on a German position. It was based on a true story and needless to say was not welcomed in France. Released in 1957 French citizens finally saw the film in 1975.

And there you have it. Feel free to comment it would be good to hear your views. Thanks for reading.                    

                    THE END

Rod Pickles
August 2017

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THE RICHARD III TOUR

                  

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I was told by a friend that there was a spare seat for the trip to Leicester with the Richard III Society, would I be interested?

Indeed I was!

We were greeted by a rainy morning at Plymouth station where the mini-bus was due to collect us on Tuesday 11 July. A rainy motorway for most of the journey to Leicester! We picked up a couple of people at Exeter Services and had another lunch stop along the way. It was still raining in Leicester when we were dropped off at our various hotels. Mine was what is politely known as ‘cheap and cheerful!’ It had one big advantage in that it was two minutes away from the Richard III Visitor Centre.

Before my tour begins it might be useful for those of you who are not up to speed with the reign of the Plantagenets to impart a little information:

In England Henry II is seen as the start of the Plantagenet line. He was married to Eleanor of Aquitane who was previously married to the King of France. Henry and Eleanor did not have the most perfect of marriages by any account? The genesis of the line originated in Anjou in France and the monarchs of that region tend to be known as the Angevin monarchs.

Henry acceded to the throne in 1154 following the death of Stephen. Matilda and Stephen had struggled to gain supremacy of the throne but eventually the power struggle was settled in Stephen’s favour with the agreement that Henry II would succeed him when he died. Stephen did not waste too much time in the land of the living after that and Henry was King! Sadly his greatest claim to fame is the death of Thomas a’Becket. He is quoted as saying, ‘Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?’ A few knights eager to find favour took him at his word. Henry’s children continually caused him problems but in the end Richard of Lionheart fame succeeded him after he died a miserable and broken man. This part of history brings us to the crusades and the mainly fictional story of Robin Hood. John was the younger brother always cast as the villain in popular history. He had a troubled reign, unpopular in England and losing battles and land in France. The culmination of these problems was the loss of Anjou and being forced by his barons to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. John died the following year and his son the nine year old Henry became the third of that name. Henry was one of the longest reigning Kings of England and died in 1272. His reign was notable for the Barons Revolt which he defeated and his success in rebuilding Westminster Abbey. From then until 1377 we had Edwards one, two and three. Edward IIIs son Edmund established the House of York when his father made him Duke of York. Richard II followed but his was a troubled reign and he ended up dying in Pontefract Castle. Murdered by starvation being the popular story. Thus ended the main Plantagenet line for the time being. Such were the complexities of royal lineage that the Plantagenet line would continue. The lines of Beaufort, Neville and Mortimer start to intertwine and the Houses of Lancaster and York seem to merge then separate and it would require many more pages to untangle this complex royal mixture. Suffice to say the House of Lancaster now moved to the English throne and Henrys four five and six became King. Henry V one of our most famous kings following his victory over the French at Agincourt. Sadly he died young and his son who followed was the polar opposite of his father. No warrior he. In certain publications the word ‘wimp’ has been used! Somehow he survived until he was forty-nine undoubtedly murdered on the orders of his successor, Edward IV. We are now back with the Plantagenet line. Edward’s brother was Richard Duke of Gloucester and it would be him who would become Richard III. Edward IV was reported to over six foot tall. A giant in comparison to the normal male height of the time. A fearless warrior in his youth he soon succumbed to the trappings of fame. An unhealthy lifestyle is the general judgement on the cause of his death. His eldest son Edward should have succeeded him. However we now meet one of the great puzzles of English history and probably the most debated. Edward V and his brother Richard were placed in the Tower of London, allegedly for their own safety. The marriage of their father was declared null and void and the Duke of Gloucester acceded to the throne as Richard III. After the summer of 1483 the Princes in the Tower were never seen again. There was no evidence ever given or found to prove who was responsible for the deaths of the princes. While the man with the motive is undoubtedly Richard III accusations against him are based on hearsay. Thus the mystery endures. In August 1485 one distant claimant to the throne, Henry Tudor met the army of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Despite being outnumbered Henry Tudor won the battle and Richard III was killed. He was buried in Greyfriars Priory. The last of the Plantagenets and the last English King to die in battle.

The memory of his burial disappeared with the years and in modern times no one could really say where his body was buried. The Richard III Society was formed in 1924 with the aim of putting the history of Richard III into context and trying to persuade people that the work of William Shakespeare was mainly a work of fiction and lies. In the latter part of the twentieth century members of the Society started to claim that Richard’s body was still to be found in Leicester. Other historians dismissed this choosing to believe the hand-me-down tale that the King’s bones had been thrown in the River Soar during the turbulent times of the Reformation. Enter then the heroine of this story. Phillippa Langley. Ms Langley was Chairman of the Scottish branch of the Richard III Society. The footprint of the Greyfriars Priory had long been known and it was accepted that the Social Services car-park must be built over the area where the Abbey used to be. Ms Langley cajoled, persuaded and finally convinced the Richard III Society to obtain permission to dig up certain areas of the car-park. And to use a well-worn cliché the rest most certainly was history in every sense of the word. The nation owes a huge debt of gratitude to this lady.

So back to Leicester in the year of our Lord 2017!

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A sunny morning saw us gather beneath the statue of Richard as we waited for the Visitor Centre to open. Our day started with a talk from Claire, one of the guides at the Centre. She took us through the events that led up to the discovery. For Claire the starting point of the modern journey of discovery was Audrey Strange. Audrey was born in 1926 and at some point in her life moved to Leicester. Always interested in history she did some private research on Richard after joining the society. In 1962 she declared that Richard was buried beneath a car-park in the choir stalls of Greyfriars Abbey. She wrote to the authorities asking for permission to excavate the car-park. This was denied. If only the man who wrote the letter refusing was still alive! Claire made the point that Audrey had two things against her. She was a woman and she was an amateur. How fitting then that it is a woman who followed in her footsteps and had the car-park excavated! (A gifted amateur beats a mediocre professional any day of the week?) Sadly Audrey died in 2010 and never knew how correct she was. Then a tour of the Centre including the area overlooking the open grave which contains an outline of how the body lay there. An excellent presentation through the Centre retelling the story. And of course there was the gift shop! I think profits that day must have been above the norm? Lunch in the Centre and then over to the Cathedral. We had another excellent guide but everyone was waiting for the moment when we arrived at the tomb. There before us now buried with dignity were the mortal remains of the last Plantagenet King of England. It was a moving moment for all of us. Some members of the society had not been happy about the design of the tomb and I believe a funding argument ensued. I thought the design was excellent and in simple fashion it provided a fitting memorial to Richard III.

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Still more to see as we headed for the church of St Mary de Castro. A church Richard is believed to have used on his visits to Leicester. Henry VI was knighted here and Geoffrey Chaucer was married here. An amazing building. It was so atmospheric you could just feel the history of the place.

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From there a quick trip to the remains of the castle and Newarke Gate. Back to the hotel for a quick rest before the evening beckoned. We had dinner at the Globe. Claims to be the oldest pub in Leicester. Somehow it did not feel like it? But what do I know as my knowledge of pubs could be written on the back of a postage stamp! The main attraction of the evening however was our speaker, Mathew Morris. Not a name you will be familiar with but he was the site supervisor on the dig and is credited with locating the leg bones of Richard. Mathew’s career in archaeology is assured! A really informative speech about how the dig was approached and how the site had been developed over the years since Richard was buried there. The search began in August 2012. Much quicker than ever expected the skeleton was discovered. DNA checks meant the 14th cousins descended from Richard’s sister were tested and the match was perfect. On 4 February 2013 the announcement was made to a waiting world and the sceptics among the history mafia were stunned into spluttering silence!

Mathew received a much deserved long round of applause.

It had been a long day and a good nights sleep was not hard to find!

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The next morning it was time to head on out to Bosworth where our story will end. First to the Bosworth Heritage Centre which also contained another gift shop! (I do like gift shops!) A small but superb exhibition was viewed and then a walk with our guide. We did really well with guides on this trip and here the man in question was no exception. We climbed to the top of Ambion Hill which is seen as the gathering point for Richard’s forces. We were then arranged in battle order as we played the parts of those main participants in the battle. It was a very mobile game of chess but illustrated the strategy of the battle very well. Time for lunch in the Tithe Barn Café, a last look around the exhibition, and so to Bosworth Field. It is located at Fenn Lane farm. Unfortunately the farmer has no sense of history and does not allow anyone onto his land. The man could make far more money out of a Visitor Centre than he does growing cereal crops! Still there it was in front of us…Bosworth Field. A billowing crop was all there was to see. But we were at the place where the battle took place! Photos taken and onto our final destination. There are some places in England that have wonderful names, Indian Queens, Weston-Super-Mare and one I had always wanted to visit, Ashby de la Zouch! It was to the ruins of Ashby Castle we went. And most imposing they were with the background of a glowering sky. The castle was originally the home of Sir William Hastings. He was once a close ally of Richard but for reasons none to clear he did something to upset him. After what he thought would be a routine meeting he was all but executed on the spot! In reality he was taken outside and the deadly deed done. Thus the castle and all the Hastings property would pass to the crown.

Time was moving on and at 4pm we finally headed south. We arrived back at Plymouth station around 9:30pm. It had been a great trip. My thanks to the members of the Richard III Society for inviting me along, and for their good company along the way. A special word of thanks to Ian Lauder who did all the driving. A memorable few days indeed!   

                           “Those of you who for their history care
                            Will know what it means just being there?”

 

RMP
Plymouth
July 2017

WATCHING THE DETECTIVES

First came Wilkie Colllins with – The Moonstone. Regarded as the original detective story it set the standard for crime fiction across the years. Filmed countless times it is a story filled with the many red herrings beloved of Victorian fiction. Late in the nineteenth century Dr Arthur Conan Doyle took a break from medicine to write a story about a private detective who went by the name of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle had a love hate relationship with his most famous creation and in the end decided Holmes must die and the detective met his maker at the Reichenbach Falls. (Unlikely as Doyle was an avowed Spiritualist) Or did he? Such was the public pressure that Doyle brought his detective back from the dead. There have been almost fifty films made about some aspect of Sherlock Holmes life and numerous television series. The latest manifestation is of course Sherlock on the BBC. I would however file this under fantasy TV and not crime detection. Brilliant it most certainly is but at times just a little too clever by half.

In 1920 a struggling writer who had found it difficult to get published finally achieved her ambition. ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ by Agatha Christie set her on the road to worldwide recognition. She is the worlds best selling author. Her published books are beaten in number only by Shakespeare and the Bible. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple feature in most of her detective fiction. The classic Christie payoff is Poirot gathering all the suspects in to one room and finally exposing the murderer. It is a device used by many a TV series. Death in Paradise being the latest culprit! Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie between them provided the guidelines for detective fiction that all crime authors have followed. The impossible crime, the absence of proof, the watertight alibi. The resolution of these problems is why we read about and watch detective stories.

There have been countless detective shows on TV both here and in the USA. Some good, some bad, some instantly forgettable. Most of them are original screenplays. For this article I am mainly considering those adapted from books. Do you have a favourite? Here are a few for your consideration…

Maigret

 The 76 Georges Simenon novels were written between 1931 and 1972. Set, of course, in Paris they provide a wonderful evocation of everyday life in France. Who then to play the part in the UK? In France casting is not an issue because they are casting a French actor to play a French detective. In the 1960s Rupert Davis took the part to universal acclaim. And there it stayed until the eighties when Richard Burton was asked to play the part. Apparently he had agreed but pulled out of the contract by dying in 1984! How irresponsible! Should have stayed off the booze Dick! And then the producers asked Richard Harris to play the part. One drunk replacing another? Simenon was astounded by the choice but was too busy counting his money to worry about it. He was fortunate enough to die before Harris appeared in the role. He was universally panned for a shambolic, unrealistic performance. There was supposed to be a series following the pilot but it was so bad that the producers cancelled. Harris protested that an Irishman playing a Frenchman was no different to an Englishman

 

gambon  Michael Gambon as Maigret

playing a Frenchman. Well there is if you do it with a croaky Irish accent! The problem with Richard Harris was always when he was good he was very good. When he was bad he was just awful! Michael Gambon who was next up is an Irishman who just happens to have the perfect English accent! His performance was on a par with Rupert Davies and remains my favourite. Gambon has that wonderful air of bewilderment about him which fitted well with the character. The series was filmed in Budapest which is used regularly as a stand-in for Paris in various films and TV shows. And finally to Rowan Atkinson again in Budapest. There does not seem to be the will to produce a series. There are various one offs every year or so. I like the evocation of time and place in the series but the feeling keeps percolating that we are watching an ad for the next Mr Bean programme! It is rather like watching David Jason in ‘Frost.’ I keep expecting Uncle Albert to appear?

DCI Banks

 The many books by Peter Robinson are excellent. They match Henning Mankell or Ian Rankin for the characterisation and plotting. I am sad to say the TV series does not come near to matching the novels. An extra female Inspector who features in the TV series is never ever mentioned in the books. Plots are changed, characters are missing. And, apparently, Peter Robinson seems unconcerned which I find disappointing. The worst aspect of the TV series is the choice of actor to play DCI Banks. Stephen Tompkinson is just not DCI Banks! He is woeful. Andrea Lowe is perfect as Annie Cabbott but as a series this heads to the bottom of my list.

 Wallander

(Krister Henriksson in the Swedish production)

WALLANDER - 1 

As befits the genre Henning Mankell’s Scandinavian novels are complex and complicated and any reader is advised to concentrate! They are the sort of novel you can read again and again as they always produce something you missed on the previous occasion. They explore life in contemporary Sweden and do not pull any punches on the social ills affecting that country. In this country Kenneth Branagh has played the part of Kurt Wallander. Now I think Kenny is an outstanding actor and last year had the privilege of seeing him on stage in the West End. Yet he does not quite get the character and the series as a whole does not quite get all the characters featured in the book into the series. Difficult I know but the series fits the episodes into one hour when it is essentially a two- hour programme or ninety minutes at the very least. One young actor appeared in the early and later series by the name of Tom Hiddleston. He played the part of Martinsson who is a junior detective in the Wallander team. Over in sunny Sweden Krister Henriksson featured in 32 episodes of the Wallander series. Only two of these were taken directly from the novels but Mankell was involved with the story lines. Henriksson is a more world-weary Wallander and brings a greater depth to the part than Kenneth Branagh. And most of the programmes are ninety minutes long! There was a film series made with Rolf Lassgard as a rather roly-poly Wallander. At least all the films were taken from the novels but Lassgard never really inhabited the character. But they were film length! However there are extra characters featured who never appear in the novels and I would put the Lassgard franchise in third place with Branagh second and Henriksson at the top.

 Rebus

 Ian Rankin is a master of his craft. His Rebus novels are the sort you cannot stop reading. Most of his books I tend to read within three days. They are that good. If only the TV series matched them! Casting John Hannah as Rebus proved to me that the producers of the series had never read the books? That said they did keep faith with the plots of the novels. I have no wish to denigrate John Hannah who is a fine actor. His reading of ‘Funeral Blues’ in Four Weddings and a Funeral was brilliant. But Rebus he is not! In comes Ken Stott who is Rebus! Yet the plots in his series tended to stray from the centre line. All the series of Rebus suffered from not being given enough time. I believe Ian Rankin was none too pleased about the way the series were handled and withdrew his permission for further stories to be adapted for TV. Who can blame him? They deserved two or three hours not 45 minutes!

 Zen

 Aurelio Zen is the invention of the late Michael Dibdin. Dibdin himself became the cause of a mystery when he died ten years ago. Other than ‘short illness’ his family refused to discuss what the illness was or the cause of death. Odd? However he left us with some brilliant books. Aurelio Zen is an Italian detective and is based in Venice. Dibdin lived in Italy for many years and uses this experience to evoke the Italian way of life and the bureaucracy that invades every aspect of that life. There are some great stories. I guess if you mixed a little of Rankin with Robinson you would get a Dibdin. If you have never read the ‘Zen’ books you really should. When the TV series was announced I was delighted. Rufus Sewell was ideal for the part. But three episodes later it was all over. The episodes were ninety minutes long and very well done. The then BBC Controller, the oh so pompous Danny Cohen declared that there were enough white male detectives on TV. What a pillock! Another on the BBC conveyor belt of politically -correct staff. A week earlier he had also cancelled ‘Lark Rise to Candleford in mid-story. According to the pillock Cohen it was cancelled to make way for new drama. Really? Anyone remember the crap that was the new drama? Still we have three episodes of ‘Zen’ to enjoy and the books to re-read. Check out the library now!

Dalziel & Pascoe

 Taken from some of the books by Reginald Hill the series starred the wonderful, but sadly departed, Warren Clarke as Andy Dalziel and Colin Buchanan as Peter Pascoe. Another series axed by a BBC hitman anxious to make a name for himself by throwing his weight around. Fortunately there are 46 episodes some of sixty and some of ninety minutes available to watch. The books themselves were unremarkable although I never got to the end of all of them. Not a particular subtle series but reliant on Warren Clark’s performance as the wonderfully politically incorrect Dalziel. Colin Buchanan provides an admirable foil as Inspector Pascoe. Now if you were writing a novel would you name one of your characters Peter Pascoe? It sounds like the beginning of a nursery rhyme!

 Morse

 Let us cut to the chase! Morse is my favourite TV detective. John Thaw’s performance is note perfect and Kevin Whately as his sidekick Sgt Lewis is a brilliant foil for the morose Morse. Minus ads the programmes are about one hour forty-five minutes. Just about long enough. The beautiful city of Oxford provides the perfect backdrop to the series. While the plots usually revolve around those from the University side of Oxford (Gown) occasionally we go downmarket to the ordinary citizens. (Town)The books on the other hand are quite mediocre. We all give thanks for the lately departed Colin Dexter for inventing the detective. I just find the books uninspiring. I guess because in this case I read the books after the TV series.                                       

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John Thaw as Chief Inspector Morse

Some of the plots are invented by the writers and not taken from a Dexter novel and do stretch ones credulity. But regardless of the plot Morse is on the case and John Thaw commands the screen. Recently finished watching all 32 episodes and am currently working my way through ‘Lewis.’

The Priest as Detective

 Little old ladies, repressed Belgians, morose Swedes, incorruptible Italians, the choice of character for a detective has many permutations. But a priest? Well G. K Chesterton back in the 1930s decided Father Brown would be his detective. I read some of the Father Brown short stories while still at school and that memory faded long ago! His most recent incarnation is on BBC1 where Mark Williams takes the title role. Unlike Holmes Father Brown does not really prove his cases with evidence but relies on his knowledge of the human condition. ‘Father Brown’ is not must watch television but on a rainy afternoon is better than nothing.

Currently on ITV we have the latest series of Grantchester. This follows the life and times of the Reverend Sydney Chambers. No big deal, until you are told that Chambers is played by James Norton. An actor whose performances in ‘Happy Valley’ and ‘War and Peace’ have won him many plaudits. So an ordinary run-of-the-mill series is enhanced by the presence of Norton. The episodes are based on stories written by James Runcie. More famous for his dad than his stories he is the son of a former Archbishop of Canterbury! Never read the stories and while I enjoy the series it is getting a little too politically correct. It is the early fifties and the Rev. Chambers is visited by a black Archdeacon. Never in a million years would there have been a black Archdeacon in rural Cambridgeshire at that time! Enjoyable for the performances of Norton and Robson Greene who have developed a good chemistry between them.

My favourite detective priest is Cadfael. A delightful mixture of history and detection set in the early 12th century. Cadfael is a Benedictine monk who lives and works at the abbey in Shrewsbury. England is in a state of flux and close to civil war as King Stephen and Empress Matilda dispute who is the rightful ruler. Matilda (sometimes known as Maud for reasons unknown!) was the daughter of Henry I, Stephen merely a nephew. However the barons who controlled the wealth of England were not about to let a woman however entitled to accede to the throne. The control ebbed back and forth with Stephen eventually acceding to the throne. Peaceful it was not and Stephen before he died was unable to establish his sons as heirs to the throne. When he died the son of Matilda took the English throne as Henry II. If you have seen the ‘Lion in Winter’ you will know who he was!

Into this maelstrom of history steps Brother Cadfael. Born in Wales he has been both soldier and sailor. He comes to the cloth in his early forties. The only person in the Abbey with experience of real life not to mention the occasional female companion!

There are 21 books written by Ellis Peters and one or two short stories. I have read all the books and have the box set! The television programmes remain reasonably faithful to the novels, although the novels are not followed in sequence. One of the series writers was Russell Lewis who had a hand in writing some of the episodes of Morse and all the episodes of ‘Endeavour.’ 12th century Shrewsbury is portrayed in a somewhat beige light. It suffers from the same fault as nearly all films and TV set seven or eight hundred years ago. Everything is just too clean! Like all good detectives Cadfael has a sidekick. In this case the High Sheriff of Shropshire Hugh Beringar. By obtaining an actor of the stature of Derek Jacobi to play Brother Cadfael the producers ensured that there would always be an ensemble cast of good actors. Jacobi’s great performance puts this excellent series near the top of my list.

Of course there have been many other detective series over the years. Some of them adapted from novels others scripted just for television. Of the latter one of my favourites was Taggart. It is probably sacrilege to say this but I thought the series improved no end when Mark McManus departed this life! Into the mix recently has arrive ‘Nordic Noir.’ ‘The Killing’ was a Danish production over three series of some forty episodes. The producers stretched the stories and gave them time to develop. The whole series was enhanced by the stand out performance of Sofie Grabol. I have recently watched the series again and the only thing that jars is the last fifteen minutes at the end of the final series. There was never going to be a fourth series and the producers made sure with a ridiculous climax to the story. The other one from the same gene pool is ‘The Bridge.’ The structure in question being the Oresund Bridge which connects Copenhagen to Malmo in Sweden. This series stars the wonderful Swedish actress Sofia Helin as the dysfunctional detective Saga Noren. It is hard to choose between her and Grabol as to who is number one. This Danish/Swedish production gives its series time to develop, a lesson UK producers need to learn.

Then of course we have a long list of American detectives to consider. Most of them if not all were scripted straight to television. There was the wonderful Dennis Franz as Detective Andy Sipowicz in the award winning NYPD Blue. Franz also starred in the earlier Hill Street Blues where his performance did not attract so much attention. The list goes on forever and you will all no doubt have a very different list to me?

Remember Sgt Phil Esterhaus in Hill Street Blues when he finished his morning briefing? Time to say farewell…

 

‘Be careful out there!’

 

 My list of favourites for TV and Novel…

 

TV SERIES                                         THE NOVELS

Morse                                                   Wallander

Zen                                                       Rebus

Cadfael                                               DCI Banks

Wallander                                           Zen

Rebus                                                Cadfael

Dalziel and Pascoe                             Maigret

Maigret                                               Morse

Granchester                                         Dalziel & Pascoe

Father Brown                                    Father Brown

DCI Banks                                         Granchester – Never read

 

 

 

 

 

 

TARGA SAGA

This is an article from the magazine of the Forces Driving Club of Malta. Words in italics have been added by me within the last few weeks prior to publication. The photos included were taken by me.

The Targa Florio was an open road  endurance sports car race held in the Madonie mountains of Sicily near Palermo. Founded in 1906, it was the oldest sports car racing event, part of the World Sportscar Championship between 1955 and 1973. While the first races consisted of a whole tour of the island, the track length in the race’s last decades was limited to the 72 kilometres (45 mi) of the Circuito Piccolo delle Madonie which was lapped 11 times. Safety concerns forced the organisers to cancel the race as an international event. It became a national event which did not last for long. The final race in 1977 was forcibly stopped by the police after a serious accident killed one spectator. I did not see any notices in Sicily but in all races held in this country you will see a notice which states, ‘MOTOR RACING IS DANGEROUS!’ At the Targa Florio described below spectators could stand at the roadside, some even on the road. There were very few marshals around, just the odd policeman. Dangerous it was but none the less exciting. Fast, loud cars and the smell of Castrol XLR, what more could a motor racing fan ask for!

The Journey

   On the afternoon of Saturday 2 May 1970 five hopeful members of the Forces Driving Club of Malta, Roger Thayne, Pete Range, Derek Vaughan, Roy Francis and myself assembled at Luqa Airport ready for the journey to Sicily. One of them nearly did not make it having forgotten to renew his passport and then forgetting his leave pass! However some smooth talking by a few people to the policeman at the Passport Desk ensured my seat on the Viscount! The flight to Sicily was uneventful apart from Roger Thayne offering his cigarettes!

   At Catania airport we had to line up once more at a Passport Desk. Have you ever shown a F1250 (RAF I.D) to an agitated Italian Passport Official? Be sure you have a camera ready to capture the look on his face if you do! More smooth talking from an Italian-American G.I based at Sigonella who just happened to be in the queue behind us! Through the gate we went. Roger disappeared to look for our hired car, Derek went back into the airport to complain to Alitalia that his sleeping bag had been left behind in Malta. As I was sitting on it at the time Derek’s argument rapidly came to an end when he was informed. Roger reappeared to tell us that we had a Fiat (what else?) 124 Estate at our disposable. It was quickly loaded up and four of us climbed in leaving the driving seat for Roger. At almost six o’clock out of the airport we drove to hysterical shouts of “You’re on the wrong side of the road!” It was then decided we were going the wrong way out of the airport, so we turned round and drove past the airport in the opposite direction, straight into the car park! Eventually we made it out of the airport heading in our original direction. Some five miles out of Catania we had our first welcome to Sicily moment. We came across the scene of an accident with one dead body laid across the road. This naturally caused a silence in the car for a few miles but as dusk came rapidly upon us and we had established our direction, jokes began to be exchanged, and exchanged, and exchanged!

                                       The gang of four outside Collesano

  TF1 2

         Realising that we had not eaten for some considerable time it was decided to stop at Enna for a meal. Enna is a small town perched on top of a large hill. I seem to remember a signpost indicating 1:6 but at times it seemed like 1:1! Roger quickly located a restaurant, probably because he was hungrier than the rest of us. Conversation with the waiter was interesting. Roger eventually made himself understood in German. (We haf vays of making you talk!) Five Pizza Romano’s were ordered and we waited cheerfully to see just what they were. If you happen to be starving and perched on top of a hill somewhere in Sicily a pizza tastes delicious! However as the size of the pizza decreases along with your appetite you will probably find yourself longing for good old fish and chips. (How times have changed!)

   Having found myself treasurer by some careful plotting, I paid the bill and we were off into the night once more. The road by this time was becoming rougher as it twisted and turned through the hills. We were now heading for Cefalu and a meeting with Hugh Arnett. (More about that later) We stopped at a village for refreshments although Roger spent most of his time trying to lock and unlock the car. Pete Range was doing a brilliant job navigating. Actually he read the signposts, had a quick prayer, and then looked at the map to make sure! We circled a place called Petralia, a quaint little village that was to cause a slight argument on the way back.

   And so to Cefalu, or was it? We saw a train flash by and decided it must be the one Hugh was arriving on. Up and down road went the white 124 but no station could be found. ‘Is this Cefalu?’ ‘No!’ ‘Yes!’ ‘It can’t be?’ ‘It is!’ And so to Cefalu. Around the corner and half a mile up the hill. Now came our first Route Check. It was more like a clue in a Treasure Hunt. The problem posed was. ‘Find Hugh Arnett!’ We had it on good authority that he was staying at either the Astro or Santa Lucia Hotel. After some thirty minutes of driving up and down Pete (I won the 69 Gozo Rally) Range found the Astro Hotel, however as he was over his time allowed he was classified a non-finisher by the barman! Back to the story. Hugh, it turned out, was not staying at the Astro or even the Santa Lucia. This time we were looking for the Belvedere which was to prove just as elusive as the Astro. However it was eventually found with all its lights out and no sign of anyone. Hugh had mentioned in a note left at the Astro that he would be leaving for the race at 3:30am. As it was nearly 2:15 we decided to go and eat. Well four of them did but I didn’t fancy Tartella at that time in the morning. After a cat-nap in the car Roger found Hugh lurking in the hotel. It was then discovered that the latter had transport along with his mate Austin and also a press-card for the pits. Why for did we bother coming to Cefalu? As it turned out it was to come in useful later on to have a contact in the hotel. Feeling rather tired and weary and running out of jokes we headed for Collesano. A vantage point for the race recommended by Roger via ‘Moto Sport.’

   Collesao appeared before us at about 4:45 am. Only modesty prevents me from relating how, on the way there, I navigated Roger up a white no-go on the side of a mountain. (That is a road shown white on a map?)And all he could do was bloody well laugh! However we did get to Collesano. The barriers were already across the road and the journey to the Targa Florio had ended. We were there!

   With the back seat down, Pete Range, Derek Vaughan, and Roy (Sleep anywhere) Francis managed to lay full length and get some sleep. In the front Roger (long legs) Thayne was getting into contortions with the steering wheel in an attempt to sleep. At one stage his left foot was resting on top of his side of the windscreen and his right foot disappeared somewhere under my side of the facia. (In case you are trying to work that out remember it was a L.H.D car.) Unfortunately my camera was not handy at the time. We managed to have two hours interrupted sleep and awoke to the sound of rain drumming on the roof. (For hints on sleeping in a Fiat 124 Estate look out for, ‘Places I have Slept in,’ by one R. Francis.

   With the race due to start at 8 o’clock it looked as though we were in for a miserable day. At about 7:30 Roy, fully refreshed from his uninterrupted sleep, ventured out in search for something to drink. He found somewhere within minutes and soon we were all round the corner at the Café drinking coffee. This was after sitting in the car for half an hour wondering where we could get a cup of coffee! By this time the rain had stopped, although a few minutes earlier we had seen snow cascading down the peak above us.

The Race

We were at a suitable vantage point by 8 o’clock but we didn’t see the first car until 9:40. As it turned out the start had been delayed because drivers and officials had been held up in traffic. (Only in Italy!) The stillness of the morning air was shattered as Toine Hezeman’s Alfa Romeo 33/3 came through the village. An excited buzz was heard from the watching crowd as one car then another hurtled through in rapid succession. However there was no sign of Vic Elford in the Gulf Porsche. We learnt later that he had retired after only ten miles with suspension trouble. After four laps it became apparent that the battle for the lead was going to be between Siffert/Redman and Rodriguez/Kinnunen in Porsches and Vaccarella/Giunti in the lone works Ferrari. Vaccarella is the local hero and was given a rousing cheer whenever he passed through. We were able to move through the village, crossing the road from time to time and in all had about

                                         TF3 1

               ‘Nino’ Vaccerella hammers his Ferrari down the High St in Collesano

twelve different vantage points. Each afforded an excellent view of the race. By lap seven the race was between Siffert/Redman and Vaccarella/Giunti. On lap 8 Siffert came roaring through nose to tail with Vaccarella. The spectacle of two high powered cars literally screaming through the narrow roads of Collesano made us wonder what the drivers’ nerves are made of, or perhaps they haven’t go any? By this time the smell of oil fumes permeated the air and with the crowd urging on Vaccarella with shouts of ‘Nino!’ ‘Nino!’ there was a tremendous atmosphere about Collesano. Laps 9 and 10 saw Siffert/Redman pulling away from the Ferrari. On the last lap we saw the Rodriguez/Kinnuen Porsche driven by the latter come tearing through the village faster than any car on the previous ten laps. Indeed on the last lap he passed the Ferrari and broke the lap record with a speed of 79.9mph. If you saw the circuit you would realise just how good that is. One lap consists of 45 miles over twisting, hilly and narrow roads. To add to which they pass through a few villages on the way. I don’t think any of us had seen a car accelerate so fast in so short a distance as Kinnuen did from one corner to another on that last lap. Vaccarrella too had been driving brilliantly through the village to the delight of the spectators but his Ferrari was not quite good enough

                              A Porsche 911 comes down the hill into Collesano

TF2 3

went through at about 3:45pm and for us the 54th Targa Florio was over. All of us were agreed that it was the best motor race we had ever seen ‘live.’ (It still is!) There was only one complaint about Collesano and that was a lack of somewhere to spend a penny (Or a lira!). Having had to climb half way up a mountain take my word for it!

Return to Cefalu

Back then to Cefalu, down the twisting road. Motoring casually back Roger looked in the rear-view mirror and saw a Fiat 500 on his tail. With a shrug of his shoulders he accelerated a little faster round the next corner. Looks in mirror. One Fiat 500. Faster round the next corner, Fiat 500! Four wheel slide round next corner, mirror, Fiat 500. Grits teeth, changes down to second, hammers down straight, slides round, mirror, Fiat 500! Deep breath, gnash, gnash, positively flies down short straight, back end out at corner. Strange silence in the car? Mirror, Fiat 500! Car ahead overtaken just before corner, slide, mirror, no Fiat 500!!! Smile from Roger.

Apart from that the drive back to Cefalu was quite uneventful!

We returned to the Belvedere Hotel which you may recall was last seen at some God-forsaken hour in the morning. We were told to return later with the promise of accommodation of some sort. As it was yet again some considerable time since we had eaten we found ourselves a restaurant and devoured half a chicken each. (Nothing in a large stomach!) (although I was quite slim back then!)

Then back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. The hotel kindly provided us with a room at short notice. Four beds were provided and for reasons mentioned earlier Roy Francis ended up in a sleeping bag. However before retiring it was discovered that an Alfa Romeo 33/3 was parked in the garage beneath the hotel. Not only that it had won its class and finished 7th overall in a race called the Targa Florio! Everyone had a good look at the works and a try of the hot seat. Derek casually mentioned that he was an Alfa owner to which Roger replied that his Audi had a Porsche gearbox and that was nearer than Derek to first overall! Back into the hotel where Derek persuaded an old German professor to become thoroughly drunk on our brandy! The night was still young. At about eleven o’clock just as four of us were settling down to sleep a brandy filled Roger entered the room offering us Cheese and Salami rolls. A kind thought but he was recommended a good place to stick them! Pete Range was oblivious to all this far away in the Land of Nod braking for the next corner in the Alfa. Roger thought it would be a good idea to put one of the rolls on Pete’s pillow in case he was hungry in the morning.

Up at the crack of 7:30 we breakfasted on coffee. This was a bit strong so Roger, in his best Italian, asked for some hot water to dilute it. Five minutes later we were presented with a pot of tea!

Return to Malta

Having paid the bill we set off for Catania with the sun shining and the sky clear. The scenery on the way back was spectacular and refreshing after dusty Malta. We had gone about 15 miles when we came to a place called Petralia. The problem being there are two of them. Major and Minor. Much talk as to whether we went through them or round them. It was decided to go through. Once out the other side Roger decided we should have gone round but he knew where he was. We agreed with the first part but decided he was going the wrong way. Undeterred Roger pressed on until we came to a familiar road junction with a signpost indicating Catania! (Mumble, mumble!!) On we sped to Catania with the joke barrel being scraped. Nearing Catania we saw some oranges for sale at the roadside. The Italian gentleman who was selling the oranges asked me for an English cigarette. This gave Roger an idea. Half in Italian and half in German he came to agreement with the orange-seller. For 120 cigarettes we received at least 70 large oranges. Can’t be bad. A few miles after this we reached Catania on a different road from the one we had left on. The problem now was to find the Aeroporto? Roger and Roy agreed on the direction taken, but Derek, Pete and myself knew we were going the wrong way. On reaching the Airport…………….. all that was left was to pay for the car. This proved to be the major part of our bill.

Onto the Caravelle complete with Air Hostesses. (More about them on request. S.A.Es please!) Derek suggested we encourage the pilot with shouts of ‘Nino!’ ‘Nino!’ but he would not have heard us anyway. Within 30 minutes we were back in Malta and through the customs with only oranges and tired faces to show for our trip. The week-end had cost us £10 each and three of us had used the free air warrant. (Such, such were the joys!) Roy and Derek had to pay £10 each for their tickets so there expenses were doubled. However we all thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it good value for money.

Finally, thanks to the other four for being such good company and from the four of us to Roger thanks for doing all the driving, not bad for an amateur!

ROD PICKLES

Malta

May 1970

Ah the memories! £10 for a weekend in Sicily? Probably would not buy you breakfast these days!

 

 

THE ELVIS TOUR – September 2012

152.JPGHi y’all,

An early Monday morning at Gatwick saw us on board a US Airways A300 bound for Charlotte North Carolina. Why Charlotte? Who knows! There was a four hour wait there and in a smaller plane, a much smaller plane(!) we headed for Memphis. Our guide met us at the airport. Late afternoon found us in the Heartbreak Hotel just a short walk from Graceland. The hotel IS at the end of Lonely Street and the desk clerks are dressed in black! But quite friendly. The hotel reception area is very retro and a riot of colour. One TV channel is dedicated to Elvis movies and is permanently on in Reception. Speakers in all the public areas, some outside(!), provide you with Elvis 24/7! We wondered around the hotel to check it out and then crashed out ready for an early start in the morning. Our group had four Australians, two Canadians and two Americans. The rest of us were from the UK. The guide told us that 90% of the overseas visitors to Graceland are from the UK. We are held in high esteem given the fact that we have to travel 4500 miles to be there!

We left the hotel at 7:45 and headed for a tour of Memphis. The hotel is some way out of the city centre. When Elvis bought Graceland it was out in the country but now it is part of a built-up area. We picked up our city guide and friend who pointed out various places which had featured in the life of Elvis. His high school, first family apartment, radio interview hotel, and the Sun Studio which we are due to visit on another day. Not sure why they had to keep bursting into song? The tour of Memphis included a visit to the Stax museum. This is housed in the former Stax recording studios. Stax was a famous meeting place for black and white musicians and one of few where they could meet. The death of Martin Luther King seems to have had an effect on the once tight knit community, friendships were broken and in the early seventies the studio closed. Otis Redding probably their most famous star. Memphis is a very quiet town. No rush hour traffic. Not too many people around. The biggest employer is Fed-Ex who take over Memphis Airport during the dark hours and distribute parcels worldwide. The most important part of the city tour was the visit to the Levitt Shell in Overton Park. This was where Elvis had his first professional engagement. Having sung an upbeat version of ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’ he left the stage in a hurry thinking that all the screaming was negative. The promoter is alleged to have said; ‘I don’t know what you’re doing out there son, but go out and do it again!’

We headed out of town and picked up the interstate heading for Tupelo, Mississippi. A lunch stop on the way but we had plenty of time to see all we wanted in Tupelo. The house and museum complex have been the inspiration of Dick Guyton who welcomed us to Tupelo. The ‘Shotgun Shack’ where Elvis was born is still there. So-called because if you fired a shotgun through an open front door it would keep on travelling and exit via the open back door. Just two rooms. A bedroom and a kitchen/diner. Basic probably overstates its use. There is a museum on site and the church where the Presley family worshipped. This has been moved from its former site to form part of the complex. The statutory gift shop of course, where I always feel obliged to buy something as my Financial Director will tell you! A replica car is on the site and represents the vehicle which the family used when they moved from Tupelo to Memphis. A Plymouth Sedan as I recall. If you are not an Elvis fan all this would not mean Too Much but for Elvis fans then You Just Can’t Help Believin’?

 We left the house and the other buildings and headed into Tupelo itself. A much smarter place than I expected. Our destination was the Tupelo Hardware Store where Elvis bought his first guitar (Well his Mum paid for it!). The present owner is related to the previous owners and an Elvis fan. The original reason for the visit was to buy a bicycle. Elvis saw an air-rifle and asked for that. A guitar was the compromise. And the rest as they say is rock and roll! The owner said to us that when Elvis was asked if he would like the guitar he would love to say that Elvis replied ‘That’s Alright Mama, that’s alright with me.’ But he didn’t!

That was Tupelo and most impressive it was. Back to the hotel we found out that our dinner venue was closed so we picked up the pink telephone and asked for the taxi. A few minutes later the eight-seater pink Cadillac pulls up outside and takes us for free to the nearest steak house. After an enjoyable meal the same car returns us to the hotel for the same charge! It has been a good day.

Wednesday is the day we had all been waiting for; the visit to Graceland. Although it is within walking distance you are bussed in so that the staff can supposedly manage the numbers. So much smaller than I imagined but just great to be able to wander round. Too many people allowed in the house at any one time would be my only complaint. Nothing has been changed since the seventies and the décor and furnishings reflect the time. No one is allowed upstairs. The racquet ball room has been converted into an award room and all the discs and awards from other countries are in there. Plus some large screens showing the Vegas performances. While we were in there it showed him singing ‘American Trilogy.’ Everyone stopped talking just to listen to what was a powerful performance of the song. At the end everyone applauded. Magic. A sombre moment then as we toured the meditation garden and looked at the graves. If you had asked me fifty years ago if I would ever visit Graceland I would have laughed at you. To be there was a very large tick in a very large box. Over the road the Graceland complex continues with the Convair aircraft Elvis used to travel to concerts. Named the ‘Lisa-Marie’ you are allowed inside and likewise the smaller ‘Hound Dog executive jet. There is an automobile museum which houses some of the cars owned by Elvis (He gave a lot of them away). Numerous diners, gift shops and a couple of smaller museums. I was expecting some sort of theme park but the whole Graceland experience far outweighed my expectations.

While Wednesday provided a great day Thursday probably provided the moment of the tour for me. We visited the Sun Studios where it all began. A very small place but I was able to stand on the very spot where Elvis recorded ‘That’s Alright Mama’ and hold the same mike in my hand. To stand on that spot where a shy young man from Tupelo Mississippi started a music revolution was something special.

The tour of studios was given by an attractive young lady who must have been born long after Elvis died. As Bill Anderson was to say at the Grand Ole Opry on the Saturday about another young lady, ‘If she don’t light yer fire then yer wood must be wet!’ From there to the Rock & Soul museum. This was interesting but really a continuation of the Stax tour. Then it was free time and a look around Beale Street the legendary home of the blues. Or it used to be. Now it is just a tourist trap and looks cheap and cheerful! We pick up the coach and it takes us to the Lorraine Motel where we pay our respects to Martin Luther King. The balcony on which he was murdered by James Earl Ray is marked by a large white-flowered wreath. The window from which Ray fired the fatal shot is boarded up and painted black. A time for reflection as we head for a look at the mighty Mississippi river. We arrived back at the hotel at 4pm and decided we would visit Graceland for a second time. Only six of us in the house, which made us feel more like guests than tourists. In the long corridor which houses all the gold discs I found myself on my own and was able to take a photograph which the day before had proved impossible because of the numbers of people. A even more impressive visit than the first one.

Dinner at the Rock and Roll Café. We had the entertainment of an Elvis impersonator. He started well and went downhill once he tried to be Dean Martin! Not too late to bed as the hotel porter wants the cases outside our room at 6:45 tomorrow morning!

Once more to the interstate, and we have a traffic free run to Nashville pausing for coffee along the way. Lunch is on Broadway where all the Honky Tonk bars are located. Well they should be renamed Rock n Roll bars. Small rooms and very loud music had all of us finding somewhere quieter to eat! Then, to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and a private audience with John Carter Cash. This was just for our group and provided an hour of reminiscence and song as the son of Johnny Cash took us through his father’s life. He did not try to hide his father’s faults but said that weighed one against the other the good things tipped the balance. He ended singing ‘Hurt’ which was a brave song to finish with. We stood to applaud.

From there to the Millennium Maxwell House Hotel where the coffee is, quite nice. No really. The hotel is OK and much like any other for the price. In your room wifi is charged for, but down in the lobby it is free! Need to check my emails!

Saturday comes and we are due to head for RCA Studio B first up. However a charity marathon has closed some main roads in Nashville and the coach is not allowed through and will not reach Studio B for our appointment. A quick change of plan and a few phone calls as we do the city tour first. Nashville looks more vibrant than Memphis and does seem to be the busier city. But then it is the capital of Tennessee! A most impressive war memorial in the Bi-Centennial Park. During the Civil War Tennessee provide the most soldiers for the Union side and the most soldiers for the Confederates! Its government voted for secession from the Union.

165.JPGFinally the last marathon runners had dragged themselves across the line and we headed for Studio B on Music Row. Elvis recorded 260 songs here. Roy Orbison recorded ‘Only the Lonely,’ the Everly Brothers ‘All I Have To Do is Dream’ and ‘Cathy’s Clown.’ Jim Reeves recorded most of his most famous songs here. We saw a video of him doing a recording session. We listened to out-takes of Elvis recording ‘Little Sister’ and him singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ using the Steinway piano which remains in the studio. Then the moment we had been waiting for. The Cosmos/Archers Singers record ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love!’ Just one take that’s all it took! A CD was given to each of us the next day with a superb commemorative label on it. When we had finished one of our group, Tony, sat at the Steinway and played ‘Blueberry Hill’ which had us singing along! It could have been the B side! The American group behind us had a sense of humour failure at being delayed. One other recording took place at Studio B. It was by Perry Como, and aptly describes the tour, ‘Magic Moments’ indeed!

From Studio B it was back to the Country Music Hall of Fame and a good look around. Some had lunch before some afterwards. There was an excellent exhibition about Patsy Cline. A well laid out building and the displays were magnificent. Elvis presented them with one of his cadillacs which had all gold fittings. Apparently he just turned up one day and dropped the keys on the desk saying ‘It’s all yours!’ We headed back to the hotel on the shuttle bus and a freshen up before heading to the Grand Ole Opry.

This is the longest running radio programme in the world and is an institution in Nashville. It is a concert with adverts! I had a vague memory of Bill Anderson but had not heard of any of the other acts and only recognised three songs. But it was about being there and the atmosphere was fantastic.

It was all over bar the shouting. Tomorrow was to be a free day.

A late breakfast and we shared a taxi to Opryland. This is a shopping mall. When I say mall I mean mall! It is a country mile long! The largest of its kind in Tennessee if not the country! We covered about 200 country yards and caught the shuttle to the Cascades Hotel at the end of the mall. A beautiful place, with two massive atriums which have plants and trees. One of them has an artificial river flowing round an island. We went for a cruise on a Mississippi flat boat. The river is stocked with Koi and blue catfish. Most impressive. I dread to think how much it costs to stay there! My one American phone call on my mobile summoned the taxi! It was back to the hotel for our last night and dinner in the restaurant.

Time for the exchange of memories and farewells with our tour companions as we all departed at different times. We took off for Charlotte at 2:30 pm. This time there was only an hours wait and our A300 climbed out to 40000 feet and with an 89mph tail-wind put us in to Gatwick just after 7am.

The tour exceeded all expectations. Time is moving on so it was a case of ‘ It’s Now or Never’ and I guess you could say ‘My Wish Came True’ and now I feel like I’m ‘King of the Whole Wide World!’ Sometimes you just have to ‘Follow That Dream?’

Enough all ready! Back in England we put the CD on and listened to our recording. It was a happy reminder that we had not been dreaming. We really did go to Tennessee. And you should too?

Bye y’all!