Thinking man’s lantern



Time was, Saturdays nights were a hazy blur, consisting of ambling off to watering houses, six- or seven thread conversations, the pungent flavours of an indian restaurant, shouts of comic joke-jousting and making our obtrusive way back through the village trying noisily not to wake the neighbours.

These days, less so. Perhaps it’s just as well. We may have been a fairly frustrating weekly event for the villagers.

Now, early evening is spent ensuring everyone is bathed, in fresh pyjamas and eating popcorn in front of a movie.

That way, by 8pm, I am free to put my feet up in front of my own, allbeit battered, screen.

Both of our television sets are so old they have a video slot built in. This comes in handy, because no-one wants their old videos and we’ve bought some crackers for the kids for 50p. The first three Harry Potters, for one; most of the Disney films: and, most recently, Sting Ray.

I confess I was doubtful when I saw it on the shelf. Could it really keep the kids amused, this marionette confection from the early sixties? A lot of water has flown under the bridge since Gerry and Sylvia Anderson ran their little studio, and Captain Troy Tempest captured the hearts and minds of two nations’ young.

I needn’t have worried. Within five minutes they were enraptured. And why not? It still has everything: a top secret submarine, a dashing captain, a stunning, but mute, princessy type who can breathe underwater (through not technically a mermaid) and someone called Phones. What more could one want?

And I won’t be telling them it was filmed in a  glorified fish tank with water running down the outside to stop reflections: or that this was the last Anderson production to use fixed heads for the marionettes, so that they couldn’t change the expressions.

It would spoil that very special, enduring Anderson magic, wouldn’t it? When I was young I was a Thunderbirds girl. Loved it, caught every episode, fell in love with Virgil. Now there’s an online confession. I later dumped him for Captain Scarlet.

So: I leave the children tracking Marina across the screen, glassy-eyed, and it’s time for Phil and I to make a cup of tea and settle down for our favourite viewing. Sounds pedestrian, and it is, because after a Saturday with the kids our legs are not worth diddly squat.

Our tastes are broad, but generally they fall into two categories: either our viewing is anarchically funny: or it is gothic and gruesome. Its chief weapon is usually surprise.

Frances Ford Cuppola’s Dracula gets us every time, with it’s louche overblown interpretation of Bram Stoker’s classic. Nothing like the novel, of course. Stoker would turn in his Victorian grave.

Moonstruck, with the woman in mid-life on the edge of something quite new, holds such a wealth of affectionate Italian American humour. There’s always something new to laugh at, and a sentimental wisdom runs deep within the script.

But tonight, we are more likely to be watching a Sherlock Holmes. Not the latest big budget BBC offering, Sherlock, although I will say I have long held a candle for male lead Benedict Cumberbatch and will be glued to the third episode tomorrow night. (Virgil, Captain Scarlet, Benedict Cumberbatch – what must you think?)

No: we’ll be appreciating the work of a forgotten genius. Jeremy Brett, who played Holmes for Granada between 1985-1995, died before his time. He was a very similar character to the one Conan Doyle invented for Sherlock Holmes himself: quick-witted and quicksilver, Brett was a manic depressive.

If you’ve never seen his work, try catching a re-run. Look past the crude Granada ’80s delivery and watch two stories in one: that of Holmes, and the parallel one of Brett, and his continual struggle with the very nature which made him a genius.

And don’t forget the fresh pyjamas and the popcorn.

6 thoughts on “Thinking man’s lantern

  1. I must admit Gerry Anderson was a genuis and Thunderbirds is a great memory from the distant past. If you haven’t already seen it you must watch Team America which is a great puppet parody of all things Americana.

    I am looking for Tales of the Riverbank, the memory of Hammy Hamster floating in a hot air ballon over the river bank is something I would like to re-live with the kids 🙂

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