Archive for the Television Category

The Dead Zoo

Posted in Architecture, History, Television with tags , , on August 1, 2022 by telescoper

I don’t often post about television but I couldn’t resist a quickie about a fascinating programme I just watched called The Dead Zoo, about Dublin’s splendid Natural History Museum, which opened in 1857. I visited this place way back in 2019 on which occasion I took this picture of the interior:

I thought the museum was wonderful if a bit creepy. I remember thinking while I wandered around that I wouldn’t like to be stuck there overnight, surrounded by over 10,000 dead animals in Victorian glass cabinets. It would make a grand setting for a ghost story!

The building had been somewhat neglected and the splendid roof was prone to leaking, so the Museum was closed for renovation in 2020 and all the specimens on the upper floors – including the huge skeleton of a Fin Whale that you can see in the photo hanging from the ceiling – were removed to a storage facility.

This operation -carried out against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic – is the subject of Paul Duane’s excellent documentary, the trailer of which you can watch here:

If you didn’t get the chance to watch it you can catch it on the RTÉ Player here.

The work on the roof and other renovations will take some time to complete but the ground floor will re-open to visitors tomorrow (2nd August 2022). I imagine it will be pretty busy and you have to book in advance, though as with all Ireland’s National Museums, admission is free.

The Soundtrack of Summer

Posted in Biographical, Music, Television on July 31, 2022 by telescoper

I just heard of the death on 4th July at the age of 82 of Austrian actor Robert Hoffmann who I remember very well for his role as Robinson Crusoe in the TV series The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. That series was first broadcast in 1964 and was repeated frequently over the years, especially during the long summer holidays. I loved the theme music when I was a child and it is now redolent with nostalgia, forever associated with memories of childhood summers before life got complicated. I’m sure that is also the case for many others, so perhaps you won’t mind wandering off down memory lane with this:

The Kindness of Faces

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Film, Television with tags , on July 28, 2022 by telescoper
Bernard Cribbins

Another bit of sad news arrived today. The much-loved character actor, singer and comedian Bernard Cribbins has passed away at the age of 93. He was a remarkably versatile performer who appeared in scores of films and TV programmes over the years, including numerous stints on Jackanory, on which he revealed himself to be a superb reader of children’s stories, and providing all the voices for the TV series of The Wombles. Rest in peace, Bernard Cribbins (1928-2022).

Reading about his death and looking at pictures of him taken during his long and varied career got me thinking about something I’ve wondered about many times over the years, namely what is it about certain faces that makes them appear kind?

I know it’s a subjective judgment whether or not someone has a kind face but it does seem that many people do agree on it. I certainly think Bernard Cribbins had a kind face and it stayed with him all through his long career. Among actors, Tom Hanks is another prominent example. His face has clearly influenced the roles he has been cast in. No doubt you can think of others.

This is not just about showbusiness of course. I have met many people in the course of my life who have what I’d describe as kind faces, but what exactly is it about their faces that makes them so? It seems to involve a certain shape – softer features perhaps, not too angular – with rounder eyes and an easy smile. Other than those vague considerations I really don’t know. I have looked back through the personal library of kind faces in my memory and they don’t really have much in common at all. Whatever it is, it’s not the same thing that makes a face handsome or beautiful or sexy, though those are also of course subjective. For me there has to be a hint of danger for someone to be very sexy; a kind face is perhaps too bland.

Anyway, I remember many years ago talking with a (female) graduate student in a pub in Cardiff about this subject. In fact we started talking about which men in the Department we thought were the most handsome – I’d better keep quiet about that bit – but got onto a more general discussion. She had – and presumably still has – what I’d call a kind face, and I told her so when the subject came up. She was very aware that people thought that too and wasn’t entirely pleased about it. She said her face made people assume she was extremely emphatic and proceed to burden her with their personal problems even if she didn’t know them very well. I’d never thought of that downside before then.

In Macbeth, Duncan says “There’s no art / to find the mind’s construction in the face”, and there’s no necessary connection between a kindly disposition and a kind face. No doubt there are successful criminals, con-artists and the like, who trade on their apparently kind faces to manipulate their victims. On the other hand, in a world that can be incomprehensibly cruel, it can be nice to see a kind face even if it’s just a superficial relief.

Any theories on what makes a kind face and/or other examples of people who have such please use through the box below.

Old School, Old Home

Posted in Biographical, History, Television with tags , , , , , on June 14, 2022 by telescoper

I’ve posted a few times posted about Benwell,  the part of Newcastle in which I grew up. For example I’ve posted about the little house where my first memories live here, and there’s an old photograph of it here:

The house itself (ours was the one on the left on this picture) was built of brick but to the left hand side you can just see a stone wall. The two cottages were demolished some time ago, along with Pendower School which was behind them as viewed from the picture.

I recently came across a picture of Pendower School taken sometime in the early 1990s when it was all boarded up and being sold for redevelopment.

The roof area with the fence around actually had a playground on it, used by Pendower Girls’ High school which occupied most of the building. The Infants and Junior schools which I attended were contained in the wing on the far right of the picture, the Infants downstairs and the Juniors upstairs. The school was built in 1929 and closed in 1992. It was used as a store for some time and then demolished.

The whole area including the school and the old cottages has now been covered with new houses, but for some reason they left the stone wall, part of which you can see to the left of the two cottages of the first picture. These were both taken from Ferguson’s Lane, which is immediately behind the stone wall to the left of the old photograph.

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In the second picture you can see the filled in outlines of the door which led to our backyard (on the right) and (on the left) the holes through which the coalman used to deliver the coal that was the only form of heating in the house. There was no central heating and no heating at all upstairs, incidentally, so we had very cold bedrooms in winter!

Anyway, my excuse for reposting this trip down Ferguson’s Memory Lane is that I recently came across this fascinating picture taken from the West in 1897 of the old Benwell Village:

 

I had never seen this picture before but I am now quite sure from looking at street maps of the time that the houses you can see at the far left are in fact the cottages shown in the very first picture of this blog, including the one I lived in! I had never thought about it before, but notice how close the roofline is to the top of the first floor windows. Note also the wall separating them from the rest of the row as they were originally on a private estate.  In the background you can see Benwell Towers which, many years later, is where the TV series Byker Grove was filmed.

The row of houses you can see includes two pubs: The Hawthorn and The Green Tree. Both pubs survived in name though the newer premises were on opposite sides of the road when I lived there. These houses and pubs were all demolished long before I was born to make way for a road (Fox & Hounds Lane) which is basically continuation of Ferguson’s Lane but curving to the left.

A slightly better view from the early 1900s again shows the cottages on the far right. If you click to expand it you can see the drainpipe coming down the front of the house beside the first set of windows, exactly as in the first image on this blog.

Here’s a slightly different view of the same area, taken in 1920 and showing both sides of Ferguson’s Lane, again with Benwell Towers in the distance.

The lamppost is very useful for orienting these three images!

The cottages on the right no longer existed by the time I lived in Benwell: the new Hawthorn Inn stood at their location. At the far end of that row of houses was the old Smithy part of which became a dodgy garage called HQ Motors, which when I lived in the area was guarded by a very scary dog called Patch.

I never really knew what the old Benwell Village looked like. Now I have a much better idea, despite the fact the School the cottages and the pubs have now all vanished!

Astronomy Look-alikes No. 102

Posted in Astronomy Lookalikes, Television with tags , , on April 17, 2022 by telescoper

Today being Easter Sunday, I was engaging in a religious observation of an old episode of the TV detective series Columbo when the spirit moved me to post an item in my Astronomy Look-alikes folder. I wonder if unscrupulous murderer Patrick Sutton and gravitational wave expert Robert Culp might in some way be related? The attempt to grow a beard as well as a moustache isn’t fooling anyone, but I think we should be told anyway…

Derry Girls – The Best Bits of Sister Michael

Posted in Television with tags , , , on April 12, 2022 by telescoper

I was a latecomer to the TV comedy series Derry Girls but I soon became a fan. Indeed, the finale of Series 1 is one of the best things I’ve ever seen on television. I can now barely contain my excitement that the third and final series starts tonight (on the soon-to-be-destroyed-by-the-Tories Channel 4). Anyway, to whet your appetite here are some of the best bits of Sister Michael (memorably played by Siobhán McSweeney).

Update: the 1st Episode of Series 3 was very funny but in order not to give out spoilers I won’t mention the cameo by Liam Neeson.

R.I.P. Bamber Gascoigne

Posted in Biographical, Television with tags , , , on February 8, 2022 by telescoper

I was saddened this morning to hear of the death at the age of 87 of Bamber Gascoigne who was best known as the original presenter of University Challenge. He was an excellent quizmaster, not least because he actually seemed to know the answers to the questions (rather than just reading them from the cards like his successor Jeremy Paxman did) and often supplied extra pieces of information off his own bat.

Though he cut a stern figure whenever anybody transgressed e.g. the “no conferring” rule, he always seem to be generous in his praise and people who took part in the show say he was very gentle with the contestants who were often very nervous.

I never met Bamber Gascoigne in the flesh, although I attended the same college (Magdalene College, Cambridge) as he did when he was an undergraduate (though not at the same time) and I’m sure he was around at some dinners and other events while I was there.

I used to watch University Challenge a lot when I was at school. It’s sad to have to say goodbye to yet another figure from the era.

Rest in Peace Bamber Gascoigne (1935-2022)

After The Treaty

Posted in Biographical, History, Television with tags , , , , , on January 9, 2022 by telescoper

On Friday I saw a bit of a programme on RTÉ One called Treaty Live which covered the events of January 7th 1922 in the form of a modern live news broadcast. It was on that date that the Dáil Éireann voted on whether to ratify the Anglo-Irish Treaty (usually called “The Treaty”) negotiated between the British Government (led by Prime Minister David Lloyd George) and representatives of the Irish Government (led by Arthur Griffith) and signed on 6th December 1921. The Treaty was intended to end the Irish War of Independence and bring about the removal of Crown forces from Ireland, but it fell short of establishing a fully independent Irish Republic, instead creating an Irish Free State with the status of a British dominion rather like New Zealand or Australia (i.e. with its own government but with the British Monarch as Head of State). It also led to the partition of Ireland with six of the nine counties in the province of Ulster remaining under British rule.

Three days of debate preceded the momentous vote in the Dáil which, incidentally, took place in a room in a building in University College Dublin that is now the National Concert Hall. Here is some footage of TDs leaving the building after the debate:

It’s strange to think of the number of times I’ve walked up those steps to attend a concert without realizing this historic event took place there.

Anyway, in the end the vote was to ratify The Treaty by 64 votes to 57. It seems popular opinion at the time was in favour of ratification, and what was surprising was not the fact that the vote was carried but that the margin was so narrow: had just four TDs voted the other way it would have failed.

Éamonn de Valera, then President of the Irish Republic, was the most prominent opponent of ratification. Michael Collins, who was a member of the delegation of plenipotentiaries who negotiated The Treaty, was prominently in favour. Many questions can be asked about the conduct of the negotiations, including why de Valera did not conduct the negotiations himself. During the negotiations Lloyd George insisted that the Irish plenipotentiaries sign the agreement on the spot otherwise there would be “war within three days”. The Irish delegation clearly assumed he wasn’t bluffing so signed it. De Valera was unhappy that they did not consult more widely (especially with him) but then if that’s what he wanted he shouldn’t have sent “plenipotentiaries” – that word means “delegates having the full power to sign agreements” – but participated directly. Valera resigned as President on 9th January 1922 and was replaced by Arthur Griffith.

The anti-Treaty side considered it to be a betrayal of the sacrifices made during the War of Independence; the pro-Treaty side thought it was a stepping-stone towards the goal of independence. As it turned out a fully-independent Irish Republic was eventually established in 1949, though the partition of Ireland is still in place.

In retrospect the narrowness of the Dáil was an indication of what was to come. In June 1922 The Irish Civil War erupted between the two factions that lasted almost a year. All wars are dreadful, but there’s something about a Civil War that is particularly dreadful: people who had fought on the same side against British rule would now fight each other.

And that brings me to the point of this rather rambling post. I moved to Ireland at the end of 2017. Like most people born and educated in England I knew very little of Irish history before coming here; topics such as the Irish Famine are simply not taught in British schools, though they certainly are in Irish schools. I missed being here through the centennial commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising, for example, but have followed subsequent events in the “decade of centenaries” and done the best I can to read about Irish history to gain some knowledge.

What’s interesting about this is that the events of the Easter Rising and the War of Independence, although commemorated with appropriate solemnity, do form a righteous narrative relating to the heroic birth of a new nation. As we approach the centenary of the outbreak of Civil War the issues are much more complex. An Irish friend told me that when he was taught history at school, it basically stopped at the Civil War. People generally are much less willing to talk about it than the events preceding. The Civil War left deep wounds, some of which have still not healed. Perhaps the centenary will provide an opportunity to confront some of the very difficult issues arising from this period of this nation’s history.

Peppa Pig: An Apology

Posted in Biographical, Education, Politics, Television with tags , on November 24, 2021 by telescoper
Offensive Item

I have over many years been using the item shown above in lectures to demonstrate the properties of spherical surfaces, for example in situations involving vector calculus and in astrophysics. Given recent events, however, I realize that my use of this specific object may cause offence through the possibility that it may be construed as an endorsement of the views of the UK Prime Minister. I would therefore like to make it clear that no such endorsement should be inferred, that I have never visited Peppa Pig World, and that I did not play any part in the writing of Mr Johnson’s speech to the Confederation of British Idiots earlier this week.

I can also confirm that I have now disposed of the above item in an authorised refuse and recycling centre.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

The Irish Population

Posted in Art, History, Politics, Television with tags , , , , on August 31, 2021 by telescoper

Not long ago I did a post about a documentary series called The Hunger which was broadcast on RTÉ just before Christmas. It was, of course, about the Great Irish Famine, which led to the death of one million (mainly poor) Irish people and the emigration of over two million in the subsequent years. It was a shattering episode that altered Ireland for ever. I remarked at the time that “the population of this island still hasn’t recovered to pre-Famine levels”.

Well today saw the announcement of a significant milestone in the trajectory of Ireland’s population. According to the Central Statistics Office, in April 2021 the population of the Republic of Ireland exceeded 5 Million for the first time since 1851. To be precise Ireland’s population was estimated to be 5.01 million in April 2021, which is the first time the population has risen above five million since the 1851 census, when the comparable population was 5.11 million. By “comparable” I mean the population of the 26 Counties that now constitute the Republic of Ireland.

The total population on the island of Ireland in 1851 was 6.6 million. Including the population of Northern Ireland brings the current population on the island of Ireland to about 6.9 million. The population of Ireland (ie the whole island) in 1841 was over eight million.

The following (rather old) graphic shows that catastrophic drop that was an immediate consequence of the Great Hunger but also the long period of decline caused by emigration and poor public health leading to low levels of fertility. The population did not begin to grow significantly until the 1970s.

Although the population is still nowhere near the level it reached in 1841, Ireland is in the grip of a housing shortage that the present Government seems reluctant to do anything about, not surprisingly when you realize that the present Government represents the property-owning classes in whose interests it is to keep housing scarce and rents correspondingly high. Ireland’s housing crisis is not an accident, it’s a matter of policy. Irish landlords oppressing the poorer classes and exploiting them for monetary gain. Some things haven’t changed…

It fascinates me that, with political will, human societies have made enormous changes – including financial interventions, inventing new vaccines and delivering mass vaccination programmes – to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. Poverty and homelessness do not require new inventions – we already know very well how to build houses – only the political will is needed, and that’s just not there.