Currently watching the Ian Richardson film of Hound of the Baskervilles.

Lestrade is the Peter Lorre knock off from Raiders. Watson appears to be educationally sub-normal. Doyle from The Professionals is Sir Henry, putting up a brave but losing fight with a Texan accent, while Stapleton is all sideburns and butterfly net. Meanwhire Polly from Fawlty Towers, Eleanor Bron and Soolin from Blakes 7 are lurking around the Moor.

And Brian Blessed is being Brian Blessed. It's a moot point whether he was written into the script or whether he just turned up on set and no one dared to tell him to leave.
I've just watched the Jeremy Brett version of The Final Problem. Moriarty is a consulting criminal, available for hire. Obviously, he's been retained by the 19 Century splinter of Scaroth from City of Death who's trying to raise money for his time experiments.
Observed on twitter today.

Man with 400,000 followers responds to news that woman was raped during making of film by tweeting that it was a rubbish film anyway.

Woman with fewer than 1% his number of followers quotes his tweet and asks whether that was really the most important point to be made here.

Man with 400,000 followers quotes her tweet, angrily denying that this was in any way what he meant and then blocks her while engaging in conversation with people who agree with him and also men who disagree with him.

You see that Twitter pile up? That's your best argument, that is.
At about 8.30 last night, John Carpenter was standing on a stage about 30 yards from me, alternating between playing two-finger chords on a synthesiser and performing what my first wife would call the Brady shuffle. Named after her father, this is a dance where the performer keeps both feet firmly planted and moves solely from the hips and shoulders, so the fists rotate in small circles, slowly as if the dancer is holding a pint of Guinness and trying not to spill any. It seemed oddly fitting that he was dressed entirely in black with a fringe of white hair, looking himself not unlike a rather cadaverous pint of stout.

But a decidedly charismatic one and one who appeared to rather enjoy having around 5000 adoring fans hanging on his every note. And I was one of them. Carpenter's been one of my favourite film makers for a very long time - I first saw The Fog about 30 years ago on Moviedrome one Sunday evening. The stage had a 20 foot screen above it and scenes from the films were played on it to match the music being played. So, we had the theme from Halloween as Michael Myers loomed out of the dark behind Jamie Lee Curtis, luminous fog billowing over San Antonio Bay with music to match, the theme from The Thing as a dog writhed and changed into something unrecogniseable, Big Trouble backed with Jack Burton showing that it's all in the reflexes and Escape From New York, as on stage Carpenter changed his normal sedate boogie into something more matching Snake Plisskin's loping strut.

All images and sounds I've known for years and seeing them brought together by the man who created them all made for a startlingly powerful experience.

As the evening went on, Carpenter relished his role as a kind of keyboard playing Rod Serling, delivering stentorian introductions to tracks, climaxing with his warning to the assembled crowd to drive carefully on their way home because "Christine is waiting", leading into an ear-splitting performance of the title track from the film backed with a flaming car from Hell.

Not sure I can think of a better wayto spend Halloween. Just a shame it was two days early.
Moments when you think a film may not be going well.

A character asks “Do you know who I am?” and I think “No, I don't. Am I supposed to?”

10 minutes after I thought the film was drawing to a close, a character asks “How much longer is this going on for?”

Suicide Squad is an odd film. Something that feels like it might have been an anarchic mid-size space filler between epics has been retooled into a summer tent-pole movie. The idea is straightforward. Criminals with particular talents are co-opted by the government to act as an off-the-books black ops team. If they refuse, small bombs which have been implanted in their necks will explode and kill them. Any similarity to Escape from New York is probably not co-incidental.

The structure at first seems to be tolerably straightforward too. As security bigwig Amanda Waller introduces each of her prospective team members, we get a flashback showing them in action. Or a few of them anyway. The rest get left to one side, their flashbacks coming later, or – in one case – not at all. This latter is Slipknot – a man introduced with the single line “He can climb anything”. Going by his example, unusual abilities do not necessarily go hand in hand with intelligence. After 90 seconds screen time, one of his less intelligent colleagues convinces him that the bombs are faked and his escape attempt is ended somewhat squelchily.

It'd be tempting to think that the increasingly random placement of flashbacks is a deliberate collapse of narrative structureas the chaos of the characters overtakes the film. However, rumour has it that the film was heavily re-edited after the hostile reception given Batman v Superman, as the studio wanted something more fun. One of the main victims of this is apparently Jared Leto's Joker. Myself, I'd say this is all for the better. The Joker can portrayed in many ways – Cesar Romero's camp clown, Heath Ledger's anarchist terrorist, Jack Nicholson in white face paint. One thing he really can't be is boring. Leto's Joker is visibly desperate to impress. He has “damaged” tattooed on his forehead and lies artily posed in the middle of concentric circles of knives. He comes across as a Marilyn Manson fan boy who has spent far too much time watching The Dark Knight and Breaking Bad, all metal capped teeth and gangsta tattoos. Reports from filming say that he remained in character permanently, leading to him sending severed animal heads to other castmates and pissing on Will Smith's breakfast. One might wish that Smith had similarly stayed in character – one suspects that Deadshot's reaction to having his morning oatmeal violated would have been quite final.

Smith is one of the film's strengths. It's not one of his better performances, but the level of charisma he brings still draws the gaze whenever he's on screen. The standout performance comes from Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. She and Smith remain detached from the film – he commenting on it's stupidity, she varying from childlike reactions of joy to explosions to off handedly diagnosing Smith as textbook sociopath after he denies feeling any emotions. She also manages to give the character a sense of depth – she gets a moment to mourn the Joker's apparent death, before putting her game face back on when the remainder of the squad catch up with her. In all, a character it may be interesting to see develop.

Part of the effect of the last minute reworking of the film seems to have been to make the Joker/Harley relationship less abusive. Given that as it stands, the relationship includes Harley being offered to another gangster as a bribe and also being tortured with the words “I'm going to hurt you real bad”, how successful this was must be open to doubt. The film has a familiar problem in that women are often seen to be a reward for good behaviour or something to be denied someone as a punishment. Besides the Joker who spends much of the film chasing the Squad to reclaim Harley, Rick Flag, leader of the Squad, is looking to get back his girlfriend, June.She's been possessed by an ancient witch, known as the Enchantress. At the film's close, he kills Enchantress, which he knows will kill June, and for his heroism is rewarded by having June come back to life. Team member El Diablo, who can control fire, is in mourning and lives with the fact that he burned his wife and children to death in a moment of frenzied rage. He is given a form of tragic heroism as he learns to trust himself and his control over his ability once again. Take away the fantasy elements of this though and we get a man who killed his family , plain and simple. Would Deadshot be given the same level of sympathy had he used his own special ability and shot his family? Given that he describes his ex-wife as a whore and advises Flag to control June/Enchantress by “beating her ass”, I wouldn't bet against it. Add casual displays of misogyny such as Slipknot being introduced by punching a woman in the face and explaining that “She had a mouth on her” and the film does not leave a good taste.

Simply by looking at the cast, the film seems to achieve a better level of diversity than many. Deadshot and Amanda Waller are black. There is also a Japanese woman, a Latino man and other women in Harley and June/Enchantress. Sadly, the film has a tendency to go for the stereotype. The Latino character is a gang member with rage control issues. The Japanese woman is a ninja called Katana. One of the squad is an Australian called Captain Boomerang who swills lager. No stereotype left unturned.

And yet, the film is still not as bad as Batman v Superman. This is a low wall to hurdle. Should a director's cut of Suicide Squad emerge, it may yet be an interesting film. A director's cut of BvS was never going to be anything other than longer.
This time yesterday, I was feeling quite despairing about the political process in the UK - the most important vote many of us will ever cast being reduced to Nigel Farage and Bob Geldof cocking about in boats on the Thames.

24 hours later, I would give an awful lot to go back to that.

Lots of people have been retweeting tweets by Jo Cox this evening, the most recent being a picture of her husband and children in a boat on the Thames yesterday. It is unspeakable that while she was doing this, indeed while she was doing anything for we don't know how long, someone had decided that she didn't deserve to live and that the world would be better off without her.

This is a very bad day. How do we make sure this is as bad as it gets?


May. 4th, 2016 09:50 pm
Very good piece by Andrew Hickey on why we can't take having good things for granted.
Can't help but think I'd have enjoyed it more had the opening credits featured, to the tune of Itchy and Scratchy,

They're grim
They're dark
They're dark and grim and dark
Grim, grim, grim
Dark, dark, dark
It's Batman v Superman!
Partway through BvS, Ben Affleck, playing Bruce Wayne as Donald Trump if he had a personal trainer and some self-discipline, shouts at his butler, Alfred, played by Jeremy Irons in the style of Professor Yaffle on a bad day, "If there is even a one per cent chance that he is our enemy, we must take it as an absolute certainty." Time was when the Adam West Batman used to take the piss out of the likes of Dick Cheney, not quote him approvingly. It says something of the attitudes of the makers of this that, not only does this appear in the film, it is also one of the lines singled out to appear in the trailer. Zack Snyder has history with superhero comic book movies. Sadly, by and large, it's not a particularly inspiring history.

Read more... )

Oh well. The film opened in the UK today. Apparently, Batman v Superman merchandise is already reduced in Sainsbury's. Hardly a vote of confidence.
Back when I was at school, some shitty things happened, as a result of which I was judged to be a pernicious and dangerous moral influence. This wasn't actually as fun as it sounds and there were only a few people who thought my company was worth risking. We'll call one of them John. When he was about 16, John came out. His parents didn't take well to this and, because they couldn't have raised someone gay, decided it must have been my influence. As I understand it, they tried to get the headmaster to expel me. He refused. Now we were told regularly during assembly - sometimes even by people other than him - that our headmaster was a man of high moral values and rectitude. So we'll assume his refusal was nothing to do with the fact that my parents paid full fees and John's didn't. Anyway, John and family moved away - Telford or some such place - and we lost touch, largely because his parents were vile and it just wasn't worth the effort.

I had a text this morning from John's parents reading as follows.

As you'll know John killed himself last Thursday. The funeral is tomorrow. If you've any shame over what you made him into, you'll stay away.

Now there's an entire history there. I hadn't thought of John in nearly 30 years. His parents have obviously thought of me quite a lot and - well - maybe assume I've been keeping some kind of watch over him. Or something. It's all beyond me. As is who they got my mobile number from. Anyway, presumably they're worried that I'm going to turn up at John's funeral and be a pernicious influence. Good. They bloody deserve it. Needless to say, I'm not going. John was a nice chap who I talked Doctor Who and cricket with nearly three decades ago and also quite fancied. For obvious reasons, he's not going to be there tomorrow and frankly his family aren't worth the sweat off my dog Spike's non-existent balls. So fuck them. The sole difference their spiteful little message made is that I now suspect that they hounded their son to kill himself and I actively despise them for it.

This post has been brought to you by a sense of despairing bewilderment and the letters F and U.
Because thus far, it's really not been good enough. David Bowie and Alan Rickman within the space of a few days.

As someone on line observed, you know things are going badly when Alan Rickman's death isn't the biggest cultural loss of the week. Someone else suggested that the other thousands of people who died this week are nudging each other and muttering "Isn't that David Bowie?" All except one, I'd suggest, clad in floor-length robes of night that drink the light, pale face highlighted against long black hair, who is muttering, "This is frankly unacceptable", each syllable enunciated to within an inch of its life and resisting the temptation to just drop a pinch of something unmentionable into the water cooler. Or possibly dressed in an immaculately cut suit, neatly bearded and announcing to the assembled masses "I am an exceptional thief." One gets the feeling that, had this happened three weeks earlier, Christmas really might have been called off.

Think of the performances that we never saw. We've just lost two of the great never-were Bond villains. Rickman telling Brosnan "For England, James." A bleached-blond Bowie sparring with Grace Jones, with no-one noticing the accumulated charisma entirely wiping Roger Moore off the screen. 1988's film of Dangerous Liaisons for some reason thought that John Malkovitch would make a more convincing amoral seducer than Alan Rickman. No. Me neither.

But then there are the moments we have. Rickman's spoon-related threat as the Sheriff, with the explanation "Because it'll hurt more, you twit!" and his reaction to the resulting Bafta - "This will be a healthy reminder to me that subtlety isn't everything!". Bowie's slightly cracked tenor crooning "Because my love for you would break my heart in two, if you should fall into my arms and tremble like a flower," the line delivered almost casually and reaching such a pitch of intensity on the last word. Rickman - well, Rickman saying almost anything with that voice of mingled sweetness and threat, like honey poured over broken glass.

It's been suggested that Christopher Lee, now that he's passed over, has decided to call his warriors to him for the onset of Ragnarok. Lemmy, Bowie and now Rickman. They said that the face of Helen launched a thousand ships. How many would set forth for the voice of Rickman?
So what have my highlights of the last 365 days been?

Best film

Of stuff that was newly released this year, there were actually a few things I really liked. Spectre passed a vital test for being a Bond film in that I could imagine watching it on ITV after the Queen's speech with 20 minutes cut out to make space for more ads. The Force Awakens reintroduced me to a long-gone childhood pleasure - not being disappointed by a Star Wars film.The best was Mad Max Fury Road, though. By the time you've got to the opening credits, you've had a car chase, a capture, an escape, another chase, a fight and a recapture and you're less than 10 minutes into the film. It doesn't hang around, and it pretty much keeps up that kind of pace for the rest of the film, as well as actually having things like character development as Max returns to being a human being from a PTSD-ridden animal. There was a certain amount of fuss when a group of idiots whose name I forget, but shall refer to as whiny entitlement-ridden fuckstains tried to organise a boycott on the grounds that there was a woman in it who did things like being competent. Personally, I saw that as a point in the film's favour - you know, half the planet's population having a character they might identify with - but it's their right to be abject whinging fuck knuckles if they choose to. There was a similar campaign mounted against Force Awakens also. Force Awakens is now on track to become the biggest film ever released, so that clearly went well.

Best TV

Last series of Hannibal, which was excellent and only marred by being the last series. Doctor Who - Heaven Sent, which was a remarkable piece of television and shows that the production team do actually appreciate how good Peter Capaldi is. Only Connect for being the single quiz show in history to contain the highest number of serial killers.

Best book

Werner Herzog - a Guide for the Perplexed. I first heard about this through Mark Cousins' article in Sight and Sound. I suspect quite a few other people did too, as by the time I started looking for it, Waterstones had 2 copies left in the country and I had to order one from Glasgow. It was worth it.Herzog is the kind of man who walks across Europe to have tea with a friend or who, on hearing that a volcano is about to erupt, decides that the best thing to do is climb up to the crater and film a documentary there. Anyone who's ever met me will have noticed that this is not an outlook I have anything in common with, and yet it's fascinating to read the thoughts of someone so different to myself.

Best music

Pretty much all the music I've bought this year has been film soundtracks. Two things stand out - both by John Carpenter - his soundtracks to Escape from New York and The Fog. Escape... has the most memorable single track in Snake Pliskin's theme, although I have a soft spot for the overcranked guitars on the version used on Escape from L A fifteen years later. The Fog is the better soundtrack though, far more atmospheric and all-enveloping.

Best blu-ray/DVD.

There's a fair few contenders here. Network have produced the third of their volumes of The Professionals as well as the 1979 ITV Quatermass - both looking pretty much unrecognisable from any previous release on DVD or VHS and quite possibly looking better than their original transmissions. Eureka and Masters of Cinema produced gorgeous discs of The Quiet Man and Shane. And then there's Arrow - box sets of the first three Hellraiser films, Videodrome, Long Good Friday and Mona Lisa, Fulci's Black Cat and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, as well as individual releases of My Darling Clementine, Rollerball, The Honeymoon Killers and What Have you Done With Solange, among many others. The highlight for me, though, was their disc of the Cushing/Morell/Lee Hound of the Baskervilles from Hammer. One of my favourite films, beautifully presented and with a metric fuckton of extras. Very happy with that.
I think if Capaldi goes with the kind of nuclear detonation that heralded Matt Smith's departure, I'd quite like his successor's first words to be a series of groans followed by "No more curried eggs for me!"

As for Capaldi's final words, if we get the standard Murray Gold schmalz fest and general sobbing, I'd quite like him to finish with "Gotta go - it's my turn in the barrel."

Any suggestions?
Breakfast this morning was slightly disrupted as there was no milk and the bread had turned, so an early morning trip to Tesco was called for. Sadly - well, let's just say that, like Billy Bunter, I'm waiting for a postal order - so it was a question of finding whatever small change I could.

A few minutes later, I was standing at a self - service till paying for two apples and a small baguette in coppers, one coin at a time - something which is going to take a minute or two - when my podcast ended. Didn't start a new one straightaway, which meant I could listen to the two staff who were - well, I'm sure they were very busy with something, but it wasn't apparent quite what. Anyway, I suspect they thought I couldn't hear them.

Very illuminating it was too - apparently I'm a fat cunt and dolescum, the smaller of the two would hang himself rather than go out looking like me and the money I was paying with had probably been picked up from the gutter. Given the level of wit, badinage and repartee, I wish I'd had the time to find a manager and commend them. Sadly, I had five minutes before my bus went and didn't want to miss it.

The bus of course was late, so I've missed my connection in Bradford.

So I'd just like to say - for individual, personally tailored verbal abuse, go to Tesco in Brighouse.
Very much saddened to see that Herbert Wise has died.

He'll be mainly known for his work as director of I Claudius, the BBC adaptation of Robert Graves' books about Rome under the Julian dynasty of emperors. It's also something which I'd suggest as an example of the quality TV can ascend to. It's one of the last examples of something which doesn't really exist anymore - a televison drama series which is recorded theatre rather than a smaller scale film. The Roman empire is portrayed using some pillars, a curtain and a sound effects record - plus brilliant acting and scripting with Wise as the mastermind behind it all.

While this was the highlight of his career as a director, he was also responsible for episodes of Rumpole of the Bailey, Inspector Morse, Tales of the Unexpected, the ITV adaptation of The Woman in Black and far more.

Until reading his obituary a few minutes ago, I had no idea he was one of the children brought over from Vienna as part of the Kindertransport.

In the light of the current attitude of hostility towards migrants and refugees, I can't help but feel that there's a point to be made here somewhere.
1. Marmite- love or hate?
2. Marmalade- thick cut or thin cut?
Thick, and made from tangerine or grapefruit preferably
3. Porridge- made with milk or water?
4. Do you like salt, sugar or honey on your porridge?
Brown sugar
5. Loose tea or teabags?
Teabags almost always, just because it's easier
6. Where on your door is your letterbox?
7. What's your favourite curry?
lamb korma
8. What age is the place where you live?
Completed c.1874
9. Where do the folks running your local corner shop come from?
Sadly my nearest corner shop is Tesco. The nearest non-chain one is owned by Sikhs, so I suspect they are from somewhere on the Indian subcontinent, but I've never actually asked.
10. Instant or fresh coffee?
preferably fresh, but any port in a storm
11. How far are you from the sea?
couldn't tell you
12. Have you travelled via Eurostar?
Yes - to Paris
13. If you were going to travel abroad, where's the nearest country to you?
Probably Eire.
14. If you're female (or possible even some males) do you carry a handbag?
I've a bag that gets taken to work with me. otherwise, lots of pockets.
15. Do you have a garden? What do you like growing?
I have a concrete yard with lots of pots. Food.
16. Full cream, semi skimmed or skimmed?
Fll cream by choice, but whatever's in the fridge by practice
17. Which London terminal would you travel into if going to the capital?
King's Cross
18. Is there a local greasy spoon where you live?
19. Do you keep Euros in the house?
20. Does your home town have a Latin, Gaelic or Welsh alternative
No, it's industrial revolution Yorkshire
21. Do you have a well known local artist or author?
Artists: David Hockney. Writer: Ted Hughes
22. Do you have a favourite Corrie character?
Yes, but they've al been dead a while. probably the Ogdens or the Duckworths
23. Are your kitchen sink taps separate or a mixer?
A mixer
24. Do you have a favourite brand of blended tea?
Not really
25. What's in your attic if you have one?
Two bedrooms
26. If you go out for a cream tea, what jam do you like on your scone?
27. Talking of scones- scon or scown? Jam or cream first?
Scown; and cream first.
28. Barth or bath?
29. Carstle or castle?
30. What flavour of crisps do you favour?
Shatners. (Canadian Ham)
31. If you go to the chippie, what do you like with your chips?
Cod/haddock and fried mushrooms
32. Take away, take out or carry out?
Take away.
33. If you have one, what colour is your wheelie bin?
Charcoal grey. Then I have a succession of boxes and bags for recycling.
34. What colour skips does your local skip hire use?
35. Do you celebrate Guy Fawkes?
36. Dettol or TCP?
37. Do you have a bidet in the bathroom?
38. Do you prefer courgettes or aubergines?
39. In the 'real world', do you have friends of other nationalities? Which nationalities?
Irish, American
40. Do you have a holy book of any sort in the house?
A King James Bible.
41. Do you prefer a hankie or tissues?
42. Are you a fan of crumpets? What do you like on them?
Butter. Marmite. Anchovy paste
43. Doorbell, knocker or both?
Knocker ideally
44. Do you own a car? What sort?
always relied on public transport
45. What sort of pants do you guys prefer? Y fronts or boxers?
46. Anyone still a fan of suspenders?
Never really applied to me.
47. Do you have a favourite quote from the bard?
“You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, you bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish–O for breath to utter what is like thee!-you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck!”
48. Do you like toasted muffins?
49. Do you think a traditional trifle should contain jelly?
Loathe trifle. Bloody awful waste of various puddings.
50. Do you attend regular religious worship? Of what kind?
Does Doctor Who count? also quite like Quaker Friends meetings, on the grounds that people don't talk there.
Channel 4 in its early years was something of a goldmine. It showed an awful lot of old ITV and American TV as well as vintage films - presumably because the programme budget was a bit short to fill it with original programming. Hence, it's where I first saw films like the Lon Chaney Phantom of the Opera and Hunchback of Notre Dame as well as TV shows like Thriller, Callan and The Avengers.

Pat Macnee was not the typical hero for a spy series - by and large they tended to be either more physically imposing - the likes of Patrick McGoohan or the various incarnations of James Bond - or more ordinary everymen - Alec Guinness's Smiley or Edward Woodward in Callan. Macnee's genius was to turn the originally rather bland John Steed into a character who would not have been out of place in an Oscar Wilde comedy.

There's something rather fitting that he should die a matter of days after Christopher Lee - they were the same age, had been schoolmates and had acted together in episodes of The Avengers and also as Holmes and Watson. Their styles were pretty much mirror images - Lee often playing outwardly forbidding figures who revealed moments of frailty, while Macnee seemed harmless at first glance, but hid something much more ruthless at heart. His most famous stage role was the deluded games player Andrew Wyke in Shaffer's play Sleuth - someone who appears playful and harmless but proves to be far more dangerous.

He will be sadly missed. One can only hope that wherever he is, there is a magnum of champagne on ice and he is keeping a watchful eye out for diabolical masterminds.
Christopher Lee has not risen from the grave.

And frankly, it's come as something of a disappointment.

That really wasn't how it was supposed to end. I'd first seen him on ITV, Christmas Day 1980, trading bon mots and bullets with Roger Moore. Since then, I'd seen him burn Edward Woodward, plot to take over the galaxy, try to steal the ring of power, swordfight men 20 years his junior to a standstill, tear out throats, take on zombies, raise the dead, be raised from the dead... And for me it all came to an end, choking back tears in a chip shop, having just ordered a side of battered mushrooms. Narrativium, it seems, need not apply.

It's the voice that I always remember. Immortan Joe in Mad Max Fury Road has an entire truck filled with drummers and a guitarist with complementary flame thrower to signal the charge to battle. Sir Lee could have just relied on a quick rendition of Sumer Is Icumen In to psych up his army. Always assuming that he needed an army. Peter Jackson's last Middle-Earth film, Battle of the Five Armies, has some remarkable moments, including one shot involving charging Dwarves, Elves and Goblins that Akira Kurosawa would have been proud of, but the highlight was Saruman taking on the Nazgul in a staff fight.

As Robbie Collins observed in The Telegraph, "The scene was preposterous, but Lee didn’t just emerge from it with his dignity unbroken – his unbreakable dignity was the framework on which the entire sequence was built." A man of 92 who can look credible while thrashing multiple undead demons is someone to be treasured indeed.

And that really leads us back to the lack of risen Sir Lee. A man within whistling distance of his century who could still be a credible action hero - you've got to have just a feeling that death wasn't going to be the end for him. May the earth lie lightly on him - or at least not so heavy that he can't find his way out, should the fancy take him.
Gunter Grass, author of The Tin Drum, Dog Years, The Flounder and many other books, has died. His novels formed a sort of social history of Germany since the rise of Nazism in the 1930's up to the post-reunification Germany we have today. The best comparison I can think of is James Ellroy's attempt at an underworld history of America in the 20th century in his LA Quartet and the sequence of books starting with American Tabloid.

The similarities end there though. While Ellroy's books make a fetish of gritty realism, Grass is happy to include elements of the supernatural. Talking rats and fish appear and a 3-year old boy is able to stop growing at will, to write on glass using only his voice and to communicate only through his tin drum. Grass also likes his characters and is happy for them to have simple pleasures in their lives - whether it be food or sex or friendship. The easy comparison to make is with Salman Rushdie - both interweaving the everyday, the supernatural and the grotesque into magic realis picaresque fiction. One of my German literature tutors at university reacted badly to the suggestion though. As I am a poor man and not totally at ease in my grasp of the libel laws, I shall not go into detail, although Rushdie did not fare well in the comparison.

Grass was considered by many to be the conscience of post-war Germany - something which attracted a deal of criticism, particularly after his confession in 2006 that he'd served in the Waffen SS towards the end of the war. I'll simply observe that Grass was a boy of 17 and that I would not fare well if judged by the choices I might have made at that age.

Pretty much everything I enjoyed about my first degree came from reading Grass, so I'm left with a sense of regret that somewhere, Oskar's drum has finally fallen silent.
Richie Benaud last commentated on UK tv cricket coverage in September 2005. He quit because that was the last free-to-air coverage on British television as the ECB had sold the rights to Sky. It's rather remarkable really that there's such a feeling of loss at the death of a man whose voice hadn't been heard in the Uk for 10 years. Remarkable - and also absolutely right.

I suspect everyone has their favourite piece of commentary from Benaud - for many, it's his reaction to Botham planting Terry Alderman into the crowd during the '81 Headingley Ashes test, once described as the greatest comeback since Lazarus. As the grievously abused ball ricocheted away, over the air came Richie's voice - "Don't bother looking for that, never mind chasing it. It's gone into the confectionary stall and out again."

My favourite came in a pretty much unmemorable test between England and New Zealand in 1990. Trevor Franklin had made a lengthy century, which probably brought pleasure only to Mr Franklin and, perhaps, his parents. England had mounted a minor comeback - 3 wickets for a dozen or so runs in an hour. In came Richard Hadlee - never a man to die wondering. Hadlee had once had a reputation for feasting on slow bowling but being a little insecure against anything over medium pace, so Gooch brought on Gladstone Small with the new ball, in the hope of cleaning up Hadlee and then the tail. In steamed Small, whose first three deliveries went back past his head for 2 fours and a six, more runs in three deliveries than in the previous hour. It was like switching channels from Ingmar Bergman to the Keystone Kops. "Oh, I like this," gurgled Richie delightedly. "This is good fun."

Richie quit back in 2005 specifically because he had always worked on free-to-air television and saw no reason to change that. Looking at how cricket commentary has changed since, it's a moot point whether there would still be a place for him, or whether his departure was the first stone that hastened the avalanche. He had eight rules of commentary that he tried to stick to:

1.Never ask for a statement.
2.Remember the value of a pause.
3.There are no teams in the world called 'we' or 'they'.
4.Avoid cliches and banalities, such as 'he's hit that to the boundary', 'he won't want to get out now', 'of course', 'as you can see on the screen'.
5.The Titanic was a tragedy, the Ethiopian drought a disaster, and neither bears any relation to a dropped catch.
6.Put your brain into gear before opening your mouth.
7.Concentrate fiercely at all times.
8.Above all, don't take yourself too seriously, and have fun

The most important, I think, was the second which he also summed up as "If you can't add anything to the picture, keep quiet."

For an idea of how things have changed since then, Geoff Lemon's criticism of Channel 9's coverage is long, but worth a read.

If you don't fancy reading it, a summary would be - talk about the cricket or don't talk at all.

Gideon Haigh interviewed Benaud for The Guardian back in 2005 in the run up to his last commentary in England. When the photographer with him asked Benaud to pose as if commenting on a dramatic piece of play, his answer was "I probably wouldn't be saying anything." Sadly I don't think that would work these days.

Someone's posted on Youtube Benaud's last few minutes of commentary from September 2005.

It's a slightly atypical piece, because there's actually a hint of emotion there and of something personal being revealed. What's much more typical is that when Richie's farewell speech is interrupted by the fall of a wicket, he goes straight back into talking about the game, the speech abandoned, and then quietly hands over to the next two commentators. The game was always more important. And by always recognising that fact, he became an icon.