November 2021 Favourites

Selfie of Glen smiling by the River Thames at night, with the Tower Of London and Tower Bridge lit up behind him.

Hello again, hope you’re all keeping safe and well despite everything going on at the moment. I’m happy to say that I’ve had my Covid booster jab, which really helps to further educate and strengthen the immune system, and thus greatly reduces the chances of severe problems if you do get ill with the new variant. Plus Mum’s had her flu jab and I’m hoping to get mine at some point. So we’re as well protected as we can be for the winter now.

The latest developments haven’t stopped me going out and about and being generally busy either, as I’ve been making the most of my time. So during November I was interviewed on another national radio show, had lovely days exploring London Zoo and the Illuminated River project, enjoyed stage and film versions of a Dickens classic, watched the latest series of Doctor Who, saw various comedies, got absorbed in the new Beatles documentary, heard ABBA’s new album, and celebrated Freddie Mercury’s life on the 30th anniversary of his untimely passing. And none of it is sponsored or gifted as usual. So I hope you enjoy my latest post and video roundup!

RNIB Radio Interview

I had another moment of stardom this month when I was featured on RNIB Connect Radio! I appeared on the Happy Hour show, where I was interviewed by the lovely Holly from Life Of A Blind Girl, about how I’ve settled into London as a visually impaired person since moving here 5 years ago. Hard to believe it’s been that long already! Holly and I have followed each other’s blogs for a good few years now, so it was a delight to finally talk to her on the phone. She’s very friendly and a great interviewer.

Not only that, but I was also given the honour of selecting and introducing the final song to close the show, which made me feel a bit like a DJ. It was a tough choice, as I do love a lot of music, but I settled on a track that reflects my growth in confidence over the years, ties in with my love of musical theatre, has a lyric referencing hazy vision, and has a connection to my favourite band, Queen.

You can listen to my appearance on the episode’s podcast. The whole programme is well worth a listen of course, but you can jump to the 14-minute mark if you want to hear my interview, and then to the 33-minute mark to hear me introduce my chosen song. I hope you like it!

John Lewis also released their Christmas advert with audio description in November, as did a few other retailers, and I’ve now been featured in an RNIB compilation talking about why that’s so important.

Out & About

I had a few particularly nice outings during November, including a meetup with a friend who I hadn’t seen for 20 months. It’s lovely to be hooking up with people again at long last, and I’m continuing to do that in December.

The other two most significant outings have each resulted in blog posts and video footage dedicated to them. So do go and check them out for all the details, as I don’t need to write much here:

  • London Zoo Audio Described Tour – This was a lot of fun, and I was joined by some lovely ladies from the visually impaired charity Look. We got to stroke and feed a camel, say hello to some pygmy goats, and saw many other wonderful animals, and the staff who took us around were very friendly, chatty and knowledgeable.
  • Illuminated River – This is a series of permanent new lighting installations on 9 bridges across the River Thames that I explored over a couple of evenings. London always looks stunning when lit up at night, and these artworks add to the cityscape really nicely without being intrusive. There are also audio descriptions of all the bridges by VocalEyes. It was a great opportunity for me to test out my new iPhone 13 in a nighttime setting, and I’m really impressed with how everything came out.

Oliver Twist

I didn’t go to the theatre in person this month, but I did watch a show online. I saw Oliver Twist from Leeds Playhouse, which was a special production put on by the disabled performance group Ramps On The Moon. So all of the actors and their characters had a variety of disabilities. The character of Oliver, for example, was deaf and mute and communicated with sign language, and actor Brooklyn Melvin played him very well throughout. In addition, puppets were used to play Oliver before the age of 9 as well as Bill Sike’s dog, which worked nicely.

The show was fully accessible for the audience as well, incorporating audio description, captioning and sign language very effectively. There was also an audio described flyer & introduction for visually impaired people, plus a BSL flyer & introduction for those who use sign language.

The play was a dramatic adaptation of the Dickens story by Bryony Lavery. I’ve never read the actual story, and have only ever seen the musical (more on that in a moment), so it was very interesting to see it performed in its more intended style. It’s quite dark and brutal sometimes, given that Oliver is on the receiving end of a lot of abuse in the workhouse and elsewhere, both verbal and physical. So it’s powerful and moving, as you’re rooting for him to be happy and have a brighter future, without people using him for their own gain.

But it’s not as depressing as that might sound either, as it was all very engaging and entertaining given the way it was performed, and all of the characters were very distinctive and interesting. The costumes looked lovely too, the minimal set design was used to good effect, and the atmospheric music was used sparingly to add to the action and drama when appropriate. So I enjoyed it.

But of course, as good as that was, nothing comes close to Lionel Bart’s musical adaptation of the story, which I’ve always loved. I’ve never seen it in a theatre, but I love the 1968 film version, which I’ve watched several times over the years. So after seeing the online play this month it was only natural to dig out the Blu-ray of the movie and watch it again.

It’s so thoroughly enjoyable, full of wonderful songs, stunning choreography, hugely detailed sets, beautiful costumes, and a stellar cast, all telling a story that is entertaining, funny, action-packed, dramatic and emotional. It’s quite long at 2½ hours, but it absolutely flies by. You even get musical overtures at the start of each act, as it’s one of those old-style films where you get an intermission in the middle. It deservedly won 6 Academy Awards out of the 11 it was nominated for, including Best Picture and Best Director. Plus it won 2 Golden Globes in the Musical/Comedy category for Best Motion Picture and Best Actor (Ron Moody).

Indeed, Ron Moody is so perfectly cast as Fagin, and steals the show without question, as he also did when performing the role in the stage musical. He had such a warm personality and good humour, was a great singer, and made the dramatic and emotional moments count so well. And he clearly loved playing the character, as he continued to make guest appearances over the years, most notably singing Reviewing The Situation at the 1985 Royal Variety Performance. He also came on stage after a performance of Cameron Mackintosh’s revival in 2010, to celebrate the musical’s 50th anniversary, where he gave an amusing speech and sang Pick A Pocket Or Two with the cast, who included Russ Abbot as the current Fagin at the time.

Then of course we have Mark Lester tugging at our heartstrings as Oliver, impressively nailing his first major movie role at the tender age of just 8 years old. It was later revealed that his singing was dubbed by Kathe Green, the daughter of the film’s music arranger Johnny Green, as Mark himself couldn’t hold a note. But you don’t notice and it works perfectly well. It’s strange to think that Mark went on to become an osteopath after he retired from acting, and it’s a pity I couldn’t have seen him when I had my sciatica a few months ago!

And let’s not forget the many other fantastic actors in the movie, including Jack Wild playing the Artful Dodger with delightful mischievousness, Oliver Reed portraying the menacing Bill Sikes (his uncle Carol Reed was the movie’s director), Shani Wallis as the beautiful and caring Nancy, Harry Secombe as strict Mr. Bumble from the workhouse, Leonard Rossiter as undertaker Mr. Sowerberry (several years before his starring roles in Rising Damp & Reginald Perrin), and Hugh Griffith as a magistrate (9 years after his Oscar-winning role in Ben-Hur), among many others. It’s just such perfect casting throughout. So it’s always a delight to watch it again, it’s one of those classic films you can never tire of seeing.

The Blu-ray edition that I own includes interviews with both Ron Moody and Mark Lester, where they give very interesting and entertaining recollections on making the movie, so they’re well worth a look. There’s also a short behind-the-scenes featurette, which has a few interesting moments but isn’t hugely enlightening. The interviews are much better.

There have been other Blu-ray releases with additional extras including sing-alongs and dance instructions, an audio commentary, a full isolated score, a locations featurette and a Jack Wild screen test, but I don’t have them and they’re not readily available these days. I’m happy with the edition I’ve got though, it’s the film that matters most really.

There have also been many other film and TV adaptations of the Oliver Twist story, but I’ve never seen them. Maybe I’ll check out one or two one day in the future, as I did with the play I saw online this month. But to be honest, nothing can come close to the musical version, so I’m quite happy sticking with that film, and there are lots of theatrical soundtrack albums out there as well.

Doctor Who – Flux

During the old ‘Classic’ era of Doctor Who, there were many occasions where stories would carry across multiple episodes, forming serials. But since the show was rebooted in 2005, this is the first time it’s happened in the modern era. We’ve had stories in 2 or 3 parts before (some series finales were effectively 3-parters even if they weren’t promoted as such), and there are sometimes little elements that pop up during a series that play a crucial role in the finale. But we’ve not had a full serial until now. Given the limitations placed on them by the pandemic however, resulting in a shorter series, it made a lot of sense in this case.

Series 13 was therefore subtitled Flux, referring to an apocalyptic destruction of time and space, to put it very simply. It was certainly an ambitious and packed storyline, with lots of new characters, locations and events to keep track of, some of more interest or relevance than others. And at times, deliberately so, it was as confusing for us as it was for The Doctor and her companions (Yasmin Khan, played by Mandip Gill, and new arrival Dan Lewis, played very well by comedian John Bishop). So there was a lot of intrigue and mystery, with various twists and surprises along the way.

And I enjoyed it on the whole. It was fun to have a complex and challenging adventure spread out over a longer period, including a lot of action and great special effects. The cliffhanger with The Doctor transforming into a Weeping Angel was particularly well achieved, accompanied by a rare and thus impactful adjustment to the end credits music, removing the bassline as if stripping away The Doctor’s heartbeat. Granted, it was resolved fairly quickly in the next episode, as you can never keep The Doctor trapped for long. But it was a very exciting and effective way to get The Doctor to Division for the revelations that followed, and it will undoubtedly remain one of the most memorable moments of the series for a long time.

It was great to see all of the main characters coming together to save the day at the end too, as you’d expect from the show. It was also lovely to see the return of Kate Stewart from UNIT, even though she didn’t really have much to do, but she did help out in a key moment near the end. And there was the involvement of an Ood in the story too. In terms of enemies, the Weeping Angels and the Sontarans were the best-known foes who had major roles in the storyline, with the Angels easily being the most scary, while the Daleks and Cybermen also appeared briefly but with no major impact or purpose. Meanwhile the new villains were Azure & Swarm, whose grand plan ruled over the series, and they were very good too.

The finale did wrap up the story for many of the characters involved, but it certainly didn’t resolve everything, and it wasn’t aiming to either. We still don’t know the full impact of the Flux, as it had already done a huge amount of damage by the time it was halted and didn’t appear to be reversed. And there’s still a lot of mystery about The Doctor’s past, including the Fugitive incarnation that we saw again, the Timeless Child story, and the mysterious Division. Plus we don’t know what lies ahead for The Doctor given the ominous warning she received from Time at the end (with a possible hint to the return of The Master). But then the show often leaves things open-ended like that, as it presents lots of possibilities for future stories. So hopefully some of those aspects will be revisited.

So all in all, while the story wasn’t perfect in every respect (which would be impossible for something so ambitiously complex), it was a fun, intriguing and epic series that’s laid plenty of seeds for future discoveries, revelations and adventures. And it won’t be long before we get the first of Jodie’s 3 final specials on New Year’s Day, called Eve Of The Daleks, featuring Irish comedian Aisling Bea as a guest star. So I’m really looking forward to that too.

Morecambe & Wise

This month my mother and I decided to collect all of Morecambe & Wise‘s surviving material on DVD and audio, prompted by the release of a new box set by Network. Mum saw some of their shows when she was younger, but certainly not all of them. And I’ve enjoyed some Christmas specials and other clips I’ve seen over the years, but I’ve not seen a huge amount of their work overall.

So we thought we’d get everything in one go, and we’ll work our way through it all bit by bit in chronological order during the months ahead, probably watching an episode each day while having dinner. We know some of it will seem quite dated now, and we’ll be quite happy to skip through some of the musical acts we don’t like, just as we do for The Two Ronnies whenever we watch them. But a lot of Eric & Ernie’s comedy is timeless and should still be very funny today.

So the new box set that came out this month, which actually combines content from Network’s previous box set releases, is Morecambe & Wise At ITV.

Cover for the DVD box set of Morecambe & Wise At ITV, showing the duo against a blue background.

The set features:

Then to go with that set, we’ve also bought The Complete BBC Collection on DVD, which contains the vast majority of episodes from the BBC’s Morecambe & Wise Show:

Hopefully a new set will be released one day with some of the lost episodes included, but it’s not clear if or when that will ever come out. So we’re quite happy with this set for the time being, as there’s more than enough for us to get through as it is!

Cover for the DVD box set of Morecambe & Wise, The Complete BBC Collection, showing a silhouette image of the duo dancing.

And on top of that we’ve also bought:

  • The Complete BBC Radio 2 Series on Audible – Contains all the episodes from all 4 series of their radio show, including audio adaptations of some of their TV sketches.
  • Their 1960s movies & final film on DVD – We don’t know if these are any good as we’ve never watched them before, but they were worth getting for curiosity and completeness as they were cheap. The latter is the most poorly reviewed, but is significant for being their last screen appearance before Eric Morecambe’s death (he was ill when filming it).

Cover for the Morecambe & Wise Movie Collection on DVD, with individual photos of Eric and Ernie either side of a central photo of the duo together.

DVD cover for the Morecambe & Wise film Night Train To Murder, showing the duo dressed in white suits with white top hats.

So we’ll see how we get on with those. I won’t mention these DVDs in every Favourites post going forward, as it’s clearly going to take us a long while to work our way through them. But once we get to the end of a set, or if we decide we’ve had enough before then, I’ll try and remember to let you know what we think.

The Outlaws

The Outlaws is a new BBC comedy-drama set in Bristol, about a group of people doing community service together. It’s written by and stars Stephen Merchant, and it’s pretty good. To begin with it feels a bit like a regular sitcom, and there are indeed lots of funny moments and lines throughout the series. But it soon evolves into a crime thriller as well, as in one way or another they all get pulled into situations that they shouldn’t, resulting in secrets, conflicts, tension and danger.

Some of the characters can seem irritating or unpleasant at first, including people with very contrasting opinions on topical issues including politics and racial equality, and there’s a young lady obsessed with being a big social media influencer. So it seems an unlikely bunch of people to get together, and indeed they don’t all get along at first.

But as the episodes progress we explore beyond all of the stereotypes to learn more about the characters’ backstories, including the crimes they were sentenced for, their jobs, their families and their relationships, so we come to understand why they are the way they are. And as the characters get to know one another, they realise they have more in common than they first thought, and are in a position to help each other to the benefit of all of them.

It also helps that they’re played by a great cast – most notably and impressively including the highly renowned American actor Christopher Walken, who Stephen had to fax a script to and then visit in person in America, as Christopher doesn’t have a computer or a mobile phone. And other big names who appear in the series include Nina Wadia & Richard E. Grant.

So it’s very well written, with a good balance of humour, drama, emotion, action and character development. It’s not something I want to buy on DVD, I’m not that obsessed with it, but it’s still very enjoyable. And consequently I’m looking forward to Series 2, which was commissioned and filmed concurrently with the first series, way back when it still had the working title of The Offenders. So it shows how much confidence the BBC has in it, and it’ll be interesting to see how the story continues. And outside the UK it’s available on Amazon Prime Video in various countries, including the US.

I have seen some of Stephen’s other work in the past too, because I’m already familiar with The Office (which is ok) and The Ricky Gervais Show (which I have on DVD as it’s really funny), plus I’ve got his enjoyable stand-up show on DVD. But I haven’t watched things like Extras or Hello Ladies yet. I might get around to them one day, but I’m not in any rush to.

Other Comedy

Other comedy shows I’ve watched this month include:

  • Taskmaster – Another fantastic series has come to an end, with Alan Davies and Victoria Coren Michell being my favourite contestants as I knew they would be, but it’s been a brilliant cast altogether. And we’ve got a lot more to look forward to as well, including another New Year special that includes Paralympian Jonnie Peacock, the second Champion Of Champions special featuring the winners of Series 6-10, and then Series 13 featuring Father Ted & My Hero star Ardal O’Hanlon among the cast.
  • The Cockfields – Series 2 was broadcast on Gold over the course of a week (reflecting the timescale of the story), and showed Simon (played by series co-writer Joe Wilkinson) visiting his family on the Isle of Wight with his new fiancée Esther (Susannah Fielding). She replaces his old girlfriend Donna (Diane Morgan), while his stepfather Ray is played by Gregor Fisher (following Bobby Ball‘s sad passing). But most of the other cast members have returned, including Sue Johnston & Nigel Havers. There’s an enjoyable awkwardness between Simon and his family here, as his mother and father are always gently persuading him to do whatever they’d prefer, rather than what he wants to do. And while that irks Simon sometimes, causing him to boil over at one point, there is a real love between them all, while Simon also has to come to terms with his own fear and insecurities about getting married. So it’s a nice, gentle comedy on the whole – a bit rude here and there, in a suitable and amusing way, but it has sweet and moving moments too. I’ve seen the Christmas special that’s just been on as well, that was nice too.
  • Worzel Gummidge – We were treated to a nice new episode of this show about a scarecrow that comes to life, played by Mackenzie Crook. And this time it was all about Bonfire Night, with Paul Kaye as the bonfire’s resident Guy Forks, and Toby Jones playing the entire Bonfire Night Committee. There will be 2 more episodes at Christmas to complete this second series.
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway? USA – The Dave channel has been broadcasting several more episodes from the American version of this classic improvisation game show, which are really funny as the cast are so inventive. Back in June & July – where I wrote extensively about this and other versions of the show – I had watched the first set of episodes that Dave had acquired for UK broadcast, from Seasons 3, 4 & 5 of the US revival (Seasons 111213 overall). And now Dave have been showing episodes from Seasons 1-2, the remainder of Season 5, and some from Seasons 6 (so they’ve been covering seasons 9, 10, 13 & 14). You can tell which ones are from the first season, because Aisha Tyler has to explain the format a bit more thoroughly at the start of each episode. But from the outset she’s a very good host, quickly settling into the role and the nonsensical fun of it all. And there are many great performers throughout all of the episodes, especially Ryan StilesColin Mochrie & Wayne Brady as the main regulars of course. It’s great to see Greg Proops still appearing sometimes as well, as I always enjoyed his appearances in the UK version too.
  • Live At The Apollo has returned for another new series, with the audience very happy to be back in the theatre again after lockdown. I always end up skipping past some of the acts on this show, as by its nature they won’t all appeal to me. But I enjoyed watching blind comedian Chris McCausland as the host of the first episode, who I’m looking forward to seeing in person next year, and Angela Barnes was a good host on another episode too.
  • And as usual I’m enjoying the topical comedies Mock The Week, Have I Got News For You & The Last Leg, all of which thankfully now have their studio audiences back. And let’s face it, they’ve got plenty to get their teeth into at the moment!

The Beatles – Get Back

This month I watched Get Back on Disney+, the fantastic and epic new 3-part documentary series about The Beatles by Peter Jackson. It’s been entirely created using never-before-seen footage of the band working on a live album and rehearsing for a live show in 1969, which ultimately resulted in the Let It Be LP. It’s all taken from the many hours of recordings that had been used to make the original 1970 Let It Be documentary. But it looks and sounds like it was shot yesterday, as it’s been very impressively restored using the latest technological innovations. A lot of love and care has clearly gone into it.

Each episode is between 2 & 3 hours long, taking us in chronological order through each day of the project. You really do feel like you’ve got a privileged pass into the studios and are hanging out with them, as you get lots of fascinating insights into the band at work, including the actual genesis and composition of songs like Get Back, their jams and rehearsal performances, their discussions about the music and other topics, their plans for the TV special that never came to fruition, the laughs they shared, their disagreements and George’s brief walkout, the move from Twickenham Studios to Apple Studios, the addition of keyboard player Billy Preston to the group, and so on.

And it all culminates with wonderfully edited multi-angle split-screen coverage of their infamous rooftop concert, incorporating the reactions from passers-by and the very amusing frustrations of the police who are trying to stop it, in addition to the brilliant performances by the band themselves of course. There are various clips on their Youtube channel to give you a small taste of the whole documentary series.

I’m also delighted that they’ve included audio description, excellently delivered by Sophie Benzing for Descriptive Video Works. It means that a lot of the visual activity is described, and pretty much all of the text that appears on screen is read out, including lots of explanatory notes, newspaper headlines, people’s names, etc. And where subtitles are used for speech that isn’t too audibly clear, different voices to the main audio describer are used to read them out, mirroring the variety of voices used in the programme.

They’ve also been careful not to let the audio description obscure the musical performances, as far as is possible. So there is sometimes a gap between text appearing on screen and the describer reading it beforehand or afterwards, if the band members are singing and playing at that moment. And even during the rooftop concert, all of the explanatory notes and events are relayed to the viewer without interfering significantly, which is no mean feat considering how incredibly busy and complicated that sequence gets.

So it all helped to ensure that I didn’t have to strain my eyes reading any text, and could fully appreciate and follow what was happening, which I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. So I’m very grateful for that, and thoroughly enjoyed the documentary as a result.

ABBA – Voyage

This month ABBA released Voyage, their first new album in 40 years. I wouldn’t say it’s their best ever work, and I’m not sure that any of the songs will become huge eternal classics like some of their past smash hits. But that was an extremely high bar they’d set themselves back then, and making comparisons four decades apart is rather unfair. Voyage is still very well put together, and they still have that instantly recognisable sound, with beautiful vocals and musical arrangements. It really doesn’t sound like they’ve aged since we last heard from them, and it’s a nice variety of songs.

I think the catchy tracks No Doubt About ItJust A Notion are my favourites if forced to choose, with Don’t Shut Me Down & Keep An Eye On Dan not far behind. And there are some lovely ballads too, including the Grammy-nominated song I Still Have Faith In You that opens the album, and their Christmas single Little Things.

So it’s wonderful to have them back, and it feels like a nice reward to us all for getting through the past couple of years. Plus of course they have their digital concerts coming up in London’s Olympic Park next year, featuring virtual reality motion-captured versions of themselves performing with a live band. So that could be interesting too.

Queen

It is, rather astonishingly, 30 years this month since Freddie Mercury passed away on 24 November 1991. He would have been 75 in September this year. So there have been a few programmes celebrating his life and legacy that I’ve enjoyed:

  • Queen At The BBC – This was a new compilation of Queen’s appearances on BBC programmes, spanning their entire career, including performances from Top Of The Pops, their 1975 Hammersmith Odeon concert and the Montreux Music Festival in the 1980s, among other treats. There were even a few little rarities thrown in as well, including a previously unbroadcast outtake from a Nationwide interview in 1982, where Freddie is credited with the wrong name on screen and they have to restart, before they go on to talk about their new Hot Space album.

And finally, also on a Queen-related note, Brian May & Kerry Ellis have joined forces yet again, this time appearing as special guests on the debut single by Italian tenor Luca Minelli, called Forever And Ever With You. It’s a powerful combination of vocals and harmonies, backed by a beautiful mixture of symphony orchestration and guitar, that works very nicely.

Conclusion

And breathe, you made it to the end! There was certainly a lot this time, but I hope you enjoyed looking through it all. December is also proving very busy for me, and I’ve still got other things to share and write about, so there will be more posts to come before the end of the year.

But let me take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! It’s going to be another strange one in some ways, but I hope you’re able to have a lovely time. Or if it’s going to be a difficult festive period, then you have my sympathies, and I hope you’re able to find some form of comfort in the weeks ahead. My mother and I are all set for Christmas in any case, and have already been treating ourselves in various ways.

So stay safe, enjoy the festivities, and I’ll see you again very soon! 🙂

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger, culture vulture & accessibility advocate, with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

One thought on “November 2021 Favourites”

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