Sunday, 16 July 2017

Random Cutting - Top books (2000)

Reblogged from my newspaper collection blog (

International Express dated August 8th-14th 2000 

                                                                   Click to Enlarge

There are fewer celebrity biographies and cookbooks in this list than these days, although the dreaded Jamie Oliver does appear (twice!). 

Nice to see Kathy Reichs, James Lee Burke and Thomas Harris representing the Crime writers and Bill Bryson the travel writers, even if ‘Down Under’ was, in my humble opinion, his least interesting travel book.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Random Cutting - Two famous writers missing (1940)

Reblogged from my newspaper collection blog (

Sunday Express dated Sunday June 23rd 1940

Click to Read

Somerset Maugham had lived on the French Riviera since 1926 but when the Nazi’s invaded France he sought refuge on a coal barge. It took him 20 harrowing days to get to England. After a short recovery he moved to the USA for the rest of the War.

Mary Borden was an American author and a quick look at Amazon shows only one book currently in print - The Forbidden Zone: A Nurse's Impressions of the First World War. In both World Wars she ran volunteer Ambulance services in combat zones. She died in 1968.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Random Cutting - H G Wells warns of Fascism (1934)

Reblogged from my newspaper collection blog 

Click to read

H.G. Wells, the author of classics like ‘The War of the Worlds’, ‘The Invisible Man’ and ‘The Time Machine‘, succeeded John Galsworthy as President of the P.E.N. Club in 1933. The Club had been founded in 1921 to promote ‘friendship & intellectual co-operation among writers everywhere’.

Wells was a complicated man, basically a Socialist who, like many intellectuals of the 1930’s, let his hatred of Fascism lead to a blind approval of Stalinist Russia, but he was also anti-Semitic and believed in eugenics; both Fascists traits.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Film You may Have Missed (#19)

Beggars of Life (1927)

I saw the silent film ‘Beggars of Life’ augmented by a live soundtrack by The Dodge Brothers, a group of musicians who feature the film critic Mark Kermode on double bass, and experienced Silent Film Pianist Neil Brand. I admit that I went because of the music as I hadn’t heard of the film.

Richard Arlen and Louise Brooks

Beggars of Life stars Wallace Beery, Louise Brooks and Richard Arlen, and tells the story of Nancy (Brooks) who kills her step-father during an attempted rape then disguised as a boy runs off with a young hobo. They meet up with Oklahoma Red (Beery) who helps them in their attempt to get to Canada.

A couple of short sound sequences were added before its original release.

A surprisingly mature and gritty film for the time and shows how far silent film had progressed before it was wiped out by the Talkies. Louise Brooks is terrific in the lead role and did some of her own stunts including jumping on and off moving trains.

Beggars for Life is available on a DVD from Classic Video Streams but Amazon reviews warn of it being poorly recorded and obviously, it doesn’t include Mark Kermode playing in your sitting room!

The Dodge Brothers and Neil Brand

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Random Forgotten Author (1943)

Reblogged from my newspaper collection blog (

Sunday Graphic dated Sunday April 4th 1943

Click to Read

There must be hundreds of authors who were household names in their day, but who are now all but forgotten.

Rex Beach was an American novelist, playwright and Olympic silver medalist water-polo player (1904 St Louis) who spent 5 years in Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush and wrote several very popular novels in the Jack London idiom. His second, ‘The Spoilers’, was filmed 5 times.

After the death of his wife he committed suicide in 1949.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Book You May Have Missed (#19)

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (2016)

Having successfully ‘done’ Conan-Doyle in ‘The Silk Road’ and ‘Moriarty’ and Ian Fleming in ‘Trigger Mortis’, Horowitz has turned his attention to Agatha Christie with ‘Magpie Murders’.

He uses a book-within-a-book to write both a contemporary murder mystery and one set in a typical Christie village of the 1950’s.

The fictitious Magpie Murders by the fictitious author Alan Conway is a 219 page whodunit manuscript printed in its entirety within the 400 page whodunit Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz.

In the modern day mystery, author Alan Conway is murdered and his editor Susan Ryeland believes that Conway planted clues to his murderer in the 1950’s mystery. We get to read the Alan Conway manuscript before joining Susan in her attempt to solve the murder.

A very enjoyable book.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Film You may Have Missed (#18)

Bronco Bullfrog (1969)


To do this film justice I have nicked this Guardian review by Xan Brooks published when the film was re-issued in 2010. It tells you all you need to know about the film more eloquently than I could -

Xan Brooks
Thursday 3 June 2010 23.10 BST

One night in November 1970, Princess Anne tripped along to Oxford Circus for the London premiere of Three Sisters, a film starring and directed by Sir Laurence Olivier, who had recently been made a life peer in the birthday honours list. A pleasant evening lay in store – except that there, on the red carpet, the princess found herself face-to-face with the hoi polloi, the great unwashed. Some 200 members of the Beaumont youth club out in Leyton, east London, had shown up to jeer her. Some were reported to have chucked tomatoes at her head. These protesters did not think the princess should be on her way to see some stuffy Chekhov drama by a peer of the realm. They wanted her to come and see their film instead.

The film in question was Bronco Bullfrog, a rumble-tumble East End picaresque, shot on the cheap (£18,000) and entirely staffed with non-professional actors. Barney Platts-Mills's film played in Cannes, won rave reviews and picked up a Writers' Guild award. After that, it quickly fell into shadow. Today it stands as a forgotten time piece, a rebel in exile. Few films have highlighted the class war at the heart of British cinema (and, by implication, the nation as a whole) so pointedly as Bronco Bullfrog. Few have suffered so ignominious a fate. Try as I might, I can't believe these facts are unrelated.

I hook up with Platts-Mills in an office block near Notting Hill Gate. The director is in town to edit his latest feature, his first in decades (a love story, set in Morocco). But I'm barely through the door when he is bemoaning Bronco Bullfrog, the film that proved there is no such thing as independent cinema in this country. "That's why I packed it in. Independent cinema!" he scoffs. "It was a lie then and it's a lie now. Film is just a way of showing off Tom Cruise's underpants."

At this point it should be pointed out that Barney Platts-Mills, like most revolutionaries, actually hails from the bourgeoisie. He was the son of John Platts-Mills, a Labour backbencher and a noted QC who argued the case for the Great Train Robbers. As a teenager, Platts-Mills Jr dropped out of public school to take a job at Shepperton studios, where he worked on post-production for Spartacus and A Kind of Loving. Later, he fell under the spell of 40s Italian neo-realism and the 50s Free Cinema movement. He shot a documentary about Joan Littlewood's improvisatory theatre workshops in Stratford. His ambition, he said, was to create a new kind of cinema: "free, accessible, working class". He was just 25 when he began work on Bronco Bullfrog.

Platts-Mills explains how it came about. His association with Littlewood (the outspoken "mother of modern theatre") led to him playing the role of Fagin to the youths she brought in off the streets. Eventually the actors came up with an idea for a film; something about the lives they led and a lad they'd known who broke out of Borstal. "Everything they knew about acting came from Joan," he says. "Everything I knew about directing – that came from Joan as well."

Bronco Bullfrog plays out around the estates, cafes and bomb sites of Stratford. It charts the fortunes of a pair of star-crossed lovers, Del (Del Walker) and Irene (Anne Gooding), whose budding relationship is beset by nagging parents and a cash-flow shortage. Meantime, idling behind the net curtains at the local greasy spoon sits the mythic Bronco Bullfrog (Sam Shepherd), a Borstal runaway who schemes to rob a goods train and abscond with the loot. Platts-Mills sets the cast in motion and chases them all the way towards a poignant hanging ending. Along the way he rustles up a brisk, bracing, slice-of-life drama, a casual portrait of late-60s "suedeheads" kicking their heels and dreaming of escape. The directing is rough and ready; the performances are a little rude and unschooled. In the end, of course, that's all part of the appeal.

"The kids came to us," Platts-Mills says. "We gave them time off work and paid them double the wages, and their idea of acting was to give us more or less what they thought we wanted. More often than not, that's better than the alternative." He shrugs. "People always talk about 'naturalistic acting'. No such thing! What they are doing is taking the piss, undermining the process. Look at the way Del stands there sometimes, all silent and moody. That's just bone idleness on his part. But I like that. That's a real person caught there in the frame."

On its initial release, Bronco Bullfrog was hailed by the critics as a breath of fresh air. But its distributors, British Lion, could not think what to do with the primitive beast they had taken on. First, they tried to retitle it (Around Angel Lane), and then they tried to bury it. On the whole, they've been successful: since it dribbled out of cinemas, the film has screened just twice on UK television. "The BBC never shows it. Channel 4 never shows it." The director rolls his eyes. "They show their own rotten films and it's a fucking good film. So what are these people playing at? It's a disgrace."

Matters reached their nadir in the mid-1980s when the master negative was dumped in a rubbish skip. "Fortunately, one of the film lab employees found it there and took it to the archive," Platts-Mills explains. "So yes, it's remarkable that the film survived. I'm very lucky," he says, though he looks anything but.

Now, at long last, Bronco Bullfrog is making its return. It has been unearthed and restored and opens (or reopens) in cinemas next week. To watch it now is to catch a glimpse of an alternative strain of British cinema, and to witness the raw "piss-taking" promise of a crop of actors who flourished for a moment and then were gone. "Their style of acting was Joan's style of acting," says Platts-Mills sadly. "There's no place for that in the RSC. And Sir Peter Hall doesn't like it either, the cunt."

Whatever became of them, the kids who were in the film? The director says Gooding is dead ("died on the dancefloor"), while another performer was killed by a car. But Walker is still around, and is now a grandfather on the Isle of Wight. And it turns out that Shepherd, who played the title role, currently works as a market porter in Spitalfields. I ring his phone and wake him up. It transpires that he was the main ringleader of that long-ago protest in Oxford Circus – and that story, too, had an epilogue. A week later, Princess Anne did come to see Bronco Bullfrog, and took her seat beside Shepherd in the palatial splendour of the Mile End ABC. The actor bent down to kiss her hand and was later dragged away by police. "They told me if I ever pulled a stunt like that again I was for the high jump."

Who knows what the princess thought of Bronco Bullfrog? Maybe she liked it. Maybe she didn't and was too polite to say. But Shepherd remembers sitting beside her in the dark while Irene's mother was railing at her daughter's taste in boys. "She turned to me and said, 'My mum was like that.'" Shepherd chuckles at the memory. "It took me a minute to twig that she was talking about the Queen."

Needless to say, this was the only time Shepherd took a princess to the pictures. After Bronco Bullfrog, he (like the rest of the cast) never acted again. He has run pubs and worked in clubs and busied himself in the market "on various barrows". He would have liked to give it another go, he says. But there was no advice and no guidance, and he is not about to start crying about it now.

Part of what makes Bronco Bullfrog so captivating is the way it catches a moment in time. It shows London's East End in flux, its inhabitants hurrying past the frame. That seems to be Shepherd's attitude to it, too. Look, he says. Littlewood and Platts-Mills came from a totally different background, but they did a good thing. They took a bunch of delinquents and gave them something to do. Bronco Bullfrog was a fine experience, "six weeks of having a laugh". But, you know, life moves on. If anything, he is surprised someone would even ask him about it now. He watched the film again recently, but only for old time's sake. "I look at the old streets, the motors, the clothes. It's a nostalgia thing. But that's about it. I remember at the time, this film critic, Alexander Walker, he said, 'This is a film that will be talked about in years to come.' And I thought, 'You're mad.' What do people get out of it today? They're mad. I mean," he adds, almost angrily, "does it say anything to you at all?"

I assure him it does. I burble something about Bronco Bullfrog's integrity, its authenticity. It's an honest film, I tell him. And Sam Shepherd, one-time delinquent turned movie actor turned market porter, cackles at my naivety. "An honest film?" he says. "An honest film with dodgy acting, dodgy actors. We were all like that in those days. Turn your back and we'd have nicked the camera."

The only comment I would take issue with is calling the protagonists ‘suedeheads’. Other reviewers talk about them being ‘mods’ which is closer but still not accurate. They’re just late sixties East-end lads.

The film is currently (2017) available on DVD and Blue-ray from the usual outlets.