Sunday 21 October 2012

Doctor Who: Pop group manager and Muff snatcher

TV Comic Annual 1969

This week's book is a copy of the TV Comic Annual 1969, which was published, as is the way with annuals, in time for Christmas 1968. It's in pretty good nick, not price clipped, with an ink name and address inside, but no other pen mark. I found this in the flea market in Crystal Palace, and it hasn't come far in 43 years: the original owner was a Nicholas Masterson of 44 Denmark Hill, just up the road. Master Masterson was careful enough to only do the quizzes and puzzles in the book in pencil, which is easily removable (though I like to leave such scribblings as they are).

TV Comic, as its name suggests, featured various tie-in strips and stories every week, and this annual, containing a previously unpublished selection, includes favourites such as Popeye, Basil Brush, Skippy and Ken Dodd's Diddymen, but my potential eBay purchasers will I think be interested in only one of them: Doctor Who.

The Doctor's comic strip adventures began in TV Comic in 1964, and in what has to be a tie-in strip record, they're still running today, albeit in a different title: Doctor Who Magazine. Over the years, many artists and writers have come and gone, and in the late 70s/early 80s several of the people who would go on to define the modern comics era did some of their earliest work on the strip or its spin-offs, including both the creators of this rather well known graphic novel.

The history of the strip has inevitably been extensively written up by fans, both online and in print, but the TV Comic stories themselves, aside from the ones that made it into a short lived magazine series several years ago called Classic Comics, have never been properly collected and reprinted. 

Many would argue that's no great loss, as the strip was often very silly, and had little in common with the 'proper' Doctor on the telly. While this is undoubtedly true, the art was often rather lovely. Here's the first page of the first of the two 4-page stories in the annual, 'The Time Museum', drawn by longtime Who strip artist John Canning.

The scripts rarely got sillier than the second Who story in this annual. I'll let the chaps at the fansite Altered Vistas summarise it: 

When the TARDIS materialises beside a road in the year 2208 it causes pop group The Electrodes to crash their tour bus. The Doctor, John and Gillian rush to help them and find none of them seriously hurt, but how can they get to their gig to perform for thousands of their fans in just an hour’s time? The Doctor has the answer and equips them all with rocket packs. They are so impressed they hire him as their manager. They make the gig in time.

Between shows the Doctor learns that they did have a manager before, but he tried to trick them out of their money and threatened their lives when they sacked him. The Doctor, John and Gillian observe the crowd at the final gig and, when the Doctor sees an extra wire leading into the group’s speakers, he realises their ex-manager plans to blow them up on stage. He, John and Gillian swoop down using the rocket packs and lift the band to safety just as their evil ex-manager detonates the speakers. The Doctor then apprehends the villain. After seeing the Electrodes successfully complete a planet-wide tour, the Doctor and his companions depart in the TARDIS. The Electrodes are capable of managing themselves.

Wouldn't you just love to see a TV episode with the same plot? I really would, actually.

One of the panels in this story contains one of the Doctor's best-ever lines, in any medium:

Muff, Fuzz and Snatch? Can the writer of this story, one Roger Noel Cook, really have been utterly oblivious? I think not.

Any upper echelon Whovians reading this post will undoubtedly have a remaining, nagging question. Why is it that Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor is seen fighting a William Hartnell, Tenth Planet-era Cyberman, instead of the sleek new versions he had already encountered on TV?

We'll never know, though it's probably just because John Canning only had photo reference from The Tenth Planet. Regardless, it gives me an excuse to run this, a recent piece by the best artist ever to draw a Tenth Planet style Cyberman, the great Mick McMahon.

Sunday 14 October 2012

For Your Eyes Only, 1st/1st Great Pan edition, 1962 ... and a brief rumination on James Bond film titles UPDATED FOR 2019!

"Urbane savagery" says New York Herald Tribune. That's as good a two-word description of Bond as any I've read.

With Skyfall about to hit cinemas (and already getting rave reviews), this week's book is another Pan edition, though unlike the Goldfinger copy I previously blogged about, this one's a first printing, a 1st/1st of the For Your Eyes Only paperback. It's not mint, and a previous owner decided to tear the bottom corner of page 149/150 off, but it's a solid book for the price I'm asking for it. THIS IS NOW LONG SINCE SOLD.

A quick google of the cover artist, J. Oval, reveals he was actually called Ben Ostrick, and used to live in my old stamping ground, Clapham Common. Here's another of his pulp covers for Pan, as seen on the excellent Pulp International:

No, I'd never heard of it either. Or the movie version.

Though I must have seen a few on the TV, For Your Eyes Only was the first Bond film I saw in the cinema, when it came out. It's actually my favourite of the Roger Moore Bonds for that sentimental reason alone, though it is quite highly regarded by fans, and Moore himself, because after the post-Star Wars silliness of Moonraker, it was a stripped back, quite violent film, with less Moore (s)mugging and a bit more, well, urbane savagery. This scene is about as 'hard' as dear old Sir Rog got in any of his films:


... and in case it comes up in a pub quiz, always remember that For Your Eyes Only is the only Bond film to date in which the singer of the theme song (the so-80s it hurts Sheena Easton) appears on screen during the opening credit sequence. Yes, Madonna has a (rubbish) cameo in Die Another Day, but you don't see her on screen singing the (also rubbish) 'feem toon.'

Die Another Day was the second 007 film to have a non-Fleming title seemingly created by a James Bond Film Random Title Generator (an idea so good I had to check whether there was one, and of course, there is), the first being Tomorrow Never Dies. I suppose there's also Connery's 'unofficial' Never Say Never Again, but I always thought that had the requisite slightly bonkers Fleming ring to it. Licence to KillGoldeneye and The World is Not Enough are not named after a Bond novel or short story, true, but they have a Fleming connection (the meaning of 'double O', the author's house in Jamaica and Bond's family motto respectively) and are at least cool titles.

Skyfall is another non-Fleming title, and while it's easier to work into the lyrics of a song than Quantum of Solace was (though radio funsters Adam and Joe managed it), it's still verging on bland. The trouble is, there's only a handful of remaining unused Fleming short story titles, and I can't see any of them getting past marketing and onto the poster:

'The Hildebrandt Rarity' (sounds boring, or too German)
'Risico' (sounds like a board game)
'007 in New York' (what, he doesn't go anywhere else for the whole movie?)
'The Property of a Lady' (men won't want to see this movie)

I imagine marketing weren't too keen on Quantum of Solace at first, but probably didn't want to admit they had no idea what it meant, and besides, once they realised they could do this with the '007' on the poster they were happy:

If the producers want to keep it old school Fleming for the title next time around, I agree with the fans who think there's one obvious choice: use Blofeld's alias from You Only Live Twice.

James Bond will return, in... Shatterhand.


Saturday 6 October 2012

You wait decades for a rare Saki dust jacket to come along...

The Unbearable Bassington — art by Harry Rountree

There was much excitement on this blog a few weeks ago when I discovered a previously unrecorded dust jacket for a book by one of my favourite authors, H. H. Munro, better known as Saki. As this post lamented, I missed out on buying it, though the seller did send me some photos. The (wonderful) design turned out to be by the noted woodcut artist John Hall Thorpe

I'd surmised that this evidently extremely rare jacket must have been included with a later printing of the short story collection in question, Beasts and Super-Beasts, so I decided I'd have a quick look on ABE to see if there might be any of his other books where the reprints had dust jackets too... and yes folks, I found one. In 1924, the final Saki collection, The Square Egg, was published. The first edition came with a plain, text only wrapper (which I have), but I now know that a couple of reprints that came out at the same time — or at least, in the same year — were given pictorial jackets: the Hall Thorpe Beasts and Super-Beasts, and the thing of beauty pictured above, The Unbearable Bassington, featuring an illustration by Harry Rountree.

He certainly looks pretty unbearable, doesn't he?

(Please excuse the reflection on the photos, but the jacket came nicely presented in a mylar protector which would be tricky to take it out of!)

Saki's short stories are rightly more celebrated than his two novels (Bassington and the Germans-invade-England satire, written on the eve of WW1, When William Came), but people are still discovering and enjoying The Unbearable Bassington, and it's hardly been out of print, even as a separate edition, since it was first published in 1912.

The jacket artist Harry Rountree has quite a pedigree it turns out. A New Zealander who came to the UK as a young man (just like Hall Thorpe, except he was Australian), Rountree had a long and distinguished career as an illustrator, as this heartfelt tribute by Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. reveals. The Bassington jacket was probably just 'another job' for him, but produced to his usual very high standards nevertheless. I love it.  

So when did Rountree paint this piece? Was the illustrated dust jacket only included with the 1924 reprint of Bassington, to give it another 'push', and a little bit more visibility on the shelves? The copy above (and yes, dear reader, I managed to buy this one!) is a 1924 reprint. The novel had already been reprinted in 1912 (3 times) and 1913 (twice). I think it had this dust jacket design from the outset, and I'll tell you why. Look at Harry's signature above. It's hard to see in the photo, but after the last E is a full stop, and then, after that, there's a 12: for the year, surely. So one can assume that somewhere, someone might still have a first/first in dust jacket. I've certainly never heard of one, let alone seen one...

The artist William Stout is a Rountree fan, and appears to have written a book about him, though I can't find any copies for sale; perhaps he's still working on it. I wonder if he's aware of the Bassington jacket?

Also in 1912, Rountree painted the illustrations for the first printing of Conan Doyle's The Lost World, when it was serialised in The Strand. Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. is lucky enough to own the original of one of them, and here it is, complete with a '12' after his signature.