Sunday 31 August 2014

Withnail and I News Round-Up: An Amazing new Blu-ray, A Return To Cinemas... and Raymond Duck

It's time for a quick-round-up of Withnail-related news this week, mainly to bring attention to Arrow Video's out-of-the-blue announcement of the Withnail and I home video release to end all Withnail and I home video releases.

The film has had many, many releases on home entertainment formats, at least two each on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray already, but Arrow are the first company in the digital era to go back to the original camera negative and rescan the whole thing in 2K HD, so this release will surely look the best since it was in the cinemas. Certainly, the time I was lucky enough to see the film at the BFI, shown from a Blu-ray, with Bruce Robinson himself in the audience, he did comment afterwards that the 'print' looked very dark to him...

The full details of Arrow's limited edition, 4 disc collectors' box set, and how to order it, are to be found on their site HERE, but get a load of this:


  • New 2K restoration of WITHNAIL and I from the original camera negative, supervised and approved by director of photography Peter Hannan
  • Bruce Robinson’s follow-up feature, How to Get Ahead in Advertising, newly transferred from original film elements and approved by director of photography Peter Hannan
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD Presentation of both films
  • Original uncompressed mono 1.0 PCM audio for both films
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Audio commentary by writer-director Bruce Robinson
  • Audio commentary by critic and writer Kevin Jackson, author of the BFI Modern Classic on WITHNAIL and I
  • All four original ‘Withnail Weekend’ documentaries, first screened on Channel 4 in 1999, including The Peculiar Memories of Bruce Robinson, which looks at the director’s career, Withnail & Us, which focuses on the film’s making, and two shorter documentaries, I Demand to Have Some Booze and Withnail on the Pier
  • Newly filmed interviews with key members of WITHNAIL and I’s behind-the-scenes team (TBC)
  • Theatrical trailers for both films
  • Exclusive limited edition hardback book packaging (2,000 copies) containing new writing on the films, reprints of key articles on WITHNAIL and I, deleted scenes and more across 200 pages, illustrated with original production stills
  • More to be announced!

  • Available in 4 x 500 Numbered and Personalised copies (choose your favourite of four artworks as well as a name to be featured on the back and one of fifteen favourite quotes for a truly unique and personal edition!)

    That's some list. I'm looking forward to hearing the commentary track from Kevin Jackson, who has been known to pop up on the Withnail Books Facebook page... Great also to see How to Get Ahead in Advertising getting its due.

    The 'personalised' packaging is of course a gimmick, but a fun one. I've taken the opportunity to personalise mine to belong to one Montague H. Withnail. That £50 price tag is hefty, but not unreasonable I think considering what's included, and, to be fair, the considerable outlay Arrow must have made to simply get the negative scanned, let alone pull together everything else.

    Sales of the limited edition have been fairly brisk since it was announced on Monday, so if you want a personalised one, I wouldn't leave it too long. There will be a further 2000 unpersonalised copies, but that's still only 4000 in total, and I'd wager there are plenty more Withnail fans than that who are going to want a copy of this edition under their Christmas tree...

    Apparently this new remastered print will be coming back into cinemas in a month or two. How may theatrical re-releases has the film had now? I make it at least three!

    What else? Well, since they were last mentioned on this blog, the Withnail Ales from the Cumbrian based Eden Brewery have been joined by some new brews: 'Scrubbers', an American Pale Ale, 'Black Jake', a porter with Seville Orange, and the soon-to-be-released chilli beer monster, 'Terrible C'. Chin chin indeed! I've tasted the first two, and they are first class.

    And finally... this has been shared on various Withnail Facebook pages, but I wanted to post it here too. How's this for a brilliant on screen Withnail reference, spotted by keen-eyed fan Adam Peter Harris: in an episode of Endeavour, the young Morse drama on ITV, a brass office building plate was glimpsed...

    Yup, that's Uncle Monty's first agent, Raymond Duck: "Four floors up on the Charing Cross Road and never a job at the top of them."

    Whoever it was on the Endeavour production team that made that happen, hats off.

    Sunday 24 August 2014

    Top Gear, 1937 style: Looking at some vintage copies of Motor Sport magazine

    This week's new arrivals include a pile of vintage Motor Sport magazine, from the late 1930s and early 1940s. Though the cover promises 'Land - Air - Water', the focus is firmly on the four-wheeled Land variety, and every issue is chock-full of fabulous old ads and reports from races at places like Brooklands and Crystal Palace. See below for a flavour, including some brilliantly smug Bentley and Rolls Royce adverts, an appearance by the legendary Captain Eyston, a report on the 2 litre 'Speed Model' Aston Martin, and a Crystal Palace racetrack shot from before the Palace itself burned down! 

    Sunday 17 August 2014

    Do You Know Your Norseman C-64 From Your Traveller UC-43? A Vintage Aircraft Recognition Handbook

    A couple of fascinating old aeronautical items arrived this week, both from circa 1948. First up is a copy of an Aircraft Recognition Handbook: American Continent. It was issued by the British War Office in a binder with string ties, so extra pages (and aircraft) could be added. There's also a sheet at the front where any amendments, made by hand, were logged.

    Then there's volume one of the official (and Restricted!) Royal Airforce Pilots' Flying Manual, another chunky binder chock full of step-by-step instructions, including the important advice to actually look for your ripcord rather than just feel for it! There's also a rather beautiful colour foldout sheet showing the right way, and several wrong ways, to approach a runway at night.

    It's not that often that you see a book that can just sit there and radiate history, but these both do just that.

    Sunday 10 August 2014

    War, Wine and Women: The Most Famous World War One Memoir You've Never Heard Of

    With World War One centenaries now set to come thick and fast over the next few years, now is as good a time as any to have a look at a long-out-of-print book which few have heard of, even though in its day it was a widely read bestseller, right up there with Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and All Quiet on the Western Front.

    War, Wine and Women, a war memoir by Wilfred Saint-Mandé, was published in June 1931. The example Withnail Books has in stock is very much a reading copy...

    ... and is a third impression, from the the same month as the first:

    Sales of the book were evidently brisk. Much of its popularity can probably be put down to the 'wine' and 'women' parts. Wilfred is very much a man about town, and his adventures before being sent to the Front (and indeed after) involve many and varied encounters with many and varied women, recounted in a way that was extremely racy for 1931. The young widow Daphne, for example, in addition to "slender ankles and shapely calves", had "firm little breasts which stood out challengingly". Steady on! She later gives him a pair of her silk knickers for luck.

    Once in the trenches, Daphne's delights are a distant memory. Here's an excerpt, which even in 2014 can't help but impress with its blunt, unflinching detail:


    With startling suddenness the guns started firing, and from the German lines coloured S.O.S lights soared skyward. His artillery was at that time far superior to ours, and in less time than it takes to tell, hell broke loose in all its fury. Our front line, communications, and supports, were literally plastered with shells of all calibres. The Véry lights and bursting shells were like a Crystal Palace firework display, only a thousand times more impressive, awful and terrifying. The big shells sounded like express trains roaring overhead, and the deafening nerve-shattering crash, as they exploded deep in the ground, sending up showers of earth and stones and often mangled men, is beyond my powers to describe. I do not believe the horror of it can ever be communicated to those who have never experienced it. The earth shook and heaved, acrid fumes filled the air, and massive jagged splinters of steel came hurtling down, dealing out death and mutilation. It was as if on some overhead platform ten thousand carters were tipping loads of pointed steel bricks that burst in the air or on the ground, all with a fiendish ear-splitting devastating roar that shook the nerves of the stoutest.

    Part of our parapet was blown in, and a dug-out demolished by a direct hit, which destroyed the occupants and buried them at the same time. I was covered with earth and flying debris, but clambered clear. As I got up again a sod as big as a pillow struck me in the chest and sent me sprawling in the mud, where I lay dazed and cowed. Before I could get up a shrapnel shell burst about ten yards above my head and a man at my side crumpled up and lay in a pool of blood. I tried to help him but quickly saw that he was beyond help, with a gaping wound in the head and a score in the body. I wondered how much longer my reason could stand it, and had a mad desire to run until I got out of the shambles. I felt that my face was wet, and, drawing my hand across it, discovered it was bloody. Then I saw I was sprinkled with the blood of the corpse near my feet.

    Another burst in the air sent pieces of casing and shrapnel bullets whizzing down, and I felt a sudden hot stinging pain at the side of my head. Blood flowed freely but it was superficial and nothing but a fairly deep cut. For an instant I was tempted to jab it with my bayonet and go down the line. Then I realized that more shells were falling behind our trench than in it, so decided to stay where I was. A high-velocity shell shrieked and burst in the next bay. Crawling round the traverse I saw Corporal Stamford lying broken up and yet still moaning. He had a terrible wound in the belly and the genital organs were reduced to a pulp. The left side of his face had been severed as if by a gigantic razor. His hands were bloody stumps.  I then observed that there had been another man in the bay with Stamford, but his remains could have been gathered up with a trowel. Parts of him were sticking in the sides of the trench, a leg lay in one corner, part of a mutilated trunk in another, while the head was embedded in the parados. With a shock that almost made me faint I realized the remains were those of Greenling, who had been the sentry in that bay. An artillery officer, who had been directing the fire of his battery, was lying on his face with a piece of shell a foot long and as thick as a cricket stump sticking out of the middle of his back. He was dead, so I did not bother to pull it out. 


    Strong stuff. Back in 1931, the reviewer for The Spectator noted that the book:

    "puts on record how another individual endured the War, and with more candour than most, the joy he had in it. The charnel house is no longer part of our lives, the skeleton does not face us at every turn, but for a while, here and in this book, it is brought very close."

    Being sure to mention the "photographic realism of the love episodes", the Spectator also opines:

    "If you want the picture of a hero, Mr. Saint Mande's book will give it you, twopence coloured. War, Wine and Women is a very long book, and much of its length is irrelevant detail such as no practised writer would have permitted himself. But many passages are written with a verve that few practised writers could imitate. As a record of personal experience, the book's authenticity is open to doubt." 

    The reviewer was wise to cover his arse. For now we come to the reason why War, Wine and Women is all but forgotten today. It is, in the word(s) of Arnold D. Harvey in Muse of Firehis overview of literature, art and war: "tosh".

    Wilfred Saint-Mandé never existed. The author was in fact one John Henry Parkyn Lamont, an Englishman who when he wrote the book was a lecturer in French at the University of Pretoria. Lamont had served in the war, but later admitted that the book was little more than a novel with the war as its background.

    If the book is remembered at all these days, it's for the large kerfuffle it caused when it originally appeared in South Africa. In one brief episode, Lamont has one of his characters, a cad named Danesford, drunkenly describe his experiences in the country. He's not very complimentary: "the back-veld Boer bathes only for baptism, marriage and burial. He has no notions about sanitation and often uses his bedroom as a latrine."

    This did not go down at all well, especially when it got out that 'Wilfred' was in fact living in South Africa. Once his identity was uncovered, Lamont was kidnapped by some furious students. As Frederick Hale's fascinating paper on the case details:

    "Near the edge of the veld, the four young men ordered him to walk into an open garage, where they removed his clothing and placed a bathing costume on his otherwise almost naked body. They then coated much of his skin with grease, ripped open a pillow, and spread on him the feathers which it had contained. The muggers completed their attack by placing around Lamont's neck a placard identifying him in both Afrikaans and English as the author of War, Wine and Women, depositing him on Church Square in central Pretoria, and informing him that he could retrieve his clothing at Turkstra's Tea Room."

    Lamont was ultimately hounded out of the country, much to the approval of the local press, as this contemporary cartoon from Die Burger shows:

    Not the background I was expecting to find (after some pretty deep googling) when I thought I'd leaf through a book on the Great War.

    Still, the book certainly has its merits, and doesn't deserve to completely fall between the cracks of history. I'll leave the last word to Arnold D. Harvey, as I think he hits the nail on the head:

    "War, Wine and Women must be regarded as a successfully calculated piece of book-making — one that brought its own poetic retribution in the failure of Lamont's later books to meet his expectations — and as such presumably related more to the author's assessment of what readers expected than to personal agonies that needed to be exorcized. And yet the author was in the war, and though not killed, or like his protagonist, mutilated, the war presumably made as a big a hole in his life as it did in the lives of other participants. War, Wine and Women may be tosh, but it is still an ex-soldier's attempt to salvage some sort of literary statement from what he had lived through."

    Sunday 3 August 2014

    A Feast of Philip José Farmer

    A shelfload of vintage paperbacks by Philip José Farmer came in this week, with a selection of titles from most areas of his work: the 'mainstream' sci-fi fantasy of the Riverworld series, the early literary mash-ups of his 'Wold Newton' books – combining historical and fictional characters into a massive conspiracy melange long before the likes of Alan Moore and Kim Newman did it (though to be fair they did tip their hats to Farmer) – to novels which can only really be described as full-on extreme weirdo erotica. Strangely enough, it's some of those latter ones which have already sold...

    One of the 'classic' characters Farmer played with in fiction is Doc Savage. His novel Escape From Loki, a paperback original from 1991 (now out of print and increasingly scarce) is billed on the front cover as 'the first all-new Doc Savage adventure since 1949!' Not quite true, as from 1969 onwards Farmer wrote several books featuring the thinly disguised 'Doc Caliban'. Given that these novels, beginning with A Feast Unknown, feature industrial sized doses of X-rated goings-on, it's amazing that Farmer was later invited to write an 'approved' version of the character by Doc Savage's rights holders. (He also wrote the 'biography' Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life.) Caliban's half-brother 'Lord Grandrith' is another thinly disguised pulp character, and it's even more amazing, considering the tight hold that the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate keeps over their creation, that Farmer also wrote a licensed Tarzan novel.

    Here's a selection of the covers. Included below is art by some real greats, including Boris Vallejo, Howard Chaykin and one painted by Jim Burns, who was obviously a *really* big fan of the young Sigourney Weaver...