From Captain Nice to murder she wrote

Get Smart co-creator and serial overachiever, Buck Henry, was Oscar-nominated for writing credits on The Graduate, directed the Academy Award winning Heaven Can Wait and acted in over 60 films and television series including The Man Who Fell to Earth, Catch-22 and 30 Rock.

Buck Henry autograph

Henry was also the creator of an obscure 1960s comedy series that rode the camp superhero wave established at the time by Batman.

Only 15 episodes were made of the curio known as Captain Nice, but its behind-the-scenes story is an extraordinary one.

captain nice pjs

The premise of the show involved police chemist Carter Nash (played by William Daniels, who also voiced KITT in the 1980s series Knight Rider), a mild-mannered mummy’s boy who discovers a super serum that allows him to fight crime in an outfit resembling a onesie whipped up by Stephen Hawking.

The real star though was Carter’s would-be girlfriend in the police department, meter maid Sgt Candy Kane, played by Paula Prentiss’ younger sister Ann.

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In what was an otherwise pretty vapid, albeit masterfully written, show Ann’s portrayal of Kane was a palpable pressure cooker of unrequited desire for Nash that bristled so manifestly it bordered on improper.

Prentiss was a tour de force in a tour de farce.

Sgt Kane was a go-getter with a level of sexual confidence that Barbara Feldon could only dream of, making Agent 99 sound to me like an exasperated, whining cheerleader by comparison.

Kane

Ann appears 4:20

With the benefit of hindsight, the intensity Prentiss brought to her role goes some way to explaining how she ended her days in a Santa Monica prison serving 19 years for two attempted murders.

That they were directed at her 86 year-old father along with her brother-in-law, the esteemed actor and director Richard Benjamin (married to Paula), only made it more riveting.

Paula and Benjamin

Ann’s sister Paula and husband Richard Benjamin

Before she died in 2010, I wrote to Ann Prentiss in prison. Her long sentence was perplexing to me given that ultimately nobody was hurt and that the courts also noted Ann was suffering from severe mental problems at the time of the attempts.  Alas, little of the detail is to be found online and not entirely surprisingly, I never heard back from Prentiss.

Regardless, I wanted her to know that I was a fan of her largely unheralded acting turn as Sgt Candy Kane.

Who knows what Buck Henry made of it. He was never on record as saying. But I still like to think of Ann Prentiss as a class act … even if it was only within the confines of Captain Nice’s hilariously wobbly sets.

ann prentiss head shot

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If You Are the One … and only

Up to 50 million Chinese regularly tune into the country’s most popular dating show, If You Are the One (Fei Cheng Wu Rao), 非誠勿擾, or by its literal translation ‘If not sincere, then do not disturb.’

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And therein lies the fascination for Western audiences in gaining greater insight into Chinese popular culture.

While the excessively blinged-out chrome set looks like Fountain Gate shopping mall crossed with a Hillsong Rock Spectacular, its scratch-the-surface-get-more-surface appearance and absurd sound effects, epileptic lighting and biliously mawkish 90s pop can be somewhat deceiving.

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Because whether it’s the lone male suitor doing his best to impress the panel or the 24 single women registering their interest or otherwise at their personal podium, none seems the slightest bit inclined to sugar-coat their responses.

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As a female contestant famously retorted to a smitten bachelor who suggested they go on a bike ride, “I’d rather cry in a BMW than laugh on the back of a bicycle.”

In its earliest incarnation around 2010, If You Are The One’s young professional contestants became increasingly obsessed with annual earnings and material possessions.  One male contestant even went so far as to present his bank statements to the audience.

It was around this point that officials from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television stepped in to regulate the show, claiming it was spreading the wrong values and in so doing curbed all references to financial wealth and sex.  Regardless of The Party’s efforts towards the taming of the shrewd, If You Are the One remains one of the country’s most popular shows, with contestants enjoying fame and on occasions infamy as a result of their one-off appearances.

plastic bags

Curiously there is also an Australian connection. The show was based on the presciently named Taken Out, which was axed by Network Ten in 2008 after just a month, only to have its format re-imagined and successfully exported to 19 countries including China.

Before Taken Out was, er, taken out.

Before Taken Out was, er, taken out.

The irony is that it bombed in Australia because it was deemed thimble-deep in terms of character and plot development.  Instead Australian audiences have chosen to delude themselves that The Bachelor, Beauty and the Geek and The Farmer Wants a Wife deliver greater depth and gravitas.  So it’s intriguing that what was dismissed as too low brow for Australians is in truth far more sincere, transparent and insightful than any of the televisual navel fluff we choose to pick over here.

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If You Are the One is both a juggernaut and a genuine conundrum; populist life writ large while simultaneously charming and strangely modest.

Perfect matches don’t occur too frequently, with the male suitors more often than not leaving empty-handed. Yet when a coupling does eventuate, the grand prize is usually no more than a pair of shoes.

One custom made shoes

And for losing males, If You Are the One’s equivalent of the diamond-set memento is to have his email address splashed onscreen at the end of the show.

As avid watcher Jonathan Rowbotham noted ‘It’s macabre, scary, awkward, touching, trite, profound and the best introduction to modern Chinese culture ever. I think the clincher for me is the way it can transform from the trite and shallow to soft and profound in a nanosecond.’

Amen, Jonathan.

If You Are the One (SBS2, 6.30pm most nights)

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This post is dedicated to Jonathan Rowbotham, who regularly read my blog and suggested this show as a subject for it.  ‘If you haven’t seen it and you like The Shaggs and Jan Terri, then I think you’ll like this.’  Indeed I do. Thank you and goodnight.

The Meaning of Life, Larf AND Liff

Less known about Douglas Adams, the creator of the seminal Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, is that Richard Dawkins dedicated his treatise The God Delusion to him and that Adams made two brief appearances in the fourth series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Adams does Python

Adams does Python

Also hiding in the gargantuan literary shadow of Hitchhiker’s is a little handbook and dictionary of sorts called The Meaning of Liff, which Adams co-authored with John Lloyd in 1983.

Meaning of Liff book

The book which, incidentally, was in large part the inspiration for my blog’s name, also has a connection with the film,The Meaning of Life.  Hardcore Python fans will recall that the opening sequence of the gravestone reads Liff before the lightning bolt strikes the final F and converts it to an E.

Lloyd himself is an intriguing character who, oddly enough, I inadvertently struck up an email exchange with last year on a business-related matter.  At the time I had no idea that he was also the creator of QI and wrote for Not the Nine O’Clock News, Black Adder and was part of the winning Trinity College team in 2011’s University Challenge.  Never mind that he collaborated with Adams on Hitchhiker’s and The Meaning of Liff.

John Lloyd

John Lloyd

How I came to be in contact with Lloyd is another story for another time, but suffice to say I was over the moon when I realised that I was corresponding with the man whose name lay alongside Adams’ on the cover of one of my favourite books.

I love The Meaning Of Liff for its fine balance of practical intent coupled with absurd realisation.

Simply put it is a dictionary of things that there aren’t any words for yet. Rather than inventing new words though, Adams and Lloyd thought they’d make existing place names work harder for their keep by assigning them new definitions because the words were already recognisable entities without as such having any sense or meaning attached to them.

The book’s forward says it best:

In Life* there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognise, but for which no words exist.

On the other hand, the world is littered with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places.

Our job, as we see it, is to get these words down off the signposts and into the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep in everyday conversation and make a more positive contribution to society.

Douglas Adams & John Lloyd

*and indeed Liff

Liff itself is a small village near Dundee in Scotland and is repurposed to mean: A book, the contents of which are totally belied by its cover. For instance, any book the dust jacket of which bears the words ‘This book will change your life’. Nice.

Some of my other favourites?

Beccles The small bone buttons placed in bacon sandwiches by unemployed guerrilla dentists.

Barstibley A humorous device such as a china horse or small naked porcelain infant which jocular hosts use to piss water into your Scotch with.

Gastard Useful specially new-coined word for an illegitimate child (in order to distinguish it from someone who merely carves you up on the motorway, etc).

Malibu The height by which the top of a wave exceeds the height to which you have rolled up your trousers.

Nazeing The rather unconvincing noises of pretended interest an adult has to make when brought a small dull object for admiration by a child.

Neen Sollars Any ensemble of especially unflattering and peculiar garments worn by a woman which tell you that she is right at the forefront of fashion.

Skibbern Noise made by a sunburned thigh leaving a plastic chair.

Spofforth To tidy up a room before the cleaning lady arrives.

Vobster A strain of perfectly healthy rodent which develops cancer the moment it enters a laboratory.

Whaplode Drove A homicidal golf stroke.

Whasset A business card in your wallet belonging to someone you have no recollection of meeting.

Happily Australia makes the briefest of appearances thanks to the entry for Yeppoon:  One of the hat-hanging corks which Australians wear for making Qantas commercials.

My mother has always said that if you’re struggling to find a present for the person who had everything, a back scratcher is the solution.  Wise words though they may be, I’d prefer to tickle my friends’ funny bones with a copy of The Meaning of Liff any old day.

The Del Rubio Triplets; 3 gals, 3 guitars, 1 birthday

Some 20 years ago, my friends Julie, Mandy, Alison and I scaled three flights up Sydney’s Kinselas nightclub to witness the platinum-bouffanted, leggy septuagenarian guitar goddesses, the Del Rubio Triplets in action.

Del Rubio 1

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Their insanely campy, goofy and sugar-coated rendition of Devo’s Whip It! was just one of the drawcards, along with a rolled gold repertoire of 1,000+ songs that included The Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’, The Bangles’ ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ and The Pet Shop Boys’ ‘What Have I Done to Deserve This?’.

We bathed in the aura of their sublime sequinned splendour that evening while simultaneously getting rinsed on a heady cocktail of high-octane anticipation mixed with unbridled exuberance at the prospect of seeing the triplets up close and personal for the first (and as it turned out only) time.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more curious act than the Del Rubio Triplets, so it’s not exactly surprising that their unique brand of sass actually masked a veritable mass of contradictions.

del rubio babies

Eadie, Elena and Mildred Boyd, born just 15 minutes apart on August 23 1921 in the Panama Canal zone, remained inseparable throughout their lives and never married.  A friend called them ‘completely dysfunctional without each other’. In fact, according to Milly, they would tell would-be suitors “First comes God, second comes our sisters, third comes our music. You’ll have to wait in line!”.  Evidently the queue never progressed much, if at all.

Del Rubio young 4In their youth, the Del Rubio’s found a modicum of fame via Bob Hope and his 1950s nightclub circuit, and were renowned for their flashy low-cut, thigh-high costumes. Yet they eschewed a crack at real celebrity, the glittering lifestyle of the entertainment world and all its rich trappings for a quiet life away from the glare of stardom in a three bedroom mobile home in San Pedro that they shared for decades until Eadie’s death in 1996.

del rubio holiday inn

They also never made much of a fuss of the fact that their great uncle was American president Woodrow Wilson, and their low-key off-stage demeanour only hinted at their devout Catholicism.

The triplets with their great aunt, the First Lady.

The triplets with their great aunt, the First Lady.

Yet for all the conservatism, when they were rediscovered in the mid 1980s by Grammy Award winning songwriter Allee ‘Neutron Dance’ Willis, they opted for low-cut leotards, miniskirts, gaudy blue eye shadow and go-go boots in appearances on everything from Married … With Children, Pee Wee’s Playhouse, Night Court, The Golden Girls and a McDonald’s television commercial.

Married ... With Children

Married … With Children

Their Sydney performance was riotous fun and our locust-like descent on the merchandising stand after the show was testament to it. So by the time Eadie, Elena and Mildred emerged from behind the curtains and we found ourselves chatting with them, we were all precariously close to synchronised spontaneous combustion.

Jules, Luce, Al and Mand get a triple treat.

Jules, Luce, Al and Mand get a triple treat.

But there was more high drama to come.  In all the excitement I momentarily lost my balance and nearly crash-landed onto a guitar which had been left lying on the floor behind us.  One of the finest moments of my life unfolded then and there; a night which might otherwise have unravelled in the most horrific way.  Somehow I managed to execute a commando roll away from the instrument mid flight and I will go to my grave thanking the Flying Spaghetti Monster for it, given that those guitars were their very first; three identical Martin models presented to the girls by their beloved father in their childhood, which the Del Rubio’s continued to play throughout their 50+ year career until their very last performance.

I put the trip into the triplets that night.  I’m just mightily relieved they didn’t have to rename their act, 3 gals, 2 guitars, 1 birthday, on my account.

Sydney’s Grotta Capri – the Restaurant at the End of the Universe

In the suburban wasteland of my youth, the scorching sun bleached dog poo to a whiter shade of pale on bitumen of black lava and mournful sounds of punters losing their crumpled notes at the nearby racecourse wafted pointlessly across west-facing shopfronts with half closed blinds, as if the windows’ eyes were cast downward in shame.

Amidst this soulless, stultifying stillness stood the preposterous oasis that was the Grotta Capri restaurant.

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I hated growing up in Kensington as passionately as I loved the Grotta Capri, often wondering how a suburb as unprepossessing as mine could be worthy of such grandeur.  It was as if a meteorite with a Rococo pop sensibility had crash landed on Planet Banality; a folly of shell-studded stalactites, fish tanks, Tyrrhenian trompe l’oeil awash with blue light and, in its early days at least, waterways complete with sound effects running beneath illuminated Perspex underfoot.

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Grotta exterior good

That it was a restaurant was largely peripheral to proceedings.  The plastic sleeve was the tastiest thing on the menu and most of what got served up looked like crumbed cocker spaniel anyway.  

Of far greater note were the cocktails.  For reasons which remained unclear, there was an over-reliance on Advocaat in most of the recipes, making for a frothy tipple that just about scrambled itself on the way down.  Quite handy then that the accompanying mermaid and dolphin-themed plastic swizzle sticks, glowing like uranium under the black light, could be used to fish out the coagulated egg swinging from your epiglottis like Miley Cyrus.

If that didn’t make for enough high weirdness, the tables were occupied by SP bookies with bad rugs and polyester slacks that crackled with static, accompanied by their dubious, er, business associates from the neighbouring racetrack – the sort of people who put the ‘colourful’ into ‘racing identity’.

Grotta Capri filming Underbelly in 2011

The Grotta Capri played host to both the famous and infamous, featured in the Australian film favourite Muriel’s Wedding and television series Underbelly, and it was with utter delight that as an adult I also got to accompany Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for dinner when they were on tour, not so much for the name-dropportunity but to witness how comprehensively perplexed and uncomfortable they appeared to be amongst all that hideous fabulousness.

I shed a salty tear or two in 2010 when the Grotta Capri closed after 60 years. While Giovanni Battista’s ode to the life aquatic might have been made out of chicken wire and cement, it played a distinguished role for me in nourishing the vivid imagination of a small child in what was otherwise a vapid suburban commuter belt of antimatter.

grotta exterior night

I’m just sorry Douglas Adams never made it to the Grotta Capri because if nothing else, its Advocaat-crash cocktails would have given the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster a run for its money any old day.

(Ps. So long and thanks for all the Fishermen’s Baskets)

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5 reasons why Virgil Tracy is my dream guy

With a veritable smorgasbord of strapping male eye candy on display, any hot-blooded 5 year old girl worth her salt would find something to swoon over at 6am most weekends while glued to Gerry Anderson’s 1960s Supermarionation tv series, The Thunderbirds.

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The line-up of talent

The five Tracy men; Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John, played distinct roles in their piloting of International Rescue’s squadron and equally, they had distinct personalities and interests.  They were all fine upstanding men and any one of them would cut the mustard with your mother too.

But here’s why, counting backwards from five (is there any other way?) Virgil Tracy is the only one for me.

5 countdown

F.A.B is their all-important clarion call and Virgil was the first one to utter it in The Thunderbirds’ very first episode.

4 countdown

Virgil was principal pilot of Thunderbird 2, the coolest, best loved and most versatile vehicle with its interchangeable pods.

Tbird2 pod

The versatile TB2

Tbird 2 pods

And its pods

3 countdown

If Tracy Island had a Renaissance man, then Virgil was the guy, equally skilled as an artist as well as a brilliant concert pianist.

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Virgil on piano … dreamy!

What about Scott?  Too Alpha Male for me.  John? Too solitary in his star-gazing pursuits. Gordon? A tad tepid, despite his aquatic skills and as for Alan? Skittish and at times a bit of a petulant dolt (besides which, Tin Tin already had him by the strings).

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Alan, Tin TIn, Jeff and Brains

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Alan with Lady Penelope

2 Countdown.

Call me old fashioned, but as a card-carrying pacifist, I’m impressed by the fact that Virgil didn’t actually kill anyone … unlike Scott, Gordon and Alan!

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Scott and Gordon packing heat

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If that weren’t enough, Virgil shares my dad’s birthday – August 15th, albeit some 100 years later.

Virgil pilot

Virgil piloting Thunderbird 2

While Scott Tracy was mooted to be modelled on Sean Connery, it was Virgil’s more refined looks, rich, deep voice and rounded vowels that made me giddy, along with his penchant for the odd drop of Pernod while in gay Paris.

Where Virgil’s concerned, thundering hearts are go and SuperMARRYonation was MY dream … no strings attached.

Jon Gnarr – world’s coolest politician

When your mayor is a former punk bass player, chooses to protest the incarceration of Russia’s Pussy Riot by riding on top of a van wearing a pink dress and balaclava and calls those in France protesting the gay marriage bill ‘assholes’, you can only hope that Iceland’s Jon Gnarr is also running a finishing school for would-be politicians.

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Gnarr in drag for Gay Pride

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While Gnarr’s roots may be in comedy as he rightly points out, ‘Just because something is funny doesn’t mean it also can’t be serious’ and his bio serves up exactly that as a veritable gumbo of travails and triumphs.

Misdiagnosed with severe mental retardation at the age of five and treated in a psych ward in his formative years, Jon determined at the age of 11 that school was of absolutely no consequence to his intended future as a circus clown or pirate and essentially went on strike, refusing to learn anything further.

By 13 he’d joined Reykjavik’s punk scene, graduated to vocals and playing bass with The Dripping Noses, and along the way becoming pretty tight with members of Bjork’s early band The Sugarcubes.

By the 90s he’d swung into comedy radio, tv and film writing, a stint as creative director at Icelandic ad agency EnnEmm and then starred as a bad-tempered Marxist in his hit television series Night Shift, Day Shift and the final installment Prison Shift.  Having had the rare privilege of watching all three series I can vouch for it being some of the best television comedy I’ve ever seen.

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Gnarr – far left in his series, Day Shift.

Gnarr’s foray into politics in 2009 was driven in equal parts by satire and an unsettled country upended by a financial crisis, political cronyism and  four old parties that had dominated Iceland’s political scene since the 1930s but no-one was more surprised than Jon when Gnarrs’ Best Party won comprehensively on what was essentially a comedy ticket.

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The Best Party’s logo

The Best Party’s election campaign included:

  • To improve the quality of life of the Less Fortunate: We want the best of everything for this bunch and therefore offer free access to buses and swimming pools so you can travel around Reykjavik and be clean even if you’re poor or there’s something wrong with you.
  • We promise to stop corruption. We’ll accomplish this by participating in it openly.
  • Cancel all debts.
  • Take those responsible for the economic collapse to court: Felt we had to include this.
  • Listen more to women and old people: This bunch gets listened to far too little. It’s as if everyone thinks they are just complaining or something. We’re going to change that!

Upon being elected, Gnarr announced that he would not enter a coalition government with anyone who had not watched the HBO series ‘The Wire’, he posted a video holiday greeting wearing a Darth Vader outfit and regularly posts memes to his official Facebook page.

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Two words Jon …. Totally Gnarrly.

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Abbott loses to Australia’s Prince Leonard

From Abbott rut to the State of Hutt

5 million+ Australian Labor voters awoke today with a bone-crushingly retrograde hangover thanks to a night drowning in embalming fluid followed by salt rubbed in the wounds and a squirt of lemon in the eye, otherwise known in the bar trade as a Lib Sip Sucks.

Forlorn and disenfranchised, lefties have since been posting and tweeting in droves from their sick beds, simultaneously petitioning against Murdoch and renouncing their citizenship (oh, the delicious irony) while entertaining migration to more progressive co-ordinates such as Middle Earth. And yes, I’ve been one of them.

But really … where to now that we’ve been hoisted by our own retards? How do we exit stage right without abandoning what’s left of a country we still love?

The answer, comrades, is both home AND away.

Australia’s Principality of Hutt River, 517kms north of Perth, was recognised as an independent sovereign state some thirty years ago and has been doing quite nicely ever since.

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The Principality of Hutt River’s coat of arms.

Leonard George Casley, a former mathematician and physicist who worked for NASA in the 1950s and owned a West Australian wheat farm, railed against the draconian production quotas imposed by the government by taking the rather lateral and adventurous step of proclaiming his farm’s secession from WA, anointing himself Prince Leonard and in doing so fairly comprehensively sticking it up the establishment in a multitude of ways.

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HRH Prince Leonard and his faithful consort, the late Princess Shirley.

GrandDuchy.org

As showcased on the GrandDuchy.org website

In an equally impressive case of slackarsedness, the Federal Government failed to submit a formal objection to Casley’s claim in time (two years no less) and so the Principality of Hutt River (PHR) was granted de facto autonomy on 21st April 1972 and recognised as a micro nation internationally from thereon in.

PHR currency, trading at 1:1 with the Australian dollar

PHR currency, trading at 1:1 with the Australian dollar

In the ensuing decades PHR has continued to impress on a number of levels:

  • While only accommodating 23 permanent residents, its principality boasts 14,000 worldwide citizens.
  • Prince Leonard has conferred commissions upon those who have been great supporters; most intriguingly the bestowal of naval commissions, even though the principality is completely landlocked.
  • Registering companies is encouraged; the government-accredited Filipino online university, St Linus, was one of the first.
  • Hong Kong officially recognised PHR in 2012.
  • PHR’s national anthem is the stirring ‘It’s a Hard Land’. Popular Australian band Rose Tattoo is rumoured to be considering recording a version of it.

On a sadder note, Prince Leonard’s long time consort Her Royal Highness Princess Shirley, passed away at the age of 85 earlier this year and accordingly the principality was plunged into a 12 day state of mourning with flags flying at half mast and camping and overnight visits cancelled until further notice.

Prince Leonard working hard for the money at PHR's post office

Prince Leonard working hard for the money at PHR’s post office

While a massive blow to the principality and its monarch, Leonard, like grieving voters, must also look to the future.

So with maximum respect to Princess Shirley’s memory, may I nonetheless suggest that in good time Prince Leonard entertain the idea of starring in a spin-off TV series called ‘The Farmer Crowns a Wife’?

But I digress. This is a rally cry to those who have collapsed under the weight of an election where the best option we could entertain was the least worst and a choice with nothing to rejoice about.

The Principality of Hutt River however provides some much needed light. Dum Spiro Spero may sound like a hapless Greek greengrocer, but PHR’s motto translates as ‘While I breathe there is hope’.

And isn’t hope what we’re all seeking right about now?

After all, the future looks increasingly bright for those seeking an alternative Australia when the authorities are on record as saying ‘The Australian Government tends not to interfere with The Principality of Hutt River.’

So pack your bags and leave the country without having to go anywhere. Prince Leonard and his micro nation await you and your half full glass of reignited optimism.

That’s one nation that gets my enthusiastic vote.

PHR passport

Don’t forget your toothbrush.