Saturday, 30 April 2016

"What are the 39 Steps?!"

Good day, everyone! Apologies for the month-long radio silence; once again time seems to have flown by, aided and abetted by many different things good and bad (among the good being another article for In Retrospect magazine, due out at the end of May!).

Another bit of good fun that I attended a few weeks ago was a performance of the long-running theatrical comedy version of the classic Hitchcock film The 39 Steps, which is currently on tour around the country and which was being put on at my local theatre, The Palace in Westcliff-on-sea.


This charming 104-year-old theatre has been through its own share of ups and downs over the years and is perfectly suited to this kind of production - indeed the age and design of the place only added to the enjoyment, in my opinion.

Now I must have been the last chap in the country with an interest in vintage to have seen this play (since it's been on at The Criterion in Piccadilly Circus for 10 years) but, on the off-chance that I'm not and you have no idea what I'm going on about, The 39 Steps is based on the 1935 film adaptation of the John Buchan book of the same name, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll.  Rewritten as a comedy, much of the amusement comes from the fact that all the characters - including the extras - are played by only 4 (yes, that's right, four!) actors.  This naturally means a lot of quick-change action, both in characters and sets, which only adds to the comedy.

A smaller, more intimate theatre certainly seems to benefit the production as well, with the cast making good use of the balconies and even though I was towards the back I still felt quite close to the action.  Although as I mentioned I have not been to the show's home at The Criterion Theatre it looks to be one of the smaller West End venues and I don't doubt that that has been one of the reasons for its success as it would probably lose something of its tightness on a bigger stage.


That very tightness was in full display on the Saturday afternoon I went to see it, however.  Even though it was the penultimate performance of a seven-day run - and a matinée to boot - the actors all seemed full of pep and vigour and consequently their performances felt very fresh and accomplished.  Of course everything was slight exaggerated for comic effect but it never went too far and there was no whiff of ham to be found.  Richard Ede played the part of Richard Hannay very much in his own way - and successfully too - with the odd nod to Robert Donat and just the right level of humorous chappishness.


The sets, such as they were, were also excellently done and again managed to capture the essence of the storyline without ever hampering the pace of it - in fact a lot of the time it was quite the opposite as the removal of props and setpieces was often integrated into the action with hilarious results!  Likewise the occasions that required a quick change by one or more of the actors were accomplished with aplomb, very cleverly and funnily.


Naturally one of the big attractions is the costumes and here again the show comes up trumps.  The three-piece suit Hannay was wearing in the performance I saw was even better than the one in these pictures - a wonderful oatmeal check that came very close to how I imagine Robert Donat's suit was in colour and style, topped off by a splendid pair of brown brogues.  It's nice for us chaps to have a bit of clothing envy now and then too, you know!


The actress who played Annabella Smith/ Pamela has her own share of costumes too, of course - very close to those originally worn in the film I'm pleased to say - especially that famous double-pointed, bow-tie-fronted blue(?) and white dress.  Have a compare between the two, ladies, and tell me what you think!



The whole thing builds up to a suitably climactic finish, with a healthy dose of silliness thrown in, and all in all it was a most enjoyable afternoon with the play fully living up to my expectations.  It stuck more or less completely to the plot of the 1935 film and was all the better for it.  I was pleased to note that some of the lines delivered verbatim from the original Hitchcock script got as many laughs as the action and the whole thing had the feel of a production that had been made with due reverence to the source but with a clever and witty rewrite that in some ways helped bring to the fore some of Hitchcock's more humorous touches in the film.


And speaking of which, this post wouldn't be complete without a couple of stills of the hero - and heroine! - in that wonderful film which inspired the play.  In case you have never seen The 39 Steps ("what's the matter with you?!", I would ask) or just want to refresh your memory of it, thanks to the wonders of modern science it is currently available to view in its entirety on YouTube.  But of course, I expect you all to have it on DVD like any sensible cove. In fact I'm off to watch mine now and admire Robert Donat and his splendid houndstooth check suit.



***The 39 Steps is continuing on tour until 2nd July 2016 and will be playing at these venues***

Monday, 28 March 2016

(Belated) Easter Greetings

Better late then never, may I wish a

Happy Easter

to all my readers, followers and visitors.  Here's looking forward to a wonderful Spring (once the weather's calmed down a bit). 

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Spitfire flight over Southampton marks 80th anniversary

Spitfire flight over Southampton marks 80th anniversary

Can it really have been five years since I last wrote about the anniversary of the Supermarine Spitfire's first flight?!  Well, here we are again, and now even more unbelievably this beautiful and historic aircraft - perhaps the greatest aeroplane ever built - is an incredible 80 years old.

To celebrate this remarkable milestone two Spitfires have once again performed flypasts over the Solent on the Hampshire coastline, taking in all the sites that played a part in this fantastic machine's conception - the former Supermarine factory in Southampton where the Spitfire was designed and built, Southampton Aerodrome from which the prototype K5054 took off on that March day eight decades ago, and the grave of its creator, R.J. Mitchell.  

It would be going over old ground for me to tell (briefly) the story of the Spitfire's conception, so suffice it to say it's good to see this anniversary marked and the reverence in which this aircraft is still held.  One would have hoped for slightly more in the way of celebration perhaps, but maybe we'll have to wait for the 90th or 100th anniversaries to see something really special.  With luck we'll see these and many more; let's hope that the 50-odd airworthy examples will continue to be so for decades to come - the ultimate testament to this glorious piece of aviation design.

Now I'm off to watch First Of The Few!

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Tracey Curtis-Taylor finishes UK to Australia biplane flight

"Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana" (as the late, great Sir Terry Wogan once said) and once again time has indeed flown by - like an arrow, if not like a banana - since my last post on here.  You can't keep a good blogger down, though, so here I am again with a news item from last month featuring a wonderful lady adventurer who this blogger greatly admires.

Tracey Curtis-Taylor finishes UK to Australia biplane flight 

I've featured the adventures of modern-day aviatrix Tracey Curtis-Taylor on this blog before, specifically when she set out a couple of years ago in her 1942 Boeing Stearman biplane to retrace the route taken by the pioneer female pilot Lady Mary Heath from England to Cape Town, South Africa in 1928.  That journey was subsequently made into a B.B.C. documentary and jolly fascinating it was too.

Towards the end of last year Ms Curtis-Taylor undertook a new challenge - to follow the same route Amy Johnson took on her famous England-Australia flight of 1930.  In the same Stearman biplane as before Ms Curtis-Taylor took off from Farnborough in Hampshire in October to make the 14,000-mile journey across Europe, the Middle East, India, South-East Asia and Australia, just as Amy Johnson had done more than 80 years previously.

As the above article explains, Ms Curtis-Taylor landed at Sydney airport on the 9th January, thereby completing this massive trek and following in the slipstream of one of her inspirations and a proper heroine.   Tracey Curtis-Taylor is both of these as well, not only for her remarkable recreations of historic endurance flights but also for helping to keep the memory of these early aviatrices alive today, not to mention her involvement in encouraging more young women into the field of mechanical engineering.


Tracey Curtis-Taylor mentions "not wanting to stop [flying]" in the above clip and the good news is she that she isn't intending to any time soon.  That report briefly mentions the shipping of her aeroplane to Seattle for Boeing's centenary celebrations next year, but before that Ms Curtis-Taylor has stated her intention to fly her biplane across the breadth of the United States as her next adventure and I for one can't wait to follow her progress on this new feat of endurance, continuing to emulate the pioneer women pilots of the early 20th century.  Congratulations, Ms Curtis-Taylor, and the best of luck on your next endeavour!

**Further good news in relation to this story is that the B.B.C. will be broadcasting another documentary later this year following Tracey Curtis-Taylor's England-Australia flight.  No details have been released as yet but expect it to be shown on one of the main B.B.C. channels some time in the Spring.**

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Flying Scotsman: Famous engine back on tracks

Flying Scotsman: Famous engine back on tracks

It's not very often that we're prepared to wait ten years for a train to arrive, but when that train is pulled by a world-famous record-breaking steam locomotive then it becomes another matter entirely!

Yes, this is the welcome news of the much-anticipated return of the LNER Class A3 4472 Flying Scotsman steam engine to mainline passenger-carrying service following a ten-year, £4.2 million restoration.

Such rebuilds (and new builds) are always gratifying but in the case of the Scotsman there is an extra level of excitement at its return, due no doubt to the way it has captured the nation's imagination ever since its unveiling in 1924 at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley, London.  In the intervening 92 years it has cemented its reputation as one of the most well-known steam engines in the world and is rightly celebrated as an ultimate example of British engineering at its best.  Having been the first locomotive to travel non-stop from London to Edinburgh in 1928 (hauling the service from which it took its name) and the first to break the 100mph barrier in 1934 the Scotsman earned a place in our island story from almost the beginning of its career.

It was this fame and affection that saved it from the scrapheap in 1963 when it was bought by businessman and railway enthusiast Alan Pegler, restored at Doncaster and then sent on an international tour to the United States and Australia.  Subsequent owners William McAlpine and Tony Marchington did their bit to keep the Scotsman in steam and in the hearts and minds of people around the world until 2004 when it was finally acquired by the National Railway Museum in York.


Complete restoration followed in 2006 with the aim of returning Scotsman to as near original condition as possible and at the same time renewing its boiler certification, but unforeseen problems pushed the initial 2010 completion date back to late 2015.  Complete with a new boiler - the only original A3 Class boiler in existence, in fact, replacing the later A4 Class type that Scotsman had used since an early 1980s refit - the famous engine finally moved under its own power for the first time in ten years for test runs on the East Lancashire Railway on the 8th January.

In Pictures: Flying Scotsman returns to tracks for tests

Barring a few small issues with the brakes these tests have been largely successful and the Flying Scotsman is due to make its triumphant return to the main line in early February on an inaugural run from  London to York, following a spiffing new British Rail green paint job.  Understandably tickets for these initial runs have all been snapped up within hours of going on sale but there will of course be the chance to see the Scotsman in all its glory at the NRM and hopefully any later London runs will not be booked up.  With any luck she may even embark on another national tour - either way it would certainly be something to travel on such an historic train.  Here's hoping, and in the meantime a hearty "welcome back!" to this much-loved engine.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Wishing You A Sweet '16

And "Your Good Health!" For 2016
All My Visitors, Readers & Followers

Thursday, 31 December 2015

A very belated "Hello", a slightly belated "Merry Christmas" and a not-quite-belated Happy New Year

Well hello, hello! and once again a thousand apologies for letting this blog lie dormant for over 2 months.  I wouldn't blame you if you thought I'd dropped off the edge the Earth; the truth, however, is more boring than that - I simply haven't been able to find the time, nor for that matter anything much of a vintage bent to blog about (although you can still read my writings in In Retrospect magazine - subscribe today!).  I have to say it's been a very busy time for me work-wise (although as I've said before that's really no excuse) and the daily news since October seems to have been bereft of vintage interest.

However, now it's Christmastime (still, just!) and 2016 looms large!  I hope to do better than the measly thirteen posts I've managed this whole year just gone and although you're probably all fed up with me saying this, I promise Eclectic Ephemera will continue.  So, without further ado -

Christmas presents!

Christmas this year was again a quiet one, spent with the folks and sadly not featuring either of my sisters since one of them came down with a tummy bug on the day itself (although she's over it now, I'm told).  Better luck next year, eh?!

The folks' and my presents gathered around the, erm, coffee table. 
No traditional tree for them this year for reasons I won't bore you with.

As an aside I'm delighted to tell you that this post is the first to feature photographs taken on my new digital camera!!  Yes, after over 10 years of somehow managing on a 3 megapixel, 3x zoom Nikon Coolpix that has been outclassed by most mobiles since at least 2007 I finally got around to upgrading to something better (just as everyone else has made the switch to camera phones and Instagram) - a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90 for any of you camera buffs out there.  Still, I'm nothing if not old-fashioned and have been delighted with my choice; so from now on any photos on here that were taken by me will be in glorious high-definition whereby you will actually be able to see the subject matter without squinting.  As an example, here's a robin which with the old camera would have appeared as a small dot in the centre of the picture:

As you can probably tell, I'm still learning the intricacies of this new box-brownie!

As befits a small family Christmas the presents were high in quality rather than quantity.  As such I've augmented them in the following daguerreotypes with other things that were either treats to myself in the run up to the festivities or items purchased in the subsequent sales (hot off the shelves today, in fact!).

I am, and always have been, a terrible bibliophile.  I admit it, I love books.  This would be less of a problem if I had a place to store them all (something I hope to rectify in 2016) but it doesn't stop me from buying or requesting more!  This Christmas was no exception, with books including The Complete Saki (if you don't know of H.H. Munro, or Saki as his pen-name was, I advise you to search out his works for he wrote in much the same vein as Oscar Wilde and P.G. Wodehouse - and indeed bridged the gap between the two era-wise until his untimely death in the First World War), The Treasures of Noël Coward; also a delightful little book detailing the on-screen adventures of those two archetypal British chaps Charters and Caldicott and an hilarious spoof 19th century cricket compendium entitled W.G. Grace Ate My Pedalo.

The book is laugh-out-loud funny and can easily be enjoyed by even those with just a passing interest in the game; it's very much in the same vein as The Chap magazine and books.

Then of course there's the almost mandatory calendar - or in this case calendars.  Featuring steam trains, naturally!  One for home, the other for the office, and both come with matching diaries - now there's really no excuse for me to miss any appointments!

And finally, the box set of one of my favourite (and much-overlooked) period murder-mystery dramas - the early 2000s American series entitled A Nero Wolfe Mystery.  Starring Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin and the late Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe, this programme was - in my opinion - one of the best things to come out of American television since Frasier, but sadly it has been all but forgotten since, with only a few desultory repeats on B.B.C. Two in the late 2000s and a few episodes available on a Region 2 DVD Dutch release.  Fortunately I managed to track down this Region 0 Australian import featuring all the episodes.

I featured Timothy Hutton's portrayal of Archie Goodwin as one of my "Style Icons" back in 2012, and I may yet devote another post to this wonderful series in the future.

Oh, and some neckties.  Because a chap can never have enough ties, can he?(!)

Well, it only remains for me to wish you all a happy and health New Year!  I'll be celebrating quietly at home myself but I hope everyone has a fun time whatever they're up to.  Thanks again to all my readers, followers and visitors for sticking with me through a somewhat sparse 2015 (blogging-wise) and I hope to see you all, old and new, afresh in 2016.

Cheerio for now!

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