The Organization now available from Network

organization

It’s very welcome (and unexpected) news that The Organization is now available to buy direct from Network.  This seven part series, broadcast on ITV in 1971, was originally due to be released last year, but when the release date slipped several times it made me wonder if it would follow the likes of Biggles (another Network title which is missing in action).

Written by Philip Mackie, whose work I’ve previously covered in posts on An Englishman’s Castle and The Cleopatras, The Organization centres around a faceless company where backstabbing is the order of the day.

Starring Peter Egan, Anton Rodgers, Donald Sinden and Bernard Hepton, and with the likes of Gretchen Franklin, Jon Laurimore and Norman Bird in supporting roles, it has the sort of cast to die for.

Not seen in the UK since the C4 repeats back in the 1980’s, I look forward to becoming reacquainted with the series very shortly.

Network announce new BBC deal

Heralded by a short, enigmatic video (which seemed to suggest they’d be offering old copies of the Radio Times for sale!) Network have announced that they’ll be releasing some choice archive gems from the BBC archive.

With Network having recently signed long term deals with both ITV PLC and Fremantle, this is another intriguing announcment – although it’s slightly tempered by the fact that a slew of proposed ITV DVDs announced last year have gone back into limbo (possibly this is why they mention that delays may occur with certain titles).

The lack of new archive releases from Network recently has been slightly puzzling, but the BBC deal is encouraging news.  Their announcement is reproduced below –

They’re Back! – BBC Announcement

The early days of our fledging label saw us rescuing Robinson Crusoe, crossing borders into Communist-state fairyland and presenting some old public information films to a baffled 21st century audience. It all looked just a bit weird on paper.

These unusual and now almost library-standard releases led us, inevitably, to ask for more of the same but we instead got ’The Goodies’, ‘Ripping Yarns’ and ’Till Death Us Do Part’ for our troubles.

So now we are almost back where we started, having recently concluded an agreement with the BBC to revisit some of our older releases as well as bring a lot of new material to add to our range.

Towards the end of the year and beyond we’ll be releasing complete series box sets of shows that we’d distributed many years ago including ‘The Goodies’, ‘Till Death Us Do Part’ and ‘Sykes’ amongst rarer fare like ‘All Passion Spent’ and ‘Johnny Jarvis’, some Screen Two presentations such as ’The Vision’, bafflingly unreleased classics like ’The Life And Times Of David Lloyd George’ and much more.

We’ll be sharing news on these releases with you as we work through them but you’ll need to be patient. There are substantial technical and clearance issues to attend to but it is underway as we write. The first titles will appear before the end of the year, hopefully sooner.

 

Quatermass (John Mills 1979) – Network BD/DVD Review

quatermass titles

After rewatching Euston Films’ 1979 production of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass a few months ago I mused that it would be nice if Network were able to acquire the rights and release a restored version on BD.  And just to prove that wishes do sometimes come true, Quatermass will be released by Network on BD and DVD on the 27th of July 2015.  It’s especially welcome since the previous release, long since deleted, was only available on DVD and the picture quality left more than a little to be desired.

Quatermass was an unusual project for British television at the time, due to the fact it was filmed on 35mm.  Filmed programmes were becoming more common, but by the late 1970’s they tended to be shot on 16mm.  Because Euston wanted to recut the series for theatrical release in the US, it was obviously decided that it was worth investing the extra money to shoot on 35mm stock and that’s very good news.  Network have already released several impressive BDs sourced from 16mm material (The Professionals, The Sweeney, Robin of Sherwood) but since this was a 35mm series the resulting PQ will be even better.

Network were able to access the original film elements (the ClearVision release was only sourced from a 16mm print).  It’s interesting to compare screen caps from the ClearVision DVD against the Network BD.  Greg Bakun’s From The Archive blog has a number of examples and looking at the caps, the colours on the Network BD seem to be very muted compared to the ClearVision DVD.

Having watched the BD in motion I’m now more reassured – it is a less vibrant grade but it suits the nature of the story.  Quatermass was a bleak, post-apocalyptic tale so it shouldn’t really look bright and summery (and it’s probable that the ClearVision DVD was over-saturated anyway).  Colours on the BD look natural, which is the most important thing.

I’ve already written quite extensively on the programme starting here, so we’ll move on to look at the special features.  The key one is the 100 minute movie edit, The Quatermass Conclusion.  This basically cuts the running time in half (most of episode three is excised, for example) and it also includes some alternative footage and music.  It’s displayed in what I assume was the original theatrical ratio of 1:78:1 and it’s therefore interesting to compare some of the same shots against the 1:33:1 framing of the television series.  Possibly Network could have released the series in 1:78:1 as well, but since they’re sticklers to keeping to the original A/R it’s no surprise they didn’t (and it’s the right call, in my opinion).

The Quatermass Conclusion obviously loses some detail and character development, but on its own terms it works very effectively.  It’s certainly a very different proposition from the “movie edits” of series such as UFO, which bolted several unconnected episodes together and attempted to paper over the cracks with new incidental music.

Textless titles, (mute) episode recaps and a mute trailer for The Quatermass Conclusion are inessential, but nice to have anyway.  The image gallery runs to 2:51 and contains a varied selection of on-set photographs as well as some behind the scenes pictures.  Music only tracks across all four episodes are a very welcome extra as is the thirty-six page booklet of production notes by Andrew Pixley.  As might be expected, Pixley has been able to unearth a wealth of fascinating production detail.

The bleak tone of Quatermass might not be to everybody’s tastes but I’m glad that it’s finally back in circulation (and with such good picture quality) so that people can experience it for themselves.  A few more special features (commentaries, documentaries) would have been welcome but it’s still a very decent package at a good price (especially when ordered direct from Network) and is warmly recommended.

Callan: Under The Red File by Andrew Pixley. Network book review

callan

Callan: Under The Red File by Andrew Pixley is an exhaustive guide to the production of this classic television series and is now available for purchase via Network’s website.

For anybody who has an interest in British archive television, Pixley’s name should be well known.  He’s produced viewing notes for many Network titles over the years (most recently The Professionals) as well as for various BBC titles (such as their short-lived science-fiction releases).  He also penned the Archive feature in Doctor Who Magazine for many years.

The bulk of the research in the book was carried out some years ago and the intention was that the book would form part of a Callan boxset, together with all the existing episodes and some additional special features.  For one reason or another, the boxset has yet to appear – so now we have the opportunity to buy the book by itself.

If you’re familiar with Pixley’s work then you’ll know what to expect.  This is a highly factual, production-based work.  If you’re looking for a glossy, well-illustrated tome then this may not be for you.  But if you want facts, you’ve certainly got them here.

Callan is one of those programmes that has never really been examined in great detail before.  I can’t recall any previous books published on the show (although there is another, from Miwk, due out later in the year).  This means that there’s a wealth of material that was new to me – especially about the early (sadly incomplete) black and white episodes.

If you love Callan, this is an essential purchase.  It can be ordered direct from Network’s website here.  Network’s blurb on the book is below.

Nearly ten years in the writing, Callan: Under the Red File has been a labour of love for both Network and the book’s author, Andrew Pixley. Anyone familiar with Network’s releases will know our history with Andrew is a long one and he has done some excellent work for us over the years – with his books on The Prisoner, Danger Man, Public Eye and The Professionals all raising the bar for this type of archive research. Ahead of our upcoming Callan documentary, you can now buy Andrew’s new book exclusively from networkonair.com.

Initially a cult success before becoming one of British television’s most watched programmes, Callan brought the gritty, downbeat angle of Cold War espionage to 1960s British television. In stark contrast to the glamour of James Bond and the stylized capers of The Avengers, the man known as David Callan was a highly skilled killer, tasked by the Government to eliminate threats to national security. This reluctant, conscience-wracked assassin was brought to life in a remarkable performance by Edward Woodward, cementing his popularity as an actor many years before he achieved major international success in both Breaker Morant and The Equalizer.

This exhaustive book is the definitive look at the creation, production, broadcast and reception of all four series. From its conception as a one-off BBC play, through its development by ABC Television, its success as one of Thames Television’s highest-rated programmes, its subsequent ATV revival and its expansion into novels, short stories and movies – this single volume covers every aspect of James Mitchell’s most successful creation.

Whodunnit? – Series Five – Forthcoming from Network

who 5

After something of a gap (mainly due to Network negotiating a new ten year licencing deal with ITV Studios) it’s pleasing to see a number of archive television titles are listed as forthcoming on their website.

Whodunnit? – Series Five is particularly welcome – it’s a lovely slice of 1970’s nostalgia with many familiar faces (both on the panels and featured in the playlets).  After a somewhat shaky start (I love Edward Woodward but he was never best suited to the role of panel-game host – see series one for evidence of this) the programme was firmly in the groove by this time, helped no end by Jon Pertwee.  As ever with Network, there’s always the possibility that release dates will slip, but at present it’s scheduled for release at the end of April 2015.

Doctor Who star Jon Pertwee is your host in this highly popular, light-hearted panel game which invites viewers to play detective – pitting their wits against a panel of celebrity sleuths to solve a fictitious murder mystery.

Devised by comedians Jeremy Lloyd and Lance Percival, the show’s brilliantly original formula presents short dramas laden with clues – and a few red herrings – to be pieced together by the panellists who, having grilled the suspects, point the accusing finger at the likely felon…

A star-studded guest panel for this volume includes Prunella Scales, Connie Booth, Liza Goddard, Terry Wogan, Dinah Sheridan, Patrick Mower and Jimmy Jewel; Françoise Pascal, Kate O’Mara, Josephine Tewson and Denis Lill feature among the casts.

Filmed in Supermarionation (Network Blu Ray/DVD Review)

super

Filmed in Supermarionation is a glorious two-hour documentary from director/producer Stephen La Rivière which tells the story of how a small company based in Slough were able produce some of the most iconic children’s television series of all time.

Central to the story, of course, is the late Gerry Anderson.  Happily he’s well represented throughout the documenatry via an extensive interview.  Also present is Gerry’s ex-wife, Sylvia, who was a key figure in the sucess of AP Films/Century 21, not least for voicing Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds.  Sadly, the divorce of Gerry and Sylvia was very bitter, which meant that during Gerry’s lifetime she was persona non grata – so it’s good to have her contribution appreciated here.

Apart from Gerry and Sylvia, there were a whole host of unsung heroes who brought these shows to life and celebrating their work was one of the main reasons why Stephen La Rivière wanted to make this documentary.  Many of the surviving creative team have been interviewed (others who have passed on, like Barry Gray and Derek Meddings, are represented by archive footage) and there’s some lovely moments – such as when a group of puppeteers return to the location of the studio in Slough to be confronted with a immaculate recreation of a studio set, complete with puppets.  Also very touching is the moment towards the end, when David Graham (the voice of Parker) takes a moment to thank his wooden friend for making such an important contribution to his career.

Amazingly, Parker and Lady Penelope hardly look a day older than when we first met them in 1964.
Amazingly, Parker and Lady Penelope hardly look a day older than when we first met them in 1964.

Filmed in Supermarionation is presented by Lady Penelope and Parker (voiced, as in the original series, by Sylvia Anderson and David Graham). This allows a few affectionate jokes to be made, as well as giving us the chance to see Parker turn up in some odd places (on the set of Captain Scarlet, for example).

The documentary proceeds in strict chronolgocal order, so the first hour or so is devoted to the early series, such as the two made with Roberta Leigh (The Adventures of Twizzle, Torchy the Battery Boy) before moving onto Anderson’s early solo efforts, such as Four Feather Falls, Supercar and Fireball XL5.  For those waiting to get to the likes of Thunderbirds, this may feel slightly drawn out, but personally I enjoyed the detail on these earlier, and to me, less familiar series.

Both Stingray and Thunderbirds are well covered, with the largest section of the documentary concentrated on Thunderbirds.   This isn’t surprising, since it was clearly the peak of Supermarionation and the pride felt by those who worked on it comes over very well.  Captain Scarlet is dealt with quite quickly (although there’s some more material contained in the deleted scenes package) and after a brief look at Joe 90 (with its slightly sinister theme of brainwashing a nine-year old child each week) and the frankly bonkers The Secret Service (a lovely anecdote from Gerry who describes how aghast Lew Grade was at the gibberish-speaking Stanley Unwin!) the story comes to a sad end as the company is sold off and the sets and puppets are broken up and chucked into skips.

But while the company came to an abrupt end, the programmes they made still endure today and this is down to the group of men and women who constantly sought to innovate and experiment.  The effects in an average episode of Thunderbirds wouldn’t look out of place in a feature-film and that was always a hallmark of AP Films/Century 21.  Filmed in Supermarionation, with its interviews, archive footage and re-creations is able to explain how they made it all happen.

Also on the disc is twenty minutes of deleted scenes, two short featurettes (three to four minutes each) which look at the modelwork created for the documentary, home movie footage featuring Gerry and Sylvia in America, archive behind-the-scenes material from Tomorrows’ World, Something for the Children and Parade as well as a brtief clip of the Lord Mayor visiting a fairly life-size Thunderbird 3.

Thunderbirds titles in HD

Network continue to count down to Filmed in Supermarionation, due later this month, by releasing HD versions of the titles of various Anderson shows on their YouTube page.  More details can be found here. Below are HD titles for Thunderbirds.

Below are some previews of Filmed in Supermarionation.

In other Thunderbirds news, the Guardian has a very positive review of the new ITV remake. It’s due for broadcast in 2015 and features, amongst others, David Graham reprising his role as Parker and Rosamund Pike as the voice of Lady Penelope. It can be read here.