Sunday, 29 December 2019

Weekly Ending / Best of 2019


It was always my intention to start writing a blog some day. Several of the pieces I have written over the last few years have existed as ideas in my head for anything up to a decade before I finally got around to them here; it was not until I answered a question Andrew Ellard had about an adventure gamebook on Twitter that I found I needed a space to write something, and once I had the space I decided to set myself the totally arbitrary target of seeing how long I could keep it updated at least once a week for.

To my surprise, that has turned out to be very slightly more than exactly three years and (including this one) exactly 200 posts, and the magic of pre-scheduled posts has finally run out; going forward, the blog will not be updated weekly, but whenever I happen to have a new thing to talk about, or I can finally afford to shell out for the eighties obscurity I want to discuss, or when the BBC finally start answering my e-mails about releasing all two thousand hours of Robot Wars rushes.

Until then: Much thanks to, apart from Mr Ellard for providing the impetus to start the thing in the first place, John Hoare, Wesley Mead, Steve Williams, Ian Symes, Darrell Maclaine-Jones, Tim Byrne, Jonathan Green, Rebecca Fisher and everyone else who has ever left a nice comment on an article, linked to something I've written on somewhere far more widely-read, checked a specific copy of an adventure gamebook to see if it still has a mistake the earlier printings did or given me some interesting information about late changes to a TV schedule. You've all been very kind, and I doubt the blog would have kept going for so long without you. Beneath the cut, you will find a selection of my favourite pieces from the last year; hopefully, there'll be something new along soon.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

The Chronicles of the Chronicles of Narnia on the BBC


The very first adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was broadcast on the BBC Home Service in September 1959, as part of their Children's Hour strand. It lasted for 6 40-minute episodes, adapted by pioneering radio producer and writer Lance Sieveking, and as you might expect, nothing is known to survive of it today. (Sieveking's Wikipedia article states that the adaptation he did was of The Magician's Nephew, but this appears to be an error based on a 2005 Guardian article about the forthcoming film.)

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Christmas Clue Cuts


Christmas Day 2003: I'm Sorry I Haven't a Christmas Carol makes its premiere on BBC Radio 4. It is quite a remarkable accomplishment by writers Graeme Garden and Iain Pattinson - using a comedy panel show as the template for an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, with chairman Humphrey Lyttelton cast as Ebenezer Scrumph, regular panellists Garden, Barry Cryer and Tim Brooke-Taylor as (amongst many other roles) the Ghosts of Christmas Pissed, Present and Queen Boadicea (The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come having been delayed due to unforeseen circumstances), and regular pianist Colin Sell as Colin Crotchit, with Stephen Fry as the narrator and other members of the show's extended family of semi-regular panellists making up the rest of the cast.

October 2004: I'm Sorry I Haven't a Christmas Carol is released on CD and audio cassette, as a specially extended edition boasting "over 20 minutes of never-before-heard material".

December 2019: Some idiot with an arbitrary target of keeping his blog updated once a week for as long as possible decides to write something on that extended edit.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

27 on 4 2


Well, Channel 4's premiere of Season 27 of The Simpsons started on the 4th November, and wrapped up on the Tuesday just gone. Before it started, I used all my mystic powers to predict what episodes might be censored, or even dropped altogether, and now it's time to look back and see just how accurate I was. I can't say this is a definitive list of all the censorship cuts, but it probably covers everything worth mentioning (I didn't manage to catch their showing of "'Cue Detective", but I can't think of any cuts they might have made to that anyway).

Sunday, 1 December 2019

A Comprehensive Guide to Doctor Who Repeats on the BBC, 1963-1989


Back in the day, of course, if you missed an episode of Doctor Who that was it. No VCRs, no catch-up services, nothing. You'd have to get a friend to re-enact it for you in the playground, wait for the Target book to come out, or hope the BBC repeated it at some point. Would you like a list of every time that last thing happened?

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Get Into Jail Free


The Robot Wars Wiki is an amazing resource, thanks to its tireless editors who never stop looking for new information about the show. Here's a piece that recently came to light on the Internet Archive thanks to their diligence - the sad story of Series 3 entrants The Jailer, who successfully qualified only to withdraw on the day of filming due to a broken speed controller.

So, The Jailer had to pull out at the last minute. And diligent readers may recall there are two robots that were pulled off the substitutes bench at the last moment. Does it follow that either Steg-O-Saw-Us or Triterobot were the replacements for The Jailer? Possibly not, because we can't be sure the robots listed in that article were the only substitutes - there may be other robots who were also pulled in at the last minute but not identified as such onscreen. But wouldn't it make sense, given how late in the day The Jailer had to pull out and how late in the day those two were brought in? We're halfway to another piece of the puzzle, surely? And there must be another robot who had to pull out at the very last minute, quite possibly also on the day of filming - is their story still out there somewhere?

Sunday, 17 November 2019

I CYOA What You Did There


Having been writing this blog for nearly three years now, it is perhaps surprising that this is the first time I've ever written something about the Choose Your Own Adventure series. It was a range that popularised the gamebook genre, to the point that its title is to this day used as a synonym for interactive fiction. Edward Packard, who wrote the first ever title in the series and went on to write nearly a hundred more of them, may very well have invented the idea of the gamebook with Sugarcane Island in 1969 - certainly that book was one of the very first gamebooks ever written. The historical importance of this series cannot be denied. So why has it taken me so long to get round to it?

Well, this series is absolutely fucking massive. There are 184 books in the original series alone, and once you include all the various spin-off series (variously aimed at younger and older readers, intended to be more 'educational' or scarier than the parent series, featuring licensed Disney characters, an Indiana Jones series, a Star Wars series, not to mention the early noughties revival with revised versions of the original books designed to bring them up-to-date) that number swells to well over 300. I devoured adventure gamebooks as a child, and I doubt I got through any more than a small percentage of Choose Your Own Adventure books.

And yet... many of them aren't remarkable by themselves. They generally run to just over 100 sections, there's no game system of any kind (no statistics or inventory to keep track of), and with so many entries in the series - cranked out (largely) monthly for the better part of two decades between 1979 and 1998 - it's hardly surprising that there are a fair few where the story just isn't very interesting, or there is little in the way of any real plot. You can't get anything hugely insightful out of many of the individual entries, yet trying to write a history of the entire series is an impossible task. Perhaps the most memorable feature of the books is the surprisingly gruesome and inventive deaths, and plenty of other people have had a go at archiving the best of those.

So for this post I thought I'd highlight a few of the more notable entries in the series - ones I have fond memories of reading as a child, or are notable for unexpected twists or interesting set-ups.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Homer Defiled

Hello there. Could you take a look at this video featuring two clips from The Simpsons episode "Homer Defined", please?


According to legend, that is the originally broadcast version of the episode, although the clip comes from a syndicated airing. When the episode was repeated on Fox, the lines had changed so Burns now planned to "kiss his sorry ass" goodbye, but Bart now said "Bad influence, my butt!" (in response to complaints received over the original version). The changed version used for the repeats is also the one found on the DVD.

Or is it?

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Broken Gamebooks #16: Knights of Doom


One of the last entries in the original Fighting Fantasy series, Knights of Doom can change hands for upwards for £60 these days (original RRP £3.99) - its author, Jonathan Green, has been one of the highest-profile components of the 21st century revival, but inexplicably neither Wizard nor Scholastic have reprinted this one yet.

And I'm only going to use my copy to tell you all about a silly proofreading error. Tragic, isn't it?

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Not A Nineteen Seventies Doctor Who Serial


Funny Radio Times listings for comedy shows. We've talked about them before. The ones for Not the Nine O'Clock News are great, so go and look at them.

I find this one, written in the style of a Doctor Who episode, particularly interesting, however. That listing is for an episode broadcast in May 1980. In October 1978, then-script editor of Doctor Who Douglas Adams commissioned his frequent collaborator John Lloyd (with whom he had co-written part of the first radio series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) to write a serial for the show, but in January 1979, Lloyd informed Adams he would be unable to finish his script, as he had been appointed producer of Not the Nine O'Clock News. However, Adams was still keen on Lloyd's storyline - entitled The Doomsday Contract - and tried to get another writer, Allan Prior, to adapt his detailed story outline into scripts. Prior's scripts were rejected and seemingly no longer exist, and when Adams departed Doctor Who in late 1979 Lloyd's story would never see broadcast.

Is this listing in some way referencing the show's producer's unrealised Doctor Who story? Or is it more innocuous?

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Editing Bumpers Badly


Lately, I have been making my way through Men Behaving Badly for the first time. Here is a thing I noticed about it which I think I can get a blog post out of.

The first two series of MBB were broadcast on ITV in 1992. After Thames (who produced the show in association with Hartswood Films) lost their regional ITV franchise for weekdays, ITV declined to commission any more series, and the show moved to the BBC for Series 3 onwards in 1994. This means, of course, that the first two series were originally broadcast with advert break bumpers.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Masks of Mediocrity


We've talked about great ways to die in adventure gamebooks before. But successful endings can often be just as interesting, for a great many reasons. Sometimes they might be a short 3-line paragraph that makes you feel it wasn't really worth the time and effort. Or there might be a surprising twist. Or they might be so strange and inconclusive that you have no idea what the author was aiming for.

Masks of Mayhem, the twenty-third title in the Fighting Fantasy series, was published in 1986, and at first glance it seems that the ending falls squarely in the first such category. Here is the successful ending to the book, in its entirety:

Victory is yours! The Masks of Mayhem will not be released upon the land - at any rate, not in your lifetime...

Ask for an example of the A Winner Is You trope in any adventure gamebook, and that example is bound to come up time and again. But that sentence and a half by itself is not the whole story. We need to go back a little further in the book to understand why the ending of Masks of Mayhem is what it is.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Jon


So. Did you know that Garfield didn't really start in 1978? For over two years before that, it existed in Jim Davis' local newspaper as Jon, which, as we can see from the surviving strips, was basically the exact same premise, only Mr Arbuckle was the lead character, not his cat, and indeed many Jon strips were subsequently redone for Garfield.

The fact that Jon even ever existed at all is a very recent discovery - in fact, it dates to July of this year. (The video linked to in that article chronicles how the strips were discovered, and is well worth checking out.) Prior to that, it seems Jon had been completely expunged from the record, not being mentioned in any known history of Garfield. This isn't just obscure, it was completely unknown about until a few months back. Given it is a fairly important part of the strip's history, one wonders why - a deliberate decision from Jim Davis? Gnorm Gnat strips are obscure, sure, but we at least knew they existed...

Sunday, 6 October 2019

27 on 4


The end of the year approaches. Christmas decorations start appearing in the shops. Fireworks go off with increasing frequency. Channel 4 gets the rights to a new-to-terrestrial season of The Simpsons, as first shown on Sky One four years ago.

On past form, that last one - this time being the debut of Season 27 - should start roughly about mid-November, in the tried-and-tested slot of weekdays at 6pm, so keep an eye on The Simpsons Archive's UK scheduling page for exact details. (Thanks to Wesley Mead, maintainer of that page, for helping out with a few details in this article.) If you do happen to watch Channel 4's debut of the 2015-16 season, here are a few things to watch out for - principally possible censorship cuts, but also other geeky notes of interest.

Monday, 30 September 2019

My Scintillating Theory on the Recording Order of the Second Series of Red Dwarf


The first series of Red Dwarf was recorded in the same order it was intended to be broadcast. However, the originally intended fourth episode, "Future Echoes", turned out so well that it was decided to bump it up to second in the broadcast order to try and keep viewers' attention.

I think that the second series was also recorded in the order it was meant to be shown, with one exception born out of necessity. Let me explain.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Questioning Marmalade


Would you like some questions about the 1982 CITV sitcom Educating Marmalade (and its 1984 follow-up, Danger: Marmalade at Work), sorted by episode? No? Tough, that's what we're doing this week anyway.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

A Twice-Weekly Serial Set In The Exciting World of League Football


Between October 1965 and March 1967, the BBC produced and broadcast 147 episodes of the football-based soap opera United! At the end of its second season, the BBC cancelled the show due to low viewing figures, and, as was common practice at the time, they wiped all the master tapes for reuse. Whilst many "missing" episodes of TV shows that have been lost in this manner have been recovered over the years, allowing us to at least get a glimpse of how they looked, United! has not been so fortunate, and not a single episode is known to survive, not even on audio. The most common context for the series to come up in these days is somebody pointing out the large crossover the show's production crew had with Doctor Who, but nobody has ever made an exhaustive list of who worked on both shows, and when.

Until now.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Re-Editing the Guilty


Here's a thing. BBC Two's new sitcom, Defending the Guilty, started life as a one-off pilot last year, off the back of which a full series was commissioned. That full series began airing this week, with the pilot repeated on Tuesday, followed by five new episodes.

That pilot, now identified as Series 1 Episode 1, is up on iPlayer here, and is identified as having been originally broadcast on 19 September 2018. The part of Nessa is played by Claudia Jessie, and Pia is played by Hanako Footman, both of whom go on to play those roles in the following five "series proper" episodes. However, according to IMDb, when the pilot was originally broadcast in 2018, those role were played by Jessica Ransom and Emily Berrington.

So all the scenes with those characters in the "repeat" of the pilot, which is also the version on the iPlayer, are reshoots (the British Comedy Guide concurs with this), necessitated when Ransom and Berrington turned out not to be available for the full series... and yet the iPlayer makes no difference between the two versions, with the original pilot no longer available to view, and the revised version listed as being the one that was first broadcast in 2018. This is probably an error rather than anything else, but you may not be totally surprised to learn that it annoys me.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

The Mystery Squad and the Mysteries of the Mystery Squad


The Mystery Squad is an interesting little series of semi-adventure gamebooks, published between 1984 and 1986. I say "semi-adventure gamebooks" because the only form of interactivity is trying to solve puzzles based on illustrations; they're halfway between a Choose Your Own Adventure book, and, I suppose, an Usborne Puzzle Adventure such as Murder on the Midnight Plane.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Radiotimeslides


When casting the first series of Red Dwarf in the late eighties, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor hoped to get four "proper" actors to play the four regular roles. They ended up with an impressionist, a poet, a stand-up comedian and a dancer. When David Ross filmed his guest spot as the original Kryten in the eponymous second series episode, he was horrified to discover that none of the main cast were 'legit' actors. The original intention for "The End" was for all the ship's crew to be played by big-name comedy stars... and then for them to all be killed off, leaving viewers with "Craig who?" as the lead. These are all stories any Red Dwarf fan will likely recognise.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

The Long and Short of It


That picture there is the blackboard gag used in the opening sequence for the second season Simpsons episode "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish".

It's a perfectly good joke by itself, of course, but I think there's another layer to it. That episode's particular opening sequence was the first time the show did not use the full-length intro (barring two episodes in Season 1 which faded into the start of the episode during the initial pan to Springfield Elementary School; with the re-animation of the opening titles in Season 2, the opportunity to make several different intros of varying length was taken). "One Fish..." debuts a cut-down version of the intro that only features the first appearance of each family member before we get to the driveway.

With that in mind... doesn't it seem quite likely that Bart's blackboard punishment is a metatextual reference to the shortened intro?

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Shadap Your Face


19 November 1979: The cast and crew of Doctor Who are working on the concluding serial of the show's seventeenth season, the six-part Shada by Douglas Adams. The location shoot has been completed, albeit with difficulties arising from a labour dispute. On the first of three studio sessions, the cast return from lunch to find the dispute has escalated into industrial action, and all recordings at Television Centre have been postponed. The future of Shada - scheduled to begin airing on BBC One in exactly two months' time - is instantly thrown into doubt.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Some Hints for Don't Escape 4


I think Don't Escape 4, released on Steam earlier this year, is an absolutely terrific point-and-click survival horror game, and you should all buy it immediately. (The three preceding games, previously released online, are also available to buy for Steam, and are worth picking up given the imminent demise of Flash.)

However, when I played the game on its release, there were a few puzzles I got stuck on, and after a few hours of much pointing and clicking and failing to work them out, I was forced to consult the Internet... and the only help available to me was in the form of full, complete walkthroughs, which did end up telling me rather more than I wanted to know when all I needed was a slight nudge in the right direction. So I thought I'd come up with my own list of suitably vague hints for the game.

Right, these are ordered roughly chronologically (although there may be some variance, what with free will and all), although the game has several story branches so some of them may not apply to your playthrough.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Edit Wars #12


Oh good lord, they're still going. Ahem. Actually, this one's a bit interesting - examples of possible censorship in the show for reasons of copyright or similar.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

From Cabin A to Cabin Z


Ah, Cabin Pressure. Whilst unquestionably a very funny show in its own right - certainly the funniest heard on Radio 4 in quite a good few years - halfway through its original run it was unexpectedly catapulted to international fame quite unheard of for a Radio 4 sitcom when one of its main cast, a certain Benedict Cumberbatch, began starring in a new crime drama on BBC One, instantly creating a massive fanbase which was eager to seek out some of his other work. By happy coincidence, a repeat run of the second series of Cabin Pressure began in the same week as that first series of Sherlock, and the rest is history.

Cabin Pressure ran for a total of four six-episode series plus two specials, totalling 26 episodes. That is the same number as there are letters in the alphabet. This is not a coincidence, as each episode is named after the location the crew of MJN Air are flying to that week, and the series works its way through the alphabet from A to Z: starting with the first episode, "Abu Dhabi", and all the way up to the grand finale, "Zurich". At least, that was the intention, and how the episodes were written and recorded: the actual broadcasts hit one or two snags.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Walton Earth?


Here is a Simpsons story you may be familiar with. In a speech on 27 January 1992, then-President of the United States George H.W. Bush mentions The Simpsons unflatteringly, stating American families should try to be "a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons". These remarks - or something very similar to them - are repeated during his speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention in August of that year. (Some sources claim that Bush's second use of the Waltons/Simpsons comparison was during his State of the Union address on 28 January, but that does not seem to be the case.)

The producers of The Simpsons quickly rush out a response, using redubbed animation (taken from the start of "Simpson and Delilah") and live-action footage of the speech, aired as a pre-titles sequence before a repeat of "Stark Raving Dad" on the 30th January, which you can see here. (Apologies for linking to a DVD extra someone's stuck on YouTube, but it is absolutely necessary to illustrate this article.)

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Broken Gamebooks #15: Vault of the Vampire

Bonus fact: At the request of the publisher, the illustrator "reluctantly" toned down the cleavage on the girl in the background.
Time to finish up on Keith Martin's adventure gamebooks, then. There are two things worth mentioning here, and the first is small, but interesting. Take a look at this picture of section 123, and its accompanying illustration:


Sunday, 14 July 2019

Scorpia Fish


The fifth Alex Rider book, Scorpia, was published in April 2004 in the UK (that printing is the one pictured above - if your copy looks similar but with a bigger insignia and a smaller title, then you've got a reprint from circa 2005, and it was reissued with new covers several times between 2009 and 2015 as the series' publishers struggled to find a design they liked) and, if Wikipedia is to be believed, in March 2005 in the US.

I recall reading some years ago that there was a fairly significant change to the text in the US edition. To quote from a conversation between Alex and his friend Tom on page 88 of the UK edition, during chapter 6 "Thoughts on a Train":

Alex hadn't mentioned his father. That was the one area that still troubled him. It was too private to share with anyone. "I've got to find Scorpia," he began. He paused, then continued carefully. "I think my dad may have had some sort of involvement with them. I never knew him. He died shortly after I was born."

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Let's Do The Mind Warp Again


The 1986 series of Doctor Who, a 14-part arc split up into four individual segments known collectively as The Trial of a Time Lord, is one of the shining examples of a deeply troubled production, perhaps best summed up by the writer of the final segment dying before he had completed the script, the script editor finishing it but the producer then getting cold feet about the original ending and deciding to change it, and the script editor being so incensed by this that he withdrew permission to use his version of the final episode and walked out on the production, meaning a new writing team had to be brought in to write a new conclusion without knowing anything about what was originally meant to happen with just days to spare.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Science Friction


Fighting Fantasy books are predominantly, well, fantasy. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Beneath Nightmare Castle, Crypt of the Sorcerer, Master of Chaos, The Keep of the Lich-Lord, Legend of the Shadow Warriors - there's very little doubt as to what genre these titles belong to. The series has occasionally diverged into other settings - over the series' 35-year history there have been two horror stories with a contemporary setting (House of Hell and Blood of the Zombies), a superhero tale (Appointment with F.E.A.R.) and the post-apocalyptic Mad Max-esque Freeway Fighter. But the most notable setting apart from high fantasy is science fiction, which was the setting for seven of the first 33 books in the series. These generally seem to be less well remembered than the rest of the series, and in fact the range's last stab at a science fiction entry was purportedly so negatively received that it completely killed off the idea of any more experiments, with every entry in the series' original run after that coming from the realm of high fantasy. But is this stigma totally deserved? Why not look at all seven sci-fi books from the series in the hope of finding out?

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Just Ask For South By South East Baby One More Time

Long-term readers of the blog will no doubt be familiar by now with my ongoing quest to track down the 1991 CITV Diamond Brothers series. Here's the latest discovery: a rather nice promotional poster, tracked down here (follow the link for a bigger, better-quality version).


Sunday, 9 June 2019

The Switches


The 1990 film of Roald Dahl's The Witches infamously changes the ending from the original book so at the end the protagonist is returned to human form, rather than the book's bittersweet ending of him being permanently stuck as a mouse with a much-reduced lifespan. Roald Dahl purportedly objected to this change so much that he stood outside cinemas with a loudspeaker urging people not to see the film, although this particular story has always seemed likely to be an urban legend to me given that Dahl died of cancer six months after the film's release. (This article says that he threatened to start a publicity campaign against the film, but was persuaded not to by Jim Henson, which seems more likely to me.)

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Edit Wars #11


"Good grief," I hear you exclaim (I have a very powerful sense of hearing). "Edit Wars Eleven? He hasn't seriously found something else worth going on about, has he?"

Well, no, because what I'm actually going to do is go on about the show's inconsistent attitude towards reserve robots - ones which were not initially selected to compete, but were pulled from the substitutes' bench when another entry was forced to retire.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Broken Gamebooks #14: Tower of Destruction


Brace yourself, because this may be one of the most buggy gamebooks ever - certainly of those released under the Fighting Fantasy banner, at any rate. There's a story to be told behind the writing of this one, I'm sure, although I doubt we'll ever get to hear it (it's another one written by the now sadly departed Keith Martin) - note that within what you are about to read I have not covered several notable typographical errors, including "fortunate" being used instead of "unfortunate", accidentally including the word "not" in what should have read "this is hard work", a Snow Fox turning into a Silver Fox, a case where Martin accidentally forgets one of the special rules only used in this book (to wit, hit a Demonic Servant twice in a row and it automatically dies, although the player can reasonably infer it anyway) and using the wrong attributes (such as Attack Strength instead of SKILL when there is an important distinction between the two).

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Asterix in Britain's Broadcasting Corporation


Well, the history of Asterix cartoons on the BBC is perhaps not as interesting or mysterious as Tintin, which we covered last week, but there's still some interesting stuff there.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

The Black and White Island


By any measure, the first Tintin story to make its way to the United Kingdom was the eighth, King Ottokar's Sceptre. It was serialised in the pages of Eagle magazine in 1951, was the first entry to be published as an album by Casterman in 1958, and in 1959 Belvision's animated adaptation was broadcast on BBC Television on Sundays at 5pm.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Simpson Mania


This is another interesting curio for any collector, released in October 1990 by Consumer Guide at the beginning of the second season of "TV's First Family". The version pictured above is the same as my copy, including the wire-bound spine - there was also a conventionally bound edition at some point, and I can also see evidence of an alternative cover, but I believe this one is the original, and its cover most notably contains the startling revelation that Bartman was appearing on merchandise several months before his first (and, for many years, only) television appearance in "Three Men and a Comic Book". Is the actual book itself as interesting?

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Fantasy Robot Wars


After a fair bit of time on the Internet Archive, I've finally found it (or most of it, at any rate): Fantasy Robot Wars, the unofficial RW equivalent of Fantasy Football Leagues way back when during the original series' run, as masterminded by Jamie McGarry, webmaster of the Panic Attack fan site. That this was the best way of inventing and battling your own robots available to us speaks volumes about the quality of the Robot Wars computer games.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Dicing with Dragons


When Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were first commissioned by Puffin Books in the early 1980s, it was with the intent that they would write an introductory guide to role-playing games. They got a short way into the writing process before deciding that they'd rather write their own solo fantasy adventure, which became The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. However, Livingstone did still end up writing the originally promised guide, albeit for a different publisher; this was Dicing with Dragons, published by Routledge & Kegan Paul in 1982, the same year as Warlock.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Alex Rider: "Secret Weapon" Review


Some eighteen and a half years since he first burst into the world of young adult novels, and eight years and three books after author Anthony Horowitz categorically declared he was done with the series and there definitely wouldn't be any more, teenage superspy Alex Rider is still going strong, with Secret Weapon the twelfth and latest instalment in the series. What we have here is a slightly different proposition to the norm - a collection of short stories, some of which have been previously published in newspapers or online, and some of which are completely new for this anthology. This release is more significant than it first appears - it was working on this collection that convinced Horowitz he might have been too hasty in ending the series with Scorpia Rising in 2011 and resulted in its revival two years ago with Never Say Die, with at least two more full-length novels to come before the series really is over for good (the first of which, Nightshade, will be out early next year). But how do the seven bite-sized instalments contained in Secret Weapon measure up?

Sunday, 14 April 2019

The Demon Headphones


Q: Who was the first actor to play the Demon Headmaster for the BBC?

You may not be particularly surprised to learn that the A to that particular Q is not Terrence Hardiman. Some 6 years before the CBBC series, the first two books were adapted for Radio 5 Live by Jim Eldridge in October 1990, in a format perhaps coincidentally very similar to how the first TV series would later handle them: a 4x25 series, with the eponymous first book covered in the first two episodes and The Prime Minister's Brain in the second. The only difference is that the TV series gave each book an extra episode; perhaps as a consequence, the characters of Ingrid, Lloyd and Mandy are all merged into Ingrid in the radio version. Anyway, the cast for the radio version was Edward de Souza as the Headmaster and Lucy Speed as Dinah.

To tie in with the TV series, the radio series was released on cassette on 1998, bearing the TV series' logo and font. It doesn't appear to have ever been released on CD, which I find slightly surprising given the series' enduring popularity. If you'd like to hear it, though, you can find it on the Internet Archive. (One wonders if they were ever tempted to realise The Revenge of the Demon Headmaster as a radio play, given it was skipped for the TV series on the grounds of being absolutely unfilmable. Probably not. For yet another little-known adaptation you may not have heard of, there was also a stage musical in 1999, for which Terrence Hardiman reprised his role.)

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Edit Wars #10

Nearly every Robot Wars fight ever filmed was edited down in some way. (I have covered some of the more glaring examples in the past.) No fight that lasted the whole 5 minutes made it to air in its entirety, with some lasting less than 2 minutes once the editor had got their hands on it; I believe the record for least cut full-length battle is the Series 6 Grand Final, which only had about 20 seconds trimmed from it. Usually, however, the edit was done well enough that it wasn't too obvious. Apart from this one.


Sunday, 31 March 2019

Broken Gamebooks #13: Night Dragon


There are three mistakes worth noting here, and for some reason I find the biggest one really, really funny, which is mostly why it's getting covered.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

A Table Indicating How Many Episodes of Each Series Recurring Characters Appear in in Peep Show

For the record: I defined "recurring character" as someone appearing in at least two different series - disqualifying a large number of one-series characters who appear in multiple episodes, including Elena (who appears in all 6 episodes of Series 6), Zahra (all but one episode of Series 7) and Megan (all but one episode of Series 9).


* Credited, but does not appear, on one episode (not counted on this table)
** Paul Clayton recorded a scene for "Kid Farm" which was cut from the broadcast programme (it can be seen on the deleted scenes on the DVD)

Sunday, 17 March 2019

The Scoop Scoop Song


"Tonight on BBC One, Ian Hislop and Paul Merton return in 'Have I Ripped Off the News Quiz for You'..."
-- Graeme Garden, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue

You are more likely than not aware that Have I Got News for You is a television adaptation of Radio 4's own long-running news quiz, The News Quiz. It is far from unique in this regard, although it has had notably more success than other panel games that made the leap from sound to screen.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

The Missing Mysteries


I thought I'd send you off to another part of the Internet I find amusing today. Except the particular website no longer exists, having gone offline a few years ago.

But fear not! With the help of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I can still send you there. (There might be the occasional broken image, and the original pages had sound which it seems the Archive can't reproduce, but everything should still work fine and the games should be perfectly playable.) So we can all still enjoy the Stickville Murder Mysteries, a quite amusing series of browser-based detective games set in an occasionally quite surreal world of limited art, whilst also hopefully learning an important lesson about the importance of keeping archives of the internet.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Where Do Unpublished Gamebooks Go?


26 October, 1995: Curse of the Mummy, the fifty-ninth entry in the Fighting Fantasy series, is published by Puffin. It is also to be the last FF book Puffin will ever release, although nobody knew that at the time.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

2002: A Time and Space Odyssey


As 2002 dawns, it has been over five and a half years since the Doctor Who television movie starring Paul McGann - intended as a backdoor pilot for a full series - was aired. That full series was never picked up owing to disappointing ratings in the US, and it seems like the show may have missed its chance for its big comeback.

But fans aren't catered to too badly. There are not one but two monthly ranges of novels - one chronicling the continuing adventures of the Eighth Doctor after he departed San Francisco, and another featuring the previously unchronicled adventures of his seven predecessors. Big Finish Productions were producing fully-dramatised audio stories featuring four of the five surviving Doctors and their companions, and their second series of adventures starring McGann were about to kick off. And there's still a monthly magazine, which in January 2002, kicked off the new year with an extensive article asking 50 big questions about the show's future, answered by people in the know. 17 years on, how on the nose did it turn out to be?

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Barking Up the Wrong Bush


19 April 1987: The first-ever appearance of The Simpsons on television, in a short in The Tracey Ullman Show, "Good Night".
8 November 1988: George H.W. Bush defeats Michael Dukakis in that year's Presidential election.
20 January 1989: Bush is inaugurated as the 41st President of the United States.
14 May 1989: The last-ever Tracey Ullman Simpsons short, "TV Simpsons", is aired.
17 December 1989: The first ever full-length episode of the half-hour Simpsons series, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire", is broadcast.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

You Can Be the Stainless Steel Rat


This is a curious little gamebook. A one-off title by the character's creator, Harry Harrison, You Can Be the Stainless Steel Rat is absolutely impossible to lose. All the paths eventually lead to the same victory, although it is possible to get stuck going round in circles. There's also no real inventory management, no statistics, and no dice (although tossing a coin to make a decision occasionally comes into play), making the whole thing comparable to an entry in the Choose Your Own Adventure series. One wonders whether or not Mr Harrison truly grasped the concept behind an adventure gamebook (he never wrote another interactive book again); at any rate, calling this 'interactive' or a 'role-playing game' (the latter term is used on the American cover) seems to have a bit of nerve. Also, the title is a complete misnomer, as you do not play as the Stainless Steel Rat, but rather a new recruit to the Special Corps, with the SSR serving as the book's narrator.