Thursday 19 November 2020

Live action Tintin film reportedly on the way


Live action Tintin film reportedly on the way

Just when I was recently lamenting the lack of a sequel to 2011's The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn from either Peter Jackson or Steven Spielberg along comes the news of a new Tintin film in the works - but not from the source, nor in the format, that one might expect.  

source - IMDb
No, with the promise of a follow-up to Secret of the Unicorn still not forthcoming from either Mr Jackson or Mr Spielberg the door has potentially been left open for a new production (or a "reboot", to use the modern parlance).  Through that door, according to the accompanying articles, may come the little-known (outside of France) director Patrice Leconte and his plans for a live-action Tintin film - the first time such an undertaking has been mooted since Tintin and the Blue Oranges was released nearly 60 years ago in 1964.

source - IMDb
That film was in fact the second of a planned trilogy of live-action Tintin stories, beginning with 1961's Tintin and the Golden Fleece.  Both films had original storylines not featured in any of the books but featured all the main characters including Tintin, Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus, Thomson & Thompson and of course Snowy(!).  The title character was played by a young (then aged only seventeen) unknown Belgian Jean-Pierre Talbot who, while working as a sports instructor on an Ostend beach, had been spotted by a talent scout who noticed the useful resemblance to the boy reporter.  Introduced to the great Hergé himself the two quickly became firm friends and Talbot's role was assured (although this was to be his only foray into acting; after The Blue Oranges he returned to relative obscurity and later became a teacher.  Now aged 77 and retired, he still lives in his home town of Spa).  He was the only actor to play the same character across both films, with Captain Haddock being portrayed by Georges Wilson in The Golden Fleece and Jean Bouise in The Blue Oranges.  Professor Calculus likewise was played by Georges Loriot in the first film and by Félix Fernández in the second.  Some confusion still surrounds the actor(s) who played Thomson & Thompson in the first film as they were only listed in the credits as "Incognito", while IMDb would have us believe they were both played by the same man - the mysteriously-named "Gamonal" (although there is some suggestion that they may have been Les Frères Gamonal (i.e. the brothers Gamonal).  Certainly they appear to be two separate actors in the film.)  In the case of each movie all the supporting actors were made-up to some extent so as to better approximate the look of their characters while still retaining the live-action æsthetic - the success (or otherwise) of which I will leave for you to decide, both films being currently available on YouTube here and here.

source - IMDb

The Golden Fleece
sees Captain Haddock inherit a ship (the Golden Fleece of the title) from a recently deceased friend, which soon leads to all sorts of adventure in the search for lost treasure (so although ostensibly a stand-alone plot it does seem have been inspired by the two-parter stories The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure).  Following that movie's success the second film, The Blue Oranges, was released three years later and - in an adventure that definitely owes nothing to the books - sees our heroes come to the aid of Professor Calculus and his friend who have hit upon an invention to cure world hunger, which needless to say soon attracts the attention of some villainous types!  A third film was to have been made for release in 1967 but due to the less than positive reviews of The Blue Oranges it was cancelled and so these two cinematic oddities remain for now the only attempts at a live-action Tintin movie.

source - IMDb

source - Wikipædia
Until now, that is, with the exciting news that veteran French director Patrice Leconte has expressed an interest in producing just such a film - this time to be based on one of the actual books, namely The Castafiore Emerald.  Intriguingly this particular story would be very much a set-bound piece, taking place exclusively at Marlinspike Hall - the home of Captain Haddock - and is essentially more of a "who-dunnit" rather than an out-and-out adventure.  How successful that will prove to be remains to be seen (the book itself, a later release published in 1963, was not well-received on account of Hergé breaking with the traditional adventure-style storyline for the first time), especially as M. Leconte is still in early negotiations with Paramount Pictures for the copyright which still lies with Spielberg (look man, if you're not going to do anything with it after nearly ten years at least give somebody else a chance!).  For this reason alone, thrilled though I am at the prospect of a new Tintin film and buoyed by M. Leconte's arthouse credentials (which includes stints as a comic strip writer), I don't hold out much hope for one seeing the light of day any time in the next few years.  I know from previous experience how long it takes for a film that has only just been tentatively announced and may not even be in pre-production to finally make it to our cinema screens and I expect that - if it hasn't died a death in the meantime - I'll still be blogging about its progress well into this decade.  Still, hope springs eternal and despite all this negativity it seems M. Leconte is confident enough to announce some degree of progress - having claimed production has started - although to what level is not clear - and the parts of Captain Haddock and Bianca Castafiore have already been cast.  I wish M. Leconte every success and will be keeping a close eye on this production in the profound hope that we Tintin fans will not be disappointed by a third director!

As this looks likely to be a French-led production (although Paramount may well demand some input in return for the copyright and distribution rights) one imagines that the cast will probably be a largely European one, unknown outside the Continent - although perhaps with one or two big names to aid its popularity.  With that being the case and with M. Leconte allegedly having found his Captain Haddock and Bianca Castafiore, my own ideas on casting for a live-action Tintin film seem even more redundant than they did previously.  However I'm not a man to let that stop me so I will plough ahead and finish this post with my casting director's hat on and my thoughts and suggestions for actors and actresses to play the major roles in any forthcoming live-action production.

source - Wikimedia Commons / 
Gage Skidmore
The difficulty in finding an actor to portray Tintin is that they must by necessity be quite young - our hero is a "boy reporter" of only fifteen, don't forget - or still be possessed of petite, boyish looks despite being well into their twenties or older.  Think Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame, for instance - although I wouldn't necessarily choose him as I don't think he would have quite the right appearance even with make-up/ prosthetics.  In the case of a series of films this in turn leads to the problem of needing to anchor the character's age over the course of a short period of time in the story arc against the actor's natural aging process during the years of each film's production.  A classic example of this can be seen in the Spider-Man films, beginning with Sam Raimi's trilogy of 2002-07 starring Tobey Maguire, through Andrew Garfield's tenure in The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2, to the current incumbent Tom Holland (above).  The character of Peter Parker is in many ways similar to that of Tintin (barring the superhuman strength, ability to stick to walls and web-slinging skills, of course) - a teenage reporter/ photographer getting into all sorts of scrapes and adventures - and so requires the same sort of actor to pull the role off, hence the reason why there have been so many reboots of that particular franchise in little under twenty years.  I happen to rate Tom Holland very highly and for that reason, as well as his matching the criteria I mentioned above, I certainly think he could be an excellent Tintin.

Give him a quiff and you're all set.
source - Wikimedia Commons / 
My first choice for the part of Belgian's famous fictional son, though, would be one of Mr Holland's fellow young British actors - Asa Butterfield (left).  Perhaps best known for his breakthrough role in 2008's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and as the eponymous Hugo in that excellent Thirties-set, Steampunkesque film, young Butterfield has for me just the right look about him for the character and has impressed me in everything I have seen him in.  Like Tom Holland I can see him keeping his fresh-faced appearance well into his thirties (both actors being in their mid-twenties now) which would hold him in good stead for any sequels.

sources - Wikipædia/
Gage Skidmore/
Eva Rinaldi
Having ummed and aahhed a bit my pick for Captain Haddock would come down to two established actors who I feel could really relish in the part.  The first is Kiefer Sutherland, who I feel is now of an age at and stage in his career where he could channel some of his father Donald's eccentricities into a challenging character like the good captain.  Just try and imagine him with a bushy black beard and see if you don't get what I mean.  The second - and again my top choice - would be Russell Crowe.  The gravelly voice, the stocky build, the intensity of his acting ability could all be brought to bear with great success in a more light-hearted role that would still test him.  (Honourable mention should also go to Andy Serkis, I feel, who voiced Captain Haddock in the 2011 Spielberg film.  He's very good at playing a broad range of characters and again with a full beard I could easily see him in the role.)

sources - IMDb/ Wikipædia/ Gage Skidmore

For Professor Calculus only one actor comes to mind - Sir Ben Kingsley.  Frankly, to use a modern expression, I think he would smash it out of the park and after Tintin his is probably the one part I would most like to see essayed.  Calculus is arguably the most difficult character to approximate, having such a unique look about him (he was modelled on the eccentric Swiss scientist and aeronaut Auguste Piccard - another subject for a standalone post, methinks!) so as well as being close in terms of looks and stature, requiring less make-up, I reckon Sir Ben's superb acting skills should be more than up to doing justice to the part. 

sources - Wikipædia/ Gage Skidmore/ iDominick

The characters of Thomson & Thompson are equally difficult to cast, I feel, not only for their distinctive appearance but also for the fact that they look identical despite not being twins (that being the joke).  So does one go with a pair of brother actors like the Wilsons (Owen, Luke and Andrew), the Hemsworths (Chris, Liam and Luke) or the McGanns (Stephen, Joe, Paul and Mark) or two unrelated chaps who resemble one another (and more so with the aid of make-up/ prosthetics)?  On balance I favour the latter option and in this instance I would stick with Simon Pegg, who played one half of the "Twins" with long-standing comedy partner Nick Frost in the 2011 film, but this time pair him with noted Welsh actor Michael Sheen.  Both actors have the comedy credentials to really bring the characters to life and I have a suspicion the two would really spark off each other in the roles.

sources - Wikipædia/ Garry Knight/ Diggies99

Two actresses again spring to mind as "The Milanese Nightingale", aka Bianca Castafiore and Captain Haddock's constant nuisance.  Top of the list would be Emma Thompson, whose great range includes a healthy dose of comedy and whimsy which could be brought to bear perfectly in the role.  Her ability to play character parts (e.g. Nanny McPhee) also makes her a shoo-in for this kind of portrayal I fancy.  Second choice would be Jennifer Saunders, who likewise has many of the same qualities and would be equally adept at applying them to the character of Señora Castafiore.

source - Pinterest
Alas I am not up to speed on my canine actors so dear old Snowy (or Milou in the original French), important though he may be, will regrettably have to be side-lined at least until a specialist doggy talent scout can come up with the goods, which it has to be admitted will be more difficult for a live-action production than a CGI or cartoon one.  Needless to say terriers, as with any other dog, can be trained to appear on TV and in film (I'm thinking in particular of "Eddie" in Frasier and "Jack" in The Artist) and I've no doubt a suitable contender could easily be found.  In the meantime, here's a picture of Tintin's faithful companion and the sort of dog (a wire-haired fox terrier) that could portray him.

Those, then, would be my choices for the main cast of a live-action Tintin flick (and if you're reading this, M. Leconte - no charge).  Regardless of who does play the roles of Tintin & Company I sincerely hope that this latest production has legs and makes a successful transition to the big screen sooner rather than later, bringing everyone's favourite boy reporter back into the limelight - maybe in time for his 100th birthday in 2029.  Bon chance, M. Leconte - I shall be watching the progress of this one with a great deal of interest.

***Would you look forward to a new live-action Tintin film?  What do you think of my Tintin & Co casting choices?  Who would you like to see have a go at essaying Hergé's colourful characters?  Let me know in the comments below!*** 

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Victorian road signs in Cartmel restored by local lengthsman

source - North-West Evening Mail

When I blogged back in July about the restoration of some traditional finger post road signs in the village of Glanton, Northumberland, I ended that post with an expression of gladness that such work was still being carried out, that it was inspiring other communities to do the same and that I hoped another eight years would not elapse before a similar news item came up again for me to mention on here (having previously posted about an antique 1904 road sign in Overstrand, Norfolk, in 2012).  Well I'm happy to say that a mere four months separate the Glanton article from this next, comparable story from the charming Cumbrian village of Cartmel, which lies just north of Morecambe Bay between the towns of Barrow-in-Furness and Kendal.

source - Wikimedia Commons

In this instance the signs are of the "bladed" village name variety as opposed to the directional finger post designs featured in the previous post.  Dating back even further to the Victorian era, some are even as old as 1837.  In other respects though they are largely identical to the later types as seen in Glanton, being of cast iron construction and painted in contrasting black and white to stand out clearly on the rural highway for the weary traveller to see - a role they performed admirably for over a century and which they continue to do today despite the advent of the newer Warboys designs in the 1960s.

As with the Glanton fingerposts the Cartmel signs - four of them dotted around and on the outskirts of the village - have been afforded a new lease of life, ensuring their continued survival well into the future, thanks again to the efforts of the parish council and in this case the services of local lengthsman Archie Workman (surely one of the best examples of nominative determinism I've seen in a long while) and a fellow unnamed road sign enthusiast with a passion for restoring these few remaining links to past travel.  (As an aside this article has been a welcome source of education for your author as it is the first time I've come across the term "lengthsman", which I've discovered is a traditional old English term dating back to beyond the 18th century used to describe anyone employed by parish councils or local landowners to keep a "length" of road clear and passable and which I'm delighted to learn is a job still being carried out today by the likes of Mr Workman.)

source - Twitter / @OldSignPainter

This sterling work is just one part of Mr Workman's aim to restore all such remaining signposts in the Furness area - 26 in all (including another seven around Cartmel), featuring the age-old Lancastrian blade and nipple-top design and originally produced by local steelworkers Thomas Graham & Sons of Preston (who I'm pleased to see are still operating).  It is again wonderful to see these vintage road signs appreciated by locals and visitors alike; that there are still people out there with the interest and more importantly the skills to ensure that they can continue to be both enjoyed and made use of in their original function.  I hope and believe that other local parish councils will be equally as keen as Allithwaite and Cartmel to see their Victorian-era village signs restored to their former glory by Mr Workman and his colleagues and I wish them every success in their time-honoured work.

Friday 13 November 2020

Friday the Thirteenth (1933)

I would class myself as being slightly superstitious - I have a mild dislike of the number 13 (but don't go out of my way to avoid it), try not to walk under ladders and have been known to salute and wish a "Good morning" to a lone magpie but otherwise I tend not to give much thought to other irrational beliefs and especially not to the most notoriously superstitious day of the year - today, Friday the 13th, in other words.

Instead I will just leave you with the above film - not one of the many instalments of the eponymous horror franchise, I'm pleased to say, but rather a pip of a British ensemble film from 1933 starring the likes of Ralph Richardson, Jessie Matthews and Max Miller which follows the lives of several different groups of people who Fate throws together on a bus journey through London that ends in - well, I won't spoil it for you, you'll just have to watch and find out what happens on Friday the Thirteenth!

***What are your feelings about today and what - if any - superstitions do you observe?  Let me know in the comments below.***

Wednesday 11 November 2020

100-year-old carrier pigeon message found in France

source - The Guardian

It seems suitably fitting on this Remembrance Day to feature this fascinating article detailing the remarkable discovery of a tiny First World War relic that has defied the ravages of time to be unearthed by chance in a French field a century on.

This is the frankly incredible story of a small metal capsule, as used to send messages by carrier pigeon and no larger than a cigarette end, being found by a couple out walking in the French countryside back in September.  Having remained undiscovered for over 100 years it had against all odds survived in the mud of eastern France where it fell until, as with many remnants of the Great War, the movement and turning over of the earth revealed it to some people of today who happened by.  The miraculousness doesn't end there, however, for preserved within the miniscule container, which continued to protect it from ten decades of decay, is the original message sent off via carrier pigeon by an unknown German soldier.

source - B.B.C. News

That this little slip of paper has managed to survive for so long is nothing short of extraordinary and despite being understandably extremely fragile and barely legible it still offers a fascinating insight into the activities of a small section of the German Army during the era of the Great War.  Sent from the town of Ingersheim - at the time part of Germany but now in the Alsace region of France - it details for the benefit of an unnamed staff officer the movements of "Platoon Plotthof", which seemed to be advancing and retreating under heavy fire in an area referred to as "Fechtwald".  So faint is some of the writing that unfortunately the precise date cannot be determined, with only the 16th July being clear while the year is still up for debate - either 1910 or 1916.  While on the face of it 1916 would seem the more likely -  being in the middle of the war when German troops would have been engaged in battle - the curator of the museum to which the couple took their find, M. Jardy from the Linge Museum in nearby Orbey, is inclined more towards the 1910 date.  On consideration I can understand why since Ingersheim was within German territory at the time and reference is made in the message to a parade ground, which suggests that it was sent as a part of some military training manoeuvres.  Even so that is a striking fact in itself, since it adds to the knowledge that Germany was practising for war years before it finally broke out (and indeed as any student of military history will know, with its Schlieffen Plan Germany had been prepared for another conflict with France for decades - practically since the end of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, in fact). 

source - B.B.C. News

This noteworthy find has proved to be a timely yet sombre reminder during this period of remembrance of the build-up to "the war to end all wars" and the sacrifices made in the four years of bloody battles that ensued over one hundred years ago.  It also gives one to wonder just what other interesting artefacts are still lying beneath the mud of France waiting to be rediscovered in a similar manner.  In the meantime I remain astounded by this particular discovery and delighted that it has found its way to a local museum dedicated to remembering the fallen from both sides in battles both near and far and hope that it can be preserved for the benefit of generations to come.   

Monday 9 November 2020


A recent combination of cold nights and mild, damp mornings in this corner of Britain led to one of my favourite weather conditions manifesting itself over the weekend and served as a welcome reminder of why autumn is the season I enjoy most - fog!  From Friday through to Sunday there were varying degrees of pea-soupiness as the days progressed, with a particularly fine and atmospheric curtain of thick fog occurring first thing in the morning and materialising again in the evening, with wisps of mist lasting well into the day (and sometimes still in evidence even now).

source - imgur
I do love me a bit of fog (in case you hadn't guessed) and got terribly excited when glancing out of the window on Saturday night to see - well, not much really beyond a wall of dim white haze but the realisation that this was the first proper ground cloud of autumn practically made my day.  It's all I can do to stop myself from going out into it for a walk and sometimes I do give in to the temptation to venture forth and embrace the murkiness.  There's just something about fog and mist that really gets in amongst me - the way in envelops everything and gives it an eerie, otherworldly appearance that no other weather can replicate; the manner in which it is inextricably linked to this time of year, when the ground is covered with fallen leaves and the trees become gaunt, shadowy figures thrusting their branches out from the brume.  People and cars appear and disappear almost out of nowhere (in the case of cars sometimes unnecessarily so if the driver hasn't deigned to put on any lights - one of my few frustrations related to foggy conditions) and places one knows and recognises in clear conditions become strange and unfamiliar, all thanks to the interaction of cold and warm, moist air/ ground.

Women wear "smog masks" in London on the 17th
November 1953
source - The Guardian
Of course fog has not always had a harmless, inoffensive air (ahem!) about it, especially when it mixes with air pollution brought about by car fumes and the like to create the dreaded smog, much of which plagued many parts of Britain right up to the 1960s (as the above footage shows) - the most famous being the Great Smog of London during 1952 and 1953 which resulted in over 4,000 deaths and 100,000 people suffering from respiratory illnesses as a direct result.  Thankfully things have moved on in the subsequent 68 years and we are now able to go out in the fog without having to worry about catching a respiratory disease - at least not from that source!  In other respects however we are seeing a repeat of events from nearly seventy years ago, with masks once again being very much a necessity in all weathers.

A smoggy Ludgate Hill, London, captured in November 1922
source - The Guardian

But we're not here to dwell on the past horrors of smog but rather the joyful ghostliness of natural fog and what better way to celebrate it and the coming of autumn than with a selection of songs from my favourite era, the 1920s and '30s, all of which reference that most vaporous form of weather.  

We start in 1927 with a recording composed by the famous American cornetist and piano player Bix Beiderbecke who is on fine form in this 9th September 1927 New York performance where we find ourselves In A Mist.

Skiping forward to 1929 and the great Duke Ellington & his Cotton Club Orchestra perform a tune that is particularly evocative of a hazy dawn breaking over the rural farm on a brisk autumnal day - Misty Mornin', recorded here on the 3rd May 1929.  Ellington first cut this haunting melody on the 22nd November 1928 and would go on to make several different versions over the years so I am sure this will not be the last time it appears on this blog in one form or another.

The most famous fog-based song from the Thirties is of course George and Ira Gerswhin's A Foggy Day, which will forever be linked with the incomparable Fred Astaire and his consummate performance of it in the 1937 film A Damsel In Distress.  Having featured that recording back when I last did a fog-derived post in 2010(!) I thought I would feature another version of it this time by the British dance band leader Geraldo (real name Gerald Bright) and his Orchestra, with vocalist Cyril Grantham doing a good job with the lyrics in this recording made some time in 1938.  

We finish with this 1934 recording of Lost In A Fog, another standard of the day that was recorded by various different artists including Cassino Simpson, Coleman Hawkins and The Dorsey Brothers.  On this occasion however we hear it sung by well-known American singer and band leader Rudy Vallée, in a version that reached Number 4 in the U.S. charts in that year.

A beautiful shot of a fog-covered Richmond Bridge, London
source - Pinterest

Well that's it for this mist-enshrouded post - I hope you've enjoyed reading my thoughts on this most mesmerising of meteorological conditions, or at the very least had your toes tapping along to the accompanying musical miasma.  Is it foggy where you are?  Let me know what the weather's doing where you are and what your favourite type is in the comments below!

Saturday 7 November 2020

Berkeley Bandit: Sports car production to restart after 60 years

source - Berkeley Coachworks

News from Bedfordshire now of the revival of a sports car company you've probably never heard of, which is a shame as Berkeley Cars had the potential to be one of the foremost lightweight sports car manufacturers to have emerged from the fashion for microcars as a result of the Suez oil crisis of the late 1950s, and could have been a real competitor to the likes of Lotus and Austin-Healey going into the 1960s.

Berkeley Cars began life as a between British automotive engineer and designer Lawrence "Lawrie" Bond, who is best known in the U.K. for the three-wheeled microcars that bore his name - the Bond Minicars of the '50s and early '60s, the Model 875 from the late '60s and the quirky Bug that was the company's last bizarre hurrah following its acquisition by rivals Reliant in the 1970s - and Charles Panter, owner of Berkeley Coachworks, then one of the largest manufacturers of caravans in Britain.  Panter has been enjoying much success with the use of glass-reinforced fibre - otherwise known as fibreglass - in the construction of his caravans and was keen to employ it in sports cars, as a supplement the seasonal caravan market.  His collaboration with Bond began in 1956 with the creation of the Berkeley Sports (officially designated the Type SA322, in reference to the engine capacity), a pretty little two-seat roadster that debuted at the London Motor Show in September of that year - 12 months before the similarly-conceived Lotus Elite.

A 1956 Berkeley SA322 Sports (with a Bond Minicar of similar
vintage in the background.
source - Wikipædia

As with all microcars of the period the Berkeley was powered by a motorcycle engine - in the case of the SA322 a two-cylinder, two-stroke, air-cooled British Anzani motor of 322cc that put out all of 15bhp.  While this may sound laughably low for any car even of that time and especially for something purporting to be a sporty roadster, the benefit of the fibreglass used in the three-piece monocoque bodyshell (which did away with the need for a conventional chassis) meant that the Sports weighed in at an incredibly light 274kg - barely ¼ of a ton - with the result of impressive acceleration and a top speed of 70mph (which I'm sure would have felt substantially faster in a little thing like that!). 

1958 Berkeley Foursome
source - Wikimedia Commons

The Berkeley Sports was gradually refined over the course of the following three years mainly through the use of more powerful engines, from the 18hp 3-cylinder Excelsior found in the 1957 SE328 model to the heady 30hp version of the same motor that powered the Twosome and Foursome (SE492) of 1958 - the latter a stretched four-seat variant of the original Sports model.  Top speeds rose progressively to over 80mph while fuel consumption still hovered around the 50-60mpg mark - a useful and welcome performance balance as fuel restrictions continued to bite.  Berkeleys even enjoyed some achievements in international rallies, with Stirling Moss’s sister Pat racing a SE328 in the 1958 Liège-Brescia-Liège Rally.  The brand proved popular in the U.S. export market too, with many examples finding their way across the Pond to America where the small British sportscar was also experiencing much success and where several still survive to this day as the accompanying video (top) shows.

A 1960 Berkeley B95
source - Wikipædia

March 1959 saw the biggest departure from the traditional Berkeley formula to date with the introduction of a new design - the B95 (above) and B105 - at the Geneva Motor Show.  This was the first to use a series of four-stroke 2-cylinder engines again borrowed from a motorcycle manufacturer, this time Royal Enfield's 40bhp Super Meteor for the B95 and their 50bhp Constellation in the B105 (allowing the latter to exceed 100mph for the first time - both cars' names deriving from their official top speeds).

A 1960 Berkeley T60
source - Wikimedia Commons

Later in 1959 Berkeley launched perhaps its quirkiest vehicle but one that so successfully tapped into the prevailing motoring conditions of the time that it became the marque's single most popular model (discounting the combined production of the various Sports versions) with over 1800 built - the quaint little three-wheeled T60.  With the effects of the Suez Crisis still biting and with British motoring law classing any three-wheeled vehicle under a certain weight and engine size as a motorcycle & sidecar, the fact that cars like the T60 could be driven on a motorcycle licence and taxed more cheaply than its four-wheeled competitors made it the sports car of choice for the enthusiast on a budget.  A year on and the T60 was joined by the T60/4 which, like the Foursome, was a stretched version with two occasional seats in the back

The sole surviving 1960 Berkeley Bandit
source - Wikipædia

Unfortunately by the end of 1960 Berkeley Coachworks' fortunes were on the wane, the victim of a downturn in the caravan market that year (combined with the cars' complex engineering and the false perception of the two-stroke engines' unreliability - particularly in the States) which eventually saw the company cease manufacturing entirely and enter administration in December.  Just before the axe fell Berkeley was working on its most mainstream project yet - the Bandit (above), a smart-looking 2-seat roadster that would have used the 1-litre four-cylinder Ford engine also found in the Anglia.  Another advanced fibreglass design the Bandit also had the direct input of Ford's industrial might but this was not enough to save the company from liquidation and only two prototypes were produced (one of which still survives today) before the business collapsed.  Attempts to sell Berkeley as a going concern to Bond Cars' owners Sharps' Commercials Ltd came to naught and although replicas and "continuation models" were produced by various different companies in both Britain and New Zealand into the 1990s the marque has languished in relative obscurity.

source - Berkeley Coachworks

Until now, that is, with the welcome news that Berkeley Cars has returned to its original home base of Biggleswade in Bedfordshire amid plans to produce a limited number of handsome-looking new sports cars that look to pay homage to the original racy microcars of the '50s both in performance and design.  The company appears to be aware of the limitations inherent in the niche sportscar market with its aim to make no more than sixty examples of the new Bandit and although £40-60k may sound a lot for a relatively unknown start-up it is about right for the market particularly given the advanced nature of the construction and powertrains.  I'm especially interested to note the proposed use of plant-based substances in place of more common modern lightweight materials such as carbon-fibre, which should give the new Bandit a very competitive kerb weight and thus excellent performance.  On that front there are more exciting-sounding forward-looking plans, with the suggestion of electric, fuel cell and even hydrogen power being offered alongside more conventional petrol options. 

All in all it looks to be a very interesting proposal and one that I hope succeeds and then some.  An advanced, lightweight roadster which uses modern, sustainable technology while still nodding to its past would be a welcome addition to the British sportscar ranks and I wish the new Berkeley Coachworks business well, with better fortunes than its innovative and inspirational predecessor.

Wednesday 4 November 2020

The write type of news

I'm going to let you in on a little behind-the-scenes secret to the workings of Eclectic Ephemera in this next post.  If any of you were ever wondering where I find all these vintage-inspired news items from around the massive network that is the World Wide Web, well, I'll tell you - <whispers> I do make a fair bit of use out of Mr Google's  Alert function.  In case you don't know what that is, it's a handy little tool that allows you to set up e-mail alerts every time a specified keyword appears in news reports (or other sources of your choice) on any website that shows up through Google.  It's jolly clever and I have quite a few on the go to help supplement the more traditional surfing methods that I also employ.  Without giving too much more away one of those keywords is "typewriter" and over the last couple of month in particular it has resulted in the motherlode of all related news items.  So, rather than publish each article separately - in which case I would still have been posting them well into next year - I thought I would do what I believe in modern blogging parlance is called a "linkdump" and combine them all into one post.  ("Oh no, not another massive essay Bruce!" I hear you cry.  Well, I'm afraid so.  Sorry.)  

Stand by then for a selection of typewriter-based reports, featuring various typosphereans from across the North American continent - all of whom still work to repair and restore these wonderful machines so that they can continue to be used and enjoyed by young and old alike.  

Saskatoon typewriter repairman receives personal letter from Tom Hanks

We begin with this wonderful story from Saskatoon, Western Canada, where local typewriter repairman Tom Cholowski has been busy restoring typewriters and related machinery for both the local and national typer community.  Clearly a man after our own hearts - and not just in the matter of typewriters, as his attire and overall demeanour in all of his appearances makes clear! - Mr Cholowski has been fortunate enough to be recognised for his work by one of the most famous proponents of the typewriter - actor and collector Tom Hanks. 

Saskatoon man with a passion for old typewriters corresponds with actor Tom Hanks

Having written to Mr Hanks to express his gratitude in helping to preserve and further the cause of the humble typewriter as a well-known aficionado, Mr Cholowski was surprised and delighted to receive a response from the great man himself thanking him in turn for his work keeping the typewriters of Canada in a functioning state for the people of that country to enjoy.  Confirming the widely-held opinion (shared by this blogger, who has featured his typewriter-related deeds on here before) that Tom Hanks is an all-round splendid fellow as well as a fine actor, the charming letter is full of praise as well as the promise of a visit to Mr Cholowski's shop the next time the former is in the neighbourhood. 

source -

The story doesn't end there, though, I'm pleased to say, for in addition to his kind words Mr Hanks offered up one of his own typewriters as thanks for Mr Cholowski's work repairing Western Canada's broken typing instruments.

Thus a few weeks after the initial correspondence began, by now one of Canada's most famous typewriter repairmen was thrilled to receive a 1940 Remington Noiseless portable - complete with original manual and typewritten provenance - that was once part of Tom Hanks' collection and which is now safely ensconced in Saskatoon, where it rightly takes pride of place even among the hundreds of other machines that form Mr Cholowski's own collection. 

This has been a heart-warming story from start to finish, featuring two topping gents - including one who from all appearances especially embraces the Chap spirit - with a shared interest in keeping the marvellous machines that are typewriters alive and in the public consciousness for years to come.  Quite apart from the celebrity factor of Mr Hanks' involvement, Tom Cholowksi simply comes across as a jolly nice gentleman who has been able to turn his hobby into a business to the benefit of his local community as well as typewriter enthusiasts throughout the country and beyond.  His attitude is a welcome one in this day and age and his very existence makes the world a better place, not only for typosphereans and Chaps but for everyone.  Well done, sir! 

Tennessee handyman sets out to save manual typewriters

We head to Nashville, Tennessee for this next article where once again we find a passionate typewriter repairman intent on rescuing as many machines as he can from his local area and around the country.  This is Kirk Jackson, whose ethos is remarkably similar to that of Tom Cholowski's - and, indeed, seems to be a common thread linking many a typewriter enthusiast together.  Like so many of us a fan of mechanical items, old-fashioned ephemera and antiquated technology, Mr Jackson was inevitably drawn to the workings of manual typewriters following a chance encounter in 2016 with a 1954 Remington (the model isn't specified) at an antique shop in the nearby city of Goodlettsville.  From then on it has clearly been a journey of discovery resulting in a new-found love for these old machines that has led to him becoming Tennessee's premier typewriter repairer with his own shop and Instagram page.  Not only is it a gladdening tale, but the appeal of typewriters to Mr Jackson on a personal level is clearly apparent and the way in which he speaks of them, of their tangibility, their clarity of purpose and their ability to provide an intimate connection to the act of writing is a familiar theme that pops up throughout the Typosphere and among collectors the world over.  It is as ever good to see another younger person with the skills and the mindset to keep typewriters going, as well as appreciating similar devices from the same eras.  I applaud Mr Jackson for being so ardent an advocate for their cause; the city of Nashville - and the wider typewriting world - is fortunate to have him.

Moving a little further south now to the state of Alabama we're invited to meet William Lee, a typewriter repairman operating out of a little shop in the capital city of Montgomery.  Once again his story mirrors in many respects that of Messrs. Cholowski and Jackson, with the same sentiments coming to the fore and a clear love of typewriters and their mechanical nature very much in evidence.  Unlike the other chaps mentioned so far, however, Mr Lee's introduction to typewriter repair took place much earlier at a time when they were still a commonplace technology and this - combined with the attraction to and enthusiasm for his work, something which is shared with his fellow repairers - has understandably stood him in good stead over the years.  While that work has changed somewhat from when he first started out in 1973 it is nevertheless still pleasing to note the number of younger people coming to him either with typewriters for repair or to buy a restored one from him and even more of a welcome surprise to find that there are businesses in the area still in need of his services.  He is certainly providing a valuable resource to the people of the south-eastern United States and I can only hope he is wrong in his lament that he will be the last of his profession.  Mr Lee's passion, knowledge and experience is a credit to him and judging from what we've seen so far, I remain positive that with his help the folks of Alabama will continue to have a typewriter repairman handy for some time to come.   

Having met Mr Lee of Alabama we head back north of the border to Canada - this time to the south-east and the city of Kitchener, Ontario where we are encouraged again to make the acquaintance of Manfred Aulich, known throughout the region as "The Typewriter Guy".

Here once more we see the same story of a fellow typewriter aficionado who got bitten by the bug as a young boy and in the intervening years has used his skills to provide an increasingly valuable service to typewriter owners across the Canadian south-east.  Despite his advancing years I'm pleased to note that Mr Aulich has no intention of stopping any time soon and I only hope that as with the other older repairmen featured in this post he is able to continue for some time to come and maybe even impart some of his knowledge to the younger generation (who again get a positive mention as showing an interest in old typewriters).  It's cheering to see in how high esteem Mr Aulich is held not only by the locals but folk as far away as Toronto and Waterloo, so much so that - as the article states - his business is booming.  Tom Hanks even gets another mention (the man's fast becoming part of the thread of the typewriter story) with Mr Aulich intending to send him a machine he is currently restoring (the Continental Wanderer 35 pictured in the report).  I now have visions of typewriters flying back and forth through the mail to and from Mr Hanks and other collectors around the world!  Has a new version of the hobby just been invented - typewriter exchanges, perhaps?  Either way, Mr Aulich also gets my approbation for being a further champion of the typewriter in his corner of Canada.

source - Santa Barbara News-Press

We're over on the west coast of the United States for this next story now and yet another "Typewriter Guy" - enthusiast Simon Kiefer.  A slightly different take on the sort of typewriter narratives we have seen so far, but by no means any less commendable, Mr Kiefer's efforts see him lend out restored typers to his local community for use in creative workshops (type-ins, in other words), that I'm happy to note are [currently] sponsored by various local Santa Barbara institutes.  Here then is another aspect to typewriter collecting and repairing, similar in experience to that of Kirk Jackson in Nashville - the sharing of this supposedly "outdated" technology with the wider community as a means of reconnecting with the art of writing and of using these delightful machines for the singular purpose for which they were intended.  It is a thoroughly laudable enterprise and one that I hope Mr Kiefer can continue to provide especially through these difficult times.  Although no mention is made in this particular case of any typewriter repair skills per se, the tale of how Mr Kiefer came to love these old machines (once more very much an echo of Mr Jackson's introduction to the world of typewriters), the fact that he has over 100 in various conditions dotted throughout his home (with people even leaving examples on his doorstep!) and his experience growing up with them gives me to think that he must be adept at repairing them as well.  In any event, once more I applaud Mr Kiefer for his work in bringing the joys of typewriters and the typewritten word to the people of California.   

Up to the very north-east of the United States and on the border with Canada again for this penultimate article from the town of Winthrop, Maine and the story of the state's only typewriter repairman, Pat Costigan.  Like Mr Lee in Alabama Mr Costigan started out servicing typewriters as a young man in the 1970s when the machines were still prevalent and has continued to provide a sterling service to the people of Maine and beyond to this day, having seen the fortunes of the typewriter wax and wane down the years.  But as we have seen throughout all these news items (and know well) the fascination with and enduring quality of typewriters is undying and transcends the generations, with Mr Costigan also speaking of younger people showing an interest in these timeless machines and providing him with a welcome and hopefully long-lived fresh clientele.  It's nice to read of the interest that exposure to typewriters creates manifesting itself as a desire to study journalism or a similar writing-based vocation, as again we see much made of the intrinsic, hands-on aspect of typewriter use.  While he may be styled, like so many of his cohorts, as "the last typewriter repairman...[north of Boston]" the fact that his business is also doing well and with 20% of it accounted for by typewriters means I am sure Mr Costigan will be providing his services to those still reliant on and enjoying the use of typewriters for many years to come.  Another hearty "well done!" comes from this side of the Pond.

We end this post in New York City with another heartening typewriter-based story with a bit of a difference, in this case highlighting the work of English Literature professor and self-styled "performance artist" Brandon Woolf, who has spent the last few weeks sitting on a street corner in Brooklyn with a chair, a table, a 1940s Remington portable typewriter and reams of paper, envelopes and stamps offering a free letter-writing service for passers-by.  This is part of his latest concept art which he calls "post-dramatic theatre" but which again also owes much to type-ins and especially the idea of condolence notes (from which Professor Woolf's performance  - The Console - derives its name) and letter-writing in general.  All in all it sounds a most intriguing exercise, yet one which again brings the typewriter and its unique abilities into the public consciousness in a direct and engaging way.  While the theory may be to tap in (see what I did there?) to the uneasiness and melancholia that seems so much a part of the world at the moment I like to see the personal nature of this performance as providing a much-needed boost to people's interactions especially in this time of Covid - and there is nothing better than a typewriter for that.  

Seven uplifting typewriter stories from around America and Canada, then, which prove that there are many out there still devoted to keeping these terrific contraptions going well into the 21st century.  My only disappointment is that there is not nearly enough similar coverage of typewriter repairers here in Britain (well-known typospherean Richard Polt's website has a very handy list not only of British-based menders but worldwide ones too, which is a great resource) - perhaps something for this enthusiast to investigate for a future post...!  I hope you have enjoyed reading these pieces as much as I have (and of blogging about them) and that - especially for my fellow typosphereans out there - it serves as a reassurance that for every "last repairman" one hears about there is doubtless another out there carrying on what Tom Hanks rightly describes as "God's labour". 

Monday 2 November 2020

Planetarium planned for underground Victorian reservoir

source - B.B.C. News

Planetarium planned for underground Victorian reservoir

Some welcome news coming out of the East Midlands in this next article, which details the fascinating-sounding plan by a Nottinghamshire-based observatory to make use of a long-dormant bit of Victorian engineering in the creation of a new visitor attraction.

This is the volunteer-run Sherwood Observatory in Sutton-on-Ashfield, owned by the Mansfield & Sutton Astronomical Society, which also has as part of the land next to the observatory the remains of an old disused 19th century reservoir.  Now the plan, judging by this recent report from the B.B.C., is for what is left of this long-forgotten facility to be turned into a new planetarium that will complement the existing building and its telescope.

The proposed design looks jolly interesting and I am pleased to note the way in which they intend to keep the existing Victorian structure while merging it with some forward-looking, 21st century space-age motifs - both of which are in keeping with and sympathetic to the building's heritage as well as its new-found purpose.  All-in-all it looks to be a successful fusion of old and new and I look forward to hopefully seeing it become reality. 

source - B.B.C. News

The provision for teaching areas has also been considered in the design of the new building - a remarkable-looking domed structure that will sit partly above ground as well as within the large cavity that once formed the reservoir - with part of the underground area to be given over to classrooms that would give visitors further insight into the work of the society, the exhibitions and information gleaned from the observatory on the cosmos in general.  

The importance of this to the furtherance of STEM learning in the U.K., especially among young people, cannot be overestimated and I am glad to see that the Heritage Lottery Fund recognises this as well and has put £36,000 towards helping realise the project.  It sounds like there is still some way to go, with more funding yet required, a firm design plan to be formulated and more talks with the HLF in the offing but hopefully with luck the Mansfield & Sutton Astronomical Society can make good on their aim to have this splendid new building up and open by their 2023 target.  That they regularly had over 3,000 visitors a year before Covid struck is a testament both to the work of the volunteers and the attraction of the stellar sciences in general and I sincerely hope that they can reach their goal, build their Victorian-based planetarium and attract many more visitors from Nottinghamshire and beyond - perhaps even including the next generation of astronomic scientists - from 2023 onwards.


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