Monday, 16 April 2018

The Crusty Exterior Ride Again!

The Crusty Exterior is a group of friends, united in their love for the horror genre, books and, of course, a good curry.  The core of the group - James Everington, Phil Sloman, Steve Harris and me - met up for the first time at Andromeda Con in 2013 (see my report here), though Steve & I go back much further, first corresponding in the late 90s when he ran a newsletter called The Inner Circle.

On Saturday, the Crusty Exterior rode again with a few new members as we met up in Leicester.  As well as the original four, this time the ranks included Stephen Bacon and John Travis (who made the mini gathering for Steve H’s birthday last year), Jay Eales, Tim Jarvis and Linda Nagle.
In The Ale Wagon, from left - me, Tim Jarvis, James Everington, Phil Sloman, Jay Eales, Steve Bacon, John Travis
I parked at Highcross and met a completely lost Steve B at the clock tower near Haymarket.  After hugs and a quick catch-up, we wandered along to meet the rest of the party and picked up John on the way, then Jay directed us to The Ale Wagon pub, where Phil, James and Tim were waiting.  As we waited for Steve H and Linda, we caught up, talked writing and books, drank, laughed and effectively set the template for the day.  Jay went off to find the stragglers, the rest of us went outside to wait for them and there were more hugs when we finally saw them.  Plus Linda had made us cupcakes, which went down well with everyone.

Phil points out some titles as Steve checks for them on his database.
John doesn't look at all convinced...
We walked through the centre and had lunch at Holly’s Coffee Shop on St. Martin’s Square and decided to walk as we ate, though as each of us got served we went outside and starting eating waiting for the others.  My club sandwich was fantastic but, of us all, Phil clearly showed his cosmopolitan roots by having crayfish!  Our hardy band went up New Walk (where we spotted one happy chap wandering down wearing rabbit ears) and, at the museum, stopped to enjoy Linda’s cakes, which were delicious.  We also got to tell the Andromeda stories - that we couldn't find a curry house in the middle of Brum (and so had an Italian) as well as the excellent "yeah, Steve broke a seat": "I really didn't..." tale which, I swear, gets funnier every time I hear it.  

After a short break - and zigzagging between rugby fans heading to the Tigers ground - we kept moving up the hill.  Steve B & I walked at closer to my normal pace and soon found ourselves ahead of the group and we chatted about my thriller novel, which he recently read to critique.  Once we’d reformed, we cut across Victoria Park and the group broke off into various changeable iterations, as we found ourselves chatting with just about everyone.  Tim told James & I about his teaching Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to his students - all three of us loved the story and that led us onto Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, where James & I had each first discovered mention of it.
Outside the Help The Aged bookshop with the Steve's and Linda

Phil with one of his purchases, the cover of which
I suggested looked like Mr Benn on drugs...
By now, we’d reached Queens Road and the two great secondhand bookshops there - Age UK and Loros.  We hit the former first and all of us picked something up, suggesting titles to one another and chatting about our finds.  Steve H, who collects hardback first editions, found a couple of likely candidates but decided not to buy them after checking his database on his phone.  Yes, Steve has a book database and you know what, it sounds like a terrific idea to me.

We then trooped across the road to the Loros, where there was plenty more chat (and James found the Futura edition of Danse Macabre I have, though it was in much better shape than mine, which has been read and re-read almost to the point of being killed).  More purchases, more suggestions, more laughter and then we left, heading back across Victoria Park towards town.  As is my wont, I’d been taking photos all day but then asked a young woman walking her dog if she’d take a group one.  On Facebook a while back, James pointed out that none of my blog reports include comments about the poor unwitting passersby I co-opt into taking pictures, so that’s why I’m mentioning her (wish I’d asked her name now).  It’s also because, as we stood there posing, John offered to hold her dog for her.

Jay led us to the Marquis Of Wellington pub on London Road where, because it was a lovely afternoon and we were seating nine, we sat out in the beer garden.  We took the end booth, pulled over a couple of chairs and that was us for two hours, enjoying the weather and company as we drank and talked.  Conversation ranged across the board, there was a lot of laughter and plans were hatched for future meet-ups.
In Victoria Park, with Steve B, Phil, Jay, John, me, Linda, Steve H, Tim and James (with thanks to the nice lady walking her dog)
Since we wanted to eat in plenty of time for Phil to catch his train, Jay took us up to the Rise Of The Raj restaurant on Evington Road and as we’d managed to beat most of the rugby crowd (who’d gridlocked the London Road junction) we got a table upstairs without any trouble.  As we settled down, the laughter picked up straight from the pub, conversation was breezy and the food was excellent.  Steve B and I had the same starter, which had more of a kick than I’d been expecting, the main courses were quick and tasty and the time flew.  We covered a lot of topics, as ever and it was nice to discuss The House Next Door (which I wrote about here) with horror fans (only James & I had read it), as we talked about books that weren’t necessarily explicity supernatural but which contained a sense of mounting dread.  Some intriguing titles came up that it'll be fun to explore.

All too soon, it was time for Phil to catch his train - everyone exchanged hugs and handshakes, then he was gone.  The rest of us left not long after, Tim taking off quicker as his train was due first and the rest of us gathering at the station as we said goodbye to James and John.  Jay headed off to get his car and I led Steve B, Steve H (still carrying the few remaining cakes from earlier in the day) and Linda back to the Highcross car park.  More hugs, then Steve B & I went up to floor 6 (we’d parked across an aisle from each other without realising it) and said our goodbyes. 
In the Rise of The Raj, with Phil, James, Linda, Steve H, Tim, John, Steve B, me & Jay
The day went really well, everyone got on brilliantly and the conversation and laughter flowed easily, plus all of us picked up some decent books.  As gatherings go, you can’t ask for much more than that.  Roll on the next one!

p.s. Just in case you were wondering (as Tim, John and Linda all were - we told them in the Raj), the name of the group was explained in the previous Crusty post here.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Look-In Cover Art

In 2016 I wrote a Nostalgic post about Look-In, a much loved magazine of my childhood.  Looking back over those old covers was a marvellous experience, reminding me of TV shows and films I'd forgotten and helping me see where some of my interests (not least The Six Million Dollar Man, Blondie and behind-the-scenes stuff) were shaped and honed.

In keeping with another of my interests, most of the Look-In covers in the 70s were painted in acrylic by Arnaldo Putzu.  An Italian artist working in London, he made his name creating cinema posters in the 1960’s for the likes of Morecombe & Wise, Hammer (Creatures the World Forgot and The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires), the Carry On series and Get Carter (which I wrote about here).  Though other artists sometimes contributed artwork (including Arthur Ranson), his cover reign ran from 1973 through to 1981 and still looks glorious today.

Interestingly enough, my strongest memories were sparked by the covers from 1978, when I was nine (all of forty years ago) and so, with little other encouragement needed (as ever), here's a selection of that wonderful artwork.

One of the first issues I ever had - and it yielded at least one Six Million Dollar Man poster for my bedroom wall!
Huge in the 70s, Abba were frequent cover stars.  I've picked this one in particular because I love the fact their clothes are either unfinished (probably the real answer) or stylised (probably the official answer)
My favourite Bond and my favourite Bond film (which I wrote about here)
Star Wars had just opened nationally when this was published.  I was very, very eager to see it!
One of my first glimpses of the skateboard phenomenon, along with rising excitement for the World Cup
I'm assuming Benny Hill was very happy with this cover...
The promised poster of Debbie Harry probably ended up on my bedroom wall too
My parents used the term "hit parade", I don't ever remember doing so, it was always the Top 40 to me
Everyone of a certain age is probably, as they read this, hearing "Julian, Dick & Anne, George and Timmy the dog..."
I loved Return Of The Saint!
CHiPs (my sister and I used to ride two-abreast on the street, pretending we were Jon & Ponch). Lee Majors is looking a bit fluffy here, isn't he?
Ah, The Book Tower...

for more, there's a great Look-In archive on Facebook here

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Even more matte paintings (part 5)

As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm a big fan of matte paintings in films and have written about them a few times in the past (you can find the others on this link).  Since I enjoy compiling these posts - and they seem to go down well - I've had fun tracking down a few more (including one by the brilliant Albert Whitlock).  There are some excellent examples of the craft here and, once again, I've tried to highlight those that are invisible effects, extending real-life situations which I hope you'll be surprised by.


Earthquake (1974)
Directed by Mark Robson
matte painting by Albert Whitlock (see other posts about him here)

Star Wars (1977)
Directed by George Lucas
matte painting by Harrison Ellenshaw

Superman (1978)
Directed by Richard Donner
matte painting by Les Bowie

Dragonslayer (1981)
Directed by Matthew Robbins
matte painting by Christopher Evans

Tron (1982)
Directed by Steven Lisberger
matte painting by Harrison Ellenshaw

Gremlins (1984)
Directed by Joe Dante
matte painting by Rocco Gioffre

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
Directed by Barry Levinson
matte painting by Michael Pangrazio

Stand By Me (1986)
Directed by Rob Reiner
matte painting by Ken Marschall

Monster Squad (1987)
Directed by Fred Dekker
matte painting by Matthew Yuricich and Michelle Moen
leaves in the foreground were added optically
Rain Man (1988)
Directed by Barry Levinson
matte painting by Mark Sullivan

Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)
Directed by Mick Garris
matte painting by Ken Marschall

Bugsy (1991)
Directed by Barry Levinson
matte painting by Mark Sullivan

Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991)
Directed by Simon Wincer
matte painting by Rocco Gioffre

Memoirs Of An Invisible Man (1992)
Directed by John Carpenter
matte painting by Christopher Evans

There will be more matte paintings posts...

thanks again to

Monday, 26 March 2018

Naming The Bones, by Laura Mauro (a review)

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book I've read and loved, which I think adds to the genre and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan.

I actually read this last year (and it featured highly in my Top 20) but realised I hadn't blogged about it and now, with voting open for the BFS Awards, I thought it was high time to do so...
First there was darkness…

Alessa Spiteri survives a bombing incident on the London Underground only to discover that the horror she experienced there is only the beginning of the nightmare.

As she struggles to rebuild her life, she finds herself haunted by grotesque, shadowy creatures – monsters Alessa believes are hallucinations, born of her traumatised mind until she meets Casey, also the survivor of an Underground bombing, who tells her she can see the monsters too.

Together, the women plan their fightback against the creatures, a course of action which takes Alessa back into the tunnels beneath the city.
Back into the darkness. 

Alessa Spiteri is a troubled woman in her late-20s, living in the Elephant & Castle in London and stumbling through life. When she’s injured in a bombing incident on the London Underground, she becomes haunted not only by the death and destruction she’s seen around her, but also the disappearance of a fellow commuter who helped her. He wandered off down the tunnel towards a light but nobody seems to know where he’s gone. And then Alessa begins to see things in the dark, shadows and shapes with eyes and long limbs and very sharp teeth.

Naming The Bones (a practise Alessa uses to calm herself) is a dark and complex novella that pulls you deep into the story - and the struggle that she faces - whilst slowly revealing the world around her. From Alessa’s out-of-her-depth counsellor to her well-meaning sister Shannon; from Tom to the support group she tries to join; life is constantly pushing against her and the things she sees in the dark seem like the last straw. Then she meets Casey, who knows all about the shapes - she calls them Shades - and who, it appears, has a link to them. As Alessa and Casey get further into their exploration, things apparently go from bad to worse until Alessa isn’t quite sure who she can trust.

I really enjoyed this. Filled with superb writing “she felt as though she was only barely a part of the world sometimes, existing on some strange margin inhabited by the anxious and the scared and the mad” and gripping set pieces (not least the explosion on the tube that opens the book), this is written at pace and doesn’t flag at all, nor does it shy away from painting Alessa as a flawed character who is doing her best to keep her head above water. The Elephant & Castle area is used well, with plenty of landmarks and street names to anchor the story in reality and the use of the Shades - and what they can do - is both frightening and well explored. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the tube - and, indeed, Central London - is well used and becomes genuinely oppressive as the story reaches its conclusion.

A fine addition to the Dark Minds Press novella line, this is original, full of tension and scary and I would highly recommend it.

to declare an interest, Laura & I share not only a publisher but our books (this and my collection Things We Leave Behind) were launched together at Edge-Lit 6 in Derby last July (you can read about the launch here).
me, Dark Minds Press publisher Ross Warren and Laura

Monday, 19 March 2018

Cinema Listing (blast from the past)

A few weeks ago, while browsing through my copy of Skeleton Crew (for a forthcoming blog post), I found this.  I can only assume I’d ripped it out of the Kettering Evening Telegraph (dated 20th September 1986) to take into work so my friends & I could plan what we were going to see at the cinema.  We went a lot in those days.
I posted this on Facebook where it got a wonderful reaction (Phil Sloman wrote “what a time to have lived” while Gary McMahon wrote “Ah… those were the days”).  The slate of films seems like a terrific cross-section (Cobra was the first 18 certificate I got into (as I wrote about here, though according to my diary I saw it in Corby) and I saw The Evil DeadRocky IV and Karate Kid 2 all at one of the venues shown), the prices are astonishing (I remember a double-bill would cost £2.50 except, I presume, on Mondays and Thursdays) and local friends shared memories of specific venues.

I loved these places and they held a lot of history for me.  Dad took me to see my first James Bond film at Corby cinema (as I wrote about here), I saw a lot of great films at Kettering (Dad took me and Claire to Star Wars, Nick & I saw Raiders Of The Lost Ark, which I wrote about in What Gets Left Behind, Dad & I saw ET, the list goes on) and when Bentley’s opened it quickly became a favourite.

Attendance must have been falling (probably not helped by the fleapit nature) but the independents were clearly knackered and on their last legs when the multiplexes arrived and did away with them.  Sixfields in Northampton dealt the first blow and the Odeon in Kettering finished the job.  I've never been a big fan of the multiplex, I’ll still go obviously but to me they're sterile places, more interested in selling food and drinks than anything else.  Yes, Kettering Ohio had holes in the ceiling and seats were missing and it was often better to sit down in the dark so you couldn’t see the state of your seat, but it felt real, like a proper cinema, where everyone there cared about the films.

What a time to have lived indeed...

On the bright side, independent cinemas now seem to be making a comeback and we often go to the Errol Flynn in Northampton (Jon & I saw a brace of Hitchcock there, Alison & I watched La La Land and I took Dad to see Dunkirk where the soundtrack almost rattled the speakers off the wall) which is small and comfortable, well run and shows an eclectic range of films.

 And yes, I know I sound like a dinosaur.
Another clipping I kept, this one from 1982
If we fancied a change, we'd sometimes go to the ABC Northampton (now a Jesus Army Centre) or the Palace Wellingborough (now a pub called The Cutting Room).  Later, when we had our own cars, we'd go to the midnight movie at The Point in Milton Keynes (the only multiplex I ever had any fondness for, it now stands by the MK shopping centre looking knackered and forlorn).

I took this picture in 2005, knowing that the building
would eventually be knocked down and wanting to
have a record of it...
Kettering Ohio started life as the Savoy Cinema, opened as a dual purpose cinema and theatre on 21st May 1938 with Spencer Tracey in The Big City plus a variety show on stage. It was built over the remains of the Coliseum Theatre which had opened in 1910 but burned down in 1937.

The Savoy had 1,150 seats in the stalls and circle as well as a full stage (the Northampton Repertory Company performed regular seasons between 1949 and 1951) and was taken over by Clifton Cinemas on 25th August 1944.  In 1968 the circle was split off to make a smaller (485 seat) cinema called the Studio, with a bingo hall taking over the stalls and stage area.  In 1973 the screen was split into two (known as Studio 1 & 2, seating 160 and 140 respectively).  After briefly closing in 1986, it re-opened as the independent Ohio and finally closed in 1997 when the Odeon opened.

The Ohio is a key location in my novel In The Rain With The Dead (Magellan, the baddie, makes his base there) and I wrote about the cinema as it was being demolished in 2014.

Bentley’s of Burton Latimer was originally The Electric Palace, which opened in August 1914 with an auditorium that seated 500.  It became a Watts Cinema in 1938 but closed in 1960.  In 1985, Ashley Wyatt bought the building, renovated it and opened Bentley’s as a 182-seat cinema in January 1986 though it closed the following year.  It was re-opened in 1994 by Brian McFarlane (who owned the Ohio) but closed soon after.  The venue is now an Italian restaurant.

You can just see the wording "cinema" on the back of the auditoriums.
Photograph from the late 80s.
The Forum Cinema opened on 7th April 1973 as a Jerry Lewis Cinema (part of the US based Network Cinema Corporation), featuring two screens (each seating 325) as part of a new shopping centre being built in Corby.  It was almost immediately bought out by the Walker chain, re-named Oscar cinema and then, in 1980, Focus cinema before Ashley Wyatt took it over in September 1983 and renamed it Forum Cinema.  The number one screen was eventually twinned, with number two becoming a laser quest games centre and the cinema closed (to become an over-25’s nightclub called Talkies) on 24th September 1992.  The Forum Cinema site was demolished in the summer of 2005 when the shopping centre was rebuilt.

I like to think I sound like a wistfully melancholic dinosaur now...

sources: - Savoy, Kettering - Forum, Corby - Bentleys, Burton Latimer

Monday, 12 March 2018

Star Wars in Look-In, 40 years ago

Growing up in the 70s, I was a big fan (and avid reader) of Look-In magazine (I wrote about it here),  published by Independent Television Publications Ltd and subtitled ‘The Junior TV Times’.  Back then, you have to remember, there was no Internet so everything you knew about TV shows, music and films came from whatever was on the news - but Look-In changed that.  Designed and written for kids, it featured major film and pop stars, sports people and TV stars of the day, along with comic strips of popular shows and occasional behind the scenes articles.  I loved it.

Back in 1977 and 1978, a lot of us had gone Star Wars mad and the clamour for information and memorabilia was incredible.  We had the Marvel comics, of course (which I wrote about here) and the Collectors Edition but otherwise, there wasn’t a great deal.  Thankfully, my favourite magazine was on hand to help out and Look-In became, in 1978, a terrific resource for Star Wars.  The film appeared a lot within the magazine as the year went on and made the cover three times.

It’s first cover appearance was No. 1 1978 (w/e 31st December 1977) and the issue included an article, a fantastic centrespread poster and a competition to win 25 sets of albums and t-shirts. 
Mark Hamill took to the cover, along with Donna Summer, in No. 6 (w/e 4th February 1978).  The issue included a feature on Stewpot’s Newsdesk (“Letraset Star Buys” about the transfers and stationery, which I wrote about here), a feature on Mark Hamill and the centrespread poster featured two pictures of him, in his flight suit and on Tatooine.  Also of interest to me, there was a poster of Lee Majors on the back cover.

The third appearance, in No. 11 (w/e 11th March 1978), came complete with a free gift (“2 Star Wars Letraset Transfers”) and an advert on TV.  In addition, there was a poster of Han and Chewie on the inside cover and Gerry Anderson wrote about the film in his weekly column (“I can honestly say that I wish I had been the one who made it!”)

 The full set (curiously, no sign of Han Solo...)
pic courtesy of

Look-In magazine was launched on 9th January 1971 and in addition to the weekly issues published twenty annuals (dated between 1971 and 1990) and a Summer Special each year.  The final issue appeared on 12th March 1994.


Monday, 5 March 2018

The Professionals and other Novelisations...

A couple of weeks ago I posted the cover of the book I was then reading on Facebook.  It got much more of a reaction than I expected, with several friends saying they’d been inspired to track down copies of their own.  When I shared the same image on Twitter it led to people I didn’t know (often on the other side of the world) sharing reminisces of the TV show and, often, pictures of their own library and it was wonderful, social media at its very best.  And it got me thinking about the joy of novelisations.
cover scan of my copy
First published by Sphere Books in 1980, reprinted in 1981 and 1982 (this edition)
A few weeks before, alone in the house, I caught the end of an episode of The Professionals on ITV4.  It had been a long time since I’d last seen one and it worked so well, I set it up to series record and assumed I’d be re-watching them on my own.  I mentioned it to Alison who hummed the opening riff of the theme tune and decided she’d like to watch some too and we’ve been catching up with them ever since.

The day after my birthday we went to a Toy Fair at the NEC and, in addition to picking up a couple of the annuals I’d lost over time, I found a small box on one stall selling a handful of the Sphere novelisations.  I bought all the ones there and decided to start with this one, volume 8, because we’d just seen the title episode and I really enjoyed it. 
Before catching the show again, I only had book 4 in my collection., the Toy Fair and ebay helping me fill some of the gaps
Novelisations were a big deal in the 70s and 80s because video wasn’t readily available and these slim paperbacks were the only way to relive your favourite TV show or film - my first (no surprise to regular readers of this blog) was Star Wars, as ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster (which I wrote about here).  Film novelisations began being published in the 1920’s for silent films such as London After Midnight and Sparrows, while the first talkie to be novelised was King Kong (1933).  They hit a peak in the 1970s that carried easily into the 1980s (one of my favourites from this time was Some Kind Of Wonderful by David Bischoff, based on the screenplay by John Hughes - I still haven’t seen the film) and continues today (friends of mine write them regularly).  There were also lots published to coincide with TV series and one particular treat of haunting second hand bookshops is stumbling on the occasional treasure, a paperback link you never knew existed to a show that mainly exists in your memories.

There were fifteen volumes in The Professionals series, credited to the house name “Ken Blake”, though all but four of them were by science-fiction writer Kenneth Bulmer (fantasy author Robert Holdstock wrote the others).  All were based on the shooting scripts and, as with James Blish's Star Trek novelisations, most featured three episodes (though a couple were based on just one). 
Top line from left, images from "Dead Reckoning", "Mixed Doubles" and "Need To Know"
bottom image - Bodie & Doyle
Dead Reckoning features the eponymous episode (written by Robin Estridge), where a spy is extradited in secret to the UK but the Bulgarians who exchanged him seem to want his arrival made public.  When he’s murdered, CI5 suspect his estranged daughter. 

Mixed Doubles (written by series creator Brian Clemens) has Bodie & Doyle undergoing training to protect a Middle Eastern president called Parsali, their programme duplicated by two killers who are preparing to assassinate him.  This contains the killer line, wonderfully delivered by Lewis Collins: “I believe in me, 'cos I was born tall, dark and beautiful.... and engagingly modest, of course!”  Interestingly, I was reading this part of the book when the episode came up in our run.

The final story is Need To Know (episode also by Clemens) wherein an old colleague of Cowley’s is arrested for being a double agent, implicated the CI5 chief. 

Having seen all three episodes recently, it was interesting to compare them and, for the most part, the book did a good job.  Bulmer wrote them well (though he seemed to have a thing for Bodie’s ‘famous’ eyebrows, lips and nostrils), with a good grasp of action and location and they cracked along at a terrific pace.
cover scan of my copy
First published by Star, a division of W H Allen in 1983
I had a similar thing happen last year, when I re-discovered The A-Team on Forces TV.  Admittedly not as well made as The Professionals, the first three series (which I remembered fondly-if-vaguely from my teens) were great fun and inspired me to seek out the novelisations, a few of which I’d originally owned but long since lost.  There were ten books in the series (the last four of which were only published in the UK), the first six written by Charles Heath with most blending two episodes.  My favourites (back in the 80s and on these re-reads) were both from double-length episodes, the first book above (adapted from the pilot Mexican Slayride) and the third, the simply brilliant When You Comin' Back, Range Rider? (adapted from the eponymous second series episode written by Frank Lupo).  In fact, if someone were to ask me to define The A-Team, I’d point them towards that episode and novelisation.  As I wrote on Goodreads:
This is precisely what the A-Team was all about - there’s plenty of action, a lot of humour (between the team themselves and also other characters, such as a couple on Hollywood Boulevard who think Decker is George Peppard) and a decent resolution to the story. The characters (all clearly defined on the show by then) are well drawn, the Arizona locations well described and the pace is spot on, the story racing from one set-piece to the next. I thoroughly enjoyed this read, so much so I wanted to re-watch the double-episode as soon as I’d finished it. 
A selection of some of the novelisations from my library
So what were your favourite novelisations?

If you’re looking to find old favourites, ebay is often your friend (but be aware of how some sellers define ‘Very Good’), though nothing can beat the sense of triumph when you find something exciting quite by chance in a second hand book emporium.  Happy hunting!

For more information on The Professionals, I highly recommend Dave Matthews’ Authorised Guide To The Professionals which you can find at this link.  I will be publishing a blog about The A-Team later this year.