Monday, November 30, 2009

Candy and Andy

In 1966, at the height of his powers, "supermarionation" creator Gerry Anderson came up with a bold concept for a new television series. He had already designed the puppets and with the recent success of Thunderbirds behind him, it looked certain that the new project would be given the green light.

But there was one problem: Anderson's idea was utterly mad.

The new series was given a unanimous thumbs down by television executives, but undeterred, Anderson turned his idea into a franchise, spawning 154 issues of a comic and several books. The whole sorry episode lasted less than three years but it was long enough to screw-up a generation of under 5s.

Welcome to the world of "Candy and Andy":

Candy and Andy are just like any other children, except that they are plastic and live with two panda bears called Mr and Mrs Bearanda. They drive around in a Mini called Stripey.

The Candy and Andy books fail to explain the children's relationship with the Bearandas. It is clearly not a genetic bond, so were Candy and her brother adopted? Is Andy even Candy's brother? We are never told.

With their panda parents, Candy and Andy live in a world of humans (and a talking hedgehog). It should be enchanting, but the reality is deeply disturbing.

A slightly coquettish pose from Candy.

In Candy and Andy's world, you do talk to strangers. Oddly enough, these strangers are never alarmed by the presence of two sinister dolls.

A moment of reflection.

This photo is the stuff of nightmares, with Candy and Andy sitting on the lap of an evil-looking Father Christmas. This was the era before CRB checks, when perverts and sex offenders were able to find work as store Santas. This one looks as if he's just been released from Parkhurst.

I inherited a Candy and Andy book when I was three and forgot all about it until this year, when I started suffering from flashbacks. Perhaps it was my new job. If Proust was inspired to write a mammoth novel from the whiff of a few cakes, what hope did I have with thousands of books at my disposal?

There is another disturbing aspect to this story. I am a hardcore rationalist, but one day I saw a box of books and the words "Candy and Andy" came into my head. I started to unpack the contents and there, lying at the bottom, was the first Candy and Andy book I had seen since I was three. I now know the meaning of the phrase "sent a shiver down my spine".

Candy and Andy has been conveniently airbrushed out of Gerry Anderson's career history. There is no mention of them on Wikipedia and apart from one dedicated 1960s website, I can only find a few cursory references.

There are probably thousands of people in Britain who shudder at the sight of dolls without knowing why and find themselves suffering from recurring nightmares about talking pandas and psychedelic Minis. Like most traumas from early childhood, these memories are deeply repressed.

Perhaps it is time to form a support group for victims of Candy and Andy. We may have had our childhoods stolen by the weird, perverted fantasies of Gerry Anderson, but at least we can work together to end the nightmares.

NB - If you're wondering what happened to Candy and Andy, I'm told that Candy made a few soft porn films in the 1970s, before marrying a millionaire property speculator. She now manages a chain of high class hotels. Andy never managed to cope with the transition from child star to adult and his last acting role was in 1987, at a pantomime in Swindon. He was arrested last year for stealing a Breville Sandwich Maker from a branch of John Lewis. He still lives with Mrs Bearanda.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Northern Lights

I have just had a long, hot bath in an attempt to remove a thick layer of dust and grime from a day in a warehouse. My days as a foppish aesthete are long gone; I could go to a working men's club and look them all squarely in the eye.

Most baths seemed to be designed for midgets, so two years ago I bought the largest one I could find and I can now enjoy the bliss of being fully immersed in water. As an added bonus, the tap sometimes drips a syncopated, atonal tune that sounds like the theme tune of The Time Tunel. All I need is a Saul Bass intro sequence.

I've spent most of this week in the warehouse, throwing books away. It feels counter-intuitive to consign books to oblivion, but the alternative is a building that is mostly full of crap. By throwing the MS-Dos manual from 1992 or the collections of Reader's Digest condensed books, I can make more room for the titles that deserve to survive.

As expected, I found a few gems, including these photos from the album of a Lincolnshire family:

The first thing that came into my mind was "How Northern." It's not just the flat cap, but also the faces, particularly the man's.

I wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of this couple.

A suitably bleak, wintry background for this couple. The man is clearly a master of Ecky Thump (Wikipedia link added for the 90% of readers who will be baffled by this).

One word: conditioner.

Here is clear evidence that, contrary to popular myth, Moslems successfully integrated into British society long before the 1950s.

Lincolnshire clearly enjoyed a vibrant gay scene, even 90 years ago.


This soldier is taking five cameras to the Front. I suppose it's hard to get film out there.

A traditional childhood scene, apart from the cool, time-travelling boy with the polo-neck sweater.

This woman is oblivious to the fact that a small UFO is hovering above her head.

This hussy is brazenly revealing her right hand. Whatever next?

Children's fashions were clearly far superior to contemporary styles.

95 years on, there is still a school in Edward Street.

Unlike the other photo albums I've come across, there are two clues to its origin: the surname Ladley and the town of Grimsby. I know next to nothing about Grimsby, except that it is an important port. I doubt I'll ever go there.

A quick check on Wikipedia reveals that Grimsby features in the PlayStation 3 game "Resistance: Fall of Man". Wikipedia also mentions the fact that a Grimsby sex shop owner was fined £5,800 because customers successfully complained to Trading Standards that his films weren't pornographic enough.

But to return to the album, it is sad that these photos have ended up in the hands of strangers. The album was carefully compiled and although it may not have been done for posterity, I think that most of us hope that future generations, whether they are direct descendants or nieces and nephews, will act as custodians of what we were.

This album reached the end of the line and was destined to be thrown in a skip.I like the idea that these photos will probably now been seen by more people than ever. I hope the Ladleys would approve.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Damned by Faint Praise

I found this book club newsletter today:

If you haven't read Monica Dickens (great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens), you'll be pleased to know that her books are "always acceptable". I know that values have changed, but was there ever a time when that was high praise?

I'm afraid to say that I have sent a lot of Monica Dickens novels to be "recycled" (i.e. turned into road surfacing material) during the last few days. Like many middlebrow novelists who were incredibly popular in their time, Monica Dickens' books have no value today, as the supply far outstrips the demand. This is a great pity, as what I've read of Dickens compares favourably with many contemporary writers of popular fiction.

Monica Dickens was an interesting character. She was born into a privileged background and went to St Paul's Girls' School, but in her youth she chose to become a domestic servant and gained an insight into life "below stairs". I wonder if her great-grandfather's writing influenced this eccentric decision?

In the 1970s, her Follyfoot children's novels were succesfully adapted for television. I was going to include the title sequence of the programme, but that was before I discovered the magic of Richard Shireby and his electronic organ, playing Follyfoot's memorable theme tune:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


The company I work for has recently gone through a period of expansion. This always makes me nervous. I've worked for other businesses that have grown too quickly and they invariably end up being taken over by bastards who use words like upskill and robust. I hope it will be different this time.

One result of this sudden expansion is that I now around 30,000 books to deal with, so you can expect to see a lot more bookmarks and other ephemera. In the meantime, these are what caught my eye today:

There are times when an author photo isn't a good idea. The blurb beneath says that "W. H. Rowe comes from Cornish stock..." as if that explains everything.

This postcard fell out of a book on planes. The back reads "The plane was a Jumbo and stopped at Zurich and Nairobi. I didn't bother getting off. The plane went over the jungle - I didn't see Tavyan, but here are some Zulus."

A cheery note with a simple message: you only have yourself to blame. I'd have torn it up.

This colour illustration comes from the slightly misnamed Jolly Book, published around 100 years ago. Like most children's annuals of the time, it is bizarre mixture of crass sentimentality, casual racism and religious indoctrination. Interestingly, the annuals published after 1918 are far more restrained.

Finally, my new favourite book title:

This title conjures up a variety of wonderful images. It's an interesting concept, but I think I'll stick to packets for the time being.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


My youngest son is now four. We held a party for him on Sunday and as far as these things go, it appeared to be a great success. It lasted for two hours, which seems to be the unspoken rule for how long a party for young children should last.

I'm not sure how this consensus emerged. Perhaps it's the maximum amount of time that anyone can bear, or maybe the children start crying and wanting to use the potty after the chime of the second hour. Either way, I'm not complaining.

I was very well behaved. I was under instructions not to offer wine to the adults or play any Gary Glitter tracks, so I helpfully brewed cups of Fairtrade coffee and changed the CBeebies compilation CDs every 45 minutes.

It started off very well. The children and mothers went up to my son's bedroom, while I remained downstairs, reading the Sunday papers. Unfortunately, halfway into a review of The White Ribbon, they all piled into the dining room and I felt obliged to be sociable.

My presence was completely superfluous. I wasn't able to contribute anything to the conversation about the merits of different playgroups and stood leaning against the wall, smiling inanely, making an occasional platitudinous contribution to the discussion.

My wife said that she could see the agony on my face.

It's not as if I'm not the sort of person who is happiest talking sport with the boys. I feel equally comfortable (or uncomfortable) talking to men or women and the three mothers who attended the party were all likeable, interesting, highly accomplished people. But I couldn't get rid of the feeling that I was a spare part.

I shall have to invent a pressing DIY task next year.

Birthdays are bittersweet occasions. On the one hand, I felt elated that the strange little blue creature who almost died four years ago (from having an umbilical cord wrapped around his neck) is now a healthy, happy, bright little boy with a wonderful sense of humour. On the other, I feel sad that it won't be that long before the innocence and endearing malapropisms are replaced with talk of PS3s and Wii games.

At the moment, thanks to a diet of Ladybird books, my son is convinced that it is 1961. He's in for a terrible shock when he goes to school.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Edward Woodward

If your surname was Woodward, you probably wouldn't want to call your son Edward: Ed wood wood wood.

But someone did, and it didn't do their child any harm.

Edward Woodward died today, and this was probably his finest hour:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Dark Side

On BBC Radio Three, there is a superb programme called Nightwaves, described as a "flagship arts and ideas programme, featuring in-depth interviews; vociferous debates on key cultural and philosophical questions" (why do things have to be called flagship now? Is main too plain?).

I rarely listen to it, but I do catch up with the podcast which features highlights from the previous week.

Last week's podcast contained highlights from the Free Thinking Festival in Gateshead and included a fascinating talk by Dr Gwen Adshead, a consultant psychotherapist at Broadmoor. The name Broadmoor will probably mean nothing to anyone outside the UK, so I should explain that it is a top security psychiatric hospital and houses many of Britain's most dangerous criminals. If Hannibal Lecter was English, he'd be in Broadmoor.

Dr Adhead's talk was called "A Woman's Right to Be Evil" and was one of the most interesting and humane things I've heard for a long time. Here is a link to the programme, but just in case the BBC are being silly about allowing non-licence payers to have access to their programes, I have embedded a 15-minute extract.

I normally work on the principle that my blog posts shouldn't take more than a minute to read. However, I think you'll regard this extract as 15 minutes well spent:

Monday, November 09, 2009

French polish

Isn't there a horrible song that begins with "If a picture paints a thousand words..."? I'm not sure, but I have memories of listening to it on the sorts of radio stations that you only listen to when you have 'flu and feel too ill to read, watch television or concentrate on something worthy.

The song's sentiments seem to be the guiding principle behind a 1950 publication that I found today called, simply, "The Frenchman". The book consists of 48 pages of questions and answers with a French actor called Fernandel - not a fascinating concept in itself, but made more appealing by the fact that Fernandel's answers are limited to body language.

Here are a few examples:

"We Americans are very much against sin. How about you, Monsieur?"

"Does the average Frenchman still pinch pretty girls in a crowd?"

"Do you know that here this kind of conduct will land one in jail?"

"What would you rather give up - women or garlic?"

"As a Frenchman, what do you think of American sweater girls?"

"We hope that you have tasted our California champagne?"

What is it about the French? In any other country, a strange nose, bad teeth and a generally odd face would be considered a handicap. However, in France it's all part of the je ne sais quois, the joi de vivre and the honi soir qui mal y pense. It's one of many things I admire about France.

But before I launch into a homage (or should that be hommage) to the French and their rich artistic and culinary heritage, I'd like to ask Fernandel two questions:
  1. Why is Kevin now one of the most popular baby names in France?
  2. Why are the French taking more antidepressants than any other nation in Europe?
What would Fernandel say?

*Triva fact - Fernandel is mentioned by Camus in L'Etranger, when Meursault and Marie watch him in a film.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Grim Grimm

Is it just me, or is there something deeply wrong about this cover design?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Planet of the Apes

This image is doing the rounds in the blogosphere, but in case you haven't seen it, this photo was published in the November issue of the National Geographic. In the foreground is the dead body of a chimpanzee called Dorothy, who died of heart failure.

What makes this picture so remarkable and incredibly moving is the sight of Dorothy's companions watching her from the other side of the fence. One article referred to the "grieving chimps", but instead of the tired cliches of anthropormorphisation, I'd rather celebrate the magic of chimpdom. Almost human is an insult.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Death to the Infidels!

It's a little known fact that publishers often appear on the covers of their own books, or at least parts of them do. The shapely legs you see on the front cover of a chick lit novel may belong to Miranda in Editorial, whilst the bloodstained hand of a serial killer is probably Darren from Sales and Marketing.

I've no idea whether these two worked in publishing:

The angry-looking Arab seems particularly suspect - the beard is on a par with Gary Johnston's disguise in Team America:

It might be Darren from Sales, but it could equally be Miranda from Editorial. We will probably never know.