Dragon in the Foyer

The first time I went to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour was in 2015, just after they had added the Hogwarts Express and Kings Cross set to the tour. At the end of November 2019 we made a return visit, mainly to see how different it was dressed for Christmas and with snow.

last time we were in the foyer waiting to go in, suspended from the ceiling was the magical flying Ford Anglia. This time there was a dragon!

Dragon in the Foyer

Dragon in the Foyer

This of course is a model of the dragon that was chained in the vaults in Gringotts.

Televisual Advent Calendar #03 – Secret Army

Secret Army

This is my 2019 Televisual Advent Calendar. I did a musical version in 2011 and a cinematic one in 2012. It is in no particular order and I make no apologies for the TV series that I am blogging about. These TV series have either made me think, I have enjoyed or have had some impact on me. These are scripted TV series, some are drama, some are comedy, some are both. I found it really hard to narrow this down to just 24.

Today is about BBC’s Secret Army.

One of the reasons I wanted to write this series of blog posts was to remember some of those series I watched in the 1970s and 1980s that I remember with nostalgia and fondness.

The series tells the story of a fictional Belgian resistance movement in German-occupied Belgium during the Second World War dedicated to returning Allied airmen, usually having been shot down by the Luftwaffe, to Great Britain. It was made in the UK and Belgium and three series were broadcast on BBC1 between 1977 and 1979.

Though this series was eclipsed in some respects by the comedy ‘Allo ‘Allo which was a pastiche of Secret Army, I remember this series well and many of the plots and stories. Of course one thing which is often forgotten or confused was that Secret Army wasn’t set in France, but was set in occupied Belgium.

Secret Army

A few years ago I borrowed a copy of the series from a relative and watched the whole series from start to finish over a few weeks. It was just as good as I remembered. I may have not watched the first season when it was first broadcast, as it seemed (and is) different to the second and third series. As with many series recorded in the 1970s there is a quite a difference as indoor scenes (shot on video tape) cut to outdoor scenes (shot on film). That different grading was quite marked and is something that of course we don’t see today with the use of the same (digital) cameras for both internal and external sets.

The stories were powerful and you started to have a very slight insight into the horrors and struggles that the people who lived through the Nazi occupation had to suffer. One story I remember well was the story based around Operation Market Garden and the impact of that assault on civilians in the background. I think that was one of the powerful aspects of the series, this was not about military forces, but was about the civilians struggling under military occupation.

Secret Army

I also felt that the liberation was covered well, in that it wasn’t this straightforward change of state from occupied to liberated. The confusion over who had collaborated and who hadn’t, and the vigilantism that went on.

And of course the closing credits were a classic.

Get Secret Army on DVD.

 

Televisual Advent Calendar #02 – The West Wing

What’s next?

President Bartlett

This is my 2019 Televisual Advent Calendar. I did a musical version in 2011 and a cinematic one in 2012. It is in no particular order and I make no apologies for the TV series that I am blogging about. These TV series have either made me think, I have enjoyed or have had some impact on me. These are scripted TV series, some are drama, some are comedy, some are both. I found it really hard to narrow this down to just 24.

The second in this series is The West Wing.

The West Wing was an American political drama television series created by Aaron Sorkin. It was broadcast in the US from 1999 to 2006.

The West Wing

As with many programmes in this calendar, I don’t recall when I started watching The West Wing. So doing a google search I unearthed this article from the Guardian.

Sky One was actually the first UK broadcaster to transmit The West Wing, running the first series back in 2000.

Well, having never had Sky, I know I didn’t watch it then.

Channel 4’s entertainment service E4 then took over in 2001, broadcasting series two-to-five on Tuesdays at 9pm.

This is probably more likely when I started to watch it, however back in 2001, E4 was a pay-TV companion to Channel 4 and I never subscribed to E4. It wasn’t until 2004 that E4 was free. Though reading on in the article I saw this.

On Channel 4, the show has had an even more peripatetic existence. Series one was broadcast on Thursday nights in 2001, with the second run moved to Sundays the following year.

I have a feeling that this is more likely when I started to watch it. Though I have a feeling I may have found others way to watch it….

I knew very little about the American political system, processes and how it all worked, so on the surface I wonder why I both enjoyed the series and got into it in the first place. I had really no idea about the American instruments of government and the more I immersed myself into the series, the more interested I got.

The series is set primarily in the West Wing of the White House, where the Oval Office and offices of presidential senior staff are located, during the fictitious Democratic administration of Josiah Bartlet. The stories are about the senior staff, their relationships and their struggles and successes in pushing their political agenda.

Josh Lynam
Bradley Whitford as Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman — NBC Photo: David Rose

One of the things I heard about the original concept was that the series was going to be about the staffers, and that the President would be rarely seen or heard. The series did change this as it progressed through the first season. 

One thing that I am currently enjoying is The West Wing Weekly Podcast which reviews all the episodes on a weekly basis.

Though I have listened to fan podcasts of shows, I think what I really enjoyed with The West Wing Weekly was the inside knowledge that Joshua Malina brings to the recording. He has worked with Aaron Sorkin the write behind the West Wing for many years including the stage version of A Few Good Men and the film, The American President. He also joined the cast of The West Wing in 2002. The format of the show is based on the concept of having watched the episode in question, you listen to the podcast as Josh and Hrishikesh discuss the plot, the character development, the filming. They also bring in guests, so for example, in the third episode they bought in a guest, Dulé Hill, who played Presidential Aide, Charlie Young.

I did understand at the time, that the real White House was probably nothing like the series, in the same way that the House of Cards was nothing like Parliament. Today I am not so sure…

Get the complete series of The West Wing on DVD.

Get The West Wing on Amazon Video.

Get the complete series of The West Wing on iTunes.

Hogwarts in the Snow

The first time I went to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour was in 2015, just after they had added the Hogwarts Express and Kings Cross set to the tour. At the end of November 2019 we made a return visit, mainly to see how different it was dressed for Christmas and with snow.

Last time I was really impressed with the Hogwarts model, incredible detail and modelling, and how realistic it looks (for a fantasy school) both in miniature form and on on screen.

The snow just adds to the model and it looks great.

Get the complete set of Harry Potter films on DVD, Blu-Ray or 4K.
Get the complete set of Harry Potter films on Amazon Video or Apple iTunes.
Get the complete set of Harry Potter Books.

Televisual Advent Calendar #01 – Babylon 5

And so, it begins…

Babylon 5 Logo

In 2011 I did a musical advent calendar that I posted to Google+ (remember that) and a final summary on this blog.

In 2012 I did a cinematic advent calendar of twenty four films. These were films that I really liked and have enjoyed at the cinema.

This year on a similar theme I will be posting a televisual advent calendar of twenty four TV series. It is in no particular order and I make no apologies for the TV series that I am blogging about. These TV series have either made me think, I have enjoyed or have had some impact on me.

These are scripted TV series, some are drama, some are comedy, some are both. I found it really hard to narrow this down to just 24.

Some of these I have watched live on TV, some I recorded on VHS, some I watched from catchup services, others through things like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Some I have watched more than once.

So what is the first show in my Televisual Advent Calendar? Well it’s Babylon 5.

Series One cast of Babylon 5

There are a fair few SF series in my Televisual Advent Calendar and it would be difficult to name my overall favourite, but I think Babylon 5 would be very near to, or even at the top of any such list.

As a child I didn’t watch a huge amount of science fiction, and I certainly wouldn’t have classed myself (nor would others) as a fan of science fiction television or even films. Yes I did queue up to see rather first Star Wars film in 1977, we queued around the block to see the film at the cinema in Cambridge, but I didn’t go and see The Empire Strikes Back at the cinema. I remember enjoying Doctor Who and Blakes’ Seven, but other shows I remember watching, but not necessarily been anymore excited or enthralled with than with other shows, such as police or drama series.

I remember watching the first episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation at university, well I say remember, they were shown late in the Junior Common Room and I think I might have drunk a little too much.

As I got older, I started to watch a little more science fiction television, I did start to watch Star Trek The Next Generation, so was a little more prepared for Babylon 5 when it started.

As with many TV shows in the 1990s the only real option was to watch them as they were broadcast. I don’t recall when I started watching it. The show premiered in the United States on January 26, 1994, but was shown weekly without a break on Channel 4 in the UK. One aspect of this was that the last few episodes were shown in the UK before they were broadcast in the US.

Unlike many TV series, Babylon 5 was all about the “arc”, this wasn’t a series of individual discrete episodes, no there was a story in this series that was going to cover all five seasons. Each individual episode had a story, but either it contributed to the arc, or it contained other story elements which added to the series arc.

Since Babylon 5 was broadcasts story arcs have become the norm in serial television, sometimes to the point that only the arc is part of each episode and discrete episodes are either rare or non-existent.

I was impressed with the special effects, the series was one of the first to use CGI extensively for ship battles, as a result there were more of these kinds of shots in the series and more complex battles than we had seen in series such as Star Trek. Most episodes of Star Trek used stationary models for starships, they eventually went down the CGI route, probably heavily influenced by the effects seen on Babylon 5. I think what I really enjoyed about Babylon 5 though, was less the effects, was more the politics behind the story arc, this was where the real drama was.

Cast of Babylon 5 Series 5

The ongoing political and military conflict between Earth, the Minbari, the Centauri and the Narn created engaging and interesting stories. Throw in the mysterious Vorlons and Shadows only added to the arc and stories.

Overall I really enjoyed watching Babylon 5 and have re-watched it on DVD since.

Babylon 5

Get Babylon 5 on DVD.

Get Babylon 5 on Amazon Video.

Get Babylon 5 on iTunes.

Give me a B….

Give me a B….

Bristol Art

Give me a R….

Bristol Art

Give me a I….

Bristol Art

Give me a S….

Bristol Art

Give me a T….

Bristol Art

Give me a O….

Bristol Art

Give me a L….

Bristol Art

What do we have?

Bristol

Bristol Art

I saw this art installation in Quaker’s Friar in November 2017.

What did you want to be when you grow up?

I found this BBC article interesting about a report from the OECD.

By the age of seven, children are already facing limits on their future aspirations in work, according to a report from the OECD international economics think tank.

It got me thinking about my own aspirations and career plans when I was younger.

If I remember correctly at the age of seven I think I wanted to be a postman!

Royal Mail Van

At secondary school I went through a range of ideas, including being a BBC camera operator, an architect and working in a bank. I even ran our school bank for a couple of years.

Midland Bank

Then doing work experience at my local Midland Bank certainly put me off working in a bank!

When I was in my teens I wanted to work in the city in London. As a result I did Economics at A Level. Then I watched ITV’s Capital City and decided not to!

Just doing a Google search on the series I now see it had a young Jason Isaacs in the cast.

Jason Isaacs

I thought Capital City was broadcast in the mid 1980s, but according to the Wikipedia page it was actually broadcast in 1989. Shows how time plays tricks with your memories, as I always thought Capital City was one of the reasons I studied Economics, which wasn’t true, as I chose my A Level choices in 1985, a good four years before I saw the series. Now thinking that the series probably had a negative impact on my career choices.

At University I studied Economics, however my career plans were somewhat skewed by doing charity fundraising. So was not going to attempt to work in London.

I left university without a clear career plan. What about you? What did you want to do when you were seven?

Star Trek: Picard

I quite enjoyed Star Trek: The Next Generation: so I am quite looking forward to the new Star Trek series Picard.

It is released on Amazon Prime on the 23rd January 2020.

There is a trailer out which has some old friends in and certainly looks like an exciting series

Quite impressed with the special effects, will be interesting to see how they “improve” the technology and effects from when they filmed The Next Generation

Should be fun.

The Longleat Miniature Railway

Longleat House

On a recent visit to Longleat Wildlife and Safari Park we rode on the Miniature Railway. It reminded me that we, as a family, had done this quite a few times over the years. So when we got home I looked over my photographs and it bought back lots of happy memories.

The 15 inch railway was established in 1965 and expanded in 1976. The track has changed over the years, but currently skirts the lake before heading back to the station through the trees. There is a tunnel and a halt which is used at Christmas.

My first visit to Longleat was in the early 1970s, of which I don’t remember much, and I am not even sure if we went there. What I do remember was going to sleep, having an amazing dream about going to a Safari Park and getting a safari themed Land Rover in the shop.

Corgi Longleat Safari Land RoverWhen I woke up in the morning, I was astounded to find the Land Rover in my room.

It looked a lot like this one.

Was it a dream, was it reality? No idea if I travelled on the railway, it was just a dream…

Myself and my wife visited in 2002, but I don’t think we travelled on the train, as we only did the safari park. Back then the train was an extra cost, as were most of the other non-park attractions.

As a family we took my son to Longleat in 2005 and as well as going around the Safari Park, we also travelled the railway. He was really into trains.

The Longleat Miniature Railway

We were pulled by the Ceawlin, locomotive number five.

the Ceawlin, locomotive number five

In this photograph you can see the Lenka Railcar, the only engine built at Longleat. It was sold to private owner in 2017.

Lenka Railcar

We went again in 2008, but I have no photographs of the train, but I am pretty sure we must have had a ride on the train back then.

Between 2011 and 2017 the railway was known as the Jungle Express, with the station and carriages given additional theming.

Longleat Jungle Express

We visited in 2012 and travelled on the Jungle Express.

Longleat Jungle Express

This time the train was pulled by the Flynn Locomotive.

Flynn, Longleat Jungle Express

I do remember that the station had a model railway shop, but by our visit in 2012, it had stopped selling model trains and now sold toy trains, wooden trains and stuff.

On our most recent visit the Jungle Express theming had gone, as had the shop.

The Longleat Miniature Railway

The railway has fifteen carriages, all built at Longleat between 1976 and 2013 and are now wearing mock British Railways crimson and cream livery The railway also has several permanent way wagons.

Longleat Miniature Railway

This time our train was pulled by the huge John Thynn.

John Thynn

We enjoyed our most recent visit and I expect we might go again some time in the future.