Later this month, I’ll be attending a special book launch for the biography of Ronnie Le Drew, a professional puppeteer who has worked extensively in the TV, film and theatre industries.
For my whole life, I’ve always been interested in puppets and puppetry. I grew up with the likes of Zippy, Bungle, and George. Sooty, Sweep and Soo. Rod Hull and Emu. Basil Brush, Roland Rat, and many more besides. The Muppets were a big thing in our household too (if only I could find the photo of me and my cousins sitting around the TV watching The Muppet Show – it was the most 80’s photo you could ever imagine thanks to our tracksuits and furniture coverings).
When I was older, I wanted to work for the Jim Henson Creature Shop helping design and build the computer performance systems that powered some of their most advanced animatronic creations. I didn’t particularly want to be a puppeteer so much, though this photo suggests otherwise:
The irony was that I’d end up working for a visual effects company that would replace traditional puppets with all-CG versions – this was the case for the film Ella Enchanted in which Heston the Snake was originally going to be a practical puppet, but was instead entirely CG (and voiced by Steve Coogan).
But nevertheless, I still love the art of puppetry and the people behind the performance. I’ve already had the great privilege to meet Louise Gold about 20 years ago, who was an active member of Jim Henson’s Muppet performers during the time The Muppet Show was being recorded in England. She’s an extraordinary all-around performer and was most recently seen in Fiddler on the Roof in the West End.
So it’ll be nice to meet Ronnie and fellow fans at the launch of his new book in a few weeks time. I already have a copy of the book in Kindle format, but I’m going to wait a bit before reading because a good book is like a good wine. Best enjoyed slowly.
I had originally written and long and waffly review last week, but I felt it was too nitpicky, but more specifically, too waffly. So I thought I’d try giving it another go.
I’ll start off by saying that alongside Peter Harness’ and Toby Hayne’s adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Good Omens is one of the most faithful book adaptations I’ve ever come across.
It’s been some time since I last read the book, and indeed, I gave my only copy away a few months ago at Woking Railway Station so that others can enjoy the madcap antics of the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley. But as the series progressed, it all came flooding back.
The Good Omens TV mini-series shares a number of people across different Neil and Terry projects. For starters, the director Douglas Mackinnon and executive producer Caroline Skinner have both worked with Neil Gaiman on Doctor Who. Not forgetting David Tennant, of course. Gavin Finney (director of photography) and Rod Brown (executive producer) have worked together across Terry’s previous television adaptations: Hogfather, The Colour of Magic and Going Postal.
Cast-wise, perhaps only a budget afforded by a joint production with BBC Studios could pay for the likes of an all-star cast including Frances McDormand, Nick Offerman, Jon Hamm, Michael McKean, Michael Sheen, David Tennant, Miranda Richardson, Brian Cox, David Morrissey, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Though given how well read Good Omens is with the cast, I’m sure they’d have given up a hefty chunk of their usual salary to appear in the show. Though given Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest man, planning on some major space initiatives, he could afford to pay everybody on this production handsomely – several times over.
But it is the cast which makes this show so much fun to watch. Clearly Michael Sheen and David Tennant are having so much fun playing Aziraphale and Crowley respectively. These two hereditary enemies form a close bond over the many centuries since humanity was kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and are very happy with the status quo of things in the world (occasionally getting involved to help things along a bit). So when the Apocalypse comes a-calling, they’ve got to do something about it. They are the ultimate odd couple.
During their adventures, we come across weird and wonderful characters such as Agnes Nutter, a witch, who has written the world’s only truly accurate book of prophecies, which is inherited by her ancestor Anathema Device who sets out to stop the antichrist. But it turns out everybody has misplaced him. He was supposed to be given to the American Ambassador, but it turns out that the antichrist was given to an ordinary couple who raised him lovingly in a small village near an American airbase. His name is Adam, and on his 10th birthday when he wishes for a dog of his own, hell sends him a hell hound. But as he doesn’t know he is the antichrist, he just wants a small puppy. And the hell hound must obey him. So we see this big, snarling, more-teeth-than-should-be-healthy-for-a-dog, suddenly transform into the world’s cutest puppy.
We meet Newton Pulsifer, a man who loves computers, but every time he goes near one, it breaks. He ends up working for Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell, who is absolutely convinced witches still exist and is recruiting people for his army. And it doesn’t require the use of computers.
We also meet the four horsemen of the Apocalypse who have modernised somewhat and now ride motorcycles. Except Pestilence has now retired and has been replaced by Pollution.
All these characters weave in and out of each other in order to find the antichrist and put a stop to the Apocalypse. Aziraphale and Crowley both have to contend with their relevant superiors. There’s a lovely scene in which Hastor, one of the Dukes of Hell, literally gets caught up in a telephone answering machine and is only freed when a cold calling “we understand you have been involved in an accident” agent calls Crowley’s phone. I feel a lot of people will be satisfied how that one plays out.
It’s such a fun show that the 6 hours simply fly by. It does very much feel like a 6-hour film – especially as it’s shot in 2.35:1 aspect ratio which is a much wider format than most TV shows (though an increasing number of TV shows are adopting that format – the most noticeable has been the excellent Fleabag).
I must admit I was moved to tears during the last episode. The last 30 minutes were mainly spent snot-filled sobbing. A vital part of good storytelling is making you care enough about the characters. And it wouldn’t be too long before it’s all over. But I was crying mainly because this felt like a very final, long goodbye to the wonderful Sir Terry Pratchett who couldn’t be around to see just how bloody good this all was.
The ending also caught me out. We end on the song, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”, performed by Tori Amos, and that’s when the tears started flowing again.
But I can’t be too sad about the ending. Neil Gaiman has a deal with Amazon Studios for more things, and Narrativia, Terry Pratchett/Rhianna Pratchett/Rod Brown/Rob Wilkins production company, has a few projects up their sleeves too.
Good Omens comes highly recommended. Very, very funny, emotionally satisfying, and tremendous fun. TV shows rarely tick all the boxes, but this one absolutely does. I’d highly recommend the 4K version – which requires that you use Amazon Prime Video’s search function. Just do a search for “good omens” and you’ll find it in the search results. If you have a 4K TV, do yourself a favour and watch it in 4K.
(P.S. I would also highly recommend Dirk Magg’s audio adaptation of Good Omens too – available via Audible)
I like books. I collect books. But my small house cannot hold very many, so many years ago I resorted to buying a Kindle and buying my books electronically wherever possible. I now have over 400 books in my Kindle library and it’s constantly growing (in part due to many Kindle cheap deals).
Previous to the Kindle Paperwhite, I had the 2018 Kindle Oasis – fully tricked out with the free 4G connection. It was meant to last me for several years. But alas, as I wasn’t doing as much reading as I had hoped and that I needed the money instead, I had to sell it.
The Kindle Oasis was a great e-reader. It had a 7-inch screen, small bezels, but with an overhanging edge with two physical buttons which allowed for easy handling. The downside was that the 7-inch display was big enough for easy reading, but not as portable enough for shoving it in a jacket pocket.
So I had to replace the Oasis after selling it, and the obvious choice was the Paperwhite. It has pretty much all of the features of the Oasis, but with a 1″ smaller screen and bigger bezels. The screen itself is, I think, a little less bright than the Oasis, but not by any significant amount.
The Paperwhite 2018 introduces a couple of features from the Oasis, including IPX68 waterproofing – this means it can be immersed in fresh water up to 2m deep for 30 minutes without damage. The other feature is the ability to play Audible books directly – though you’ll need a pair of Bluetooth head/earphones for this.
I bought the official waterproof case to go with it, and it doesn’t look at all bad if I do say so. It keeps it nice and safe, and the overall size also ensures that it fits in my jacket pocket just fine.
I opted for the 32Gb version to ensure that I have a significant number of books at my disposal if I am ever outside the reach of easy Wi-Fi access. I’m not entirely convinced the free 4G option on Kindles is entirely worth it if you’re not moving outside of common travel routes – many phone companies offer EU and US/Canada roaming included. The Amazon free 4G is incredibly slow in the UK, that’s all I can say about it. And it can drain the battery if it’s left on.
I’m very happy with the Paperwhite – perhaps more so than the Oasis. I’m getting my reading groove back, and even starting making use of my Goodreads account again (which is also a feature within the Kindle OS).
My name’s not Danno, but I’ll give you some books! As part of an ongoing initiative, #BookSwap allows people to pick up something new to read whilst adding to the collection themselves. I picked up a Tom Holt book from Woking railway station a few months ago, and was meaning to give back. So I have.
The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson is a wonderful comic tale about Allan Karlsson who decides to climb out the window of his care home and go on a bit of a wander, taking him on a wild and incredulous adventure involving a criminal gang, the police, and an elephant.
But this has nothing on the Karlsson’s backstory in which he meets General Franco in Spain (and is hailed a hero), ends up working on the H-Bomb (as Karlsson is an expert in blowing things up), meets Stalin, Albert Einstein’s (fictional) less intelligent brother Herbert, Mao Tse-tung and Kim Jong-Il. As you do.
The book was eventually turned into a Swedish film which, I think, although is not as good or as detailed as the book, is still very good. It’s available on Amazon Prime Video UK if you want to check it out. It also spawned a sequel which, interestingly, I don’t think is related to the new book, The Accidental Further Adventures Of The Hundred Year-Old Man. The sequel went up Netflix UK for a while but has long since left. I did catch it – by surprise (didn’t know they had filmed a sequel!) – and found it to be pretty good.
I’ve not yet read The Accidental Further Adventures Of The Hundred Year-Old Man, but I have since bought it on my Kindle. So I don’t need the paperbacks anymore. So as of this morning, anybody curious about these stories can pick up the books for free at Woking Railway Station’s platform one waiting room. Just remember to either return them, or submit your own book(s) so that other people can pick up something new to read.
I intend to add more books. My Kindle library is outgrowing my physical book collection. In part because my house is rather small and I can only store so much before going completely mad (become a mad hoarder).
I’ll see if I can throw a few Neil Gaiman novels in the station’s direction. And maybe a Terry Pratchett or two. Or, in honour of the Good Omens coming to Amazon Prime Video in May, a mere 9 days after my 43rd birthday, my physical copy of Good Omens.