Posted in books, films & DVD

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

imageThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck was published in 14 April 1939 and won the annual National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize and was cited prominently when he won the Nobel Prize in 1962. Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in financial and agricultural industries on their journey to find jobs, land, dignity and a future. One of the son’s Tom Joad is paroled from McAlester prison for homicide and while returning home near Sallisaw, Oklahoma, he meets An old friend named Casy. On reaching his Farm Home they find it, deserted and an old neighbor, Muley Graves, informs them that they are at Uncle John Joad’s home nearby because the banks have evicted all the farmers and repossessed the farms after the crops failed and they were unable to pay the bank back.

Tom finds his family at Uncle Joad’s and learns that they are planning to seek work in California. Although leaving Oklahoma would be breaking parole, Tom decides it is worth the risk. Traveling west on Route 66, the Joad family find the road crowded with other “Okie” migrants Sheltering In makeshift camps. On the way Granpa and Granma die and both Noah (the eldest Joad son) and Connie Rivers (the husband of the pregnant Joad daughter, Rose of Sharon) split from the family. Led by Ma, the remaining members realize that nothing is left for them in Oklahoma and continue to California.

On Reaching California, they find that The big corporate farmers are exploiting the workers and smaller farmers are suffering from collapsing prices. Weedpatch Camp, one of the clean, utility-supplied camps operated by the Resettlement Administration, a New Deal agency, offers better conditions, but does not have enough resources to care for all the needy families. As a Federal facility, the camp protects the migrants from harassment by California deputies. Casy then creates a Labour union to protect the workers The remaining Joads work as strikebreakers in a peach orchard where Casy is involved in a strike that eventually turns violent. When Tom Joad witnesses Casy’s fatal beating, he kills the attacker and flees as a fugitive. The Joads later leave the orchard for a cotton farm, where Tom is at risk of arrest for the homicide. As if this isn’t bad enough Rose of Sharon’s baby is stillborn, then the Joads’ dwelling is flooded leading to yet more hardship.

The Grapes of Wrath is frequently read in American high school and college literature classes due to its historical context and enduring legacy. A celebrated Hollywood film version, starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford, was made in 1940.

Posted in Events

RMS Titanic

imageThe sinking of the RMS Titanic occurred on the night of 14 April 1912 when she struck an iceberg at 23:40 (ship’s time) on Sunday, 14 April and sank two hours and forty minutes later at 02:20 (05:18 GMT) on Monday, 15 April, in the north Atlantic Ocean, four days into her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City resulting in the deaths of 1,514 people. The ice conditions at the time were attributed to a mild winter which caused large numbers of icebergs to break away from the west coast of Greenland. In addition, it is now known that in January 1912, the Moon came closer to the Earth than at any time in the previous 1,400 years. This caused exceptionally high tides that may have resulted in a larger number of icebergs than usual reaching the shipping lanes a few months later.

At the time of her entry into service on 2 April 1912, RMS Titanic was the largest ship in the world and had an estimated 2,224 people on board when she began her maiden voyage shortly after noon on 10 April 1912. Commanded by 62-year-old Captain Edward John Smith, the most senior of the White Star Line’s captains, she left Southampton on the first leg of her journey to New York. A few hours later she reached Cherbourg in France where she took on more passengers. Her next port of call was Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland, which she reached around midday on 11 April. She left in the afternoon after taking on more passengers and stores.

Her passenger accommodation was said to be “of unrivalled extent and magnificence”. First Class accommodation included the most expensive seagoing real estate ever, with promenade suites costing $4,350 ($104,760 at 2012 prices) for a one-way passage. Even Third Class was unusually comfortable by contemporary standards and was supplied with plentiful quantities of good food, providing its passengers with better conditions than many of them had experienced at home. Her passengers ranged from millionaires such as John Jacob Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim, to poor emigrants from countries as disparate as Armenia, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Syria and Russia seeking a new life in America.

Despite radio operators receiving several warnings of sea ice during 14th April, Titanic was travelling near her maximum speed in waters where ice had been reported when she collided with the iceberg and . The ship suffered a glancing blow that buckled her starboard side and opened five of her sixteen compartments to the sea. Titanic had been designed to stay afloat with four flooded compartments but not five, and the crew soon realised that the ship was going to sink. They used rocket flares and radio (“wireless”) messages to attract help as the passengers were put into lifeboats. However, there were far too few lifeboats available and many were not filled to their capacity due to a poorly managed evacuation.

The ship broke up as she sank with over a thousand passengers and crew members still aboard. Almost all those who jumped or fell into the water died from hypothermia within minutes. RMS Carpathia arrived on the scene about an hour and a half after the sinking and had rescued the last of the survivors in the lifeboats by 09:15 on 15 April, little more than 24 hours after Titanic’s crew had received their first warnings of drifting ice. The disaster caused widespread public outrage over the lack of lifeboats, lax shipping regulations, and the unequal treatment of the different passenger classes aboard the ship made it one of the worst maritime disasters in history. Enquiries set up in the wake of the disaster recommended sweeping changes to maritime regulations. This led in 1914 to the establishment of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), which still governs maritime safety today.

Posted in music

Richie Blackmore (Rainbow, Deep Purple)

rainbowBritish guitarist and songwriter Richard “Ritchie” Blackmore was born 14 April in 1945. He was one of the first guitarists to fuse classical music elements with blues rock. He began his professional career as a studio session musician and was subsequently a member of Deep Purple, after which Blackmore established a successful career fronting his own band Rainbow, and later progressed to the traditional folk rock project Blackmore’s Night. Blackmore joined the rock group Deep Purple in 1968 after receiving the invitation from Jon Lord (organs). The band had a hit US single with its remake of the Joe South song “Hush”. Purple’s early sound leaned on psychedelia and progressive rock This line-up produced three studio albums. The second line-up’s first studio album, In Rock, changed the band’s style, turning it in a hard rock direction. This “Mark Two” line-up featuring singer Ian Gillan lasted until mid-1973, produced four studio albums and had their well-known hit single “Smoke on the Water”.The third line-up’s new album was entitled Burn, which featured blues singer, David Coverdale. This “Mark Three” line-up lasted until mid-1975 and produced two studio albums. Blackmore publicly disliked the funky soul influences that Coverdale and bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes injected into the band. Following its conclusion, he abandoned the band to front a new group, Rainbow. Blackmore originally planned to make a solo album, but instead in 1975 formed his own band Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, later shortened to Rainbow. Featuring American vocalist Ronnie James Dio and his blues rock band Elf as session musicians, this first line-up never performed live. Rainbow’s music was partly inspired by classical music since Blackmore started playing cello to help him construct interesting chord progressions in private time.

The band’s debut album, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, was released in 1975. Blackmore had been impressed by Dio’s relatively flexible vocalist-style. Shortly after the first album was recorded, former Elf members except Dio were at that point no longer members of Rainbow, and Blackmore recruited a new lineup to record the second album Rising, and the following live album, On Stage. Rising was originally billed as Blackmore’s Rainbow in the US. After the next studio album’s release and supporting tour, Ronnie James Dio left Rainbow due to “creative differences” with Blackmore, who disliked Dio’s signature ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ lyric style. Blackmore continued with Rainbow and the band released a new album entitled Down To Earth, which featured R&B singer Graham Bonnet. The album marked the commercialization of the band’s sound, and contained Rainbow’s first chart successes, as the single “Since You Been Gone” (a cover of the Russ Ballard penned tune) became a smash hit. Bonnet left the band after this support tour.

The next album, Difficult to Cure, introduced American vocalist Joe Lynn Turner. The instrumental title track from this album was an arrangement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with additional music, a personal favourite of Blackmore’s. The album marked the further commercialization of the band’s sound with Blackmore once describing at the time liking for the pop rock band, Foreigner. Hard rock-based fans thought the vocal parts ended up being a bit too melodic than Rainbow’s previous releases. The music was consciously radio-targeted, in a more AOR style, resulting in some degree of alienation with many of their earlier fans. Rainbow’s next studio album was Straight Between the Eyes and included the hit single “Stone Cold.” It would be followed by the album Bent Out of Shape, which featured the single “Street Of Dreams”. In 1983 Blackmore was also nominated for a Grammy Award for his work on an instrumental ballard track, “Anybody There”. Rainbow disbanded in 1984. A then-final Rainbow album, Finyl Vinyl, was patched together from live tracks and the “B” sides of various singles. In 1984, Blackmore joined a reunion of Deep Purple featuring singer Ian Gillan and recorded new material. This reunion line-up lasted until 1989 and produced two studio albums. The next line-up recorded one album entitled Slaves & Masters, which featured former Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner. The album’s style differed from the traditional Purple sound. Subsequently the “Mark Two” line-up reunited for a second time in late 1992 and produced one studio album. During its follow-up promotional tour, Blackmore again left the band in November 1993. Blackmore reformed Rainbow with new members in 1994. This Rainbow line-up, featuring Scottish singer Doogie White, lasted until 1997 and produced Stranger in Us All in 1995. It was originally intended to be a solo album but due to the record company pressures the record was billed as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. Released in the post-grunge mid-1990s, a relatively successful world tour followed. Though White was not as distinctive as its previous singers, with a style comfortably sitting somewhere between the neo-classical metal and the radio friendly commerciality, Stranger In Us All had a sound dissimilar to any Rainbow of old.

This is regarded as his last hard rock album. Rainbow was put on hold once again after playing its final concert in 1997. Over the years Rainbow went through many personnel changes with no two studio albums featuring the same line-up: Blackmore was the sole constant band member. In 1997 Blackmore, with his girlfriend Candice Night as vocalist, formed the traditional folk rock duo Blackmore’s Night. Around the same time as Stranger in Us All, they were producing their debut album Shadow of the Moon and Candice Night subsequently became Blackmore’s creative partner. Blackmore described their sound as “Mike Oldfield plus Enya” Blackmore mostly utilised acoustic guitar, to back Night’s delicate vocals. The band’s musical style is inspired by his favorite Renaissance music and blends with Night’s lyrics about medieval themes and fantasy. They recorded a mixture of original and cover materials. The second album released by Blackmore’s Night was entitled Under a Violet Moon and continued the folk-rock style, Blackmore was ranked number 16 on Guitar World’s “100 Greatest Metal Guitarists of All Time” in 2004, and number 50 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” in 2011.

Posted in films & DVD, Science fiction, Television

Gerry Anderson MBE (Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet)

ThunderbirdsBest known for his futuristic television shows, the late great British publisher, producer, director and writer Gerry Anderson MBE was born 14 April in 1929 in Feltham Middlesex and was brought up in Neasden, north London, where the family shared a single room, but at the outbreak of war he was evacuated to Northamptonshire. He left Willesden county secondary school with ambitions of being a plasterer until he realised he was allergic to plaster. He started work as a trainee with Colonial Films and after National Service as a radio operator with the RAF worked as an assistant at Gainsborough Studios before co-founding Pentagon Films to make commercials in 1955. The following year, he moved into film production and formed AP Films (Named after partner Arthur Povis) in the hope of making a classic epic — but the opportunities were not forthcoming. Instead he reluctantly turned to making puppet series for television and produced 52 episodes of The Adventures of Twizzle, a project that led to Torchy The Battery Boy and Four Feather Falls, a Western series in which the puppets (unable to draw their guns) had to swivel their holsters to fire. These early efforts convinced Anderson of the potential of puppet series as an entertainment form, and his 1960 series Supercar was the first successful science-fiction format to reflect the growing interest among children in futuristic technology. He followed it with the more sophisticated Fireball XL5, 26 episodes featuring the hero Steve Zodiac, and timing it to coincide with increased interest in the “space race”. To give his characters more movement He also created a technique called Supermarionation using specially modified marionettes

imageIn 1965 Anderson created Stingray, featuring the underwater exploits of Troy Tempest and his submarine, and the first of his series to be shot in colour. The series was also the first of Anderson’s to be sold to America. Anderson’s most successful and popular series Thunderbirds was elaborately produced and followed the adventures of the futuristic Tracy family who ran an air, space and undersea rescue service from a small island in the Pacific. Anderson remembered that his elder brother, Lionel, a pilot who was killed in the war, had trained in Arizona near Thunderbird Field, and helped himself to the “very exciting” name. As well as Jeff Tracy and his sons John, Scott, Virgil, Alan and Gordon (all named after early American astronauts), Thunderbirds also introduced some of Anderson’s most popular and enduring characters, including the myopic genius Brains, the glamorous secret agent Lady Penelope ( who was based on his second wife, Sylvia) and her chauffeur, an ex-alcoholic Cockney safecracker-made-good called Parker, whose distinctive way of speaking (“Yus, m’lady”) was apparently modelled on a waiter at a pub in Cookham where Anderson used to have his lunch.Although the television series caught the imagination of millions of young viewers, two feature-length film spin-offs, Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbirds 6, both failed to achieve the same popularity. More successful was Anderson’s venture into a tie-in weekly children’s comic, TV Century 21, launched in 1965 and containing strips based on his various television series.

In 1967 Anderson created a new series, Captain Scarlet, named after its indestructible hero, and the first to be made by Anderson’s new production company, Century 21. It was followed in 1968 by Joe 90, about a nine-year-old boy who gained expert knowledge on any subject using his uncle’s hi-tech mousetrap invention. Anderson’s next venture, The Secret Service, was his first and unsuccessful attempt to combine puppets with real actors and marked the start of a decline in the fortunes of his production company, Century 21.His first science-fiction feature film, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, starred Ian Hendry and Patrick Wymark and coincided with Anderson’s first all-live action series for television called UFO which, although well produced, was a humourless affair which failed to make an impact on its first showing – while attracting considerable interest when it was repeated in 1987. In the 1970s Anderson persevered with live action series such as The Protectors, featuring a glamorous international crime-fighting agency starring Robert Vaughn and Nyree Dawn Porter, and Space 1999, a sub-Star Trek enterprise which was critically panned for its stereotyped characters and bland scripts. Stalled projects, misjudged investments and a property crash left Anderson in dire financial straits, and he endured a painful divorce from his second wife and former business partner, Sylvia.

Anderson returned to puppets in 1982 with Terrahawks, in which Dr Tiger Ninestein and the Terrahawks tried to stop the evil Zelda conquering the universe. The success of this series encouraged Anderson to attempt a new project called Space Police, but although a pilot was produced, financial backing never materialised and the series failed to get off the ground. Most of Anderson’s work in the 1980s was with television commercials, the most memorable perhaps being that for Scotch videotape featuring the “skeleton man”. Having sold the rights to his shows to the television tycoon Lord Grade in the 1970s, in 2008 he entered into talks with ITV to buy back the rights to Thunderbirds to remake it using computer-generated imagery. A live-action remake of Thunderbirds, co-produced by the British company Working Title and the American studio Universal was also released in the 2004. The highly anticipated remake of Thunderbirds finally aired Easter 2015 on ITV. In retirement he lived at Henley-on-Thames with his third wife, Mary, and took an active interest in his production enterprises and the extraordinary following his puppet series continued to attract. He was appointed MBE in 2001 and sadly passed away on December 26 2012 aged 83