[December 19, 1962] That Was the Month that Was (Christmas Cheer from a UK fan)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]

By Ashley R. Pollard

And another year draws to a close with what promises to be a White Christmas after a foggy start to the month.  December has been a bad month for people with breathing problems living in London as the smog has been terrible.  So bad that it has been mentioned as a topic not only on the BBC news, where you’d expect it to be, but mocked in their new satirical weekly news show, That Was The Week That Was. But, before I delve into that show, allow me a few lines to remind people how serious this problem is.

The smog of 1952, called the Great Smog of London (which should be a clue to how bad it was) killed an estimated 4000 people, and caused respiratory complaints in another 100,000 more.  At its worst one could only see a few yards ahead, and it shut down the London Ambulance Service, which forced people to make their own way to hospital.  This pea-souper, a euphemism for thick fog, was so serious it led directly to the introduction of the Clean Air Act of 1956.

This year’s smog has not been, on any scale, as bad, but 90 people have died.  As someone who has suffered from bronchial problems, this has been personally worrying.  However, a few days ago the weather changed, and we had snow.  We’ve also been told to expect more very cold winds arriving from the East — a present from Siberia that quite frankly I could do without, but there again, anything is better than more smog.

And, looking on the bright side, it means this year there’s a good chance of London having a White Christmas.

Anyway, enough of the doom & gloom; there’s more entertaining things to talk about.  As I alluded to above, a new TV show aired at the end of November that, while not science fictional, I think will amuse and entertain SF fans on both sides of the Atlantic.  It’s called, That Was The Week That Was, fronted by David Frost.  It certainly seems to appeal to my acquaintances in London fandom.

The show is fearless, being outrageously funny, poking fun at the British establishment, satirising current political events and other relevant issues.  This is helped by having a very good cast.  I use the word “cast” advisedly.  While David Frost is a presenter, and Bernard Levine a journalist, and William Rushton a cartoonist, this is a news show that also features singers and actors, for example, Millicent Martin sings the opening theme tune, and David Kernan deliver witty musical interludes between the news.  The commentary on the news is also counterpointed through comedy sketches that send up British mores and social conventions using British actors like Lance Percival, Roy Kinnear, and Robert Lang.  I also recognized the American actor, Al Mancini, when he appeared, too.

I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that this show is ground breaking. 

Not only because it uses ironical humour to ridicule the stupidities and vices of the political establishment, but also because of the way format of the show and presentation is used to make the viewer feel part of the audience.  For example, the cameras are seen during the transmission of the programme, and are part of the presentation of the show.  It’s what might be called breaking the fourth wall, speaking directly to the viewer while still being framed within the context of a light entertainment show.

Psychologically it’s fascinating to see That Was The Week That Was breaking traditional TV conventions — this even extends to its running time, whose only constant seems to be that it runs to the length required to deliver show.  It must drive the people in charge of scheduling crazy. 

So, take a look at That Was The Week That Was if you get the chance.  It should be funny to folks on both sides of the Pond.  Certainly, some of the things it covers may go over American viewers’ heads, but if you want to understand Britain and our humour, it’s well worth catching this if you can.

Besides watching too much television recently (my only excuse being the weather as mentioned) I did manage to go and see David Lean’s new film, Lawrence of Arabia, on its opening night at the Odeon, Leicester Square.  I’ve been reliably informed it will be shown on American screens around the twentieth of this month.  There’s a lot of excitement over the film and the performance of Peter O’Toole as Lawrence. Many believe the film will be a strong contester in the next Oscar nominations.

Before I finish this month’s piece, because science is at the heart of science fiction, I want to congratulate the winners of two Nobel Prize science awards.

First, the British molecular biologists Dr. Francis Crick and Dr. Maurice Wilkins, who along with an American scientist Dr. James D. Watson, have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of the molecular structure of nucleic acids, and the significant role the unique double helix structure plays in the transfer of genetic information in living organisms.

Second, the British biochemists Dr. Max Perutz and Dr. John Cowdery Kendrew who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work in investigating the structure of haem-containing proteins.  Well done to both teams.

So, another exciting month has flown by, which leaves me with only one thing left to say, Merry Christmas from me to all of you reading this.

3 thoughts on “[December 19, 1962] That Was the Month that Was (Christmas Cheer from a UK fan)”

  1. 1959 to 1962 have been a bit of boon for for film road-show.
    Ben Hur , pretty good. The excellent Spartacus to the also excellent Lawrence of Arabia. These two , in particular, are not like any road show movie done before.
    The OK Exodus and good Longest Day.
    The curious , well done, El Cid.  Why was Anthony Mann fired from Spartacus if he could handle an epic like this so well?

    Some others in there , ok, but I don’t give them a cigar.
    Especially not The Alamo!

  2. If you are watching a lot of TV during winter evenings, I would be curious to hear a report about the upcoming BBC Sunday Night Play in three weeks, “Madhouse on Castle Street” by Evan Jones. There’s an American singer in the cast and I’d be interested in his performance in particular. David Warner is in it too, I think.

    In your write up of TW3 I was surprised you didn’t mention the importance of “Beyond the Fringe” in its creation. Cook, Bennett, Moore and Miller are over here now on Broadway. We caught them during the pre-New York trial run in Boston a few weeks ago, where Peter Cook decided to add Jonathan Miller’s newborn baby to the cast one night. He surprised Miller and Bennett during the philosophy don sketch holding Miller’s week-old son. “What should I do with it?” he asked. “Oh, be a good man and go put it in the fridge, Jarvis,” Bennett quickly said without looking up. We later heard Miller did not find the prank the least bit funny, even though the audience loved it.

    Before the performance, I heard Miller say, “I’ve only come over here with the show to make enough money to subsidize a year’s residency in some American hospital. After a year in New York–if we last that long–I’ll give it up. I am more of a doctor, you know, than a satirist.” We’ll see…

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