Star Trek: The Original Series – season three (1968-69)

SpectreoftheGun

Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Original Series. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season three…

Best episode:
* Spectre of the Gun. With viewing figures unimpressive, NBC actually axed Star Trek after its second season. Then, at least in part due to an organised letter-writing campaign by fans, it was given another year – but on a smaller budget and in a less favourable time slot. Creator Gene Roddenberry also stepped away from the production. So season three has long had a crummy reputation, not least because of its lack of ambition. (In 24 episodes, they filmed on location just once.) The lack of money is evident in several episodes, but the one that sidesteps the problem the best is Spectre of the Gun, a brilliant take on the classic Hollywood Western. Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) find themselves in an alien reconstruction of the Arizona town of Tombstone in October 1881. The Enterprise crew realise they’re the Clantons. The Earps are nearby and the scene is set for the Gunfight at the OK Corral… As they had to shoot this episode on a soundstage, and save cash, the production team decided to go surreal. The sets contain deliberately missing walls; the barriers between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ are blurred; the sky is a vivid, bold red. It’s a brilliant effect, both heightening and supporting the script.

Honourable mentions:
* The Enterprise Incident. A tremendous espionage plot as Kirk and Spock are captured by a female Romulan officer (a watchable turn from guest star Joanna Linville), who then starts to fall for Mr Spock. There are plenty of twists and a spy-story structure.
* The Paradise Syndrome. An intensely odd episode, this. Kirk suffers from amnesia as he’s left behind on a planet populated by Native American types. He falls in love, marries, and grows sideburns in the months it takes for his colleagues to return and pick him up. (Downside: the near-constant incidental music gets irritating, and you also need to excuse a fair amount of naive 1960s racism.)
* Is There in Truth No Beauty? Ultimately a rather silly episode with some naff attitudes, but it contains a good guest appearance from Diane Muldaur (later a regular in Star Trek: The Next Generation) and a nicely disguised plot twist.
* Day of the Dove. A claustrophobic episode that sees the crew trapped on the Enterprise with a group of Klingons and an alien force that exaggerates negative and aggressive tendencies. The end is rather risible, though, as humans and Klingons alike down weapons, call a truce and burst into fake hearty laughter to outfox the alien entity.
* For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky. Merits a place on this list just for its amazing, poetic title! It’s an engaging enough story about Dr McCoy falling terminally ill (spoiler: he gets better) and having a romance.
* Wink of an Eye. It’s an intriguing concept for a sci-fi episode (aliens move at a vastly higher speed, so are imperceptible to humans), but the season’s budget restrictions mean it’s another episode that’s dragged out by scenes on familiar sets.
* Whom Gods Destroy. By this point, we’re past the point of boredom with the powerful-yet-loopy-villain cliché, but this episode at least has a fun guest star (Batgirl Yvonne Craig), lots of doppelganger scenes (cue William Shatner acting opposite his body double) and a general air of oddness.
* Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. Some rather hamfisted satire of race relations is made enjoyable by interesting guest characters (including one played by Frank Gorshin) and a tense sequence as Kirk threatens to destroy the Enterprise unless its control is returned to him.
* The Mark of Gideon. The meat of the story is a bit rancid – something about an arrogant race on an overpopulated planet – but Kirk being conned into thinking he’s on an abandoned Enterprise works well. (Spoiler: it’s actually a Truman Show-style recreation.) There are some surreal images and a strong subplot for Spock, who gets to act as both diplomat and detective.
* The Savage Curtain. A fun one, as Kirk meets his hero Abraham Lincoln (sort of). It gets a big eggy as the show a) rolls out another ‘war is bad’ metaphor, and b) yet again refuses to leave the soundstage for exterior scenes. But it’s enjoyable tosh.
* All Our Yesterdays. An enjoyable, if convoluted, concept episode. Visiting a strange library on an empty planet, Kirk is accidentally sent back in history – to a time similar to the earth’s 17th century. Spock and McCoy, meanwhile, are sent back even further and end up trapped in a harsh Ice Age wilderness. Being 5,000 years in the past begins to affect Spock’s psychology (somehow) and he becomes emotional…
* Turnabout Intruder. Star Trek’s final episode is one of its more ludicrous. A woman swaps bodies with Kirk, Freaky Friday-style. While playing the nefarious Dr Janice Lester masquerading as Kirk, Shatner overeggs it something rotten, but the gimmick plot works and it keeps the interest (which is more than can be said for many season-three episodes!).

Worst episode:
* The Way to Eden. Hippies. Hippies singing songs. Eugh.

Star Trek: The Original Series – season two (1967-68)

the-trouble-with-tribbles

Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: The Original Series. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season two…

Best episode:
The Trouble with Tribbles. A terrific comedy episode, full of wit and class. Behind the scenes, there were worries the show was going too far into self-parody with this story, but there was no need for concern. The big hitters among Star Trek’s cast – William Shatner (Captain Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Mr Spock) and DeForest Kelley (Dr McCoy) – were all capable comic actors, able to play funny scenes without undercutting the premise. (Thirty years later, spin-off show Deep Space Nine produced a tribute episode in which that show’s characters travel back in time and interact with the events of The Trouble with Tribbles. It’s an absolute marvel.)

Honorable mentions:
* The Changeling. It seems old-fashioned now, as many Stark Trek ideas do (because they’ve been copied so often), but this is a generally engaging episode about a computer that’s out to destroy all non-perfect life. Our heroes must, essentially, out-logic it to death. The less said the better, however, about the subplot where Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) has her memory wiped so must learn to read again!
* Mirror, Mirror. A fantastic, foot-to-the-throat thriller based on an imaginative idea: the Enterprises crosses into a parallel dimension where they meet their fascistic, sadistic and cynical counterparts (which obviously gives the regular cast a chance to have some fun). The concept has since been rehashed several times in other Star Trek series, but here it still feels fresh and very dangerous.
* The Doomsday Machine. A passable episode with a Moby Dick metaphor. (Rather than a whale, it’s a giant planet-killing entity from another dimension.)
* Catspaw. Another story about an all-powerful figure toying with lesser beings, which Star Trek was very keen on, but this episode has gothic trappings and fun guest characters. It perhaps loses its impact as it becomes more campy and hokey, especially when Kirk and Spock are menaced by a giant cat (ie, a normal cat filmed in such a way that we only see its enormous shadow).
* I, Mudd. Roger C Carmel returns as guest character Harry, who is now king of his own planet populated by androids, and is again an enjoyable presence. The episode contains the now-hoary idea that robots can be turned loopy if you confuse them.
Journey to Babel. There’s some good, meaty drama for Spock as we encounter his parents for the first time. His Vulcan father, Sarek (Mark Lenard), needs a blood transfusion but, with Kirk incapacitated, Spock feels his duty is to command the Enterprise rather than give blood. He should logically stay at his post.
The Deadly Years. A decent one. The key members of the crew are affected by a virus and begin to age artificially, which leads to Kirk having to be relieved of command when his memory starts to fail him. (This is one of several episodes that highlight the stupidity of sending a starship’s captain, first officer and chief medical officer on missions together!)
* Obsession. A simplistic plot, on which an engaging character drama about Kirk’s guilt for a long-ago catastrophe is hung.
* Wolf in the Fold. The famed Scotty-as-Jack-the-Ripper episode. It’s perhaps not as good as its reputation suggests (there are too many scenes of computers explaining the plot) but it whips up to a maniacal climax.
* A Piece of the Action. Near enough a comedy, but played and directed with a light touch. Not for the first time in Star Trek’s run, it’s a let’s-use-the-backlot episode: standing sets are used for an alien planet that has modelled its whole society on Al Capone-era gangsters. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy revel in the gangster idiom and are great at playing their respective characters’ differing reactions to the situation.
* Patterns of Force. Another episode where the Enterprise stumbles across an alien world that’s oddly similar to an era of Earth history (which allows the production to save some money by shooting of pre-existing sets). This time, Kirk and co go looking for a long-missing Starfleet officer and find him as the leader of an ersatz Nazi Party. It’s a gripping episode with something to say and some surprise turns.
* The Ultimate Computer. Kirk feels threatened when an ‘AI captain’ is roadtested on the Enterprise. Not the best, but it contains a wistful scene where Kirk romantically ponders the golden era of sail (quoting John Masefield’s poem Sea-Fever: ‘And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by’). Co-stars Blacula himself, William Marshall.
* Bread and Circuses. *Yet again*, the Enterprise discovers an alien culture modelled on a period of Earth history. This time: Ancient Rome, though an Ancient Rome where people have technology and guns. It’s clunky at times but generally enjoyable and contains – gleefully – a satire of the television industry when we see behind the scenes at the gladiator contests. Also, Spock and McCoy share a lovely heart-to-heart scene.
* Assignment: Earth. Not the most nuanced or fluid piece of television you’ll ever see, but interesting for its minor place in Star Trek history. A back-door pilot for a spin-off show that never happened, this episode spends a lot of time seeding the potential new characters, such as the enigmatic Gary Seven, his secretary, his intelligent cat and his idiosyncratic computer.

Worst episode:
The Apple. A boring, naff episode about the crew wandering around a soundstage jungle set and encountering hippies who don’t know what love or sex are.

Mystery and Imagination: Dracula (ITV, 18 November 1968, Patrick Dromgoole)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The late Victorian era. The action all takes place in a town near the sea. There’s mention of a headland and it’s fair to assume it’s meant to be Whitby. In flashbacks, we also see Castle Dracula in Transylvania.

Faithful to the novel? The British horror anthology show Mystery and Imagination began on the ITV network in 1966. Each episode was an adaptation of a classic story by gothic authors such as MR James, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Sheridan Le Fanu and Mary Shelley. Initially, a recurring character – David Buck’s Richard Beckett – was shoehorned into the adaptations, but this conceit had been dropped by the time they got round to doing Dracula. It was the final episode of the show’s fourth series and is essentially a shuffled retelling of the novel.
* As we begin, Count Dracula (Denholm Elliott) is already in London, mixing in polite society. He wears sunglasses, can’t cope with daylight, and has an eastern-European accent.
* The count has befriended a young couple, Dr John Seward (James Maxwell) and Lucy Weston (Susan George); he also seems to know one of Seward’s patients, a mentally unbalanced man (Corin Redgrave) who’s known as 34 after his room number.
* Lucy’s other suitors from the novel – Arthur Holmwood and Quincy Morris – have been dropped. But her mother is still around, played by Joan Hickson.
* John says that 34 was recovered from a local shipwreck, the Demeter. Lucy points out that it’s the same ship that brought Dracula from Varna, a coastal city in Bulgaria.
* John’s old tutor Dr Van Helsing will soon be visiting to examine 34 – Dracula has clearly heard of him and wants to meet him.
* Van Helsing (Bernard Archer) turns up – much earlier than in the novel – and sees 34. The man has been babbling about his ‘master’ and catching flies (as the lunatic Renfield does in the book).
* We learn through filmed flashbacks that 34 once visited Dracula in Transylvania on business. He encountered three vampire Brides (one of whom is played by Carry On dolly bird Margaret Nolan) but Dracula saved him…
* Back in the present day, Dracula tells Lucy that he’s descended from Attila the Hun. Then Lucy’s friend Mina Harker (Suzanne Neve) arrives for a visit. She’s shocked to meet Dracula because her husband, Jonathan, went to see him overseas and never returned. Dracula says Jonathan left the castle safe and well, but then Mina discovers that her hubby is locked up in Seward’s sanitorium: he’s 34! What are the chances?!
* Lucy, who has developed a fascination with Count Dracula, and Mina get a version of the book’s scene where an old duffer ridicules the headstones in the local churchyard. In the novel, the scene takes place before the count arrives in England. Now, after they head home, we see him rise from one of the tombs. He turns into a bat, visits Lucy while she sleeps, turns back into a man, and feeds from her.
* The next day, Lucy is ill so Van Helsing is called in. He clocks the bite marks on her neck and arranges a blood transfusion. He also brings in what John haughtily calls a ‘popish affront to Christian conscious’ – ie, a crucifix – to ward off her attacker. However, in her sleep Lucy knocks the defence away and Dracula attacks her once again.
* Van Helsing tells John about vampires. John reckons they were mythical beings that were supposed to exist in a bygone age and drank the blood of others. Van Helsing says, “Well, Lucy has been attacked by one!” He shows John his research of vampire history – they appear in many cultures’ legends, he says, under a variety of names. When Van Helsing mentions Transylvania, John realises that’s where Dracula comes from. He also twigs that Dracula pretended not to recognise 34 yet we now know he’d met Jonathan Harker.
* John finds Lucy dead – drained of blood. But then she wakes and attempts to attack him. Then she seems dead again. Van Helsing says she’s under Dracula’s thrawl.
* Mina sees the undead Lucy wandering the graveyard. Lucy is now vampiric and ever-so Sapphic: she bites Mina, who enjoys the experience. Dracula then finds and tries to seduce a confused Mina.
* Van Helsing and John open Lucy’s coffin, which is empty. Later, Lucy shows up, wafting around in a white nightgown, and tries to bite John. So Van Helsing wards her off with a crucifix. They find her again in her coffin and Van Helsing stakes her.
* Van Helsing and Mina then ask Jonathan where Dracula is. Harker goes potty, though, when he senses that his wife has been bitten by his master. She can’t remember how she got the bite marks… but then hisses and shrieks and breaks down. She admits that it was Lucy who bit her.
* Van Helsing and John follow the manic Jonathan to the graveyard and realise Dracula is using the unconsecrated grave of a suicide victim as his daytime lair. The count shows up, but the men distract him until the sun rises and destroys him. His demise is done in a gruesome series of crossfades between increasingly burnt and decayed heads.

Best performance: Susan George as Lucy.

Best bit: There’s a lovely rejig of the novel’s plotline going on here. Combining Jonathan Harker and Refield into the same character is a really smart move: he’s in an asylum because of his experiences in Transylvania. The idea is not unique to this version but this sells it best.

Review: This is a very contained piece of television, mostly taking place in just two buildings (plus some minor location filming), and the cast is good and the script tight. It’s an economical idea to only see Transylvania in flashback, for example, while the Whitby-based climax betters the book’s ending in both conception and execution. The dialogue can sometimes be stilted and on-the-nose, but overall this is an enjoyable 80 minutes.

Seven smashed windows out of 10

 

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968, Freddie Francis)

dracula-has-risen-from-grave-9

An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: A prologue is set in 1905, then the bulk of the film takes place a year later. The location is Hammer’s default, mid-European fantasyland. A lot of the story takes place in a village called Keinenberg.

Faithful to the novel? This is the fourth entry in Hammer Films’ Dracula series. At the start, Count Dracula is terrorising a village, but we then cut to a year later – ie, after the events of Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966). The count is dead but the villagers still fear him – so a visiting monsignor called Ernest Mueller (Rupert Davies) attempts to exorcise the abandoned castle. However, during the ceremony the local priest (Ewan Hooper) accidentally resurrects the vampire (d’oh!) when his blood drips into the vampire’s icy-moat grave. (During this scene, Dracula sees his own reflection in the water.) Unaware of any trouble, Mueller returns home. Dracula (Christopher Lee) follows, wanting revenge for what’s happened to his castle, and targets Mueller’s niece Maria (Veronica Carlson). Maria’s mother (Marion Mathie) and fun-loving boyfriend (Barry Andrews) get caught up in the mayhem, as does local barmaid Zena (Barbara Ewing).

Best performance: Barbara Ewing as the flirty Zena.

Best bit: The prologue shows a young man discovering a corpse in the church: a woman hanging upside down in the bell tower.

Review: This film is hamstrung by all the usual Hammer limitations: the cast is tiny, we get very used to the same few sets, the locations are generic, and there’s some risible day-for-night shooting. But in a couple of ways it’s an interesting entry in the series. The nominal hero of the story, Paul, is an atheist. Admittedly, this detail doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s a nice change from the norm. And Freddie Francis (an Oscar-winning cinematographer as well as this film’s director) uses coloured filters on the edges of shots associated with Dracula. This gives them a strange, stained-glass-window quality, which is both unusual and effective.

Five rooftops out of 10

Planet of the Apes (1968, Franklin J Schaffner)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Where, when and what: The story begins in space. Four astronauts are six months out of Cape Kennedy and know it’s a one-way journey. The date from the crew’s perspective is 14 July 1972, but because of the time displacement caused by travelling at such high speeds, back on Earth it’ll now be March 2673. The astronauts go into hibernation, but a year later the ship crash-lands on a planet. According to the ship’s controls, ‘Earth time’ is now 25 November 3978. From this point, the film makes big efforts to disguise the planet’s identity. Not only does lead astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston) assert that they’re 320 light years from home, but the world has no moon and abnormal weather patterns (a storm in a desert, for example). Famously, the story’s climax confirms that Taylor is actually on Earth – within a horse ride of New York City, in fact.

Humans: Taylor is the point-of-view character and is in virtually every scene. Rugged, hirsute, very often near or actually naked, and sometimes seen smoking a cigar, he’s masculinity squared – and Charlton Heston is decent casting. When the character finds himself in Ape City, however, he’s locked up, can’t speak due to a throat injury, and his captors even threaten to geld him. At first, Taylor has three crewmates. One is killed in the crash; another dies when they encounter the apes; and the third, Landon (Robert Gunner), goes missing. He later returns to the story when we discover the apes have lobotomised him. The only other human character of note is Nova (Linda Harrison), a sexy, mute savage woman who attaches herself to Taylor in captivity.

Apes: They first appear after half an hour in an action scene – and they’re on horseback, which is a good way of immediately telling us they’re not normal apes. They have a medieval culture (well, mostly: they use modern guns and have cameras) and, notably, can talk. “Smile!” is the first word we hear, when a soldier takes a photo of some colleagues. All the apes are actors in masks, of course, and while they masks are not especially articulate the performances still pop through. The fact you can see the actors’ eyes is very important. The two chimpanzees we get to know best – scientist Zira (Kim Hunter) and her archaeologist fiancé, Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) – are likeable and decent characters. They nickname Taylor ‘Bright Eyes’ and help him escape. Their superior Dr Zaius (Maurice Evans) isn’t quite so liberal. There’s also talk of the Forbidden Zone, a nearby region of desert where relics from an age-old culture have been found.

Review: Based on the 1963 novel La Planète des Singes (Monkey Planet) by Pierre Boulle, this film was co-written by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling. And like a lot of good science fiction, it’s deceptively full of meaning and subtext. The story of a human outsider encountering a society run by apes can be read as a number of different metaphors. It could be a satire of the class system, a discussion of science versus superstition, a look at feminism (the chimps represent women while the other apes are the male establishment), a parody of religion, war or the legal system… or simply a comedic role-reversal plot. But it never feels bogged down with dogma. This is an engaging movie that’s very often a lot of fun. And it’s solidly directed: well paced, inventively filmed, with good action and jokes that hit home. There’s also good use of wide-open, ‘alien’ locations and a terrific score by Jerry Goldsmith, which is mysterious and dramatic. But it’s such a shame that the two biggest shocks are so famous. That the society is ruled by intelligent apes is kind of given away by the film’s title. The twist that the planet is actually Earth has been revealed so often over the years it’s one of cinema’s best-known endings. (The film’s spoilertastic final image is on both the DVD cover and menu screen of the copy I used for this review.) Excellent, nevertheless.

Nine stinking paws out of 10

Carry On… Up the Khyber (1968)

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India, 1895. When a local discovers that members of the colonial 3rd Foot and Mouth Regiment are wearing pants under their famous kilts, the British reputation is left in tatters…

What’s it spoofing? The British Raj, a period of colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent (1858-1947). Although obviously set in other places entirely, Michael Caine movie Zulu (1964) and Charlton Heston’s Khartoum (1966) are also being referenced.

Funniest moment: The dinner scene at the end – the British characters calmly and serenely getting on with their meal while the entire building is attacked by the local warlord.

The Big 10:

* Sid James (9) plays Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond, the randy British governor.

* Joan Sims (11) is Sir Sidney’s working-class wife, Joan, who’s so smitten with the Khasi that she betrays her husband in hope of a bunk-up.

* Kenneth Williams (15) plays the Khasi of Kalabar, the local native leader who wants to incite anti-British sentiment. Williams mostly uses a vaguely ‘foreign’ accent for the part, but gets laughs when he slips into earthy English if the character is annoyed.

* Charles Hawtrey (15) is Private James Widdle, the soldier who’s caught wearing undergarments. His regiment’s fearful reputation comes from being known as the ‘Devils in skirts’, so his affection for underpants is a problem.

* Bernard Bresslaw (5) plays Bundgit Din, an Indian warrior. The name is a spoof of Rudyard Kipling’s Gunga Din.

* Peter Butterworth (6) plays missionary Brother Belcher. The Brits use a honey trap to blackmail him into helping them.

Notable others:

* Julian Holloway plays Sir Sidney’s aide-de-camp, Major Shorthouse (pronounced with a posh accent, it sounds like ‘short arse’).

* Angela Douglas appears in a Carry On film for the final time, as Princess Jelhi, the Khasi’s daughter. She plays the sitar in a couple of scenes.

* Terry Scott (Sgt Major MacNutt) was in Carry On Sergeant in 1958, but hasn’t appeared since.

* Roy Castle, in his only Carry On, essentially replaces Jim Dale in the young romantic part. His earnest Captain Keene falls for Princess Jelhi.

* Alexandra Dane is Busti, a well-endowed member of another Carry On harem. Dane also had a tiny role in Carry On Doctor.

* Valerie Leon, uncredited, also plays a girl in the harem.

* Wanda Ventham appears as a wife of the Khasi (he has many), who visits Sir Sidney and offers to sleep with him in reparation for Joan running off with the Khasi.

* Peter Gilmore has a small role as Private Ginger Hale, one of the 3rd Foot and Mouth Regiment.

Top totty: Alexandra Dane.

Kenneth Williams says: “Got the script of Up the Khyber Carry On film. They’re offering me the part of Khasi. Which is Hindustani for lavatory [note: it isn’t]. I imagine they think it’s appropriate.” – Monday 12 February 1968 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, pp319-320)

“First day’s work on Up the Khyber. It was a lousy little scene between me and Sid James but he blows a raspberry in the middle which will get a big laugh. Roy [Castle] is v. good in the rushes & photographs v handsomely: he is incredibly naïve & ingenious.” – Tuesday 16 April 1968 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, pp324-325)

Review: Well, it’s based on a ridiculously silly premise. And you have to turn a blind eye to yet more ‘comedy’ racism. But while this is perhaps not the masterpiece some people think – it once made a BFI list of the 100 best British films – it’s still broadly enjoyable stuff. There’s also a mildly interesting structure in that there’s no lead character. Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Roy Castle all have vague claims on that position, yet no one really drives the story.

Eight fakirs out of 10

The Beatles (1968)

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Title: It was going to be called A Doll’s House, but then another band put out an LP with a similar name – so the Beatles instead went eponymous. The entire world chose to call it The White Album, thanks to the…

Cover: Just the band’s name embossed on a white background.

Best song: I’m going to break my own rules here and not pick one. I’ll explain why in the review section.

Honourable mentions:

* Back in the USSR (written by Paul) opens Side A and is a trad rocker with witty lyrics.

* Dear Prudence (John) is the first of many lovely examples of finger-picking guitar work on the album. (It’s also one of four White Album songs recorded at Trident Studios in Soho, just a minute’s walk from my office.)

* Glass Onion (John) has lyrics that reference previous Beatles songs, mocking fans who look for hidden codes, and a pleasing chug-chug bassline.

* Ska pastiche Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (Paul) has really grown on me over the years (I used to hate it, as John, George and Ringo did at the time, but now find it fun).

* FM-radio-friendly While My Guitar Gently Weeps is George’s best song since Revolver and features a guitar solo from Eric Clapton, an outsider brought in by Harrison to try to improve morale in the camp.

* The mysterious Happiness is a Warm Gun (John) is a number of song ideas skillfully bolted together – apparently, everyone involved really enjoyed tackling the challenging structure.

* The laconic I’m So Tired (John) will always have a place in my (long-time insomnia sufferer’s) heart.

* Blackbird (Paul) is a stunningly beautiful guitar piece.

* I Will (Paul) has a cute sung bassline.

* The delicate Julia, John’s paean/farewell to his dead mother, is heartbreaking.

* Yer Blues (John) is brutally raw and a tight ‘live’ performance.

* Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey (John) is throwaway but worth it for the terrific section near the end featuring garbled singing, a relentless cowbell, a heavy guitar riff and a mixed-highly bass.

* Sexy Sadie (John) is classy doo-wop done as a rock ballad. (The song is about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Transcendental Meditation guru who the group followed for a time. Lennon – probably incorrectly – came to believe that the Maharishi was a dirty old man, and the original lyrics were: “Maharishi, you little twat/Who the fuck do you think you are?/Who the fuck do you think you are?/Oh, you cunt.” Harrison suggested being more opaque.)

* Helter Skelter (Paul) is fantastically raucous, loud and ‘punk’: the Beatles at their wildest since Twist and Shout.

* Long, Long, Long (George) is largely dull but I love the ending – during the recording, Paul’s sustained note on the Hammond organ audibly rattled a wine bottle in the studio and the band improvised a banshee-wail of a climax.

* Honey Pie (Paul) is an accomplished exercise in style: I easily picture bob-cut flappers dancing the Charleston at the Ritz.

Worst song: Come on, who actually listens to Revolution 9?

Notable outside contributions: Lots of pals provide backing vocals (Yoko Ono even gets a line to herself in The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill), while the group was by now routinely employing session musicians to provide trombones, trumpets, clarinets, cellos, violins, saxophones, tubas, French horns, stumpf fiddles, flugelhorns and the like. The most famous playing on the album by a non-Beatle is Clapton’s guitar solo.

Review: John, Paul and George wrote a cache of new songs while staying in India for a few weeks in early 1968, enough in fact for a double LP. There is plenty of good stuff here, but nothing to equal the best of 1965-67. Instead, the album’s joy comes from a) its rambling, eclectic nature (brilliantly, listening to one track gives you no idea what the next one will be like), and b) the fact it’s significantly greater than the sum of its parts. Producer George Martin has said he wished they’d cut away the flab and made one really strong single LP. I don’t agree. Meaning and power lie, as it were, ‘in between’ the songs: there’s a nebulous cumulative effect, helped by the smart running order worked out during the Beatles’ only ever 24-hour studio session. That’s why I struggle to name a standout track – The White Album is a successful football team with no star players. Ironic, then, that there wasn’t much teamwork behind the scenes. The recording sessions were famously tense. Lennon and McCartney rowed often, George Martin found excuses not to be around, Paul grew more patronising, Yoko Ono’s presence in the studio caused resentment, and Ringo even quit the band and fled to Sardinia (he was convinced to return a few days later by his contrite colleagues). Many songs were recorded essentially as solo pieces: only 15 of the 30 tracks feature all four Beatles. The long break-up had begun.

Nine all-American, bullet-headed Saxon mother’s sons out of 10.