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


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.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus: You’re No Fun Any More (Ian MacNaughton, BBC1, 30 November 1969)

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An occasional series where I watch and review works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Various. The Dracula section takes place in a bedroom.

Faithful to the novel? This episode of Monty Python’s fiercely adventurous comedy sketch show merits an inclusion in this blogging project because of a 10-second gag. In the first full sketch of the show, a camel-spotter’s enjoyment is ruined by an interviewer who points out that he’s actually a trainspotter. ‘Oh, you’re no fun any more,’ he laments. We then cut to several short vignettes where someone says the same thing. One of the mini-scenes features Dracula (Graham Chapman in the classic Bela Lugosi get-up) approaching the bed of a woman (Donna Reading). As he gets near, his prominent fangs fall from his mouth into her cleavage. ‘Oh, you’re no fun any more,’ she moans.

Best performance: Elsewhere in the episode, Chapman and Reading also play an earnest scientist and his ditzy assistant – a clear spoof of boffins like Doctor Who or Bernard Quatermass and their attractive female sidekicks.

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Best bit: The bulk of this early episode is made up of Flying Circus’s first ‘feature-length’ sketch. Departing from the usual format of linked but separate ideas, around 23 minutes of the half-hour-long You’re No Fun Any More is one sustained storyline. A race of alien blancmanges invade England and begin to turn the populous into bagpipe-playing, kilt-wearing, ginger-bearded Scotsmen. The Python team would later do more and more of these long stories, but at the time it was an oddity.

Review: A lot of fun. Tremendously silly.

Eight fangs out of 10

Topaz (1969)


An occasional series where I review a randomly selected movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock…

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A French spy based in Washington attempts to rout out a mole in his organisation…

There’s an international feel to this, partly because of the European actors dominating the cast list, partly because of the use of Copenhagen and Paris as locations. But there’s also a Euro vibe to the filmmaking. It’s loucher, more laid-back, more self-consciously sedate, than a typical Hollywood movie.

We begin with cloak-and-dagger clichés as a Soviet intelligence officer defects to the West. He’s lifted by American spies led by CIA agent Mike Nordstrom (John Forsythe, in his second Hitchcock role) and soon reveals that the Russians are placing nuclear weapons on Cuba. (It’s 1962, by the way: post-Bay of Pigs, pre-missile crisis.) Nordstrom can’t approach the Cubans directly, though, so enlists an old pal to do it for him – James Bond-ish French spy André Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), who then becomes the movie’s lead character.

As events develop – Devereaux investigates, travels to Cuba, has a liaison with his sexy mistress, splits up from his wife, learns of a double agent codenamed Topaz – the script uses an odd structure. The focus keeps switching as characters pass the narrative baton on to the next person in the chain. Nordstrom sets the story running, then drops out of the film for long stretches; Devereaux is the nominal lead, but during one section has a proxy called Philippe Dubois.

The Dubois sequence is actually the best in the movie. Played by Roscoe Lee Browne with a smirk and a cool confidence, Dubois is a French-Martinican agent hired by Devereaux. A delegation of Cubans are in New York to attend a UN powwow. In order to show solidarity with the black community, they’re staying at a hotel in Harlem – but Devereaux knows their leader has a document that details the Soviet missile plan. So he hires Dubois to bribe his way into the hotel, pretend to be a sympathetic journalist and charm the leader so he can get a look at the document. In a film that seriously lacks tension at times, this part of the story really grips you.

There are other pleasures too, including a striking shot when a key character is killed – as Cuban resistance leader Juanita de Cordoba (Karin Dor from You Only Live Twice) falls to the floor, we see it from a camera directly above her, her dress billowing out to echo a pool of blood. There are also some fun moments where Hitchcock shows characters discussing the plot but places them so far from the camera that we can’t hear the dialogue: Hitch knew how boring exposition can be.

But all too often the story drags or diverts down a cul-de-sac. A flat, low-energy script and a weak cast – Frederick Stafford and Dany Robin, playing Devereaux’s wife, are especially poor – make it difficult to care about what’s going on. A number of badly dated rear-projection shots for dialogue scenes in moving cars really don’t help either, nor does the lack of star power in the cast.

Five men in a wheelchair out of 10

Note: The film suffered horrendously in some pre-release test screenings, with the climax (a duel between Devereaux and the unmasked Topaz) coming in for most criticism. So around 20 minutes were cut out and two alternative endings were hastily knocked together. The version used for this review was the longer edit but had the ending seen in the UK in 1969 – Topaz gets away with his crimes and flies off to Moscow. (The default release print in 1969 used stolen shots from elsewhere in the movie to imply that Topaz has killed himself.)

Carry On Christmas (TV special, ITV, 24 December 1969)


On Christmas Eve, skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts and shown the error of his ways…

What’s it spoofing? Charles Dickens’s novella A Christmas Carol (1843), though it’s a *very* loose adaptation and goes off on some distinctly non-Dickensian tangents (Frankenstein, Dracula, Cinderella…).

Funniest moment: Frankie Howerd, playing poet Robert Browning, arrives halfway through and takes over. The show basically becomes Up Pompeii! for 12 minutes and it’s great fun. (Talbot Rothwell wrote both this special and that sitcom, which had only had one episode at this point.)

The cast: There are eight actors in Carry On Christmas who play 27 roles between them, including…

* Sid James: Ebenezer Scrooge

* Peter Butterworth: a beggar, Dracula, a convent girl and an ugly sister

* Bernard Bresslaw: a town crier, Bob Cratchit, Frankenstein’s monster, the Spirit of Christmas Future, a convent girl, a hippy and a policeman

* Charles Hawtrey: the Spirit of Christmas Past, an angel, a convent girl and Buttons

* Hattie Jacques: a nun, Elizabeth Barrett and a passerby

* Terry Scott: Dr Frank N Stein, Elizabeth’s dad, a convent girl and an ugly sister

* Barbara Windsor: another monster, the Sprit of Christmas Present and Cinderella

* Frankie Howerd, as mentioned, plays Robert Browning. Well, actually he plays himself. He breaks the fourth wall, talks to camera, comments on the fiction, addresses the crew… He’s the best thing in the whole piece and returns at the end to play a terrifyingly dragged-up Fairy Godmother.

Top totty: An attractive but uncredited actress has a tiny appearance as a girl who Scrooge has hidden in a wardrobe.

Review: Shown on ITV on Christmas Eve 1969, this patchy special got 18 million viewers. There’s a general air of a shambolic, quickly rehearsed panto (some corpsing has been left in), which is a feeling that’s hammered home by a climactic Cinderella spoof with everyone talking in rhyming couplets. It’s not really like any Carry On film, especially given how many characters each actor plays, and it’s very bizarre to see the team shot on video and playing up to a studio audience.

Seven noses out of 10

Carry On Again Doctor (1969)


After an embarrassingly drunken evening, a British doctor is sent off to a medical mission in Azure Bay on the isolated Beatific Islands. There he discovers a treatment for rapid dieting, so returns to the UK to exploit it…

What’s it spoofing? The medical profession again, for a third time. The movie also satirises colonial missionary work. The script began as an entry for the rival Doctor series of films, but was then rejigged by writer Talbot Rothwell as a Carry On. The filming location used for the UK hospital is the same as that in Carry On Doctor (Maidenhead Town Hall), though they’re fictionally different places.

Funniest moment: In the medical mission, we hear jungle drums beating out an ominous message. Dr Nookey nervously asks Gladstone what it means, so he translates: “Manchester United 6, Chelsea 1… Arsenal 5, Wolves 0…”

The Big 10:

* Kenneth Williams (17) plays the haughty Frederick Carver, a surgeon who wants to form his own private practice.

* Charles Hawtrey (17) appears as Dr Ernest Stoppidge, a senior house surgeon. Near the end, he has to drag up (and does so reasonably convincingly).

* Hattie Jacques (9) is a rather perfunctory matron called Miss Soaper. Coincidentally, that’s the same surname that Kenneth Williams’s character had in the previous film.

* Jim Dale (10), back after two films off, plays Dr Jimmy Nookey. It’s an OTT performance of physical double-takes and exaggerated expressions. Nookey flirts with and woos an actress, and also has some big slapstick stunts.

* Joan Sims (13) plays wealthy private patient Ellen Moore. Carver wants her to invest in his clinic so he woos her.

* Peter Butterworth (8) worked on the film for a single day. He has a one-gag cameo as a patient. Seeing him shuffling queasily into the waiting area, two doctors have a go at guessing what’s wrong with him. He replies: “Let me see now. You thought it was a slipped disc? I’m afraid you were wrong. And you thought it was hemorrhoids. I’m afraid you were wrong. As a matter of fact, I thought I was going to break wind. I’m afraid I was wrong.”

* Barbara Windsor (4) plays an actress called Goldie Locks (real name: Maude Boggins) who comes into the hospital with a bruised back. She’s virtually naked in her first scene, and then appears actually nude – seen from the rear – later on. After going out with Jimmy, she wants to get married but he fails to spot her hints. Director Gerald Thomas was annoyed with the actress for losing weight before the filming and therefore undercutting a gag about Goldie advertising Bristol’s Bouncing Baby Food.

* Sid James (11) doesn’t join the story till fairly late on, playing the orderly at the medical mission: Gladstone Screwer. He’s skimming funds and living the life of Riley with his five (and counting) wives. When he comes to England, he lusts after Miss Soaper.

Notable others:

* Patsy Rowlands appears in a Carry On film for the first time. Miss Fosdick is the put-upon assistant of Kenneth Williams’s character who, after being stranded on the Beatific Islands, chooses to stay there.

* Patricia Hayes gets one scene as Mrs Beasley, a hospital patient who seemingly comes in every day with one complaint or another.

* Wilfred Bramble cameos (mutely) as a dirty old man. His scene is scored by the theme from Steptoe & Son.

* Peter Gilmore plays Henry, a doctor.

* Valerie Leon appears as Nookey’s leggy, cleavage-thrusting secretary, Deirdre.

Top totty: Valerie Leon again.

Kenneth Williams says: “Pinewood at 8. Sometimes on this picture, just before a ‘take’, I’ve suddenly had the feeling ‘What on earth am I doing?’ and it’s almost unnerving. I realise that you get nervous from realising the importance of what you’re doing. I’m all right when I have the jokes – then just go on and do it – without self-consciousness.” – Wednesday 19 March 1969 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p346)

“To the Metropole to see Carry On Again Doctor. It was very good indeed, and should have got excellent reviews from the press. It moves along at a spanking pace, the cutting is excellent and the situations all hold. My performance as Carver, the surgeon, is remarkably authoritative and the incredibly banal lines which I have to say are made quite acceptable by the sort of style and panache I bring to the role. I was surprised and pleased, save for the fact that the greying hair was quite noticeably at times. Alas! my youth has left me. This should be the last film I do.” – Wednesday 10 December 1969 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p363)

Review: Unlike the first two medical Carry Ons, this focuses on the hospital staff; the patients are mostly just cameos. It also has a slightly nasty, cynical streak, which has been rare in this series. It’s essentially a film about people being selfish, lying, manipulating and cheating. It’s all thunderingly sexist too. The story is in three sections: an opening at the hospital, which is full of Christmas-cracker-quality jokes; a segment set out in the wilds of Nebulous Foreign Location yet filmed in a small studio; and finally a farce-like climax in Nookey’s clinic, which sadly never really takes off. The film has its moments, but is generally a bit of a disappointment.

Six jiggery-pokeries out of 10

Carry On Camping (1969)


Various holidaymakers – including two plumbers, their girlfriends, a coachload of young girls, a shrieking wife and her unhappy husband – head for Paradise campsite…

What’s it spoofing? Campsite etiquette. A sequence at the end also pokes fun at the then-contemporary flower-power movement. The title is a pun, of course.

Funniest moment: Sid, Joan, Bernie and Anthea arrive at Paradise, which they think is a nudist camp. A sign at the entrance reads ‘All asses must be shown’. Sid asks a nearby guy where the owner is. “He’s gone for a pee,” is the answer. The owner then walks up, carrying a letter P, which is nailed before the word ‘asses’ on the sign.

The Big 10:

* Joan Sims (12) plays Joan Fussey, a woman who lives with her nagging mother.

* Sid James (10) plays Sid Boggle – a classic (maybe *the* classic) Sid James cackling letch. He wants to get girlfriend Joan to a nudist colony, but soon switches his attentions to the much younger Babs. In the tradition of the stereotype, he never actually gets any.

* Bernard Bresslaw (6) plays Bernie Lugg, Sid’s mate/sidekick. He keeps putting his foot in it by saying the wrong thing. Like in Carry On Doctor, he’s paired off with Dilys Laye.

* Charles Hawtrey (16) is the never-quite-all-there backpacker Charlie Muggins.

* Barbara Windsor (3) plays schoolgirl – yes, schoolgirl – Babs. We first see her having a scrap with another uniformed girl. Next she’s spotted making out with a grown man. She later outrageously flirts with Sid, a man three times her age, then her bikini top famously flies off while she’s doing some exercises. You can practically hear political correctness getting ready for a fight.

* Hattie Jacques (8) gets a variance on her standard ‘matron’ role, as Miss Haggerd, the matron of girls school Chayste Place. She’s attracted to her colleague Soaper.

* Kenneth Williams (16) plays Dr Soaper, the naive head of the school. Aside from one or two moments, he seems blissfully unaware that his charges might be attractive – he’s certainly aware of Miss Haggerd’s feelings, though, and has to keep putting her off.

* Peter Butterworth (7) plays the aptronymic owner of the campsite, Joshua Fiddler.

Notable others:

* Dilys Laye plays Anthea, Bernie’s slightly prudish maybe-girlfriend who seems to be ill most of the time.

* Terry Scott appears as Peter Potter, a put-upon suburban husband who wants an exotic foreign holiday but is forced to go camping with his wife.

* Betty Marsden plays Harriet, Peter’s irritatingly loud and brash other half who never pays him much attention. She has an horrendous laugh.

* Valerie Leon cameos as a sexy sales assistant in a camping-equipment shop.

* Julian Holloway’s role as coach driver Jim Tanner was reportedly hacked down in post-production (he certainly seems to hang around unnecessarily, as if his contribution is now missing). Does the character’s name mean the part was meant for Jim Dale?

* Patricia Franklin appears as the pregnant daughter of a local farmer. Franklin’s daughter in real life, Charlotte Hatherley, was in Britpop band Ash between 1997 and 2006, and also used to go out with director Edgar Wright, who cast Franklin in Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End.

Top totty: Valerie Leon.

Kenneth Williams says: “Gerald [Thomas, director] took me aside and said we’d been friends long enough for him to talk frankly about my work, and that I had been bad in the scene because I had been mugging & pulling faces and lost the ‘character’ of the Headmaster & that the scene had lacked credibility because of this. Peter Rodgers [producer] said ‘It was like watching Kenneth Williams doing himself on television, instead of playing a character…’ Of course by this time the ego was on the ground and covered in mud.” – Thursday 24 October 1968 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p336)

“At one point I said to Gerald ‘You can leave me out of the next film you make’ and he said ‘In the next one you are playing a coloured witch doctor’ and I replied ‘Don’t bother to ask me’ and Barbara [Windsor] cried out ‘I’ll do it Gerald’ which was quite funny.” – Wednesday 30 October 1968 (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, p336)

Review: The story begins with characters watching a nudist film (which is stock footage but has newly filmed close-ups of a pretty, young, topless blonde)… Barbara Windsor’s boobs pop out a couple of times… The plot’s entire thrust, as it were, is two middle-aged men lusting after sexualised schoolgirls… The amount of sex in this series has been tantrically increasing for a few films now – not actual sex, of course, but characters being obsessed with it – and now we reach, um, a peak. There’s also a palpable feel of a ‘Carry On family’. Many characters are given the same names of the actors, while there are strong familiar stereotypes in cackling Sid James, giggling Barbara Windsor, gormless Bernard Bresslaw, repressed Kenneth Williams and so on. On the downside, it’s a shame that scenes of people on holiday were famously filmed in drab weather, while the hippy festival that climaxes the story might have been topical yet feels tacked on to provide an end sequence. But the film has a great zip to it with many quick, punchy scenes and it’s often very amusing.

Eight bikini tops out of 10

Abbey Road (1969)


Title: The road in north-west London where EMI Studios – now called Abbey Road Studios – can be found. The Beatles recorded there for most of their career.

Cover: George in double denim, Paul without any shoes on, Ringo in a black suit and John in a white one striding across the pedestrian crossing outside the studio. A Volkswagen Beetle was coincidentally parked in shot. I visited Abbey Road in September 2000 and – like EVERYONE WHO’S EVER BEEN THERE – had my photograph taken while crossing the road.

Best song: George’s lush, soft-focus ballad Something is so good that Frank Sinatra used to call it his favourite Lennon and McCartney song. It kicks into a powerful gear for a heartfelt middle-eight and has a cool, relaxed guitar solo, while I could spend hours listening to just Paul and Ringo’s inventive, melodic work on bass and drums.

Honourable mentions:

* John’s Come Together is full of attack and attitude. Lennon snarls the nonsense lyric like it means everything in the world, and he’s supported by a laid-back yet still menacing production of funky bassline, bass-drum kicks and vamping on an electric piano.

* Oh! Darling is Paul at his pastiche best: here he’s aping doo-wop ballads of his youth. He blasts out the vocal with commitment and obvious joy, while the music is genuinely excited.

* Ringo began to write Octopus’s Garden while he was in Sardinia, having quit the Beatles temporarily in 1968, and a fisherman started explaining how octopuses search the seabed for stones. There’s a lovely moment in the documentary film Let It Be where Ringo shows the chords to George, who then suggests an improvement. Three minutes of charm, clearly made with love by the whole group, it’s the best song Ringo either wrote and/or sang on a Beatles record.

* Side A of the album closes with the gargantuan I Want You (She’s So Heavy) – it’s John pleading for seven minutes, so earnestly his voice rips open at one point. The repetitive music – rock riffs, bubbling bass, stadium drums – sounds very 70s supergroup. The hypnotic, rolling play-out is so dogged it has to be cut off by the needle running out of vinyl. There’s a tremendous cover of this song by Booker T & the MGs:

* Side B begins with George’s bucolic, beautiful Here Comes The Sun. He wrote it one morning in Eric Clapton’s garden while he waited for his pal to get up. Its general light touch is wonderful, Ringo’s drumming is lovely, and cute handclaps give a bit of extra bounce to the bridge. The only thing wrong with it is how low George Martin’s orchestra is in the mix: the flutes sound delightful, but don’t shine through enough.

* John’s Because is a complex vocal harmony with minimal instrumentation. John, Paul and George actually recorded three parts each, making nine voices in all: the resulting sound is what I imagine angels would sound like.

* The final 16 minutes of Abbey Road famously consists of an eight-song medley. (In truth, there’s actually a beat of silence between two of them.) It’s a wonderful encore, a final flourish before the curtain falls. A few of the sections are bits of fluff, but Paul’s You Never Give Me Your Money (a mini-medley in itself) and She Came In Through the Bathroom Window are both really good. Unity is enforced by clever cross-mixing and, in the case of Carry That Weight, one song quoting another. The last segment is called The End. It features guitar or drum solos from all four Beatles, and the final lyric is an end-of-an-era valediction: “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” (Well, it’s not quite the end. After 20 seconds of silence, we get the earliest ‘hidden track’ in pop music: a snatch of Paul singing about the Queen.)

Worst song: If Maxwell’s Silver Hammer vanished from existence, I doubt I’d miss it.

Notable outside contributions: George Martin, back as a proper producer after the chaos of the Let It Be sessions (see next review), plays an electric harpischord on Because and an organ on Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, Sun King and Mean Mr Mustard. Billy Preston plays organ on Something and I Want You (She’s So Heavy). There are many uncredited violins, violas, cellos, double basses, horns, trumpets, trombones, piccolos, flutes, clarinets on Something, Here Comes The Sun, Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight and The End. Long-time Beatles roadie Mal Evans hits an anvil during the chorus of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.

Review: Embarrassed perhaps by a series of half-arsed, mixed-bag projects (one of which was stuck in post-production hell), the Beatles resolved to make one last great record before calling it a day. Abbey Road is a glorious swansong, a real return to the craft, class and quality of Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. The fact George Martin was back producing with real authority for the first time since Pepper is probably hugely significant. This is music of overwhelming beauty – wonderful songs brilliantly played, magnificently recorded and skillfully produced. The Beatles really were the best, you know.

Ten mojo filters out of 10.

Yellow Submarine (1969)


Title: The animated movie Yellow Submarine was made with virtually no interest from the Beatles themselves, aside from donating a few largely second-rate songs and quickly filming a live-action cameo. This LP is its soundtrack album – it’s made up of four new tracks the group dashed off without much thought, two songs that had already been released, and an entire side of movie score.

Cover: Stylistically true to the film: 1960s cartoon imagery with as many colours as possible.

Best song: John’s Hey Bulldog is fantastically punchy and aggressive. It was recorded when the Beatles gathered in the studio to film a music video for upcoming single Lady Madonna. Rather than waste the session acting for the camera, they decided to work on a new track while being filmed. I love the sound of the guitars – George’s solo is piercing – and the chaotic ad-libbing at the end works really well too.

Honourable mentions: George’s action-packed It’s All Too Much is quite fun. It’s one of the longest songs the band ever recorded: 6.28. Only Revolution 9, Hey Jude and I Want You (She’s So Heavy) beat it.

Worst song: All Together Now, Paul’s depressingly simplistic sing-along.

Notable outside contributions: Side B is exclusively cues from the film, written by George Martin and recorded by a 41-piece orchestra. Unless you count seeing the movie, this #BeatlesReview process has been the first time I’ve *ever* heard this half of the album.

Alternative version: In 1999, to celebrate 30 years of the movie, an album called Yellow Submarine Songtrack was released. It took the six tracks from side A of the original LP, dumped the instrumental cues, and added nine previously released Beatles songs that had been used in the film. Some minor remixing was done.

Review: The strangest album in the Beatles’ canon – some people understandably discount it, given how little new material it contains. It’s sadly another example of the band’s variable post-Pepper form. Martin’s incidental music is pleasing enough, but I’m afraid to say the movie itself has never done anything for me. I’m immune to its charms.

Six wigwams out of 10.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Peter Hunt, 1969)

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

It’s not just James Bond who’s different in this one. This is more of a character story or a genuine romance than any of the previous films. Bond investigates Tracy off his own back because she fascinates him; tracks down Blofeld through personal motivation. He’s not, at least to begin with, on a mission. “This never happened to the other fella,” Bond says to camera early on – it might be a knowing joke about the recasting, but he’s not wrong. This has a depth of feeling that the Connerys didn’t attempt. Gone are hollowed-out volcanoes and plans to break into Fort Knox – as we’ll see, this switch to character stories and plausibility was a regular calibration when the series got too sci-fi or silly (cf For Your Eyes Only, Casino Royale). Not that Blofeld’s plan isn’t outrageous, but OHMSS keeps things pleasingly down-to-earth. The film is sensationally directed – stylish, but full of substance and great, clear storytelling. It’s long (136 minutes), but easily holds its length. It has one of the best Bond girls. It has the best Blofeld. It has the best music. It does, famously, have a flaw – George Lazenby is no Sean Connery – but I honestly don’t think that significantly damages the overall effect. Wonderful, just wonderful. 10 copies of Playboy out of 10.

Bond: Connery out, Lazenby in. He’s clearly not a great actor – he had virtually no experience – but the idea that he’s inept or that his performance scuttles the movie is a myth. He’s fine, to be honest; ordinary, yes, but not embarrassing. He lacks Connery’s authority and sparkle, but handles the menacing stuff well and has believable chemistry with Diana Rigg. His final scene is genuinely heartbreaking. (George isn’t the only actor to play Bond in this movie. For the lengthy section when James is pretending to be Sir Hilary Bray of the London College of Arms, George Baker – who played Sir Hilly – dubbed all of Lazenby’s dialogue. Coincidentally, last Sunday’s episode of classy ITV detective show Endeavour had a lovely in-joke reference to Sir Hilary.) Also, we see Bond’s Whitehall office for the first time.

Villains: The movie begins as a character story. But the subplot of Bond trying to track down Blofeld snakes around it, then takes centre stage. We first meet scary henchwoman Irma Bunt, then a recast Blofeld – he’s now played by Telly Savalas with a cold charisma. The clips from Connery movies in the title sequence and the scene of Bond finding mementoes of old missions reinforce that this is a continuation not a reboot – however, why Blofeld doesn’t instantly recognise Bond from the previous adventure is not addressed.

Girls: Tracy di Vicenzo is the best character we’ve had so far in the series, played magnificently by Diana Rigg (the most talented actress to be a Bond girl, surely). In her first scene, she’s trying to kill herself – and this subliminal threat of death hangs above her for the whole movie. The next time we see her, she leans over a card table in a low-cut top then coyly admits she can’t cover her lost bet. Sex, I’m telling you. Pure sex. Like Honor Blackman in Goldfinger, this is a *woman* – a confident yet vulnerable, capable yet flawed woman. Her romance with Bond is believable and touching, and she even has some great faux-flirty scenes with Blofeld. She kicks ass during the climactic battle, doffing up two goons. And Tracy reentering the story after a long absence, skating up to a desperate Bond when he’s trying to hide from Blofeld’s soldiers, is a moment of unutterable beauty. She wins James Bond’s heart – and mine. At one point, Bond smirks while holding up a Playboy centerfold. Blofeld’s research institute houses a gaggle of international women, all very attractive: one is played by Joanna Lumley, another by Catherine Schell. Bond beds the ‘northern’ one, Ruby, then goes back to his room to find another wanting a service too.

Regulars: Q, M and Moneypenny all appear briefly. Q’s only gadget is some deliberately naff radioactive lint, while we see M’s country house (butler and all). Moneypenny has a moving moment, getting teary at Bond’s wedding. As well as Blofeld, his cat also returns.

Action: There’s a great fight early on, Bond and a henchman splashing about in the waves. All the punch-ups are edited with violent jump cuts. The skiing scenes are great when shot for real, but are let down by too many close-ups done in front of jarring rear-projection screens. There’s a fantastic chase through the town, which includes a barney in a room full of bells. Tracy drives her car into the middle of an ice-track stock-car derby. Draco’s men storm the institute at the end; Bond slides along the ice on his stomach while firing a machine gun. The final action sequence is a great bobsleigh chase.

Comedy: As well as they “other fella” line, a janitor whistles the Goldfinger theme tune. One of the institute lovelies reaches under Bond’s kilt to write her room number on his thigh. When Irma Bunt asks him why he looks surprised, he says, “Just a slight stiffness coming on…”

Music: John Barry’s best work on the series. A sensational, dramatic and beautiful score features synths to great effect. My favourite cue is during the breathtakingly tense sequence when Bond’s breaking into a Swiss lawyer’s office; the music raises your heartbeat. The title music is an instrumental with a killer tune, while the featured song is Louis Armstrong’s We Have All The Time in the World – very possibly the best track recorded for any Bond movie – which plays during Bond and Tracy’s romantic montage.

People I’ve met: Two people from this film. In 2003, I interviewed Bernard Horsfall, who plays Bond’s doomed ally Shaun Campbell. He told me a story of the film’s stunt coordinator having to be physically restrained from attacking Lazenby when George was so rude he made a barmaid cry. Also, last year Joanna Lumley visited the office I work in – although she wasn’t there to meet our team, she smiled at us and said hello like we were all old friends.