Monday, 29 February 2016


From November 1982: CINEMA stumbles into the territory traditionally reserved for its sci-fi sister title, Starburst, with TRON gracing the cover of the eye-catching seventh issue.

Published, of course, by Marvel UK.


From March 1986: the next issue (number 32) of DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN (aka DWB). 


From 1987: possibly one of the most important single books of the Star Age: the STAR WARS SOURCEBOOK, a spin-off from the West End RPG published to mark the tenth anniversary of the release of the original movie.

This hardback (the game itself was a similar format) really helped to kickstart the saga's return after several years of languishing in the doldrums. By opening up the Expanded Universe, and targeting buyers that had grown up with, but then abandoned, the series, West End and Lucasfilm reminded fandom just how good the movies had been. And how much potential there was for storytelling within the Star Wars universe. 

The writers started to flesh out what we'd seen on screen by filling in many of the gaps. Later on, the writers of the numerous novels, comics and games would take this so far that every minor character and moment from the films was fleshed out to ridiculous levels. But, at this point, it was something new and different.

Flushed with early success, the publisher went on to release books specifically about the forces of the Empire and Rebellion and then expanded the range to complement the various books and comics series. 

The books featured reams of statistics that were gobbledygook to anyone who didn't play the games (like me) but the extensive text, blueprints, floor plans and (in some volumes) original art still made these must-haves for the lapsed Star Warrior like myself. 

The one other single publication that renewed my interest in the dormant franchise was Starlog's tenth anniversary salute. 

West End deserve full recognition for their part in saving Star Wars, even through the continuity they helped to create was swept away when Disney hit the reset button in the run up to the release of the new movie. 

Friday, 26 February 2016


From February 1986: the 31st issue of DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN introduces, with an understandable lack of enthusiasm, the latest DOCTOR WHO companion.

A bit of stunt casting that not only misjudged the show's fans but also the Great British Public as well. Its hard to imagine chucking Bonnie Langford (who, as I understand it, is a very nice person) into the Tardis encouraged anyone to alter their viewing habits and starting watching the show.



FILE UNDER: You wouldn't see the likes of this on the CBBC Channel today.

It's an adaptation of three serials (totaling six episodes) from the original series' sixth season, transmitted in 1978. 

TTP is a wildly inconsistent series (whereas the most recent revival was just consistently underwhelming) but the Hitler-thon is one of the standout stories. You have to admire the sheer cheek of Thames and ITV to offer up Nazis (and regular cast members dressing as Nazis as part of the latest teen fashion craze) as part of the tea time schedules (although, tellingly, this doesn't seem to have evoked any criticism from audiences or within the fractured ITV network) and then revealing (here comes the secret) that Hitler was actually a cheap and cheerful alien cobbled together by the Teddington effects team. The fact that he's played (not for the last time) by 1980s Grange Hill villain Mr Bronson, aka Michael Sheard, just adds to the fun.  It also features a young Nicholas Lyndhurst as a Nazi soldier and (for the series) surprisingly good production values with a fair chunk of location recording. 

The Reich was hardly unknown to kids friendly time slots thanks to multiple WWII padding out the afternoon schedules to give the continuity announcer time for an extended coffee break, chat with his mates and run another business on the side. But appearances in actual Kid Vid was rarer. GALACTICA 1980's pilot outing transported the Next Gen Colonial Warriors (and Jamie) back to occupied Europe on the hunt for Richard Lynch but that was a family hour show (although pitched largely at kids) and just an excuse for the cash-strapped quickie to raid Universal's costume store. 

I don't remember seeing the other two stories adapted (time to unearth that DVD box set again) but The Thargon Menace certainly sounds topical today. Maybe that's the version of the show they should have revived for modern times. 

Thursday, 25 February 2016


From late 1985: another end-of-year double-issue of DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN (aka DWB) to see out the year.

This is issue 29/ 30, adorned with a very eye-catching (and fanboy-pleasing... well, some of them anyway) Caves of Androzani (Davison's swansong from the previous year) cover. 

Kudos to DWB for making these double issues feel like an event rather than just a regular issue bulked out so that the (almost certainly exhausted) editor/ publisher could take a couple of weeks off. 


From 1983: the seldom seen, at least by me, RETURN OF THE JEDI SKETCHBOOK.

Published by Ballentine Books, this and its ESB predecessor (which I don't have) don't appear to have enjoyed very widespread UK distribution back in the day. It was certainly easier to find the oft-reprinted large format "Art of" editions. 

I'm assuming that copies were only imported by specialist bookstores and it wasn't offered to the general British booktrade. I'm sure, if I had seen a copy when it was released, it would have leapt pretty high on my birthday or Christmas list. 

This is, as the title suggests, a collection of pre-production art which gives an insight into the creative process behind the locations, hardware and creatures as well as creative roads (star lanes?) untravelled.

I finally found a copy of this last year in a second hand store along with a bunch of other contemporary books about the saga that someone had obviously offloaded in a batch. 

Tuesday, 23 February 2016


From November 1985 (happy anniversary Doctor!), DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN turns its Cyber Gun on producer John Nathan-Turner.

This was the long-running BBC-baiting vendetta (fuelled by very personal reasons) that ran for the rest of DWB's life... even after the show had been cancelled, its erstwhile producer made redundant (although he popped up again, on the other side of the Westway, to oversee the early 1990s merchandising efforts. And took a punt at TV presenting as part of BSB's WHO weekender... about the only piece of output anyone remembers from that short-lived Telly Cash Furnice) and DWB's own remit expanded to include other genre shows, past and prsent. 

It seems odd that Michael Grade, the man in charge of BBC ONE and the 'buyer' of the drama department's product, couldn't actually manage (or muster the effort) to shuffle a mere producer seen as having done his time. Its not as if backroom deals and staff maneuvering aren't part and parcel of life at the corporation. And, with most production still in house, there would have been ample opportunity to find a new role for JN-T which could have looked like a promotion but left the way clear for a new broom on the show. Arguments that no one else wanted the gig don't really ring true... you'll always find someone willing to take a punt if it furthers their career. The upper ranks of the BBC are full of people in roles that they know full well won't last for long but will leave them better positioned for the next opportunity. 


From 1977: Another Warren black & white one shot: the first official STAR WARS MAGAZINE!

FAMOUS MONSTERS STAR WARS SPECTAULR was quick out the launch bay as one of the very first official print tie-ins with the who-would-have-thought-it blockbuster. Other speedy contenders included the novelization, the early issues of Marvel's comic book and Treasury Editions and the (superior to this) STAR WARS COLLECTORS EDITION: UK edition courtesy of Marvel).

The cover is a cracker (nailing the robots and aliens attraction of the movie and the merchandise) and not a still that seems to surface that often. The contents, however, are more disappointing: The usual Famous Monsters mix of poorly reproduced photos and enthusiastic but superficial text.  The arrival of STARLOG and STARBURST must have seemed like something radical and new (as did the launch of SFX in the 1990s after more than a decade of both and their formulaic spin-offs.

I picked this up from a dealer last year for under a fiver (maybe because a little beat up) but it seemed like a good price for such an early piece of Star Wars print media. 

Monday, 22 February 2016


From October 1985: the next issue in my patchy run of DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN fanzines, the premiere zine devoted to the show in the Eighties and early Nineties


From September 1988: A British comics landmark (even if it didn't actually last that long) that largely passed me by at the time... the first issue of Fleetway's "grown up" comic (politics and stuff): CRISIS.

Thanks to some deft PR in the trendy mainstream media, the slipstream of Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns, some top notch creators with established pedigree and the 2000AD connection, this grabbed the lion's share of the coverage of comics coming of age. 

It was also a canny move by IPC/Fleetway who were finding, in no uncertain terms, that the next generation of would-be readers were not flooding to their weeklies (toy and computer game promotions were helping stem the tide but the direction of travel was undeniably downward). So the other solution was to try and hang onto current and lapsed readers longer with titles that still held some appeal.  

Crisis was an early hit (although the US editions didn't fare so well) which opened the floodgates for every publisher who fancied a crack at the audiece. REVOLVER, STRIP, BLAST, TOXIC, MELTDOWN, SPACE JUNKK, the JD MEGAZINE and others all launched (and shuttered... with one exception) over the next few years. 

As you can see from the back cover, the launch was promoted with a national tour by the creative team. 

DEADLINE (we'll get to that in a future post) hit specialist stores at virtually the same time and enjoyed a more sustained run through to 1995. 

Crisis itself ran for 63 regular issues (issues 1-48 sold fortnightly before, in a familiar move, the frequency was cut to monthly for the remainder of the run) and two specials. 

Issue 39 continued the politics, and generated some more publicity, by teaming with Amnesty International. 

Saturday, 13 February 2016


It seems like the UK's film and television studios are closing thick and fast... falling victim to the housing boom that makes the land they're sitting on worth more than their income from being media production centres.

I took a walk down the river last year to take these pictures of the former Thames Television studios at Teddington just after they closed but just before the demolition work began.

The studios were originally built for film but were converted for TV use when ITV opened for business. They played host to Thames Television from 1969 until the company lost its ITV franchise in the early 1990s. Although the company continued as an independent producer,  it no longer needed these riverside facilities and they became an independent business. They were later purchased by Pinewood... and then, thanks to their prime position, sold for redevelopment. 

Most Thames TV shows were made in these studios (and often utilised the surrounding area for handy locations) although they also had smaller studios, along with offices, near Great Portland Street tube station on central London's Euston Road (Capital Radio were their neighbours and ITV Publications not far away on Tottenham Court Road). Weirdly, I sat exams in those former Thames offices because my university (pressed for space during extensive refurbishment works) hired them as temporary exam "halls" after Thames moved out. They were demolished shortly thereafter. My university library was located opposite the former ITN House, vacant at the time but now (you guessed it) flats. 

For a look inside Teddington in the late 1990s, seek out the episode 'Hostage' from CI5: THE NEW PROFESSIONALS. The long overlooked revival of the LWT original used Teddington as a production base and, to save money, one episode revolves around a hostage situation that just happens to take place at a TV studio. Interiors and exteriors are seen throughout. 

Friday, 12 February 2016


From 1976: One for the weekend... the TV TIMES paperback (a brand extension before anyone had coined the phrase) adapting Thames TV's THE TOMORROW PEOPLE.

I can't say that I've read the paperback but, thanks to DVD, I've discovered the original series over the last decade or so and really enjoyed it (especially the lawyers-be-dammed commentaries by the cast which are thin on technical details - don't expect a Ken Johnson style outing full of insights - but thick with barbed comments) for its lo-fi Teddington austerity production values.  

Prior to the DVD's, I was more familiar with the early 1990s version which came and went during the dying days of the Thames ITV franchise. The recent American version initially seemed like a triumphant return but became increasingly dumb as it lurched towards cancellation at the end of its only season. It was the "V" reboot all over again. Sadly. But, to their credit, they did get their monies worth out of their subway train interior set by reusing it almost every episode. 


From June 1985: DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN reports of plans to fill the eighteen-month gap between TV seasons with SLIPBACK, a full cast (including the TV principles) radio drama serial broadcast on BBC RADIO FOUR (and subsequently released on BBC audio cassette).


From 1983: Another one from the Random Scans file... RETURN OF THE JEDI POSTER MAGAZINE ISSUE 3, published to coincide with the movie's initial release.

I picked this up recently in the CINEMA STORE's going-out-of-business sale. 

Thursday, 11 February 2016


From May 1985: DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN (aka DWB) issue 22.

The front page reveals more about the background to the infamous Cancellation Crisis and also ponders whether it was time for change at the top of the Union House production office. 

This is the moment where the BBC either dropped the ball or, depending on your perspective, revealed their true colours. A more commercially minded organisation would have moved to protect their international cash cow by parachuting in a new production team, preferably accompanied by an injection of cash. The BBC, perhaps lacking alternatives, decided to maintain the status quo and retain the existing team and simply cut the episode count to almost half (except no one knew that yet) with a corresponding reduction in the allocation of internal resources. 

This has proven to be a tried and tested way of cancelling high profile programmes: allow them to wither slowly on the fine and then claim that falling viewing figures show the one-time powerhouse programme is no longer popular. Witness the demise of GRANDSTAND, TOP OF THE POPS and GRANGE HILL. It really feels that BLUE PETER is living on borrowed time. 


From 1978: Warren's officially licensed CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND MAGAZINE.

The cover blurb says it all: typical of the time (and the publisher), this had black & white interiors printed on newsprint. The contents were the usual mix of pieces directly related to the film and broader pieces about movie aliens. All fairly undemanding stuff.

The cover designer clearly knew what would tickle the fancy of alien obsessed Star Warriors: a close up of an alien from the much discussed climax. 

Tuesday, 9 February 2016


From April 1985. DOCTOR WHO is saved for a generation. Phew.


Maybe not.

This is actually a pretty ridiculous headline. Not only does it manipulate what BBC boss Michael Grade actually said (he only, as the piece below reveals, wanted it to run another 21 years. Easy to say, harder to be called to account over) but it also demonstrates scant grasp of how the BBC, or indeed, any big business functions. Times change. Schedules change. Competitors change. Structures and working practices change (it's unlikely anyone realised it yet but we were only a few years away from the wholesale decimation of the 'everything inhouse' BBC way of working, swept away by John Birt, Producer's Choice and internal markets), Audience tastes changes and - perhaps most importantly of all - managements change and few incumbents want to be saddled with the decisions of their predecessors. Unless, of course, its an already-in-the-pipeline hit that they can claim credit for.  

We now know that the disdain for the programme was endemic throughout the ranks of BBC management with no one (except, DWB take note, your soon-to-be arch nemesis JNT) willing to champion the show. The sands had shifted and the show was exceptionally vulnerable. 

The headline does, however, give a good insight as to how those inside TV regarded their most fervent viewers. Most people in TV love their jobs (its not, for the most part, a license to print money and the long hours and demanding deadlines take their toll) but, at the end of the (long) day, its just a job. They don't have the distance to see the charm... or the finish product. And TV types watch, and appreciate, TV differently than the hardcore fans. So they're not pondering how the Doctor felt as be stepped into the desolate alien world for the first time. They're thinking of the hardships of the quarry location, the logistics of location catering and the number of script pages that have to be shot between the intermittent showers and the fading daylight. 

This was not a generation of BBC decision makers with any great fondness for the show. Nor was it a commercially minded corporation which saw the monetary value of a hit show at home and abroad. BBC ENTERPRISES was to be kept at arms length (under the Westway, tucked away at the sprawling Woodlands campus) with its income and absorbed into the Corporation's coffers. Money making was a little sideline, not core to the business of being a Public Service broadcaster with the only competition of note being other Public Service broadcasters. 


From 1983: The saga ends here. For now. The novelization of RETURN OF THE JEDI.

It goes without saying that this was a massive thing back in 1983. And an essential purchase as soon as copies were sighted in WH SMITH prior to the film's release date. This was my first chance to find out how the saga wrapped and my first sighting (thanks to those eight pages of fabulous colour) of the Ewoks (the action figure packaging had deliberately obscured them on the card backs, presumably to preserve that sense of mystery... or possibly because the figures weren't finished on photo day). 

This was available in two flavours: a Young Readers edition (which probably resurfaces less frequently nowadays) and this, the bona fide grown up version. I, of course, opted for this one.  

Monday, 8 February 2016


From March 1985: the next in my acquired collection of DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN... Issue 20.

In the space of a few months, DOCTOR WHO had gone from a venerable broadcasting institution which almost everyone (including, I'm sure, the production team) assumed would have an automatic renewal to a show that was fighting for its life. The 1985 Cancellation Crisis started as outright cancellation but was quickly spun as an extended hiatus. 

This is, I have to say, a pretty iconic cover and a stark departure from the normal DWB house style. 

As a viewer back in 1985, I was inclined to agree with the BBC assessment that the show was looking more than a little weather worn. It was more like to to make you roll your eyes (or snigger) than shock or surprise... except when it went to inexplicably dark places which failed to reflect its status or scheduling as early Saturday night viewing. Of course, in retrospect, I know that it would get a fair bit worse before, belatedly, it rediscovered itself and became (at its best) a cracking little drama. Which was, of course, the moment the Corporation finally lost interest. 

Typically, the BBC failed to comprehend that the decline was of their own making. Another organisation would ask "How did we allow this to go wrong... and how do we fix it?" whereas the BBC just somehow blames the programme itself. With better management, GRANDSTAND and TOP OF THE POPS could still be the significant programmes, brands and assets they once were. 


From 1980: Another Star Age Essential... the novelization of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

Alan Dean Foster didn't return (in person... or as George Lucas) so Donald F. Glut picked up the gauntlet. 

I guess it would be hard for anyone not around during the Star Age to appreciate just now important these things were. The gap between theatrical release and TV premiere was something like three years so, unless the movie was deemed worthy of a pre-release, you had an awful long wait until you saw it again. Books, stills, comics and soundtrack albums really were the only ways to piece together the big screen experience. 

Friday, 5 February 2016


From February 1985: the next issue of DOCTOR WHO BULLETIN (aka DWB) that I recently acquired: issue 19.

In today's multichannel and multiscreen world, any TV producer would be more than a little chuffed with nine million viewers. It must have been hard to imagine that, by the end of the season, the show would have been all but cancelled and fans fighting for its survival. Although individual episodes and stories in subsequent series were sometimes excellent, the show always felt like it was living on borrowed time for the rest of the run. 

The sub heads are a little unfortunately positioned me thinks. 


From 1977 (although this printing hails from the following year): the novelization of STAR WARS (latterly A NEW HOPE).

Credited to George Lucas, it was actually penned by Alan Dean Foster (at least Larson shared the credit on the Battlestar and Knight Rider novels he didn't write) and published ahead of the film itself (spoilers!) because, like the Marvel tie up, it was seen as essential to boosting the profile of the film in the run up to the release. 

I've not read this for decades (this isn't my original, I found it recently in a secondhand book shop) despite the numerous reprinting but it was an essential part of any Star Heroes collection back in the Star Age.

Like the Marvel adaptation and, a bit later, the radio drama, this played fast and loose with the final     screen version because it had to be written and signed off far in advance of picture lock on the film itself.

Foster had a two book deal with Lucas and also penned the print sequel SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE (another mainstay of the SF shelves in WH Smith throughout the early 1980s) which, when commissioned, was envisaged as a potential low cost screen sequel. The cash rolled in and Lucas was able to discard it in favour of a more ambitious second act. 

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