The Paul Berna Challenge – The Mystery of the Cross-Eyed Man (1958)

Mystery of the Cross Eyed ManIn which we meet 14-year-old Daniel Quint, who, with his little brother Manou, and Manou’s pet guinea-pig Patapon, has to follow his grandfather’s detailed instructions on how to get from his school in Besançon via Paris to the family villa, the Villa Etchola, in Chiberta, near Biarritz. However, when grandfather’s plans start to go astray, will Daniel and Manou make it safely to meet up with the rest of the family?

 

The Mystery of the Cross-Eyed Man was first published in 1958 by G. P. Rouge et Or under its original French title Les Pèlerins de Chiberta, which translates literally as The Pilgrims of Chiberta, with illustrations by Barry Wilkinson. Wilkinson was an experienced artist who worked on the children’s TV programmes Rainbow and Jackanory, as well as illustrating the book Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery in 1966. He lived from 1923 to 2007, and there is a blue plaque commemorating him outside his house in Compton Avenue, Brighton. As “The Mystery of the Cross-Eyed Man”, the book was first published in the UK by The Bodley Head in 1965, and by Puffin Books in 1968. Like the previous Puffin editions, it was translated by John Buchanan-Brown. My own copy of the book is the second Puffin edition, reprinted in 1977, bearing the price 50p. This edition has a cover illustration by Michael Charlton, another prolific illustrator of children’s books, who lived from 1923 to 2008.

 

A very different tone is set at the beginning of this book, from those Berna books we’ve already read. The ruffian gangs of Gaby and Charloun, and the working-class Frederick of Magpie Corner have been replaced by the much more refined Daniel and Manou, exquisitely presented and immaculately dressed and behaved, in a fine hotel dining room, able to hold their own with their innate class. Are we going to take to these privileged young chaps in the same way that we take the earlier gang members to our hearts? It’s a risk, but Berna is a master at the art of understanding how boys’ minds work; and that’s the same whether they’re ragamuffins or private schoolboys. We very quickly take them into our affections, admire their bravery and insight, their kindness and generosity, and despise those who take advantage of them. The family is rich enough to have access to a villa, and the boys are distinctly posh, but attractively so, rather than irritatingly so. We never want them to suffer or be discriminated against for their wealth. And if anyone tries to do them down, we hope they get their just desserts!

 

In the cafePerhaps the most interesting aspect to the book is Daniel’s strong fraternal feelings towards little Manou. He’s prepared to be both mother and father to the boy, feed him, care for him, make sure he’s safe and comfortable before thinking about his own interests. He lets him sleep whilst he, Daniel, stays alert and awake; he protects him from bad news whilst allowing himself to worry about what to do next. “In Daniel’s mind had been the ghastly fear of having Manou torn away from him. He could imagine him all on his own, cut off from the warmth and love of his family which until now had always been his and which from now on Daniel alone must provide.”

 

When they later meet up with Steve and Benny, two boys who have a pretty similar relationship to Daniel and Manou, who are even wealthier, but are in a pickle distinctly of their own making, this goes to emphasise the book’s message of kindness and family protection, but not in a serious, po-faced manner. The four boys have a great deal of fun together and see in each other fellow human beings facing the same difficulties and decisions. They become one family unit themselves, never seeking to outdo or outwit the other. They make a charming and reassuring friendship group, positive role models for the young reader.

 

Absent for much of the book, though with his presence often felt, is the boys’ grandfather, known for his “movement orders” – precise instructions that have to be followed to the letter. It’s a bit of a family joke, but in fact, Grandfather is a complete control freak! But he means well, and is very kindly, and it says a lot that, despite every single plan going wrong in this book, the family still feel the need to cover up the mistakes and conceal the truth from the old man. As Berna reflects, when Manou doesn’t tell the truth about the flowers, “it wasn’t so very big a sin to have told this small lie. It was better than upsetting a good old man who cared so very much for his family. How could you blame him for wanting to arrange a family reunion as a celebration of his long life and his happy marriage…” Grandfather’s insistence on precision rubs off on Daniel. One of the first things we learn about Daniel is how he sticks ruthlessly to time; for instance: “at ten twenty-five he gave his hair one last flick” before heading out at the appointed hour of 10:30.

 

FranceThe frontispiece for the book includes a map of France and details the journey that the boys make from Paris to Chiberta. Unlike all other Berna books so far, this one is characterised by the accuracy and reality of all the places covered in their story. Often Berna suggests a real place by giving it a fictitious name that’s similar. But in this book, all the places are genuine. Not only the places; directions, forests, train tracks that split, even cafés and streets are all true. This helps give the book a sense of being something of a travelogue. If you wanted to, you too could follow the boys’ intrepid journey. Avenue Marceau, Rue Quincampois, Les Halles, Rue St Martin, Rue de Bretagne in Paris are all real; on the journey to Chiberta, so are Pranzac, where the lorry crashes, Angouleme, Barbezieux, Labouheyre, Morcenx, Dax, and of course, Bayonne, Biarritz and Chiberta itself. There’s an almost “On The Road” feel to the night-time lorry journey with Peyrol, and the various odd characters that the boys encounter on their route south almost feel like it’s a kind of autobiographical journey. You can bet your bottom dollar that Berna covered that route himself.

 

The title of the book rather misrepresents the actual content of the book. The Cross-Eyed Man of the title isn’t really the source of a mystery – we know it’s the Interpol superintendent, Barboton, and it doesn’t take much guesswork to realise he’s on the track of the boys because there’s going to be a reward. Manou squints whenever he sees him, which today you might think is a little cruel to be taking the mickey out of someone for an affliction that isn’t their fault. But then, that’s often the case in a Berna book, and to be fair, children can be cruel! When he’s eventually confronted by Uncle Jérôme, he’s treated pretty harshly; but then, he doesn’t help himself either. But the actions of Barboton are of limited interest in comparison with the adventure that the boys – and as a result, we – enjoy. Berna’s original title, the Pilgrims of Chiberta, sums up the story much more accurately, and emphasises the long cross-country journey our heroes undertake, like a children’s picaresque novel as Daniel and Manou survive from scrape to scrape in different parts of the country.

 

Mind the GooseThere are a few moments of comedy in the book – largely slapstick and physical humour – primarily, the journey in the car with the young driver who’s just passed his test and can’t wait to take his car out on the road as fast as possible; and the fête at Labouheyre, where people skim up a greasy pole only to be pecked at by an angry goose. But both those moments of comedy highlight a slightly uncomfortable difference between what’s acceptable today and what worked well in 1958. The wacky driver casts care to the wind and hurtles through birds and animals without a thought for their wellbeing – and the kids find it hysterically funny. The goose is tied with its feet together suspended at the top of the pole in an experience that it must have found terrifying and painful – no wonder the poor thing kept on nipping at people’s ankles. Even the scene at the end of the book, where the residents of the Villa Etchola turn on the stray cats and basically terrorise them into leaving the garden, feels pretty distasteful today.

 

There are a few other signs of the times, which are interesting to note. Whenever Daniel tried to place a telephone call it always involved the operator, and limited time to speak, and weak connections, which seems so extraordinary in our days of easy communication. The manager at the Hotel is shocked at the slow transmission of a telegram – he’d be shocked to know they no longer exist! The story is also set against a surprise strike by the train drivers; France has a long history of strikes and in 1958 things would have been just as volatile in the employment sector as they are today.

 

If the book lacks anything, in comparison with Berna’s previous books, it’s a sense of gang mentality and loyalty. The two sets of boys hardly constitute a gang, although they do work together in a similar way to Gaby and Charloun’s teams. But there are interesting observations and behaviour patterns that come to the fore, particularly towards the end of the book; for instance, Steve’s anxiety at seeing his father again, and Daniel’s disagreement with what Steve and Benny did, by running off and scaring their parents.

 

I was very interested by Daniel’s experience of being conned into buying false tickets for the train. Precisely the same thing happened to me when I went to Paris for a brief holiday in 1985. Look bewildered at a train station and some helpful chap will always come along and “help you” with the ticket buying – pocketing the full amount and giving you a worthless ticket in return. It’s obviously a Parisien thing. Apart from that, the book doesn’t have too many serious moments or themes that it tries to examine. It’s really just a fun adventure to get from Paris to Chiberta with hardly any money and no parental advice!

 

Here’s my chapter by chapter synopsis of the book. If you haven’t read the book yet and don’t want to see any spoilers, here’s where you have to stop reading!

 

Daniel and Manou in the hotelChapter One – Grandfather Issues Movement Orders. We discover the smartly presented Daniel and well-behaved Manou dining at the Hotel Régina. Their presence gently amuses the other restaurateurs and their waiter gently teases them with his top-quality service. He’s even happy to provide Manou’s pet guinea-pig Patapon with some fresh lettuce leaves. We find out that the boys are waiting to be joined by other members of their family over the next few days.

Daniel re-reads his grandfather’s detailed instructions which they have clearly followed to the letter. After dinner, Daniel and Manou retire to bed, and Manou insists on Daniel giving him a bedtime story – something Grandfather Quint had predicted would be necessary. Unfortunately, it emerges that the grandparents are themselves delayed owing to having to stay behind for a medical appointment. Still, it won’t be a problem that the children will have to check in by themselves, just for one night. Surely? Anyway, Daniel has his instructions on how to meet up with his parents the next day, at the Gare St Lazare.

 

Daniel and Manou at the stationChapter Two – Telephone Alarm. As planned, the boys get up at the appointed hour, and, nicely presented as ever, make their way to the Gare St. Lazare to meet the boat train from Le Havre. It was whilst talking to the florist from whom they bought a bunch of Parma violets to give to their mother that they discover that a sudden rail strike had been called. No trains were going out; a few were coming in.

In the absence of solid information, Daniel decided that their best course was to stay put and see if the train arrived. But come lunchtime they were hungry and took a taxi back to the Régina for a meal. They met the manager and he had good news for them. “The Passengers from the Armoric left Le Havre at eleven o’clock by road […] the first coaches should reach Paris at about three or four this afternoon.” Reassured, they ate, bought extra flowers (Manou had lost the violets) and awaited the arrival of their parents. But by five, they still hadn’t turned up. M. Hébert, the manager, was confused but was sure that there must be a sensible reason and he promised that Daniel and Manou would be well looked after whilst they were at the hotel.

To distract themselves, they went for a walk along the Seine. They returned to the hotel at dinner – still no parents. And whilst at dinner, Daniel overheard one of the waiters refer to them as “the orphans” which really upset him. Daniel decides he must ring his grandfather even though it will be late. But when he finally gets through to their hotel, he hears the news that they have checked out and taken the Strasbourg-Ventimiglia Express, as Uncle Jules and his family had been involved in a car accident. Nevertheless Grandfather had emphasised his decision that Daniel and Manou (and their parents) should stay in Paris and wait for further instructions. However, without their parents, Daniel can only panic.

 

Daniel and Manou getting pappedChapter Three – The Two Telegrams. The next morning, sure enough a telegram arrives for Daniel’s father from his grandfather – but he reads it anyway – confirming that Jules and Elvisa were slightly hurt in a crash, but their children are fine. His instructions are for the family to continue to Chiberta, and that Grandfather will join them in four or five days’ time. Daniel determines to step up to the mark and ensure that he and Manou get to Chiberta safely – although Hébert begs him not to spend too much time on the streets.

Whilst talking to a policeman at the station – and lying about being on their own in Paris – a young man spots the two boys, and after a quick hello and a flash of a camera light darts up the stairs and away. Daniel thinks nothing of it. Thinking on his feet, he goes to the Shipping Line offices and asks the clerk to confirm that his parents did actually take the Armoric to Le Havre. Daniel is mortified to discover that they disembarked in Southampton the day before instead. The shipping clerk suggests that Daniel leaves his address so that they can contact him if they hear anything more about his parents. “Quite unsuspecting, Daniel willingly told him.”

At the hotel another telegram awaits Daniel – although it was meant for his grandfather. It was from his father, saying that they won’t be able to come to Paris as planned and will meet them in Chiberta, they will fly direct to Biarritz. The news upsets Manou, making Daniel’s job even more difficult. Nevertheless, he convinces Hébert that it will be safe for him to let them go to Biarritz by a replacement coach service.

Meanwhile, the shipping clerk has seen a photo of the boys in the Europe-Soir newspaper. The comment reveals that one of the boys might be “Benny”. The clerk rings Interpol, where Inspector Barboton is very interested in the news. It’s clear that Daniel and Manou have been mistaken for another pair of kids, named Jackson-Villars, that might be in trouble with the law…

 

Daniel and Manou waiting for a liftChapter Four – The Cross-Eyed Man. Barboton arrives at the hotel and it is revealed that he has an “appalling squint”. He asks the hall porter if the Quint children are in the hotel and, after receiving a financial bribe, the porter tells them that they’ve gone to catch a coach. Barboton hot-foots it and espies the boys looking around, trying to find where to buy the tickets. A friendly chap approaches the boys and sells them the tickets, and then places them in a VIP queue. But when they get to the front, they discover that they’ve been conned. The 60 francs paid for tickets that are worthless.

They explain what’s happened to a policeman, who takes them to the local superintendent. The brusque, impatient man dismisses them curtly and they have to hang around in a temporary Reception Centre. Manou’s always on the look out for Barboton, and whenever he sees him, he squints back at him, much to the latter’s embarrassment.

A couple of fellow travellers tell Daniel about the lorry drivers up at Place Beaubourg near Les Halles who are giving people lifts across the country in their lorries – probably won’t take any payment either. When the cops are distracted by some other people, Daniel and Manou make a break for it – much to the superintendent’s fury. He too believes them to be the Jackson-Villars children.

 

In Place BeaubourgChapter Five – Place Beaubourg.  It’s only when Daniel and Manou eventually ask a newspaper vendor where Place Beaubourg is that they discover it’s a made up name for where the lorry drivers all park up their vehicles. No wonder they couldn’t find it! When they get there the couple they met earlier directed them to the Café Charlot, where the lorry drivers get given their jobs. Daniel speaks to Madame Julie, whilst Manou entertains the lorry drivers with a performance from Patapon.

A few police turn up and unexpectedly ask a few questions of the drivers, and peer under a few tarpaulins. It’s obvious that they are looking for the boys, believing them to be the Jackson-Villars family. Madame Julie shows them the article in the Europe-Soir. Steve and Benny Jackson-Villars had run away from their wealthy home in Chantilly. Everyone is on the lookout for them. Daniel and Manou have been caught up in an unfortunate case of mistaken identity. Julie suggests they tell the police that, but Daniel thinks that’s a guarantee that he and Manou will be split up.

The locals treat the brothers well and they have a good meal, and all Daniel’s attempts to pay are rebuffed. Eventually they meet an elderly driver, Peyrol, who is prepared to take them as far as Bordeaux in his lorry, Theophilus. He challenges them to deny they are the Jackson-Villars boys, but it turns out that Peyrol knows Grandfather Quint from business deals way back when. Shortly they set off into the night, and just as they’re leaving, the lorry lights flash on a prowler – and it’s the cross-eyed man.

 

The CrashChapter Six – The Crash.  Peyrol drives to the Thomasson Works at Bagneaux to collect the load. Then, with Manou asleep and Daniel fighting tiredness, they hit the road south towards Tours. Peyrol notices the sharp beam from the vehicle who’s been behind him ever since they left Bagneaux. He stops, and the yellow beams of a taxi drive past. Then they set up for an all-nighter via Orleans and Chatellerault. At a police stop, the officers find the boys but Peyrol says they’re his nephews. Back on the road, Peyrol is being followed again. This time he makes a sudden devious move off the road and the taxi behind him drives on. But it’s clearly becoming a problem.

Come morning, and there’s another, fuller roadblock. Another driver advises Peyrol to get rid of his passengers and suggests an alternative route via Angouleme. Daniel feels guilty and offers to get out of the truck, but Peyrol is having none of it, enjoying the adventure himself. Driving through the night and into the morning and all is going well until… there’s something wrong with the lorry. The brakes are failing. They’re going faster and losing control. Then….crash!

The lorry is on its side and its passengers and driver crawl out. Relatively unharmed, but the same can’t be said for Theophilus. Chassis split in two, axles broken, bonnet squashed, tyres blown. The local police will be there soon, so Peyrol suggests – orders, in fact – that the boys walk on to Angouleme and try to catch a coach there.

 

Daniel's had enoughChapter Seven – The Bone-Shaker. Walking into Pranzac, the boys chance upon some ladies waiting at a bus stop. The bus from Montbron was coming in, they squeezed on board and left for Angouleme. Daniel goes off to find information about future coaches and when he comes back he is horrified to find that the Cross-eyed man is standing next to Manou. Daniel charges at him with a rugby tackle. Shocked, the man protests but Daniel is furious. “You keep away from us! […] If I find you hanging around again, I promise you’ll be sorry for it!”

The boys find a pleasant, quiet spot and finish off the rest of Peyrol’s sandwiches. An older teenager appears, exhausted, from a long bike ride. Daniel offers him some lemonade, and after a brief chat, the teenager says they can have his bike – as his behind’s too red raw! So now the boys have an old bone-shaker of a bike. They prepare it as best as they can for the long cycle ahead.

Twenty miles later, beyond Barbezieux, and they’re really struggling, but they make a game of it and push themselves as much as they can. By the time they reach Bordeaux in the evening, the bike is in several pieces – but it got them there! After some free and very rustic soup, they spent the night sleeping in some straw.

 

Meeting Steve and BennyChapter Eight – Bastille Day. Fireworks wake the boys up, and Daniel realises it’s Bastille Day. A quick wash in the river, then it’s on to a café for morning chocolate and a phone call through to the Villa Etchola in the hope of catching either an uncle or the housekeeper. But there’s no reply.  The Cross-Eyed Man is still there though, watching them, much to the boys’ irritation.

And then, in an instant, the two storylines cross over as Daniel overhears two other boys talking. They start to chat together and then he realises… “You wouldn’t be the Jackson-Villars boys, would you?” Shortly they’re all howling with laughter as Daniel explains how everyone thinks they are Steve and Benny, and Steve explains why he and his brother are on the run – as a protest against how the family is going to be divided up once their parents separate – Steve and his father will be in New York, while Benny and his mother will be in some other far flung location.

Daniel suggests Steve and Benny accompany Manou and him to Chiberta. After all, the police are looking for two boys, not four. Daniel sends a telegram to Steve and Benny’s parents on their behalf, apologising for running away and emphasising how much they love them. Then they blow Steve’s remaining 20 francs on lunch – still under the watchful eyes of the Cross-Eyed Man.

After lunch they continue to walk towards Bayonne, and eventually they strike it lucky with a man who will give all four boys a lift in his car. He’s a young man, and it looks like this is his first car – and his first passengers, so he’s very excited at the prospect of the journey. However, he’s just passed his test – having failed ten times before. Is this going to be the car journey from Hell?

 

Dangerous DrivingChapter Nine – The Empty Train.  It is for Daniel! The others shriek with excitement as the young driver breaks the speed limit and barely notices the road at all. Daniel does appreciate the way the miles to Bayonne are getting shorter though! And the local wildlife had better beware as the driver doesn’t care about them either. Naturally, the car ends up hitting a bank and dislodging a headlight. Back on the road, terrifying cows, and then one of the tyres blows. Back on the road, the driver wrecks a music and dance festival and is finally – FINALLY! – stopped by two police officers, who issue him with a summons.

Unsurprisingly, the car needs to cool down. Undeterred, the driver does his best to get it started again – and then realises he needs the boys to push him into a jump start. It’s so successful that the car roars off – leaving the boys (with their luggage, fortunately) behind. The car might have got them to Chiberta – but they also might have died in the process.

They walk as far as Labouheyre, a market town which is en fête for Bastille Day and the boys join in all the sideshows and races. One of the stalls features a greasy pole but if you climb to the top you can claim one of the food prizes. Daniel has his eye on the ham, but the second person to attempt the climb gets there and chooses that prize. Steve decides to have a go. One of the prizes at the top is a live goose who likes to peck at anyone who gets close – and that’s precisely what happens to Steve, and down he comes, without a prize. Daniel, however, wins the day with his attempt, bringing down the pole as well as the dazed goose. But what to do with the bird? A restaurateur suggests swapping it for a meal for four in his restaurant. Done! And for their bed that night, Manou spots an empty train in its sidings. The boys all get in and spread out amongst the first-class compartments. Unexpected luxury!

 

Uncle JeromeChapter Ten – Blast-off.  Daniel wakes up from a funny dream where all his family are journeying to Chiberta on an exclusive train. But what does he see when he wakes up? The train they slept on is moving! Whilst they were sleeping it was brought into service. What are they going to do when the ticket collector asks for their tickets? They decide to keep the blinds down and hope not to be noticed. It turns out that they weren’t the only stowaways, and a number of people get off the train when it stops a mile or so from Bayonne – including the Cross Eyed Man!

They’ve got just enough coins to get the bus to Chiberta. Thrilled finally to arrive there, they make their way to the Villa Etchola. There’s no one else there yet, but Mme Bégou the housekeeper spots them and invites the boys in for some breakfast. Later on, whilst the boys are relaxing in the garden, the cross-eyed man makes another appearance. Daniel can’t take any more of this. But before he causes a scene, Steve shows him an article in the local paper that Mme Bégou left behind. The reward for finding the Jackson-Villars boys is now fifty thousand francs. Daniel decides to telegram Steve and Benny’s parents so that no one else can claim the reward.

The first family member to arrive is Uncle Jérôme, who decided to stay with friends in Bordeaux. When the boys explain their adventure to him he is most impressed. And now he also has to think what to do about the cross-eyed snooper, Barboton. He gets out his elephant gun in order to fire a warning shot. But first he gives Barboton the chance to move on. Barboton feigns deafness – but he hears the gunshot all right! And quick as a flash he’s on his bike and dashes off.

Next to arrive, just before dinner, are Pascal and Lucy. During the evening they reveal that Jules and his family are perfectly well. But how to deal with Grandfather, who will be mortified to discover that his movement orders came to nothing? Pascal and Lucy also don’t want him to know about their night in London! Daniel says that he won’t keep the fifty thousand francs, but wants to give it to the one person who suffered as a result of helping them – M. Peyrol.

In the gardenChapter Eleven – Happy Days. All’s well at the Villa Etchola as the family have some childish fun in their new environment. A telegram announces the arrival of Steve and Benny’s father by air that evening. This makes Steve anxious.

Taxis from the station bring Granny and Grandfather, Jules and Elvisa, and their two children. Grandfather insists on knowing that all his instructions were followed meticulously, and the whole family dutifully lies to him in agreement! Grandfather wants to know who Steve and Benny are – and they tell him they are schoolfriends of Daniel. Some wild cats break into the garden in the hope of eating Patapon but the family scare them off – Jérôme with his gun, the others with a hose of soaking water.

When the Jackson-Villars arrive, Grandfather recognises Steve and Benny’s mother, an attractive woman who used to be a film star. The father presents Daniel with the cheque, which he accepts on behalf of Peyrol. Jackson-Villars asks Daniel if he thinks Steve and Benny did the right thing by running away. ““No”, Daniel replied, unprompted. “I think children have better ways of making their protest just as strongly. It was bad luck Steve chose the worst way he possibly could. You can blame his Irish blood. It makes him do things on the spur of the moment.””

The book ends with Grandfather agreeing the purchase of three bottles of fine champagne to celebrate. And he suggests writing out a movement order to get them. “”No!” his three sons yelled with one voice, raising imploring arms to heaven.”

To sum up; The Mystery of the Cross-Eyed Man is an exciting, humorous adventure story that demonstrates care for younger family members and the ability of boys to become friends unexpectedly. As is often the case with Berna, there are few slightly worrying aspects – specifically cruelty or callousness to animals being a source of humour; but it is a product of its time. It’s a light, fun book to read, pacey and exciting. I am, though, still perplexed at how Daniel proposes to get the money to Peyrol – I don’t think they exchanged addresses, and Facebook didn’t exist in those days! If you’ve read the book – or are re-reading it now, I’d love to know what you think about it, so please add a comment below. Paul Berna’s next book was Le Champion, which has never been translated into English. After that came La Grande Alerte, translated into English as Flood Warning. I remember this as being a gripping and sometimes frightening adventure. I look forward to re-reading it and sharing my thoughts about it in a few weeks.

Let’s have some more theatre memories! June to December 1986

As Tier 3 grows into Tier 4, and the new Covid variant spreads like wildfire and the UK is shut into quarantine, let’s remember some better times!

  1. Chess – Prince Edward Theatre, London, 24th June 1986

Miss Duncansby and I were both looking forward to seeing Chess so much, because we were already in awe of the album – and the show was a total triumph. Designed by Robin Wagner to a truly grand effect, everything about it was marvellous. Elaine Paige was riveting as Florence, Murray Head a fantastically irritating Trumper, and Tommy Korberg an immensely dignified Anatoly. We bought the souvenir brochure, we bought the T-shirts, we bought the VHS of the hit singles; we bought the concept. A real ten-out-of-tenner. Those front stalls seats were £18.50 each, the most I’d ever spent on a theatre ticket at the time. I sure knew how to show a girl a good time.

  1. Time – Dominion Theatre, London, 28th June 1986

And from the sublime to the ridiculous. Miss D was always a big fan of Cliff Richard, as was one of my colleagues at the time and her brother, so the four of us went to see this overblown monstrosity by Dave Clark – he of the “Five”. A science fiction musical; and – for obvious reasons – it didn’t spawn a succession of future musicals following that genre. There’s no doubt that Cliff was very good; as was the hologram of Sir Laurence Olivier, hovering, God-like, over the top of the stage. But everything else about it was absolutely dire. Looking through the cast list I see great names such as Jeff Shankley and Dawn Hope. Our friends loved it. We hated it. For ages the joke went “I see Cliff Richard is doing Time in the West End – for crimes against musical theatre”.

  1. Les Miserables – Palace Theatre, London, 10th July 1986

Moving past taking Miss D to see Noises Off at the Savoy, which I had already seen but insisted that she saw too (we both loved it, but it was a hot night and I was wearing a really nice tie which I took off and then left behind, never to be seen again), our next show was another big one – Boublil and Schönberg’s immense Les Miserables, which has never really gone away since it opened. We had some problems with this production – we sat in the front row of the Dress Circle which, although it was top price, always has been a desperately uncomfortable place to be, with infinitesimally tiny leg room. Plus, I had really painful gout that night which made the whole thing rather trying. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the show, but Miss D didn’t. On reflection I think we were both too young to appreciate it fully, and it was quite a few decades before we saw it again! The strong cast included Roger Allam as Javert, Alun Armstrong as Thenardier, David Burt as Enjolras, Peter Polycarpou as Prouvaire, Frances Ruffelle as Eponine, Dave Willetts as Brujon and the original Jean Valjean himself, Colm Wilkinson.

  1. Lend Me a Tenor – Globe Theatre, London, 12th July 1986

Ken Ludwig’s brilliantly clever and innovative farce was given a smashing production by David Gilmore, with a cast led by Denis Lawson, and also starring Jan Francis, John Barron and American opera star Ronald Holgate. A comedy of mistaken identity with a twist, an overdramatic opera star is incapacitated and is replaced by the producer’s assistant in the hope that no one will notice – but they do. I remember that we both laughed our socks off at this show; and it also had a very clever curtain call routine where they basically replayed the action of the entire show in less than a minute. It brought the house down.

  1. A Chorus of Disapproval – Lyric Theatre, London, 30th August 1986

Our next show was (for me) a return visit and for Miss D her first exposure to the joys of Side by Side by Sondheim which David Kernan had brought back to the Donmar Warehouse for a tenth anniversary season – and we both loved it. Our next “new” show was Alan Ayckbourn’s A Chorus of Disapproval, the National Theatre production that had transferred to the Lyric. The story of a blundering widower who makes himself indispensable in an amateur production of John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, this enormously successful play didn’t quite hit the mark with either of us – maybe you needed to be more au fait with Gay’s original. I remember Colin Blakely totally dominating the stage; I don’t have many other memories of it after that.

  1. Cats – New London Theatre, London, 9th October 1986

The longer you wait, the longer you’ll wait went the advertising strapline, and I had already waited about five years before finally booking to see a show that I was curious about but never really wanted to see. But it was our year of seeing The Big Shows, so we paid out the money and finally got it under our belts. My view of Cats has never really changed; as an audio/visual spectacle it’s immense, its choreography is startling, and it basically has a life of its own. It’s an exercise in excellence in many respects. However, it is also sadly quite boring. I really wish it wasn’t, but it is. Our cast featured Anita Harris as Grizabella, with Christopher Molloy as Victor and Richard Lloyd-King as Rum Tum Tugger. Way down the cast list in a teensy tiny role as a member of the Cats Chorus – one Stephen Mear, now famously the choreographer of Mary Poppins, Sunset Boulevard, Gypsy and many others.

  1. Double Double – Fortune Theatre, London, 10th October 1986

Rick Elice and Roger Rees’ comedy thriller was a little nugget of total entertainment, that started life at the Palace Theatre Watford and then moved to the Fortune for a deservedly successful stay. A two-hander starring Rula Lenska and Keith Drinkel, it kept us guessing all the way through, and just as you thought you knew precisely what was going on, a brilliant coup de theatre leaves you gobsmacked at the end. I’ve just bought the script online because I really want to understand how they put this play together! Some of the photos are of the original cast – Roger Rees and Jane Lapotaire.

  1. Phantom of the Opera – Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, 17th October 1986

Continuing the theme of 1986 being the year of The Big Shows, they don’t come much bigger than this. I leapt at the chance to get great seats as soon as the production was announced, and so it was that we had seats in the middle of Row B of the stalls for its third night. A very starry affair, with Irish comedian Dave Allen sitting behind us and Australian Premier Malcolm Fraser a few seats along our row.

You don’t need me to tell you what an extraordinary night at the theatre this was. Michael Crawford as the Phantom, Sarah Brightman as Christine, Steve Barton as Raoul, John Savident and David Firth as the two Messieurs who own the theatre. I was perhaps a little surprised at how blancmangy the falling chandelier appeared directly from below as it gently descended above our heads – but that would be my only quibble.

  1. Janet Smith and Dancers – Civic Centre, Aylesbury, 7th November 1986

Perhaps a much less glamorous night out, but still thoroughly entertaining, we saw the excellent Janet Smith and Dancers troupe at the Civic Centre for the princely sum of £3.50 for great seats. I’m surprised that Janet Smith and her husband Robert North didn’t make a longer lasting impact on the world of contemporary dance, but they created some fantastic dance pieces, some of which were on the bill that night. The programme was: Still No Word from Anton, One Fine Day at Court, Near and From Far and finally Fool’s Day.

  1. Woman in Mind – Vaudeville Theatre, London, 10th December 1986

Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play was a staggeringly brilliant examination of a woman’s descent into madness, played exquisitely by Julia McKenzie and with a superb supporting cast including Martin Jarvis and Josephine Tewson. This play impacted us very strongly (as I believe it did many people) and it’s without question one of Ayckbourn’s finest moments. We loved it; but it’s also incredibly upsetting.

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Peru – Lima, Machu Picchu, Cusco, Puno – September 2011

Still stuck in our tier systems (and likely to be for some time) let’s have another lockdown armchair travel trip, and P is for a number of places, but first, Peru. We spent a week there in September 2011 at the start of our South American tour. So, what do you think of, when you think of Peru? Quite possibly this place:

Machu PicchuBut more of that shortly. Our week started off in the capital Lima, a thriving and attractive place, full of striking architecture.

Plaza MayorYou see that yellow and black combination all round the Plaza Mayor and the city centre. The ornate enclosed balconies can be breathtakingly beautiful.

BalconiesAnd the Plaza Mayor is definitely the centre of attention.

Plaza MayorBut there’s also a bustling market

Market

Cheese

OlivesIn the Miraflores district, you can meet dinosaurs at Kennedy Park

DinoWe also visited the charming Casa de Aliaga, the city’s oldest colonial mansion

Casa de AliagaWent here

Bar CordanoFor two of these

Pisco SourThe Pisco Sour. It tastes much nicer than it sounds. We kept out of the way of this lot:

PoliciaAnd also had a very enjoyable stroll around Miraflores, which is upmarket and delightful – and a great coastline. You don’t tend to think of the sea when it comes to Peru, but it’s not to be missed.

Miraflores coastFrom Lima we flew to Cuzco, and, in order to acclimatise to the altitude, immediately headed for the Sacred Valley, which is at a much lower level – then you slowly begin to climb during the next few days. The Sacred Valley is quite touristy, so you see plenty of these:

AlpacasAnd these

LlamaAnd these

SpinningThis gentleman shows us the traditional art of spinning. So much more refined when you do it without an exercise bike. In Pisac, we visited another market

Pisac marketBut the highlight of the Sacred Valley is Ollantaytambo, famous for its Inca ruins, as it was once the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti.

Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo

The next day we started to make our way towards Machu Picchu. To do this we took the train to Aguas Calientes.

Train to Aguas CalientesA picturesque journey – we reckoned these people were doing the Inca Trail.

Journey

Until it finally reaches Aguas Calientes.Resting place

And once you’re there, you can’t wait to get to Machu Picchu!

Machu Picchu

MP

We got up early the next morning to see dawn rise over the site

Dawn at Machu PicchuA misty experience!

A misty affairFrom there we walked up Waynu Picchu, which is the mountain opposite Machu Picchu, to get the great view. Wow, what an experience!

Machu Picchu from Waynu PicchuIt’s high. It’s tiring. But so worth it! And what comes up, must go down….

And it’s quite a challenge! Reaching Machu Picchu again gave us a chance for another walk around.

From there, it was back on the train and heading for Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire, and, despite our best efforts, the place where altitude sickness finally got us. Nevertheless we still enjoyed it.

Plaza de ArmasThe Plaza de Armas is the focus of the city centre, an expansive and beautiful town square.

Plaza de Armasand, surprise, surprise….

Plaza de Armas

The police get about on segways – makes it much easier for them!

Police

This is the beautiful Santo Domingo Convent

And a local school

The next day we took a tour to Pikillacta and Sacsayhuaman. At Pikillacta, you see an archaelogical site of the Wari people

PikillactaBut it was Sacsayhuaman that I was really interested to see.

SacsayhuamanThe construction is amazing, as there is no mortar between those stones

From the top you get a great view of Cusco

We also visited the amazing holy site of Qenko.

And I spent the next day in bed with Altitude Sickness! After Cusco, it was time to get on another train

The Andean Explorer, which would take us to the border city of Puno, travelling through beautiful but totally empty scenery.

Puno is a city with many thousands of students, and they were having an evening parade. We were warned not to go into Puno at night, because it wasn’t safe. But we couldn’t resist.

Felt perfectly safe to us! So I’ll leave you with a few typically Peruvian scenes and vibes.

Thanks for reading! Stay safe!

 

The James Bond Challenge – Live and Let Die (1973)

Live-And-Let-Die-posterIn which James Bond is sent to eliminate ruthless Caribbean dictator and heroin supremo Dr Kananga (aka Mr Big), in an escapade involving voodoo, tarot, crocodiles, snakes and sharks. Will our hero prevent Kananga flooding the heroin market with two tons of free product so that he becomes the world’s only supplier? Of course he will!

Roger MooreProducers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli were desperate to sign Sean Connery up to play Bond for the seventh time, but not even a pay cheque of $5.5 million would tempt him. Instead, they considered many other actors, including Julian Glover, John Gavin, Jeremy Brett, Simon Oates, John Ronane, and William Gaunt. They favoured Michael Billington, who was best known for his appearances in TV’s The Onedin Line, but when Roger Moore became available, his star status was too much of a draw for them to ignore.

Paul McCartney in 1973Ted Moore returned as Cinematographer again, for the first time since Thunderball, with editors Bert Bates (who had worked on Diamonds are Forever), Raymond Poulton (who would also return for The Man with the Golden Gun) and John Shirley. Guy Hamilton returned for the third time as Director; regular composer John Barry was unavailable and Paul McCartney, who had written the title track, was too expensive, so the producers chose George Martin – who was, of course, The Beatles’ producer – to compose the score. Design was by Syd Cain, who had designed From Russia with Love, and the screenplay was by Tom Mankiewicz, who had played a major part in revising the original script of Diamonds are Forever, and would go on to contribute to three later Bond movies. Live and Let Die, however, would be the only film for which he received sole credit for writing the screenplay.

Live and Let Die novelLive and Let Die was published in 1954 and was the second book in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. Fleming had actually finished writing it before the first book, Casino Royale, was published. It was written at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica, and was originally intended to have a more serious tone than its predecessor. Its original title, The Undertaker’s Wind, describes one of Jamaica’s winds that, allegedly, blows all the bad air out of the island. Many of Fleming’s own experiences were incorporated into the story. Scuba diving with Jacques Cousteau inspired the description of swimming out to Mr Big’s boat; his friend Patrick Leigh Fermor’s book The Traveller’s Tree, which had also been partly written at Goldeneye, is full of information and insights about voodoo. Even the character of Solitaire took her name from the local Jamaican rufous-throated solitaire bird.

Diamonds are ForeverThe previous film, Diamonds are Forever, was the last James Bond film that I saw with my schoolfriend John at the cinema sometime in the mid-1970s. After then, I did not see another James Bond film until I saw Skyfall when it came out. So until I watched the film for the first time recently, I had never seen Roger Moore in the role. More of him later!

New YorkThere are some similarities between the film and the book; but there are more areas in which the two completely diverge. In both the film and the book M sends Bond to New York to investigate Mr Big, although in the book he is suspected of selling gold coins and in the film he is dealing in heroin. In both the film and the book Bond is assisted by his old friend and CIA agent Felix Leiter, although in the book Leiter suffers considerable injuries en route and the film he largely gets off scot-free. The character of Solitaire plays a similar role in both film and book, but the voodoo element is played up a lot in the film. Because of altering the sequence of adaptations in the film series, Quarrel in the book becomes Quarrel Jr in the film, as we have already encountered the former (and seen him die) in Dr No. In the book Mr Big is a member of SMERSH, whereas in the film he’s the alter-ego of the dictator of the fictitious island of San Monique, Dr Kananga. The characters of Rosie Carver, Tee Hee, Adam, Whisper and Sheriff Pepper were all created for the film only. Samedi is an established figure in Voodoo, but also did not appear in the book.

Ian FlemingFor the most part, the book received very good reviews. The Times Literary Supplement observed that Fleming was “without doubt the most interesting recent recruit among thriller-writers” and that Live and Let Die “fully maintains the promise of … Casino Royale.” The Daily Telegraph felt that “the book is continually exciting, whether it takes us into the heart of Harlem or describes an underwater swim in shark-infested waters; and it is more entertaining because Mr Fleming does not take it all too seriously himself”. The Times thought that “this is an ingenious affair, full of recondite knowledge and horrific spills and thrills—of slightly sadistic excitements also—though without the simple and bold design of its predecessor”. However, reviews for the film weren’t always quite so positive. The reviewer for Time Magazine described the film as “the most vulgar addition to a series that has long since outlived its brief historical moment — if not, alas, its profitability.” He also criticized the action sequences as excessive, but noted that “aside an all right speedboat spectacular over land and water, the film is both perfunctory and predictable—leaving the mind free to wander into the question of its overall taste. Or lack of it.” Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times stated that Moore “has the superficial attributes for the job: The urbanity, the quizzically raised eyebrow, the calm under fire and in bed”. However, he felt that Moore wasn’t satisfactory in living up to the legacy left by Sean Connery in the preceding films. He rated the villains “a little banal”, adding that the film “doesn’t have a Bond villain worthy of the Goldfingers, Dr. Nos and Oddjobs of the past”.

Opening CreditsAs usual, the opening credits begin, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. Where we’re used to seeing Sean Connery, Bond is now noticeably Roger Moore, a slightly more elegant and poised presence than Connery, a characterisation that continues throughout the film.

Jazz FuneralWe’re taken to the UN building in New York, where the delegates are listening intently, if languidly, to a dull speech from the Hungarian delegate. However, an interloper replaces the feed from the translator to the British delegate with some kind of electric charge and kills him stone dead. Then we move to a New Orleans jazz funeral march, another British spy gets killed – knifed whilst watching the march, and then we move to the fictitious island of San Monique, where a Voodoo snake ceremony is taking place. As a consequence, a third British agent is fanged to death.  Three deaths so early!

Image from Opening CreditAnd now the credits really start with Paul McCartney and Wings’ performance of Live and Let Die, an iconic track that’s still much loved all these years on. Binder’s title sequence calls for a view after view of fire and fireworks, plus some very cheesy use of an oversized optic fibre lamp, which after a short while becomes slightly less than interesting. Luckily, there are a few shots of barely hidden bosoms to perk the credits up. But I would suggest this is possibly the least creative title sequence in the series so far.

HarlemAnd the locations? As already described, we start off in New York – from then, the action takes place in New Orleans and Louisiana, and the fictitious island of San Monique; scenes there were filmed in Jamaica. Whilst in New York, the producers were reportedly required to pay protection money to a local Harlem gang to ensure the crew’s safety. When the cash ran out, they were “encouraged” to leave.

Moore as BondBond, James Bond. This was Roger Moore’s debut in the role – so how did he make out? Well, being Bond, he made out quite a lot. Aged 45 at the time of filming, Moore is very suave, very posh, very sophisticated; but to me, his performance felt quite forced. Guy Hamilton gave him the affectation of the cigar, which makes him look even more lascivious and creepy than he already behaves. His first words are not simply “Bond, James Bond”, which is rather a shame, considering in The Saint, he was “Templar, Simon Templar”. In fact, his first words are those of disappointment at an unnecessarily early visit from M – “not married by any chance, are you?” And when he does eventually formally reveal his identity to us, saying the familiar line “My name’s Bond, James Bond”, it’s not until we’re 23 minutes into the film, when he introduces himself to Solitaire for the first time. Sometimes Roger Moore’s trademark underacting doesn’t work for me. I think Bond should be a bit more animated!

Mrs BellBoo-boos. Here are some, I am sure there are more. When making the coffee for M, Bond puts the milk in the coffee and then puts the steam into the coffee, demonstrating that neither he nor anyone involved in the scene had the faintest idea how to use the machine; added to which, the coffee grinder is alternately empty/full between shots. When Bond gives Mrs. Bell her “flying” lesson, the wings are torn off the plane. Yet when he asks her “Same time tomorrow?”, the reaction shot of Mrs. Bell shows an intact left wing – it’s the same ‘reaction’ shot as when he climbed into the plane. There are two scenes of funeral marches in New Orleans; one at the very beginning, and one in the middle of the film. They were both obviously shot at the same time: the sun and shadows are the same, the marchers and dancers are wearing the exact same clothes, and the extras hanging around a doorway across the street are identical. The whole crew and spectators are reflected in the cab’s window when Bond leaves the Voodoo shop.

Miss CarusoThe Bond Girl. As usual, the producers and scriptwriter bowl us a couple of curved balls early on in the film to fool us as to who The Bond Girl is in this adventure. First candidate is Miss Caruso, the Italian agent with whom Bo