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14th February 2005

I'm forgoing the usual Monday site overhaul today for various reasons. I've simply run out of time. Luckily, Ceri has better time management skills than I do, and so you're at least getting an update to the Incoming page today, with some interesting new titles.

There'll be a proper News update, and maybe even a new review, in the next day or two, so please return soon!

Two of the DVDs we're reviewed recently are released today. Check out the Man on Fire review here, and The Grudge review here.

12th February 2005

A whole new section is being added to the site today, devoted to one of the BBC's most successful TV drama series. Here's the section's author, Matthew Lee, who begins by offering this fine obituary for one of television's most prolific talents...

On Saturday, February 5, legendary creative force Gerard Glaister passed away at the age of eighty-nine. His death marks the end of a career spanning over three decades, during which he was the creative force behind the creation and production of some of BBC Television’s most memorable output, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s.

Emerging from directorial turns in repertory theatre and a BBC training course in the late 1950s, Glaister directed Anthony Nicholls and Barbara Murray in the play Romantic Chapter, and a matter of months later directed Uncertain Honours. Both plays were transmitted on BBC Television, and such was the pedigree of his work that he was soon elevated to Producer for the thriller serial Wideawake by Michael Gilbert (the legendary crime-thriller writer who would later pen the memorable 1958 series Fair Game - centred on a soldier returning to civvy street and finding that people are more interest in his money than himself – and The Mind Of The Enemy – a memorable addition to the thriller serials which raised the profile of the genre on BBC Television during the 1960s – whilst collaborating with Glaister on The Men From Room Thirteen, a series he devised and which concerned itself with Scotland Yard’s post-war “Ghost Squad” department of undercover detectives). Appointed as producer-director on the Berkeley Mather thriller serial Big Guns in 1958, Glaister’s profile was further lifted when he took the production mantle for Starr And Company (the BBC soap opera set in the south of England which replaced the enormously popular serial The Grove Family) for the first forty-eight episodes (of seventy-seven in total), and turned his hand to direction for Parts 1, 6, 11, 16, 20, 21, 30 and 40. The twice-weekly serial, which was transmitted live, underlined Glaister’s credentials for producing tightly-paced television drama, and contributed to his being selected to produce the Margot Bennett-scripted thriller The Widow Of Bath (which featured memorable performances from Fay Compton, Barbara Murray and Peter Sallis).

Ostensibly it would prove to be his work on The Men From Room Thirteen (during which he produced and directed one-third of the episodes featured in the first series in 1959) which would become the launch pad for his career, for between 1960 and 1991, his services would be called upon in one capacity or another on a wide variety of projects. Indeed, the 1960s proved to be a prolific period for the producer-director, who contributed his talents to five of BBC Television’s flagship prime-time productions whilst also enjoying individual turns employed on such drama serials as the hugely entertaining The Dark Island (with Robert Hardy) in 1962. His talents were called upon for the third series of Rupert Davies’ Maigret (he co-produced that selection of twelve episodes with Andrew Osborn) and, for the same series, he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Rudolph Cartier and Gilchrist Calder when he directed eight episodes from the first three series (the majority of which appeared in the second season). In 1963, he produced the first nineteen episodes of the wonderfully tense and entertaining wartime serial Moonstrike, a programme which concerned itself with the special squadrons which utilised moonlight as their cover to fly into occupied countries on secret and often dangerous operations. On this serial, Glaister became acquainted with Allan Prior, another legendary creative force with whom he would collaborate to produce an enormously popular serial in the 1980s. Glaister also produced Series 6, 7 and 8 of the memorable Doctor Finlay’s Casebook, a programme for which he also contributed eight episodes in a directorial capacity (the last of which proved to be the 100th episode of the series, A Settled Man, penned by Donald Bull, and hailed in the Radio Times as follows: The story, by Donald Bull, is called A Settled Man and the trouble is that this is just what Doctor Finlay is not. He’s a young and good-looking bachelor, and as such he’s not regarded as a really suitable confidant by certain of the female patients. However, when an old love of his returns from the mission field in Africa, now widowed and desperately in need of care, it looks as if the situation will quickly be altered; and while this may bring some relief to Tannochbrae’s more modest sufferers, it is a prospect which fills Doctor Cameron with disquiet. While he accepts that his young partner must get married sooner or later, he’d really much prefer it to be later. Mary, the returned missionary who is the unsettling influence in A Settled Man, is played by Geraldine Newman. Her parents, Mr and Mrs Davidson, are played by the versatile George A Cooper and the well-known Scottish actress Jean Anderson).

BBC Scotland called upon Glaister’s services between 1966 and 1968 as he contributed to two vastly different programmes, This Man Craig (concerning itself with a Secondary School in the fictional region of Strathaird, Scotland, and focused on the lives and trials of staff and students alike) and The Revenue Men (featuring tales from the Investigation Branch of Customs and Excise) – the former as producer of nineteen episodes from the second series, the latter as programme producer (and director of the opening episode). 1968 would also mark the year that Glaister first collaborated with legendary BBC Television script contributor N J Crisp to devise and create the Marius Goring vehicle, The Expert, the first drama series on BBC-2 to be transmitted in colour. Hailed by the Radio Times as "The Expert – Murder, violence, robbery, sex crimes, medical negligence, libel – all these form part of a forensic scientist’s everyday life”, this memorable series extended the premise originally set down in BBC Television’s Silent Evidence some six years earlier of a forensic pathologist, and pushed the scientific side to its limit in the pursuit of gripping and entertaining television drama. Such was the popularity of the series that it spanned some sixty-two episodes over eight years (which an extended break between the third and fourth series), and Glaister was on hand to direct the first three runs (also contributing in the director’s chair to the first episodes of the first and fourth seasons). An interesting side-note to this programme is that the series (despite original protestations by Glaister to the contrary) was derived from anecdotal conversations with his uncle, Professor Glaister (who was, at the time, Regius Professor of Forensic Medicine at Glasgow University), whilst he was producing The Revenue Men in Scotland. Glaister followed up the success of these ventures with production and direction duties on the skillfully-crafted Codename and the Francis Durbridge thriller serial The Passenger (providing a memorable turn for the delightful Peter Barkworth), before venturing into what became one of four enormously popular serials against which his unique talents were always reflected.

Collaborating with N J Crisp to devise and create a format which would become the logical successor to ATV’s audience-grabbing serial The Power Game, Glaister had originally considered a production set against the backdrop of the sailing world, though in discussions with Crisp and BBC Television executives, financial backing for such a venture proved lacklustre. As such, he set about creating the next best thing with Crisp, a serial which would keep a delicate balance between the boardroom and the bedroom in such a way as to ensure that ruthless ambition, tense emotional undercurrents and familial loyalty were played out against a corporate backdrop – in this instance the haulage industry. The Brothers launched itself onto an unsuspected public in 1972 and steadily gathered up previously unheard of audience figures. The popularity of the series can be attributed to the ambitious premise of the production (a dying tycoon leaves his family business to his three sons – and to his mistress, whom the family always believed was the patriarch’s loyal – and very married – secretary. Having overcome that particular shock, the family soon learns that she also produced a child during their twenty-year affair), and in particular the fact that the programme provided pivotally strong roles for two female leads in Jean Anderson and Jennifer Wilson. The dynamic nature of their performances, matched with addictive storylines and, later, the inclusion of legendary bastards and bitches in the form of Colin Baker and Kate O’Mara, produced a sure-fire hit and elevated the performers to stellar status.

Remarkably, in the same year The Brothers captivated audiences in its initial run, Glaister was also employing his sought-after talents as he collaborated with Brian Degas and Universal Television to create the wartime classic, Colditz, which he also produced. The programme, which commanded strong performances from Robert Wagner, David McCallum, Edward Hardwicke, Jack Hedley, Michael Sheard, Bernard Hepton, Anthony Valentine and Christopher Neame, spanned twenty-eight episodes over two series and is largely considered to be the high-point of the BBC’s 1970s output (although largely by enthusiasts of period wartime serials, as opposed to general archive television fans). However, in either event, one can hardly argue with the ratings figures for this programme, which consistently managed 19 million during the course of its airtime. In 1975, BBC Television returned its attention to the world of corporate enterprise in the oil fields (abandoned unceremoniously when The Troubleshooters came to an end) in Oil Strike North, a series devised and created by Glaister and N J Crisp (in association with Tom Veitch and Joan Veitch), which Glaister himself produced (and also directed the climactic thirteenth part). Popular as that particular venture proved, it failed to captivate the public’s imagination in the same manner as John Elliot’s earlier effort, and a second series never materialised – although the series was notably in terms of introducing Nigel Davenport to Glaister (who would later be responsible for casting him in his 1980s and 1990s serials).

A brief turn as producer (of four episodes) and director (of two episodes) of BBC Scotland’s The Mackinnons in 1977 (a serial devised and created by the legendary Wilfred Greatorex and which concentrated on a small Highland veterinary practice run by former Doctor Finlay lead Bill Simpson) occupied Glaister’s attention before he was asked to employ his services on an epic new wartime serial carved out of the fundamental basics of the 1963 drama Moonstrike. From the bombastic signature tune to the stunning cliffhanger endings, Secret Army proved palpably good viewing for audiences both in the United Kingdom and abroad (with the series becoming a firm favourite in Australia in particular). Devised and created by Glaister and Greatorex, the programme spanned three seasons and the duration of the war, with the Belgian resistance dodging the bullets and the Nazis to keep their escape lines open against all odds. Bernard Hepton, Jan Francis, Christopher Neame, Angela Richards and Clifford Rose remain stand-out examples of the fine performances Glaister (as series producer) could engender from his actors, and their reunion most recent for the recording of extra material for DD Video’s commercial release of the programme reflected the esteem in which they held the legendary producer. Such was the popularity (or infamy) of Sturmbannfuhrer Ludwig Kessler (as portrayed by Clifford Rose) that Glaister would later collaborate with John Brason to devise (and produce) the 1981 series Kessler (with the former Nazi being pursued to justice after the events at the conclusion of Secret Army).

Before Kessler, however, Glaister directed his attentions to what could logically have been considered a spin-off series from The Brothers, entitled Buccaneer. Over the course of thirteen episodes, audiences were treated to tales arising from the small air freight enterprise Red-Air, run by the pilot with the prophetic name - Tony Blair (Bryan Marshall). The essential premise of the series was described by novelist Eric Paice, thus: “Tony Blair is a gambler – and this time he is gambling on making enough money to buy a new aircraft before the old one falls apart. He has started his new airfreight business almost literally on a wing and a prayer, with an aircraft that has seen better days, a few old friends to help him fly and a mountain of debts. Even to Tony Blair the odds must seem against him. Surrounded by people who would betray him as soon as look at him, Blair is a man alone. A man with a dark and dangerous continent to beat; a man with his back against the wall. But only a man like Blair could take the knocks and dangers of the skyfreighting business. Only a gambler like Blair could stand a chance of winning”. The series proved popular with audiences, but as Britain entered the 1980s, audiences expectations were shifting markedly as society and culture in general reluctantly embraced Thatcherism. However, such social upheaval barely registered with Glaister, who was ever-attuned to the creation of serials which could capture the hearts and minds of a nation – and had one last roll of the dice up his sleeve for mid-way through the decade.

Production duties employed on Arden Winch’s thriller serial Blood Money followed in 1981, with this tightly-scripted serial commanding memorable performances from Bernard Hepton, Michael Dennison, Stephen Yardley and Juliet Hammond-Hill, whilst the wartime serial The Fourth Arm (which Glaister co-created by John Brason, now a regular collaborator) in 1983 presented audiences with a twelve-part serial concerning itself with the sabotaging of a Nazi VI flying bomb dump in 1944 France. This is perhaps the one lacklustre contribution to Glaister’s stunning curriculum vitae, in that not only did the programme feature a fairly ordinary cast, but the series itself was greeted with a lukewarm reaction by audiences; predominately this may have been as a result of the fact that the content was somewhat more ponderous and less gripping than his previous wartime tours of duty. Glaister contributed further production and direction duties to Skorpion and Cold Warrior in 1983 and 1984 respectively (the two serials being logical second and third parts of a loose Arden Winch trilogy) and worked in a production capacity on BBC Wales’ melodrama Morgan’s Boy in 1984.

1985 would mark a significant high point in Glaister’s career, as he collaborated with the legendary Allan Prior to devise and create Howards’ Way, an adult soap serial set against the backdrop of the idle rich, the relatively well off middle class and the practically non-existent poor. A true serial for a Thatcher generation, the programme was instantly addictive and attracted audiences of nineteen million at its peak. The programme afforded star turns to Maurice Colbourne, Jan Harvey, Stephen Yardley, Tony Anholt, Nigel Davenport, Glyn Owen, Tracey Childs and Kate O’Mara (to name but a few), and boasted all the best elements of the soap serial genre in terms of readily embracing the clichés, the nuances and the predictable “this-character-is-the-bitch”, “this-character-is-the-plucky-youngster”, “this-character-is-the-bastard”, “this-character-is-the-always-means-well-one” stereotyping. However, rising from all of the most predictable elements came the bedrock of a strong, presentable, lavishly filmed and deliciously indulgent drama serial – a strong premise, boardroom and bedroom battles and a family based at the heart of the production. Viewed as the logical 1980s successor to The Brothers, is it any wonder the programme was so successful?

Glaister’s final drama serial for BBC Television came barely a year after the conclusion of Howards’ Way, with Nigel Davenport proving to be the only survivor from the previous production to emerge in Trainer, set in the affluent world of horse breeding and racing. Although the programme spanned two seasons, boasted performances from David McCallum and Susannah York, featured a memorable signature tune and consisted essentially of the same high-class production values inherent in any Glaister programme, audiences of the 1990s had changed from their 1980s counterparts and grand soap serials in the Dallas and Dynasty style were now unpalatable. Thus, rather than going out on a high, Glaister (now at the age of seventy-six) bowed out of the British Television industry with nothing more than a whimper to support his departure.

However, the high production values, taut pacing and ability to skilfully craft potently addictive and audience-pleasing television drama will always be a hallmark of his productions, and the recent commercial realisation of serials such as Secret Army on DVD have enabled brand new audiences to acquaint themselves with the artistry of Glaister’s work. Although his passing in the last week has been something of a shock for television enthusiasts, the welcome release of further examples of this fine gentleman’s work will ensure that he is never far from our minds in the future.

Commemorating the achievements of Gerard Glaister as a legendary producer and director of some of the most memorable drama productions in British Television history, and marking the show's twentieth anniversary, Zeta Minor is proud to exclusively present a comprehensive programme guide to the BBC Television family soap serial Howards’ Way, which spanned six seasons from 1985 to 1990 and notched up seventy-eight episodes in the process.

The series, which over the course of time has remained largely disregarded in favour of other higher profile Glaister productions such as The Brothers, Colditz and Secret Army, has acquired healthy audiences over the years, particularly in Australia, where soap-serial productions often find greater favour than on British shores. The popularity of the series, which combined the best elements of the genre with sharp pacing, extensive location footage (the series enjoyed a larger than average budget, thanks chiefly to the pedigree of Glaister’s previous productions) and a bountiful selection of shoulder pads, Howards’ Way proved to be palpably addictive viewing thanks in part to the delightfully tongue-in-cheek cliffhanger endings, which were deployed to great effect in ensuring the regular return of viewers.

From Ken Masters’ gauche sartorial taste to Jan Howard’s dogged determination to wear a different dress in every scene, from Jack Rolfe’s selection of fine cigars and even finer Scotch to Lynne Howards’ bountiful cleavage, Howards’ Way presented audiences with a delightful slice of lifestyles of the rich and famous, ensconced on the English south coast during 1980s Thatcherite Britain. So sit back and enjoy a trip down memory lane in the locality of Tarrant, where the fashionable buy their clothes and exclusive cosmetics from Periplus, or HowardBrooke or the House of Howard. Perhaps enjoy a pint of The Jolly Sailor’s best (ooh-err), or take a tour of The Mermaid Yard (best boats bought and sold, built by the best – wood preferred). For those with a taste for speed and style, Leisurecruise can offer a wide range of pursuits both in and out of the bedroom. Money men and those who play the markets may find Relton Marine the ideal playground to set share prices rising, whilst Frere and Nielson Holdings are certain to profit from the experience.

Boasting a detailed introduction, extensive cast and crew listings, transmission times and dates, comprehensive episode-by-episode synopses lavishly illustrated with over three-hundred screengrabs, coverage of press reaction to the series and cast biographies, this is the programme guide to set your sails by. It’s sun, sea and sex … Howards’ Way.

10th February 2005

My thanks to everyone who's sent messages of support about the Network situation. I'll try to reply to all of you over the next day or two. I've posted some thoughts about this in this thread on Roobarb's DVD Forum.

Speaking of Roobarb's, we're currently soliciting donations to upgrade the server software to the latest version, which will offer better security, amongst other benefits. Click here to go to the thread with the appropriate details, if you'd like to contribute.

The classic kids' animation show The Trap Door will be released on DVD on February the 21st.

The disc will feature the complete series - all forty episodes - which was narrated by the late, great Willie Rushton.

Apparently series owners Entertainment Rights are pushing to get the series back on TV, and will be releasing some Trap Door merchandise later this year, including soft toys (with or without sound chips), 3D key-rings, and novelty backpacks. There's already a T-shirt range available from HMV.

The exclusive Stephen Gallagher interview that will be included as a bonus disc in Revelation's Bugs - The Complete Series box set runs for forty minutes. The set is due on March the 7th.

Warner Home Video's release of the Stephen King movie The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer has been delayed. The disc, originally due on March the 14th, will now appear on April the 4th. See the News entry for the 17th of January for more details.

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has sent over this artwork for the third and final box set of the classic Irwin Allen science-fiction series Lost In Space.

I suspect, though, that it might be preliminary artwork for the US version, since it bears no resemblance to the packaging of the other two UK sets, and doesn't feature BBFC logo's. The front of the box uses the same image as the artwork that's been used to promote the Region 1 set, too.

One thing that suggests it might be the UK art is that the US is getting the third series split into two parts, and this sleeve clearly says "The Complete Third Season". Still, worth a look, innit?

Warner Home Video is releasing a collection of seventeen movies, re-packaged as The Essential War Collection, on April the 18th. Each title in the series will come in - get this - "a sturdy slipcase presenting a masculine, no-nonsense design perfect for style conscious movie fans"! The titles involved are: Aces High, Battleground, The Colditz Story, Cross of Iron, The Cruel Sea, The Dam Busters, The Deer Hunter, The Dirty Dozen, Full Metal Jacket, Green Berets, Ice-Cold in Alex, Kelly's Heroes, Memphis Belle, They Who Dare, Three Kings, We Were Soldiers and Where Eagles Dare. RRP for each title is £12.99. Here's some sample art...

Here's the sleeve art for Stargate SG-1 Volume 39, which is due on March the 28th. It features the episodes Icon, Avatar, Affinity and Covenant. Bonus features include a commentary track on each episode, the second part of the From Stargate to Atlantis: The Lowdown documentary (25m), a SG-1 Director's Series featurette on Covenant (8m), and a Production Design and Photo' Gallery (4m). RRP is the usual £19.99.

7th February 2005

Some bad news on the Network front: the company has decided "to only use a handful of selected web sites to promote their titles", and, despite all the coverage we've given them over the last year or so, Zeta Minor isn't one of them. You might think that this is strange, considering that, as far as I know, we've been the only website to review Network titles like The Adventures of Robin Hood, Star Cops, George and the Dragon, The Sweeney, Strange Report and Two in Clover.

While we generally greatly admire the work the company does, I'm sad to say that the feeling isn't mutual. I've fielded complaints from their PR company about our Network coverage on more than one occasion. We've often pointed out technical problems with the company's titles - sometimes before they themselves were aware of them - and have taken some flak for it. We've also been critical of some of Network's policies, particularly when discs with fundamental technical faults haven't been fixed, and I'm sure that this has been a factor in their decision to withdraw their support.

Naturally we'll try to continue without their help, and will continue to feature their product where we can. Most of the news we've featured doesn't come directly from the company, or their PR firm, anyway, because it usually leaks out via the retailers, or other sources. Getting information from official sources has always been difficult, anyway, because their PR company doesn't work on all their releases.

We'll continue to review their titles where we can, perhaps a little later than we used to!

Zeta Minor is a pro-consumer site, and we hold all companies to the same high standards. 

There's a thread about this issue at Roobarb's DVD Forum, which you can find here. Please post any comments you have there.

Here's the latest official Network schedule:

14th February

The Goodies - At Last a Second Helping

The Power Game (General release)


Charley Says - Volume 2

Charley Says - Limited Edition (Volumes 1 & 2)

Soldier Soldier - Series 3

Press Gang - Series 3

How about something to lighten the mood: a review of Optimum's Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends DVD set, perhaps? Luckily Andrew Smith has just the thing, which you can find by clicking on the sleeve image, left, or here. The set is released next Monday, with a very reasonable RRP of £24.99.

Ceri has updated the Incoming page with some new information about titles that haven't been officially announced. The highlights: Granada continues to cannibalise its back catalogue with digipack releases of the Rank Carry On films, and the Inspector Morse discs; archive TV fans will be pleased to see that the BBC's adaptation of The Barchester Chronicles will be released in April, in re-mastered format; Cinema Club is also releasing a box set of BBC Oscar Wilde plays, which will include the 1976 adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray; the Scottish TV series featuring John Hannah as a forensic pathologist, McCallum is on its way; there are a lot of US TV DVD box sets on the way, too, including further box sets of The West Wing and Smallville; Paramount will release the first season of Charmed on April the 25th.

Finally, there's a new competition for you to enter today, where you could win a copy of the mouth-watering new four-disc Gone With The Wind DVD set from Warner Home Video. The set features a digitally re-mastered and restored print of the film, with a 5.1 audio mix, and two discs of bonus materials, including the terrific feature-length 1989 documentary The Making of  a Legend, making its DVD debut. Anyone who saw the restored version of the film during its recent run at the National Film Theatre will attest that the movie looks terrific, with picture quality that probably excels its original theatrical presentation. Click on the banner, above, or here to go to the competition page. The Sherlock Holmes and Switchblade Romance competitions have been extended by a week, mainly because a certain company whose support I was expecting pulled the rug out, leaving me without anything to put in their place. Grumble, grumble...

Previous Zeta Minor News entries can viewed here.

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