Monday, 28 December 2009


...Merry Christmas! Bit of a Mad Men vibe this year, so best enjoyed with a hi-ball and a soundtrack by Peggy Lee.

Sunday, 8 November 2009


Here's a digital doodle I did this week for a friend's birthday, inspired by Mathias Malzieu's novel The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart. The book is a wonderful twisted adult fairy tale, featuring an outcast child kept alive by clockwork, with plenty of dark humour and a gleeful gothic bent. Quite unwittingly, my version seems to feature a Harold and Maude era Bud Cort in the title role, but since he'd have been pretty much perfect casting, I don't mind that at all.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Vic Mizzy

Golden age TV composer Vic Mizzy died on Saturday. He should be as famous as Henry Mancini, but he isn't. Life's unfair like that sometimes. So maybe not everyone knows his name, but they very likely know his music.

I love Vic Mizzy's stuff. No one did comic film scoring better than him. Every composition crackles with eccentric flair and good old-fashioned chutzpah. That patented Mizzy mixture of loungy jazz rizzs and fidgety percussion is as distinctive as a thumb print, and his offbeat orchestration and playful tongue-twisting lyrics are second to none.

I first heard Vic Mizzy's work on The Addams Family when I was a child and was hooked by the end of the opening titles. I think my love of that show initially stemmed almost entirely from his music. I remember thinking that someone with a name as mad as Vic Mizzy just had to be a fun person to be around, and by all accounts he was. I taped the theme on a cassette player and played it endlessly. Like all his jingles, it's effortlessly catchy and instantly welcomes you into the show.

In the 1960s, Mizzy was the go-to guy for a killer theme tune. From Green Acres to The Pruitts of Southampton, more than any of his contemporaries, he understood that special fusion of words and pictures that sell a show to a first-time viewer, and he pitched each one with economy and an engaging best buddy warmth. Take Mizzy's masterpiece Addams Family theme... "So get a witch's shawl on... A broomstick you can crawl on, we're gonna pay a call on, the Addams Family." Simple, no nonsense stuff, but there's a touch of pure genius in literally inviting the viewers to come along for the ride. And what kid watching didn't picture themselves haphazardly weaving through the night sky towards the Addams mansion? With few words, that static sitcom was suddenly transformed into an adventure. It's that childlike exuberance that marks Mizzy out. His lyrics are cheeky and conspiratorial – not many people can make "museum" and "scream" rhyme effortlessly, but he could – and they're delivered with the kind of unselfconscious gusto that television could use a lot more of.

Percepto Records have done a great job of making Mizzy's music available commercially in recent years, but his best work is the long out-of-print Original Music from The Addams Family soundtrack LP. It's a winning mixture of mordant melancholy and pure sixties kitsch – all cooing female backing singers and catchy refrains. Someone really needs to re-issue that album.

The Addams Family, The Ghost and Mr Chicken, Green Acres – have a listen... they're all still brilliant. So here's to Vic Mizzy. A bona fide talent and owner of the best showbiz name ever.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Marple Most Foul

Literary adaptations are tricky things – a good property can be so easily derailed by a piece of daft casting or a heavy hand, bringing tears before bedtime and dark mutterings about the folly of filmmakers. All quite right and justified, but once in a while something comes along which gets it joyously, brilliantly wrong... A case in point is the series of 1960s Miss Marple films, which I've just recently been watching. 

Agatha Christie was famously appalled by Margaret Rutherford's powerhouse performance as the elderly sleuth. Suffice to say, her misgivings went unheeded and Rutherford happily blustered and harrumphed her way through four films before the plug was pulled. The poster for Murder Ahoy, featuring a cartoon Marple on a surfboard, pretty much sets the tone, which encompassed burlesque flights of fancy, broad slapstick and some fourth-wall-busting name-checks. The nadir is reached when Marple proudly reveals that her sleuthing skills have been honed by avidly reading Agatha Christie novels. Who knew?

Despite this, the films are utterly delightful, with their crisp black and white photography and musty Britishness exuding an air of cosy noir, albeit with a definite whiff of HP sauce. Rutherford bulldozes through her scenes with gurning indignation and hangdog frowns, ruthlessly upstaging all around her. It's an astonishing, baffling performance. Picture a transvestite version of Sherlock Holmes played by Michael Horden in a fright wig and you're more or less there. 

This Miss Marple enjoys a bottle of beer, can wield a pistol with the best of them and – uniquely amongst the screen Marples – goes about her business with unashamed glee. We're never in any doubt that she's having the time of her life. Accompanying her throughout is Ron Goodwin's brilliant offbeat music. The Miss Marple theme is nothing short of a masterpiece, with its cheeky harpsichord and quivering strings conjuring up the quaintness of middle England and tongue-in-cheek derring-do. 

The best of the bunch is 1964's Murder Most Foul, which sees Marple going undercover as an actress in rep theatre to unmask a murderer. Following a satisfying body count as the deaths within the company stack up, the denouement sees Marple facing certain death on opening night, eventually saving herself with some sharp shooting, sending a hanging prop crashing down onto the murderer's head with a single bullet. All it's missing is a comedy boing sound as she does.

Agatha Christie rightly hated it, but there's something undeniably winning about being presented with a Miss Marple you could happily go to the pub with. I bet she'd drink pints, too.