Monday, September 29, 2008

Some Autumn Reading

Let's see what interesting-sounding books are out there in bookstores, to nab and curl up with under a comfy blanket when it starts getting nice and cool and fall-like.

There is Phillipa Gregory's new novel called The Other Queen, which came out on September 9th. Gregory wrote The Other Boleyn Girl, which was later adapted into a television drama as well as the movie starring Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johannson. The Other Queen tells the story of Mary, Queen of Scots, during her house imprisonment of sorts in the home of Bess of Hardwick and her fourth husband George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.

Alexander McCall Smith also has a new novel out, with a title I love, called The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday. It came out on September 23rd. A part of The Sunday Philosophy Club Series, otherwise known as Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries, this new novel finds the heroine Isabel Dalhousie coming to the aid of a doctor accused of scientific fraud over a new pharmaceutical drug. In the literary world, McCall Smith is best known for writing the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series set in Botswana, a country in Southern Africa. This series is either in the process of being developed, or already has been developed, for television with the pilot episode [adapted by Richard Curtis and the late Anthony Minghella] already filmed and televised on BBC One on Easter Sunday. In the US, the cable channel HBO will air the series.

I need to return a few cookbooks to the library in the next few days, and while I'm there, I can check whether they have copies of the Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries. They sound like they could be my cup of tea.

[Photo of Phillipa Gregory is from New York Magazine and photo of Alexander McCall Smith is from Leap In The Dark]

Friday, September 26, 2008

Spunky Sally...Piper

Always a step or two behind the times, I just stumbled onto the big format changes happening at PBS concerning their hugely popular Mystery! series and their 'jewel in the crown' Masterpiece Theatre.

I suppose lately [for the past year it looks like] I've been more interested in what I'll be receiving from Netflix, or watching my favorite classic British comedies on our PBS station for the umpteenth million time. But it looks like everything has been kickstarted with a vengeance over at PBS, and although I want to kick myself in the rear about missing some fabulous programs on the new Masterpiece Classic from January, I can still make up for my 'off in another world'-ness by catching the last show of the Masterpiece Mystery! season.

If anyone like me has been out of the loop and is totally confused by all this, you can hop over to PBS and catch up. I'll also muse about the changes in a little more depth in a future post. Gotta take things slow you know, and spend some time absorbing things. *absorb*

Anyway I can still watch Billie Piper, who Doctor Who fans know as Rose Tyler, take on the bad guys while dressed up in late-19th century Victorian garb as Sally Lockhart, in The Shadow in the North. Based on the book by Philip Pullman, this show will air this Sunday, September 28th at 8:00 pm central time. It also boasts a cute co-star in JJ Feild, American born but English bred.

Billie Piper should be in the news again come October, when her first child with husband Laurence Fox is supposed to be due.

[Photo of Billie Piper as Sally Lockhart is from The Age and photo of JJ Feild is from Flixster]

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Who's That Girl?

Last night I finished watching the last two episodes of my Lovejoy DVD. There was an actress in the last episode, entitled The March of Time, that looked so familiar but I just couldn't remember her name. This morning, before I began to google that episode to find the cast list, the name popped into my head. Lysette Anthony.

I had seen her alot on television mostly during the 1980s, for example in Ivanhoe with Anthony Andrews [red hot from his brilliance in Brideshead Revisited a year before], Sam Neill, Olivia Hussey, Julian Glover, and John Rhys-Gavies...Gimli! I had no idea all of these other fine actors were in Ivanhoe. By the by, I'm not pulling all of this info from my rusty memory banks, I need lots of help from IMDB.

I also remember seeing Lysette in Princess Daisy in 1983. My older sister had the book. And guess who was in this one - Rupert Everett! She was also in the movie Krull with Francesca Annis and Liam Neeson. I'm not sure if I ever saw that movie although I wouldn't be averse to seeing it now. It may have appeared to be too scary for me to watch then.

[More recent photo of Lysette Anthony is from Lysette Anthony, photo of Lysette Anthony in Ivanhoe is from geocities, and photo of Rupert Everett is from Who's Dated Who]

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Who Knew Antiques Could Be So Dangerous?

Last night I watched an episode of Lovejoy that I received in the mail from Netflix, specifically 'To Sleep No More' from Season 1 Disc 2. I love Lovejoy, and loved it long before I got into antiques, not acquiring them really but watching other people talk about them, hunt for them or sell them a la Antiques Roadshow, Bargain Hunt, and Cash in the Attic.

My sister Judy and I used to sit glued to the tv, which was tuned to the A&E channel, and take in the adventures of these street-smart, unscrupulous, risk-taking band of antiques experts as they flitted in and out of the world of the wealthy, to come home to a less privileged lifestyle at the end of the day. But that didn't bother Lovejoy too much I think, because it was his intense love and knowledge of antiques that spurred him on. He would probably live very happily in a bare stable as long as he was able to do what he loved to do every day, holding such things as a British snuff box circa 1800 in his hands.

In Lovejoy's world, there is a whole lot of thievery and intrigue going on and he seems to thrive on it. The Lovejoy books, written by John Grant, apparently contained a lot of gruesome violence which the televised adaptations toned down immensely. I like the result very much - the tv series has a more lighthearted feel to it, with a quirky and honest set of characters getting into all sorts of situations - revolving around beautiful, old things.

Ian McShane portrays the lovable rascal Lovejoy. Apparently he also appeared on the US primetime soap opera Dallas, which I don't remember him being in but then again, I didn't watch Dallas on a regular basis. But I do remember him most recently from his turn as Andy Samberg's contentious stepfather in the movie Hot Rod.

I also recently spotted Dudley Sutton, who plays Lovejoy's alcoholic right-hand man Tinker, in a bit part in the movie The Pink Panther Strikes Again when I saw it for the umpteenth time more than a week ago. And apparently Malcolm Tierney [Lovejoy's nemesis Charlie Gimbert] had a role in the original Star Wars movie as Lt. Shann Childsen, which I have no idea who that is. I'm thinking he was one of Darth Vader's men. Update: He was on the Dark Side!

I've got two more episodes of Lovejoy to go before I need to mail it back in for another. I can't wait for tonight!

[Photo of Season Two's Lovejoy DVD jacket with Ian McShane is from Crimespree Cinema, photo of David Dickinson is from Speak Out, photo of a Victorian snuff box is from Renaissance Jewelers, photo of Dudley Sutton is from Brian Micklethwait, and photo of Malcolm Tierney is from Aveleyman]

Friday, September 19, 2008

6 Degrees of Separation, British Comedy Style

Isn't it funny how people cross paths in real life as well as in television land? I had been mulling this over for quite some time after I learned that Josephine Tewson was John Inman's cousin. And after I had first seen Tewson on Last of the Summer Wine.

It has been noted before that Tewson and Inman were cousins, and I presume that they were first cousins, but the exact nature of their relation to one another remains unclear to me. But in any case, they were four years apart in age and in one interview posted online, Tewson seemed very fond of her cousin. While John Inman is famous in the US for portraying Mr. Wilberforce Humphries so brilliantly in Are You Being Served, his cousin is famous here for her turn as nervous neighbor [only in Hyacinth's home] Mrs. Elizabeth Warden in Keeping Up Appearances. These two series happen to be two of my ultimate favorites when it comes to British comedy.

In 2003, Josephine Tewson was cast in Last of the Summer Wine, which was created by the same man who created Keeping Up Appearances - Roy Clarke. As romance-starved librarian Miss Lucinda Davenport, she often shares scenes with Frank Thornton, who many might remember as Captain Steven Peacock opposite John Inman's Mr. Humphries in Are You Being Served. Inman and Thornton's co-star on Are You Being Served Trevor Bannister [Mr. Dick Lucas] made a few appearances on Last of the Summer Wine beginning in 2001. Bannister also guess-starred in an episode of Keeping Up Appearances.

The television drama Coronation Street connected many of these actors as well, which isn't surprising based on its extensive cast list spanning over four decades. Being an EastEnders fan, I unfortunately never felt the need to watch Coronation Street. I actually even stopped watching EastEnders nearly ten years ago. Methinks I need to rectify the situation and rent dvds of both series pronto if they're available, starting from the very beginning.

Anyway Patricia Routledge, the star of Keeping Up Appearances, made her appearance on Coronation Street in 1961. Just a year later Last of the Summer Wine's money-loving Auntie Wainwright, played by Jean Alexander, made her first appearance on the soap opera as landlady Mrs. Webb, and then returned two years later to begin her illustrious turn as Hilda Ogden in 1964. Josephine Tewson herself made a very short appearance on Coronation Street as Peggy Phillips in 1994, which was 7 years after Jean Alexander's final scene on that show.

Keeping Up Appearances' Geoffrey Hughes, Hyacinth Bucket's bone idle brother-in-law Onslow, worked on the serial from 1974 to 1983 as Eddie Yeats. He most likely crossed paths at some point with Jean Alexander's Hilda Ogden character. Last of the Summer Wine's Keith Clifford, who played wanna-be Robin Hood descendent Billy Hardcastle, started out on Coronation Street in 1975 with a bit part in one episode before returning in the late 1990s and again in 2007. Shirley Stelfox, the first actress to play Rose in Keeping Up Appearances, also played Shirley Henderson on Coronation Street starting in 1983. And Are You Being Served's Molly Sugden, the inimitable Mrs. Slocombe, took on the character of Nellie Harvey on Coronation Street in just a few episodes starting in 1965.

The Coronation Street web includes Joanna Lumley as she worked on the serial in 1973 portraying Elaine Perkins. A young Joanna Lumley made two guest cameos on Are You Being Served in the seventies. In fact, her first marriage was to Are You Being Served's writer Jeremy Lloyd. Lumley went on to co-star in the wild comedy Absolutely Fabulous with Jennifer Saunders, and worked alongside June Whitfield, who played Edina Monsoon's Mother, in the process. In Last of the Summer Wine, June Whitfield, a very youthful-looking 82 year old, and Josephine Tewson's characters cross paths occasionally.

There are so so many more connections to be made but alas my stomach grumbles for breakfast. But it is ridiculously fun to discover the patterns and connections of actors to film or television work. Take for example Coronation Street - actors who crossed the Big Pond to Hollywood like Ben Kingsley appeared on the series during his early acting career, while Ian McKellan portrayed a character there in 2005 or thereabouts, purely for fun I imagine and perhaps because he has always been a fan of the soap opera.

Several Doctor Who companions appeared on Coronation Street during its earlier years including Frazer Hines [Jamie], Elisabeth Sladen [Sarah Jane Smith], and Mary Tamm [Romana I]. Doctor Who itself is a hotbed for actor cameos. Clive Swift [Richard Bucket], Judy Cornwell [Daisy], and David Griffin [Emmet Hawksworth] of Keeping Up Appearances appeared on Doctor Who, albeit during different years with different actors portraying the Doctor. Last of the Summer Wine's Burt Kwouk a.k.a. Cato of the Pink Panther films made a guest stint in Doctor Who's episode Four to Doomsday.

And there are tons more that I can't seem to think of at the moment. Because I'm getting hungrier. And can't think straight anymore...I wonder if anyone can come up with 6 degrees of separation between Kevin Bacon and John Inman. I would love to see that!

[Photo of John Inman is from The Daily Mail, photo of Jean Alexander is from The Sun, the photo of Joanna Lumley is from Southbank Centre, and the photo of June Whitfield is from The Reckless Gardener]

Friday, September 12, 2008

Coffee (In 10 Minutes, Elizabeth!)

Many of us are familiar with the English tradition of taking tea in the mid-part of the day. But I found out through watching Keeping Up Appearances that the English enjoy drinking coffee as well. I don't know why that would surprise me so [it's not even that much of a surprise really] because why can't the English drink coffee? They can drink anything they like. I'm sure some of them even drink Bubble Tea or cappucinos. Drinks know no geographical boundaries.

But I suppose what I wanted to know more about was whether some people preferred to take coffee rather than tea, as a replacement of sorts. Does coffee have the same psychologically comforting effects that tea does when one is having a bad day? Let's see if I can find out.

Upon first glance, there isn't that much information floating around the internet about English coffee. When you search for English tea, the number of web sites devoted to it or even mentioning it is astounding. But English coffee, not that much. I did however find this interesting post on a barista blog called jimseven. It's a must-read. The author mentions that, in many years past, London had a coffee culture. Take note of the past tense.

I found another article online that echoes this same thought. A ways back in its history, England once nurtured a thriving coffee culture, but for one reason or another [the author includes women's objections to being excluded from coffeehouses as one of those reasons] the popularity of the beverage unfortunately fell to the wayside.

Joyfully for all devoted coffee lovers, the availability of freshly brewed [and not instant] coffee seems to be experiencing a resurgence in the British Isles. Establishments such as The Drury Tea & Coffee Co. Ltd., Costa Coffee, and those mentioned in Cosy Coffee Shops may provide the perfect outlet for one's coffee bean-fueled obsession.

[Photo of coffee with foam is from Java Junkie Coffee and photo of Keeping Up Appearances' Elizabeth and Emmett is from BBC Programs]

Friday, September 5, 2008

Dainty Morsels

Cucumber sandwiches. Watercress. Egg. These are what I think of as typical tea sandwiches, those that arrive at your table cut up into small shapes with the crusts cut off of the bread. They aren't meant to be big hearty sandwiches, but rather delicate nibbles full of subtle flavors. I suppose they are also chosen to compliment whatever tea you're serving. So they shouldn't be too overwhelming.

I've eaten cucumber sandwiches before, and have made them at home at least once or twice. I've definitely had my fair share of egg sandwiches, and made a few about two weeks ago? I love them, probably because I love egg so much. Figures, heh? But watercress has eluded me thusfar, and although I may have tasted watercress in salads or some other dish, I've yet to discover the joys of eating a watercress sandwich. Just what goes into a watercress sandwich? Let's find out.

There are quite a number of recipes on the Internet for a watercress sandwich and cream cheese, parsley, chives and butter seem to be necessary ingredients. And of course the watercress. And white bread.

What other kinds of dainty sandwiches can arrive with tea at a tea shop? And can you make them yourself at home? Let's see....

During my search, I came across the site The Paupered Chef and this great post on cucumber sandwiches. Comes with nice photos for illustrative purposes too. I also came across the Joy of Baking site, which mentions tea sandwiches briefly but concentrates more on cakes, cookies and scones. But the pictures and other information on this page were just too delectable to pass over.

The site What's Cooking America provides a bevy of tea sandwich recipes including James Beard's Onion Sandwiches. Links to recipes for heartier, more substantial sandwiches are included on the same page. Quite a lengthy list of afternoon tea sandwich recipes can also be found here. And I couldn't pass up this eggs and watercress sandwich recipe on the blog Pink Bites. Her photos are divine and the recipes look scrumptious too.

With so many enticing websites and recipes to peruse, I'll stop here and sign off. The weather is still hot where I am and so these light sandwiches are still appealing to me. As the weather gets colder, I'll be craving heartier fare. But in the meantime, I aim to try and create some new tea sandwiches to go along with the tea I'm taking every afternoon. Tea is so comforting, and these sandwiches sound heavenly. It's a match!

[Photo of tea sandwiches is from Biggest Menu]