Friday, 15 August 2014

Nostalgic for my childhood - The Fall Guy

Last year, I started a thread called “Nostalgic for my childhood” (you can find the others using this link), covering books and films and various things that I remember fondly  It’s a thread I'm planning to continue anyway, but this edition sort of came out of the blue.

Those who follow me on Facebook will know I had a cardio issue last week which meant I had to take it easy for while.  It just so happens that the week before that, I bought the season one box-set of “The Fall Guy”, having found it on ebay (I can’t remember now why I’d been looking).  Back in the day I loved that show and - trying to keep away from the news - I binge-watched it over the week.  Dude joined me for a lot of them and we finished the whole 22 episode run on Sunday and he wanted to go straight back into it, whilst I decided this was a prime candidate for my “Nostalgic for my childhood” thread.

“The Fall Guy” was a Glen A. Larson production (the early episodes have bronchial voice-over man saying that over the final production credit) that ran for five series (I’m English, it should be series and not seasons) from November 4th 1981 until May 2nd 1986 for a total of 112 episodes.  The genesis of it, according to Larson, came from his friend David Somerville (they used to be in bands together) who wrote “The Ballad Of The Unknown Stuntman” for a documentary in 1979.  Larson and Somerville pitched the series by playing the song and saying the hero was stuntman and bounty-hunter, which got them a greenlight.  Larson met Lee Majors in an airport (the two knew each other as Larson executive produced the early series of “The Six Million Dollar Man”) and signed him up without the star having seen so much as a script.  Majors went on to co-produce the show (“he ran the set well,” Larson said in interview, “everyone got on, it was relaxed and the work got done”), sing the theme song (which was adapted to include more current names), do a lot of stuntwork himself and lead a series that, he hoped, would clear Steve Austin from peoples minds.

For my part, I was a massive fan of “The Six Million Dollar Man” and Lee Majors was one of my favourite actors at the time, so he was completely my draw for “The Fall Guy”, as I’m sure he was for many other people.

The pilot episode was written by Larson and directed by Russ Mayberry and the remainder of the series was mostly written by David Brafff and Nick Thiel who, for the 1981/82 first season, also acted as script editors (they were replaced from the second series on).  Alongside the theme (credited to Somerville, Larson and Gail Jenson), US series stalwart Stu Philips provided the soundtrack.
The first series cast - from left, Heather Thomas, Lee Majors, Douglas Bar, Jo Ann Pflug
Heather Thomas makes her entrance
“The Fall Guy” was about a Hollywood stunt man, Colt Seavers (played by Majors) who moonlighted as a bounty hunter, mainly picking up bail jumpers who’d skipped on Samantha “Big Jack” Jack (played by Jo Ann Pflug in the first series - Markie Post as Terri replaced her from series two and although Samantha is mentioned, she’s never seen again), using his physical skills and knowledge of stunts to catch fugitives and criminals.  In the pilot episode, we’re introduced straight away to Colt’s young cousin Howie Munsen (played by Douglas Barr), who wants to be both a stuntman and Colt’s manager (Seavers often refers to him as “kid”) and is portrayed as a kind of educated goof at first (though his character matures across the first series).  We are also introduced to Jody Banks (Heather Thomas), a young stuntwoman Colt has taken under his wing and even though she’s often seen in the thick of film action, she doesn’t have a lot to do otherwise (in the first series at least) other than provide sex appeal.  She does have a moment, coming through some batwing doors, that not only became her credit clip in subsequent series but was also a defining moment for this 12-year-old boy watching.
series 2-5 cast, with Markie Post replacing Jo Ann Pflug
The first series opened each episode with an introduction from Lee Majors (as Seavers) explaining about stuntmen and that he couldn’t make a full-time living from it so also worked as a bounty hunter.  This sequence ran over stock footage of various stunts, from the 20s to the then-present day (the voice-over was dropped after the first series) and would usually segue into Colt filming a stunt, before getting caught up in a case with Big Jack that was always more complicated than it first appeared.  The stock footage was taken from real Twentieth Century Fox films (they distributed the TV show and their clearly-identified backlot was often seen in the episodes), including “The Poseidon Adventure”, “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry”, “Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid” and “Silver Streak”.  One clip, from the film “Sky Riders”, ironically enough showed James Coburn performing his own stunt, clinging to a helicopter skid as it flew high over a gorge.  The series also used stock footage from feature films to pad out/boost the budget in episodes.  Whilst this practise got more extreme the further into the run you went, it did also change the tone of some episodes.  In “The Snow Job”, for instance, avalanche footage from the 1978 film “Avalanche” was used, including some shots where the snow destroys a hotel that hadn’t been seen before.

As was usual in the 80s for series of this type, the car was an important part of the show (think Magnum and his Ferrari 308, BA Baracus and his van, Knight Rider and his Pontiac Trans Am) and The Fall Guy was no exception.  He drove a 1982 GMC K-2500 Wideside pick-up truck (interspersed, on occasion, with a 1980 K-25 Wideside) that looked fantastic, with a brown and tan two-tone paintjob and an eagle logo on the bonnet for the “Fall Guy Stuntman Association”.  The truck was often involved in high speed chases and huge jumps and these took their toll on the actual vehicles (one clip in the opening credits shows the axle clearly braking).  When the production had destroyed several trucks, GMC built a custom version with the engine moved back under the seats (“to properly balance it,” Lee Majors said in an interview), a reinforced frame, heavy duty axles and various other refinements.  After this, the number of trucks that had to be scrapped was greatly reduced.
The truck, in the first series, about to snap its axles...
The series was known for its frequent cameos by Hollywood celebrities (especially in the first series), with actors as themselves - everyone from Tom Selleck to Linda Evans - chatting with Colt Seavers.  In the pilot, James Coburn (a friend in real life of Majors) makes an appearance early on and there’s a touching scene near the end with Farrah Fawcett (who had separated from Majors by this time - in the late 70s, they were the ‘golden media couple’ and apparently remained friends until her death.  She appeared against her managers wishes to show the public they were divorcing on good terms).

The theme song became a minor hit in the early 80s (the singer is credited as Colt Seavers in a handful of the first series credits) and was very popular in Germany (though as Majors said in an interview, “everyone is popular over there”) and includes a nice touch in the lyrics with the line “I’ve been seen with Farrah”.

As I said, I was a big fan of the series - I had the annuals, a t-shirt and desperately wanted the truck - but I don’t remember watching it through to 1986 and, in fact, before we got hold of the DVD boxset, I only had sketchy memories at best.  The first and second series are available on DVD though the others haven’t been released “due to lack of demand”, which seems a real shame.

As I write this, Dude & I have watched all of the first series and six episodes of the second (which is a lot more humorous, in tone, with some great one-liners from Majors).  The first thing I noticed, binge-watching, is a key Larson trait, wherein quite a few shots are recycled over the year (generally of the truck driving about).  Locations are also re-used frequently, which can be quite entertaining and some actors also appear more than once and as a different character altogether.  Distinctive looking character actor Dennis Fimple, for instance, plays deputy sheriff Renfo in “The Pilot” and is also one of the Rio Brothers - Bobby - in “The Japanese Connection”.  Chuck Hicks, a big character actor regularly cast at the time as a heavy, was a recurring thug who our heroes usually encountered just in time for a brawl whilst Terry Kiser (who was Bernie in the “Weekend At…” films) was a director in “The Pilot” and a thug in “The Rich Get Richer”.  As a recurring character, Judith Chapman played Kay Faulkner, an insurance investigator, who tangled with Colt in “The Rich Get Richer”, “Goin’ For It!” and “Three For The Road” - all of them in the first season plus “Death Boat” in the second.  The series also featured some genre stars and they got plenty of good screentime, from Sid Haig to Martine Beswick, Chris Stone to Don Stroud.  An amusing, continuing joke is that the goodies listen to country music, whilst the baddies always listen to classical.

The cast have all said in interviews over the years that they not only got on well making the series but also still keep in touch.
Lee Majors, who was born in 1939, still acts occasionally, though he remains best known for his portrayal as Steve Austin (“The Six Million Dollar Man”) and Colt Seavers.
Douglas Barr was born in 1949, left acting in 1994 and now works as a writer and director and is also co-founder of Hollywood and Vine Cellars, a small, high-end Napa Valley winery.
Heather Thomas was born in 1957 and after a much-publicised battle with drug addiction left acting in 1998.  She is now a screenwriter, author and political activist.

I loved “The Fall Guy” the first time around and whilst it isn’t a classic piece of television (I’m a fan, not a fool), it is good fun and I enjoyed re-watching and re-discovering it with Dude.  Roll on series 2!

And now, I leave you with the series 2 opening credits complete with Lee Majors singing, the truck breaking its axle, James Coburn on a helicopter and Heather Thomas giving her character a great entrance.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Drive, Dude and a guest blog



My complimentary copies of "Drive" arrived today, courtesy of Chris Teague at Pendragon Press and - if I do say so myself - they look very good indeed.  I asked Dude for a bit of a photo-opportunity and he agreed, opened the book and found enough swear words that I now owe him £4!  Ho hum.

In other news, my good friend Sue Moorcroft hosted me on her blog yesterday with a guest post, where I discuss how you can 'write what you know' when you're a horror author.  I had fun writing it and it seems to have gone down well, so if you have five minutes spare you might want to nip over (and Sue's blog is great anyway and well worth a read).

The guest blog can be found here.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the following too...



Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Hello Mr Hitchcock

Sir Alfred (Joseph) Hitchcock, who would have been 115 years old today, was born on Wednesday 13th August 1899 in Leytonstone, London.  His father was a greengrocer and poulterer (part of the reasoning to set "Frenzy" in Covent Garden was to capture a way of life that his father had known and which was just about to disappear altogether) and once sent a five-year-old Alfred to the local police station with a note asking the officer to lock him away for five minutes as punishment for behaving badly.  This incident triggered a lifetime fear of policemen and harsh treatments and wrongful accusations would become recurring themes in Hitchcock's films.

His career spanned over half a century and he quickly established a distinctive directorial style, pioneering camera moves (especially POV shots, to create a sense of voyeurism), shot framing and innovative editing techniques and many sleight-of-hand effects (most noticeably his use of matte paintings, which I blogged about here).  Best known for his mystery/suspense films, often with twist endings and a blunt view of violence, he frequently used "MacGuffins", a plot device with little or no relevance.  As Hitchcock explained, "...in crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers" saying to Fran├žois Truffaut in their 1966 interview, "so you see that a MacGuffin is actually nothing at all."

He moved to Hollywood in 1939, feted as England's Best Director and became a US citizen in 1955.  Considered one of the most influential directors of all time, his work laid a template for suspense films that is still being followed and yet there was always a touch of humour to his work (however dark), such as his cameo appearances at the start of each film.

A major voice in film and TV, not to mention books and anthologies, Hitchcock's last film was "Family Plot" in 1976 and he died of renal failure on April 29th 1980.

me, with the Madame Tussauds model of Hitchcock, London 2003
I first became aware of Hitchcock through the Three Investigators mysteries, a series I've written about often on this blog, which was created by Robert Arthur, who also edited Hitchcock's horror/suspense anthologies.  Later, I remember seeing an advert for "Psycho", which was going to be shown on TV and my Mum telling me how scary she'd found the film when she first saw it, which just sparked my curiosity.

I can't remember which of his films I saw first - I hope it was "Psycho", but it was probably "North By Northwest" or "The Birds" - but I do know that I was an instant fan of his and some of his films - those already mentioned plus "Rear Window", "Vertigo" and "Frenzy" - feature heavily in my list of favourites.

To mark the occasion of his birthday, here's a selection of photographs (from my favourite films) of the Master at work.

Rear Window (1954)
With James Stewart and Grace Kelly on the fantastic set


Vertigo (1958)
With Kim Novak - I find this film unpleasant but can admire the artistry of it
North By Northwest (1959)
With Cary Grant
Psycho (1960)
With Janet Leigh during the shower scene
With Anthony Perkins
 The Birds (1963)
With screenwriter Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain), who also wrote "Marnie"

Frenzy (1972)
Hitchcock's wife, Alma Reville, with the head that was due to be seen in the Thames (originally as his cameo appearance in the film)
With Barry Foster ("Lovely...") in Covent Garden


Thanks for the entertainment, good sir.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Drive is out now (paperback and ebook)

My novella "Drive" is now available from Pendragon Press as a limited edition paperback (including an exclusive afterword) and as an ebook.


David Moore has one night left in Gaffney and is at a party he doesn’t want to attend. Natasha Turner, at the same party, is lost for a lift home.

Meanwhile, three young men have stolen a car, and as the night darkens and the roads become deserted, David and Nat enter into a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse. . .



“Drive takes you for a journey down the darkest alleyways of human savagery.  
A fast paced, high tension thriller that delivers on all fronts....”
- Jim Mcleod, The Ginger Nuts Of Horror

"Drive is a gripping, tense urban noir with prose as tight as a snare drum..."
- Paul D. Brazill, Guns Of Brixton.

“Mark West writes the kind of fiction that gets under the skin where it lies dormant until you turn out the lights ...”
- Dave Jeffery, author of the Necropolis Rising series


The Rude Dude Films trailer is scored by gcw, who also produced the theme for my "What Gets Left Behind" chapbook trailer and who I interviewed here, last year.

He is releasing the music as part of the "Drive EP", which features this score, "What Gets Left Behind" and "Me" (a song from his next album).  The EP is now available to download on Bandcamp at this link - https://gcwmusic.bandcamp.com/album/drive

Friday, 8 August 2014

The Happy Man, by Eric C. Higgs

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book that I've read and loved, which I think adds to the horror genre and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan.  Of course, in this case the book is twenty eight years old so chances are you might have already heard of it.  If it's any consolation, I've had this on my bookshelf since 1987 or so (the Paperjacks edition published in 1986) where it’s survived house moves, book culls and everything else, but having now read it (some 27 years after buying it), I wish I’d done so ages ago.

Paperjacks 2nd printing September 1986
cover scan of my copy

The Ripleys have new neighbours - the Marshes - and with their arrival, the small cosy town of Mesa Vista will never be the same.  At first, the two couples become fast friends and the Ripleys are attracted to the charismatic and powerful Ruskin Marsh but soon their relationship grows darker with each passing day.  A simple barbecue turns into an orgy.  Violence erupts.  Gruesome murders are reported nearby.  People begin to disappear.  Finally Ruskin invites Charles Ripley to join his family in acts of murder and mutilation.

Starting with a terrific opening line - ‘The Marshes rotted in their house two full days before they were discovered by a delivery man from Sparkletts’ - this short-novel (only 166 pages) doesn’t disappoint or let up at all.  It’s told in first person by Charles Ripley, who’s a wonderfully realised character and very easy to side with, especially when the book later takes several odd turns and he struggles to figure out what’s going on and how he fits into things.

The characterisation is good across the board - from Shelly Ripley, trying to recover from a miscarriage and Sybil Marsh, a vamp in every sense of the word to the minor characters, neighbours in the development who are given enough heft that you care and empathise with them - and none more so than Ruskin Marsh himself.  He’s a superb character, a high-flying lawyer by day and voracious sexual adventurer all the time (his wife, others wives, random women he picks up, ladies he takes off other characters hands), an aesthete, purveyor of high quality drugs and a lover of guns.  Ruskin belongs to an exclusive club he calls the ‘Society of Friends’ who appear to take their life philiosophy from De Sade’s Juliette or the Fortunes of Vice and when he hands a copy to Ripley (notably a translated version, which apparently doesn’t exist), Charles’ life begins to turn, with his attitude towards a woman at work who fancies him becomes much darker until she too is in mortal peril.

With some terrific set-pieces - the two women from the bar who drive off the road, meeting Angela in a funky restaurant, the skinny-dipping, the illegal alien being tortured to death in the valley that we only hear, rather than see - and a great sense of location - both the Mesa Vista estate and San Diego in general - this is assured and accomplished and a real page turner.

Told with good pace from the beginning, once the whole story starts to emerge - it’s alluded to in the blurb, but is much bigger - the book takes several shifts in tone until Ripley is forced into a position where he has nothing to lose and it ends as intense and bleak as it began.

A great little novel, told with style and wit and an eye for gruesome detail, this is well worth a read and I’d highly recommend it.

Note - It’s also nice to read a book from the late 80s, a period of time I remember vividly, where characters are excited about home computers, large screen TVs and Atari systems.

* * * * *
The book was originally published in hardback by St. Martins Press but I can't find any information on Eric C. Higgs anywhere online.  He did publish one other novel, "Doppelganger" (as Eric Higgs) via St Martin's Press in paperback in 1987 but that appears to be it.  I know it's a long-shot but if you're reading this and you some details of him, let me know would you?

I picked up a 2nd hand copy of "Doppelganger" in 2011 (from a Cats Protection League charity table for the princely sum of 50p) and read it that same year.  This was my review at that time:
Marvin Moy is one of life’s losers, a big kind-hearted bloke for whom absolutely nothing goes right.  He also has a secret, an ability to see things in daydreams that are actually happening in real-life.  A girl he fancies is being hit on by her professor and Marvin dreams of beating the man up, only to then have the girl identify him as the attacker - even though he was miles away when the assault took place.  This draws him to the attention of the police and from there, things go from bad to worse - car accidents, a garage blowing up - whilst, at the same time, he starts a tentative relationship with Kathryn, the manager of his apartment buildings.

Published in 1987, this is the second novel - and last too, it would appear - from Eric Higgs and keeps up a brisk pace all the way through.  Higgs has plenty of ideas and good grasp of imagery and the relationship he paints, between Marvin and Kathryn is both delicately charming and sensuous.  Marvin is easy to like, being the butt of everyone else’s anger and annoyance, but as things get worse you begin to wish he’d stand up for himself and that, in effect, is what his doppelganger is doing.  Having said that, we get no sense at any point of the reasoning behind the doppelganger, where it came from, why it’s here, why it doesn’t help Marvin more and I felt like I wanted more of an answer.  In place of that, we have a great kick-in-the-face denouement, which is quite startling.  Not bad at all, worth a read.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

To Plan Or Not To Plan? a guest post by Sue Moorcroft

To mark the publication of her latest novel, the wonderful "The Wedding Proposal", here's a guest post from my good friend (and excellent writer) Sue Moorcroft.

Sue's planning wall for "The Wedding Proposal" (in the early stages)
We were made to plan all the joy and fun out of our fiction at school so in my early books, in reaction, I indulged in rambling my way through my plot, then going back and cutting out all the stuff I didn’t need. It worked but it was inefficient.

The week that I wrote 5000 words on Monday and only had 2000 of them left by Friday made me revise my working practices! Having had my eyes opened to the function of planning, I plan each novel more than the last.

When I began to write The Wedding Proposal I knew it was to be a reunion book. I love reading them and I’d touched on that kind of scenario in a novella already. I like the idea of old flames smouldering till they reignite.

What I hadn’t realised is that I would have to plot the backstory in almost as much detail as the frontstory. I had to ensure that Elle and Lucas parted for good reasons but that they wouldn’t get in the way of them ever getting back together. It would have been easy to have one of them cheat, for example – but why would the injured party ever forgive the transgressor? I needed to know where Elle was at various points in the timeline (and timelines are not my best thing), and why. I needed to know what was happening with a couple of other characters, too, and how their stories impacted upon Elle’s. Even further back, I needed to know how Elle and Lucas met the first time and why/when she got on the wrong side of his parents. This was all in addition to the normal stuff of having strands come together and what’s happening off stage that’s suddenly going to collide with the main narrative thrust.

I’m not great at first drafts. The first 10,000 words are usually OK but the potential for not being able to keep all my plates spinning increases along with the wordcount. I often rely on knowing my characters so well that what they do comes naturally and I only need to know major plot points, their conflicts and goals, their histories, what will pull them together and/or push them apart before I begin. This time, it was obvious that this ‘compost heap’ planning wasn’t going to work.

I began plotting via sticky notes. It worked well. I could shift the notes about, group them together, have the story arc going left to right and deepening of conflict running top to bottom. Had I been organised enough to buy different coloured stickies I could have colour-coded. I had a separate part of the wall for things that might happen, for if I found a slack moment in the plot.

Then I went to work in Wales for a week and I wanted to take my stickies with me, so I got two A3-sized pieces of cardboard and transferred my notes to them. In that process I streamlined the plot – I was probably half way through the first draft anyway – and reordered a few things. It made me think clearly and economically about what I absolutely needed.

I used tape and staples at this point, as I knew I was going to have to carry my boards across a car park, and slid my boards into a big black bin liner so that none could get away.

Eventually, the first draft was written and I had the base material to check that everything that should have happened had happened (except for one loose end, as pointed out by my eagle-eyed beta reader, Mark West!).

Would I use this process again? Yes. It worked for me. It was visual. It kept my plates spinning rather than crashing to the ground.

Thanks for hosting me on your blog, Mark. And for finding my missing scene.


The Wedding Proposal

Can a runaway bride stop running?

Elle Jamieson is an unusually private person, in relationships as well as at work – and for good reason. But when she’s made redundant, with no ties to hold her, Elle heads off to a new life in sunny Malta.

Lucas Rose hates secrets – he prides himself on his ability to lay his cards on the table and he expects nothing less from others. He’s furious when his summer working as a divemaster is interrupted by the arrival of Elle, his ex, all thanks to his Uncle Simon’s misguided attempts at matchmaking.

Forced to live in close proximity, it’s hard to ignore what they had shared before Lucas’s wedding proposal ended everything they had. But then an unexpected phone call from England allows Lucas a rare glimpse of the true Elle. Can he deal with Elle’s hidden past when it finally comes to light?

Sue Moorcroft writes romantic novels of dauntless heroines and irresistible heroes. Is this Love? was nominated for the Readers’ Best Romantic Read Award. Love & Freedom won the Best Romantic Read Award 2011 and Dream a Little Dream was nominated for a RoNA in 2013. Sue received three nominations at the Festival of Romance 2012, and is a Katie Fforde Bursary Award winner. She’s a past vice chair of the RNA and editor of its two anthologies.

Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a competition judge and creative writing tutor. 

Sue’s latest book The Wedding Proposal is available as an ebook from 4 August 2014 and as a paperback from 8 September.

Twitter @suemoorcroft

Friday, 1 August 2014

Never Tear Us Apart

It's Friday.

I like INXS.

I like "Never Tear Us Apart".

Hey, it's INXS Friday!

The "Soul" version (which has a nice and loose, demo-ey feel to it)

Live at Wembley, July 1991. I was at this gig, it was bloody brilliant. 

 And now for something completely different...

This is the Stringspace Orchestra, who are based in Sydney - I like this.


"Never Tear Us Apart" featured on the 1987 KICK album and was released as a single in August 1988, reaching number 24 in the UK charts.

The song was originally designed as a blues number in the style of Fats Domino until Chris Thomas, the producer, suggested a synth-based arrangement instead.

Music by Andrew Farriss, lyrics by Michael Hutchence.