Monday, January 19, 2009


Genius was a cartoon that appeared in the Observer from 1978 to 1983. It featured Anode Enzyme, the greatest genius since Leonardo, who had an IQ of 12, 794 (it was higher, but he lost a few points through watching television). Working for Lord Doberman, the world's richest man, gave him a lot of freedom, but he mostly confined his talents to doing whimsically obscure things like firing colour televisions into the sea, or recording the sound of a tape recorder being destroyed by a chain saw. Aged about 11 or 12, I hugely admired this serial work, so much so that I collected the strips for a while, pasting them into an old notebook. It's hard to say whether I prefered the surreal humour, the delightfully messy ink drawings and lettering, or the rather lovely watercolour that formed the main part of each week's installment. They clearly came from a complex, witty, un-bourgeois, and generally splendid intelligence. It always felt faintly subversive, as if nobody at the nice paper quite knew what the chap was up to. They never really gave it enough space. The same point is made in a nice appreciation here. I recently came across my yellowing cuttings, complete with original dates in my own childish hand. The one above was undated, before you ask.

John Glashan, the creator of Genius, seems to have rather sunk without trace. A great pity.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tony Hart

Tony Hart has died. I spent a lot of my childhood watching him, on shows like Vision On, and Take hart. Like most of the best TV presenters, the programs were never about him. They were generous, encouraging to aspiring artists like me, and always fun.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Happy New Year

And now, nuclear war.

I grew up in a threatened generation: in the late 70s and early 80s. It already seems a long time ago, but there was a real prospect then that something very big could kick off. I don't remember this being talked about much, although it would surface as nervous laughter at school: "Imagine Miss Watt announcing a three-minute warning over the Tannoy!" One focus for these fears was the television film Threads (1984).

It is a docudrama that tells the likely consequences of a nuclear exchange on Sheffield, and when I watched it—aged 15—it scared the shit out of me. Recently, Rog pointed out to me that you could watch Threads on Youtube (all 13 parts). Now I have, and it remains riveting.

Despite almost 25 years elapsing, some of the scenes were still vivid in my mind, though I had forgotten that some of them belonged to this film. Take, for example, the woman wetting herself in the street, or Ruth giving birth in some straw with a barking dog outside, or the post-apocalypse children blankly watching a scratchy video about skeletons.

The documentary angle helps the film and means that it doesn't just become incoherent and shouty. Paul Vaughan's narration of chaos was particularly effective, as he regularly voiced episodes of Horizon at the time.

Near the end, we see that children born after the attack are evolving their own corrupted form of speech. Give it a few centuries more and you have Riddley Walker.