Thursday, 10 April 2008

Imaginary Heroes

It occurs to me that all of my heroes, so far, have been dead people. Actually, Dead White European Males - spiffing! But what about those fictional characters who lightened my darkness, raised my spirits, and brought some useful bits of homespun philosophy into my plebby existence? Here goes...

Major James Bigglesworth (1901-?)
Yes, Biggles. He flew North, South, East and West. He also hit the trail, held his own, and defied the swastika. The latter story was a tad disappointing, consisting as it did of a middle-aged drunk brandishing his fist at an ancient solar good luck symbol drawn on a piece of cardboard. I also found Biggles' habit of 'ejaculating' his comments somewhat confusing as a lad. But, at his best, Biggles was rather brilliant. If you think Captain WE Johns was a mere chronicler of jingoistic twaddle, read Rescue Flight. This novel of WW1 aviation is superb in its depiction of air combat. And, yes, the Python parody of Biggles was deeply traumatic, but I got over it. It's obvious that Palin, at least, was a big fan and the sketch was more tribute than broadside.

The Doctor (???-???? oh come on he's a time traveller)
No, he's not called Doctor Who, and don't get me started. While not a fanatical Whovian, I do seem to have watched an awful lot of it during the Seventies. I've also got a fair old load of DVDs of Sixties Who, mostly starring the brilliant Patrick Troughton (above). Do I need to explain the appeal of an apparently immortal being who travels time and space in a box that's bigger inside than out? The only downside was the tendency to end up in gravel pits, which seems to have been corrected by BBC Wales. But for me the quintessential Doctor and loveliest companion will always be:

Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning as the Doctor and Jo Grant. Mr P was a brilliant comedy actor who featured in the Navy Lark (the longest running radio comedy series). For me his Edwardian dandy Doctor combined a sense of fun with a firm sense of morality. When the script was half decent, anyway.

Sherlock Holmes (1854-1914?)
Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone? Or, for that matter, Peter Cushing? Whoever plays the great consulting detective, millions tune in. Before CSI, CSI Miami and CSI Skegness, there was Holmes. It's ironic that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle didn't value his greatest fictional creation, preferring the silly Brigadier Gerard. But Conan Doyle believed in fairies, so what did he know? I didn't think of myself as a fan of the Holmes stories until I realised that I had a. read them all b. listened to most of them on audiobook and c. watched the entire Brett TV series. Which just goes to show that popular fiction can creep up on you.

Mr Spock (2230-2285-? 'The needs of the many...')
He has another name, but apparently humans can't pronounce it. He's Sherlock Holmes in space, of course. He's a kind of Noble Savage, too, thanks to his occasional outbursts of hormonal passion. Oh, that Vulcan blood. Play the fighty music! Yes I know it's all a bit silly, but Spock was by far the best character in the original Star Trek and his use of lahjic (or logic, as we say in England) was ahead of its time. American TV convention meant that he had to be wrong about emotional matters every other episode so Kirk could save the day, but we all know this is Hollywood psychotosh. In a smackdown between the Enterprise and a Klingon/Romulan/Skegnessian battlewagon, Spock's logic should by rights have always counted for more that Kirk's glory- and skirt-chasing. Looking forward to the film, anyway.

Commander Ed Straker (1940-?)
The hero as bastard. The Gerry Anderson series UFO was the first live action show he'd attempted, and still enjoys cult status. Much of the show's appeal lay in its whizzy shiny spaceships, submarines etc. But it was interesting dramatically because the boss of SHADO, the secret outfit warding off alien attack, was actually believable. Ed Straker was a ruthless workaholic whose undeniable intelligence and courage didn't make him a particularly nice guy. Ed Bishop (1932-2005), a native of Brooklyn, was superb in the role, but inevitably became typecast as a Brit sci-fi actor.

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