Tuesday, 22 May 2012

My Hero, Mr Benn

“As if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared!” Maybe they shouldn’t, but those words still thrill, and not because I’m a bargain-bagging-shop-till-you-dropper, but a 100%, card-carrying fan of the 1970s kids TV show, Mr Benn. For the uninitiated, shame on you, Mr Benn is a be-suited gentleman, in a bowler hat, who frequents a particularly unusual costume shop. Every episode he tries on a different costume, before heading out of the mysterious door in the changing room that leads to adventure. Naturally, the nature of the costume dictates the style of adventure, he tends to bring home with him a souvenir from his travels, and somehow, the people in “Festive Road”, where Mr Benn lives, will in some way be reflecting elements of his adventure when he returns home.

As a child, these 13 wonderful episodes represented the essential tool-kit for the perfect life. It all starts with dressing up, everything should. Then Mr Benn embarks upon an adventure, of which he will inevitably become the hero, albeit with a refreshing, affable humility.

I remember my dressing-up-box, a big wicker basket with collected costumes and assorted props. I would assemble a suitable ensemble, then, like Mr Benn, step out into adventure. That my door-to-the-great-unknown would always lead to the same back garden in deepest Dorset mattered little. It was all about the imaginary leap I made with Mr Benn, and the resulting hours I would spend as the unassuming protagonist, vanquishing villains and righting wrongs. Reading the stories to my own kids now, or forcing them to sit through the rudimentary animation that was such a part of my childhood, takes me straight back to simpler times.

Though he travelled through time and space, Mr Benn was careful to only influence the lives he intersected in a positive way. The shopkeeper would often pop up, towards the end of the story, offering sage advice to our hero. The fact that Mr Benn never bought or even rented any of the costumes seemed not to rile the bespectacled retailer at all. It may be that he was independently wealthy, or that the shop was purely a pet project, funded by the proceeds of having invented a very rare type of  sandwich, it was not clear. But what was evident was the subtle manner in which good would triumph, without the need for American accents, or heavy-handed moralising, just a comforting predictability.

Although I’m probably old enough to know better, I still can’t resist Mr Benn, a quintessential English gentleman, with a bowler hat full of admirable attributes. Like all good things in life, it lasts about the same time as a cup of tea, and is just as warm and reassuring.    

Saturday, 5 May 2012

George Michael - Simply Not a Guilty Pleasure

Musical tastes are so eclectic. I am so blooming hi-tech that I listen to a music mix on a Memory stick in my car. Album after album. On random. The Black Keys - The Specials - George Michael - Divine Comedy - Led Zeppelin might play and goddammit they all have equal value to me. I don't listen to George because he's so bad he's good. I don't listen to him because I need my cheese quota for the week. I don't listen to him out of some strange sense of nostalgia for the 80's. I listen to him because he's blooming brilliant. And so should you.