Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Remembering Skippy

If you are my sort of age then you may have watched the adventires of Skippy the Bush Kangeroo as a child. Apparently there was a kind of Skippy the next generation in the 1980s. However, I think that version was short lived and quickly forgotten. The 1960s Skippy was about a boy and his pet kangeroo who lived with his father (a park ranger) on a nature reserve in the Australian bush.
I got a nostalgic reminder of Skippy a few weeks ago when I was channel hopping (no pun intended) absent mindedly. One of the BBC channels was showing a Skippy documentry. I tuned in and was immedialty engrossed. They talked about how Skippy strange vocal clicking language was developed. Apparently real kangeroos don't make any kind of noise like this but they felt some sort of vocalisation was needed to imply that Skippy was communicating to and listening to humans interactions. Before shooting 'talking scenes' Skippy would be fed somethign which would require chewing and was then her 'voice' was dubbed on. Then they explained Skippy's amazing dexterity. Apparently a pair of kangeroo legs were used for close ups where Skippy apeared to be lifting or manipulating objects. Skippy did a fair bit of animal sleuthing and sometimes had to secrete important evidence in her pouch. Most amazing of all was a clip showing Skippy sitting in fronty of a set of drums- the artificial paws were manipulated in front of her to make it look like she was playing the drums.
The documetry did dig up some dirt on Skippy, however, -well on the pervy camera crew. Apparently during breaks in filming they would shoot up-skirt shots of the female guest stars. A compilation of this footage was shown sugggesting that did rather a lot of this.
The documentry went into some deep psychological and sociological territory. It was banned in some scandanavian countries because they thought that seeing animals with impossible levels of intelligence would be psychologically harmful for children.
For Australians Skippy was remarkable because it wasd the first Australian programme to be shown widely across the world and it showed the beauty of the Australian countryside to the worls with some excellent cinematography.
Germaine Greer considered the fact that the child companion of Skippy lived in completely adult domiated world at the ranger station and had no friends his own age to interact with. This experience was paralleled by the young actor who played him. There was also discussion of the the treatment of women in the show. Generally girls were the but of jokes, getting frightened by bush animals and not very competent.
Skippy did show some very progressive social credentials however, in relation to aboriginal people. At a time when Aboriginies were fighting for basic civil rights, they were portrayed realistically and sympathetically in a number of episides of Skippy. There were some positive messages about valuing diversity and equality between peoples.
No mention was made of what hapopened to the original Skippy though I understand that she was stuffed and can be seen in a Skippy museum somewhere. If you really want to experience the Skippy phenomenon first hand then it is available on a set of dvds packed with extras. Even I amn't nerdy enough to have them but they could be a good pouchfiller for someone you know.

Meeting David Hewson

We all have preconceptions about what our heroes will be like in real life. Sometimes they are just what we expect- Harlan Ellison was just as argumentative, opinionated and feisty as I imagined, Isaac Asimov had the gravitas which you expect from a distinguished scientist and author, Todd Rundgren was as fun to chat and chill out with as you would expect. David Hewson was another matter, however. If you are not familaiar with his work -they tend to be dark, violent, fast paced and sometimes gory novels set in historic tourist cities such as Rome, Venice and Madrid. Hewson clearly relishes his research. He spend weeks living in apartments in the centre of Rome or wherever his next novel is to be set, finding out about local life and local legends. We often recognise bars and places which he refers to because we also like chilling out in apartments in Rome and doing things off the beaten tourist trail. Hewsons novels resemble our holiday settings, apart from the brutal murder scenes of course- although we did see a motor cyclist knocked down by a car on one holiday- it took the ambulance 40 minutes to get to him. If this is how they deal with an emergency in downtown Rome I would not like to see the response to a deadly snakebite in the Tuscan countryside.
Anyway I am digressing. Hewson's novels are real page turners and once started they cannot be put down. When I went to see Hewson last month on a 'meet the public' event in Gateshead I expected hewson himself to be a dynamic, driven individual like hs characters. In person, however, he was rather dry, downbeat and a bit crusty. I got the impression that he was very ill at ease meeting his public. He did a bit of reading from his latest book and answered some questions from the audience. Most of the questions were rather ill inspired and I don't think the questioners had actually read any of his books. An example as 'Do you uase the internet for research?' Hewson's answer was equally uninspired, trotting out the usual cliche that you have to be careful about the validity of things on the internet. Just once I would like someone to say that you can't trust half of what is in mainstreamn books and newspapers and at least the internet levels the playing field for ordinary citizens to share their voice with the world. I managed to get a question in about his use of the pagan deity Mithras in one of his novels. poor Mithras had all his best bits stolen by Christianity and is all but forgotten now. There are some excellent Mithraia in Rome at San Clemente and Osita Anticca (the latter can bst be appreciated by scrambling over bits of ruins and descending into underground chambers- bring a torch out and watch that no custodians are on the look out
Hewson did tell an amusing anecdote about a writers convention which he attended in America. This involved meeting other writers (which he probably thought there were rather too many of )and the public and reading between the lines I think his US publisher probably twisted his arm behind his back to get him there.
What really disgusted Hewson, however, was an incident which took place in a lift at the convention. He got into a conversation with a woman in the lift who clained to be a writer. Hewson asked her what sort of stories she wrote and she said 'cat mysteries'. Hewson had apparently just about fallen over. However, his agent was later to tell him that apparently cats who solve crimes are becoming a very popular sub-genre especially in the USA.
When I met Hewson individually at the end I explained that the crime busting animal genre has antecedents such as DC comics' Detective Chimp. I don't think I succeded in raising his appreciation for the form as he ranted a bit more about how ridiculous the idea of crime solving moggies was.
Anyway I struck a blow for cat lovers everwhere. Wehn I asked DH to sign his books I got him to sign them to Liz and Jim and their super-sleuthing cats. I don't know if he saw the funny side or just thought we were cranks.
An interesting evening but lighten up a bit David!