Spooks Returns – when Harry met Elena…

Spooks Series 10 Web LogoSpooks returned for its tenth and final series last night. Showing on BBC 1, ITV had scheduled its Autumn heavy-weight contender, Downton Abbey, alongside it. But in the age of Personal Video Recorders such ratings-showdowns matter not to us the humble viewer. Well leaving aside that Big Brother was also airing on Channel 5 and Heston’s Mission Impossible on More 4!

The viewing figures reveal that it was the World War 1 costume drama and not the post Cold War spy drama that proved the most popular of the two, with twice as many Brits tuning into it.

Spooks is the British equivalent of the US 24 – or James Bond in a post-cold-war, post-9/11, al-Qaeda world.

Spooks - Max Witt

Max Witt – not long for this world

Except there is no Jack – Spooks is about the team not the individualist action hero of Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne or the prototype JB, James Bond.

The leading men always perish – Tom Quinn (Matthew McFadden), Adam Carter (Rupert Penry-Jones), Lucas North (Richard Armitage) – far more realistically I would think than the US world view where heroes always prosper, villains always get their comeuppance, eventually!

Having said that James Bond was unrealistically invulnerable – but with Spooks we have grown up. Though perhaps our Jack Bauer equivalent is Harry Pearce, played by Peter Firth, the MI5 Section head? And as Spooks is about to meet its mortal end destined for a Telly heaven of re-runs on UK Gold or Dave – though just how many re-runs before that TV heaven becomes Celluloid Purgatory then Telly Hell?! – can we assume for Harry Pearce the assassin’s bullet finally catches up with him?

Spooks - Erin Watts

New Chief Spook Erin Watts

I wrote leading men but Spooks has given us leading women too, Ros Myers (Hermione Norris), Zoe Reynolds (Keeley Hawes), and does so again in series 10.

This time with Erin Watts the successor/rival of Harry Pearce – Erin Watts is played by Lara Pulver – who you may recall from True Blood and alongside fellow ex-spook Richard Armitage in the BBC’s Robin Hood. She is the new acting head of Section and was its MI5 Chief while Harry was on enforced sick-leave during his ’employment tribunal’ (he comments that for one dark moment during it he had considered taking up gardening!).

Erin Watts as Lara Croft when Lara Croft has to resist going it alone and act as a team-player – if its leader.

Spooks - Harry Pearce

Harry Pearce

In the opening episode it is all about Harry – and has the veteran of his team and the service it is in his Cold War past that skeletons start to do more than rattle. Harry is still supported by his wax-and-wane love interest Ruth Evershed, played by Nicola Walker, and in this episode it is not just former enemies that resurface – Ruth finds herself face-to-face with a former asset of Harry, Elena Gavrik, played by Alice Krige, – a former asset and so much more. I think you can probably guess how much more?!

A former spy and colleague of Harry, Max Witt, is found murdered and had also been trying to set up a meeting between them. Harry and his team must find out why. Alongside this the UK is now to set upon a political and diplomatic course to make a friend of a former foe, Russia, and is this what Max was trying to warn Harry about?

SpooksLike 24, technology of the bleeding-edge variety is never too far out of view – this episode sees them all sporting iPads if naturally kitted out with highly encrypted spyware – authorized spy-ware! I recall in a previous series, as a rival to fingerprint and iris recognition, blood-vessel recognition – or was that an episode of Hustle?!  In this episode the body recognition software is about how we walk-the-walk rather than talk-the-talk. We all apparently walk in a unique way – our height and weight and its distribution – such that no matter how we disguise our face our gait gives us away. I do not know whether this technology is science fact or fiction. I rather like the thought that it is but the product of the Spooks’ script-writers’ imagination and the various intelligence services of other governments watching Spooks are then sent scrambling to investigate its veracity and or plausibility!

Spooks Elena Gavrik

There’s something about Elena…

I hope that Spooks is not being decommissioned due to Harry Pearce meeting his demise – that is back to James Bond logic – the service is greater than any one man or woman – a show about spies has endless plot-lines and machinations.

Previous threats to our green-and-pleasant-land and democratic-life and everything-we-hold-dear have included inevitably al-Qaeda home-grown and abroad, the re-emerging Chinese Economic and Military Super Power, and post Cold War Russia and its many ex-Soviet Satellite States be they of a European or Asian leaning persuasion.

In this series as noted the UK are making – or having to make – a choice to go it alone or find new allies in a post special-relationship world where the USA have become more isolationist – so an alliance with an old-enemy (an old Country has many old enemies!) Russia is posited. No European Union of spies entertained by the Spooks script-writers then?!

We are always living in interesting times. Currently we have the Arab Spring and WikiLeaks and information spun and information overload and global financial melt-down and possible end of free-market-capitalism with ever more wealth going to ever fewer people – though as the Fiona Bruce hosted The Queen’s Palaces currently showing on BBC 1 reminds us 95% of the wealth with 5% of the people was ever thus – with high finance and big global corporations in bed with governments and media – (News International an evil empire right there!), the terrible appropriation of confusing party political interest and ambition with national security – a new Orwellian night-mare…where is a spook to begin!

Truth is giving fiction a good pasting these days – you could not make it up as the saying goes. Fiction has to work that much harder to avoid looking like a dry documentary if suffused with poetry!

Spooks has been one of the best shows at giving reality a good run for its proverbial money – I will be sad watching its demise.

In the meantime, will Harry save us? Ruth? Erin? All spooks as one save us? And, of course, save us from what?

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement – New London Exhibition

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement - Website Logo

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement - The Rehearsal

The Rehearsal c 1874

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement is a new exhibition at The Royal Academy of Arts running to December 11.

In the museum’s words the exhibition ‘focuses on Edgar Degas’s preoccupation with movement as an artist of the dance’. The exhibition sets out to trace the development of the French artist’s ballet imagery throughout his career, from the documentary mode of the early 1870s to the sensuous expressiveness of his final years. (the first decades of the 20th Century).

A video on their website explains further what is hoped for the exhibition. Its presenter and co-curator Ann Dumas describes a perception of Degas as a ‘chocolate box artist’. What is usually implied by that is that the artist, or the art at least, is saccharine and sentimental – though Monet now is a staple of them and their kin the calendar – how many decades before the common conservative palette blinks not an eye at a Kandinsky or a Pollack on a chocolate box?! Conservatism is always behind liberalism – it used to be centuries in its footsteps now with the faster flow of freedom and information merely decades behind.

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement Women Dancing

Edweard Muybridge Women Dancing 1884-6

The exhibition she explains sets out to challenge that perception and to ask why his fascination with the dance. Their answer that he was obsessed with exploring the human figure in movement – both in context of the contemporary photography and the birth of the moving image in film with fellow Frenchmen the Lumière Brothers and of his own drawings, paintings and sculptures.

And then to the particular question, if an interest in the human body in movement why the ballet dancer and not a sporting figure for example. Their answer that he lived in the heart of Paris and ballet and opera were accessible to him and that ballet movement in particular was of a very sophisticated and complex movement.

It should be noted that he painted race-horses too though over half his paintings were of dancers.

He was called a proto-Impressionist – but rejected this describing himself as a realist.

For myself I have never considered Degas sentimental despite misappropriation by the nostalgia industry and if I should be in London in the coming months I will be making a bee-line to see this RAA exhibition.

Kylie Jenner modelling Abbey Dawn – too young to strut?

Abbey Dawn 2010 Avril LavigneShould Kylie Jenner at 14 years of age have been making her runway debut for Avril Lavigne’s Abbey Dawn? This question currently seems to be exercising some sections of the media and web.

And their concerns are not about the nepotism involved – that Kylie is the younger sister of Avril’s boyfriend Brody Jenner. No it is her age. She is too young they feel. Is she?

Not too young to have an interest in fashion? Girls have a love of fashion before they have a love of boys?! Wanting to dress up and strut yourself on the runway for most boys a nightmare, for most girls a dream.

Perhaps she being fourteen years old there could be accusations of exploitation but I would hardly think so – she is going to get much more out of it from Abbey Dawn and New York Fashion Week than they will be getting from her – the kudos count is all in her favour.

Abbey Dawn 2010 Avril LavigneIf she were modelling Victoria’s Secret or a more provocative adult collection then I would share their concern.

Abbey Dawn though is young fashion and going by the 2010 collection of Hoodies, t-shirts and jeans not something to cause a parent any prudish concern for their young beloveds.

Perhaps the more pertinent question to be asked is whether Avril Lavigne should be showing at New York Fashion Week? Has she gotten a free-pass purely because of her celebrity status? Would an unknown up and coming designer have got themselves a slot at Style 360 in the Metropolitan Pavilion, Chelsea, Manhattan with the styles to be found in Abbey Dawn? Was the greatest credential for Avril Lavigne showing there her name Avril Lavigne?

I am a big fan of Avril Lavigne and her music – well at least up to her third 2007 album Best Damn Thing – her fourth, this year’s Goodbye Lullaby, is more Avril-by-numbers – one for us fans only not likely to get too many new fans onboard.

Abbey Dawn 2010 Avril Lavigne

Just because you like Fashion does not mean you can do Fashion.

It is all part of the celebrityville – you are not a great rock star or actor or writer or fashion designer you are a celebrity – and singing, acting, writing, designing are all just celebrity activities one and the same to you!

But then so goes our celebrity culture. We watch programs about ballroom dancing and surviving on desert islands that we may not otherwise watch if there was not a celebrity waltzing across the dance-floor or strolling across the beach in a swimsuit…is that then what lies ahead for future fashion weeks, more and more ‘big-names’ from music and Hollywood, less and less high couture names?

As if Rodarte, Alice + Olivia or Oscar De La Renta were not enough for us!

And please don’t misunderstand me – I like Avril Lavigne’s Abbey Dawn range and is why I have peppered this post with photographs from her collection of last year.

But worthy of New York Fashion Week?Abbey Dawn 2010 Avril Lavigne

Who Do You Think You Are? – Emilia Fox

Who Do You Think You Are? - Emilia Fox

Emilia Fox

Who Does Emilia Fox Think She Is? – so asks the fifth episode of the eighth series of the BBC celebrity genealogy program Who Do You Think You Are?

Emilia Fox is best known to British television viewers for her role of hard-working brooding forensic pathologist Dr Nikki Alexander in Silent Witness filling the equally hard-working brooding footsteps of her predecessor Sam Ryan, played by Amanda Burton. The long-running Silent Witness being the UK equivalent of the USA CSI franchise. Emilia Fox can also be seen currently on commercial telly, alongside Philip Glenister, as the perhaps unlikely replacement for Gordon Ramsay as the face of Gordon’s Gin.

Emilia Fox comes from a very actor-filled family – James Fox is her uncle. Both her father, Edward, and her mother, Joanna David, are actors too, as are cousins Lydia and Lawrence. And cousin Lawrence married actor Billie Piper – to deepen further this Thespian gene-pool!

The program starts with research of her grandfather Robin Fox, a theatre agent.

Who Do You Think You Are? - Hilda and Lily Hanbury

Hilda and Lily Hanbury

She herself had not been aware that her grandmother Hilda Hanbury had also been an actor. It transpires her grandmother had a younger sister Lily also an actor – she then discovers many of their cousins were actors too.

Further that these cousins were connected by marriage to the greatest acting family of its time the Terry’s – Ellen Terry  being the Judi Dench of the Victorian era.

For sister Lily tragedy was waiting. Having migrated to USA with star-struck hopes of becoming a famous stage actor she quickly found herself doing bit parts and overshadowed by her older sister. She died prematurely following the still-born death of her son. Even more poignant as at the time of making this program Emilia Fox was herself pregnant.

As a researcher of my own family tree, one of its great pleasures is discovering old family photos. Emilia Fox was to have a far grander experience of this discovering that her great great grandfather Samson Fox had both a bust in the Royal College of Music and a grand painting in Armley Mills Industrial Museum.

Who Do You Think You Are? Samson Fox

Samson Fox

The story of Samson Fox was not just great British social history but a great personal tale of rags to riches and near ruinous return to rags – but happily not quite.

Samson Fox came from Bradford, the son of a mill manager. Like the Biblical Samson he also sported a great mane of hair and beard. He joined a Leeds textile mill when just eight years old as an apprentice engineer and ascended quickly through the ranks to manager then founder of the Leeds Forge Company. His Victorian Dragons Den breakthrough invention and business idea was the corrugated flue which transformed flues from a fragile unreliable boiler component to a robust component in shipping, locomotives and other industrial functions. He had the patent and it was globally deployed.

Who Do You Think You Are? - Corrugated Flue

Corrugated Flue

With his great wealth came great philanthropy if not great leisure – he was a workaholic and had built a  laboratory into the basement of his home Grove House. The Royal College of Music that splendid building located in Kensington London – he bequeathed it to the nation! A gift to the King of the time Edward Prince of Wales. It was noted that such a gift should routinely result in a later knighthood but he never became Sir Samson Fox and the program then set out to fathom why this was.

Samson Fox was not a man to rest on his laurels. Despite his great wealth and at an age where many would have retired to a life of hard earned leisure and contentment he had moved on to another project, Water Gas.

This was an industrial technology able to provide a new energy source to both domestic and commercial buildings more efficiently and effectively than the then current coal gas. His problem was the network infrastructure to supply to homes and factories was courtesy of the very companies who provided the Coal Gas.

There also had been a fatal accident to two of his employees working with Water Gas in his factory. He needed access to this network infrastructure to save this business but the status quo coal gas companies grouped together to lobby the government in an early example of regulatory capture to prevent him entering this energy arena – they succeeded.

And their success was his downfall – much of the funding for the project came from the public invested in it through shares based on his hitherto successful business reputation. Doubts set in then panic and then its stock price crashed with huge losses for investors and Samson himself. He died with this energy source never utilized though did still oversee another great public project, the Royal Hall in Harrogate.

More sad still because his idea was vindicated in the 1920’s – Water Gas was found to be safe and reliable and became a core component of industrial use up until the 1960’s. A happy ending if one he never lived to see.

Perhaps he should be granted a posthumous knighthood from the current Queen?

Another fascinating and informative social history of Britain as well as inspiring and emotionally engaging human drama.

Who Do You Think You Are? - Emilia Fox Royal College Music Archives

The Royal College of Music archives

Sandhya Garg – a party of bold colours


Sandhya Garg Kathputli Look 1

Kathputli Look 1

Sandhya Garg is another alumni of the London College of Fashion, specifically a BA Honours Degree Graduate in Fashion Design Technology Womenswear.

Her Graduation collection along with its development work and illustrations are available to view on the University of the Arts London Showtime website.

Sandhya Garg

I do not know much about Sandhya Garg – I sought her on Google and Facebook and could not find her here, I sought her on Twitter and LinkedIn but could not find her there!

I only have to go on what she says about her collection on the Showtime page. Her training was at the Alexander McQueen Design Studio and Alice Temperley.

Sandhya Garg Nina De York 2011 Finalist Illustration

Nina De York 2011 Finalist Illustration

Sandhya Garg Kathputli Look 6

Kathputli Look 6

She describes the use of vintage techniques to hand-craft her final collection, in particular the hand-crafts of India. Going on to say that these intricate crafted techniques are then juxtaposed with blocks of bold primary colour.

The tags she uses for her collection are interesting and as insightful as her prose desription – these included hand-made crochet lace, vintage silk draw-strings, turban twist jacket, crystals, transfer print and pagri construction.

I posted yesterday about Mary Katrantzou and her bold statement ready to wear courtesy of creative print designs. Sandhya Garg has also produced a bold statement ready to wear collection – this time with colour.

As noted I do not have any more information about her but hey a picture speaks a thousand words and here come a mess of them!

The photography is by Vikram Kushwah, the model is Nimisha Desai.

Sandhya Garg Drawstring Detail

Drawstring Detail

Mary Katrantzou – seeing is disbelieving

Mary Katrantzou Model Kristy Kaurova

Model Kristy Kaurova

Mary Katrantzou Model Renee Germaine van Seggem

Model Renee Germaine van Seggem

I have blogged before about Fashion as Art which I consider it is – the Haute Couture of Alexander McQueen and Rodarte being but two obvious examples. I had never considered the cross-over of fashion and architecture.

Certainly fashion can be architectural in terms of its structure, but Greek Fashion Designer Mary Katrantzou utilizes interior and exterior décor for the actual design prints of her collections.

She has been showing collections since 2009 and not Haute Couture either but Ready To Wear – if perhaps a brave Ready to Wear with for example her Spring 2011 collection being about ‘the room on the woman’ rather than ‘the woman in the room’! This collection took its inspiration from back-copies of Architectural Digest and World of Interiors where images from them were laid over exquisitely fitted silhouettes.

She gives as her design heroes Coco Chanel, Miuccia Prada and Balenciaga, however even this illustrious triumvirate of design genius won’t prepare you for her own creative collections.

You can see the collection on the London Fashion Week website if in a disappointing grainy stream rather than High Def Video. The clothes are modelled on the runway to the sound of the ‘Polonaise’ by Japanese musician and composer Shigeru Umebayashi – you might know him from film scores such as House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower – his music adding to the exotic things-not-being-quite-what-they seem feel of it all.

Mary Katrantzou Model Ming Xii

Model Ming Xi

The pictures in this post are taken from her Spring 2011 collection – each collection though is worth checking out in great detail as a pure visual and creative feast. And of the collection featured here, with 26 pieces in all, the difficulty was what to leave out – you can see the entire collection though on Style.

Mary Katrantzou Model Karolina Mikolajczyk

Model Karolina Mikolajczyk

Some of her designs play visual tricks on the eye – a model is wearing a necklace but is it a plain necklace with the brass fixtures part of the print on on her top, or is the brass fixture her actual necklace – 2D or 3D that is the question!

The prints themselves may run the entire length of the dress or be two different prints, one for the bodice area, one for the skirt area. I could provide descriptions but these though are pieces best seen for yourselves to make your own mind up about what it is you are seeing, what it is you think you are seeing.

On the London Fashion Week site there is a profile q&a with her – currently she has no website – or rather one under construction (and which you can download a pressbook which is well worth doing so presenting as it does her work to date in the printed fashion press in pictures and words) – and on the question of what is next for her brand she answers ‘a new website’.

I cannot wait for what is sure to be a website not quite what it seems.

Mary Katrantzou Model Olga Cerpeta

Model Olga Cerpeta

Mary Katrantzou Model Charlotte Wiggins

Model Charlotte Wiggins