No bulldozing my memories of Allied Colloids

The bulldozers and wrecking balls were recently unleashed in Low Moor, Bradford to bring down two local landmarks in the place where I grew up.

I left school at 16 in 1982, started work two weeks later at a local chemical factory, Allied Colloids as it was back then, just round the corner from where I lived.

I loved it. I got to spend the first two weeks in an induction course in an actual chemical laboratory with other wet behind the ears school leavers learning all about the company, its products, ‘elf n safety, the lot. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have had such a gentle introduction to the world of real work.

It was a really exciting time and a great company to work for. They provided free day release further education for all their employees (luncheon vouchers included), had a brilliant subsidised staff canteen (so good I used it every day instead of doing the less than 5 minute walk home) and a thriving sports & social club with loads of activities always going on. I remember being cajoled by colleagues into taking part in an ‘It’s A Knockout’ style event and discovering a real competitive streak that had evaded me all my schooldays, when I was just the one who got picked last for everything and had two left feet (apart from the time I scored a goal in 5-a-side, but that’s another story).

I also got a free pair of steel toecapped shoes (in case anything heavy fell on you while out on the plant area) a pair of white lab coats and various spatulas and other chemistry related accoutrements, dispatched on the production of a signed ‘chitty’ by Arthur the storeman, that made me feel all grown up and a ‘proper’ member of staff from day one, not just a new kid straight outta school.

After the induction, we newbies were all assigned to various different parts of the business (it was a huge plant that dominates a big chunk of Low Moor in Bradford where I grew up) and I ended up in what was known as the Intermediate Lab, where products were quality tested as they came off the plant production lines. It was quite a young workforce overall, with a few older heads to lead the way, and the people I worked with were fantastic. Friendly, welcoming, helpful. Honestly, I could not have asked for a better bunch of workmates.

On a daily basis, I was running tests and procedures, using the full gamut of lab based gizmos: bunsen burners, fume cupboards, test tubes, litmus papers, even got to wear a gas mask every now and then. Also got to go out of the lab onto the plant and collect product samples from the huge chemical vats they were stored in, coming into contact with the guys who worked out there and the, shall we say, more industrial language they used was a real eye and ear opener for me. What larks!

They even paid me to have all this fun. One of the foremen from the plant, Sid was his name, would come round on a Friday afternoon with paypackets to sign for, containing a payslip and actual cash money. My weekly wage was £44.45. It seemed like a fortune to me.

If you ever used a fabric softener or a wallpaper paste back in the early 1980s, there’s a fair chance I or one of my colleagues in the lab quality tested it before it made it onto the supermarket shelves, as that was the line of business ‘Colloids’ (as everyone called it) was in. They also made stuff for industrial use in oilfields and the like.

Why did I ever leave?

There are days when I still ask myself that question… but really it was for health reasons. Me and some of the chemicals in use there didn’t get on very well.

The plant is still there, but the name Allied Colloids is long gone. And now, more recently, so are the laboratory buildings that have formed a part of the Low Moor skyline on Cleckheaton Road for almost my entire life and where I took my first tentative teenage steps into the world of work.

It was strange to see them slowly disappear from the familiar local landscape, a little bit more gone every time I drove past, a much loved part of my own personal history being erased brick by brick.

I have no idea if it is still as good a place to work as it was when I was there all those years ago, but I hope it is. I couldn’t have asked for a better first job.

Sent to Coventry … again

It’s a measure of the distances you have to cover as a Rugby League fan in Betfred League 1 that a two-hour drive down the M1 almost feels like a short hop. I was only in Coventry the weekend before for the Rufus Wainwright gig at the Cathedral, so I thought I knew what to expect from this particular journey. But that was without reckoning for an accident on the motorway chucking a sizeable spanner in the works.

So, just about the time I was expecting to arrive at the Butts Park Arena, I was driving round Uttoxeter of all places following an ever more random set of redirections from my satnav which was desperately trying to get me to the ground on time.

Thankfully, I made it with about 15 minutes to spare and was able to pay my admission money, buy a match programme and park up inside the ground without even leaving my car. Impressive service!

Once inside, there was a lot of activity around the place. It was clear the hosts had made a lot of effort in advance of this game to promote the visit of the Bulls, the pre-match promotion dubbing it the Battle of the Beasts, and to make sure everyone who turned up would have a memorable visit.

I tip my hat to them and their passion for the game which burns as brightly as anywhere else in the Rugby League community.

The Bears are celebrating their 20th year of existence and although the club is not having the easiest time on the field in League 1, they live within their means which seems to be more than some of their arguably more illustrious rivals can boast.

Indeed, it’s an ongoing concern of mine that, for all the fun of watching a winning Bradford team currently topping the competition, the Bulls themselves are not over extending themselves financially (again) in an attempt to get promoted at the first attempt. Fingers crossed on that one.

It was another swelteringly hot day, so I was relieved to see the main stand was providing some decent shelter from the sun’s rays, meaning I didn’t have to lather up with sun cream before venturing out to watch the match. For a ginger like me, this is no small concern, let me tell you. I’d be interested to know what sunblock fellow ginger James Laithwaite uses when he has to get out on the pitch in these conditions without burning to a crisp. Must be good stuff.

Once the game got underway, there was some degree of frustration amongst the sizeable travelling army of Bulls fans that the points avalanche they seemed to be expecting was not materialising. In fact, Coventry opened the scoring themselves, and were putting in plenty of decent moves with the ball in hand, as well as taking advantage of the extra possession the Bulls kept gifting them with a series of handling errors.

I guess the ball must have been pretty hot, but the Bulls did look generally off the boil in the first half, which nevertheless ended 16-6 to the visitors.

It was a different story in the second half, with Bradford piling on a further 16 points in a red hot 8 minute burst straight after the kick off in which the Bears barely touched the ball at all.

If there’s anyone out there who doubts the level of entertainment you get at this level of Rugby League, have a look at the third try of the second half, eventually scored by Elliott Minchella but only after the ball had travelled from one end of the pitch to the other in one set, and passed through at least seven pairs of hands before a kick through on the final tackle. Sure, you can argue all day that against stronger opposition such a move would never happen, but sometimes, you should just allow yourself to sit back and enjoy what you’re watching. Just imagine that – going to a Rugby League match to enjoy yourself instead of finding fault in every aspect of it. Who knows, it may catch on one day!

By this stage, the game had been put out of reach, but Coventry weren’t throwing the towel in either in front of a fully deserved record crowd for the Bears at Butts Park. They got on the scoresheet again, but the Bulls intermittently kept showing their abilities and posting a steady series of points at the other end before the banks really burst in the final five minutes when they finished the half as they had started it with a dazzling quickfire consecutive three try burst.

I almost managed to catch one of them on camera, but Sam Hallas was too quick for me in the end…

The final scoreline of 62-12 to Bradford hardly does justice to the effort the Bears put into this game, and fittingly both sides were treated to a rousing reception in front of the main stand as they left the field.

Bradford will have to play better than this if they are going to fulfil their ultimate ambition of achieving promotion as League 1 Champions this season – stronger sides will be quicker to punish the kind of errors they served up aplenty particularly in the first half and also won’t run out of steam to allow amends to be made towards the end either.

But that’s for another day.

For now, thanks to Coventry Bears for putting on a great event and congratulations on achieving a new record attendance. As a firm supporter of Rugby League expansion, I’d love to see the Bears continue to develop and grow over the next 20 years and hope that whatever structure emerges from the current spat between Super League and the rest of the sport, there will always be a meaningful place in it for enthusiastic, hard-working pioneer clubs like this.

Match Report & Stats from Official Bradford Bulls website

Watch full match coverage via Proper Sports

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Rufus Wainwright at Coventry Cathedral

I’ve been fortunate enough to see Rufus Wainwright play live many times over the years in many different places, from a sparsely populated Lowry Centre in Salford with his mum and aunt (Kate and Anna McGarrigle) before he became properly famous, to the opulence of a packed London Palladium during his Judy Garland phase. Sometimes with a band, sometimes solo, occasionally – as at the Palladium – with a full symphony orchestra.

But never anywhere or anything like this: Coventry Cathedral and the voice of Rufus Wainwright, on this evidence, are a match made in Heaven.

Having already completed a set opening for Kris Kristofferson at Kenwood House the same evening and arriving in Coventry by helicopter – a mode of transport more suited to a rock star than Rufus Wainwright – the event already had an unusual air about it.

Even more unusual to see the headline act being introduced to the audience by the Dean of Coventry Cathedral. One could only wonder what the holy gentleman would make of some of the lyrics he was about to hear. At least he pronounced the headliner’s name right, unlike he had with the support act Nerina Pallot, who would later gently mention during her set that the ‘t’ is silent.

Any fears that Rufus might be worn out by his earlier performance were quickly dispelled. That incredible voice sounded as strong as ever, already warmed up enough to tackle the long note at the end of ‘Vibrate’ as early as second song in.

Performing solo, alternating between piano and acoustic guitar, you hear the songs in their purest – and arguably their best – form.

A selection of new material peppered the more familiar favourites but there was no shuffling to the toilets during these moments. Partly because the temporary event toilets were outside the building – Cathedrals aren’t built with such earthly concerns in mind. Neither are Rufus sets. The new songs sit effortlessly alongside the older material. Who could resist introductions like ‘this is an upbeat song about marriage… and death’. It just leaves you looking forward to their eventual release on record (I know, other formats are available).

The big question was, would he do ‘that song’ here of all places? You know, that song.

Well, yes he did. Of course he did. ‘Gay Messiah’ was preceded by an amusing tale of the infamy it earned him while performing in Italy, and then interrupted half way through by a pause and a glance back towards the enormous mural of Jesus painted on the wall behind the impromptu stage area as we were reminded, “It’s not about him!”

That may have been for the benefit of the Dean, if he wasn’t already outside protesting about the concert he had himself just recently introduced.

Taking advantage of the venue and testing its acoustics to the full, Rufus treated us to a stunning, completely acapella version of ‘Candles’, no accompaniment, no amplification, just note perfect from beginning to end.

Finishing the regular set with ‘Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk’ to a deserved standing ovation, the encore began with a hauntingly pure version of ‘Going To A Town’ – written and released over a decade ago as a protest aimed at a previous US President but finding new impetus as a rallying cry against the American nightmare that is Donald Trump.

The second Leonard Cohen cover of the night, ‘Hallelujah’ followed (the first Cohen number having being a memorable ‘So Long, Marianne’ in the main set) before this extraordinary concert wrapped with the iconic ‘Poses’, and the promise of a 20th anniversary tour in 2019.

 

Hereditary: Don’t lose your head over this scary movie

I’ll start with a confession. I don’t like horror films. Not because they frighten me, but because generally they don’t. So, my judgement on this one may be a little flawed as I haven’t got many terms of reference to compare it to.

I was persuaded to go see it by the hype that surrounded its release, the glowing critical reviews, a friend who also wanted to see it and, of course, the obligatory Cineworld Unlimited card which means it’s easier to take a risk on seeing something you might not otherwise choose to part with a ten pound note at the box office for.

Unfortunately, watching Hereditary hasn’t changed my opinion of horror films.

I found it very slow paced, almost glacial in places, waiting for something to happen. Not necessarily something frightening, just anything at all. The scares are few and far between, and when they do materialise, they didn’t have me jumping out of my seat in shock.

The only scene I found truly unsettling, without giving too much of a spoiler, concerns one of the central characters losing their head in what appears to be an unfortunate accident. But the dread it leaves you with stems from the impact of that loss on the rest of the family and has nothing to do with the threat which is supposedly driving the main plot.

My main gripe would be that this could have been a fine film on the consequence of loss and the impact of mental trauma on an otherwise stable family unit, because the performances of the cast in this regard are excellent. That’s not likely to be box office gold though, I’ll admit.

I wouldn’t describe any of the characters as likeable, but they are believable – except they never think to put a light on when hearing bumps in the night or waking from a nightmare, as any person not playing a character in a horror film would surely do.

The supernatural element didn’t work for me at all. You either fall for this stuff or you don’t, and I’m a complete sceptic when it comes to ouija boards, communing with spirits, summoning the dead and all that, so the whole thing just tumbled towards ridiculousness at the end. I was stifling a giggle at the point I should presumably have been trembling in fear.

The recent British horror, Ghost Stories, was so much better, perhaps because the mundane surroundings were more familiar or because the central character in that film is a sceptic like me, who sets out to disprove a series of psychic events rather than accept them at face value.

I won’t reveal what happens to him in the end, but suffice to say it is a far more satisfying and believable conclusion than you’ll find in this load of old nonsense.

Raiders of the Lost Cause?

Bradford Bulls 124 v West Wales Raiders 0

This match, or shall we call it what it really was, an exhibition, took place a week after York City Knights had rewritten the record books by inflicting a 144-0 defeat on West Wales Raiders. The only matter of interest for anyone who attended was whether Bradford Bulls would set their stall out and aim to beat that record themselves.

There were incentives for Bradford in doing so, beyond records, with York being League 1 promotion rivals and having boosted their points difference to a position that prevented the Bulls, winners of last week’s ‘top of the table’ clash against Doncaster from actually going top of the table.

With the sun making a rare Odsal appearance and the temperature pushing into the mid-twenties Celsius, the heat might have been the only major obstacle in their way, though they kept the scoreboard ticking along in the first half, matching York’s record-setting pace by half-time with the scoreline at 60-0.

Any doubts that the players didn’t have the record in their minds could be set aside by the numerous glances they kept taking at the scoreboard themselves after each try-scoring foray over the West Wales line.

What can a coach possibly say to their players halfway through a match with a scoreline looking like that?

Aside from brief moments of West Wales possession, and even a couple of occasions when they troubled the Bulls in defence near their own line, this was purely one way traffic.

Kick-off. Try. Conversion. Restart. Repeat for 80 minutes.

The only time boos rang out from the home crowd they were in jest as Dane Chisholm missed a solitary conversion in an otherwise faultless display of goal kicking, including several landed from the sidelines.

Child-powered scoreboard at Odsal

In the end, some time-consuming fumbling at the start of each half cost the Bulls their chance of eclipsing York’s record, but they did become the first Bradford side to notch up a triple figure score at Odsal, which caused the children hauling the numbers up and down off the hooks on the manual scoreboard some consternation. They solved the puzzle of how to cope without a third hook by hoisting the number ‘1’ aloft themselves and holding it there for the duration.

Ten out of ten for problem-solving skills, but how this fits in with child labour laws I guess we’ll never know.

The West Wales Raiders players deserve some credit. It’s not their fault they are out of their depth. They were brave enough to pull on a shirt and go out on the field, knowing in advance there would be little reward for their efforts other than being on the receiving end of yet another drubbing. That takes courage. And they stuck to their task regardless, even managing to force a goal line drop out from the Bulls with just two minutes remaining in the game and the scoreboard already well into triple figures against them.

That they allowed themselves to be caught out by a short kick from under the posts by Bradford, who regathered the ball and went the length of the field to score another try just summed up the gulf between the two sides. For West Wales, it was always going to be that sort of afternoon, and there was some acknowledgement of that from the Bulls fans who gave each and every one of the Raiders players a rousing ovation as they trudged off the field at the final whistle.

The Bulls rewrote their own record books today – (if we set aside any argument that this club is the same one that set the old records, given the number of times it has been out of business and reformed over the years) – and if there is any consolation whatsoever to be taken from this latest shellacking for West Wales, it is that Bradford’s previous record score was set ten years previous against Toulouse, who are now sitting pretty near the top of a division above the Bulls and with realistic ambitions of achieving promotion to Super League.

As someone who has always believed that Rugby League should expand its boundaries, I hope West Wales Raiders will still be around in ten years time, and that somehow, they will have moved forward from the travails of their debut season of 2018.

However, I would also hope that in that time, those charged with the responsibility of running the sport in this country will have learned that days like this don’t benefit Rugby League and that if you want to encourage people to play and watch it in new areas, you cannot just give a club a place in the league and then leave it to sink or swim on its own.

We’re seeing in Bradford, a big city with a long and proud Rugby League history, that rebuilding a club from the bottom up takes time, effort and money and there is no guarantee of success at the end.

Expecting a new club in South Wales to be competitive from day one with no outside help is just wishful thinking. If defeats like this become the norm (unlike the aforementioned Toulouse for which theirs was an exception) how long before everyone keeping the club alive just decide it isn’t worth it and walk away?

Match Report & Stats from Official Bradford Bulls website

 

Threads on DVD – Do have nightmares!

Whilst browsing through a recent edition of Empire magazine, I came across a review for a DVD release of a programme I haven’t seen in over thirty years since its original broadcast, but which is still seared into my brain all these decades later and capable of making my blood run cold at the memory of it.

I’m talking about Threads, a BBC television drama depicting what the impact of a nuclear war would be on the United Kingdom, and in particular on Sheffield, the South Yorkshire city barely and hour’s drive from my home town of Bradford.

Perhaps that’s why it had such a chilling effect on me. This wasn’t some glossy, special effects laden disaster movie starring a Hollywood legend or two set in a place far, far away, and it sure as hell didn’t have a happy ending either.

Instead, it portrayed the lives of down to earth, ordinary people, who talked (a bit) like me, and lived in streets (a bit) like mine.

The characters were instantly identifiable, not by the fame of the actors who played them, as there weren’t any famous faces in it, they were like the people I knew and was in the midst of growing up around.

I was still an impressionable teenager at the time, I was 18 in 1984 when this programme was shown, and the East/West tensions and prospects of nuclear war seemed much more real than they have for a long time since (until perhaps more recently, as history has a habit of repeating itself). The feared Soviet Union was still in existence and the USA had President Ronald Reagan at its helm, an ageing former movie star who wasn’t averse to a bit of sabre-rattling, having referred to the USSR as the ‘evil empire’ and embarked on a program of building up America’s nuclear arsenal.

So the scene was well and truly set for a drama which began by showing us these normal, everyday folk, going about their normal, everyday lives, just like us, with the sights and sounds of TV and radio news bulletins recounting the escalation of hostilities in lands far away to a generally distracted populace.

I can recall the mundanity of it. That’s not a criticism of the drama, it is a mark its realism.

It could never actually happen, could it? Common sense would always prevail in the end. That’s what used to go through our heads back then, quite frequently too, in order to persuade ourselves that although the super powers definitely possessed the means to inflict a global nuclear armageddon on us all, they’d never be so insane as to push the button and kill us all.

But in Threads, the button is pressed, the balloon does go up, and the mushroom clouds start to appear over some very recognisable British skylines, and we as an audience (some 6.9 million watched this on BBC Two on 23 September 1984 at 9:30 pm) sat gripped in horror, watching what happens next.

The makeshift shelters, doors taken off hinges and propped up against internal walls and covered with bedding and blankets (sounds ridiculous I know, but this was the kind of information that appeared in the genuine ‘Protect & Survive‘ government information campaign literature), proved hopelessly – and unsurprisingly – inadequate to the explosion of a nuclear bomb, and the catastrophe unfolds slowly and unflinchingly in its horror as death, disease, civil disorder, hopelessness and despair ensue.

There is absolutely no let up in the narrative. No salvation, no resolution, not even the faintest glimmer of hope. The threads of our society and of our humanity are blasted apart and they may never come together again.

It was one of the most uncomfortable, yet compelling pieces of television I have ever sat through. I remember vividly wanting it to stop, to be able to get up off the sofa, to walk away from the screen, have a cup of tea, anything to return to the comforting normality that was all around me, but it was impossible. I just could not move, I could not take my eyes off it. When the final credits did roll, even then I could barely move. I felt numbed by the experience.

It is an utterly brilliant piece of television. Once seen, never forgotten, but I know, even thirty years on, I could never sit through it again.

More on Threads on IMDB.com

Watch it – if you dare – click here to buy it on DVD from Amazon.

 

Kear We Go!

So where did all this optimism surrounding Bradford Bulls suddenly spring from?

After several years of steep decline, dropping like a stone from the upper echelons of Super League to the bargain basement of League 1 via  a couple of desperately unhappy seasons in the Championship and, dare I mention it, more than one stint in administration, Bulls fans have got used to expecting the worst.

Following the latest relegation at the end of 2017, uncertainty surrounded the club yet again, as no one really expected Australian coach Geoff Toovey to stick around, though the ‘will he, won’t he’ speculation still went on anyway, mirroring the situation that clouded the start of his tenure when visa issues meant he was unable to do the job he had been appointed to until halfway through the season, leaving the inexperienced but undoubtedly determined Leigh Beattie to deputise.

Eventually the Toovey saga was brought to a close, with the confirmation he would not be returning, so who would be taking up the reins this time? Who could not only do the job, but also be brave enough to want to do it, given the recent rocky past?

Step forward, to my astonishment and delight, John Kear.

Here was a man with a track record of success in the British game, not just in terms of winning trophies with Super League clubs, which he had done with both Sheffield Eagles and Hull FC, but more importantly given the Bulls’ predicament, getting the very best out of limited resources along and the ability to restore a bit of pride to a battered brand. And brands don’t come much more battered these days than Bradford Bulls.

In my view, he was always the right man for the Bulls job, since the forced departure of the heroic Mick Potter, but it’s probably for the best it’s taken until now for him to get it.

He gets to start with a clean slate, rather than having to deal with all the baggage that has hampered his luckless predecessors in the Odsal hot seat.

No pre-season period in administration. No points deductions to contend with. No off-field dramas threatening the club’s existence – or at least none we know about at time of writing. Bulls fans have learned not to take these things for granted!

I’m not a fan of pre-season games, but the magic dust sprinkled by John Kear’s arrival saw me turn out in all weathers to watch four of them this year, whereas last season it was often a struggle to drag myself out of the house to watch an actual league match. The times they are definitely a’changing.

Wins over Halifax and Sheffield, a loss to Toronto and a boxing match against Keighley (four red cards, two apiece, in a ‘friendly’!!) whet the appetitite for the ‘big one’, the opening League 1 game away at York City Knights.

The Knights are a proactive and ambitious club and wasted no opportunity to pump up the game to ensure it would be watched by a larger than average crowd. They had pulled in a club record attendance the previous season against Toronto Wolfpack, with no away support, so the prospect of a sizeable influx of Bulls fans saw them confident of eclipsing that record quite comfortably.

York are no mugs on the field either. They beat Toronto in that record-breaking game and only just missed out on promotion to the Championship themselves, so for all the pre-season predictions that the Bulls would stroll through League 1 (predictions based more on the club’s name and its past glories more than any incisive analysis of the respective strengths of their opponents in this league, in my view) we were not heading for an unchallenged early coronation.

And so it (almost) came to pass!

It took a last minute penalty goal from halfway by Joe Keyes to see the Bulls run out 22-20 winners in a contest that had just about everything you could want from an afternoon of Rugby League. Great tries, heroic defence, a lead that changed hands several times and a result that really did hang in the balance to the final moments. Not to forget the vocal set of passionate fans from both sides that turned Bootham Crescent into the scene of what felt like an early-season cup final and set a new club record attendance too for York City Knights, which the club richly deserved.

When the final hooter sounded, the noise from the Bulls contingent behind the sticks, which included me for good measure, went up to fever pitch.

If this is how good League 1 is going to be every week, then watching the Bulls rebuild from the bottom up could be more entertaining than perhaps anyone expected.

And as for the man himself, John Kear, the sight of him leaping out of the dugout and dancing with joy across the pitch to celebrate with his victorious team on a thrilling opening day victory against serious promotion rivals will have further cemented the affection which Bulls fans already hold him in after just a few weeks in charge of the club.

On this evidence, he feels it, just like we do, and after all the trials and tribulations the club and its fans have been through these past few years, that really means something.

Match Report & Stats from Official Bradford Bulls website

Watch the whole game on BullsTV

The Greatest Showman

This was the first film I went to see after signing up for a Cineworld Unlimited card, so I convinced myself it was ok to take in a cheesy, critically-panned musical because it was technically ‘free’ – as in, not free at all, but I wasn’t paying for the actual ticket to see this specific film. It’s just part of the deal, it’s on the card, don’t blame me for the choice, I’m just getting my money’s worth.

You get the picture? I was slightly embarrassed about it.

Halfway through the opening number, I was over all that, and just enjoying the ride.

There’s no messing around, once the adverts and the trailers are out of the way, the film opens and is straight into the opening song, Hugh Jackman strutting his stuff as P T Barnum marshalling the performers in his circus ring to the literally stomping beat.

This fades neatly away into Barnum as a boy, and we’re drawn back to the beginning of his rags to riches tale.

Where other movies might have spent an hour on the journey from childhood to adulthood for the star of their show, here it’s all dealt with in the space of a single song, and it’s no worse for that. Significantly better, it could be argued, as it is another quickly hummable earworm.

By this point, you’ll either be heading for the exits or eagerly awaiting the next set piece, and if it’s the latter, you never have to wait too long.

This isn’t a film that gets bogged down in detail or too much exposition. It’s a big, bold, bright, colourful, unashamed piece of old fashioned entertainment, and on that level it really works.

Each song manages to lodge itself in your memory on first hearing, and some would simply stand out on their own in any company: ‘Never Enough’ and ‘This Is Me’ are a couple of absolute showstoppers.

They’re written by the songwriting team that powered La La Land to Oscar glory, but this is much more fun.

Crusty old critics might have looked own their noses at it, but I predict The Greatest Showman will be popping up in Boxing Day TV schedules for the rest of recorded time.

Find out more on IMDB.com

Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. Now that’s a casting decision I’d never have seen coming. I mean, he doesn’t look like him. He doesn’t sound like him. How could it ever work?

I can’t deny that part of the fascination of seeing this film was to see how on earth they transformed Oldman into the legendary British wartime leader, but he pulls it off, and impressively so.

I soon stopped wondering how uncomfortable the fatsuit must have been to wear and started wondering how Churchill was going to get on with winning that damn war… not the one against Hitler, but the one with his opponents in Parliament most of whom didn’t seem all that keen on having old Winston taking the reins at all.

The behind the scenes chicanery and political manoeuvring is well portrayed and it does leave you wondering what might have happened if those who opposed Churchill’s rise to the premiership in 1940 and his public rallying call to ‘never surrender’ to Nazi Germany had won the day.

The film also reveals the conflicts within Churchill himself and Oldman portrays the vulnerabilities and the moments of doubt with a skill that makes the outward bombast and the iconic, theatrical speechifying all the more impressive.

The stirring words still have the power to send shivers down your spine and, considering we know the outcome of the war after Dunkirk, there is still a surprising amount of tension throughout the film as the moment of destiny approaches and the political disagreements that preceded it play out on screen.

Perhaps we do spend too much time looking back at these heroic moments of our past than is good for us. But aside from the warm nostalgic glow of a past triumph that most of us watching never lived through, maybe we should also lament that a character such as Churchill was very much of his time, and we will never see the like again.

How would he have fared in the age of intensive and intrusive media scrutiny and daily trial by Twitterstorm and social media? With all his undoubted faults and foibles, would his turbulent political career have even lasted long enough to make it through to this particular Darkest Hour?

Read more about Darkest Hour on IMDB.com

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I hadn’t been to the cinema for a while and then a new Star Wars film comes out, so you just have to, don’t you?

I am of that fortunate generation that was growing up in the 1970s when the original film made its big screen debut, and I can still remember the thrill of queuing up with mum outside the Odeon in Bradford waiting to get in. The anticipation was immense, not even dampened by the bewildering ‘short’ film about American bikers that preceded the main event, which seemed to go on for ages, even though it was probably only about twenty minutes. Then, before the curtain went up (yes, the Bradford Odeon screen had a curtain back then) all the house lights went out, a mirror ball descended from the ceiling and dazzled us all in a fantastical starscape (I was 11, ok, cut me some slack) before the iconic 20th Century Fox flashed up in front of us, the now familiar fanfare parping into my ears for the first time, and then: A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far Far Away…

It was the best thing I’d ever seen at the time. So good, I went to see it three more times at the Odeon, and I’m sure I won’t be the only Bradfordian whose emotional attachment to that magnificent building, now long closed and in a sad state of disrepair, held up by scaffolding while politicians and bean counters debate its future, can be traced back to the unforgettable experience of seeing George Lucas’ masterwork for the first time in 1978.

And now here I am, almost forty years later, watching the latest instalment of a saga that shows no signs of ever ending, and thank goodness for that.

Not at the Odeon, no screen curtain or mirrorball at Cineworld either (though no interminable short about American bikers to sit through beforehand, so not everything about modern life is rubbish) but still that same sense of childlike excitement as the film gets underway as they always do.

20th Century Fox logo – check. Parping fanfare – check.

A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far Far Away…

These most recent instalments have undoubtedly given the franchise a new lease of life after the trio of underwhelming prequels. The Force Awakens was a glorious homage to the original, reintroducing iconic characters we probably all thought we’d never get to see on screen again, played by the actors who first gave them life. Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) were back!
Except, in the case of Mark Hamill, he wasn’t. We had to wait another two years for The Last Jedi to see him in action, as The Force Awakens focused on Han’s story, his part in bequeathing us the new villain of the piece, Kylo Ren, and the gut-punch ending where, just as it was forty years ago, one of our beloved heroes fails to make it to the final credits.

But he’s here now, all grizzly and grumpy and seemingly rejecting all the efforts of Daisy Ridley’s character Rey to coax him out of self-imposed exile and save the Rebel Alliance with his mastery of the Force.

Speaking of which, they don’t half take a pounding in this instalment, those rebels. And we almost lose Princess Leia herself at one point, as her ship takes a direct hit and she floats out into the vacuum of space.

At that moment I though, ‘ah, so this is how they’re going to write Carrie Fisher out,’ but no, Leia does make it to the final credits after all, leader of what’s left of the rebel forces, which at this stage would seem to be small enough to fit in a Tatooine land speeder rather that an Imperial Star Destroyer.

Of course Luke turned up to save the day at the end. Does that count as a spoiler? I doubt it. It’s a Star Wars movie. You basically know what you’re getting before you buy your ticket. Good guys gotta do what good guys gotta do.

And that’s why we love them, isn’t it?

Roll on the next instalment. Can’t wait. Who knows, maybe it’ll even be on at the Odeon in Bradford.

More on Star Wars: The Last Jedi at IMDB.com