Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The James Bond films of Sir Roger Moore (1927-2017)

The death of Sir Roger Moore, yesterday, gives me a reason to do something I have wanted to do with Bond films for some time, in the same way I did for Ray Harryhausen films some time ago.

The first Bond film I went to at the cinema was the Sean Connery You Only Live Twice (1967), at the age of seven.  I was probably far too young for it but was interested to go as I remember seeing the exterior of the volcano set when we drove past Pinewood Studios one day, on the way back from a trip to Whipsnade Zoo. 

The Roger Moore Bond films were the films of my teenage years and I was familiar with him, of course, from The Saint, which I watched occasionally (my parents didn't really approve of ITV) and, above all The Persuaders with it's expensive South of France locations (unlike The Saint, which constantly redressed the Home Counties).  Moore's Bond was, of course much lighter than Connery's and tends to split people of my generation between Connery and Moore.  I enjoyed several of Moore's Bond films and will examine some of the key aspects for me: Bond girls and soundtracks. 

Live and Let Die (1973)

The Film

Although I saw this at the cinema, I think I have only seen it a couple of times since and it is one of my least favourite Bonds.  Bond shouldn't be fighting tedious American criminals, I thought at the time.  A great poster, though, by Robert McGinnis, including tarot cards and speedboats from the rather ludicrous boat chase (which had been done better in Puppet on a Chain (1971)).  Moore still looked young, although he was twice the age of leading lady Jane Seymour.

The Bond Girls

After the abundant charms of Lana Wood and Jill St. John in Diamonds are Forever (1971) I found the main Bond Girls disappointing and totally lacking in the requisite sex-appeal (as we used to say back in 1973).  However, the outstanding Madeleine Smith, appearing briefly at the beginning of the film, saved it on the Bond girl front (!).

The Soundtrack

Composer for all the previous Bonds (with Monty Norman for Dr No, (discuss)) John Barry had given up on Bond following big arguments with the producers on Diamonds are Forever (1971),  Having had an Oscar nominated score (for Mary Queen of Scots (1971), he was focussing on writing musicals, so the producers called in Beatles producer George Martin. Although Paul McCartney's Live and Let Die was a big hit I am afraid I got really annoyed by the diabolical grammar in the line "in which we live in".  I didn't bother to get George Martin's soundtrack score until a few years ago.  It sounds more like a particularly funky Henry Mancini rather than a John Barry effort and was the first in a series of  attempts to modernise the James Bond sound, which all now sound hopelessly out of date. Other than the title track, the only other piece I was familiar with was Bond meets Solitaire, as it was on a Bond compilation set I had, so wins best track by reason of familiarity.

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

The Film

The bandwagon jumping Kung-Fu, energy crisis one saw Moore pushing The Persuaders style comedy while at least having a worthy opponent in Christopher Lee as Scaramanga.  The oriental locations looked good too and the angled office for M on board the hulk of the Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong harbour was brilliant.  Another poster by Robert McGinnis, who certainly packed it with phallic symbols.

The Bond Girls

Swedish actresses Britt Ekland and Maud Adams were, at least, in their thirties, so met the general Hollywood standard of having leading ladies ten to fifteen years younger than the leading man.  Ekland couldn't act but Adams was pretty good and, uniquely for a lead, was brought back into the series in Octopussy.

The Soundtrack

John Barry was back in action for this one, although he seems to be dealing with a smaller orchestra (especially in the brass section) than his style demands, resulting in a lot of cues sounding like nineteen seventies TV music (The Persuaders, in fact).  Already busy on other work he was called in at the last minute by the producers who knew he could deliver a soundtrack really quickly. Lots of Hong Kong Phooey orchestration in this. Twang!  Lulu was a friend of Barry's lyricist Don Black (Their musical Billy had become a big hit in the West End) but struggled to copy the Bassey power in an almost hilariously innuendo filled song. . Best track of a poor selection is Goodnight Goodnight.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

The Film

Despite the plot being a complete rip off of You Only Live Twice this is my favourite Moore Bond film, before they fell into (even more) self parody.   Moore has completely mastered his insouciant version of the role here.  The Egyptian locations look fabulous, there is an appearance by Shane (Scott Tracy) Rimmer and the opening ski jump stunt remains one of the greatest ever put on celluloid.  Unfortunately, Curt Jürgens performs villain Stromberg as if he was wearing someone else's teeth and appears to be on the point of dozing off for much of the film.  This time the poster was by Bob Peak, one of the greatest film poster artists of all time, who got his big break with West Side Story (1961) and also did posters for Apocalypse, Now (1979) the first Five Star Trek Films, Superman (1978), Excalibur (1981), Rollerball (1975) and many more.  

The Bond Girls

The general view of my school friends was that Barbara Bach was rather deficient in two key characteristics,  Bach was twenty years younger than Moore but, at fifty, he was still looking pretty good.  Caroline Munro as a helicopter pilot was a bonus.  This was the first film where the publicity stills really featured the incidental Bond girls.  In this case the harem tent girls (Dawn Rodrigues, Felicity York, Anna Pavel and Jill Goodall).  Appearances by former Miss World Eva Rueber-Staier and Valerie Leon make this very strong as regards Bond Girls.

The Soundtrack

John Barru had fled the UK for tax reasons and so was unable to record the score for this, as it had to be done in Britain. Given I didn't really like George Martin's soundtrack for Live and Let Die I really shouldn't have liked Marvin Hamlisch's disco beat (Hamlisch actually wrote to the Bee Gees agents and apologised for lifting one of their rhythm tracks) version of the James Bond theme (it was nominated for a Grammy) but I did.  This may be because it was the first Bond soundtrack I actually bought. although at well under half an hour, it wasn't very good value. My favourite track is the weird Arab/jazz/orchestral mash up Eastern Lights (actually composed by one of title song lyricist Carole Bayer-Sager's producers) and I have played it while sitting on the balcony of the Inter-Continental in Cairo, watching the sun go down over the Pyramids, while drinking Lebanese wine with my particular friend Sophie.

Moonraker (1979)

Moonraker had the producers jumping on another bandwagon, started by the success of Star Wars (1977) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) (at one point Moonraker even references the key CE3K theme as a joke), so got Moore's Bond into space.  Sadly, the comedy elements (such as the gondola hovercraft) were getting more and more ludicrous.  Moore, who was starting to look his age, demonstrated some actual acting in this, particularly following the centrifuge sequence. Michael Lonsdale as villain Hugo Drax showed how to be menacing without histrionics but we could have done without the return of Richard Kiel's Jaws. The poster was by top Hollywood storyboard artist Dan Goozee, who featured some of the ancillary Bond Girls for the first time.  The last Bond film with sets by Ken Adam.

Bond Girls

Lois Chiles, in her early thirties, was a bad misfire and never really left the launching pad for the Legatus,  However, there was the compensation of a brief turn from the star of saucy French film The Story of O (1975), Corinne Cléry.  Much was made of the incidental Bond Girls this time, including a cornucopia of French actresses; Chichinou Kaeppler, Françoise Gayat,  Nicaise Jean-Louis, Catherine Serre  and Béatrice Libert.  Délicieuses!

The Soundtrack

Marvin Hamlisch was rather mystified that he was not asked back to do the next Bond soundtrac,k given The Spy Who Loved Me had been an Oscar nominated smash.  However, because the film was being shot in France, for tax reasons, John Barry was able to come back on board and initially planned an eight movement, seventy-five minute orchestral suite.  Although this was, eventually, much truncated the score is a precursor to his later big symphonic scores such as Out of Africa (1985).  Barry was back on form for this and had an 80 piece orchestra at his disposal.  I liked the Shirley Bassey theme song (it was nearly recorded by Frank Sinatra and was even offered to Kate Bush) and there was some excellent orchestration, especially in my favourite track, Bond Lured to Pyramid.

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

After the SF excesses of Moonraker, there was a conscious attempt to go back to basics by dropping gadgets, sports cars (Bond's Lotus was symbolically blown up early in the film, requiring him to drive a 2CV), over the top villains and Ken Adam's sets.  Critic Derek Malcom said that Moore played Bond as if in a "nicely lubricated daze" while Philip French said that Bond was "impersonated by Moore".  Having the big villain played by an AT-AT commander with a wayward accent didn't help either,  A different approach to the poster, featuring Morgan Kane's photograph of Joyce Bartle's legs, didn't go down too well with parts of puritan America, which cut the image of the girl at the knees or even added shorts.  The poster was, in reality, as dull as the film and director John Glem. almost killed the franchise off with this and subsequent Bond films by really not understanding Bond other than stunts, stunts and more stunts.

Bond Girls

Sleepy-eyed ("I have sluggish kidneys," she claimed) Carole Bouquet was thirty years younger than Roger Moore and becoming a proper actress in art films.  She did not appear that enthusiastic about the whole thing,  Eva Reuber-Staier returned in her brief role as General Gogol's aide and the number of decorative Bond girls (around one of the minor villain's pool in the film) had increased. These also included, unknown to the producers, a transsexual called Tula who was born Barry Cossey (far left in this photo).  Unknown to Playboy, too, who featured many of the girls (including Tula) posing naked in their June 1981 issue.  Several, such as  Lalla Dean, were Page Three or glamour models and Alison Worth was a well known mainstream fashion model.  The less said about skater Lynn Holly Johnson (the Jar-Jar Binks of the Bond films) the better. 


John Barry still couldn't visit the UK and was tied up with the soundtrack of Body Heat (1981) so recommended Bill Conti, who had had a big success with Rocky (1976).  I didn't buy this funky guitar heavy score until last year and only because I am a completist. Apart from the rather good title track by Sheena Easton it is singularly lacking in memorable moments.

Octopussy (1983)

The Film

Moore is actually quite good in this, although there were more and more stupid gags (mainly involving Vijay Amritraj) which clashed with what could have been a more serious effort,  Moore had wanted to retire from Bond after For Your Eyes Only but the prospect of the Sean Connery competing Never Say Never Again got the producers to bring Moore back again.  Louis Jourdan was silky smooth as Kamal Khan but Steven Berkoff gives the worst performance of any Bond villain.  The Indian locations were splendid and Dan Goozee returned to do the poster.  Maud Adams with eight arms? What a thought!

Bond Girls

Thirty-eight year old Maud Adams returned to Bond although the producers originally wanted authentically Indian Persis (Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)) Khambatta. Adams was paired with another Swedish actress, Kristina Wayborn, whose big fight scene was a precursor of all subsequent martial arts heroines in Western action films.  Lots of action, too, from the circus and acrobatic girls supervised by former British Olympic gymnast Suzanne Dando,  Bucket loads of Bond Girls in this one including Alison Worth (again), Page 3 and Penthouse model Joni Flynn. Miss World 1977 Mary Stavin and Page 3 model and Penthouse Pet of the Month for March 1982 Janine Andrews.  Certainly the finest ensemble group to date.

The Soundtrack

John Barry (who had turned down scoring Never Say Never Again out of loyalty to the producers) had settled his outstanding tax bill with the Inland Revenue so was free to return to Britain to do the soundtrack.  The title song, sung by Rita Coolidge (originally offered to Legatus favourite Laura Branigan), was not bad and did well in the charts, accompanied, in a novel way at the time, by a pop video.  The soundtrack, which had much of the style of Diamonds are Forever about it, referenced the James Bond theme much more than previous ones, no doubt to emphasise that this was the 'real' Bond.  Favourite track is the slinky Bond meets Octopussy.

A View to a Kill (1985)

Moore was fifty seven  in this, his final Bond film and it showed. Even Moore admitted it was his least favourite Bond film.  The Legatus quite likes it, though. and, despite his age, Moore looks in better shape than in Octopussy.   It is saved bya  great sidekick performance by Patrick Macnee and some wonderful location cinematography.  The poster was the final one by Dan Goozee.

Bond Girls

Tanya Roberts looks nice in a big haired 1980s way but can't act her way out of a paper bag (she received a worst actress nomination at the Golden Raspberry awards for this).  Moore bemoaned the fact that Roberts'  mother was younger than he was. Both Alison Doody and Fiona Fullerton  (a friend of my father-in-law!) have never looked better and Grace Jones looks like a monster, as usual. The background girls featured at a party given by villain Max Zorin (an enjoyably over the top Christopher Walken), included Page 3 favourites Sian Adey-Jones and Nike Clark.

The Soundtrack

Duran Duran (who had approached Cubby Broccoli about doing the song at a party) produced the first (and very successful; it was the first Bond theme to get to number one in the US) really modern pop song for the franchise, working closely with John Barry.  Barry used Nic Raine to orchestrate the score which was somewhat dialled in. Best track is Airship to Silicon valley.  It would be Barry's second to last Bond soundtrack.

Although there are many James Bond type wargames rules and figures (Copplestone Castings do a not Roger Moore) available I have never been tempted to buy any, oddly.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Paint Table Sunday and goodbye to TMP

I have managed a bit of painting this weekend and my first company of Perry plastic Confederates are at the varnishing stage.  I need to make sure the varnish is OK. first, though! Since I started these, Eric the Shed has painted hundreds of fantastic looking Napoleonic British, though.   I wish I could paint faster.  These ACW figures were supposed to be an experiment in quick, wargames standard painting but it has not been a success!

Anyway, I have started on the second company of nine figures.  I have 18 companies of nine to do altogether!  I am managing to focus quite well, though, by alternating with the North West Frontier and these are the last nine figures I need for my initial The Men Who Would be Kings British force.  I based some more Perry Afghans last week too and my Perry mountain gun arrived too.

Today I hoped to get quite a bit of painting done as it was nice and bright.  The Old Bat, however, started grumbling about the front lawn needing a cut, though.  I refused to do that and told her that gardening was her job.  Then I had to do the supermarket shopping (with added vegetarian nonsense as Charlotte has returned from Edinburgh) and this involved two hours at two different supermarkets this morning (because the two of them are so fussy about which particular food has to come from which supermarket).  

Then, after a quick mozzarella and prosciutto sandwich with the start of today's Giro d'Italia stage, I had to take a load of garden rubbish to the dump and there was a huge queue. The Old Bat loves the new shop at the dump where, instead of taking rubbish out the house, you give good money to the French for someone else's rubbish. Today she reserved a garden umbrella stand.  Except we don't have a garden umbrella so now she is bidding for one on eBay.  This will now destroy any chance of us having a nice summer.  It looks like I may have to go back to Botswana between now and the end of August, which is annoying as I have to fit it around my week's holiday in Cowes but can't control when I go as that is up to the President of Botswana.  

This week, after thinking about it for some time, I have decided that I am finished with The Miniatures Page.  This week the editor posted this as a topic:

While I'm in a pensive mood (grin) what's with the small but vocal minority of British wargamers who resent sharing their hobby with anyone else? They sneer at wargamers from other places and their contemptible views. They act as if the hobby belongs to a single country. I've never seen this from any other nationality. Australians, French, Germans, Canadians, Americans? Happy to share. This applies to TMP, in that I get a steady line of criticism that TMP is 'not British' or 'anti-British' or 'should use GMT' or just somehow unacceptable because we're not headquartered in the U.K. If you're from the U.K.: Do you see British wargamers who are like this? How common are they? What causes this?

I was so incensed about this I did actually post a reply (above) and found myself unexpectedly supported by John Treadaway (I only discovered this from the poisonous Frothers, when someone pointed it out to me).  It seems to me that dissing (to use an American term) British wargamers, who make up the second largest national group on TMP is akin to budget jewellery boss Gerald Ratner saying his products were 'crap'.  British wargamers reacted with polite incredulity but that didn't stop the increasingly wayward owner/editor of the site deleting people's accounts (some two dozen have been terminated).  I won't go into the peculiar personality traits displayed by the editor but I have now removed TMP from my bookmarks bar and replaced it with the Lead Adventure Forum.  I already feel more relaxed.

I didn't, in the end, buy in to The Drowned Earth Kickstarter, despite some really lovely miniatures and instead will concentrate my energies on the imminent Lucid Eye Savage Core rules by Steve Saleh, to support his miniatures line.  This will give me all the jungly fun I need, without the need to spend a fortune on SF buildings, and it seems that forces will be quite small too (less than ten) a side.  The rules are imminent, it seems.  

I now have a big shoe box full of potential jungle scenery and all I have to do is work out how to attach it to the CDs I am going to use as scenic bases.  I like the CDs as they are thin and avoid the 'big step' look of MDF or hardboard.  I still haven't bought a hot glue gun yet (I try to avoid going into B&Q as it makes me feel uncomfortable) , although at least the Old Bat knows how to use one.

I didn't buy Crooked Dice's female minions at Salute but now they have previewed something even more desirable - female cultists,  These will work with my In Her Majesty's Name cultists, provided I paint some Victorian style laces on their boots!

Having discovered that my cable package includes Eurosport (I had no idea) I have been enjoying the Giro d'Italia and with it some appropriate food and wine.  It's actually quite difficult to get a good selection of Italian wine in supermarkets these days but I have matched regional wine with many of the stages.  I need to plan for the Tour de France in advance.  With Eurosport I will be able to watch the Vuelta too, although that will be tricky to match food and wine as I am boycotting Spanish produce.  I did write a piece on one of my favourite Spanish  recipes during last year's race but didn't quite finish it, so I will hold it over until August.

Italian music today. too. with Charles Dutoit's excellent recording of Resphigi's Pines of Rome, Fountains of Rome and Roman Festivals.  All very nostalgic of the long periods I spent in Rome in the late eighties and early nineties, where I lived in either the Excelsior Hotel (as featured in the film La Dolce Vita) or the Grand Hotel (designed by César Ritz in typical restrained style).  The opening piece of the CD is I Pini di Villa Borghese.  The Borghese Gardens were a short walk up the Via Veneto from the Excelsior and contain the Borghese Gallery which is full of the work of my favourite sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  I used to spend a lot of time in the Borghese Gardens (there was a big gym underneath it which my gym in London was a reciprocal member of) and I used to go running there when I was training for the 1987 London Marathon.

A very thin and fit Legatus, photographed by an Italian princess in 1986

I knew several lovely Italian princesses at the time and one of them was a Borghese, who I first met when I sat next to her at a dinner party, where the host served spring onions (which appeared to be something of a novelty to the Italians) as a starter.  She picked one up, looked at me and crunched the head off.  "I like strong things!" she growled.  Splendid girl.  She was a direct descendant of the man who was married to Paulina Borghese, Napoleon's sister.

The fourth piece of the Pines of Rome is I Pini della via Appia Antica and on my longer weekend runs I used to run out of Rome along the old part of the Via Appia Antica, which still has its Roman stone surface.  This piece is a depiction of the marching of a ghostly Roman legion, so is excellent for painting Romans to!  I haven't started my Victrix EIR figures yet, as I know if I start them I will get distracted from the ones I should be doing.  I might take them to Cowes.

Nude (1873)

Today's wallpaper is also Italian and is a painting by Vito d'Ancona (1825-1894) who specialised in portraits and landscapes.  He also fought as a volunteer in Garibaldi's army in 1848.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Something for (what's left of) the weekend: Eurovision babes.

My eagerly awaited analysis of some of the key Eurovision babes is here, on my Legatus' Wargames Ladies blog.  No painting this weekend due to jobs and work (and writing about Eurovision babes), sadly. although I did base half a dozen Perry Afghans.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Paint Table Saturday: North West Frontier and mud-brick houses

Sadly, I didn't get my first company of ACW Confederates finished over the long weekend, due to tedious family commitments, although I did get some progress made on them.  So this weekend's plan is to get these first nine figures finished.

Also on the go at the present are the last nine figures for my TMWWBK 1878 North West Frontier force.  These are six British infantry, to complete the two units of the 70th foot and three Sikh gunners.  The weather wasn't brilliant again first thing this morning but it looks like iis brightens up now.

The missing element has been the mountain gun for the Sikh artillery, which I ordered back in February.  The crew arrived but not the gun.  There was no explanation from North Star and I had to ring them up.  They told me that they had been having 'production difficulties' with all the Artizan artillery. Anyway, the gun turned up this week, although it has something of a bendy barrel, which I hope I can straighten.

More annoying is that this gun appears to be the RML 2.5" mountain gun which didn't enter service until 1879 and my force is designed for 1878.  On The Mminiatures Page at the moment there is a poll which, essentially, asks if you are fussy about historical accuracy in your wargames armies. There were people who said things like "I can't be worried about the difference between a Belgic or stovepipe shako"  What?  This is a historical hobby not Hollywood!  I am compelled to get things as correct as I possibly can. 

Anyway, I sent off for the Perry Afghans with mountain gun set (and some more Confederates in frock coats) as this appears to be the 7lb gun which was used before the RML 2.5" was introduced, so it was in service in 1878.  I will use it with my Sikh crew, therefore.  Here we have some Sikh artillery with a 7lb gun.  What it means, though, is that I still don't have all the elements of my British force yet,

When the light is too poor to enable me to paint I have been working on my Renedra mud-brick house, which I bought at Salute last year.  I am hoping to use this for games set in the Sudan, Egypt, Afghanistan and Darkest Africa.   Looking at the box it looked like a very nice model and has something of the old Airfix Fort Sahara about it.  One of the things I am often tempted by is some sort of French Foreign Legion escapades and there are good ranges from Unfeasibly (although beware the latter's postal service - best to order them from Mike at Black Hat Miniatures) and Artizan but I have resisted so far!

Once you start to put the thing together, however, the experience is less happy.  This is the fourth Renedra building I have made and the least satisfactory from a construction point of view.  The first one I built was the ramshackle barn which was OK to put together, although the roof never fitted properly.  It was also rather flimsy and needed a base (I  don't like bases on buildings).  Next I made the American Church (the best of the four for fit) and the American store which needed a bit of filling but not too much, really.

The mud-brick house was, however, a pig to do.  The parts didn't fit well at all and the separate components, like the little wall and the stairs, took no account of the wavy surface of the main building's walls.  There was barely enough plastic from these pieces to contact the main house and have enough glued surfaces to make a strong fit.  Once the pieces were stuck I then dribbled more plastic cement down the joins to help bridge the gap.

In the end, however, I had to resort to a lot of Humbrol plastic filler.  Now this is what I cover my figures' bases with, usually but it is designed for plastic kits and I used to use it for its proper purpose when I use to make 1/72 aeroplane kits.  Usually, with those, you only needed  a bit along the wing roots and down the fuselage centre line but the mud-brick house needed more filler than Amanda Holden's face.

Fortunately, the filler apes the surface of the building so when it was undercoated it actually didn't look too bad.  Somewhere I have the accessory kit which gives you a dome and a canopy, which I bought in Orc's Nest, but I have no idea where it is.  I will buy at least one more, despite it's shortcomings, as by flipping the front and back parts you can have the stairs on the other side.  In fact Renedra offer two at a discount so I could build a domed one and a flipped one.  Not looking forward to it, though.

The question, then, is what colour to paint it?  Mud bricks vary depending on the mud, of course and I did start looking at different mud brick buildings in different parts of the world to see if I needed to paint them differently, depending on where they were supposed to be located..  This, I decided, was insane, so I am going for the Egypt/Palestine look (above) which is pretty spot on for Humbrol 121, which is the colour I paint the bases of my figures for these hot countries with.  They seem to be mostly rendered in more mud rather that the bright white you see in the Middle East.  I am going to paint the ready made model and the 4Ground one in the same colour.

Oxshott brickworks (demolished in 1958)

 The area today - just more million pound houses (except the ones which back onto the old clay pit which cost twice that!)

Talking of mud bricks, we bagged up the soil from where the Old Bat dug out her new pond and took it to the dump (sorry, waste re-cycling station). The earth in our garden is clay and is not nice granular Monty Don Gardner's World type soil but you have to dig it out with a pickaxe and it comes out in hard-packed, grapefruit sized lumps.  There is a reason that there used to be a big brickworks in Oxshott, although today only the clay pit is left.  We took these to the dump (sorry, waste re-cycling station) and were told that we would now have to pay £4 a bag to leave it in the skip there and we had six bags.  We are allowed one free bag a day, we were told, so I asked if we could come back for the next five days and dump the rest for free and they said that would be fine. I couldn't dump them all at once, even thought they will likely end up in the same skip. The logic of this escapes me. It's the same amount of earth going in the same place but by polluting the environment with five extra car journeys it's free, whereas dumping it in one go would have cost an extra £20. That's a box of Perry ACW artillery, I thought, as we drove the bags back home again.

I was in London the next day so decided to walk from Waterloo to Dark Sphere and see if they had a box of Perry Artillery.  Having trudged all the way there I found it closed due to a power cut.  Grr!  So (take that Mr Treadaway) I trudged all the way back again.  I was very early for my lunch with my former PA (or 'Mexicans' as I told the Old Bat) so I walked across Hungerford Bridge, for the exercise (two runs last week) and headed up Charing Cross Road towards Orc's Nest.  This was fatal as I stopped off in one of the second hand bookshops and acquired books on Gustav Klimt's drawings and late nineteenth century and early twentieth century erotic (well, saucy rather than erotic, really) postcards.

Pork and black pudding.  Yum,yum!

I got to Orc's Nest and bought my Perry artillery there, although it was more expensive than it would have been in Dark Sphere ,who usually offer a 10% discount.  We had lunch in the Portrait Restaurant in the National Portrait Galley, which I hadn't been to before but is a favourite of my sister..  In fact, I can't have been to the NPG for decades as they have a whole big modern extension I don't remember at all. I chose the NPG because I don't like the new decor at the National Gallery Cafe, my previous favourite in the area.  The only problem with the Portrait Restaurant is that it is so popular you can't just turn up.  I booked five days ahead and the earliest booking we could get was 1.45pm.

The restaurant has a wonderful view over the rooftops of the National Gallery next door and across to Nelson's Column and the Houses of Parliament.  The food and service is truly excellent.  They indicated, when booking, that you would only get an hour and a half slot (I hate that, who can eat a proper lunch in an hour and a half?) but we were still there at four thirty and we never felt hurried..

Today's music is a recording I have been looking for for ages, as it is not available as a digital download but I managed to get the (imported) CD.  It is John Lill's Brahm's Second Piano Concerto; a live recording of his winning performance at the 1970 Tchaikovsky Piano Competition.  I first heard this performance on a record I borrowed from Ashford Library when I was about twelve.  Although I have a very good performance by Ashkenazy with Haitink and despite Rozhdestvensky's USSR Radio Symphony Orchestra sounding a bit like a chamber orchestra, Lill's performance, especially in the second movement, is electric.  I don't usually like live recordings but this is excellent.

Tropic evening (1933)

Today's artistic distraction comes from one of America's finest illustrators, John LaGatta (1894-1977).  LaGatta was born in Naples in 1894 and after his family moved to New York studied art at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts, having first started off in his father's jewellery business. He first came to prominence during the period of the First World War, going on to do illustrations for the likes of Life, Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal and Cosmopolitan, together with advertising work. In 1916 he joined the Amsden commercial studio and never looked back. Unlike many later illustrators, who worked from photographs, LaGatta always used models, who he carefully selected himself.  LaGatta's family, although having aristocratic lineage, were very poor and later in life, as a successful illustrator, Lagatta very much appreciated the finer things in life. At the beginning of World War 2, LaGatta moved to California and taught at the Art Center School in Los Angeles. He died in 1977.

Women were very much LaGatta's favourite subject and even when depicting women in clothes (as he largely had to do for his magazine and advertising clients) his approach was unbelievably slinky; delivering some of the most sensual paintings of women ever produced.   Perhaps surprisingly, this rather daring nude was produced for a lipstick advertisement in 1933; one of a series he did in the late twenties and early thirties.  I can't see you being able to get away with an image like this in an American women's magazine today!