Friday, December 28, 2018

Dad's Army by Bill Pertwee

Image result for dad's army the making pertwee

Why I Read It: I'm a Britcom junkie.

Summary: The making of the classic television series as seen through the eyes of the show's antagonist.

My Thoughts: As much as I wanted to hate the character of ARP Warden Hodges throughout the series, I just couldn't. The part was just so well cast. Played by the author, he was the perfectly defined caricature of an overzealous "Put that light out!" screaming, self-important uniformed wartime official.

I was introduced to Dad's Army through streamed radio episodes on BBC Radio. When the TV series appeared on Netflix, I made it my daily viewing on the elliptical at the gym.

As with any TV series, I lived with the characters, and was disappointed when the show ended. I knew I would miss them and their catchphrases, and I wanted new content. Thus, I found the book.

Pertwee was there from the beginning, always the thorn in the side of Captain Mainwaring and the Walmington-on-Sea platoon of the Home Guards. The book goes behind the scenes, though, to present biographical information on each of the show's most important people, from the actors to the writers and producers. Pertwee relays their adventures on location in Thetford, where the bulk of the filming was done, sharing the inside jokes and the warmth and camaraderie shared among all members of the cast, including the wardens.

It was almost like finding out that professional wrestlers travel together between shows, sometimes the bad guys and good guys in the same car.

The book offers looks at the numerous iconic buildings and locations related to the series, linking map locations to well-known on-screen backdrops. Pertwee also carries us forward beyond the series to the Dad's Army Appreciation Society, museum exhibits, parades and more. We get an up-to-2009 update of the lives of the actors and the characters, who live on through living history actors.

The sadness of it all, of course, is that not only has Pertwee passed on since writing the updated (2009) version of his book, so have all of the other familiar faces from the series, save for two: Ian Lavender, who played Private Pike, the youngest member of the platoon; and Frank Williams, the Vicar. Thankfully, they have all been captured forever together on film, on the radio and even in this book.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Stowaway by Laurie Gwen Shapiro

Image result for the stowaway shapiro

Why I Read It:
 Impulse buy. Offered it up as a review for Sea History magazine published by the National Maritime Historical Society.

Summary: A young man stows away on Lt. Richard Byrd's first Antarctic exploration.

My Thoughts: The 1920s must have been an exciting time to be alive, at least in America. Everything seemed to be happening at once, especially in the aviation industry. In just over a decade and a half record-checking had gone from who could cross the English Channel in a plane to who could solo fly across the Atlantic. Soon, aviators would be attempting 'round-the-world adventures.

So, the race was on. Who could come up with the next great thing? The U.S. Navy's Lieutenant Richard Byrd tried to be the first to fly to the North Pole and back, but fell into some controversy, amid disputed claims. So, what to do next? Try the South Pole.

Billy Gawronski, a New York City kid, was enamored of Byrd and just had to be a part of the adventure to Antarctica, whether or not his parents would let him. So he stowed away, not once, but thrice. Eventually, Byrd welcomed him to the crew. This story is his tale of ups and downs, of media splashes and eventual anonymity.

Mostly, it's a story of the power of capturing the moment in the newspapers of the 1920s. Byrd had a tried and true PR man who saw gold in the story of the plucky little Polish kid who idolized the flier and who would stop at nothing to get his shot at exploration glory. Billy became a sidelight star of the entire expedition, another window through which to peek at the adventures of America's foremost explorer.

After the ticker tape parades and all the other associated hype, America tired of Byrd, and therefore everything associated with him. That, compounded with the coming of the Great Depression, led to a struggle for identity for Billy. He eventually found his true love was, indeed, the sea, and wound his way into a career with the Merchant Marine. He'd spend the rest of his life on the sea and visit the all of the other continents, but would never get back to Antarctica again.

Billy's story follows the great American arc of the early 20th century, from the boo of the '20s to the bust of the '30s to service in World War II and beyond. His greatest adventure may have been his first, but he never tired of seeking the next great thing.