Thinking Aloud on A Sunday


Much of modern life depends on signals. Those received by mobile phones, Internet modems, Wi-Fi, 4G, and via satellites. As well as things like Internet surfing, receiving and sending texts, or using satellite navigation systems, we also depend on them to be able to watch television.

Living in Norfolk, you might expect that we wouldn’t have issues with signals of any kind. It is one of the flattest places in Europe, and outside of the two cities of Norwich and Kings Lynn, few buildings exist that can obstruct the passage of any signal. I certainly made that assumption, before I moved here. And I was wrong.

Despite the flat landscape, and absence of high buildings, this county is a notorious black spot for signals of all kinds. After years of getting ‘Emergency Only’ mobile phone signals, we had to threaten to leave our provider until they gave us a booster that enhances that signal. But that only works in the immediate area around the house. Make a short journey, and you will soon see the annoying ‘no bars’ appear on the screen of your phone. And you can forget about going online when out and about. The signal is rarely ever strong enough to connect to the Internet, when using a smartphone.

It used to be the same with the home broadband connection. Erratic at best, too slow at worst. I am relatively lucky, as my PC is connected via a direct cable into the modem. But using laptops or tablets on Wi-Fi was a cause of constant frustration. Then we got a fibre broadband connection. Speeds almost doubled, and the Wi-Fi was more stable, except at the times of peak usage. That meant we could connect the TV to the Internet, albeit through a monthly-fee smart box, from Now TV. Slowly but surely, Norfolk seemed to be dragging itself into the 21st century.

My idea that the flat landscape and small buildings helped proved to be well off the mark. All these signals depend on powerful transmitters, and booster masts that have to be close to the equipment you want to use. Because of the relatively small population of Norfolk, investment in such infrastructure has been sadly lacking. Some parts of the region still have 56 kps dial-up connections, and many more remote areas have no connections at all. Imagine that. Life in 2018 with no Internet, and an unusable mobile phone. They tell us things are improving. Churches are being paid to site masts on high spires, and new-build estates have underground cables already laid. But any retro-fitting is difficult, and no new transmitter towers are being built in the foreseeable future.

This has now begun to disrupt our TV signal. Often previously affected by the weather, and interfered with by short power cuts, it is unable to cope with the number of new channels arriving all the time, and the constantly changing frequencies sold off by a greedy government. Some of these frequencies are so close together, the TV receiver cannot differentiate between them, so picture break-up and interference is a daily part of our viewing (or not viewing) experience. We frequently have to resort to using online ‘catch-up’ services to watch anything, with the irony that the TV box connected to the Internet is one of the reasons why the picture breaks up in the first place, as signals clash, and fight each other for the dwindling space available.

Isn’t progress wonderful?

An A-Z of Actors : Z

Finally at the end of this alphabet challenge, with ‘Z’. There are more surnames with ‘Z’ than you might expect, but I will limit my selection to three, for this last entry.

Zhang Ziyi (double Z!) is a Chinese actress who is famous for her starring role in ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'(2000). But she has made many more outstanding films, including ‘The Road Home’ (1999), ‘Memoirs of A Geisha’ (2005), ‘House of Flying Daggers’ (2004), and ‘Hero’ (2002). More recent films include her multi-award winning part in ‘The Grandmaster’ (2013), and she will be seen in the forthcoming ‘Godzilla’ film, in 2019. She is still just 39 years old, and will no doubt continue to work for a long time yet.

Another double Z is the Chinese actress Zhu Zhu, star of film and television in both her native country, and in international productions. She starred in the remake of the Mel Gibson film ‘What Women Want’, in 2011, ‘Shanghai Calling’ (2012), and the Wachowski Brothers’ film ‘Cloud Atlas’ in the same year. Also released in 2012, she co-starred with Russell Crowe, in ‘The Man With The Iron Fists’. Her most recent international role was in ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ in 2018.

Back to Britain for my last choice, and the gorgeous Catherine Zeta Jones. This Welsh actress was much loved for her television appearances in the UK long before she achieved fame in America, and married Michael Douglas. She began as a child actress in stage productions and musicals, achieving star status with the musical ’42nd Street’, in 1987. From 1991-1993, she was in the popular long-running television series ‘The Darling Buds Of May’, after which she left Britain to try her luck in Los Angeles. Since then, her career has been unstoppable, with films like ‘Entrapment’ (1999), ‘The Haunting’ (1999), ‘Traffic’ (2000), and ‘Chicago’ (2002). Very much an A-list star, she continues to work in the industry, now aged 48.

An A-Z of Actors: Y

Quite a few to choose from in ‘Y’, and most of them have the surname ‘Young’. So, I will limit my choices to just three this time, leaving room for you to add your favourites.

Susannah York was a British actress who rose to fame during the period known as ‘The Swinging Sixties’. She graduated from RADA in London, in 1958, and was soon starting out on a long stage and film career, with her first film role in ‘Tunes Of Glory’ (1960), which starred Alec Guinness. The following year she starred opposite Kenneth More in ‘The Greengage Summer’, and later appeared in the award winning film ‘Tom Jones’ (1963). During this time she also appeared regularly on television dramas in the UK, and in stage productions too. In 1968, she co-starred as the young lesbian lover of Beryl Reid, in the landmark film ‘The Killing Of Sister George’, and the following year won a BAFTA for her role in ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t they?’
She continued to work until 2009, with her last film part in ‘The Calling’. Sadly dying of Cancer in 2011, at the age of 72.

American Robert Young will be known to many as the kindly doctor from the television series ‘Marcus Welby, M.D.’, but he had a very long career. Starting out in local theatres, and as an extra in silent films, he was signed by MGM, and appeared in a ‘Charlie Chan’ film in 1931, the first of over 100 more film roles. Although he rarely starred, his support was always notable, and he was also used to fill spots in many ‘B’ films, used for the popular ‘double features’ of the time. Some of his many film appearances include ‘Western Union’ (1941), ‘The Canterville Ghost’ (1944), and ‘The Forsyte saga’ (1949). But he will undoubtedly be best-remembered for his long-running TV series. He died in 1998.

Michael York is an English actor, and star of many well-known films. He began in theatre, and later worked in both films and on television. Well-spoken, he frequently played in period dramas, and was often cast as the typical English gentleman. From 1967, until becoming ill in 2013, he rarely stopped working, and his list of credits includes Losey’s film ‘Accident’ (1967), ‘Zeppelin’ (1971), and ‘Cabaret’ (1972), with a starring role opposite Liza Minnelli. He also starred in ‘Logan’s Run’ (1975), ‘The Riddle Of The Sands’ (1979), and ‘The Return Of The Musketeers’ (1989). His career was later reinvigorated, when he appeared with Mike Myers in all three of the ‘Austin Powers’ films.

An A-Z of Actors: X

I had to give up on this one, to be honest. Even the Chinese actors I know didn’t have ‘X’ surnames. But I wanted to leave the post open for you, in case you were saving one for this letter!

So, if you can think of any of your favourite actors whose surname starts with an ‘X’, please add them in the comments.

An A-Z of Actors: W

Close to the end now, and lots of choices with ‘W’. I will be featuring one very famous actor in this letter, as well as three others perhaps not so famous, to leave room for your selections and favourites.

Starting today with English ‘tough-guy’ actor, Ray Winstone. A former youth boxer, and a genuine East End boy, he started out at theatre school in London, before being catapulted to fame with his chilling role as Carlin, in the BBC production of the Borstal (youth prison) drama, ‘Scum’, a play so powerful it was not shown on television at the time. It was later filmed in 1979, and given a cinema release, with Ray playing the same part. That same year, he appeared in ‘Quadrophenia’, as well as continuing to work in television series. Despite taking on so many hard man roles, he also tackled difficult areas, such as domestic abuse in ‘Nil By Mouth’ (1997), and incest, in the harrowing ‘The War Zone’ (1999). He has rarely stopped working, with so many supporting or starring film roles, including ‘Sexy Beast’ (2000), ‘Ripley’s Game’ (2002), ‘Cold Mountain’ (2003), and ‘King Arthur’ (2004). Since then, he has appeared in more than forty other films, including Scorsese’s ‘The Departed’ (2006).

English actress Billie Whitelaw started work as a child actress in the 1940s, and worked in every area of acting, until 2007. Early stage work featured many notable collaborations with Samuel Beckett, and working as part of The National Theatre company. Her film career began in 1953, and she was in many British films of the period, with a role in the famous ‘Carve Her Name With Pride’ (1958). During the 1960s, she appeared in twelve films, including ‘Payroll’ (1961), ‘No Love For Johnnie’ that same year, and ‘Charlie Bubbles’ (1967), starring opposite Albert Finney. In 1972, she appeared in Hitchcock’s last film, ‘Frenzy’, and four years later as the evil housekeeper in ‘The Omen’ (1976). Then in 1990, she played the mother of the notorious twin gangsters, in ‘The Krays’. Her final role was in Simon Pegg’s 2007 comedy, ‘Hot Fuzz’. She died seven years later, in 2014.

American character actor M. Emmett Walsh has a distinctive look, and has made a few unforgettable appearances in some excellent films, as well as on television. You might think you don’t know the name, but look him up, and you will certainly know the face. You will know the films too, including some of the most highly acclaimed in modern cinema. ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (1969), ‘Little Big Man’ (1970), ‘Serpico’ (1973), and ‘The Jerk’ (1979). He went on to appear in ‘Blade Runner’ (1982), ‘Silkwood’ (1983), ‘Blood Simple’, the 1984 film by the Coen Brothers, and ‘Raising Arizona’ (1987). Since then, he has been in over sixty five other films, including a standout role in ‘Calvary’ (2014). He is still working, at the age of 83.

No apologies for choosing someone famous as my last offering in ‘W’, as he is one of my all time favourite actors, as well as being a much lauded director. For me, the marvellous Orson Welles can do no wrong. I have never not liked him in a single role he has played, and some of his films I have watched over and over again, including ‘The Third Man’ (1949), ‘(Touch Of Evil’ (1958), and ‘Chimes At Midnight’ (1965). His career was long, and his roles too many to list, but they of course include the legendary ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941), ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ (1942), ‘Jane Eyre’ (1943), ‘The Stranger’ (1946), and ‘Macbeth’ (1948). In 1959, he played the crusading lawyer in ‘Compulsion’, and in 1970, the French King Louis, in the epic ‘Waterloo’. He continued to work until his death in 1985, leaving behind what is arguably one of the greatest legacies in all of cinema history.

An A-Z of Actors: V

I will only add three names this time, as ‘V’ can be a bit tricky. But that should leave you plenty of scope to add your own favourites in the comments.
My selections are not that well-known.

American actor John Vemtimiglia had enjoyed a successful career in films and on television, most notably in the long running series ‘The Sopranos’. Films include ‘Cop Land’ (1997), ‘The Iceman’ (2012), and ‘Mickey Blue Eyes’ (1999). He is one of those rare character actors who always leaves his mark on the smallest role, making me want to find out more about him.

An unusual choice, and another star of The Sopranos, Steven Van Zandt was perhaps never meant to be an actor. In fact, he was a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street band, and well-known as a musician. In 1999, he decided to audition for a role in ‘The Sopranos’, despite having no acting experience. He was given the role of Silvio, one of the main characters, and brought him to life on the screen. Then in 2011, he co-wrote and produced the Norwegian/English mini-series, ‘Lillyhammer’, playing a New York gangster in hiding in Norway, with often hilarious results. He is still working in television and radio, as well as continuing to perform and record music.

My last offering today is another American, the Oscar-nominated Brenda Vaccaro. She has had a distinguished career on stage, in films, and on television that has lasted for more than fifty years. Winning awards for her theatre work as well as screen roles, her list of film credits includes some very famous films indeed. ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (1969), ‘Going Home’ (1972), ‘Once Is Not Enough’ (1975), and ‘Capricorn One’ (1977). Later films included ‘Supergirl’ (1994), and ‘The Mirror Has Two Faces’ (1996). Now 78, she is still working, and known for supplying voices to various animated characters.

An A-Z of Actors: U

‘U’ is not a kind letter for surnames, so to give you room for some choices, I am only going to feature one fairly obvious choice for this letter. Good luck!

Sir Peter Ustinov pretty much did it all. Film, Theatre, Opera, TV, as well as writing, directing, and designing. His career lasted almost five decades, from 1938, until 2004, the year he died. Starting out on stage in the 1930s, he was soon working in films, with ‘One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing’, in 1940. Twelve films later, he starred as Emperor Nero, in the epic ‘Quo Vadis’ (1951), beginning a run of playing in historical films including ‘Beau Brummell’ (1954), and ‘Spartacus’ (1960), which won him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

He made roughly one film a year for the next sixteen years, before ‘Logan’s Run’ (1976), then ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ (1977). In 1978, he took on the role of detective Hercule Poirot, in the film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s ‘Death On The Nile’, playing him again in ‘Evil Under The Sun’ in 1982. Many more film roles continued, alongside TV documentaries, writing, and appearing on stage in a one-man show. His last film was ‘Winter Solstice’ (2004).