Thursday, July 12, 2018

Nostalgic for old telly




Once you saw this, you knew what was coming was good

Like many others I often get nostalgic for the television programmes I watched when I was little. Irish television tended to feature a lot of re-runs of British television from the 1970s. One that particularly sticks in my memory is "Warhammer 40,000 - The Rogue Trader". This somewhat obscure science fiction serial was produced by Thames television between 1979-1983. Younger viewers are probably more familiar with the 2004 reboot, but despite its vastly more impressive production values, I think the writing in the original series was better.

Note: You'll have to forgive me, but most of this is culled from the relevant wikipedia entry and Rudyard Oldman's seminal "Terror in Television: British Science Fiction & Horror progamming 1965-1990. OUP, 2001. Currently out of print, but well worth looking for on Abebooks.



Nigel Kneale - speaking at an interview in 2006

Warhammer 40,000 was in many ways the brain child of two very different men, established science fiction writer Nigel Kneale, best known for The Year of the Sex Olympics and the Quatermass serials, and brilliant newcomer, Richard Priestly, who is acknowledged by most fans as the main creative force behind the show.

Kneale had been approached by producers at Thames Television for a television science fiction serial that would be Thames televisions answer to BBCs Doctor Who and Blake 7. The success of Star Wars the previous year suggested that there was a great appetite for science fiction than previously thought.


Rick Priestly posing with a promotional "Orc" toy shortly 
before his tragic death in 1982 at the hands of an obsessed fan. 

The genesis of the Rogue Trader project was a meeting between Kneale and Priestly at a parish fete in Nottingham in 1975. Kneale had been asked to judge a short story competition which Priestly entered and though Priestly story was not picked as the winning entry, his tale of an embattled human empire in the far future struck a cord with the veteran scriptwriter. Invited to meet Kneale again in London, Priestly brought his notebooks and according to TV historian, Rudyard Oldman, "...the whole idea of the series was hashed out in two days of intense work." Priestly's original idea of a crusading army, "...which while brilliant, would have proved bloody expensive to film!", was replaced with the idea of a single Imperial troubleshooter and his minions struggling against pirates, heretics and aliens. As Kneale put it in an interview with Oldman in 2006 "Rick had these amazing ideas and they were great, but most of them would have involved recruiting half of Wales as extras and remodelling most of the Lake district."

This was to prove a regular theme in the writing of the show; Kneale attempting to rein in Priestly's ideas and channel them into something that could actually be filmed.







Early concept art by Ian Miller

With the initial draft work done, Kneale took the idea to executives at Thames. The initial brief had changed somewhat - the success of "The Sweeney" had convinced Thames Television that audiences were eager for more hard bitten, less optimistic programming. Warhammer 40,000 - Rogue Trader was aimed firmly at an adult audience and seemed to be exactly what was wanted. This did lead to some clashes with management, particularly when the first run of six episodes came close to broadcast date. Rudyard Oldman qoutes an unnamed former Thames Television editor.

"There were those amongst the commissioning committee who were very uncomfortable with the bleak nature of the programme. The protagonists weren't your classic good guys, one of them is referred to as "A Hero of the Nikemmedian Genocide" in the second episode for example. The advertising guys went crazy about that. They did not like the level of violence present in the show - a lot of Orks got shot, lets be honest about this. They were all played by these Welsh rugby players and there was one shot in the second episode where one of the characters is literally walking over their bodies for a minute or so. Senior management had an eppy about it. if Rick hadn't pulled off his master stroke, it's possible the whole thing would never have seen the light of day."

Terror in Television: British Science Fiction & Horror progamming 1965-1990.


Concept art by Ian Miller for Season 2, Episode 4 "Seven Seas of Rhye". 

Ian Miller, the noted British illustrator and graphic artist, had been commissioned to produce several dozen pieces of concept art and production work. He had completed the commission and delivered copies of the portfolio to Rick Priestly in London. Priestly was having a great deal of difficulty finishing episode three and had taken to wandering London in search of inspiration. It was during one such ramble that he encountered Freddy Mercury in the Tate gallery. The Queen frontman was a regular in the gallery where he often found musical inspiration.




"'39"

Mercury was completely captivated by Ian Millers concept art, some of which Priestly had with him and was intrigued by the idea of "Star Trek with swearing". Discussing the matter over dinner, Mercury became more taken with the concept and was allowed to take some early drafts of the first script back to the studio where the band were working on a new album. As it happened Mercury was unable to come up with something that he was happy with, but fellow band member Brian May penned a science fiction ballad "39" as an introduction to the programme.

I may if there's interest try and dig through some of my old memorabilia and notes about the programme.

Note: Chaps, my apologies for not blogging more. Work and Kinchlets are consuming most of my time. As for the piece above, I wrote it for a laugh a couple of years ago, but never did anything with it.
The idea came from the fact that most wargamers only have a small selection of models and a limited number of terrain setups. The idea struck me that this was quite like a lot of British television in the 1970s where there was some wonderful programmes that had limited casts and budgets, but made the most of them - the Sweeney, the Sandbaggers, XXY man, Blake 7, Dr. Who particularly stick in my memory - creating huge sweeps of story with a few regular actors and a small selection of locations (industrial area, quarry, country house, etc).  What if rather than this being a result of limited wargaming resources - the ruined cathedral on a golf course/industrial wasteland look of many battlefields is actually merely replicating the locations the source material was filmed on?








Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Turning the tables


We've had a wedding, a certain amount of professional change and all the drama that comes with that in the last month - so the War Room hasn't seen much use.  I'm hoping to get a game in tomorrow with a bit of luck, but that remains to be seen. 

On the plus side,  I got a new table in the War Room.  The old one was in rag order and was quite unsteady, a dear friend was getting rid of an old dining table and I managed to snap it up. Unfortunately dining tables don't really come in the sizes needed for wargames, but I've added a marine ply topper which is a respectable six and a half feet long and four feet wide. 


My eventual plan is that we will be able to take the plywood topper off for special occasions (Christmas, etc) and have dinner in the War Room, as the table underneath is rather larger than our kitchen table.   I've also added two flaps at either end which allow the table to be extended to eight and a half feet. These are hinged so that they will hang down when not in use. I've added a baton to either side to give added stiffness. 



The trick was to find a way to hold them up solidly when they were needed.  I used pipe clips and some scrap timber to do the job.  We'll see if they hold up. With a bit of luck and assuming my measurements aren't off, I should be able to play six player Epic Napoleonics games with this setup. 


Study of a sleeping baby.  Oil on wood.  Unknown student of Rembrandt. Circa 1660. 

The Lady Baby has a habit of fighting sleep while her brother starts looking at his watch around seven thirty.  This picture was taken after I got home from work, when she had refused to sleep for her mother.  I'm really pleased with it - though I don't think a computer screen does it justice.  She has a nasty habit of torturing Mrs Kinch and then going to bed, meek as a lamb, when Daddy gets home. 


I must go now! My people need me!

Her brother on the other hand is a bit more active during the day, but perfectly happy to get his head down at night. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Scary Soviets



Elheim Soviet Officers 

Once a year, some friends and I meet up for birthday con, a day of gaming in March or April which is roughly when our birthdays occur. The last two years, we’ve played “Rogue Troopers” - a game set in my Soviet occupied UK setting.  The game follows the adventures of four members of the Parachute Regiment who were betrayed by a senior officer during the Haartz Zone massacre and now resist the Soviets at home. 

No doubt fans of 2000AD are beginning to join the dots. 

Soviet officers

A game like this needs some suitable baddies and Matt at Elheim supplied these guys. They are great, enough detail to be distinctive, but not so much that they over come the figure. 



These were painted with washes and with preference to the photos of painted figures on the Elheim page.  I found it extremely useful to have something to work from as I didn’t have to faff around looking for references and could just get stuck in. 



These guys have a certain something. Matt is really excellent at animating his figures and making something quite small seem alive.


A  more aggressive looking staff officer and a female MVD officer. 


This lady did good service in our last game as a radio operator at a Soviet secret base. One of the rogue troopers turned his back on her and was shot with a concealed pistol for his pains.





These two are my favourites.  The chap on the right is a Soviet Military Policeman on traffic duty.  I used the picture on the Elheim site as a guide, but I believe those details were taken from an Osprey. 

The second chap is Comrade Comissar Hugo Boche,  complete with white gloves and eyepatch, of the MVD (late of the East German military police).  He’s a recurring villain in the Rogue Troopers games.  



His villainy has included torturing one of the Rogue Troopers, assassinating high level members of the Resistance, leading Project Nightwing and very slowly removing his white gloves while delivering monologues. 

During the last game,  the RTs successfully put  a stop to Project Nightwing,  but Boche escaped by leaping out of a window to go get reinforcements. 

Where will he strike next? 



During a trip to the National Gallery,  the Kinchlets stopped to listen to Mr Shaw.  I’m not sure he made a great impression, though the LadyBaby did threaten him with a banana before she fell asleep. 

It is truly inspiring to have a daughter filled with such robust good sense. 


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Armoured car




I often take the Kinchlets for long walks. One of our regular haunts is Collins barracks which is Ireland’s military history museum.  It is closed on Mondays, something which I had forgotten, but the walk did us good and I had the chance to photograph this AML-90. 





The AML 90 is a French built armoured car with a 90mm low pressure gun.  It has seen extensive service with the French Foreign Legion and with the South African Army.  The  South African version was called the Eland-90.  The vehicle proved very successful in African conditions with the 4x4 providing excellent mobility on plains and the 90mm gun capable of tackling second line armour, albeit at close ranges. 

The light weight (6 tons) of the vehicle meant that it was highly portable and the FFL deployed then directly from aircraft to support parachutists. 


Irish AMLs were used almost exclusively on UN service and were acquired in the 1960s.  They served in Lebanon and saw combat in the confrontation at At-Tiri in the early 1980s. 


The AMLs were retired 2013, which is presumably how Collins Barracks got theirs. 



In other news - I fear we may have been infiltrated by Bonapartists. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Screw you Flanders!



This made me laugh rather more than it should. 

General Creaner and I played a game of Command & Colours The Great War recently.  General Creaner is something of an enthusiast for the period and the system.  



Cambrai

General Creaner is running a Great War games day in the near future and wanted to finish the day off with a large scale multi-player game.  Now as it happens the powers that be haven't released a multi-player version of the Great War yet, but we decided to cobble together something.  General Creaner picked Cambrai as the scenario that seemed most open to adaptation. 

The clanking rattling monsters roll forward

Something the Great War gets absolutely right in my opinion is how absolutely brutal tanks can be.  They are slow and can easily fall foul of terrain, but they soak up a great deal of fire. I was only able to knock out one in the course of the game.  They aren't game winning, but you can't afford to ignore them.



The British first wave hits my line

Some very successful British artillery smashed my front line on the right and I had to fall back.  



Things were looking a bit healthier on the left, but those tanks were getting awfully close. 





The tanks finally crash through the German line

It was at this point that the wheels really came off the wagon.  With Tommy's swarming over my front line and tanks shrugging off everything I could throw at them, I resorted to desperate measures calling in artillery on my own position in the hope of blasting the chaps all around me.  It worked (sort off) and I managed to hold General Creaner to a 16-13 score line, but I was eventually overwhelmed. 

Observations & Conclusions

The game worked.  Our generic sort of Memoir '44 Overlord/CCNapoleonics Epic multi-player rules worked relatively well. 

The cognitive load is substantial.  I was playing the part of four players.   This was a slow game and took about two and a half hours, which is a long time for a command and colours game.  I actually found that this made the game less entertaining for me - but as the objective was to simply test if the setup was feasible - it wasn't a huge issue.  It's very unlikely that we will play this game this way again.  



It's all go here. Arthur Kinch in characteristic pose. 

You've probably noticed that the blog postings aren't coming as thick and fast as they used to and for that my apologies.  Now that I'm back at work and the Kinchlets are a bit more mobile, the days are just packed.  Between trying to keep up my fiction writing commitments and everything else,  poor old J&F isn't getting the attention, but I am trying to keep it ticking over.  

But while I'm at it I have a question, I am rather smitten with the Kinchlets and as children go, I think they're smashing.  I am, however, well aware that perhaps not everyone is an enamoured of children as I am and to those who are not immediately concerned with them they are deathly dull.  

So, do you find occasional domestic (usually child related) incidents entertaining or should I stick to the war gaming pure and simple? 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Basing

Basing some Austrian Infantry

I have found that there is a little known law of physics, related to Boyles Law, which holds that babies expand to fill any and all available time.  However, I have been able to hack out an hour or two and get some hobby stuff done.  At the moment, I'm basing Austrian infantry. I've knocked out a couple of units and I have a few more to do.


Imperial Guard Horse Artillery

Adding these guys, painted by the talented Mr. Tam├ís Lehoczky, should finish off the French collection.  I try to add an odd unit here or there, but there isn't much left to do for them.  Tamas did a lovely neat job on these fellas, I should have taken better shots of them. 

But can a French army truly be considered complete unless it has any Poles?

The Amazing Spider Baby

In other news, Arthur Kinch has developed some interesting new skills.  

When I left he was in the cot. 

When I came back, he had escaped, made his way to the cupboard, defeated a child lock, extracted a plastic box of clothes, emptied it all over the floor and then used it as a step to try and get back into the cot.   

He is doing his mothers blood pressure no good. 



Sunday, March 18, 2018

Watchers of the Throne: The Emperor's LegionWatchers of the Throne: The Emperor's Legion by Chris Wraight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This the second novel from Chris Wraight that I've read recently and he has just gotten better. He deftly switches between three point of view characters and weaves a fast moving tale of violence and intrigue. What was also interesting was that this is one of the few warhammer novels that advances the grand narrative of the setting in any way, something which Wraight manages with a surprisingly light touch.

There is less of the overwrought description that was characteristic of his earlier efforts and ideally it could do with even more trimming, but ultimately this is finely honed and well delivered spot of far future action which kept me mightily entertained in my off hours. More of this please.


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