REPOST: Akira Kurosawa
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

Obviously, it's not like I need an excuse to post up a piece of video as delightful as this one. But thanks to a recent Radio 4 programme, I've got an excuse anyway.

Telly Savalas And The Quota Quickies was broadcast on Radio 4 in late April 2008. Narrated by Laurie Taylor, the documentary looks back at that pre-video period in British cinemas, when virtually every feature film was accompanied by a cheap British short to fulfil government quotas on the amount of British product shown. Many of these shorts were travelogues, generally of far-off and exotic places - such as Away From It All, a fine example of the genre that accompanied Monty Python's Life Of Brian.

Director Harold Baim, however, didn't have the cash for foreign location shoots, so his travelogues were of more prosaic locations - Birmingham, Aberdeen and Portsmouth. But Baim wasn't completely daft: he wanted to make sure his films could hold their own against the glossy Hollywood movies they'd be supporting. Which is why he always shot in bright sunlight to make his cities look as good as possible, and why he got Telly Savalas in as narrator.

Taylor's documentary, as is generally the case with Radio 4 material, was available for streaming for one week after its original transmission, but is no longer accessible from the programme's homepage. However, at this point Speechification can come to the rescue: it's a splendid website which is to speech radio what YouTube is to telly. Speechification takes the best programs from Radio 4 and other talk stations, and posts them up on the web in a dubiously legal fashion: and thanks to them, you can (currently) access Telly Savalas And The Quota Quickies for streaming or download.

It's a curious little documentary: having chosen his theme, Taylor doesn't seem quite sure what to do with it other than take the piss. The programme opens with a recording of Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham being shown to an audience of contemporary Brummies, all of whom are laughing their heads off. And on a surface level, you can't really blame them: Baim's script has Savalas recounting his tales of walking around the city, when it's patently obvious that Telly's never set foot in it. As he rhapsodises about the cherry blossoms in Bournville or the ultra-modern ring road system ("you feel as if you've been projected into the 21st century"), laughter is the most obvious response.

Taylor tries to get other sides of the story, but doesn't sound enormously interested in them: which is a shame, because Baim presumably didn't set out to make crap movies deliberately. An archivist from the BFI particularly takes Taylor to task for saying the films hold no interest today - a mere twenty-odd years after their initial making, they're a fascinating snapshot of British life in the early eighties. Meanwhile, the owner of the Baim archive and an Aberdeen city council worker talk about the hard work that Baim put into the technical aspects of these films, even though he only had two weeks in which to shoot them. Despite this, Taylor can't stop wondering out loud how audiences of the time put up with the films, choosing to ignore that back in 1981 we knew just as well as they do today that they weren't much cop.

Still, by the end Taylor grudgingly admits the films have some sort of historic merit. And as a bonus, the programme has inspired the Beeb to get the rights to five minutes or so of the Birmingham film to put on YouTube, as seen above. (Our temporary Japanese correspondent reports that it's blocked to visitors outside the UK, who may have more luck with a slightly different edit available from the good people at Midlands-loving website Birmingham: It's Not Shit.) God forbid that anyone would want to see the full 25 minutes of the thing (though I could just imagine some kitsch merchant getting all three Savalas travelogues onto a DVD in time for Christmas): but in small doses, there's an undeniable charm there. Here's lookin' at you, Birmingham.


Suzanne Vega Fanclub

That was good, and no matter what the intention (piss take or not), the scenery harks back to what was (or seems like) a more innocent time.

I am also intrigued by the 1970's James Mason documentary on London, that London Tonight showed some excerts from over three episodes (I believe it is has just been released on DVD).


That'll be The London Nobody Knows, which has a much better critical reputation than the Telly Savalas films.


Aberdeen! (Well, two minutes of it, anyway.)

Portsmouth! (Well, seven minutes of it, anyway.)

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