The Jaded Jedi

Journal and General Musings

Day 266 in the Corona House: Would the real Darth Vader please stand up

30/11/2020

A short but heartfelt posting on day 266 and memories of someone I was lucky enough to meet (once) at drama school who died earlier today.

It was only when I looked back on his career and read the glowing tributes, (not Hollywood lovie glowing but genuinely sincere obituaries and commentary) that I realised David (Dave) Prowse had every right to be bitter over his career. However, in line with the touching words uttered by the likes of Mark Hamyll and Star Wars technical crew he chose not to be and in doing so won the heart of his fan. I hope he may also spur a few thoughts about how under-rated he has been in his portrayal of perhaps the quintessential cinema villain.

I must admit when I was sitting in a voice class taken by my tutor Anya Pronk, I wasn’t expecting to be visited in class by the six foot seven Green Cross Code man. He had taught those of us of a certain age to cross the road in the 1970’s. However, that’s what happened as in bowled one Mr Prowse casually dressed smiling warmly and acknowledged those in the room with ‘Afernoon’

Being a West Country boy myself, and with family roots in Somerset I recognised his burr as Bristolian and southern Bristol at that, not full Totterdown but certainly Bedminster. A man of his stature certainly dominated the room but when he spoke, he immediately seemed somehow less imposing. That turned out to be the story of his acting career and the reason he was attending – to encourage us to listen to our voice coaches lest we should suffer his experience.

Dave Prowse was a UK Champion weightlifter and had been the green cross code man since the mid seventies. Indeed a few years after when he was cast as Darth Vader in a little known film in production, the UK Government thought it might be so bad for his image he was nearly sacked from his road safety persona.

He maintained, at least in the version recounted to our class that he had no idea George Lucas would re-dub his role, though I must admit that may reflect some naivety on his part as a light tenor Vader really wasn’t threatening despite his imposing stature. Indeed, I understand members of the technical crew and later the wider crew referred to him as Darth Farmer because of his local yocal accent. It is hard to imagine George Lucas not having formed the intention to over-dub his evil dark Lord pretty early. Perhaps his true Bristolian shines through on the original version in the line
“If this is a diplomatic mission, where is the ambassador?” Just the slightest suggestions of it turning into ambassadol brought a smile to my face when I first heard it on an outtakes clip and every time I mentally replay it since.

Dave Prowse as the Green Cross Code man in 1976 – interestingly also with an over-dubbed voice

There was also the earlier instances of two adverts both of which predate Star Wars that were also over-dubbed to give more authority and gravitas to the champion of the Highway Code. I don’t seek to defend him not being told (if that was the case) that his voice wouldn’t make the final cut, but somehow I doubt it could have been quite the surprise it was described to us as being.

The face behind the Vader mask

Of course, dubbing a voice over another felt inappropriate for a role isn’t new. Perhaps most famously to the character of Lena Lamont in Singing in the Rain and the main premise of the plot of that film. Similarly, the singing voices of both Audrey Hepburn and Jeremy Brett were over-dubbed as neither of them were quite the song-birds the part called for.

However, I can’t help but feel sorry for Dave Prowse who was overlooked not once, but twice. It strikes me as a missed opportunity and expression of thanks to have passed him over for the great reveal of Vader in Return of the Jedi. It seems he was felt inappropriate as the voice of Vader and also as his face two films later.

Yet despite that, when you look at the film and feel the imposing nature of the Sith Lord or watch his ‘stillness; or reaction to other actors, it is clear he was a competent actor who commanded the attention of the camera as a physical force on the screen. So though the voice and face belonged to others, the presence, the physical acting skills and the timing were all very much Dave Prowse who must surely have triggered the imagination of countless thousands of children since the film was made. He was certainly a strong part of my childhood and early teenage memories and a reminder of quite how much we judge people by the trivial without ever seeing or knowing the person beneath the various masks we all wear at one time or another.

The third of the Green Cross Code adverts, this time with the actors own voice.

For those of you who want to hear the real voice of Darth Vader and the real voice of Dave Prowse, the third Green Cross Code road safety advert in 1976 (apparently during the filming of Star Wars) you’ll hear his Bristolian twang as it really was.

Thank you Dave Prowse for some amazing memories and childhood imaginings. May the force be with you – always.

Day 265 in the Corona House – The sign of four

29/11/2020

Paula Trewick has banjaxed my weekend.

There I was planning for a couple of days of tidying, decluttering and rearranging between baking a cake and going for a bike ride when bibbady bobbady boo, Paula Trewick kicks of fourgate and my weekend got whacked so far out of kilter it might as well be Tuesday.

For those unfamiliar with ‘fourgate‘, it started yesterday as a simple question about my newly acquired kitchen clock. Paula raised the QI point of why IIII should be the chosen representation for the number four rather than the more traditional use of IV standard roman numerology. So, yesterday’s blog post sought to answer that question (see yesterday’s post) and there have been, metaphorically speaking, baying mobs of pitchfork wielding ruffians pursuing me ever since.

Now my weekend has to include fact checking, researching, blogging time to say nothing of straightening my kitchen clock. Thanks to yesterday’s post, Peter Stebbing (who should have better things to be doing in Tasmania) noticed it was hanging at a more than usually jaunty angle. I no longer have enough hours available in the day and consequently the weekend, so Paula Trewick, I’m blaming you.

Don’t you know the importance of accuracy?

Now dear reader we take a slight detour to consider the socially acceptable and refined options open to you should you find the veracity of my content questionable. If you spot an error or worse still a falsehood, how should you go about challenging it?
I give you example 1 a London barrister. Let’s for the purposes of today call him Brent who, like me could have an argument in a phone box and shares my love of pedantry as a blood sport. Not for the first time, we found we differed on a point. In this case, my third suggestion in yesterday’s post that using IIII reduced wastage when moulding metal figures for clocks. Brent said

‘I suspect, whilst logically neat (and therefore superficially attractive), reason 3 isn’t true. Given it was a manual process, it would be very easy to simply not fill your mould all the way, as required, to avoid waste..

A masterclass, brief, pithy yet balanced with suspicion rather than assertion and making a coherent contrary argument. Contrast this with Mark from Manchester who tweets (I’m tempted to say I rest my case …. but)

That’s a lot of words to say stuff that is all wrong. It was made smart to use IIII after George Airey used it on Big Ben making it popular in London society. He did it on all his clocks.

Now that wasn’t very nice was it boys and girls. I don’t claim to be universally correct (well sometimes I do, but I know I shouldn’t). However, such unrestrained certainty is always something that will grab my attention, particularly when they’re wrong. I don’t typically go into full rebuttal mode, but after thanking Mark for his clearly honestly held belief, we end our brief discussion of online manners and here are a few points for the jury (readership) to consider – did I lead you astray?

Big Ben with no hour markers

Firstly, I come from a long line of pedants and must point out that Sir George Airey was far too busy being Astronomer Royal at the time ‘The Great Clock of the Palace of Westminster’ was installed to worry much about whether IIII or IV was used. Nobody has placed any markings on Big Ben which as we know is the bell used by the clock to strike and chime.
The clock face is part of what was originally called ‘The Clock Tower’ in the original commission. This was later known as St Stephen’s Tower before being renamed The Queen Elizabeth Tower in 2012 as part of the commemoration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

The suggestion that to misquote the Sun it was London Society what done it is to miss the point that IIII has been commonplace on clocks and indeed in literature for at least half a millennium we can trace before the Houses of Parliament were built (in their current form). Louis XIV (or should that be Louis XIIII) instructed his horologists to use the IIII format in the 18th Century. Something tells me he may have set more of the fashion that the early Vctorian London chatterati.

Mark would be wise to employ Dr Google with the search phrase “Forme of Cury” which is a 1390 manuscript explaining the affront to the Roman Catholic church that IV represented on clock faces being an abbreviated form of IVPITER (the Latin version of the Roman God Jupiter). Again, nothing to do with fashionable stirrings in what is now SW1A.

However, lets not speculate on the relative importance of historical figures on fashion. Put those points to one side. Let’s examine the claim that Airey did this on all of his clocks. There are three issues with this suggestion. The first is Sir George Airey didn’t actually make any clocks, though he did commission a few including the Royal Observatory, the old Admiralty buildings and the clock in the turret of St Pauls Cathedral. Where Mark is correct is that all those examples show IIII.

The second is clocks on these scales are not a stock item, they are built to order. Saying a clock is ‘by’ someone didn’t have anything much to do with the face that was eventually put on it. The ‘clock’ refers to the mechanical movement alone, in the examples above all by Edward Dent who was championed and supported by Sir George Airey – something of a repeat customer.

Two London clock faces (The Royal Exchange and Threadneedle St) with movements by Edward Dent

That brings me to my third point and the one which I fear is most damaging to Mark’s suggestion that Airey made the practice popular following his success on the Palace of Westminster.

The Great Clock in The Elizabeth Tower is indeed a Dent movement. However, the face was designed by none other than Augustus Pugin who designed just about everything in the palace from the flying buttresses to the door handles. His design for the clock face is available in the British Museum and was part of the initial commission calling on clock makers to submit their proposals. These designs included every detail down to the length and weight of the hour and minute hands. If you think about it information any horologist would need if his mechanism has to be strong enough to move them. It also contained the minute markings, five minute dividing bars and the hour letterings.

The observant among you will also note the final deficiency in the argument that it was the Great Clock of Westminster that set the trend for IIII – as can clearly be seen in the now restored blue lettering, the clock face uses IV true to Pugin’s original designs.

Still here in the Corona house

28/11/2020

Those readers who read the blog posts I published in the first quarter of the year will be familiar with the Corona house. The place (or to be more precise) two places I’ve been shielding from Corona since Vaughan and I returned from Milan in early March. I managed to blog for the first 75 days before feeling I had less to say than might be necessary to make it 76 days. So what brings me the Corona house back to the blogosphere now?

Today, that’s the result of three parallel moments of wonder that each gave me a momentary pause for thought. Now, if you’re anything like me you’re pretty happy to take your unexpected momentary pleasures as and when they present themselves. So, having three in one day would be selfishness personified, were I not to share them in the hope they might also bring some distraction, entertainment or interest to others. The three tremors were in order the unexpected reminder of a much loved performer, the shock on how tempus has fugited and finally a question from Paula T who allowed me to go all QI for a minute or two. So here they are

The first ‘wow’ of the day came when I worked out just how many days I’ve been in the Corona house. If you read the spring blogs followed the day count to 75 but where would we be now? I ask it as though it isn’t where I am. As it happens, both Vaughan and I have been out of the house barely at all. In reality I’ve been isolating due to medical vulnerability to Covid since March as has Vaughan albeit he’s had the occasional socially distanced gym visit.

I will leave the thought with you and ask you to pitch the day count based on how it feels (no doing the mental arithmetic – I’ll give you the figure a little later and you can see how close you were and whether you under or overestimated the period of captivity. In the meantime, a huge thank you to Kimberley for pointing me at my second highlight of the day.

I’m sure I’m not the only person of a certain age who remembers what UK Sundays were like in the 1970’s. Everything was shut, public transport was on a greatly reduced service. TV (dominated by London Weekend Television) went from the morning service, to Weekend World with Brian Walden and if you were lucky an episode of Space 1999 or UFO. Then if you switched to the radio you could just catch the last ten minutes of Jimmy Clitheroe before two way family favourites. A Sunday afternoon walk then Songs of Praise and Rumpole of the Bailey. The evening was typically brought to a close by the adenoidal tones of Melvyn Bragg and the South Bank Show although I often only made it through the opening credits.

However, if you were lucky there was the Sunday evening comedy slot bizarrely late at around 9.30 or 10pm. There I was introduced to Maureen Lipman in Agony, Judy Dench and Michael Williams in The Two of Us and my favourite Elaine Stritch (and Donald Sinden) in Two’s Company.

Elaine Stritch giving some Ethel to I’m Still Here from Follies

Among those shows, Elaine Stritch seemed amazingly brash and exotic to a would be teenager who’d snuck up to watch, or rather listen to the outrageous Dorothy McNab screach ‘Rohbert’ with a vocal intensity that could shatter any glass. I loved her. Through that I found she was not just a sitcom player but a true trooper and later I was lucky enough to see her perform Broadway Baby in concert (London). You’ll note I said perform rather than sing. Even her greatest fan wouldn’t say she was a natural song bird, but I defy anyone to squeeze more meaning and feeling into and out of a lyric than she did.

The great pity is not a huge amount of her work survives, so to be pointed at a piece with both Patty Lapone and Elaine Stritch which had until this point passed me by was a real tonic. I hope you enjoy it too.

My new clock with questionable roman numerals

The third and final moment of wonder stemmed from a clock I bought for our kitchen. Fairly large (50cm diameter) it provided a much needed tick in the house and means I can finally stop traipsing to the central heating control to find out what time it is.

I posted on Facebook that I was pleased with the character it brought to the room and a fried commented that it looked good but asked why roman numerals used IIII for 4 rather than the more conventional IV.

Now as some of my friends will tell you, to someone who thinks he was robbed for the host of QI not once but twice this was a gift that couldn’t have been better received had it been wrapped in twenty pound notes. As a former quizzer and collator of generally useless information I promised Paula a summary of the reasons why and that led to this blog. So thank you Paula for providing the final straw than pushed this camel back onto t’interweb. In the spirit of exchange being no robbery, here are four reasons why horologists often favour the unconventional IIII over the traditional IV. It’s worth stressing for the uber pedantic that none of these is the answer but rather the combined impact of all four reasons produced the mixed economy we see on face clocks today.

  1. Don’t diss the Gods
    The IIII style can be found as long ago as Roman times albeit on sun dials and ‘clock candles’ rather than clocks. In this period of history may sun dials used IIII for religious reasons. The latin for the Supreme Roman God (Jupiter) was IVPPITER. Several texts comment that having a shortened version of a deities name on a sun dial (and then upside down and at the bottom of the dial not the top might be misconstrued. So IIII was used as an alternative
  2. Keeping up with the Louis’
    Louis XIV instructed his clockmakers to use IIII rather than IV as it made the clock easier to read and less confusing when observed quickly. This subsequently became something of a fashionable quirk and was taken as a sign of a classy clock (or clockmaker) and probably worth an extra marc or two on the price. The fashion spread and most French timepieces used IIII as standard even today.
  3. Keep in simple and cheap
    Imagine you’re making a clockface and having to cast the numerals. If you use IIII you’ll need 20 x I, 4 x V and 4 x X. A single mould of XVIIIII cast four times gives you all you need and no wastage. If you use IV your numbers are shot and however you try you can’t repeat a waste free casting.
  4. Aestethics
    Most of the modern clock and watchmakers who comment on these things (I found a few online) point out that if you just had IV, V, VI that quarter of the clock looks very unbalanced when countered by VI, VII, VIII so using IIII instead gives a more balanced appearance to the face of the clock
  5. Mental Symmetry
    Related to the last point, it may just be that the look is more logical, creates a pattern which is missing if IV is used and is subconsciously more pleasing. With the use of IIII the first four places all start with I, the next four with V and the last four introduce X

Perhaps a combination of reasons accounts for the practice lasting into current times. Perhaps with the move to increasingly digital readouts, it may be a puzzle that will disappear along with a circular clock face. Now there’s a thought.

Finally, just when you thought it was safe to go back outside, here is that answer I promised you. I for one have rarely had my gob so smacked as when I did the count to see how long I’ve been walled up in fifteenth century nun stylee..

So whatever your clock face may look like, I wish you goodnight from what was day 264 in the Corona house.

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