Saturday, 7 January 2012

I'll have a migraine please Bob (Or, The Man with the Golden Run)

In tribute to Bob Holness who died this week, here's a 'Round' that was written just after publication of my first book Joined-Up Thinking. I experimented with the idea of a network of like-minded people who would write 'Rounds' among themselves. The project didn't really work out but did produce some great material such as this 'Round' by myself and the brilliant John Soanes, Stuart Peel and Chris Hale who, between them, wrote the lion's share of it.


Migraine headaches, it's been estimated, affect around 15% of the population. They're more common in women than men, and the symptoms vary from a strong headache and partial loss of vision to violent nausea, vomiting, and loss of ability to speak and move limbs correctly. Historic sufferers of migraines have included Vincent Van Gogh, Julius Caesar and Elvis Presley. Well-known migraineurs in the present day include Serena Williams, Ben Affleck and Marcia Cross.

The cause of migraines is uncertain; whilst certain foodstuffs (cola, chocolate and cheese) are known to act as 'triggers' for migraine attacks, and there's considerable evidence for migraines as an inherited tendency, scientific opinion appears undecided as to whether the cause lies within the bloodstream or the brain. Many interpretations suggest that migraines are triggered by a misfiring in the corpus callosum, the cluster of nerves joining the two hemispheres of the brain (which tallies with loss of motor control and speech centres), and the similarity of the symptoms to epilepsy or 'minor stroke' has led to research in these areas. However, the exact nature of the causes remains unclear, and a cure is similarly unforthcoming although research has been going on for around a century.

One interesting, and unexpected, offshoot of this research was the discovery of lysergic acid diethylamide, more commonly known as LSD (or LSD-25). The research firm Sandoz had been working on a variety of chemicals and plant derivatives, aiming to treat migraine and other ailments, amongst them chemist Albert Hofmann. As Hofmann relates in his memoir LSD - My Problem Child, he absorbed a tiny amount of LSD-25 through his fingertips in April 1943, and after returning home, felt dizzy and retired to his bed where he was able to enjoy 'streams of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colours' - whilst his eyes were shut.

Three days later, Hofmann deliberately ingested 250 micrograms of LSD as an experiment, and after a short while began to find he was having difficulty in speaking, so he asked his assistant to help him home. This being wartime, they had bicycles instead of cars, and whilst the assistant reported that they cycled along quickly with no unusual occurrences, Hofmann's perception of events was considerably different - his vision was distorted, and he often felt that they were moving very slowly (if at all). Hofmann recovered from his literal and psychochemical trip with no ill-effects and went on to live to the age of 102.

During the 1950s the CIA was also experimenting with the use of LSD as a mind-control device. During Project MKULTRA, people were subjected to a variety of people to doses of LSD to assess its effects. Volunteers came from prisons, pharmaceutical companies and universities. One such volunteer was Ken Kesey, perhaps best known as the author of the novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. Unlike many of the people who volunteered for MKULTRA, Kesey found his 1959 experience with LSD to be an essentially positive one, and his involvement as a test subject is believed to have informed his most famous novel. Like Timothy Leary, Kesey was convinced of the psychological benefits of LSD, and it's worth noting that the law agreed with him, to a point; until 1966, LSD was available legally as an experimental drug. It's perhaps ironic, then, that Kesey's legal problems in relation to drugs stemmed not from LSD, but marijuana.

Arrested for possession of marijuana in 1965, Kesey decided the best route was to fake his own suicide, leaving a cryptic note in his truck, which he had friends leave on a cliffside road in California. He fled to Mexico, but when he returned to the USA less than a year later, he was imprisoned. In much the same fashion, the British MP John Stonehouse faked his own death, leaving his clothes in a pile on a beach in Miami in 1974. Stonehouse, too, faced, legal problems, as investigators were homing in on the fact that he'd been filing misleading accounts for his struggling companies. This, too, was a temporary solution, as Stonehouse was later found in Australia, extradited, and spent time in prison.

Comparisons are often made between the Stonehouse case and The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, David Nobbs's 1975 novel (and later, TV series of the same name), in which the titular character, tired of his work and suburban lifestyle, leaves his clothes in a pile on a beach and Dorset and sets out to create a new life for himself. However, due to publishing lead-in times, the book had actually been written before the Stonehouse case, and one could make an argument that the Perrin book bears more in common with HG Wells's The History Of Mr Polly, whose main character tires of his life in much the same way as Perrin did.

The Perrin novels, and their subsequent TV adaptations, are now seen as classics of 1970s humour, though their original form was different from that which we now know; the original novel's initial title was The Death Of Reginald Perrin, and ended with the main character in an asylum. Similarly, whilst Leonard Rossiter now seems an obvious match for the character, when it came to writing the novels and initial casting, David Nobbs had Ronnie Barker in mind. Barker was too busy at the time on Porridge (co-starring Richard Beckinsale, with whom Rossiter worked in Rising Damp) and The Two Ronnies, and Open All Hours was imminent. So Leonard Rossiter was cast, despite the novel describing Reggie as 'a big man, almost six foot, with round shoulders', a more obvious match for Barker's build.

Whilst Rossiter had never worked on a BBC comedy before Perrin, Barker had been working for the BBC for many years, one of his most famous 'early appearances' being in the 'Class' sketch on The Frost Report. In this brief sketch Barker, as the embodiment of the middle class, stands in line between the more diminuitive Ronnie Corbett (with whom he would co-star on The Two Ronnies for 16 years from 1971-1987), symbolising the working class man, and John Cleese, who towered over both men as the spokesperson for the upper class. Whilst Cleese had previously appeared in the popular radio programme I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, The Frost Report was his first TV work.

Cleese has appeared in two of the James Bond film series, firstly as assistant to Desmond Llewellyn's Q character (and nicknamed 'R' jestingly by Bond) in 1999's The World Is Not Enough, and then as 'Q' himself in 2002's Die Another Day. The implication is that he has been promoted, presumably since the death or retirement of Llewellyn's character (and the real life tragic death of Llewellyn in a sports car accident in December 1999).

Since Daniel Craig took on the title role the character of Q has not been present in the film series. But  no such character ever appeared in the books. There is, however, a Q Branch that makes some of the gadgets that the literary Bond uses. The closest character to Q was an armourer called Major Boothroyd, named after a correspondent of Ian Fleming's called Geoffrey Boothroyd who advised him that an agent like Bond would never carry a Beretta. Instead he recommended the Walther PPK that Bond has become forever associated with.

As an aside, another, less publicised, instance of John Cleese taking on a role previously performed by another person is on Mike Oldfield's album Tubular Bells 2003. Oldfield had stated he was unhappy with the 1973 recording facilities, and the short time taken, when he had recorded his classic album, and so once he felt suitable technology was available, and he was free of his contract with Virgin records, he set about re-recording the entire album. However, the 'announcer' on the original album, Vivian Stanshell, had died in 1995, and so Cleese was brought in to re-create his part.

Mike Oldfield's 1989 album, Earth Moving, featured the saxophonist Raphael Ravenscroft on the title track; you may not necessarily know the name, but you will, I'm certain, know his work. Ravenscroft was the chap who performed the iconic sax solo on Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street. A popular urban myth has it that Bob Holness, the UK TV presenter arguably best known for hosting Blockbusters was responsible for this slice of musical history, but this was a joke made on a radio show hosted by Stewart Maconie (or in one of his NME columns, accounts vary), and has often been circulated as truth ever since. Holness is reported to have found the urban myth amusing, always refuting it but adding, 'It wasn't me, no. But I did play lead guitar on Layla.'

Holness has a connection to James Bond too. It's often said that the first ever portrayal of Bond was by the american actor Barry Nelson in a 1954 US TV adaptation of Casino Royale. This is technically true as this was the first ever adaptation of a Bond book. However, he played a character called Jimmy Bond, an American CIA agent (the same character was fleshed out for the 1967 movie of Casino Royale with Woody Allen in the role). The first portrayal of James Bond as we're more familiar with him - James Bond 007 working for the British Secret Service - was in a South African radio adaptation of Moonraker two years later, in which Bond was portrayed by... Bob Holness.

Ian Fleming was never happy with the casting of Sean Connery as the first 'official' big screen Bond and referred to him as 'that Scottish milkman'. Fleming wanted Cary Grant to play the role, as he felt that Grant had the right look and aristocratic bearing. Grant actually agreed to the role but didn't end up doing it because he only wanted to make one film and the producers were looking to make a series. Fleming stated that he wanted someone who looked a bit like the American singer Hoagy Carmichael and suggested Roger Moore - who eventually did play Bond at the age of 46, retiring at 58. He was the oldest movie Bond to date (not counting David Niven - see below); Connery was only 32 when he played the part,Lazenby was 29, Brosnan was 41 and Dalton was 43. Another of Fleming's suggestions was David Niven, but Albert Broccoli rejected him as being too old.

However, Niven did get to play Bond in the first film adaptation of Casino Royale alongside the aforementioned Woody Allen (as his nephew Jimmy). Apparently, producer Charles K. Feldman obtained the rights to Ian Fleming's original novel and attempted to persuade the producers of the 'official' Bond movies, Harry Salzman and Albert R. Broccoli, to transfer it to the screen, but they refused. Realising he could not realistically compete with the oficial series, Feldman decided instead to make a spoof. It was a huge success and influenced many later films including the Austin Powers series.

James David Graham Niven was born on the 1st March 1910 in London. He often claimed to have been born in Kirriemuir, Angus, Scotland, but this was found to be untrue after his death when his birth certificate was checked. What is not in doubt, however, is that he spent part of his childhood at Rose Cottage in Bembridge, Isle of Wight.

The Isle of Wight is a small diamond shaped island, separated from the English mainland by the waters of the Solent. It has a long history, having been inhabited variously by Celts, Belgae, Romans, Jutes (one of whom rejoiced in the name of King Stuf), Saxons and Normans. Arguably its most famous resident was Queen Victoria, who, with her husband Prince Albert, bought Osborne House at East Cowes in 1845 as a retreat from the stresses of life at Court on the mainland. Osborne House eventually became a real family home for the royal couple and their children, and it was to this home that Victoria frequently retreated after the death of her beloved Albert at Windsor in 1861.

It was the presence of a royal residence on the island that led to its becoming a popular holiday destination for Victorian families. A number of famous Victorians came to reside on the island. Freshwater, at the westerly point of the island, was home to poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and to Julia Margaret Cameron, the celebrated portrait photographer. Mrs Cameron did not embark upon her photographic career until the age of 48, when her daughter presented her with a camera for her birthday. A visitor to both Tennyson and Cameron in the 1850s and 60s was one Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. His visits to Cameron are perhaps explained by the fact that Carroll was himself an accomplished photographer. Many of his photographs still exist, including those of young Alice Liddell, the inspiration for his novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In 1862, Carroll (then a university lecturer) and a colleague rowed Alice, Edith and Lorina Liddell, the three young daughters of Henry George Liddell, the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, along the Thames from Oxford to Godstow. To while away the time, Carroll told the children a story about a bored girl named Alice who goes in search of an adventure. Alice Liddell asked Carroll to write the story down for her and he subsequently did so, giving her a manuscript copy entitled Alice's Adventures Under Ground in 1864. Carroll then expanded the original story into a longer one, which was published in 1865.

In chapters one and two of the book, Alice falls slowly down a rabbit hole past a series of curious objects. She then somewhat recklessly drinks the contents of a bottle and finds herself much reduced in size, and subsequently eats a cake that has the opposite effect, making her enormous. Later in the book she experiences what appears to be an hallucination in the shape of a grinning Cheshire cat. Back in the real world, scientists have a term for those who perceive objects to be larger or smaller than they really are, who experience double or multiple vision, inverted vision, an impaired sense of time, feelings of detachment and personality changes. It is called Alice in Wonderland Syndrome and is experience by those who, like Lewis Carroll, suffered from migraine.

Migraine headaches, it’s been estimated…

RIP Bob. Enjoy your Gold Run.

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