Girls, travel, rockets, transport, hotels, films, Martinis, wine, music, food and ranting!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Come Fly with Me...on a Lockheed Constellation

One of the great album covers of all time

Agent Triple P has been enjoying Frank Sinatra’s 1958 album Come Fly with Me. Apart from the class of Mr Sinatra and the Billy May Orchestra we have been very taken with the wonderful cover for this production which comes from a time when air travel was still a glamorous adventure.




A grinning Sinatra indicates to a, no doubt, lovely young lady that she should hop on with him to the TWA Lockheed Constellation in the background. The blue sky, the shiny airliners and the waiting stewardess all promise a brightly coloured and supremely glamorous international fifties adventure.




However, all is not quite as happy and optimistic as it might appear. Beatles producer George Martin was in the studio with Sinatra when he was shown the artwork for the cover. Apparently, he was furious over the cover saying it looked like a TWA advertisement. Whatever he thought, the cover went out and the fact that Capitol records give an acknowledgement to TWA on the reverse of the cover does make you wonder if there wasn’t some early product placement going on.




The second issue faced by the record company was that the family of Rudyard Kipling objected to Sinatra’s performance of On the Road to Mandalay and, as a result, on all copies of the record issued in the British Empire the track was replaced by Chicago.




Although looking back at it now the Lockheed Constellation looks like the epitome of fifties travel, in fact, by this time it was already becoming obsolete. It was the last gasp of a way of flying that was to disappear with mass jet flight. The De Havilland Comet had already become the first jet airliner and the first production Boeing 707 flew the same year that Come Fly with Me was recorded, 1957. The first Douglas DC8 flew the following year in 1958. These intercontinental jet airliners killed the Constellation dead for anything other than local flights.


The original version of the Constellation

 

In 1937 Lockheed had been working on a four engine pressurised airliner to be called the Excalibur. However, this planned plane was cancelled when Trans World Airlines, encouraged by shareholder Howard Hughes, requested a plane that could carry forty passengers 3,500 miles, way beyond what the Excalibur could have managed. So Lockheed developed the Constellation instead and the first one flew in January 1943. During World War 2 they were used as long range troop transports. Post war they at last were able to fulfill their original purpose as airliners with the first one being delivered to TWA in October 1945. They launched their first regular transatlantic flight with it in 1946. A Lockheed Constellation still holds the record for the longest non-stop passenger flight as on TWA’s inaugural flight from London to San Francisco in October 1957 the plane stayed in the air for 23 hours and 19 minutes.


The Super Constellation

 

In 1951 a lengthened version, with capacity for 109 passenegers, first flew. It is instantly recognisable by its square windows as, indeed, on the cover of Come Fly with Me.


This is how air travel should be!

 

The plane’s elegant profile came from the fact that no two bulkheads were the same shape. Unfortunately, this made the plane expensive to make and less able to cope with pressure variations and all subsequent planes used the cheaper but less interesting tube shape. The last scheduled Constellation flew on a passenger route in 1967.  856 Constellations were built and 19 civilian and 8 military versions survive.




Although the Constellation would be instrumental in making flying much more attainable for ordinary people it was a very luxurious flying experience in its intercontinental days. Proper beds were made up for sleeping and passengers sat in large armchairs eating real food and drinking drinks served on silver trays.


Coffee, tea or me?


Of course, partly all this luxury was because people really needed to be induced to fly in the days when planes fell out the sky rather more than they do today. However, it was also because flights were expensive and rich people tend to be fussy about such things!


Come fly with me!

 

So today we can only dream of boarding a Constellation accompanied by a be-stockinged lovely wearing something like this.  We would have been able to look forward to being pampered by beautiful stewardesses.  In those days they had to be young, slim, well educated and single as this TWA recruitment advertisement from the fifties shows.




Sadly, in reality Triple P is off to Asia for two weeks; having to put up with seven flights, struggling through security, fighting for overhead locker space with people who totally ignore the on board bag limits, dealing with the idiots who always sit in your seat by mistake and sitting next to people tapping away at laptops or, even worse, people who never, ever stop talking. Never mind, at least on the Asian airlines the stewardesses are still young, attractive and helpful.

It’s nice to go trav’ling. Or it was.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Space Shuttle Discovery launches on its final flight today


Discovery on the launch pad earlier this month


At 21.50 UK time today the Space shuttle Discovery, the furthest travelled manned space craft in history, takes off for its final flight before retirement.  Discovery was also the shuttle that launched the Hubble telescope in 1990


The crew of STS 133 and Robonaut 2


First flown in August 1984, Discovery is the oldest of the three remaining shuttles with construction work on it starting in 1979. This will be its 39th mission, STS 133, and is also noteworthy in that it will carry the first humanoid robot (Robonaut 2) into space.  Robonaut 2 is designed to test robotic functions in zero gravity but ultimately could be used for genuine work alongside astronauts on the International Space Station. It's purpose is to be a much more dexterous machine than the main robotic arm which is really designed for manipulating large objects. It's pure science fiction!


An illustration of how Robonaut 2 would be connected to the ISS robot arm. It's like a Chesley Bonestell illustration from sixty years ago!


Discovery will replace the Enterprise at the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum at Dulles airport in Washington.  This is because, of course, whilst Enterprise was the first shuttle it was never designed to go into space and was only used in atmospheric flight testing.  Discovery will be an actual space veteran of 142 million miles and 351 days in space




Triple P offers the crew best wishes for their historic flight!

Playboy: The TV series signs Amber Heard

Cheryl Vincent Chicago Bunny 1964


One thing Hollywood isn’t, is original; not now that it’s more about business than creativity, anyway (maybe it always was). So, given the success of Mad Men it’s not surprising that there is a whole slew of sixties-set potential TV series on the blocks. Magic City, which is set in 1960s Miami has just had 10 episodes ordered by Starz and ABC is developing another sixties set series called Pan Am about stewardesses.


The original Playboy Club in Chicago at 116 East Walton Club


For Agent Triple P even more promising than a TV series about sixties stewardesses would be a TV series about sixties Bunny girls and, what do you know, NBC has given the green light to a pilot for a series called Playboy (originally it was going to be called Bunny Tales- a rather neat pun which we think would have been a better title) set in the original Playboy Club in Chicago in 1963.


Amber Heard: Bunny bound


The pilot is being written by Chad Hodge, who wrote several episodes of Tru Calling, who will also be executive producer. So far several actresses have been signed up, notably, Amber Heard (who was on Top Gear this week!) and Naturi Naughton.


Playmate (May 1964) and Bunny Terri Kimball in the Chicago club 1964


Heard has no doubt about the Mad Men influence, saying "It's going to be like Mad Men meets Chicago or Moulin Rouge meets The Sopranos. I've never been to the Playboy Mansion and it does sound wild but this is set in the 1960s so it's a different world to the one that we know of today. It's different kinds of women - pre-surgery, on the eve of women's lib. I'm interested in being a character who is a real woman among other real women.” Whatever most of that means!


Joey Thorpe, Chicago Bunny 1964


Heard will play Maureen, a new Bunny at the club, who is an orphan from Fort Wayne. She is described as having “an untethered (whatever that means!) sexuality and a dark past”. So, a female Don Draper, then? Well, not really, as the series Don Draper will be a character called Nick Dalton, a former mobster now a successful attorney.


The Bunny Hutch in the sixties

 
Naturi Naughton plays Brenda who wants to be the first black Playmate and is Maureen’s roommate in the Bunny dormitory. The original was known as The Bunny Hutch and was handily (for Hugh Hefner, anyway) placed in the Playboy Mansion. Naughton, amazingly, even played a Bunny in season four of Mad Men!  She certainly fills her Bunny costume most effectively


Naturi Naughton (left) in the Mad Men season 4 episode "Hands and Knees"
 
To further emphasise the Mad Men connection the pilot of Playboy will be directed by Alan Taylor who also helmed the Mad Men pilot.


Laura Benanti as Gypsy

 
The other female lead is said to have been taken by Laura Benanti who will play Carol-Lyne, who at thirty knows her days at the club are numbered. She is in a relationship with Dalton and then the younger Maureen arrives in town and causes all sorts of three way trouble.  Benenti is no stranger to retro naughtiness having recently played the title role in the Broadway revival of Gypsy.


Jeannie Bogan in Chicago 1964.  The Playboy clubs were famously multi-racial for staff and members at a time when most other places in the US weren't

 
Apparently Playboy is being pitched as a crime drama and all the main characters have some sort of dark secret.  Triple P is not fond of crime films and TV shows.  One of the nice things about Mad Men is it isn't full of violence and criminal nastiness.  Yet US TV continues to offer this up as its prime subject of entertainment, whilst struggling with the portrayal of anything sexual in any sort of adult way.


Brandy (very Bunny name, that) Johnstone, Chicago 1964

 
The chances of the Mad Men lightning striking twice, of course, are remote although we would, naturally, love to see the series succeed. It would be horribly expensive to do properly, of course. Accurately reproducing the world as it was fifty years ago is neither easy nor cheap.


Frankie Jones, Chicago 1964


It will be interesting to see if they try to reproduce the Chicago club reasonably accurately or do what they did on Mad Men where they did a small but effective pastiche of the New York club which captured its essence, if not its scale. We would imagine that for the pilot they won’t be able to get too extravagant on the set, whereas if the show is picked up it would be worthwhile to build a big set. Other shows, for example, Hotel and Las Vegas used location shooting for their pilots but built big standing sets for the subsequent series. This show, being set in the past, doesn’t have that luxury.


Mika Lukacs, Chicago 1964

 
It will be interesting to see what input Playboy itself has in the show;  just getting the name of the show as Playboy is a great advertisement and it all must have been approved by Hugh Hefner. After all they could have set it in a fictional Playboy-type club.


Playmate (June 1963) Bunny Connie Mason in the bar of the Chicago club 1964

 
The other issue is that this is a network show (unlike Mad Men) which begs the question whether they are going to censor the images of Playboy centrefolds that were liberally spread around the real club (see above).  American network TV is still peculiarly old fashioned about these things.


Playmate (December 1962) and Playmate of the Year (1963) June Cochrane, Chicago 1964


There is no airdate as yet for the Playboy pilot but Triple P will be monitoring its development closely!


Playmate (November 1963) Bunny Avis Kimble, Chicago 1964


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Red meat good, red meat bad...




We know that doctors' advice on what you can and cannot eat is getting increasingly fragmented but, really, to have two totally conflicting reports on the health consequences of eating red meat in less than a week is hopeless!

However, when we look into the study by the British Nutrition Foundation which found "no evidence of negative health risks" we find that they are, in fact, funded by the food industry.  The World Cancer Research Fund disputed the findings and said there is strong evidence that too much red meat can increase the likelihood of colon cancer.  Two days ago the Department of Helath issued a guideline saying no-one should eat more than 500g of red meat a week.  I'm not sure what the WCRF would think of the 32 oz steak Triple P had in a restaurant in Calgary a few years ago!


However, all of these bodies have a vested interest in continuing what Triple P's friend HMS calls the "medicalisation of food".

So who do you believe?  Can any of these tests really give definitive answers?  We don't think so, as they try to isolate one factor and there are so many other factors relating to diet, lifestyle and genetics in play.  What happens if you eat red meat but also lots of tomatoes, which are said to prevent cancer? 

It's all hopeless, really.  What the governmnent really needs to address is the hormones and other foreign substances put into our meat.

As for Triple P, he really doesn't eat much red meat at home but does like a nice bleu steak when dining out, such as the one we had in the Arizona Biltmore Hotel last time we were there (pictured).  This was a rare (far too cooked for Triple P!) occasion where we have actually managed to get a steak cooked the way we like it in America; i.e. hardly cooked at all.  Triple P actually had to sign a disclaimer when he asked for a bleu steak in a restaurant in Las Vegas once!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Escort magazine in Tesco?




We were rather surprised to see Paul Raymond's Escort magazine on sale in our local Tesco supermarket yesterday.  Admittedly, the rather garish cover was covered by a black plastic cover but we can't remember seeing an over eighteen only magazine on sale in a supermarket before.  Either this indicates a change of policy from Tesco or someone dropped the magazine into the rack to cause a stir!   Curious!  We will have to monitor this to see if this is a trend or a mistake!

Big Breakfast of the Week 6: Roux at the Landau, The Langham Hotel, London



Ah, a proper breakfast in a proper venue!  Triple P was entertained at The Langham hotel a couple of weeks ago and had a quite splendid breakfast.  A particularly good sausage, bacon, eggs, tomato and mushroom with very good wholewheat toast, fresh red grapefruit juice and leaf tea.  The service was exceptionally good and the Landau restaurant, with its large windows facing on to Regent Street, is a nice airy venue.


Roux at the Landau restaurant


Triple P likes The Langham, one of his favourite hotels in London, handily located close to Oxford Circus.  He enjoys the splendid Artesian bar where they do one of the best Vodka Martinis in London and the Palm Court there was really the original venue for the  hotel afternoon tea.


The Langham Hotel after its opening


Opening in June 1865 with a gala lunch in the presence of the Prince of Wales, The Langham was really the first purpose built Grand Hotel in Europe. It cost £300,000 to build but the original backers went bust and it was sold for less than half that in 1870.  From then on, however, the hotel was a success and guests included Mark Twain, Napoleon III, Antonín Dvořák, Arturo Toscanini, Noel Coward, Emperor Haile Selassie and Wallis Simpson, to name but a few. 


The Langham in 1899


In 1889 Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde met the magazine publisher Joseph Stoddart at the Langham.  As a result they wrote the Sign of Four and The Picture of Dorian Gray, respectivley, for Stoddart's magazine Lippinscott's Monthly.  Indeed, Conan Doyle set part of The Sign of Four in the Langham.


Bomb damage at the Langham in World War 2


The hotel struggled during the depression and in World War 2 was used by the army but was damaged by bombs and had to close.  After the war the BBC, who had declined to buy the property in the thirties and built Broadcasting House across the street instead, started to rent it and bought it outright in 1965.  It housed the BBC record library and also contained recording studios (The Goon Show was recorded there). 


The proposed Norman Foster BBC Radio Centre on the site of The Langham


The BBC applied to get it demolished in 1980 and have it replaced by a Norman Foster building; The BBC Radio Centre.  This would have replced The Langham with a hideous glass faced construction. Fortunately, their application was turned down and in 1986 it was bought by the Ladbroke group who owned the Hilton name outside the US.  They spent £100 on refurbishing it, opening it as the Langham Hilton in 1991.  Agent Triple P visited it for lunch a week after opening and stayed there a couple of times with his particular friend SA.  They had a particularly good Vodka bar there and if you ordered a Vodka they didn't have they would offer you a free alternative. 


The Langham today


In 1998 it was sold again to a Hong Kong based group who called themselves The Langham Group and now have a number of properties across the world.  Another £80 million of renovation took place between 2004 and 2009 to bring it up to its now splendid state, which we have recently enjoyed with B on one of her London visits.


The Langham in Goldeneye


It has appeared in several films and the exterior stood in for the Hotel Europa in St Petersburg in the James Bond film Goldeneye (1995).

So, this was one of the highest quality breakfasts that Triple P has had lately, although lacking somewhat in the additional items that Triple P likes to see.  However, the service is so good and the ambience so welcoming that  it easily gets a 9/10.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Martini of the Week 6: Palazzo Donizetti, Istanbul



Agent Triple P, dring his recent trip to Istanbul, had a vodka Martinis at the bar of the Hotel Palazzo Donizetti.  A boutique five star hotel that opened in the autumn of last year it didn't have a restaurant but did have a proper bar or, rather, it was set up to look like an English pub, which made it less than enticing for Triple P.


The lobby of the Palazzo Donizetti;  The bar is through the doors on the right


Earlier in the evening, when we had popped our head into the place they were playing music that was too loud.  When he went in much later, however, it had calmed down a bit and so we took a Martini at the bar with a couple of travelling companions.  The Martini was properly made but they used the bits of ice in the glass technique to chill the glass which never really works properly.  However, they did ensure there was only one olive in the drink!

Still, not a bad effort and probably worthy of a 6/10.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Japanese wailing again...


Banzai, Nippon!


Agent Triple P was glad to see a Japanese Antarctic whaling fleet seen off by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society this week.  Needless to say a Japanese fisheries official, one Tatsuya Nakaoku, was quoted as saying: "It's extremely regrettable our research activity has been obstructed by the acts of sabotage..."

How do the Japanese (and the Nowegians) keep arguing that whaling is being undertaken for "scientific research".  No it isn't, you do it because you like eating whale meat.  Don't argue that it is "culturally significant" either. We used to eat songbirds in Britain but we stopped.  We used to have slaves but we stopped.  We used to send children down mines but we stopped. We used to burn enormous amounts of coal in our cities but we stopped. This is because we are a mature and civilised country that realises that just because we have traditionally always done something doesn't mean that, in a changing and ecologically fragile world, we can still justify it.  Unfortunately, the people of Norway and Japan are so arrogant that they feel that they can pursue their outdated and barbaric slaughter of whales on these sort of cultural, disguised as "scientific", grounds.

What research, actually, has all this "scientific" research yielded?  How many samples do you need of a creature to conduct "research".  The answer in the case of this fleet was a planned catch of 945.  945?  That isn't a catch, that is a harvest.  What we should be saying to these two countries is; alright, if you are killing whales for research you have to destroy the carcasses afterwards; you're not alowwed to sell them for food.  Not that anyone seems able to enforce this.  The Norwegians just up and left the International Whaling Commission.  Unless someone imposes sanctions on these ghastly countries nothing will happen.  They argue that there are enough Minke whales to allow a certain number a year to be taken.   Even if, as the Japanese maintain, Minke whales are the "cockroaches of the sea" and need to be culled to protect fishing stocks (after all the Antarctic is right next to Japan) then the whales should still be destroyed not eaten if you want to convince people that you're not just thinking about your next dinner out.  We won't even go into the fact that smaller countries who don't support Japan in the IWC have been threatened with losing their Japanese aid.

Anyway arguements about population levels are not the point. The point is that these are very intelligent creatures, possibly very intelligent indeed (although we bet Japanese "research" doesn't support this), and you just shouldn't kill them, full stop. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sir George Shearing (1919-2011)


George Shearing photographed by Bruno of Hollywood (who was, incidentally, father of Playboy Playmate of the Month for December 1966, Susan Bernard!)


Another musical hero gone yesterday in the person of Sir George Shearing, one of the very last great jazz pianists from the immediate post-War period.

Battersea born Shearing was the son of a coalman (Triple P is old enough to remember coalmen delivering weekly sacks of coal to his house when he was small) and was blind since birth.  He started to learn the piano at the age of three and by the time he was eighteen was already recording and performing on BBC radio having started performed in pubs in London at the age of sixteen.  He turned down the chance to continue his formal music studies at university.

During the Second World War he teamed up with violonist Stéphane Grappelli, who had escaped to London from occupied France.  He recorded with Grapelli again in 1976 on his album The Reunion.

He moved to the US in 1947 and became a US citizen ten years later.  He formed his  quintet in 1949 which added a vibraphone to the usual piano, bass, drums and guitar.  Shearing's distinctive style was influenced by the Glenn Miller Orchestra's reed section, Erik Satie, Claude Debussy and Frederick Delius amongst others.  Coming in at the end of the frantic be-bop era he was instrumental in ushering in the more reflective "cool jazz" of the fifties. The classical nature of much of his playing leant itself to backing by a full orchestra as well as his work with smaller ensembles.




He also worked with a number of singers over his long career, such as Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan and Nat King Cole.  Shearing's work with Cole on Nat King Cole sings/George Shearing Plays, especially one of Triple P's all time favourites, Let There be Love is a marvel of delicacy and laid back phrasing.

Shearing was also a composer of around 300 pieces, notably the standard Lullaby of Birdland (Birdland was a New York Jazz club) which he claimed took ten minutes to write.  At his 80th birthday celebration concert at Carnegie Hall in 1999 he introduced it by telling the audience: “I have been credited with writing 300 songs. Two hundred ninety-nine enjoyed a bumpy ride from relative obscurity to total oblivion. Here is the other one.”  Dave Brubeck, a close friend, also performed at that event and is now really the last of the great jazz pianists, who started in that period in the thirties and forties, at the age of ninety.

Shearing became the first naturalised US citizen to be knighted, by the Queen, in 2007.

He continued performing well into his eighties and, indeed, Agent Triple P saw him perfom in Toronto some years ago.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ocado Periodic Table advert



We aren't often impressed by advertisements on the Underground but the Ocado "periodic table" one at Oxford Circus at present is utterly brilliant.  The tagline is: Ocado: groceries for every table.

Put together for the annual CBS competion to produce advertisements with more text on them than normal, it made the final shortlist of six from nearly 500 entries.  Even more impressive was the fact that it was produced by Ocado's in house team, not a top advertisng agency.

Ocado handle on-line food ordering and delivery for the Waitrose supermarket chain and their idea of relating things you can get in the supermarket to an imagined periodic table was a stroke of true genius.  Amazingly they didn't win, but they should have and they were voted the passengers' favourite. 

Big Breakfast of the Week 5: Pera Palace Hotel, Istanbul



After our rather disappointing breakfast in Ankara we were hoping for something rather better in Istanbul and we were not disappointed.

Triple P's hotel, the Palazzo Donizetti, was a small boutique hotel and breakfast was served in the cellar in a function room rather than a proper room.  Fortunately, Agent Triple P's friend B was staying across the road in the Pera Palace (which is undoubtedly where Triple P will stay next time). 

The Pera Palace was where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express and the new (the hotel has just been completely refurbished) restaurant there (called, inevitably, Agatha's) was where Triple P and B had a leisurely breakfast on the Saturday morning.




The hotel was built in 1892 specifically for passengers using the Orient-Express and the interiors have been beautifully restored.  Sadly, they have moved the restaurant from the original and splended dining room  to a tucked away location downstairs.  The original dining room is still there but is now a function room.  They did the same thing a few years ago at Triple P's favourite hotel in Toronto, the King Edward; moving the restaurant from a splendid, period room full of magnificent Edwardian plasterwork to a horrible windowless room behind the lobby. As a result we stopped staying there. Fortunately, Triple P managed to sneak into the Pera Palace's orignal dining room and take a picture which gives an excellent idea of what it would have been like as a dining room in its heyday.


The former dining room today


The new restaurant does, at least, have windows but it doesn't have the character of, say, the Orient bar upstairs.  Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable place for breakfast and, we have to say the service was excellent (as it was elsewhere in the hotel).   The dining room is split into two with breakfast beeing served in the part where the kitchen is visible.  Triple P also had lunch there and that was out in the main restaurant which was more formal.


View of the kitchen from the breakfast part of the restaurant


Our tea was regularly  replaced with fresh pots without the sort of delay you often experience in hotels if you are not having coffee.  Triple P's fried eggs were cooked to order and then he added some things from the buffet: hash browns, bacon, strange but delicious sausages, mushrooms (cooked with peppers-not ideal) and a grilled tomato with the inevitable cheese topping.  Mustard was supplied on request, again, very quickly; there is nothing worse than your breakfast getting cold whilst they fetch the mustard.

All in all we would happily give it a 7/10 (at least one point was for the service).