There’s no place like home (or why we love a movie quotation)

welcome mat

We are living in strange times indeed.  The current COVID-19 pandemic is really going to test the adage “There’s no place like home” to breaking point, as we are all encouraged to stay at home as much as possible at the moment in order to maximise so-called ‘social distancing’ and banish the world of the scourge of Coronavirus.  The adage however, famously used in the movie ‘The Wizard of OZ’, allows us to segue into the topic of watching great films. Many of us will be finding more time to watch films at the moment, whether with our families or on our own.  There are some great quotations from famous films and many blogs about them but not many have stopped to consider why we like them so much.

For what it’s worth my top 10 movie quotations, in no particular order, are:

“You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off”  The Italian Job, 1969

“How do you like them apples?”  Good Will Hunting, 1997

“Oh I’m sorry, did I break your concentration?”  Pulp Fiction, 1994


“I mean, funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you?”  Goodfellas, 1990

“Roads ? Where we’re going we don’t need roads”  Back to the Future, 1985

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat”  Jaws,  1975

“I see dead people”  The Sixth Sense,  1999

“I’ll be back”  The Terminator,  1984

“Houston, we have a problem”  Apollo 13,  1995


“Here’s Johnny !”  The Shining,  1980

“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys.”  Dead Poets Society,  1989

The more observant among you will have noticed that I have listed 11! But that’s the point, most of us have so many we can’t easily limit them. But why do we love a great line from a film ?

Well, why do we quote anything? Oxford University Press has for many years compiled a dictionary of quotations.  These are not limited to films but draw on novels, plays, poems, essays, speeches, films, radio and television broadcasts, songs, advertisements, and even book titles. It can sometimes be difficult to draw a distinction between quotations and similar sayings like proverbs, catch-phrases and idioms.  A catchphrase is a phrase that is often repeated by and therefore becomes connected with a particular organisation or person, especially someone famous such as a TV entertainer.  It tends to be his or her ‘calling card’.  A quotation is a phrase or short piece of writing often taken from a longer work of literature , poetry, etc or what someone else has said.  Those of us who watched the original version of the TV game show ‘Catchphrase’ may have said to ourselves “Hey, that isn’t a catchphrase” when Roy Walker occasionally gave a disappointing answer after letting the hapless contestant down gently with the line “it’s good, but its not right”…..that’s a catchphrase by the way, not a quotation!

So much for identifying quotations, but what is the point of them?  In reality they perform many different functions for different people in different contexts.  They often lend authority to an argument by drawing on some past heavyweight.  You may find your kids lost for words if you quote Mark Twain at them e.g. “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything”!   I suspect in most cases quoting from films isn’t used in this way but rather it is used as a feel good exercise and it is a short cut to remembering the film itself and it brings the film to life with the escapism that usually entails.  Often repeating lines from films in exchanges between friends and family leads to bonding, like the repeating of an inside joke.  Sometimes we are able to pull a line from a staged situation into a real life situation and apply it appropriately.

Only a few things can bring people together. Aspects of life such as food, music, books, and films are the most universal parts of contemporary pop culture. Movie quotes unify people, now more than ever. So the next time you say “You talkin’ to me?”  or “I am serious.  And don’t call me Shirley” , you’re keeping alive the trend of quoting iconic movies. Everyday lines like these are becoming increasingly immersed into our culture.  After this lockdown is over we may need them more than ever, so get viewing those films now!



3 weeks, 8 seconds: a review

This is the story of the epic 1989 Tour de France. 30 years have passed since these events took place. I thought I remembered them all but Nige Tassel’s fascinating memoir of the race proved me wrong. There were so many twists and turns I had forgotten and which this book allowed me to recall and relive.

I remember watching the highlights coverage of this race on TV first time around. Back then Phil Liggett was heading up the coverage on Channel 4 and the daily episodes were introduced by the iconic Tour De France theme tune penned by Pete Shelley of The Buzzcocks fame (see below link). The exciting climax to the race is the reason why I still follow it every year even now. This book tells the story of the epic duel between Greg Lemond and Laurent Fignon, but it also covers so much more of the forgotten history.

In the years since 1989, cycling has grown ever more popular as a sport in the U.K. Certainly us Brits took a bit more notice in the 1990s when Chris Boardman won a gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics and then won a few stages of the Tour De France. Since then British cycling has seen unprecedented success both on the track and on the road. There was no British winner for the first 109 years of the Tour De France. Subsequently we have seen an embarrassment of riches, with wins from 3 different British riders starting with Bradley Wiggings in 2012, through 4 Chris Froome wins and a very popular Geraint Thomas win in 2018. Back in 1989 such success for British riders in the biggest bike race in the world was only a pipe dream. The French however were regular winners and they fully expected this to continue. Their journey has been equally surprising as they have failed to win their own famous race since 1985. This only heightens the importance of the events which took place in 1989.

For the uninitiated the headline is that Greg Lemond won the 1989 Tour De France by 8 seconds. As ever the devil is in the detail. This is a 3 week long grand tour cycle race covering 3,285 kilometres or 2,041 miles. There were 198 riders on the starting line, made up of 22 teams of 9 riders. In this context 8 seconds is a vanishingly small winning margin and indeed it remains the smallest by some distance.

Pedro Delgado was the pre race favourite as he was the defending champion. His must be one of the least successful title defences in the history of any major sporting event. He turned up almost 3 minutes late for his start time in the prologue individual time trial and rendered victory almost impossible on day 1. As for Lemond it was amazing that he even made the start line. Whilst he had won the Tour in 1986 he had missed the next 2 after being shot and almost killed in a hunting accident in 1987 and having to undergo 2 lots of surgery. He was not expected to climb back to the pinnacle of professional cycling. Laurent Fignon on the other hand was supremely confident of victory. Indeed it may well have been his over confidence that was ultimately his downfall. He was 50 seconds ahead of Lemond going into the final day individual time trial. As that stage was only 15.2 miles long, Lemond was not expected to make up the deficit. Lemond however was an early adopter of technological advancements including aerodynamic handlebars and carbon fibre frames. On the other hand all Fignon had to accompany him on his ride into tour history was a Gallic shrug and that famous pony tail. In the event Lemond completed the fastest individual time trial in tour history up to that point and even with the benefit of going out last Fignon was 58 seconds slower, costing him victory and allowing Lemond to win by the titular 8 seconds over 3 weeks of racing.

In the end it is difficult to sum up the key message of Tassell’s book any better than he does himself by borrowing from The Bard. The book quotes Henry V in stating “Tis best to weigh the enemy more mighty than he seems”. If the French are to turn round their now decades long decline in cycling performances they will do well to heed this advice. On the evidence of this book however, Nige Tassell has nothing to worry about, as his writing goes from strength to strength.

The Jaws of Victory

The Netflix documentary, The Jaws of Victory, is a must watch for all football fans. The episode forms part of the series entitled “Losers”, although any Torquay fan would question that since it does not portray the team losing. The programme tells the story of how Torquay Utd came to avoid automatic relegation out of the football league on the last day of the season in 1987. Along the way we are treated to a programme replete with classic quotes and some musings on the nature of winning and losing.

The Jaws of Victory boasts an impressive dramatis personae. Netflix has gathered together many of the original players as well as other protagonists. We hear from Kenny Allen (Goalkeeper), Jim McNichol (Right Back, Captain) and Paul Dobson (Striker) on the playing front. There is also time for Dave Thomas of The Herald Express, Stuart Morgan (Former Manager), a humble fan, John Harris (Former Police Constable) and of course Bryn the Police dog.

The scene is set with Torquay Utd painted as a humble small town club. Long time followers of the club will have marvelled over the years at how many words the media manage to find to describe such clubs. Many times we have read about minnows, strugglers, battlers etc. Dave Thomas tries in vain to talk up Torquay by reference to the English Riviera and to nameless individuals reputed to have compared it favourably with its cousin the French Riviera. The downtrodden fan however, brings us back to earth with a bump, saying “Anybody who goes to a football match expecting Torquay to win is an idiot I think…you must hope for the best and fear for the worst when you follow Torquay”. Perhaps the most profound comment however, returning to our theme of the nature of winning and losing, is when it is said that there have been more downs than ups, but in a way that makes the ups feel all the better.

So the scene is set. It is the last day of the season in 1987. The team that finishes bottom will be relegated. At the time that could well mean the end of a club. Torquay were playing Crewe who were considered a good team and who were already safe. Torquay would need to get something from the game. Conditions were not very conducive however with the pitch described as bone hard, just like a desert and the temperature boiling hot. Despite what you may read in the travel guides these are not the usual climatic conditions on the English Riviera.

The match did not start well for Torquay and they found themselves 2-0 down by half time. They pulled 1 goal back in the 2nd half to give themselves some semblance of hope. With 8 or 9 minutes to play Captain Jim McNichol chased the ball down as it ran out of play and approached at 90 degrees to Police Constable Harris and Bryn the police dog. They were standing on the sidelines as the Plainmoor crowd got increasingly restless and fearful of relegation. The titular Jaws of Victory belonged to Bryn and soon clamped on to the right back’s thigh causing a nasty gash and ultimately a requirement for 17 stitches. In the heat of battle however, and bearing in mind Torquay had already used their then regulation 1 substitute, Jim had to play on once he was bandaged up. The 4 minute delay whilst these events played out allowed the Gulls to be clear as to exactly what was required of them as Lincoln lost and Torquay knew for sure that a draw would be sufficient to save them. The game re-started and as we entered the 3rd of the extra 4 minutes Paul Dobson struck to equalise and shortly thereafter the final whistle blew and all hell broke loose.

In the aftermath of the game we heard from Dave Thomas that a miracle had been delivered and the players and fans alike partied. The club Chairman met Bryn the dog and his handler and gave him a bone as a reward and a Gulls scarf to help him understand what team he should be supporting! It was generally accepted that the dog had helped Torquay stay up, rather than Paul Dobson. Torquay had survived “by the skin of their teeth” and so started a theme of Torquay as football’s great escape artists that would see further episodes, although to date no repeats starring canine protagonists. We heard from Kenny Allen that if you are a follower of a big football club you need to get real and learn a bit about football history. It certainly seems that the day on which Torquay were saved by a police dog went down in football folklore and this Netflix instalment can only help to cement its position.

Ultimately this was a feel good story. Maybe it was feel good like Lassie or The Littlest Hobo in days gone by, the dogs that saved the day and made everyone feel good about themselves when there was a happy ending every week. I suspect however that it is something more than that. If winning was the be all and end all then everyone would support Manchester City or Utd, and many do of course. But why support a battling club like Torquay? It has often been said that you don’t learn anything from winning but you learn from losing. You go back to the drawing board again and again until you can compete and ultimately win. The victory of the person who knows what it is to fail is perhaps all the sweeter. It is not taken for granted and it is hard fought. This documentary is timely then in 2019 as Torquay Utd team look to have turned a corner with current Manager Gary Johnson weeks away from possibly achieving promotion back to the 5th tier of English football. Torquay fans are dreaming then of a return to the football league. When you survive there is always the chance of doing better next year. Torquay survived in 1987 and they have done well this bring on next season!

Escape from Alcatraz ..or something

In a curious echo of Christmases past I watched Escape from Alcatraz this Christmas. The echo was down to the fact that the prison escape and prison literature (prison lit) genre has featured pretty heavily in previous Christmases, albeit largely in the form of The Great Escape. I am not entirely sure what the attraction of the genre is, but it seems to exert a gravitational pull of sorts. In fact now I come to think about it I have also been listening to Folsom Untold, which is an Audible documentary-style account of the Johnny Cash album recorded live at a prison gig. I have also always been a fan of The Shawshank Redemption; another prison break film, based on the Stephen King short story. My recent renewed interest is due to upcoming plans to visit San Francisco and hopefully Alcatraz. Again, rather strangely, on my last visit to the U.S.A I read the Stephen King short story collection which included the story which provided the inspiration for Shawshank. This all gives rise to many questions including what is the attraction of prison lit, why is it American dominated and why indulge at Christmas? Before briefly considering all of this I will endeavour to summarise the titular film for the uninitiated.

Escape from Alcatraz is the true story of 3 inmates who attempt to escape from what was considered the most secure prison in the world. Clint Eastwood (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; Dirty Harry) plays Frank Morris, the leader of the group and Patrick McGoohan (The Prisoner) plays the vindictive prison warden. The real life escape in 1962 precipitated the closure of the facility in 1963. The film depicts Morris and his cohorts plotting and preparing their escape. They dig through their cell walls, using a canteen-acquired spoon adapted into a mini shovel. As they explore the possible exit route beyond their cell walls they leave behind papier-mache dummies to make it look like they remain fast asleep, like well behaved prisoners. One of the most memorable scenes occurs when it looks as if their plan is going to be rumbled as a prison officer is looking long and hard at Morris’ papier-mache alter ego as if he has worked out it is not real. In a dramatic scene, which nevertheless requires you to willingly suspend disbelief, we see the officer enter the cell and shake Morris only to find the real Morris has now returned to his cell and he innocently asks what’s up in a bleary eyed manner. The denouement shows Morris et al decide to proceed with their escape plan a little early due to the unwanted attentions of another prisoner who’s threats to kill Morris risk derailing the whole plan. In the event 1 of the escape party does not have the heart for it on the night but the other 3 seemingly make good their escape through the hole in the cell wall, onto the roof, down the side of the building, over a barbed wire fence and into the treacherous waters with the aid of a makeshift raft.

The next morning a massive manhunt ensues. No bodies are found but McGoohan is keen not to be the Warden in post when Alcatraz loses its reputation for never having any succesful escapees. To this end he insists the men must have drowned. The film suggests otherwise however, and in a moment of poetic licence we see the Warden picking up a chrysanthem from the water’s edge on nearby Angel Island, after being told the plant is not indigenous to the island. This is significant as Morris had befriended a character in Alcatraz called Doc who was an artist with an interest in growing chrysanthemums. The clear implication is that the escapees had made it to Angel Island. In reality no conclusive evidence ever surfaced to indicate whether Morris and co survived or not. In 1979 an FBI report concluded that the men were likely to have drowned in the freezing waters of San Francisco Bay. The film hints at the suggestion that that would be a self serving finding for the authorities keen to maintain the perfect reputation of the correctional facility. The fact that Alcatraz was shut down in 1963, 1 year after the escape, is less suggestive of confidence in the prison.

Although they did not watch this film with me, I suspect I may have planted a seed so that my kids are also in danger of catching the prison lit bug. I mentioned to them that Alcatraz must surely have been the inspiration for their hero J K Rowling’s Azkaban. Come to mention it it is probably not their first foray into the field either as I have also subjected them to Porrridge re runs.

As for why prison lit has an eduring attraction I suspect it comes down to (excuse the pun) escapism. Most of us have not experienced incarceration and so it offers an incite into a different world. I am not sure if the genre is any more American dominated than any other aspect of media. Certainly mainstream movies remain American dominated. In my case I have probably been more interested in the American incarnations of prison lit but this is really just a specific expression of a generalised interest in all things Americana. Why indulge at Christmas? The cynics among us might suggest a link to escaping relatives with whom we may otherwise be drawn into seasonal disharmony. I would suggest however that Christmas is itself the ultimate in escapism in that it takes us away from the humdrum elements that may lurk in our everyday lives. Seen in this light watching a prison flick at Christmas makes perfect sense!

Until the next time, I’ll be off to find the river.