My Top 10 British Films – 5

How to get Ahead in Advertising (1989)

Starring Richard E Grant as the archetypal 80s yuppie, this hilarious and metaphorical study of a burned-out executive’s midlife crisis paints a familiar human face on the zeitgeist of our modern consumer age.

Although seemingly successful on the outside, hotshot advertising executive Denis Dimbleby Bagley hits a brick wall when he’s asked to come up with a catchy advertising campaign for yet another new acne treatment. It should be easy for a man of his talents, but instead he comes up empty as all of his personal doubts, demons and neuroses congeal into a psychological poison which has been festering inside him for years.

Sliding rapidly into a nervous breakdown, Bagley’s deteriorating mental health manifests physically as a boil on his shoulder, which continues to grow despite various attempts at treatment. Eventually it develops its own voice as Bagley’s inner conflict breaks out into open warfare. As he constantly fights with himself, those around him and society at large, Bagley struggles with the universal yet intensely personal question of whether he is really a good man, who’s led a worthy life. However, as this movie so clearly demonstrates, the answer to that fundamental question is not always “yes”.

Released during what many people regard as Handmade Films’ most creative period, Bruce Robinson’s hilarious scripting and direction mercilessly skewers both social convention and personal pomposity, while also challenging many of the comfortable, middle-class assumptions that rule not only the characters’ lives but also our own, regardless of where we’ve actually come from.

One of the particular strengths of the script is its sense of balance. While Bagley believes his existential angst is something new and unique, Richard Wilson’s older and more experienced portrayal of Bagley’s boss has seen his own share of therapy, and looks upon his junior’s struggle as a natural part of the creative and evolutionary process. Bagley becomes each and every one of us as he struggles in vain against the rising tide of his own commercial instincts. Probably the most unsettling part of the whole movie is that, despite its boorish manners and unrepentant dog eat dog outlook, Bagley’s boil is always honest when it speaks.

Like all truly great scripts, How to get Ahead in Advertising remains relevant and reinvents itself for each new generation. The much lauded pork pie rant applies as much to today’s fake news as it did to yesterday’s fake flavourings. More than anything else, this movie reminds us how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

This film is as funny as it is insightful, and it manages to perfectly frame the eternal struggle between activist and pragmatist that plays out daily inside each and every one of us. It had much to teach when it was first released, and probably even more so today, which is why How to get Ahead in Advertising easily makes it into my top ten British films.

Let’s Hope Theresa’s Learned her Lesson

Well I guess there’s some life in the old gal yet. After more than a year of obfuscation, humiliation and repeated capitulation, Theresa May at last seems to be waking up to the cold, stark realisation that the European Union is a thoroughly hostile, untrustworthy and deeply anti-democratic institution. After her completely unnecessary and gleefully stage-managed humiliation in Salzburg, our Prime Minister seems to have finally understood that the people she’s dealing with will do anything and everything they can to undermine her at every turn, and what’s more they’ll enjoy doing it.

With her name fast becoming a byword for political miscalculation, Theresa May’s decision to come out swinging following the EU’s pre-planned political ambush was exactly the right move at the right time. We’ve all been forced to endure the endless scorn and derision of Brussels’ bloated little big men since the day of the referendum, and we’ve all had a bellyful of it now.

After the astonishing scenes at Salzburg, anyone who cannot now see exactly who and what we are dealing with is either woefully misinformed or dangerously dishonest. Either way, we can now safely discount the mournful wailing of those continuity Remainers who still rush to bend the knee to this smug, ossified and overbearing boys club. Their breath-taking and barefaced mendacity shows just how well they’d get along with those Brussels bureaucrats who think that sniggering Instagram posts are an acceptable form of international diplomacy.

So it was with a renewed sense of relief and optimism that millions of hopeful voters watched our most senior elected official finally standing up for herself, and by extension, the scores of us who would’ve happily told the likes of Tusk and Barnier exactly what to do with their damned cherries several months ago.

It’s taken a right royal spanking in front of the whole world to shake her out of her complacent stupor, but it seems that our Prime Minister is beginning to understand that the EU27 are no longer our friends. Theresa May’s newfound belligerence is a breath of much-needed fresh air, and a welcome reality check for those Europeans who believe that if they just fold their arms and say “non” often enough we’ll suddenly change our minds and realise the error of our ways. We knew this was coming on the day we cast our votes, and every petty, petulant insult and snide jibe merely confirms our worst suspicions about the motives and demeanour of those who, even now, refuse to relinquish control of our future.

But let’s not be too hasty in our optimism. After all, we’ve been here before. It’s no accident that those heady days of double-digit poll leads and solid party support coincided exactly with the Prime Minister’s firm and mature attitude towards those Brussels bullyboys in expensive suits. I believe that Theresa May can find that level of support and respect again, but only if she listens to the wisdom of her own experience, rather than to the poisonous, weasel words of an elitist establishment that’s always been embarrassed to be British for some reason.

Whilst it’s true that we’ve seen this more determined and less wobbly PM before, there’s an important difference this time around. Post Chequers, she knows full well that she’s spent every penny of political capital she once held while trying to conduct her own legislative ambush against both her own Cabinet and the country at large. Having first cleared her hugely unpopular plans with her “friends” in Europe, she now realises that her only achievement is to severely weaken herself at home while getting nothing in return from the EU. In short, they knowingly lied to her when they quietly tipped her the wink and said they would support the Chequers plan.

It must be comforting for Theresa May to know that with friends like those, she can still rely on her enemies among the Brexiteer faithful to help her do the right thing.

These are strange times indeed.

Image courtesy of Krzysztof Szkurlatowski at FreeImages.com

My Top 10 British Films – 6

Layer Cake (2004)

Starring a pre-Bond Daniel Craig, this sleek and stylish reimagining of the British crime thriller is filled with more twists and turns than a mountain goat track as we follow an anonymous cocaine dealer who finds himself sucked further and further into a criminal underworld he’s long been planning to escape.

Charged with the relatively simple task of finding the missing daughter of a crime boss, our “hero” soon finds himself caught in the crosshairs of an elite underworld assassin tracking down a stolen drugs shipment. With events fast spiralling out of his control, the always smooth and clean-cut cocaine supplier is finally forced to step in and get his own hands dirty in order to save first his liberty and then his life.

Despite repeatedly claiming not to be a gangster, our cocaine supplier soon realises that he faces a stark choice between an un…marked grave and scrambling to the top of the bloodied underworld pyramid. The clear lesson is that you’re either in the underworld of you’re not. Our protagonist’s own words come back to haunt him as he learns how dabblers and wannabes inevitably inhabit a world of pain, grief and regret…but only if they’re lucky.

Expertly written by J J Connolly,
Layer Cake is a skilfully crafted trip into an inescapable rabbit warren of organised crime, shifting loyalties and official corruption. Many of the characters inside this underworld such as Duke, Morty and Eddie Temple are so well-developed that they manage to be both larger-than-life and completely believable at the same time. A difficult accomplishment for any author. Each of the players reveal detailed and often interwoven histories which help to keep their personalities grounded and their actions well motivated.

Although super smooth and sleeker than a Japanese bullet train, director Matthew Vaughn resisted the urge to indulge in too much of the directorial and cinematic masturbation which has been the Achilles heel of so many promising movies during the early 21st-century.

Beautifully shot, skillfully penned and featuring the haunting vocals of no lesser talent than Lisa Gerrard, Layer Cake is every part the modern crime thriller, but it’s also a lot more as it probes the wider issues around society’s war on drugs and its unintended consequences. It’s also one of the best looking movies you’ll ever see.

If you’re looking for a cool crime caper that’s well scripted, believable and actually has something of substance to say, then Layer Cake is definitely the film for you.

My Top 10 British Films – 7

The Hill (1965)

Almost forgotten now, this tense and relentless prison drama stars a young Sean Connery as busted Sergeant Joe Roberts trying to survive a notorious Middle Eastern prison camp during the bloody campaigns of World War II.

Ably abetted by an excellent supporting cast including Ossie Davis and a surprisingly serious turn by Roy Kinnear, The Hill is a searing and bleak study of dehumanising bureaucracy, psychological torture and overt institutional cruelty. Brilliantly shot and superbly scripted, this simple premise follows the incarceration and steady deterioration of five very different characters as each one is hammered relentlessly by the incessant malice of a vengeful staff establishment.

As Roberts and his cell-mates are pushed to their physical and psychological limits, each one disintegrates under the stress to reveal both their own and the system’s shortcomings. The death of one prisoner finally pushes mutinous mutterings into outright rebellion as the rule of law rapidly breaks down, with the men turning on both their captors and one another. After a tense stand-off between prisoners and staff, order is finally restored when the inflexible camp commander at last shows some leadership, having been relentlessly undermined by one of his over-zealous underlings.

Although Connery and the others gave great performances, the real star of this show was Ian Hendry, whose brilliantly understated interpretation of a born sadist hiding in plain sight made the character of Staff Sergeant Williams one of cinema’s most chilling, believable and sadly neglected on-screen psychopaths. Hendry’s portrayal of a fearsome prison officer quietly building his own, personal power structure inside an established institution is as insightful as it is instructive.

Scripted by Ray Rigby, the true horror of The Hill is often lost on first viewing. It lies not in the physical torments of searing sun and endless drill, but instead it lurks in a hundred petty slights and humiliations as the screw is silently and relentlessly tightened. From the moment the inmates double in through the gates, Williams and the system behind him lay claim to every aspect of a prisoner’s being, both inside and out. Not only are the inmates ordered what to do and when, but also when to laugh, when to stop laughing, what to say and when to say it. The world of The Hill owns them mind, body and soul, and just as that mountain of sand and rock can be seen from all parts of the prison, so the men forced to march up and down it daily will live in its shadow long after they’ve served their time.

The Hill is a very unusual film. In many ways it feels more like the original play by R.S. Allen as it boasts no musical score, and its main focus is the dialogue and interplay between the characters. At the same time, it’s brilliantly shot and directed by Oswald Morris and Sidney Lumet respectively, leading to a compelling if not altogether cheerful cinematic experience. The use of light, shade and close-ups from unusual angles keeps this black and white movie feeling fresh and innovative, despite it having passed its 50th birthday a few years ago.

A masterpiece of writing, performance and cinematography, The Hill is just as relevant today as the day it first premiered. Such a long lasting and insightful creation easily makes this one of the best British films ever released.

My Top 10 British Films – 8

Asylum (1972)

“We’re a long way from Harley Street out here.”

From the legendary studios of Amicus Productions, Asylum is probably the finest example of the many classic British horror anthologies that graced our screens during the sixties and seventies.

Starring Robert Powell as a young and idealistic psychiatrist, Asylum explores the tall tales and terrifying truths behind four patients’ incarceration at a gloomy and remote institute for the criminally insane. Sensibly light on the gore, Asylum is instead heavy on a slow-burning creepiness in which was one of the seventies’ greatest cinematic gifts to the world. I need only mention the words “brown paper” or “shop dummy” to give anyone who’s seen this movie an immediate attack of shivers.

What makes this relatively low budget film stand head and shoulders above its peers is the surprising quality of the both the cast and the writing. As well as Powell in the lead role, the credits boast no lesser names than Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland and the perennially underrated Herbert Lom to name but a few. The outlandishness of each segment is well balanced by a gritty realism which set Amicus apart from Hammer Films, its main rival of the period. Indeed, it’s the Amicus trademark of the outrageous ideas expressed through mundane situations which make many of the scenes from this classic movie so memorable and disturbing, despite their being so obviously unbelievable. The wrap around story of the aspiring psychiatrist helps to ground the whole movie far more effectively than its contemporaries. Psycho author Robert Bloch made sure to pay particular attention to this often neglected part of the anthology and cunningly exploit its full potential. The doctor’s own tale builds to an unexpected and very satisfying final twist, having been expertly moved along by Patrick Magee and Geoffrey Bayldon, two more hugely talented and undeservedly obscure actors of the period.

Asylum is one of the best examples of a movie becoming greater than the sum of its parts, and despite the fact it’s only make believe, there are few who won’t pull a face or make some dark remark when some of the more memorable segments are mentioned. That’s quite a feat for a film that’s now forty years old and made on a shoestring. Asylum has stood the test of time and held its own amongst many younger and far bloodier rivals, thus earning its place in my top 10 British films.

My Top 10 British Films – 9

The Rebel (1961)

Tony Hancock stars in his default role as a dour and downtrodden version of himself in this witty and prescient exploration of a nihilistic, self-referential and obsessively obscurantist art establishment.

Cursed with a big dream and a small talent, Hancock struggles to cope with the confines of his orderly, predictable and comfortably dull life as a junior clerk at an accounting firm, until at last his repressed inner artist finally breaks free to reshape his life forever. Fleeing from stuffy London to bohemian Paris, Hancock’s singular lack of painting talent is soon mistaken for a new and profound artistic expression as he rapidly rises to the pinnacle of European creative society through a mixture of good fortune, fast talking and the rigid intellectual conformity of an outwardly rebellious clique.

Emulated by struggling painters, courted by wealthy industrialists and pursued by their wives, Hancock’s every action and utterance is elevated to the status of profundity and uncommon insight as the aesthetic establishment both buys into and bolsters Hancock’s own delusions of greatness. As a result both his fame and resale value continue to increase not only for him, but for an ever-expanding orbit of agents, exhibitors and other hangers-on within the creative community.

Naturally it can’t last, and eventually the artistic world turns against him, declaring his work to be puerile and shallow, even though Hancock remains as reliably inept as he’s ever been. With the cycle completed, the film closes with Hancock back in his old London lodgings, having gained only a few hot meals while his agent has pocketed yet another fortune and moved on to the next creative meal-ticket.

In its own gentle yet insightful way, the Rebel is a conglomeration of Hancock’s earlier output, shining a light on a man who’s desperate to be taken seriously as an artistic and intellectual force, but lacks the background, connections and raw talent required to realise his dreams. Some famous Hancock’s Half Hours such as the Poetry Society and the Gourmet are writ large as his character struggles to realise the greatness he firmly believes is predestined, and yet is constitutionally incapable of reaching. In fact it’s this underlying theme that runs through almost the entire body of his work, making Hancock’s career in comedy and his untimely demise all the more poignant and touching, as life and art turned and turned about so often throughout his life that it was difficult to tell one from the other.

One of the things that makes Tony Hancock’s comedy so enduring is that we recognise ourselves in that simple working man who finds some small way to fight back against his crushing nihilistic existence each and every day. From the Rebel’s brilliant monologue on the morning commute to the perfectly executed choreography of the accountancy office, we lend Hancock our sympathy and support because we’ve all felt his existential agony first hand.

The foundational ideas underpinning the Rebel are as relevant today as they were in 1961, as we watch an increasingly remote artistic elite drifting ever further into conceptual obscurity, while still claiming to be the authentic voice and conscience of the human experience. Once inside that protected, moneyed and insulated clique, the stark choice between conformity and obscurity can be a powerful persuader for even the most ardent expressive soul.

The big joke running through the whole of the Rebel is that it’s not really a study of rebellion at all, but an ironic and cutting exposure of a shallow, self-absorbed and viciously conformist artistic establishment.

The Rebel provides much food for reflection in this time of great change.

My top 10 British Films – 10

Yield to the Night (1956)

J Lee Thompson directs a young Diana Dors’ compelling portrayal of condemned prisoner Mary Price Hilton in this suffocating study of banal, bureaucratic torture. Stripped of her trademark bombshell costumes and makeup, Dors looks uncommonly vulnerable as a true understanding of her plight begins to dawn as appeals fail and hope fades. Without her legendary good looks to hide behind, Dors gives the performance of her career as the fallen party girl transformed into a pale and mournful lost soul, hollowed out and shuffling around the prison grounds in a tortuous cycle of waiting and worrying as her inescapable fate approaches.

On constant suicide watch, the tension of mundane routines slowly climbs to an unbearable peak as Hilton struggles to ascribe some worthwhile meaning to her life and her final days in the claustrophobic condemned cell as she endures the agony of awaiting the noose. Eating, sleeping, smoking and playing cards with the prison officers surrounding her as the clock ticks down in that cold and spartan prison regime. The interplay between Hilton and her “matrons” is especially absorbing, as the surrounding staff struggle to balance their common humanity against their clear and inflexible judicial duties, with the invisible walls between the condemned and her handlers constantly being probed, breached and re-built as those charged with supervising Hilton’s state sanctioned demise struggle with the burden of their own individual consciences.

With nothing left to lose, Mary recounts the tale of how she came to be waiting at the scaffold, revealing a very human story of feminine jealousy, insecurity and lack of maturity, culminating in the murder of a rival for her lover’s affections. This moving and personal account is an excellent reminder that behind the headlines there is often a tragic and complex human story that all too often remains unexplored.

As Mary’s story reaches its inevitable climax, the tension of boredom becomes unbearable, forcing the watcher to almost feel sorry for the staff surrounding her as they stoically suffer and share in her psychological torture. When at last the final appeal is rejected, each tries to offer solace in her own clumsy and misguided way, while each knows there can no reprieve, no matter how much genuine remorse they believe condemned might feel.

While not exactly a fun family night in, Yield to the Night is an excellent example of the lost art of building tension through inaction. It often reminds me of the first twenty minutes of Psycho, where very little happens, yet the audience finds itself glued to the screen, afflicted by an almost inexplicable morbid fascination for every twist and nuance in a character’s complex relationships, despite already knowing how the tale must end.

Speaking of endings, Yield to the Night surely boasts one of cinema’s all-time great closing shots, as nearly everyone who watches this classic British film remarks on the that last abandoned cigarette, symbolically smouldering away through those final frames…with nobody coming back to claim it.

Yield to the Night is a hugely underrated exploration of those hidden human depths beneath both the dry court transcripts and the sensational press coverage surrounding any high profile case. Through dialogue and character development, it peels away the layers of half-truths to reveal a hugely flawed and almost childishly simplistic character doomed by circumstance, temperament and a wider societal demand for justice and retribution.

There is much food for thought in this unjustly forgotten film.

The Swivel-Eyed Brextremists were Right

“Brexit means Brexit…there must be no attempt to remain inside the EU, no attempt to re-join it through the back door and no second referendum.”
Theresa May, June 30th 2016

Like many Leave voters, I’ve been chewing my lip and trying to keep my own counsel for months as I’ve watched our government surrender concession after concession to the EU, while receiving the grand total of nothing in return. The exit bill, the order of negotiations, the transition period and the unending stream of calculated insults emanating from Brussels have been difficult to endure, but I’ve kept my eye firmly on the greater prize of Britain once again becoming a self-governing and independent nation state, ready to plot a new course in our rapidly changing world.

I’m not easily shocked, but the revelation that our own Prime Minister has been actively plotting to do the very thing she swore not to do when she was entrusted with the keys to Downing Street has taken some getting over. I know the word “plotting” has some very dark and emotive connotations, but it’s completely justified. There’s absolutely no chance that the Chequers agreement is something that was just scribbled on the back of an envelope as the PM awoke from a recurring Brexit nightmare one stormy night. It’s far too sophisticated for that, having been deliberately designed to deceive by talking positively about sovereignty, while vaguely referring to some unspecified “common rulebook.” Anyone who understands anything about the EU will spot Brussels’ fingerprints all over a document such as this.

And just who will be writing, updating, interpreting and arbitrating this exciting new common rulebook I wonder? Now let me think…

Who would’ve thought that those swivel-eyed Brexit extremists were right all along when they warned against putting a Remainer in Number 10? However, it’s now crystal clear that our Prime Minister hasn’t really embraced the idea of leaving the European Union and making autonomous decisions without its advice or approval. Indeed, we now know that she’s been consciously and secretly plotting to keep us shackled to that failing institution and bound to their our shared “common rulebook” indefinitely. If that’s not re-joining the EU via the back door, then I really don’t know what is.

However, even if this chequered “turd rolled in glitter”
does come to pass in its current form, there’s still good cause for optimism in the longer-term. Let’s not forget that Article 50 has already been triggered and, more importantly, the European Withdrawal Act has now passed into law, despite a co-ordinated campaign of sabotage by an increasingly desperate establishment which has demonstrated it will never accept the referendum result.

The significance of these Brexit triumphs should not be forgotten, because they mean that EU law will no longer be supreme in the UK after March 29th 2019. This date is now enshrined in UK law, and the dread European Communities Act 1972 is set to be repealed on that same day. The current babble of loose talk about simply abandoning Brexit altogether fails to acknowledge that any changes to our current exit arrangements would require further legislation via Parliament. Good luck with that.

Although at least half the country (and I suspect more) is rightly up in arms about May’s sloppy stich-up at Chequers last week, any future legal partnership with the EU must, by definition, be an arrangement ratified by the UK Parliament, and there’s little evidence that such a disastrous deal would ever make it through the Commons. How deliciously ironic it is that we can thank the reliably condescending and galactically over-entitled Gina Miller for that Supreme Court precedent. Thanks Gina, I know you’ll be pleased because I’m sure this is exactly what you had in mind when you set out to recycle, re-package, and re-brand an establishment attempt to overturn the referendum as a deeply held and strangely sudden conversion to the cause of Parliamentary sovereignty. Is anyone giving odds on Miller taking up some kind of Brussels role when we’re finally out? She’s a natural.

I could continue writing here, but my eyes have started to swivel.

Images courtesy of Peter Skadberg & Lorenzo Gonzalez at FreeImages.com

 

The Unstoppable Undead Remain Campaign

There is no escape from the nightmare! We cannot wake up!

No matter how far we run, how many times we knock them down or how many new Acts are passed to finally end their monstrous non-lives, the eternal protest horde still lumbers through the streets as it seeks to feed on the brains of the gullible and terminally entitled.

Just when you thought that Royal Assent for the European Withdrawal Act would be the final blow that just might bring peace to these tortured and insatiable fiends, still we hear their blood-chilling refrain whenever we turn on our televisions or dare to glance at a newspaper.

Remaaaaaaaain!

Cruelly unaware that it actually passed away in the early hours of June 24th 2016, this hollow, shambling echo of a hard fought political campaign still stumbles through our streets and TV studios, forever tortured by the vague recollection that it once dwelled among the living and was once loved.

None are spared by this new and seemingly unstoppable political pathogen. Young or old, high or low, the Remainia virus can strike anywhere at any time, and its victims would be pitied if their symptoms were not so horrifying and dangerous.

Formerly high functioning doctors, lawyers and politicians are inexplicably stripped of all but the most base collective instincts as they herd together with others of their own kind, mocked by their shared recollection that once upon a time the world listened when they spoke.

You can’t reason with political zombies because they don’t even know that they’re dead.

Their cognitive functions are too greatly impaired to understand that they were on the losing side of the single biggest democratic mandate in British political history. Instead, they will simply try to eat your braaaains with sharp-toothed sophistries about not really knowing what Brexit meant, even though they fail to understand that both options on the ballot paper were equally unconditional.

Robbed of their most basic human wits, these pitiful parodies are unable to conceive how any second referendum would require parliamentary assent. They are simply too befuddled to realise just how many years it took first to secure and then to win the 2016 referendum, and they sincerely believe the result can simply be reversed because they happen to think it’s a bad idea. Pity the afflicted, it’s not their fault.

Victims of the Remainia virus are so cognitively impaired that they cannot even grasp how a second referendum would probably go the same way as the first one, and it certainly would have no legal bearing on the Lisbon Treaty now that Article 50 has been triggered. Instead of displaying the human instinct to argue for re-joining once we’ve left, the blind, instinctive drive of Project Fear sends them headlong into the brick wall of reality, before the next scare story sends them stumbling back into that very same wall in an endless cycle of destructive and embarrassing self-humiliation. I’m just glad they can’t feel much pain at this late stage.

Although some brave lawmakers have tried to help, nobody has yet been able to develop a cure for this most callous and cruel cognitive affliction. There was a brief hope that waving a copy of the newly passed EU Withdrawal Act might trigger some form of basic political reasoning process, but to no avail. Remainia sufferers are incapable of understanding that repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act is now a constitutional reality, which can only be reversed by still further parliamentary legislation.

At present, there is no known cure or vaccine against the Remainia virus, and the only effective countermeasures are quarantine or containment. Remainia victims can be dangerous, although their habits and responses are fairly predictable when observed over time. Above all, remember that the nice middle class lady shambling around Whitehall with her placard is no longer what she appears to be. She will surely devour your braaaaains with hollow sophistry and leave you just as empty and bereft as she herself is. One more lost soul to swell the ranks of a politically undead army.

Just be careful out there.

Images courtesy of H Assaf and Julia Freeman-Woolpert at FreeImages.com

My Top 10 Live Bands – 1

Iron Maiden

Tremble with terror, ye unbelievers! No recording industry fortress can withstand the unstoppable musical force unleashed upon this mortal realm by the musical alchemists of Albion!

Iron Maiden are so much more than just an astonishing and amazing live spectacle. They’re a living, breathing, libertarian resistance that glories in taunting an entertainment elite that long ago decided such louts were just too uncouth, too incorrect and generally unworthy to tread the sanctified and hallowed halls of the mainstream media complex.

Cast out and denied the limelight that was rightly theirs, Iron Maiden set about raising an army of fans and building an entertainment war machine the likes of which this world has seldom seen.

They have succeeded, and they have swept all before them.

My personal relationship with Maiden began way back in 1986, when I first saw them play live at Hammersmith. For any readers who remember, this was the gig that featured a brief appearance by some hapless kid who was placed there courtesy of Jim’ll Fix It…ahem, moving swiftly on.

I’ve seen them four times in total, roughly once a decade, and on each occasion I’ve witnessed how this insatiable media monster has grown bigger, stronger and ever more ambitious with the passage of time. With musicianship, equipment and a stage spectacle second to none, Iron Maiden have first conquered and then colonised parts of this world where the corporate media machine often fears to tread.

Fronted by the coolest living Englishman, an Iron Maiden gig isn’t just a great concert, it’s a major event. The ground trembles as the beast approaches, accompanied by a roar of jet engines as a customised Boeing 747 named Ed Force One touches down. This is no magic carpet for a spoiled pop princess, but rather a fully liveried workhorse transporting band, crew and tons of equipment to every conceivable corner of the globe. Naturally, Bruce Dickinson himself is at the controls as Ed Force One continues its epic journey to spread the dark gospel.

Oddly enough, the sheer scale of an Iron Maiden gig means that it’s actually best viewed from a bit of a distance. The stage and lighting are of such epic proportions that it’s easy to miss the bigger picture from close up. Naturally, there’s no need to worry about not hearing if you’re further back, as Iron Maiden’s infamous four axe attack can be heard for miles around.

Now well into their fourth decade in the music business, Iron Maiden have managed to avoid the rock ‘n’ roll tiger traps which have turned far too many of their contemporaries into monosyllabic, shambling caricatures. They’re fit, able, independent and spoiling for the next conquest.

Any band that’s big enough to headline Glastonbury but turns it down is a band that deserves our undying respect and admiration. Iron Maiden exist in a parallel media universe which they’ve conjured into existence through sheer force of will (and maybe some dusty, arcane powers) making them the undisputed overlords of all they survey.

Go see the beast on the road, and pay homage to the world’s greatest living rock legends.