Missing For Good by Alex Coombs

Is she alive, or is she missing for good…?

When the estranged daughter of Scotland’s premier art dealer goes missing, Private Investigator Hanlon is hired to find out where Aurora is.

But what she thinks will be a relatively straightforward job, soon turns dangerous. The missing girl has a troubled past but what made Aurora suddenly pack her bags and disappear?

Hanlon has her work cut out for her. The stakes are rising and she needs to get to the bottom of the case before someone else is attacked.

And is Aurora still alive, or is she missing for good?

A former detective in the Met, Hanlon now finds herself living in splendid isolation in the wilds of Argyll with just her knackered Vauxhall Corsa and her trusty hound Weymss to keep her company. 

I wasn’t familiar with the work of Alex Coombs but the setting of Scotland was the thing which tickled my fancy. I live locally to the setting, I like a good Tartan Noir: colour me intrigued.

And Coombs did intrigue. Hanlon is a smashing character: damaged and haunted; loving her dog, her only emotional attachment; adjusting to her new rural life.

The University of Edinburgh alumni renders some parts of Scotland well – he’s good on the capital and its various sub-districts, as well as describing those single track roads which wind their way down towards the hamlets and villages on the road to Campbelltown.

There are some odd lapses – Loch Lomand in the Highlands? – but actually that’s the sort of mistake which seems to fit with the characters’ perspectives which is nice.

Coombs also has a mind for engaging characters – coke-addicted, psychotic Glaswegian hard men aren’t exactly original, but his is a memorable specimen of the species.

His gay hitmen are refreshingly rendered also and he has a lovely turn of descriptive phrase. “‘One person, they get in the van with the girl. Two people…’ He shook his head irritably. He was tired of this. There could be endless permutations – what if she arrived riding a camel? ‘Fuck it, if there’s two or more with her, we dinnae do anything.’”

He is no less comfortable skewering the pretentions of the Edinburgh students Hanlon encounters. “Morag was studying Creative Writing; if anyone was likely to make a mountain out of a molehill it was probably an aspiring writer with an overactive imagination.” 

And this equally applies to the lecturers, “‘Look, I am an Artist!’ his dress proclaimed. Hanlon thought it also proclaimed, ‘Look, I’m an arsehole’ but for now she would keep that to herself.”

There are some false notes in the dialogue, occasionally it sounds a little generic and not specific to individual characters and there can be that flaw of the crime novel – a lot of recapping of plot while the detective muses to herself. Hanlon is a loner – having only a dog does limit her opportunity for natural sounding exposition.

However, ‘Missing for Good’ is a rattling good read, sprinting along with enjoyable gusto and building to a satisfying crescendo. All in all, thoroughly recommended – I’ll have to go back and read Mr Coomb’s other stuff now.

Purchase Link – https://amzn.to/3hbLh1x

Author Bio – 
Alex Coombs studied Arabic at Oxford and Edinburgh Universities and went on to work in adult education before retraining to be a chef. He has written four well-reviewed crime novels as Alex Howard.

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Agent Running Through Fields of Wheat?

“You know what Trump is?’

‘Tell me.’

‘He’s Putin’s shithouse cleaner.’

Which is as good a place as any to begin with John Le Carrè’s latest work, Agent Running in the Field. Rumoured to have angered his former employers, (according to one very put out spook at the Cliveden Literary Festival at least)

Mr Le Carrè’s somewhat classy retort in The Times was enough to generate some publicity for what is certainly a lower key release than 2018’s Legacy of Spies (which even got a session at the London’s Royal Festival Hall beamed to cinemas over the UK).

This was supposed to be his Brexit rant – his anti-Trump, reactionary wail of despair at UK national suicide, the world gone mad, manipulated by the kleptocratic, Tsarist spook-in-chief in Moscow. This was supposed to be his deconstruction of the British state and it’s Cambridge Analytica-altered, Putin fiddled with, Big Red Bus of Deceitful Propaganda opus. Hell, even the title sounds like a riff on our former Prime Minister’s childhood agricultural misdemeanours. And, at least in the character of Ed, the novel does reflect those emotions.

“It is my considered opinion that for Britain and Europe, and for liberal democracy across the entire world as a whole, Britain’s departure from the European Union in the time of Donald Trump, and Britain’s consequent unqualified dependence on the United States in an era when the Us is heading straight down the road to institutional racism and neo-fascism, is an unmitigated clusterfuck bar none.”

This, in fairness, is hardly an equivocal position. But, nor is it a radical stance so far out with the opinions of many of the people watching Brexit unfold and, in comparison to – say 2003’s Absolute Friends – this is a quiet and measured response.

And, really, that is my take away from the novel. It is a small story in a way that the absolute first rate Le Carrè pieces aren’t. The character of Ed is a graceless and, as a narrator in one of his novels might say, seems to have elevated gracelessness to an art form. Nat is an unreliable narrator, the seemingly happy marriage undermined by what everyone else sees in him apparently, although the influence of this on the plot seems slim.

Overall, it’s always better to read Le Carrè than others. There are the usual damning characterisations, the usual pithy descriptions and he does physical nuance just about better than anyone but, here, the plotting lacks surprises and the ending fails to pack the sort of punch that even a relatively minor novel of his latter period, Our Kind of Traitor or A Most Wanted Man for example, manage to produceAgent Running.

‘Nobody Move’ by Philip Elliott

If you like… (takes deep breath) Heat, Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction, The Godfather, Baby DriverNo Country for Old Men, Get Shorty, Kill Bill Vols 1 & 2, The Getaway, Silence of the Lambs, Out of Sight and Point Break, then this may just be the book for you.

Nobody Move by Toronto-based debutant Philip Elliott is a love letter to the crime thriller movies of the 90s and is packed with enough sleazy motels, 80s punk rock and characters making questionable life choices to make you want to ask, “Whose chopper iz dis?’

Philip Elliott author photo

Philip Elliott, debutant author of crime thriller, Nobody Move, out in September 2019

Clearly, the man knows his Tarantino, his Elmore Leonard and his Jim Thomson.

However, although this may sound like pastiche, it is so cleverly done, the novel ripping along in 315 pages, and Elliott managing to make you enjoy spending time with these monstrous characters, that you don’t feel oppressed by the references. The fact that the characters are self referentially referring to them acting like they’re in a movie, only adds to the fun.

Nobody Move opens with the character of Eddie, a small time hoodlum beginning to tire of the life, making a catastrophic mistake which only escalates as variously his pretentious, restaurant owning mobster boss, Saul Benedict, and his men (and Eddie’s ex-partners), Floyd and Sawyer, all enter the fray hunting the want-away Eddie. Fate twists further as the beautiful Dakota, a Native American woman fresh in the City of Angels searching for her missing friend and psychotic, Texan assassin Rufus, seeking vengeance for his murdered brother, takes up his beloved daggers one final time and begins the long drive to L.A. Meanwhile, put-upon vegetarian LAPD detective Alison Lockley’s hunts for the killers becomes increasingly urgent as the bodies pile up.

The novel, published by small press Into the Void, has rather too many uses of “the N word” for my liking and appears to have an unfortunate relationship to violence against women – but persevere for all is not what it seems.

This is to be the first of a series of novels, known as the Angel City series. I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment.

Nobody Move (Angel City #1) is out from Into the Void press on September 10th.

ISBN: 978-1-7753813-5-8

Slow Horses Still Glued Up

Slough House’ is dirty; ‘Spook Street’: deadly. Now we have the duplicity of ‘Joe Country’ – perhaps the next stop for Mick Herron’s ‘Slow Horses’ will be a devious ‘Intelligence Continent’?

As it is, ‘Joe Country’ is a fine addition to the series. Few writers can weave such deft description and pacy plotting – garnished with lashings of humour and even dashes of pathos – as Herron and each novel builds to a crescendo in which the reader is left feeling both traumatised and hungry for the next instalment.

There’s little doubt that Herron is a confident writer at the top of his game. This series has become famous for its openings: Dickensian wanders through locations in an omniscient voice quite unlike other writers working today. Here, he sheds this trope, instead opting for a reveal different to the structure of the other texts.

His confidence has also been apparent for a while in his wanton profligacy with his characters. It must take iron nerves for a writer to dispose of such well-rounded, independent characters brimming with such vim and spark as these Slow Horses. And yet, here again, Herron is prepared to dispose of them with abandon. As in the old TV series Spooks (MI:5 in the US), no one is safe and this means no reader can ever truly relax that their favourite character won’t end up at the knackers yard in the next ten pages.

Finally, there is Jackson Lamb. A Rabelaisian grotesque, becoming progressively more grotesque by the novel. And, in truth, Lamb is actually my biggest quibble of this first rate book. He dominates the proceedings so completely that you pine for his nastiness when he is off stage. This is Banquo as central character, relegating Macbeth to bit part player by sheer force of personality (or blackened toe wiggling through undarned sock, if you will).

There are a few minor worries deriving from Lamb which I hope are me being hyper critical. He keeps “appearing” and “vanishing” like an obese Paul Daniels – or a less creepy David Blaine – and I hope this doesn’t signal either Lamb as supernatural entity or that Herron is now so successful that he has entered the realm of the uneditable: too grand for repetitions to be noted and corrected. I think not on the whole.

Joe Country’ is proof, if any were needed, that Herron stands at the pinnacle of the espionage genre, (possibly snug on the heights with Jeremy Duns and Charles Cumming). Others have already noted it is not a book which would reward readers unfamiliar with the series but for all that, I hope the Slow Horses have many more races left to run.

In short: Horses far from in need of the knacker’s yard: 4/5*

  • Other details:
  • ISBN: 9781473660359
  • Publication date: 20 Jun 2019
  • Imprint: John Murray

Thanks to Netgalley for the advance copy

A Film Education

It started with the Care Bears, (said nobody ever.)

But, for me, it really did start with Care Bears: The Movie. I was 4 and this was 1985 and my parents took me, along with some friends from play school, to the local cinema for the first time. img_1502

I remember nothing. One of the friends may have been celebrating a birthday. She may have had a sister. I’m guessing that may explain the choice of movie.

Subsequently, I’ve done some research. Cinematic golden age problem child Mickey Rooney was in it. The writer, Peter Sauder, had written on such top notch fare as Inspector Gadget, Star Wars: Droids (that’s the cartoon which Disney are still trying to resolve the issue of its place in the cannon 30 years later) and went on to the glories of Barbar, Rupert and the Beetlejuice cartoon.

Mickey. Rooney: cinematic legend – Care Bear extraordinaire

But I knew none of this. What I remember is my mum tapping me on the shoulder – was it a minute? An hour? A day into the movie? I had no idea. I had disappeared. She learnt across and said, “Were you in the film?”

When I finally came to, I had to just nod and grin. All I knew was that I was in the screen. There was a ringing in my ears. I’d forgotten where I was. I’d forgotten that there was a here I’d forgotten about. Far as I knew, there was only Care Bears world now.

Total immersion is tough to describe. Bognor Regis’ Picturedrome dates back to the 1880s and, these days, appears to have been rejuvenated. In the 80s, when the average cost of a cinema ticket I’m reliably informed was a whole £1.70 for an adult, it was known unaffectionately as the “flea pit”. Salubrious it was not. I loved it.

The Bognor Picturedrome: previously known as “the Fleapit”. Quite nice now.

My next love was TV and Granada classic, The Professionals. I mean, due to a speech impediment, I couldn’t actually say that. So, in fact, my next love was The Procesionals, much to my parents’ delight and amusement but for me there was nothing like two U.K. Starsky and Hutch rip offs sliding across the bonnet of a pair of Ford Capris under the disapproving eye of that bloke from Upstairs Downstairs to excite my pre-school heart.

The addiction grew. But the world was very different then, even though it’s not that long ago* (*It may, in fact, now be quite a long time ago). My parents couldn’t afford a video recorder so we didn’t get one till at least 1989.

By the time I went way to boarding school in the early 90s, I was sat in the phone booth whilst my poor father had to go to the shop on a Thursday to get both the Radio Times (BBC1&2) and the TV Times (ITV/Channel 4) and then my mother had to spend her telephone bill reading out to me which movies were on that week so she knew which ones to VHS for me to watch when I got home at the end of term. No parents are perfect, but the fact they didn’t excommunicate me or leave at boarding school does speak very highly of this particular pairs’ good humour and tolerance.

I watched Barry Norman and Film Insert-Whichever-Year-Here like other people went to church. I was easy to buy for at Christmas – the latest Halliwells Film Guide would keep me occupied for hours. In fact, I’d read them so thoroughly that kids used to test me by asking me to the name the year, main actors and synopsis of any film in the book. I usually did ok too.

Last week, I began work on a script with a guy I’ve known forever and who is a successful film maker of many years’ standing. He’s thrown me an invite because he’s very kind and because… I don’t know, he took pity on me? Who knows. All I know is ill forever be grateful for the opportunity.

I hope the script gets finished.

I hope it’s good.

I hope we can get it made.

But mainly, I hope that it has the power and emotional resonance of Care Bears: The Movie.

A Dance to the Music of Crime

I have an aunt who once told me in confidence that the greatest relief of her life was when she read an article explaining that she did not have to read Proust in order to be considered well read. She is, by any normal, sane standards, an exceedingly well read lady but no amount of madeleines and tea or epiphanies can persuade her that she wants to wade through the full text of A La Recherche du Temps PerduIn a House of Lies

As someone who is still struggling to chart the full course of ‘Swann’s Way’, I understand those readers who share her aversion when it comes to the writer regarded as the English Proust, Anthony Powell and his masterwork, ‘A Dance to the Music of Time. Interestingly, Ian Rankin does not appear to be one of them. In fact, he’s quite the fan.

I was a member of the Anthony Powell Society (I lapsed, I’m sorry! I’m coming back – promise!) but every year, I re-read the full 12 novel sequence (or, perhaps, re-listen is a more apt description as I listen to the mighty Simon Vance’s audiobook recording?)

This time, I had to bench this particular pleasure as I I was impatient to listen to the latest John Rebus outing – ‘Taggart’ actor James MacPherson having recorded all of the Rebus novels to date and done a superb job.

The_dance_to_the_music_of_time_c._1640

Nicholas Poussin’s Dance to the Music of Time

I’ve long believed that Rankin is foremost chronicler of contemporary Scottish life. From as far back as ‘Set in Darkness‘ which hinged upon – and poked fun at – the furore around the opening of the Scottish Parliament, it has long been obligatory to say that ‘Edinburgh is as much a character as the people’ (a compliment used so often it sets my teeth on edge, what it does to Rankin’s dentistry I can only imagine.)

But, for me, it always felt that it was ‘Naming of the Dead’ where Rankin really began to embrace parachuting Rebus and his Watson – boy she’d hate that – Siobhan Clarke like action hero Rosencrantz and Guildensterns charging through the 2005 G8 summit.

And then Rebus reached retirement age and that was that.

Except it wasn’t. Rankin managed the seemingly impossible. He brought our misanthrope hero back, he got to have the joy of seeing Clarke outrank her mentor and then he got to play fantasy comic book team up by including anti-Rebus goody two shoes, Malcolm Fox.

Rebus’ Moriarty, “Big Ger” Cafferty also lurched towards retirement although –spoiler alert – maybe not of the lasting variety. The Naming of the Dead

Last year, 30 years after he first beat the streets of our capital, a character now as unrecognisable as the city he is associated with, Rebus took a year off.

It was void in my reading life, for sure.

Hence my impatience to get hold of the big man’s 22ndouting. And then: somewhat unexpectedly, it was Powell that ‘In a House of Lies‘ reminded me of.

You could detail the plot: body in car in woods, old case reignited, Rebus on original investigation, the veteran doing a favour for Clarke who has been receiving threatening calls, but you know what? It’s not important (sorry Ian, I can only imagine how annoying it is after all your hard work) but I just like seeing the team back together.

I love Rebus bristling with Fox, walking his new sidekick Brillo, see him still driving his knackered Saab (“It’s not vintage, it’s old,” he testily informs another character at one point.) It’s comforting to spend time with Clarke.

For a reader, it’s like a warm bath – albeit one with murder, low budget Scottish film making and a distinctly tongue in cheek hat tip to the more cosmetic societal changes of the MeToo movement. Perhaps the greatest trick Rankin pulls off is introducing new characters like

The way characters move in and out of each other’s lives is Powell-esque, as are the coincidences. I wonder how the books play down south where I imagine having a detective who worked the original case and all the spiralling connections seems far-fetched. For those readers I say: come to the Highlands, it seems positively weird if you don’t run into colleagues all the time.

Nick Jenkins

James Purefoy as Nick Jenkins

So, can you directly compare Rebus world to the comic novels of upper middle class manners of ‘Dance’?

Course you can.

John Rebus as Nick Jenkins? I think not. Our hero is far too down to earth and interesting to play the arrogant first person protagonist of Powell’s world. But he (used to) drink enough to be classic soak Charles Stringham and is charming enough when he wants to be to get his own way with a passion for danger so, perhaps, he is the Peter
Templar of the sequence.

Siobhan Clarke is, I think, Emily Brightman. An esoteric pull, I admit, but this seemingly minor character has Clarke’s desire to cut through the flowery prose which obfuscates and frustrates clarity (see her demolition of the French gutter press in book 11 ‘Temporary Kings) which powers Siobhan.

Malcolm Fox is more tricky. He has elements of the Widmerpool about him in his difficult family life, his desire to be “good” (whatever that means in his world) but he also wants to be loyal and, across his immersion in the word of Rebus has become a far more interesting character than in his more staid standalone world. His seemingly magnetic romantic attraction brings to mind Ralph Barnby, although a Byronic Lothario painter is about as far from Malcolm as could be imagined, so a hybrid Widmerpool, Barnby and civil servant Sir Leonard Short is possibly convincing, even if the mind boggles. Widmerpool

And so what of Big Ger Widmerpool then? He has waltzed in and out of the dance of Rebus’ life for nigh on 30 years and, even though pretenders to the throne like Daryl Christie are strong characters, even the best of these never quite move past Pepsi to the big man’s full fat Coke.

That’s why this is where the comparison breaks down. Powell never wrote anyone like the Gothic Cafferty. He’s more like John Le Carre’s Karla, locked in intellectual combat with his nemesis, as Rebus’ dance card fills and people come and go.

smileypeoplekarla.png

Patrick Stewart as the reticent espionage genius Karla.

Powell’s 12 novel sequence is, arguably, the finest long form work in English. Certainly, as roman fleuve go, it is accessible, amusing and poigniant.

But what Rankin has achieved is truly remarkable. If it was “literary fiction”, whatever that is, it might get treated with less snobbery but for a razor sharp analysis of the monumental changes which have taken place in the last 30 years in Scotland, this is as fine writing as you could ask for. Funny, sharply observed, moving, pacey and rooted in a world recognisable to ordinary folk. And he’s done that over 22 novels (in this sequence alone).

61wMZQZ69PL._SX496_BO1,204,203,200_In a 2015 piece about ‘Even Dogs in the Wild‘, I suggested that Rankin was getting better and better. On this evidence, and unlike the unholy trinity of Rebus, Clarke and Fox, I may have understated the case.

‘In A House of Lies’ Ian Rankin, Orion, 4thOctober, 2018, ISBN-10 9781409176886

 

Revisiting… Mallrats (1995)

With Kevin Smith have recently taken to Twitter to confirm a sequel to this slacker comedy of the mid-90s, currently titled MallBrats, now seemed like an excellent opportunity to revisit the original for the second in a series of posts Revisiting works worthy of reconsideration.

Mallrats - Returning to the Mall at a cinema near you.

Mallrats – Returning to the Mall at a cinema near you.


The story follows a day in the life of two listless buddies in an unnamed American suburb, Brodie (played by Jason Lee in his first starring role after a career as a skate boarder) and TS – Jeremy London (before the legal difficulties).

The movie opens with these two “heroes” being dumped by their respective partners – Renee (Shannon Doherty in spikey form throwing off the Beverly Hills 90210 shackles) ditching Brodie for his total lack of drive or ambition and addiction to Sega ice hockey games (retro!) and Brandi (the picturesque Claire Forlani) ditching TS because his sage wisdom has lead to a girl dying in a freak swimming pool accident. The loveable idiots retreat to the mall where they indulge in sulking, introspection, discussion of the practicalities of comic book character sex and retail therapy.

Full disclosure: I’m a Kevin Smith fan. There are not many people I can actually write that about and I’m not blind to his faults – as a filmmaker or in any other area of his public life, but truth be told, I’ve drunk the Kevin Smith Kool Aid.

I am embarrassed to admit how many hours I have spent listening to him and Scott Mosier on Smodcast, or Smith and Ralph Garman on Hollywood Babble On, or Smith with guests on the Fat Man on Batman podcast or… You get the idea. I sincerely believe, that there is an argument to be made that Smith is, in fact, one of the most creative and important directors working today, for, for example, having shifted the expectation of how much ‘inside baseball’ you share with the audience, but that’s another article for another time.

But, one of the reasons for my fan-dom is that I have a penchant for art that tells stories and creates universes out of multiple parts. Knowing that the Rick Darris who Rene cheated on TS with is the same Darris who tells the ‘Finger Cuffs’ story in Chasing Amy is an ‘Easter Egg’ for the viewer which pleases. This is true in the Parlabane-era work of Christopher Brookmyre too, in writing, and I think is a gift for the careful audience member.

Either way, what is undeniable is that the movie was panned on release – Smith has spoken about this too in other sources. However, he has also said that he has lost count of the amount of people who say that Mallrats was their introduction to his work – the gateway drug to his other work like Chasing Amy or the other View Askew titles and this was certainly true for me. Like a great many people, I was introduced to this flick by friends (friends who bore a striking resemblance to Jay and Silent Bob (or maybe Cheech and Chong) truth be told) on home video and fell in love.

Rewatching it now, Mallrats definitely has the feel of an updated teen comedy like Porky’s for the Gen X’ers. Smith has written about this at some length (you can read the thoughts of the man himself here: http://viewaskew.com/mallrats/kevmall.html and, on this level, the film really starts to make a lot of sense. In the credits, Smith thanks the two Johns – Landis and Hughes for inspiring and entertaining him as a teenager and it is clear that Mallrats was his attempt to make that kind of a film. But, you can see why it might not have connected with an audience that was – in that year alone – enjoying Get Shorty, and released in the year of Empire Records, Dangerous Minds and The Usual Suspects – the tone just didn’t fit for the times.

However, it has now found its niche and these days, is – I think – regarded with affection. I’m fairly certain that American Pie, the whole of Judd Apatow’s career and, even The Inbetweeners would not exist without Mallrats. Now, there’s a claim to juggle with.

It has some jokes that are still pretty solid within the genre – the carpet store in the mall called Rug Munchers, the intertextual references to The Godfather, Batman (Michael Keaton, not Christian ‘The Gruffalo’ Bale) and Jaws, as well as Smith’s usual litany of fast paced, whip smart characters all pondering at pace like dime store Sartres. The stink palm and the chocolate covered pretzels scarred a generation. There is also a great turn from Ben Affleck as the sleazy store manager. Affleck plays the unsympathetic role with a strutting insouciance and you realise what a big man he is when he goes toe-to-toe with Lee.

Interestingly, Affleck is also key to one of the scenes that does jar the viewer 20 years on. The scene where he attacks Lee in a corridor and explains his nefarious plan for Doherty has a gritty realism which actually makes the punches stark and aggressive. It really takes the audience aback, especially as mere moments before there have been comedic punches and kicks to the groin galore. It’s a shift which is uncomfortable.

There are other gripes, Jason Mewes is not as comfortable an actor here as he would go on to be, and some of the scenes have strange moments and pauses which I can’t help but think an editor as accomplished as Smith would now remove, but these are minor quibbles.

Smith has confirmed via Twitter, Instagram and the like, that the bulk of the cast have agreed to return, which is a huge boost. He’s also spoken about including the man of, like, 7 voices, Ralph Garman in the movie which is a massive boost for those of us who have marvelled at his dynamic performances and fury fuelled diatribes as point man on the tremendous Hollywood Babble On. The man will be a huge addition to the ensemble.

Mallrats shines on as movie which, if you have seen it, lives with you. I don’t know if it’s the simplistic tale of lovers spurned and returned or because no movie with a three-nippled fortune teller can be all bad, but it has a sweetness which resonates and which means that 20 years on, I think we’d all like to see what happened to Brodie, TS et al.

But, before you see the sequel, go back to mall – it’s worth it.

Revisiting… Dream On

Revisiting… A new series of posts revisiting film and television shows worthy of attention

Revisiting… Dream On (1990)

40-years-of-hbo-comedy-6-638
As HBO was setting out to prove that it was not just television, (“It’s Not TV – It’s HBO”) the station that went on to dramatically shift the landscape of American media culture over the succeeding quarter of a century, commissioned Dream On as its earliest original series.

John Landis – best known for directing movies like The Blues Brothers and An American Werewolf in London – asked Universal if he could take advantage of their catalogue of old movies it didn’t really know what to do with. They agreed and, in an entrepreneurial mood, David Crane and Martha Kaufman were hired to produce a show that could utilise these clips – Dream On was the result.

The series follows the ups and downs in the life of book editor Martin Tupper, played by Brian Benben. His life is variously disrupted, supported, scuppered and generally beset by his ex-wife Judith (Wendie Malick who you may recognise from another American sitcom Just Shoot Me where she played the predatory sex-crazed former model Nina Van Horn), his teenage son Jeremy (Chris Demetral), his charismatic talk show host best friend Eddie played by Dorien Wilson and his acerbic secretary Toby (played with fine bulldog force by Denny Dillon).

The show now stands out for the way in which it both set and broke established norms of television sitcoms. On the one hand, the dating disasters of a recently divorced single man in New York was hardly ground-breaking topical comedy and Benben spends a lot of time mugging for the camera in order to allow the clips to be fed into the screen time, like a live-action collection of Family Guy cut aways.

On the other, HBO pushed the fact that it was allowed to do things that the networks couldn’t – Look: nudity! – which also meant they could address issues outwith the perimeter of ordinary television fare – open about sex, for example, and willing to do an entire episode centred around Martin taking an AIDs test; pretty close to the knuckle 25 years ago. Four years later, Crane and Kaufman were responsible for the behemoth that was Friends, not a story line I can imagine attaching to the casual liaisons of Joey Tribbiani.

Dream On is not laugh out loud funny, it has to be admitted. Benben is a likeable lead – although whiny – but this aspect is addressed by the writers too. The classic movie clips are used to punctuate the emotional beats of the scenes, which can get wearying for the viewers.

But there is charm: in the performances and in the chance to see the forgotten oeuvre of Ronald Reagan, and to realise how much B-movie schlock Lee Marvin made. The show has dated too – there are a lot of pastel colours and the shoulder pads are a wonder of quarter century old engineering.

But, it has a classic opening sequence, “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4b7fzAdDxyE” which is actually the origin of the classic static opening for all later HBO shows and if, like me, you watched it as a child on late night Channel 4 in the UK, there is nostalgia for a time when kids were sat in front of the TV and told to be seen and not heard. A bit like the narrative of Martin himself, come to think about it.