Saturday, 8 November 2014


Go to Call Of Duty's Facebook page and 99% of the comments cry out that the franchise is dead.
For something that is 'dead' the midnight launch on the 3rd November seemed to be well attended and I was told that the version for the PS4 outsold those for the Xbox.

Whatever the view 'Advanced Warfare' came from Sledgehammer Games who were behind another CoD title 'Modern Warfare 3' (and is the first CoD game that I played.

'Advanced Warfare' is set in the future (2059) and follows the hero, Mitchell, from the chaos of Seoul, South Korea that has been attacked by troops from North Korea. Mitchell and his mate, Will Irons, are caught out while planting an explosive device on a rocket launcher. Will dies and Mitchell loses his left arm. Discharged from the Army, Mitchell is given the opportunity of a second chance by Will's father who owns the Atlas Corporation - a private military that goes anywhere for the highest bidder. This character is voiced by Kevin Spacey and the well constructed CGI is more than just a Spacey look a like.

The job in hand is to hunt down and kill a terrorist known as Hades. To do this Mitchell becomes part of a squad run by Gideon and Joker, his number 2. Although missions are completed I couldn't help but feel that something darker lurked beneath - and, yes, I have reached that point of the game where my suspicions were confirmed.

So for story construction there are no complaints and character development is excellent.

So far so good but there is a tiny problem with the gameplay with tiny being the operative word. There are instances when a series of buttons need to be pushed in order to advance the sequence. At one point the prompt looks like it is the front of the headlight; the second a logo on the base of the armoured windscreen. This was so small that I had to get close to the tv screen just to make it out. Messes up the flow of the gameplay with too many repeats to locate what is required.

Multiplayer is fun. Loaded with jetpacks on eco-skeletons the soldiers fly through the air with the greatest of ease. But it does not take long for the novelty to wear off. It is not like 'Titanfall', as many suggest - no Titans or wall running for starters - but the similarity is there. Having had the benefit of contextual lean on 'Ghosts' this way of looking around corners is absent - so, too, is 'Squads' which was a handy 'training ground' on 'Ghosts'.

And there, I think, there lies a problem with the Call Of Duty franchise is this lack of consistency - new ideas that occur in one game does not continue with the next.

Another problem is that with the introduction of the Xbox One I have had a problem with Activision games. Halfway through a multiplayer match the screen would go blank and then I would get a message telling me that I had to have a Xbox Live network to play 'Call Of Duty: Ghosts. My grandson had the same problem with the Activision/Bungie 'Destiny'. So  I avoid Activision games on my Xbox. Which brings this back to the beginning and comments made on the Facebook page for Call Of Duty. The real issues, it would appear, come with servers and hackers a subject that has yet to be addressed - no point in having a Facebook page and remain unresponsive to these complaints.

As for 'Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare' - I enjoy the game and, so far, the multiplayer.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

WWE2K15 (video game)

The con is on.

The version for Xbox One and PS4 should have come out on the 31st October - but the release date has been put back. Shades of November 2013 when the new generation games like 'Watchdogs' and 'Drive Club' were due to be released with the new consoles. The latter has only just been released in the last few weeks by which time I had lost interest. And all the waiting for the other proved to be just another GTA clone.

Still and back to WWE2K15 - at least there was a version of the game available for the Xbox 360 and the PS3. So, I thought, I would rent a copy. I knew that I wouldn't see all the refinements but there were reassurances by developers 2K and the usual hype filled magazines who had 'hands on' that the gameplay had been improved. Lessons, they said, had been learned. I was left with the impression that both generation games were identical though.

As soon as the disc loaded I thought that I had put the wrong one in. The promised My Career mode wasn't there; the creation mode was the same as in the previous years and the modes were the same. This could well have been WWE2K14 or 13 (when it was in the hands of the unimaginative THQ who churned out the same game like forever). It looks as though 2K is following on.

All I can say is that having seen the future and come to the conclusion that today is the same as yesterday - I have cancelled my pre-order for the next gen version.

Saturday, 25 October 2014


If there is one racing game to play this year then Forza Horizon 2 is that game. Open world driving to six locations set against the lush countryside of France and Italy.

From the outset as the ferry docks and you drive a Lamborghini Huracan from the shadows out into the blinding Continental sunshine there is that feeling that something special is coming. A race to the Horizon Festival that is the hub of all that follows - where organiser, Ben, greets you and gives you the offer of three rides. It is back to where you started with four types of race before you get the chance to race that Huracan against Italy's version of the Red Arrows - once complete you get to keep the car.
There are four more similar challenges - race a steam train, beat 37 hot air balloons, chase a crop duster and, best of all, run down a cargo plane (this is scary as this plane is coming in to land over the top of you).

Okay, so that is just the tip of the iceberg.

The more championships you win gets you to a finale and as you think that that is it - all you have done is reached the end of Part One; Part two sees Ben decide to join in which leads to a second Finale where you have to beat him. Even then the game has not come to an end because there is a nice fat achievement to be picked up when you have completed 168 championships.
Added into the package are head to head racing; rivals' times to beat; reward boards to discover and smash - Forza Horizon 2 is an endless game.
Even the races are no longer confined to the usual stick to the road route - driving a Ford Raptor off road through a field of lavender or red poppies; or a dirt track in a rally car you 'feel' every bump and grind.

This game comes from Playground Games (based in Cambridge) for Turn 10 creators of Forza. A couple of years back the first Horizon was set in the scenic countryside of Colorado where you raced against some obnoxious characters. Happy to say that they have gone.
Despite the addictive gameplay there are a couple of quibbles - the off road Cross Country is in need of better sign posting; and sometimes I have found that even though having gone through the centre of a checkpoint the computer says that I missed it and the penalty is being put a fair way back from last place (if that happens then just click re-start).

A lot of work has gone into this game from the scenery down to the cars themselves. Classic racers through rally and monsters to everyday saloons; retro and modern American muscle cars - this is a world where you can live the dream in endless fun. And the weather fluctuates between hot cloudless days to the crack of thunder that heralds a downpour and when the rain has gone and the sun starts to shine a rainbow appears.

So where next? May I suggest that as motor racing comes to the streets of Coventry as it has done before in London that the UK could be a good location.

There is an Xbox 360 version from Sumo but it is a different game style.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014


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Thursday, 18 September 2014


Tucked away in our house is an old, black solicitor's Will box. Once upon a time it held things like birth and marriage certificates but nowadays just filled with bits and pieces. So, out of curiosity we decided to empty it and see what it contained - and, yes, mostly memorabilia like my dad's R.A.F. cap badge - some photos of the ships that hunted the German battleship 'Bismarck' but buried at the bottom was an envelope with two floppy discs inside.

The discovery of floppy discs were nothing new. I had already found a few, some years back with a couple of started westerns, a fantasy style story and a small collection of short stories. Expecting more of the same I connected my external disk drive to my laptop and fed the first disc in.

Back in the early Sixties I wrote a book called 'The Rebel' which told the story a young Rocker in the aftermath to the Mods vs Rockers beach battles at Brighton, Hastings and Margate. As it was written at the time it was dead accurate. I had been to Brighton that Bank Holiday so I knew what happened and how it was reported in the papers.

Agents who read the finished novel thought that while the writing was good I needed to do more research and get my facts right. It was even suggested that I read some of the newspaper accounts of the time. And this could be done via various newspaper archives. The other problem was that the hero was wrong. Mick Hood (the hero) worked in an office - he should have been a factory worker at best or a manual labourer.

The Rocker would always be type-cast as the forever baddie. Read comics of the day and beyond they were always there to bully or disrupt until the 'goodie' sent them packing.

So there was the book still there only, at some stage, I had taken the time to type it all out and save it to a disc. A book written fifty years ago, finally buried twenty years ago in an old will box. I say twenty years ago as my wife thinks that may have been when we bought out first computer.

The other disc contained a story that left me a little gobsmacked. The reason for this is that it didn't dawn of me that I had ever committed this to paper. I can recall that it was an idea, at the time. There are two main characters who first appear in 'The Rebel' but this time the timescale is greater - 1958 to mid Sixties. What is poignant about this is a) I know the girl's story; b) I know how the boy re-acts because it echoes mine. Child abuse was not headline news back in the fifties and sixties (I say that more in relation to the book's setting) and, therefore, I can see that could be why the novel was never finished.

Maybe, it was the criticism of the first book that put me off - or, far more of a possibility, that such a story would be unacceptable at the time. That things like abortion were mentioned in novels like Bill Naughton's 'Alfie' or Nell Dunn's 'Up The Junction' or the attempt in the bath scene from 'Saturday Night And Sunday Morning' - these are sort of glossed over. Not like when a girl turns up at your front door with blood stained jeans, sweating and out of breath because she had nowhere else to go - and why, because her mother had yanked out the foetus with the hook of a wire coathanger.

And while I may smile at the at the way that the two books read they do need a lot of revising without losing the political incorrectness of the period. I hate that 'accurate of the period' tag when the language and attitudes of the time say different.

The world has moved on since those two books were written. The facts behind both are better known and having watched a documentary recently about the Mods and Rockers where it was shown that the first novel was closer to the truth - then I feel confident that I can resurrect it. As for the second - tempted - but time will tell.

Friday, 29 August 2014


Way back when Lara Croft hit the games consoles she did so on the Playstation One. From that moment on Crystal Dynamics started one of the biggest grossing game franchises that spawned adds and two movies.
Over the years the adventures of Lara Croft have evolved to the point where, under Square Enix, Tomb Raider was re-invented without losing her appeal. Old and new generations of gamers were united in their approval.
So.... a sequel was on the cards.
A trailer gave some inkling about Lara Croft's next adventure...about becoming 'the person that was meant to be'.

Then at Gamescom 2014 came to big announcement...."Rise Of The Tomb Raider" was to be an Xbox console exclusive.


Square Enix says that their fan base is important to them BUT the deal with Microsoft will enable the developer to invest more money into the next generation of gaming.

Much is written on the net about this....but I don't believe, for one minute, that developers do really care about their fan-base. It is all about the money (except no one likes to say it out loud).

What it really comes down to is that the Xbox One is still being outsold by Sony's Playstation 4 (and ditto is happening with the Xbox 360 by the PS3). What better way for Microsoft to attempt to turn the situation around than by harnessing one of the top game franchises.

Truth is that this situation will have no winners - only losers.

I doubt if Xbox sales will improve....and they want to build a community where your friends can jump into your game whether they own it or not.

Square Enix will not garner the expected profits and their rep will drop.  Will the fans go for a 'Tomb Raider 3' should it come back to it's real home on the Sony Playstation.

Finally, the fans....neglect them too much and they will become unforgiving. It is one thing for developers to realise their dreams and go ahead and do their own thing. And while developers go 'yay, we done it' nothing is achieved when the fans don't part with their cash.

Saturday, 19 July 2014


Sadly, one of the great western writers, J.T.Edson, passed away on the 17th July 2014.
No one who has read his books can forget the likes of Dusty Fog, Mark Counter and the Ysabel Kid - characters that were brought to life in strip form in the Lion comic of the sixties.
J.T. Edson paved the way for many other British western writers and will be missed.

Monday, 14 July 2014


Saturday morning pictures at the Odeon Cinema in North Finchley was packed out most times. A cartoon, a serial and a movie. More often than not there was a western as the main feature starring the likes of Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and Tex Ritter. For 6d (two and a half pence) that was real value for money.

The early fifties was quite an austere time work like food and clothes were still on ration. Days out were for the most part free. A whole day could be spent in Friary Park - but when an event like the Festival Of Britain in 1951 occurred it was a great day out. Likewise, Trooping The Colour and The Lord Mayor's Parade in London were all free days out just as were visits to the museums.

So, when mum took me out for a trip to Haringey (North London) I expected to be wandering around the shops. At seven years of age - even then it was boring. But the shops were not to be our destination - but the massive arena. This was a total new experience. The place was packed out with kids almost outnumbering adults and the air was electric with expectation. I just sat there staring down at a sawdust covered arena - gobsmacked.

I had walked into the place so mesmerised that (I do believe even to this day) none of the posters outside registered. I was that unprepared that when the first horseman rode in I jumped as the entire audience screamed their delight.

This wasn't cinema - this was the real thing. Cattle thundered across the arena as cowboys demonstrated herding and driving. Roped them in for branding. Rodeo riders bucked on broncos and bulls. And the gunfights - I don't think that anyone had experienced the euphoria and the magic of that day - so much happening; so much to take in.

And the finale - who can forget that. The stagecoach running around the arena, kids on their feet roaring it on. Behind, rampaging Indians ever threatening to kill all on board - the tension rising until that bugle call that announced the arrival of the cavalry. And how we all stood and cheered.

In the midst of it all was Tex Ritter - the singing cowboy himself - astride Flash. The spotlight began to swing around the audience and when it stopped one lucky child received a twin holster and a pair of guns.

When it was time to go we left our seats and went to meet my granddad. He was a master carpenter and joiner and had been working behind the scenes - looking back that has to be how we got the tickets. Then granddad beckoned to me to follow him - he spoke to one of the cowboys who turned around and smiled at me. He said something but my tongue just got tied up in knots and just couldn't speak - fortunately, my mum spoke me - but, I mean, this was a celluloid hero. This was Tex Ritter. However, as I shook his hand I managed to stammer out a 'thank you'.

Tex Ritter's Texas Western Spectacle remained at the Haringey Arena for six weeks.

I have never been out West but I have not forgotten that day in 1952 when the west came to me.

Thursday, 12 June 2014


Some time back I wrote about a game and a book called 'Homefront' that came from the pens of John Millius (Red Dawn and Apocalypse Now) and novelist Raymond Benson. Both came under heavy criticism from games reviewers - the 'Homefront' game recoding an average score of 7.
And sure it could have been a Call Of Duty clone - with a demoralised America invaded and under the thumb of North Korea. Makes a change from the Russians but, still, the format was the same. Even some of the dialogue was the same......"I've got your six"; "Pick up those grenades", "Take out that tank." and this from a man who looks after himself by hiding. At least the other character knows what a gun is for.
For all the flaws and lack of originality in most places - 'Homefront' managed to do something that was a touch different and that was a world that was structured. Weapons have to be salvaged and survival depended on behaviour. The background story builds into a coherent reason for America's collapse with echoes of Iraq, Afghanistan and the recession.

Although there was a vague hint, at the time, that another game 'Homefront: London' could be forthcoming the whole idea died a death. With the demise of 'Homefront's' developer THQ - the story should have been over.

Now 'Homefront' is about to rise, phoenix-style, from the ashes. Crytek UK has not only breathed new life into the franchise but expanded the whole experience into open world. Early reports say that 'Homefront: The Revolution' may be streets ahead in design, depth and concept than the first games that were released with the new consoles.

The storyline picks up four years after the events of the original game and moves to the deserted streets and ruins of Philadelphia. The hero is Ethan Brady who is just an ordinary guy who has had enough of the draconian rules that he has been living under. Weapons are not his forte - his first weapon of choice is a Molotov cocktail - but he is a man determined (in the first place) to survive.
The premise looks good; the graphics atmospheric - even those that dissed the original seem to be impressed. Like they say there's still life in an old dog.

CrytekUK's 'Homefront: The Revolution' is scheduled for a 2015 release on both Xbox and PS4.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014


Well, the announcement at E3, that Activision are bringing out a new Call Of Duty title on the 4th November has not gone down well.
Call Of Duty's Facebook pages are awash with nay sayers. For many it is the end of the line of a game that seems to be spiralling forever downwards.

In fact the Call Of Duty loyalists want a return to the old days when the video game series concentrated on action during World War 2. While others want a Modern Warfare 2 re-make. All of which is met by wild rebukes from those who think otherwise.

In my own mind Call Of Duty World War Two games could only be compared to the Medal Of Honour series that my sons played. We are all pretty certain that Medal Of Honour came first but that is all a little immaterial right now. Nowadays, it seems, they both travel the same road.

I did not play any Modern Warfare games until the release of MW3 - so a bit slow off the mark there. On it's own it didn't make much sense until the fact that '3' registered. So....Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare kicked off the story arc that begins with Cold War tensions between the US and Russia. Hovering in the background is a baddie named 'Marakov' who is stirring things up a bit. He really comes into his own in Modern Warfare 2 with, probably, the most controversial scene ever with the shooting up of an airport. This would be matched in the third instalment of a family outing to London ending with the detonation of a 'dirty' bomb.

What makes the Modern Warfare trilogy so good is that there is a continuing story arc that is as compelling to play as it is to watch (if it were a movie) or read if they were books. But the trilogy is done and it is complete.

This trilogy was perhaps the best set of games that I have played.

The second trilogy that came along began with Call Of Duty: World At War followed by Black Ops and Black Ops 2. World At War opens with action with the American forces in the Pacific and the Russians on the Eastern Front. And via the Black Ops stories continues into the Cold War and Vietnam. The difference here is that the storylines are confused and, yes, disappointment by some gamers is understandable.

Last November saw the release of Call Of Duty: Ghosts.  The storyline is plain and simple. The war is over (think MW3) - one of the myths is the story of the fifteen survivors of an 'Alamo' like stand rose from the ruins looking like ghosts. Now someone is taking them out and that someone is aiding and abetting a Federation of South and Central American countries to attack a weakened United States.  Storywise this is a return to what made the Modern Warfare series a success - and those who signed out of the game when the credits came up they would have missed the bit that says that there has to be a sequel.
Also, to hark back to the Modern Warfare saga a character from number 2 was called 'Ghost' and the mask crops up from time to time - so, a connection is well and truly made.

So with a little background to this we come to the next story arc (opener?) with Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare.  The trailer shows the chapter titled 'Induction'. The action takes place in Seoul, South Korea in 2054 with lots of future technology. While many say Titanfall/Halo clone - from what little I know this is a story that echoes the rise of the private security firms - mercenaries that fight for the highest bidder. The idea sounds pretty good and feasible from what we already know about these companies.
This game comes from Sledgehammer developer who was working on this idea some years back but put it on hold to develop Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. This alone is one good reason for me to give the game a chance.

On the other hand maybe it is time to drop the 'Call Of Duty' tag.  Ghosts could stand on it's own two feet and, I expect, Advanced Warfare will as well.

If any of these games has a flaw then it is down to the player to do everything while the three team mates hide behind walls claiming to have your character's back.  This compared to Battlefield and Gears Of War when all four members of the team are in action from the kick off - and while you, the hero, still has to down the enemies with specialised weapons you feel confident that they do have your back. This is, as I said, lacking in Call Of Duty games - it needs fixing.

Monday, 9 June 2014

E3 2014

It's that time of year when Los Angeles, California plays host to the Electronic Entertainment Expo. A time when the giants of the gaming industry come out with the big reveals.
2013 saw the announcements that Microsoft and Sony had new consoles ready for the Christmas rush. That was a battle won by the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One is still trying to play catch-up. Though I have to admit that seeing Xbox One games still on show after six months from release seems a touch on the sad side.
On the other hand it is understandable - Activision's 'Call Of Duty: Ghosts' on the Xbox One is interrupted mid-multiplayer game by the message that the player needs to be connected to Xbox Live network. A network that is running OK - still I can play the 'Squads' matches. According to Activision's helpline I can't because if I don't have the network for one then I can't have it for the other - except that I know different. So, is there a solution? No, only silence. Still this was a problem that plagued a lot of players with 'Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2' - so nothing has changed there.
Forza 5 too has problems that, to date, have not been resolved. Badges that should be achieved do not unlock and one unlocks when the player drives a different car to the one designated ('73 Firebird Trans Am unlocks the '77 Firebird badge).

So what can Microsoft offer game wise to the disillusioned - Activision's much hyped 'Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare' will, no doubt, top the agenda. However, this is not a game that is exclusive to Xbox One nor would I be tempted to purchase it for that console - twice bitten etc.

In fact looking at the proposed lists of games that the likes of Activision, EA and Ubisoft are flag waving this year are not inspiring at all. Reality is that  it is more of the same or clones of other games. 'Watchdogs', much hyped and should have been released last November proved to be nothing more than a Grand Theft Auto style clone. 'Assassin's Creed: Black Flag' if anyone played the originals then Black Flag has been played and, I suspect, the same will apply to the soon to be revealed 'Assassin's Creed: Unity'. So, all the usual titles are on their way including another in the 'Halo' saga, 'Far Cry 4' and 'Uncharted 4' - as I say more of the same.

To my aged eyes games have sort of declined. There have been two notable re-inventions in the shape of 'Tomb Raider' which proved to be a lot better than I expected and the re-mastered version for the PS4 was even better. I would like to see a second instalment. On the other hand there was the re-invention of Dante in 'Devil May Cry: DMC' - all connection with the originals were lost and became so repetitive that I couldn't be bothered to complete it. (Believe me sales figures do not impress me).

Real games are few and far between - 'Heavy Rain', 'The Last Of Us' and 'Murder: Soul Suspect' are three that come to mind. Also 'Red Dead Redemption' (a sequel is mooted) and 'L. A. Noire'. All these games are designed to make the player work things out - not all gunplay.
And while I may not be 100% happy with multiplayer - the storylines of the 'Call Of Duty' games can be involving and 'Gears Of War 3' has to be the best game in that trilogy - so well scripted that if a pack of Kleenex is not available you will wish you had for one of the most emotional scenes I have ever seen played out on a video game. When I compare games with other players I get surprised when I find that online players seem not to play the 'campaign' storyline but have the game to play online only. So why not produce a game that gives the player the option and a cheaper multiplayer disc (like 'Titanfall' for the online gamer).

So what am I expecting from E3? Nothing - just more of the same.
I expect great graphics will figure large but the new consoles were not built for that alone.
And a game that doesn't need an app downloaded to a tablet or smartphone - even in these days of technology not everyone has these nor do they want them and kids (the prime target in the gaming world) can't afford them.

The technology behind the consoles may have moved on - the development in games has not. Well, not yet but 2015 is another year and who knows what that will bring. Will 'Drive Club' arrive? Will 'Quantum Break' make a breakthrough? The former was destined for a release to coincide with the new consoles last November - although I placed a pre-order this is now cancelled as I feel that games that are that hyped and do not get released has to have problems and may just not live up to expectations.

Anyway, next on my hit list is 'The Order:1886' looks interesting from the trailers.

Catch up with E3 online, on the Xbox One, the Playstation 4, tablet and smartphone.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014


The influences of the second world war were all around in the fifties and early sixties. It took a long time for a bomb damaged London to re-build; rationing was still around and simple things like oranges and bananas were something completely new to us - born during and after the war.

Both Westerns and war films dominated in the cinema while books of both genres crowded the bookshelves.

The factual books of the time like Guy Gibson's 'Enemy Coast Ahead'; Willi Frischauer and Robert Jackson's 'The Navy's Here' and Richard Collier's 'Eagle Day' brought a narrative to war books. The writing styles not only maintained interest but read like a novel. These books were far removed from the stiff and formal histories available at the time.

Authors like C.E.Lucas Phillips brought Alamein, Kohima, the raid on St.Nazaire and the exploits of the Cockleshell Heroes to life while Ralph Barker took to the skies and down into the drink with his real life stories of the R.A.F.

In turn many of the war novelists drew on their own experiences. John Harris (ex-air force) had a successful debut with 'The Sea Shall Not Have Them' about the air sea rescue team battling to find a downed bomber crew that is, unknowingly, drifting towards a minefield. This book was turned into a movie and it proved successful for John Harris was to continue writing war books. Amongst these and written in the sixties was 'Covenant With Death' about the young conscripts who answered Lord Kitchener's call during the First World War. It follows their lives and their training through the march to the front - from romanticism through to the harsh reality of the Somme 1916.

At secondary school the books to read were Derek Lambert's 'The Twenty Thousand Thieves' and the sequel 'Glory Thrown In'. The Australian Army on the march in the North African desert - Benghazi and Tobruk in the heat and dust. Officers who lived a class apart still living in a colonial past and despised by the men some of whom had worked for them. First World War attitudes clashing on the field of battle with Second World War reality.

Many others turned their wartime experiences into novels. Alexander Baron's (I have written more about this author in an earlier blog) army days are recalled in the accounts of the Scicily and Italy campaigns while Nicholas Monserrat wrote about his naval career in 'Three Corvettes' and 'The Cruel Sea'. Peter Elstob showed what life was like in a tank with the excellent 'Warriors For The Working Day'.

Another British airman was the author Elleston Trevor who wrote about the Battle Of Britain in 'Squadron Airborne'; Dunkirk with 'The Big Pick Up' and Falaise with 'The Killing Ground'. Elleston Trevor went on to more fame as 'Adam Hall' creator of the Quiller series.

The list goes on but there were two American authors who wrote about war in a completely different way. One was Irwin Shaw who wrote that brick of a book 'The Young Lions'. Of the three characters only two stand out. Christian Diestl is a pretty decent character - he's not a bad guy it is just the times and the need to survive in Nazi Germany that makes him become the way he is. Noah Ackerman, on the other hand, is a nice guy - but being Jewish doesn't work in his favour. Here Shaw cleverly shows a parallel with the Nazi way and bullying anti-Semitism of his peers. Michael Whitacre is a middle-class, fence sitter who tries to do as little as possible while handing out unwanted advice - only Noah Ackerman just will not lie down nor stay down.

The other American author, who should be better known, is ex-USAAF pilot James Salter who used his experiences during the Korean war to the fore in 'The Hunters'. Sabres vs MIGs - this wasn't anything like the 'Blackhawk' comics. The hero of 'The Hunters' is Cleve Connell who has one ambition - to be an ace pilot with five kills - but does he have what it takes? Even he has doubts about his own abilities.

These are just a few of the war novellists that I read in the late fifties and early sixties. Some may be remembered while others have been forgotten. Every book that I write about, though, is still on my bookshelf.

Friday, 9 May 2014


A while back on Facebook blogger Pattinase asked friends to name 15 authors who had influenced them one way or another. One stipulation was that they were named without thinking about it.

Straight away there are, to me anyway, Charles McCormac, Guy Gibson, Patrick R. Reid and Paul Brickhill. Not exactly household names now but back in their day their stories were very influential.

Charles McCormac wrote a book called 'You'll Die In Singapore' - but he didn't. He escaped from Singapore and island hopped his way through Java to Australia. It was one long, harrowing journey that saw his friends die along the way.

Guy Gibson told the story of his life, in 'Enemy Coast Ahead' as a bomber pilot up to and including the destruction of the Moehne Dam that flooded the factories in the Ruhr Valley. After his death while attempting to breach the final dam, Paul Brickhill took up the story in 'The Dambusters'.

It was not just 'The Dambusters' that Paul Brickhill was known for. He had organised the stooges that kept watch over the forgers of the X organisation behind 'The Great Escape' from Stalag Luft 3. It was his book that inspired the movie.
One of my 'heroes' when I was young was Douglas Bader, the legless Battle Of Britain fighter pilot and subject of Brickhill's 'Reach For The Sky'. Like Brickhill, Bader spent time at Stalag Luft 3 and that other 'escape proof' prison camp Colditz Castle.

Colditz Castle was not as escape proof as many thought as Patrick R Reid was to prove and related in the book 'The Colditz Story'. This was followed by 'The Latter Days At Colditz'. In 1984 Pat Reid brought out a third volume 'Colditz:The Full Story' that added the 'secret' stuff that he had not been able to reveal in the first two books.

Four authors who influenced me in my younger years.
Not that they encouraged me to write but more to 'imagine' and 'see' what they were writing about. And to understand.

The common thread to these books is about never giving up; armed with determination, self-belief and hope (in some cases) what seems to be impossible can be achieved.

Although the list showed just four non-fiction writers there were so many others like Richard Hillary's 'The Last Enemy'; a fighter pilot shot down and was disfigured with burns but who climbed back into the cockpit.

These and other wartime true stories became my staple reading diet from (believe it or not) the age of eight - and would be read and re-read over the years. The first book that I bought cost 2/-d (two shillings or 10p). It was Pat Reid's 'The Colditz Story'. That Pan edition still exists today tucked away in a bureau - the pages are brittle and tanned and the spine taped up.

My wife reckons that I will be buried with it - well, I hope so otherwise I would have to plan my own escape.


Just got around to watching the Johnny Depp Show - after all he was the star despite hiding beneath fifty shades of grey make up.

In many ways it was a pity that everyone managed to miss a trick and leave a mess of a movie that didn't know whether it was a comedy or a spoof or something else. And I felt sorry at the way Armie Hammer was wasted as he was pretty good when Johnny 'Tonto' Depp wasn't around.

Despite having a negative feel towards the movie there were parts that brought back memories of the original series. For example the massacre of the Rangers in which it may be recalled was the only time that we saw Clayton Moore without his mask.

Lurking beneath it all was a plotline that should have been the centre attraction with two well crafted villains one of which, Butch Cavendish, bore  a striking resemblance to the comic book character Jonah Hex.

Although I was left disappointed by the movie my grandchildren thoroughly enjoyed it. And, therein lies a different aspect.
Like many that I know - we grew up with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. They set the bar and when people talk about 'The Lone Ranger' that is the image that we see. No one can match them but we do expect to see a kind of image that thrills us.
My grandchildren, fans of 'Pirates Of The Caribbean', see this western in a similar vein. In fact all one of them wanted for their birthday was a complete cowboy outfit. So if 'The Lone Ranger' can do that for him so much for the better.

However, I suggest that Disney heeds the last words uttered by Johnny Depp's Tonto to The Lone Ranger - "Don't ever do that again."

Monday, 7 April 2014

THE UNDERTAKER: Here Endeth The Streak

Wrestlemania 30 was a mistake. At least, that is my personal view.
Over the past few years my interest in wrestling has waned and when it does spark up then I have a preference for TNA.

But - or should that be BUT - once a year my attention goes to Wrestlemania - not so much for anything else other than the streak.
The Undertaker's winning streak stood at 21-0 until last night when a part-timer; a former WWE champion no less; Brock Lesner ended it all with an F-5.

For all his stage presence Brock Lesner (and I don't deny him his win here) just wasn't the right choice. If The Undertaker's streak was going to end then the honour should have gone to Kane or to someone who could build a career on the victory - as John Cena did after defeating Chris Jericho and Big Show.

Then again what about the real clash of the titans - The Phenom against the equal legend that is Sting? Neither could in all honesty win that match - it would have to be a double k.o.

Sadly, the ending of The Undertaker's streak is equal to killing a golden goose. Next year I won't be watching because someone pulled the plug on the magic.

Thursday, 27 March 2014




   In big red digital letters the screen reads: ‘Patients who are ten minutes late for their appointment may not be seen.’

   So, if I’m late the doctor has the right to refuse to see me – what reciprocal right do I have? I mean if he’s ten minutes late for the appointment can I fine him? Go home and demand another appointment?

   No, it’s all self-defeating.

   All the rights go one way. Argue and you can be arrested, kicked out and find yourself doctorless. And why? Because there is another sign that says that staff and doctor’s have the right not to suffer abuse at the hands of aggrieved patients.

   Well, my appointment was for 4pm and I arrived 5 minutes ago – now it is ten past 4.

    Should have brought a book.

    Still, there is plenty to read – like the reassuring posters on the wall. ‘Free hearing test if you are over fifty five’: ‘That Pain Could Have A Name’: ‘Blood in your poo – talk to a doctor before it is too late’ and the adverts for things like MacMillan Trust and Specsavers.

    Then there are the magazines. Bella, Best, My Weekly, and Take A Break – I’d be in my element if I was a woman. But who reads things like ‘My Mother Sold Me For A Packet Of Fags’ or ‘I thought my father was really my husband’ – a mistake easily made I suppose though I have no desire to find out which he was.

    Buried amongst all this is a ‘National Graphic’ magazine. Great article on Angel Fish with lots of pretty pictures. If I wanted to look at Angel Fish then I’d buy an aquarium.

    Quarter past 4.

     The TV screen invites me to see a nurse for a check for Chlamydia; followed by a spooky silent film about depression. And then there is the message that there has been a road accident on the A146. All of these things put together reminds me of a song – yes, ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’. Ian Dury and The Blockheads.

     I start humming ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ to angry glares.

     If I was a kid I could go rooting around in the toy box at the back of the waiting room.

     The screen lights up: Mr John Smith to Room J – Nurse Annie.

     Lucky Mr Smith.

     Reminds me of a book .What was her name? Rosie Dixon, Night Nurse that was it – Rosie Dixon the female version of Timothy Lea who’s Confessions Of A Window Cleaner was widely read by many a young schoolboy – and watched by men in long raincoats in the cinema.

   A thought that provokes a laugh – but I don’t share the joke with the grim faced audience that is either engrossed in magazines or watching one of the screens.

4:20 and my doctor is ready to see Linda Green.

I am tempted to demand that the doctor makes a new appointment with me – one that he can keep.

    Someone does go to the desk to complain.

    The doctor is running behind – an attack of diahorea, maybe? No further explanation is forthcoming. The receptionist glares at the elderly patient daring her to kick off. She backs down and shuffles back to take her seat. The receptionist returns to her crossword puzzle.

    4:25 and Linda Green is out. That was a quick in and out – just like that – and she has a big smile on her face. One satisfied patient, then.

    Then nothing.

    5 minutes pass....time enough for another reminder that patients shouldn’t use the doctor’s parking spaces. A misplaced apostrophe has me questioning just how many parking spaces the doctor needs.

    The thought crosses my mind that maybe the doctor’s having a quick fag outside in one of his parking spaces. Might need a bit of down time after the last patient.

Okay – thinking process getting a little out of hand.

There goes that Chlamydia advert again....bad timing.

4:31 and Elsie Jones is invited into the doctor’s office.

I watch her shuffle slowly, her metal walking stick chinking away. It has taken her two minutes to get from her seat at the back to disappear through the door leading to the various surgeries.

The waiting room is empty.

I am the last patient.

After 50 minutes waiting for the 4pm appointment, I walk into the doctor’s surgery.

“Hi, Mr Balcombe,” the doctor beams at me. “How are you today?”

Inanely, I reply: “Fine.”

What a stupid thing to say. If I was fine then what was I doing there.

“So what’s the problem?” he wonders out loud as he studies my notes on a computer screen.

I avoid the temptation to tell him that I think that I have Chlamydia. Just able to check myself as I realise that for 50 minutes I have been brainwashed into a state of hypochondria.

“I’m here about the results of the tests,” I prompt instead. “I did phone but was told to make an appointment.”

He peers closer at the screen; fiddles with the mouse and highlights something. He frowns; glances seriously at me.

I prepare for the worst....but then he smiles.

“All clear,” he grins. “You’re fit as a fiddle.”

And I waited 50 minutes for something that he could have told me over the phone.

50 minutes of my life wasted.

Next time I’m coming armed with a book and an iPod – and you can bet that before I’ve plugged in the ear phones and started on page one the sign will light up with ‘The doctor will see you now’.
First broadcast on Felixstowe Radio 19th March 2014
Copyright Ray Foster 2013

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

THE GREAT ESCAPE: 70 years on

On the night of 24th/25th March 1944 76 airmen made their way to a tunnel nicknamed 'Harry' in what was to become one of the most famous escape stories of the Second World War. Of the 76 escapers from Stalag Luft 3 fifty three would not return. Of those two Norwegians and one Dutchman made home runs while the other fifty were executed on the orders of Heinrich Himmler.

Stalag Luft 3 was reputed to be escape proof but even as Roger Bushell (Big X) was planning for the mass breakout another escape was under way. Overshadowed by later events the amazing escape by Eric Williams, Michael Codner and Oliver Philpot using a roughly made vaulting horse made what is regarded as the first successful escape from the east compound the previous October.

The original plan for the great escape itself was designed to cause the greatest amount of disruption to the Germans as possible. Yes, 250 men just walking down the road was Bushell's vision. Roger Bushell had been a British ski champion and barrister - a ski-ing accident had left him with a scarred drooping eye. He had been shot down near Dunkirk in May, 1940 and was a thorn in the enemy's side ever since.

The escape took over 600 men to organise - from forging, scavenging, digging, dispersal and security. The author, and Australian pilot, Paul Brickhill who wrote the book 'The Great Escape' in 1950, was in charge of the 'stooges' that protected the forgers. Although offered a place in the escape he was declared unfit due to his claustrophobia.

However, the tunnel was just a few yards short of the trees when the first escapee broke out this resulted in a hastily contrived contingency plan. In the end only 76 men made it out and fifty of those were destined to die.

Yet, 70 years on and The Fifty are still remembered.
In the woods near Zagen (Sagen back then) there are still remains of the hut foundations, the cooler (made famous by Steve McQueen in the movie) and the line of the tunnel can be seen and a newly erected guard tower shows how close it was to the tunnel.

The Great Escape was a mammoth achievement in both engineering and organisation - and Bushell's plan to cause disruption worked but it cost him his life and that of 49 others. But those who ordered and carried out those executions ended up at Nuremburg, several others have been caught up with over the years.

Friday, 7 March 2014

REBEL RUN by Jack Giles

I am pleased to say that this 1985 'western' novel is now available to download. A Kindle version is available via Amazon.

The reason that I use the term 'western' is that while set in the era it is, perhaps, an eastern.

The story of REBEL RUN is set against the backdrop of the American Civil War. The hero is a Confederate Artillery Sergeant with the Virginia (Rockbridge) Battery who, on the 9th August 1862, is captured during the retreat from Cedar Run.

Van Essen is a habitual escaper who is sent to an island prison camp that is reputed to be escape proof. The camp commander has no love of artillerymen nor do the group of Confederate cavalrymen to whom he is attached. They have plans of their own that do not include the newcomer.

This is not just an escape yarn but one that rides the rapids and develops into a running battle against the Federal Army.

I must have enjoyed writing this book as it embraces things that I do remember. Influences of the escape stories that I read when I was young like Colditz, Stalag Luft 3, 'The Wooden Horse' escape by Eric Williams and the First World War classic 'The Road To En-Dor'. Combine all that with an interest in the American Civil War and, I guess it would be inevitable that 'REBEL RUN' would happen. Although fiction the Regiments and Civil War events are factual.

This book was the one that I was reading when my wife, gently, told me that I had written it. For those new to my blog a stroke left me missing 30 years of memories. While Van Essen was captured on the 9th August by  a weird coincidence that was also the date of that stroke.

Saturday, 15 February 2014


From Wednesday the 19th February for 5 days KILLING TIME by Jack Giles will be available to download for free.

Monday, 27 January 2014

KILLING TIME by Jack Giles

KILLING TIME by Jack Giles is now available on Kindle at Amazon and other e-readers and downloads.

This is a new departure for me - embracing the world of digital publishing. So my thanks go to Endeavour Press and Amy Durant for making it happen.

This is an old book with a new title and one that, I think, has to be one of the best. Way back it was reviewed by Steve Myall of the Western Fiction Review blog and later found a discussion of 'The Fourth Horseman' on a horror site.

There is a strange aspect to this one as it is thirty years since I wrote my first western - emphasis on wrote - but it was not published until 1984. At the time I was living 200 yards or thereabouts from where I am living now. The offer to publish came in 2013 and the publication has happened in 2014. History does repeat and simply because of that it has awoken something that may have lain deeper.

Let's just say that the during the gap between 'Lawmen' and this new e-book I have just been 'KILLING TIME'.

Saturday, 11 January 2014


Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's just another Superman.

I've never been much of a fan of Superman - in fact of all the DC comic creations that I enjoyed (as a kid) really it was only Batman.
Still I did watch the old George Reeve reach for the sky and marvelled at the mystery of Clark Kent's clothes. I was pretty sure that if I stopped off to make a phone call and found a bunch of clothes in the phone booth I would check the pockets for a wallet or something that would identify the owner. It wouldn't take a Lois Lane to put two and two together long before Superman took her up for a quick flight.

Filmwise along came three Superman movies with Christopher Reeve of which I found the second one the best of the lot - but not enough to add to my DVD collection. As for the fourth film the less said the better.

Smallville still didn't do it for me or the other Superman series.

So why should I sit down and write a few thoughts on the new 'Man Of Steel' if I am so anti-Superman?  Simple, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Writer David S Goyer and director Zack Snyder were for the most part responsible for that.

The opening scenes from the first Superman movie with Russell Crowe in the Marlon Brando role and Kevin Costner turning up as Clark's adoptive dad harked at the original movie but then General Zod turned up - played by Michael Shannon - which was a good thing because I thought that this was going to be a re-tread of the first two movies. Terence Stamp dominated Superman 2 in the General Zod role but Shannon equalled - possibly surpassed that.
The peaceloving 'twee' Superman of the past was swept aside by Henry Cavill's performance. Here was a real superhero who would leave no stone unturned in his quest to fight the bad guys. Metropolis was destroyed in the process but Superman still saved the day.

Maybe, this is a Superman to fit the expectations of a modern audience. If so, then he has my attention.

Next up Superman will be joined by Batman and Wonder Woman - sounds like the beginnings of the Justice League Of America.
If the team behind this Man Of Steel movie have the run of the next movie then it could be another interesting adventure.

Monday, 6 January 2014


First off there seems nothing to link these BBC productions except that Ripper Street and Peaky Blinders are period pieces.
Peaky Blinders is set during 1919 in the industrial district of Birmingham known as Small Heath. The Shelby family are an organised gang of illegal bookmakers who deal with the black market and protection. A supply of guns goes missing which is an open invitation for the British Government, Communist Revoluntionaries and the I.R.A. to take an interest in.
Most of the Shelby gang former soldiers from a Pals Regiment of the First World War.

On the other side is Ripper Street - set in the wake of the Jack The Ripper murders - here Inspector Edmund Reid is put in charge of the notorious H Division with the brief to take control of Whitechapel in London's East End.

On the surface both are a touch above the average fare dished up by the Beeb. At first, with Peaky Blinders I thought of a British take on the likes of 'The Godfather' and the early part of 'Once Upon A Time In America'. That was until the final showdown......

This, in turn, made me think about Ripper Street.

The pub in Peaky Blinders looked more like a wild west saloon.
Ripper Street's Reid and his two deputies....not forgetting the brothel madam with a heart of stone.
Fortunately, I am not the only one to see the western genre influences at work.

A second series of Peaky Blinders is on the way.....but a third series of Ripper Street hangs in the balance. Public opinion demands more but since when has the BBC considered what the licence payer thinks?

Whatever no one can dispute that Ripper Street's creator Richard Warlow and Peaky Blinders' Steven Knight have found a winning formula.