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

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Grand Cafe Royal Exchange

The Grand Cafe in The Royal Exchange


Often, when between meetings in the City, Agent Triple P needs somewhere for a nice cup of tea or, occasionally, breakfast. An ideal location is the Grand Cafe in the courtyard at the Royal Exchange, which is a far preferable venue to all the American-style coffee shops that now infest the area. The Grand Cafe does quite good tea and an excellent cooked breakfast. There are enough seats so that, except late at lunchtime, you can almost always find a table.

As evening approaches it becomes less the haunt of City types and more a meeting place for often very attractive young women which provides another very good reason to linger from tea time to champagne time. This takes place from around five pm as you can, of course, legitimately drink Champagne at a slightly earlier time than wine in the evening.




Other than the cafe itself there is a useful slection of top level jewellers if you need a quick gift for a young lady later in the evening. Tiffany, Boodles, De Beers, Bulgari, Gucci, Omega and diamond shop Wint and Kidd (named after the villains in Diamonds are Forever). Outside, on the street side of the building, are the, far more frequented by Agent Triple P, Mont Blanc and Agent Provocateur shops

There is only one problem with the cafe: it is a Conran run establishment and like all Conran restaurants the service is diabolical. Not rude or sullen (not usually), which you sometimes get in other Conran establishments, just hopelessly slow and inefficient. Triple P was been interviewed by a journalist there the day before yesterday and his tea was so slow in arriving (they had run out of teapots!) that they did at least provide it for free. Yesterday, we ordered some light food with our tea and they forgot about it and had to be reminded. The waitress didn't apologise but just had the view that "yes, you ordered some food, so what? I know. I suppose I better bring it". The staff congregate around the central bar chatting to each other and, unlike good waiters and waitresses, fail to constantly look around when they are on the floor to see if anyone needs anything. They need to realise that many people there are on tight timetables and when they need their bill they need their bill now, not in twenty minutes time. Part of the problem, of course is that the staff consist of an ever rotating group of Plodni Splodnis from Eastern Europe who are never there long enough to care about the job. Oh well, it won't stop us going there as it is one of the nicest places to have tea in London but lets hope they get a new supervisor soon who does a better job than the current one (who looks like a Nazi death camp commandant).

Friday, July 16, 2010

The return of Primeval

Dinosaur hunting in the Bentall Centre, Kingston upon Thames


Agent Triple P has always enjoyed nonsensical, time travelling, alternative universe, prehistoric creature, science fiction show Primeval and was annoyed that it was cancelled last year by ITV, leaving our heroes and heroines in a nasty cliffhanger situation. ITV announced that it would be concentrating on "post-watershed drama". In other words, they would prefer to show dreadful (and cheap) reality TV shows during peak hour viewing rather than go head to head with Dr Who especially with the very expensively effects heavy Primeval. But, in a way that hardly ever happens, ITV have done a 180 degree turn and announced two more series to be shown next year; which are currently filming. This is all down to a clever deal that spreads the cost of the series between original partners Impossible Pictures and ITV and new partners UKTV, BBC Worldwide and German station Pro 7.

Velociraptor in John Lewis china department!


Agent Triple P enjoys spotting the local locations which are used for the series: Surrey University in Guildford, Thorpe Park and, most entertainingly, the Bentall Centre and John Lewes in Kingston; Agent Triple P's local department store, where a velociraptor caused havoc in the china department. The producers paid John Lewis £5,000 to film there and the store donated the money to the local Princess Alice Hospice just up the road from Triple P in Esher.

Filming series four in Dublin in April this year

Most of the last season's cast are back with the addition of some new characters, most significantly including one played by Alexander Siddig, Dr Bashir from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

We had actually not watched the last episode of series 3 because we knew about the cliffhanger ending but now we can watch it happy in the knowledge that that particular scene will be resolved when series four shows in January. Hooray!



Hannah looking like a threepenny chew

Now all we need is another Hannah Spearritt appearance to match the notorious pink knickers scene from series one!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dodgy Classical LP covers from the 1970s



It wasn't just pop records that used pictures of attractive women to shift vinyl; as seen on our post relating to Sandy Warner (previous post). Back in the 1970s Westminster records had a very idiosyncratic approach to classical record covers as seen by this example for a Beethoven LP. These designs were the work of one Christopher Whorf and largely leave us speechless!


Playboy Rhinemaidens!


Westminster Gold produced re-issues of older recordings at budget prices so just needed something striking to differentiate their product from the other rather stodgy classical sleeves of the time. They succeeded brilliantly!


Penthouse Romeo and Juliet. What's with the socks?



The Planets meets Buck Rogers in the 25th Century!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sandy Warner: the face of Exotica



Sandy Warner looking totally gorgeous on the cover of Primitiva (1958)


Agent Triple P is currently working on his second, and long delayed, piece on the Pan Am clipper flying boat service to Hawaii before WW2. Given that there is only so much Hawaiian music one can listen to (about two tracks is enough for us) we needed something else to accompany our efforts (other than the glass of Fitou we are currently drinking).


Sandy on Hypnotique (1959)


Somewhat anachronistically, therefore, we are listening to a selection of tracks from the "exotica" movement, which flourished in the US from the early fifties until the mid sixties. This also gives us an excuse to showcase the lovely Sandy Warner; record cover girl from that period. Picking up on the tiki culture that thrived in the post-war US, largely as a result of US armed forces personnel experiences of the South Seas, exotica as a musical genre was really created by American composer and arranger Les Baxter (1922-1996) with his album Ritual of the Savage (1951).



Tiki heaven!


Sadly, most of Agent Triple P' friends fail to appreciate exotica and only B will listen to it but the Germans have always had a penchant for "easy listening" music!


Les Baxter


Baxter was born in Texas but had studied at the Detroit Conservatory before moving to Los Angeles and continuing his studies at Pepperdine College, a private university then located in South Central Los Angeles (now in Malibu). Upon finishing his studies, however, he abandoned a potentially promising career as a concert pianist and became a singer; joining Mel Tormé's group The Mel-Tones in 1945.





By 1947 he was working as a composer and arranger for Capitol Records. His triple 78 rpm album Music Out of the Moon (1947) introduced "space-age" pop and was notable for its use of the theremin and it is, perhaps not surprisingly, still the best selling theremin album of all time. It became the template for much of the fifties and sixties "space" music from science fiction soundtracks for films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) to Telstar by The Tornados. Some tracks presage his exotica music, particularly Mist O' the Moon with its soaring wordless vocals and underlying irregular percussion. Other key exotica albums by Baxter included Tamboo (1956) and The Sacred Idol (1960) but it was Ritual of the Savage that set the template for everything that would follow with its lush strings and exotic percussion.


Sandy on Afro-Desia (1959)


The next key figure in the exotica movement was Martin Denny (1911-2005) a New Yorker who moved to Los Angeles and studied classical piano. In his twenties he toured South America for four and a half years with the Don Dean orchestra. It was here that he became fascinated with Latin music and also started to collect exotic instruments which later appeared in his recordings.


Sandy on Exotica Volume II (1958)


After war service he returned to Los Angeles in 1945 where he studied composition and piano at the Los Angeles Conservatory.


Don the Beachcomber's original Waikiki restaurant


In 1954 Don the Beachcomber (real name Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt (1907-1989)), the inventor of tiki restaurants and bars brought Denny to Waikiki to play in his bar. Denny stayed, formed his own group and performed under contract at the Shell Bar in Kaiser Hawaiian Village complex (now the Hilton Hawaiian Village).



Sandy on Exotica Vol III (1959)


The Shell Bar was located next to a pool and one evening Denny noticed that every time the band played the frogs in the pool croaked. His bandmates added fake bird calls to the real frogs as a joke but the next evening the customers asked for the frog and bird call song and he realised the sound had a future. He recorded a version of Les Baxter's Quiet Village with added bird calls and "frog" sounds and the record sold over a million copies.


Sandy on Exotica (1957)


The resultant album Exotica (1957), though, didn't do that well. However, in 1959 to celebrate Hawaii attaining statehood his record company got Denny to re-record Exotica in stereo and it became a huge hit reaching number 4 in the charts. Once his contract at the Shell Bar expired he had extended bookings at the Flamingo and Sands hotels in Las Vegas.



Martin Denny in his nineties


He lived to see the revival of interest in his work in the nineties and gave his last performance just three weeks before he died at the age of 93. Denny produced 38 albums and sold over 4 million records.


Sandy on The Enchanted Sea (1960)


The record company used a model and actress called Sandy Warner on the cover of Exotica and then hired her for the next 11 Martin Denny albums as well. In total she appeared on the cover of 16 Martin Denny records with the photographers constantly changing her looks. Warner was a twin and, often with her sister Sonia, had and would continue to make, a number of appearances in films and TV.


Sandy for Mickey Katz (1959)


Her success as the Denny cover model led to other album cover commissions including comedian Mickey Katz (who was the father of Joel (Cabaret) Grey and grandfather of Jennifer (Dirty Dancing) Grey.


Sandy for Bob Thompson (1960)


Sandy on the cover of her own album!


She also had a nightclub act and eventually produced a record of her own: Steve Allen Presents Fair and Warner. Martin Denny contributed the liner note:


In the person of Sandy Warner you will find a versatile and unusual combination of beauty and talent. She has graced the covers of all my "LIBERTY" albums as the "EXOTICA" girl. In fact, it was a standing gag among most D-J's that they were unaware there was a record in the album-liner until some time later. Sandra is a lot of woman and to top that has a warm and gracious personality. Her background in show business is most impressive. Not only has she appeared in several top Motion Picture Productions, but she is considered one of our top models and is also a talented dancer. For some time, she toured the nightclub circuit extensively with her twin sister -- Sonia. The girls toured with such notables as Danny Kaye, plus many other famous TV and Picture personalities.

Now, at last, Sandra emerges as a vocalist. When I was asked if I would write these liner notes for her album I thought it was a fitting switch. In this album Miss "EXOTICA" herself emerges as a talented performer whose voice and personality merit the attention her lovely face has attracted heretofore.

Settle back, relax and listen to the "EXOTIC" Sandy Warner


Sandy for Artur Romero from the same shoot as her Primitiva cover


Sandy for Lord Russell's Bongo Percussionists



Sandy for Ethel Azama from the same shoot as Hypnotique


The final member of the exotica triumvirate was Arthur Lyman who was actually born in Hawaii. His father gave him a marimba as a child and by the age of 14 he was good enough to turn professional.



Arthur Lyman and his group


Whilst working as a clerk at the Halekulani hotel in 1954 he met Martin Denny who, after hearing him play, offered him a job in his band. It was Lyman, he claimed, who started the bird calls at the Shell bar which started the whole craze. Lyman left Denny's group and formed his own, going on to record 30 albums. His most successful album was Taboo (1958) which sold over 2 million copies. Most of Lyman's recordings (and some of Denny's) were recorded in the Kaiser Hawaiian Village's geodesic dome.



The Kaiser geodesic dome at Hawaiian Village. It was demolished in 1999


The Kaiser Hawaiian Village resort was the brainchild of industrialist Henry J Kaiser who founded the Kaiser Shipyard which built many of WW2's Liberty ships and pioneered mass production and pre-fabrication techniques for shipbilding; resulting in one Liberty ship being completed in four days.


The dome under construction


He also set up Kaiser Steel and Kaiser Aluminium and was part of the consortium that built the Hoover Dam. Kaiser wanted an auditorium at the Hawaiian Village so bought the licence to build Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes. His aluminium plant built the components and shipped them to Hawaii. Kaiser eagerly flew out to the site to watch construction in the spring of 1957 only to find, when he arrived, that the whole 146' diameter structure was complete: it had taken less than 22 hours to build.


Sandy on Quiet Village (1959)


The dome turned out to have wonderful acoustics but Lyman's recordings were boosted by a specially constructed one-off 3 1/2 inch tape recorder built by his engineer which gave stunningly clear recordings which are demonstration quality even today. When the recordings were re-mastered for CD in the nineties the quality of the recordings were such that a simple transfer without any digital tweaking was all that was needed. Lyman recorded live with no overdubbing after midnight to avoid background traffic noise but sometimes in his recordings you can hear the sound of the cooling dome creaking as it settles.


Sandy on Romantica (1961)


So of the three who should you sample? Baxter's orchestra is larger giving it a big-band sound the others don't have. Despite the charms of Miss Warner, Denny's music often strays over into the oriental and can be a little too wacky with its exotic bird calls and what have you. For sheer quality of recording and performance it is Arthur Lyman that Triple P prefers, but a mixture of all three makes for a very satisfying 143 track playlist on our iPod.


Sandy on Exotic Sounds Visit Broadway (1960)


Sandy on Forbidden Island (1958)


So, mix a Mai-Tai put on some music by Baxter, Lyman or Denny and gaze at the lovely face of Sandy Warner because truly you are in paradise!



Sandy on Exotic Sounds from the Silver Screen (1960)

New British stealth plane


BAE (we'll give you a lot of camels if you buy our planes) systems have unveiled the prototype of their unmanned stealth plane the Taranis, named after the Celtic god of thunder. Technically it is an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle although it will be "flown" by someone on the ground rather than being some autonomous robot.

Interestingly, the plane's development only started in 2006 which just shows that it is a lot quicker for a country to produce something on it's own than go into some horrible joint Euro project (c.f. the Eurofighter Typhoon which took twenty years to develop so that many new technologies came along after development began and couldn't be incorporated in the design). Agent Triple P knows someone who was recruited to work on the UK's stealth programme some years ago and he was amazed to find that they were litereally working in some old shed at the back of an airfield somewhere. Not quite all Barnes Wallis type boffins with sliderules but close, apparently.

The £143 million test vehicle will explore the technologies needed for high speed reconnaissance and survellance. It will also have the ability to deliver both bombs and missiles to our enemies (various dodgy ragheads, the French and the Icelanders).

What isn't clear from the picture is how big it is. It would be very disappointing to find that it is eight feet across, for example. Anyway, it's real battle will be to survive the Strategic Defence and Security Review in October. £142 million on the prototype would equate to what exactly for a production vehicle?

Anyway, its our first stealth aircraft since...well, the Avro Vulcan whose delta shape gave it an unexpectedly low radar cross section.

Calendar Girl July: Beatrice Rosen






A much more upmarket calendar girl this month in the gamine form of French actress Beatrice Rosen. In fact, Beatrice was born Béatrice Rosenblatt in New York City but she was raised in paris where she first studied acting at the age of ten. Her first film was a French short, co-starring Audrey Tatou, made when she was 21, where she played a student.

Beatrice in Sharpe's Peril

She first came to Agent Triple P's notice when she played a French officer's wife in Sharpe's Peril (2008) looking very effective in her Empire line dress.


Since her screen debut in 1998 she has been a very busy actress indeed, appearing in over thirty productions; initially in France but then moving back to the US after getting several roles in 2004. Despite having been brought up in Paris for most of hert life she had to learn and deliver an American accent.



Her American accent was successful and she has had parts in Smallville and Charmed, two of Agent Triple P' favourite American trashy TV series, as well as other American TV series.




Recently she has appeared in blockbusters The Dark Knight (2009) and 2012 (2008). Sadly for Beatrice, at 32 she is probably now too old, given the age of Hollywood leading ladies these days, to hit the big time.


A willowy 5'7" shw has done many fashion shoots for magazines, not surprisingly.



She is also the new spokesperson for the Frenchluxury leather brand, Lancel, which must keep her in handbags.

Perhaps, almost inevitably, she is also a singer and is working on her first album having recorded a duet with Gallic singer Stanislas last year.
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Unusually, we have no idea what charity she supports but I'm sure it is either something very worthy.




Agent Triple P likes Ms Rosen very much and she is, indeed, our favourite calendar girl of the year so far.