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Tuesday 21 May 2019

Eurovision's Oz Songbird and Her Red Remington Portable Typewriter

I’d never heard of Kate Miller-Heidke until she became Australia’s representative in the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest. How does Australia, which is in Oceania, come to compete in a European music event? Good question. Not sure I can answer. But Israel, which isn’t in Europe either, hosted this year’s edition, in Tel Aviv. Miller-Heidke came ninth with Zero Gravity, but Australia won the artistic award (apparently the singing, dreadful as it usually is, isn’t enough, and visuals also count). Holland, which is in Europe, won the overall contest through a singer with the distinctly Dutch name of Duncan Laurence, and will stage the event next year. Go figure.
So why is all this on a typewriter blog post? Well, in discovering our latest songbird Kate Miller-Heidke, I was made aware of a 2007 minor hit of hers called Words, the video of which featured a repainted (in bright red) Remington portable typewriter. I can’t recommend the song, but the video is worth watching, if only for the typewriter.

Wednesday 15 May 2019

RIP Doris Day (1922-2019)

Doris Day was my childhood sweetheart. She was born in Cincinnati. Naturally, therefore, there are two photographs of her at a typewriter, albeit an IBM Selectric I.
Cincinnati Enquirer, October 15, 1937

Friday 10 May 2019

'Pulsating Life' of the 'Sinister' Imperial Good Companion Portable Typewriter: 'Infused With Malice' in The ABC Murders

The soundtrack on the BBC TV’s three-part series based on Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders is music to the ears of typewriters lovers. By soundtrack, I don't mean Isobel Waller-Bridge’s efforts in putting together a handful of tunes ranging from Cole Porter to Woody Herman, a harpsichord suite from Barry Lyndon and a touch of what could be a Handel chaconne. No, I’m referring to that wonderful grating noise that a typewriter carriage makes when it is moved back over the escapement rack and the star wheel’s dogs flick past the cogs. Or the slap of the typeslug on ribbon and paper, or the gears on the key rods clicking back to lift the typebar. Imagine all that amplified to the max, and accompanying the movement of a microcamera as it snoops in under the typebasket and ribbon capstan,  and forages among the levers and switches and springs.  That’s what one gets aplenty, at least in the first episode of the series (the only one I’ve seen so far). I wish I could download that soundtrack, but unfortunately I’ve thus far been unable to do so.
        This BBC TV version of The ABC Murders makes the Imperial Good Companion portable typewriter of leading character Alexander Bonaparte Cust  (played by Eamon Farren) the star attraction. It has the main role. As Jonah Benjamin put it on the "Thoughts in Digital" website, "Ever wondered what a typewriter looks like really close up? Well, wonder no more, as BBC's latest Agatha Christie adaptation spends most of its running time next to, on top of, or inside a typewriter."
 Agatha Christie at her Remington portable typewriter.
The Radio Times, however, reveals that Christie’s champion detective Hercule Poirot (played by John Malkovich) "matches the 'unknown fingerprints' on Cust’s typewriter with [spoiler alert, someone else’s] prints, as collected from his brandy glass. This is used as part of [the killer’s] conviction." Now, we all know that’s not quite how things work when convicting killers on evidence gathered from typewriters – and one would expect Christie knew better, too. After all, fictional detectives had been applying forensic science to typescripts since Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes at the end of the 19th Century. And, as it turns out [another spoiler alert] Poirot had been bluffing when he suggested to the killer that he had a matching fingerprint from the typewriter. The Radio Times points out that in Christie’s novel, Poirot says, "Most damning of all - you overlooked a most elementary precaution. You left a fingerprint on Cust’s typewriter - the typewriter that, if you are innocent, you could never have handled."
Sarah Phelps, who faithlessly adapted the novel to the small screen, was asked by the "BBC Writers Room" website about director Alex Gabassi stressing the significance of two machines, a train and the typewriter, in the story. She answered, "The whole point of the typewriter is that the letters are not written by hand. You can feel the human behind a written hand and there is an identity to it; you can see character in the way someone writes his or her name. Whereas a typewriter is like being hate tweeted, because it’s just text and there could be anybody behind it. The only thing is that this typewriter does have a tiny ghost in a setting which gives it its own character, but even that is sinister. So as the railway has its own pulsating life, I wanted to feel that the typewriter has its own pulsating life. There’s almost this symbiosis between technology and our killer. I like that sense of anonymity but a sense of profound identity as well; the typewriter is just an object but then suddenly it’s infused with malice. Like the train is innocent, you get on it to go to the seaside or to get to work and you know every inch of it and then suddenly it’s a terrifying thing."
It’s great that the BBC has found the right typewriter for the time. The TV series is set in 1933 (the book in 1935) and the first model of the Imperial Good Companion came out in 1932. The one used by the character Cust looks as though its innards need cleaning, but it’s the appropriate model for the period and locality. The book was first published in Britain on January 6, 1936. The TV series was broadcast in Britain over three consecutive nights after Christmas last year and started on ABC TV in Australia last Sunday. It was released on DVD through Universal Pictures UK on March 11.