January 19, 2016

The Rack Pack Review: A Triumph of Sound and Vision

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:50 am

Alex gets a touch up. Photographer: Amanda Searle

When I heard that the BBC were planning to show a film about the great rivalry of 80’s snooker played by actors I was immediately both curious and cautious. Having grown up in this golden era of the baize I was concerned that they’d fail to capture just how great it really was, snooker was the obsession of millions, from kids like me to twenty-somethings, from working mens clubs to housewives and grannies, it seemed back then that everyone had their favourite players.

The biggest rivalry in those days without a shadow of doubt was between Alex Higgins and Steve Davis. Alex, the maverick and all round nutcase and Steve, the robotic humanoid next door. They couldn’t have been wired up any differently as people and their mutual distaste for each other was orchestrated and nurtured behind the scenes by the ringmaster himself, Steve’s manager, Barry Hearn.

The Rack Pack opens up with a bang, with Higgins, played brilliantly by Luke Treadaway, seeing off the old guard in the form of John Spencer to the strains of ‘Black Dog’ by Led Zeppelin, giving us a subtle clue of what is to come, to win his first world title in 1972 in very different surroundings than we’re used to these days. The portrayal of a working class hero is evident from the start.

The film is primarily about Alex and originally apparently that was the plan, until the writers discovered that there was so much more to the 1980’s snooker scene than him. This era was all about change and showmanship; ‘Dallas with Balls’ as Hearn so eloquently puts it. As Alex himself had given the old guard a firm kick up the arse in the 1970’s, he himself was to fall victim to a changing of the guard not too long afterwards in the form of Davis, played again quite brilliantly by Will Merrick, who portrays a man growing in confidence as the years go by, from being a nerd with a notebook to someone no longer prepared to be bullied by Alex backstage at The Crucible, where two of the best lines in the film are uttered, in particular when Alex is describing witnessing the birth of his daughter and why despite all the warnings this didn’t phase him.

Behind it all is Hearn, played to perfection by Kevin Bishop. Arguably, whilst Davis is perhaps portrayed a little too wet behind the ears for greater comedic effect and Alex’s role is slightly romanticised to brush over some of the more unsavoury and extreme aspects of his personality, Hearn is played more or less to the letter. The one-liners are delivered with perfect timing and mask the ruthlessness with which he operated. As Alex changed the face of the public perception of snooker in his heyday, so Hearn did in his. Arguably without Alex none of this would have been possible and The Hurricane’s belief that this was the case would ultimately contribute to his demise as those around him, including his best friend Jimmy White, played by James Bailey, thrived under Barry’s brave new world, with Matchroom Slippers and Aftershave all thrown into the bargain.

While Barry is busy changing the sport and Alex enjoys the dying embers of his snooker career to great excess we also get a glimpse of The Hurricane’s tempestuous home life. The stresses and strains of his relationship with his wife Lynn (Nichola Burley) are played out emotionally enough so as to not be disrespectful whilst still maintaining a feel of how life had changed since they took to the dancefloor as sweethearts to the strains of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, illustrating perfectly the two sides of Alex.

As well as the character portrayals, the film also has a blinding soundtrack and the sets are absolutely fantastic, in particular the recreation of The Crucible, which has been carried out to the letter. Throw in The Who, Thin Lizzy, Jimi Hendrix, T-Rex and Grandmaster Flash, which predictably accompanies a scene depicting use of illegal substances and this element of the package takes you back to the time and the place perfectly.

We are told from the start that the film is inspired by real events and that some elements may not really have happened, but that is what drama is all about. So what if Higgins is shown breaking off from the yellow side? So what if Dennis didn’t wear his glasses until a little later than portrayed? So what if Alex’s breakdown at The Crucible wasn’t in a one table situation? So what if Big Bill was twice the size of the actor that plays him? So what if Tony Knowles’s character appears to be as old as The Bolton Stud is now and so what if David Vine tells us that Steve Davis is 2/5 at the bookies and he’s carelessly chalked up at 5/2? In the great scheme of things their historical accuracy is about as important as the truth in the metaphorical and touching final scene between Steve and Alex, all represent artistic license and the factual inaccuracies would only, as Clive Everton might say, be of academic importance.

My only criticism, from a purely selfish point of view, is that the end feels a little rushed, I’d like the aftermath to have been explored deeper, but like all great watches, it left me wanting more. I’ll watch it again, and again and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before it airs on TV. But for now, the detail of how to watch it, in the UK at least, is linked below. If you enjoy it as much as I do here is an old post which sums up my own personal view of this era, snooker will never be the same, but why would we want it to be? If this film tells us anything, it’s that change is inevitable.               

Those of you that can, can download and watch it to your heart’s content here. You can also check out the tracklist here.

Rack 2

November 19, 2012

Potters Last Requests: Barry Pinches

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 10:30 am

Can Barry’s choices save him?

It’s a long time since we had a chat to one of the players on here and I thought it would be an idea to get them talking about something other than boring old snooker for a change. So I have come up with a new feature which may or may not become a regular thing on the blog and it’s called Potters Last Requests.

This is a totally original idea* (see footnote) of mine which is set within the walls of a solitary confinement unit of a prison. It’s where the potters go when I perceive them to have transgressed. These poor unfortunates have been sentenced to a life of pain and misery in here unless I deem them to have chosen their last requests wisely enough to secure an early release.

The first person that I threw into this stinking cell is none other than Barry Pinches. Why Barry? you may ask, well, long term readers of the blog will know the answer to this, it’s a sorry tale for which he deserves the harshest punishment. Allow me to elaborate….

The year is 2005 and the venue is the Crucible Theatre. I’d had a large accumulator bet on the handicaps and Barry was the final leg of it. He had to win at least 6 frames against Ken Doherty for me to win a very large sum of cash. I was there, with my mate Mike and we watched the first session of the match in anticipation. Barry started well and soon to our delight built a 5-2 lead which was reduced to 5-4 by Ken at the end of the session. Nonetheless, I still believed the bet to be in the bag and decided to treat my pal to an afternoon of total excess, both on the booze and Michelin Star standard food.

We (well I) decided to make a night of it and not bother going to the other session, we got absolutely trousered at my expense, refusing to take a penny from my friend and we celebrated the bet landing, forgetting that Barry still had to win that vital sixth frame. The rest is history, I awoke next day in a Sheffield hotel room barely remembering anything about the previous day. Then I checked the result of the match…..10-5 to Ken.

I’ll now let Barry complete the story:

Hi SB! Yes I remember that match I think I was 5-3 up (No Barry you were 5-2 up) and Ken had no form to speak of for about a year and came out in the evening and absolutely buzzed! I was in contention for the 16 too, not sure what happened but sorry about your bet…..

Name: Barry ‘The Canary Cueist’ Pinches
Crime: Letting down an SB bet of epic proportions
Sentence: Life

Because of the prisoner’s good behaviour I have decided to grant him some requests. These will consist of 10 songs, 1 book, a luxury item and what might be his final decent meal before he has to start eating slops again. Based on these choices I’ll decide whether to set him free or buy another lock for the cell.

OK SB, thanks for the chance to set myself free, it’s a bit whiffy in here. OK my first choice of song is The Prince – Madness which was the first record I ever bought at the age of 9.

My second song is Message in a Bottle – The Police, I think this is Sting’s favourite Police record, great guitar riff and drums, I’m trying to play it on a rock band drum set and it’s extremely difficult. I think of all my choices this one is my favourite.

Next I’ll go for Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who 8 minutes of classic drums from Keith Moon and guitar from Pete Townsend.

My fourth choice would have to be More Than A Feeling – Boston. A classic rock song and featured on one of my favourite adverts, that Barclaycard rollercoaster in a city one.

SB – It was all going so well until choice four….

OK SB, I’ll have to redeem myself here as you obviously don’t like my last choice…..number five for me is Going Underground – The Jam. Paul Weller at his best surely SB?

SB – You may have just saved yourself, we’ll see…

Here’s two big hitters SB. Beat It – Michael Jackson, the King of Pop at his peak and a great video. Next you’ve got to have Signed Sealed Delivered – Stevie Wonder a classic bass line, surely SB you can’t disagree with those?

Time to get serious now SB and my next track is I Believe in You – Talk Talk, a little known song written about the songwriter’s brothers heroin addiction and subsequent death. Look up the lyrics and the video is very powerful.

Time for a bit of disco next SB to cheer things up a bit and it has to be the dance floor filler that was used in a brilliantly funny scene in the movie Airplane and that’s Stayin’ Alive – The Bee Gees.

Last but not least is a song called Pinches which was written about me by some friends of mine who are in a very good indie band called Pale Man Made.

OK Barry, now then. If I decide that you are confined to life in the slammer I will grant you three things to help you pass the time. A book, a luxury item and one last decent meal. Go for it…

Thanks SB. For the book – Alive, which is a true story about a plane carrying a rugby team which crashed in the Andes mountains and their subsequent fight for survival. Great film too. For my luxury item in my cell, I want the best PC money could buy with internet gaming and poker access! For my meal, it has to be an Indian, I love it, anything will do SB I’m not fussy, nice and spicy.

Before you pass sentence SB, can I tell you a funny story? I was playing Marco Fu at York in the UK and Tony Drago was on the next table to me. Some mates had come to watch me and before the match they were in the toilets discussing watching Tony as well as me. One of them said in very inappropriate language (I’ll paraphrase) ‘what do I want to watch that slightly overweight gentleman from Malta for?’ On completing this sentence Tony walked out of the toilet cubicle and threw them a few daggers in the process.


I have to say that on balance Barry’s requests are pretty decent. Madness, The Who, The Jam and Talk Talk, what’s not to like? But Boston? Boston? This is the problem, I know I should set him free but he might start listening to that again. I’ll have to set some conditions so:

The Judge has decided that Mr Pinches be released but that any return to listening to soft dad rock will result in his immediate return to a life of squalor.

Court Dismissed.

*and is in no way anything at all like the BBC’s long running radio show Desert Island Discs, I would like to make that perfectly clear from the outset, it’s absolutely nothing like it. I ask for song requests, a luxury item and a book, but do they ask for a final meal? Is it set in a prison? No, so there you see, absolutely nothing like it at all. Barry also chose 10 songs (I only asked for 8) but this again highlights the difference.  

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