Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Thursday, September 28, 2006


I borrowed a video from fellow GSFWC member Paul Cockburn just the other week, the three-part drama BROND from circa 1987 (just after the Falklands War and not long after the IRA bombed the Tory party conference at Brighton). It had come up in conversation and I was remembering just how weird and slipstreamy it seemed when I first saw it. Based on a novel by Frederick Lindsay (which sadly seems to be out of print), filmed in Glasgow (in places some of which I now recognise as, well, just round the corner from where I stay), it opens with a young John Hannah, in his first (or first major) TV role, as a young Glasgow Uni student who's out jogging. He stops to catch his breath on a bridge ("hey, that's Gibson Street!" says me. "That's the bridge over the Kelvin") where a wee kid is leaning over, looking down into the river. As the Hannah character watches we see Stratford Johns (from classic British cop show, Z-Cars) walk down the road towards him and, in passing, with the utterly casual callousness of a one-handed shove, push the kid over the edge. And then wink at Hannah as he walks on.

It's a killer of an opening, and from there it gets waaaaaay strange as poor old Robert (John Hannah) finds himself sucked completely into the well-nigh incomprehensible machinations of the diabolical Brond (Stratford Johns). It's partly due, I think, to the cutting of a novel down for TV (which has the effect of making it feel, at times, like crucial scenes have been lost, such that you're left rather stumped as to what the fuck is going on), but also just the way it's done -- with scenes that might be dreams or might be real, and with all manner of creepy portentuousness on the part of Brond -- lends it a deeply unsettling air of the irrational irrupting into the mundane -- hints of Dennis Potter or Harold Pinter. It feels like televisual slipstream in the "feeling very strange" sense.

One of my favourite scenes in it, which I was blathering to Paul about the other night and which he hunted down and emailed me, is a conversation between Robert and Brond as regards Primo (James Cosmo), a man-mountain of a "good soldier" who carries out Brond's dirty work from a misplaced sense of loyalty. As I watched it again, it still had the hairs on the back of my neck tingling, not least because I realised that much of these themes crept into VELLUM in the character of MacChuill:

BROND: You shouldn’t upset him like that. He’s a good man.

ROBERT: A good soldier. He told me before.

BROND: Oh yes. Kilts and trumpets at dawn. Loyal and brave. A Scottish Soldier.

ROBERT: How can he be so stupid? Doesn’t he know how much you despise him?

BROND: He has medals, did you know that? Soldiers get them. And he has some that are not given easily, or for nothing. He went to the wars and came home again. He’s a patriot. He’s been going to war a very long time. He’s the man who built the British Empire.

ROBERT: What’s the British Empire to do with this?

BROND: He’s fought against Napoleon, and in the Crimea. In the last war he fought in the desert. In 1916 he fought on the dry plains of the Somme and drowned in its mud when winter came. Kenya, Korea –- he’s been there. He’s still in Ireland. And only last week he came back from a little group of islands in the South Atlantic. And every time he came home, he found things were worse that when he’s gone away – but he had never learned to fight for himself.

I watched that and I thought to myself, and now he's in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The last episode ends with the song, "The Green Hills of Tyrol"


Blogger paul f cockburn said...

I've never been able to listen to The Green Hills of Tyrol (aka Scottish Soldier) in quite the same way since that episode of Brond. Context can be an amazing thing...

3:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes I remember Brond. And the music. Stratford Johns listening to opera. Madame Butterfly? I haven't seen it since it first came out and the scenes and sounds are like memories from childhood of inexplicable adult events.

12:56 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Sheri, helen -- all I can suggest is that you ask Paul (link above). Me, I'll leave the writer gods of Copyright and Posterity to battle out the ethics here. Fuck, maybe I should start a petition with this entry and hope Channel 4 might be persuaded to release the series on DVD.

11:12 pm  
Blogger Silvatungfox said...

I too have been searching for years for the series Brond. I hope you do start a petition if that is what it takes to get this series on dvd available to the public.

6:16 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not Madam Butterfly. It's Canteloupe's 'Songs of the Auvergne: Bailero'.

2:37 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice comments, which I enjoyed. BROND is being republished this year (2007) by Polygon.

10:29 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Hi Frederic,

Excellent news! I look forward to picking up a copy and reading it. Sorry for misspelling your name in the post, btw.

5:12 pm  
Anonymous BarryJV said...

27" of tempered German steel...

I was lucky that I found a copy of the book about two years after the TV series came out, it was in the remaindered bin in a small bookshop in Welsh tourist town (I don't remember which one). Which was ironic after spending so long searching for it. Something I wanted so much being sold by the score at half-price.

Although I agree, that's a fantastic line from the TV series, I've always liked the ending paragraph of the book.


Now the rain was heavy, it soaked the ground and turned it black. It streamed down the policeman's face. It ran in stone tears down the lion face of the prophet.

It fell like a judgement not on Brond but on Primo, Scottish soldier, dead in the mud. But then when had it ever been Brond?

(End spoilers)

It's a real pity that Channel 4 don't give this series a proper release on DVD. I'm lucky, I have my 1987 edition of the book, a digital copy of a VHS recording and the 12" of the theme music. Getting hold of those things took persistence and a bit of luck, but with the book now re-released, a DVD which included the music as a bonus track would allow all fans access to the series.

Anybody know who to lobby at C4? That's one thing I've never been able to discover.

11:12 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

try looking a bit harder and you'll find Brond on DVD. OK, it may be a copy of a video, but better than nothing.

3:54 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you know where to find it why not post it?

2:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This link to the opening music - don't see the similarity with Cantaloupe but perhaps I'm not musical enough.

3:37 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Myself, my sister, brother, and 5 of my cousins were extras in Brond.

1:46 am  

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