Monday, 29 August 2016

The 50th Anniversary of The Beatles' Final Paid Concert

It was 50 years ago that The Beatles performed at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. Although none of the Fab Four probably knew it at the time (although it is almost certain they suspected it), it would the last concert they would perform before a paying audience. Afterwards they would perform in public only one more time: the famous free concert atop the roof of Apple headquarters on January 30 1969.

Several factors led to The Beatles' decision to stop touring, chief among them the fact that with the large number of screaming fans they could not even hear themselves playing. This had been a problem since The Beatles had become a phenomenon in 1963 and 1964. Originally The Beatles had used Vox AC30 amplifiers, but in 1964 they switched to specially designed Vox 100-watt amplifiers in the hope that they and their audience might actually be able to hear them play. Unfortunately, even the 100-watt amplifiers proved inadequate in drowning out the crowds of screaming fans. Because they could not hear themselves, The Beatles felt their musicianship had begun to decline.

If the fact that The Beatles could not even hear themselves sing and play at their concerts was not enough to make them dislike touring, the fact that much of their set list on the final tour consisted of older songs probably would. Over the years The Beatles' music had grown considerably more sophisticated. Not only did many of their more recent songs feature backing musicians (such as the violin, viola, and cello players on "Eleanor Rigby"), but many of them utilised some very advanced recording techniques that would be impossible to reproduce in a concert setting. Even though it had just been released that August 5, The Beatles performed none of the songs from the album Revolver during their final North American tour. Indeed, The Beatles never performed any of songs from Revolver live. The most recent songs performed on the tour were all from Rubber Soul ("If I Needed Someone" and "Nowhere Man") and the singles "Yesterday",  "Day Tripper", and "Paperback Writer".

Worse than not being able to hear themselves or having to play songs that were several years old was the fact that touring for The Beatles had become dangerous. In a March 1966 interview with British journalist Maureen Cleave for the London Evening Standard, John Lennon commented on the decline of Christianity in the United Kingdom, including the offhand remark, "We're more popular than Jesus now...." In the United Kingdom John Lennon's comments on Christianity drew no reaction at all. Unfortunately for The Beatles, that would not be the case in the United States. It  was in its late July that the American teen magazine Datebook reprinted Maureen Cleave's interviews. Worse yet, they displayed one of John Lennon's quotes from the interview ("I don't know which will go first—rock 'n' roll or Christianity.") prominently on the cover. The Beatles soon found themselves embroiled in controversy. Around two dozen radio stations stopped playing The Beatles' records. A few communities, mostly in the Bible Belt, even held Beatles records and memorabilia burnings  The controversy grew so intense that The Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, even considered cancelling their upcoming tour of the United States.  Prior to the tour Brian Epstein held a press conference at which he condemned Datebook for taking John Lennon's remarks out of context.

The controversy was still very much alive when The Beatles left for their tour on August 11 1966. It was at a press conference that John Lennon explained his comments and emphasised that he was not trying to compare The Beatles to Jesus, but merely remarking on the decline of Christianity in the United Kingdom. When pressed for an apology, he said, "...if you want me to apologise, if that will make you happy, then OK, I'm sorry." While John Lennon's explanation of his comments found some sympathy with journalists, unfortunately the controversy continued to some degree in many parts of the country. The KKK protested at some venues, and death threats were even received. Given the circumstances, no one could blame Brian Epstein for worrying about possible snipers with high powered rifles.

Even without the ongoing controversy over John Lennon's comments, The Beatles' final tour of the United States would not have been an enjoyable one. On August 20, when The Beatles were scheduled to perform at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, there were torrential rains. The band ultimately postponed the concert until August 21. That same day they went to St. Louis to perform at Busch Stadium and were again met with rain. A jury-rigged, rather ramshackle structure was created to protect the band from the rain, but The Beatles still worried about possible electrocution. On August 28 at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles fans rushed the field and were met by police. It took around two hours for the police to get control of the situation. The Beatles actually worried that they might have to spend the night at Dodgers Stadium.

By the time The Beatles played Candlestick Park in San Francisco, then, they were worn out from the tour. Fortunately for The Beatles, the only real hitch was that when they arrived they found the gates of Candlestick Park locked. The band and their entourage then found themselves driving around until such time as the gates were open.

Interestingly enough, The Beatles' concert at Candlestick Park would herald the coming of another band, albeit one manufactured for a TV show. NBC arranged to have thousands of promotional flyers boasting "The Monkees Are Here" distributed at the concert to promote their upcoming new TV show, The Monkees. The Monkees debuted on September 12 1966, and the band that grew out of the show became very much a phenomenon themselves. 

The opening act for the concert were The Remains, a Boston based band that broke up later in 1966. The Remains were followed by Bobby Hebb, whose song "Sunny" was still on the charts. Bobby Hebb was followed by The Cyrkle, another band managed by Brian Epstein. Earlier in 1966 The Cyrkle had a hit with "Red Rubber Ball", which went to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The band disbanded in late 1967. The final opening act was also the most famous. The Ronettes had a string of hits from 1963 to 1964, beginning with "Be My Baby". While they continued to perform live and appear on television, their recording career was in decline by the time they opened for The Beatles. Their last top forty hit had been "Walking in the Rain" in 1964, which had peaked at no. 20. Their current single, "I Can Hear Music", barely broke the Billboard Hot 100 by reaching no. 100. Sadly, Ronnie Spector was not present for any of The Ronettes' performances during The Beatles tour, as the increasingly jealous Phil Spector forbade her to go on the tour. Her place was filled by her cousin,  Elaine Mayes. With their records failing on the charts, The Ronettes would only remain together a short time following the end of The Beatles' tour.

It was at 9:27 PM that The Beatles took the stage. Prior to taking the stage Paul McCartney, perhaps knowing this could be their last performance, asked The Beatles' press officer Tony Barrow to record the show. Tony Barrow then stood near the stage with his tape recorder and was able to capture nearly the entire concert. Unfortunately, his tape recorder cut out in the middle of the final song, The Beatles' cover of Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally". Sadly there would be very little in the way of film footage of what would be The Beatles' final paid concert. Barry Hood, a 15 year old fan, was able to catch a portion of the concert on colour film. A local TV news crew shot a little footage in black and white.

The Beatles' set during their final tour, and the one that they played at Candlestick Park on August 29 1966, was a mixture of songs they had performed since their days at the Cavern Club and more recent material. The set list was as follows: their cover of Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music"; "She's a Woman"; "If I Needed Someone"; "Day Tripper"; "Baby's In Black"; "I Feel Fine"; "Yesterday"; "I Wanna Be Your Man"; "Nowhere Man"; "Paperback Writer"; and "Long Tall Sally".

While their manager Brian Epstein wanted The Beatles to continue to tour, after the 1966 American tour the Fab Four had decided that they were tired of it. It would be later in the year that The Beatles would announce that they were no longer touring, which led to rumours in November 1966 that the band was actually breaking up. Of course, nothing was further from the truth, and The Beatles denied the rumours. Indeed, it was on November 24 1966 that they would begin recording their next album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It would take longer than any other Beatles album to record, a full five months.

While the general public did not realise it at the time, the concert at Candlestick Park on August 29 1966 would prove pivotal in the history of The Beatles, their final paid concert. Except for their famous free concert atop Apple Headquarters in 1969 all four Beatles never performed together live again. In the meantime Tony Barrow's recording of the Candlestick Park concert would pop up as a bootleg album. Although very little remains to document The Beatles' final concert, we should perhaps be thankful for what little we have.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

"California Girls" by The Beach Boys

It was today in 1965 that The Beach Boys' song "California Girls" peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Despite not having reached no. 1, it remains one of their most iconic songs. In fact, aside from "Good Vibrations", it seems possible that it is the song with which the band is identified the most.

Although "California Girls" sounds like an innocent ode to, well, girls, Brian Wilson has said that he conceived song when he first took LSD. Initially his trip was not a good one. He was in his apartment in his bed with a pillow over his head, and his mind was filled with fear. Fortunately he was eventually able to pull himself together. He thought about writing a song about girls. The song's opening chords came to him when he began thinking about "music from cowboy movies".  He took inspiration for the melody from Johann Sebastian Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring".  The next day Mike Love visited him and together they finished the song. That having been said, for many years Brian Wilson was credited as the song's only writer. That changed in the Nineties after Mike Love sued Brian Wilson for 35 songs which he had co-written, but never received credit. Since then Mike Love has received a songwriting credit on "California Girls", as well as several other Beach Boys songs originally credited only to Brian Wilson.

"California Girls" was recorded from April 6 to June 4 1965 at United Western Recorders and CBS Columbia Square, both in Hollywood. It was released on July 12 1965. Today it must seem odd that a song as iconic as "California Girls" peaked at only no. 3, but then it was kept from the no. 1 spot by two other iconic songs. For the Billboard Hot 100 chart of August 28 1965, "I Got You Babe" by Sonny and Cher was at no. 1, its last week in the top spot. At no. 2 was The Beatles' song "Help!", which would become the new no. 1 song the following week. That following week another iconic song, "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan, would take over the no. 2 spot. With such stiff competition, "California Girls" really didn't have much of a chance at hitting no. 1. That having been said, "California Girls" ultimately spent 11 weeks in the Billboard Hot 100, most of it in the top forty and much of it in the top ten. It has since become one of The Beach Boys' most famous songs.

And now, without further ado, here is "California Girls" by The Beach Boys.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca

If there is one role that the average person identifies with Ingrid Bergman, it is that of Ilsa Lund in Casablanca (1942). While Ingrid Bergman did many other roles throughout her lifetime, from Joan of Arc (in the 1949 film of the same name) to Anna Koreff (in 1956's Anastasia), it is almost always Ilsa that comes to most people's minds when they think of Ingrid Bergman. It is to Ingrid Bergman what Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind (1939) is to Vivien Leigh or Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz (1939) is to Judy Garland.

Given how identified Ingrid Bergman is with the role of Ilsa, today it might seem odd that she was not the first actress considered for the role. That having been said, as originally conceived Rick Blaine's love interest in Casablanca was to be American rather than Swedish. In fact, her name was Lois Meredith. It was on February 14, 1942 that producer Hal Wallis asked casting director Steve Trilling to consider Humphrey Bogart and Ann Sheridan for the lead roles in Casablanca, with Miss Sheridan playing the role of Lois. It was only a matter of days later that Ann Sheridan was out of the running for the role, as the part was changed from the American Lois Meredith to the European Ilsa Lund. Despite this, Ingrid Bergman was still not being considered for the role. Instead Hal Wallis wanted  Hedy Lamarr, then billed as "the Most Beautiful Woman in the World". Unfortunately for Mr. Wallis, Miss Lamarr was under contract to MGM and MGM's head Louis B. Mayer refused to loan her to any other studio. It was only then that Hal Wallis asked producer David O. Selznick to loan him another legendary European beauty (and one who just happened to be Swedish): Ingrid Bergman.

Curiously given its status today as one of the greatest films of all time, Ingrid Bergman did not particularly want to appear in Casablanca. Ingrid Bergman thought that Casablanca would be little more than fluff, and was much more eager to appear in the upcoming adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. Fortunately for Miss Bergman, Casablanca finished shooting with plenty of time for her to play Maria in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943). While Ingrid Bergman would be nominated the Oscar for Best Actress for For Whom the Bell Tolls, ironically Casablanca is more highly regarded today, and it remains her best known film.

Of course, the casting of Ingrid Bergman did mean that efforts had to be taken to conceal Humphrey Bogart's height. During the Golden Age of Hollywood there was an expectation that lead actors would always be as tall, if not preferably taller than, their leading ladies. At 5 foot 9 inches Ingrid Bergman was very tall for a woman of her era. At 5 foot 8 inches Humphrey Bogart was hardly short (in fact, he was exactly average height for men of the era), but he was an inch shorter than Miss Bergman. Humphrey Bogart was then required to wear three inch blocks in his shoes so he would appear slightly taller than Ingrid Bergman!

While Ilsa Lund remains Ingrid Bergman's most famous role, it did not number among her favourites of the parts she played. She once remarked, "I made so many films which were more important, but the only one people ever want to talk about is that one with Bogart." That having bee said, I think Miss Bergman may have underestimated how well she did in the role, as well as complex the role actually was (not to mention how important Casablanca truly was). Ilsa was not simply a cardboard love interest created for the hero Rick Blaine to moon over. She had a personality and a life all her own. Having had an affair with Rick years ago, she finds herself torn between her love for Rick and her loyalty to her husband, Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (played by Paul Henreid). 

Ingrid Bergman always brought a sensitivity to her roles, and it is on full display in Casablanca. She realistically plays a woman who is torn between two men. What is more, she is well cast opposite Humphrey Bogart. The two play off of one another perfectly. While Humphrey Bogart always thought he did not do love scenes well, one would not know it from Casablanca. Of course, Ingrid Bergman was among the most beautiful women of her time, and there seems to be no other film in which she is more luminous as she is when playing Ilsa Lund.

Certainly Ingrid Bergman played many more great roles than Ilsa in Casablanca, and it is regrettable that most of those roles aren't better known to the general public. That having been said, Ingrid Bergman gave not only one of her best performances in Casablanca, but one of the best performances of any actress of all time. It is little wonder that she should be so well remembered for the role. In her later years Ingrid Bergman made peace with the possibility that Casablanca would remain her most famous film. She said, "I feel about Casablanca that it has a life of its own. There is something mystical about it. It seems to have filled a need, a need that was there before the film, a need that the film filled." From its status not only among classic film buffs, but among the general public as well, it would seem she was right. 

Friday, 26 August 2016

The Late Great Marvin Kaplin

Character actor Marvin Kaplan died yesterday at age 89. In a long career that spanned from the Forties to the Teens, he was frequently seen in films and on television. He appeared in such films as Angels in the Outfield (1951); The Nutty Professor (1963); It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963); The Great Race (1965); and Wild at Heart (1985). On television he was the voice of Choo Choo on Top Cat and played telephone lineman Henry Beesmeyer on Alice.

Marvin Kaplan was born in Brooklyn on January 24 1927. He graduated from Brooklyn College in 1947 with a degree in English and afterwards studied theatre at the University of Southern California. It was while he was there that he wrote a one-act play Death of an Intellectual.  Among the faculty at the time was screenwriter and director William C. de Mille, who happened to the brother of legendary director Cecil B. DeMille. Mr. de Mille, knowing that Marvin Kaplan wanted to be a writer, advised him to drop out and become a stage manager. Mr. de Miller told him, “See what actors do to writers’ lines!"

Marvin Kaplan got his first job as a stage manager at the Circle Theatre in Los Angeles on a production of Rain directed by Charlie Chaplin. It was at the Circle Theatre that he also made his debut as an actor in a play by Molière. Legendary actress Katharine Hepburn went to see the show in its ninth week and afterwards visited the cast backstage. Miss Hepburn said to him, "You’re Marvin Kaplan, aren’t you? Have you done a lot of work?" Marvin Kaplan had to admit that it was his first acting job ever. She told him that he was "awfully good."

It was the next day when he went to rehearsal that he found a note telling him to call MGM. He called and they told him to meet with director George Cukor at 3:00 PM. As it turned out, Katharine Hepburn had recommended him for a part in Mr. Cukor's next film, Adam's Rib. Marvin Kaplan then made his film debut in Adam's Rib (1949), playing a court stenographer. The next year he appeared in small parts in the films Key to the City (1950), Francis (1950), and The Reformer and the Redhead (1950). He made his television debut in an episode of Hollywood Theatre Time.

Marvin Kaplan proved to be very busy in the Fifties. He was a regular on the sitcom Meet Millie, playing aspiring composer Alfred Prinzmetal. He guest starred on such shows as The Ford Television Theatre, General Electric Theatre, Shower of Stars, Make Room for Daddy, The Red Skelton Hour, Alcoa Theatre, and M Squad. He appeared in several films throughout the decade, including I Can Get It for You Wholesale (1951), The Fat Man (1951), Criminal Lawyer (1951), Angels in the Outfield (1951), Behave Yourself! (1951), The Fabulous Senorita (1952), and Wake Me When It's Over (1960).

In the Sixties Marvin Kaplan provided the voice of Choo Choo, the enthusiastic but somewhat clueless and shy cat who lived at the firehouse on the prime-time animated cartoon Top Cat. He guest starred on such shows as Dobie Gillis, The Detectives, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, The Baileys of Balboa, Valentine's Day, McHale's Navy, Honey West, Gidget, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., My Three Sons, Petticoat Junction, Mod Squad, and I Dream of Jeannie. It was during the Sixties that he made some of his most notable appearances in movies. He appeared in The Nutty Professor (1963); A New Kind of Love (1963); It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963); and The Great Race (1965).

In the Seventies Marvin Kaplan was a regular on the short-lived show The Chicago Teddy Bears. It was in 1978 that he began playing the recurring role of telephone lineman Henry Beesmeyer on Alice. He was the voice of Skids on C.B. Bears. He guest starred on such stars on Julia; Love, American Style; Chopper One; Kolchak, the Night Stalker; Charlie's Angels; CHiPs; and Flying High. He was a guest voice on Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. He appeared in the films The Severed Arm (1973), Snakes (1974), Freaky Friday (1976), and Midnight Madness (1980).

In the Eighties he continued to appear on Alice. He provided the voice of Shellshock "Shelly" Turtle in the Saturday morning cartoon Saturday Supercade.  He guest starred on MacGyver, The Fall Guy, Cagney & Lacey, 1st & Ten, My Two Dads, and Monsters. He reprised his role as the voice of Choo Choo in the TV movie Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats and Wake, Rattle & Roll. He provided additional voices on The Smurfs and was a guest voice The Further Adventures of SuperTed. He appeared in the films Hollywood Vice Squad (1986) and Wild at Heart (1990).

In the Nineties Marvin Kaplan was a regular on the sitcom On the Air. He had a recurring role on Becker. He guest starred on ER. He provided guest voices on Garfield and Friends, The Cartoon Cartoon Show, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, and Johnny Bravo. He appeared in the films Delirious (1991), The Big Gig (1993), and Witchboard 2 (1993).

In the Naughts he continued to appear on Becker. He appeared in the TV movie McBride: The Chameleon Murder (2005). He appeared in the movie Dark and Stormy Night (2009). In the Teens he appeared in the film Autism and Cake (2012). He is set to appear in the film Lookin' Up later this year.

Marvin Kaplan was also a writer and playwright. He wrote the story for the Addams Family episode "Gomez, the People's Choice" and wrote episodes for the shows The Bill Cosby Show, Mod Squad, and Maude. He wrote the films Watch Out for Slick (2010) and Lookin' Up (2016). He wrote various plays, including A Good House for a Killing and Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife. He was a member of Theatre West, a theatrical company in Los Angeles, for decades. He was also a member of the Academy of New Musical Theatre and California Artists Radio Theatre.

Marvin Kaplan was a very remarkable performer. It was a rare thing that he played a leading role in a TV show or film, and often his parts could be very small. That having been said, he was always memorable. Indeed, as Irwin the gas station attendant in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Marvin Kaplan was only on the screen for a matter of minutes, and yet he remains one of the most memorable characters in a film filled with memorable characters. And while his characters were always characterised by Mr. Kaplan's naturally dull, flat voice and a deadpan delivery, they varied a good deal. Choo Choo on Top Cat was enthusiastic and energetic, but a bit shy around female cats. Henry Beesmeyer on Alice tended to be a bit sarcastic and always complained about either Mel's cooking or his wife. As Marvin the bookkeeper on The Chicago Teddy Bears he was a bit nervous and highstrung. Over the years Marvin Kaplan played a variety of characters, and he was always memorable no matter how small the part.  What is more he was nothing if prolific. He appeared frequently in film and on television in the Fifties and Sixties, and his career spanned from 1949 to 2016. Unlike many actors, Marvin Kaplan never retired.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Van Johnson's 100th Birthday

Van Johnson was born 100 years ago today, on August 25 1916. Van Johnson was one of MGM's most popular stars in the Forties and Fifties. He was gifted with a fine voice, good looks, and a boy next door quality that came across very well on the screen. Over the years he starred in many major films, including The Human Comedy (1943), A Guy Named Joe (1943), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), In the Good Old Summertime (1949), The Caine Mutiny (1954), and many others. On television he guest starred on I Love Lucy, Batman, The Doris Day Show, and several others. In 1957 he played the title role in what can only be described as an early television movie. The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957).

In honour of the 100th anniversary of Van Johnson's birth, here are a few videos featuring Van Johnson.

First up is the trailer for In the Good Old Summertime, in which he played opposite Judy Garland.

Next up is a clip from his guest appearance on I Love Lucy in the episode, "The Dancing Star". In the episode Van Johnson played himself.

Next is Miracle in the Rain, in which he appeared opposite Jane Wyman.

And finally here is Van Johnson on What's My Line from 1963.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Steven Hill Passes On

Steven Hill, who played Daniel Briggs in the first season of Mission: Impossible and District Attorney Adam Schiff on Law & Order, died yesterday, August 23 2016, at the age of 94.

Steven Hill was born Solomon Krakowsky in Seattle, Washington on February 22 1922. He served in the United States Navy during World War II. He graduated from the University of Washington. He made his Broadway debut in a walk on part in A Flag Is Born in 1946. He had more substantial roles on Broadway in Mister Roberts and Sundown Beach, both in 1948. In 1950 he appeared on Broadway in The Lady from the Sea. He made his TV debut in an episode of Actor's Studio in 1949. In the late Forties he also appeared in episodes of Theatre of Romance, Suspense, Starlight Theatre, and Magnavox Theatre. He made his film debut in 1950 in A Lady Without Passport (1950).

In the Fifties Mr. Hill guest starred on such TV shows as Schlitz Playhouse, Danger, Lights Out, Lux Video Theatre, The Motorola Television Hour, The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, Studio One, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Playhouse 90, and The Lineup. He appeared in the films Storm Fear (1955), The Goddess (1958), and Kiss Her Goodbye (1959). He appeared on Broadway in The Country Girl.

In the Sixties Steven Hill played the lead role of Daniel Briggs in the first season of Mission: Impossible. He guest starred on such TV shows as Route 66, The Untouchables, The Eleventh Hour, Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey, Naked City, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Rawhide, and The Fugitive. He appeared in the film A Child Is Waiting (1963). He appeared one last time on Broadway in A Far Country in 1961.

Following his experience on Mission: Impossible Steven Hill gave up acting and worked a number of different jobs, including writing and real estate. After about ten years he returned to acting. He guest starred in an episode of The Andros Targets and appeared in the mini-series King, as well as the film It's My Turn (1980).

 In the Eighties Steven Hill appeared in such films as Raw Deal (1986), Eyewitness (1981), Rich and Famous (1981), Yentl (1983), Teachers (1984), Raw Deal (1986), Legal Eagles (1986), Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986), and White Palace. He gust starred on the TV shows One Life to Live, Thirtysomething, Columbo, and Equal Justice.

From 1990 to 2000 Steven Hill played District Attorney Adam Schiff on Law & Order. He guest starred as Adam Schiff on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Steven Hill was a very talented actor. He did a fine job as Daniel Briggs, the original leader of the Impossible Missions Force on Mission: Impossible, and Adam Schiff on Law & Order. Over the years most of the roles Mr. Hill played similar authority figures or father figures, such as a rabbi in Yentl, a police lieutenant in Eyewitness, and a district attorney in Legal Eagles. That having been said, he was capable of playing other roles. He had a memorable turn as a mob boss in Raw Deal, and played the title gangster in the episode "Jack 'Legs' Diamond" of The Untouchbles. While he may have been best known for the many authority figures he played over the years, he could play villains quite well. He was a very versatile actor.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The 25th Anniversary of the World Wide Web

Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web
It was twenty five years ago today that the World Wide Web went live. Here I must stress that the World Wide Web is not the same thing as the internet, which has actually been around since 1969. That having been said, the World Wide Web made access to the internet easier than it ever had been before and available to more people than it ever had been before. While online services such as CompuServe and America Online had given many access to the internet in the Eighties, it was the World Wide Web that truly brought the internet to the masses.

Indeed, people around the world adopted the World Wide Web very quickly. I have been online since 1995 and I still remember when I first went online. We had to drive to our local telephone company office to pick up the software necessary to go online (my fairly new computer of the time had a built in modem). The World Wide Web essentially opened up a whole new world for me, as it did many other people. Suddenly I had access to information that I never had before. Of course, surfing the Web in those early days was even more of an adventure than it is now. Even the most innocent of search results could deliver a number of porn sites, and one had to be very careful about opening any attachments one might receive in an email for fear of viruses!

Regardless of the dangers in those early days, I would dare say that the World Wide Web would prove to be a boon to any research I was conducting. In the days before the World Wide Web, research would mean a trip to the library where I would browse microfiche of old newspapers or magazines and, if necessary, check out books. Sometimes I might even have to get books on interlibrary loan, which could mean a wait of several weeks. Quite simply, research was a long, drawn out process. The World Wide Web made it so that I had access to a whole, lot more information. Suddenly I did not just have access to a few major newspapers and our local papers, but newspapers around the world.

As to books, I could order them through Ebay or Amazon.Com. Still later, Google Books would make a number of books available online. It has been literally years since I have had to get a book on interlibrary loan. Of course, shopping is another way in which the World Wide Web changed my life. Before the World Wide Web, if I wanted a particular book, CD, or VHS tape (later DVD), I might have to make a trip to Columbia thirty miles away. Now I can simply order them online. What is more, it is not just books, CDs, and DVDs I have ordered online. My glasses frames, pairs of boots, and even my jacket, among other things, were all ordered online.

Of course, now much of my business is conducted online. Most of the household's bills are paid online. And any problems we might have with any of our services are solved online as well. In fact, about the only business I don't do online is pay our water and garbage collection bills, and anything related to my bank. In the case of the water and garbage collection, it's a simple case that the city doesn't have paying online set up as an option yet. As to my bank, it's because in addition to one's password with a capital letter, a special character, and numerals, they also expect one to answer several security questions, offer up the blood of a virgin, sign over one's soul, and other things that just make online banking impractical.

While I do much of my business online now, much of my entertainment is done online as well. Streaming has pretty much revolutionised the way people watch TV shows and movies the past few years. While I still watch a good number of TV shows and movies live or on DVD, much of what I watch is through streaming services such as NetFlix and Hulu. Even in the early days before streaming became commonplace, I would watch  videos online, even if RealPlayer always insisted on buffering several minutes beforehand.

While the World Wide Web has changed the way I do research, shop, and conduct business, probably the biggest change in my life (and the one for which I am most thankful) has been the opportunity to make many new friends I would not have if it had not been for the World Wide Web. One of the wonderful things about the World Wide Web is that it gives one the ability to seek out people with similar interests and similar tastes in TV shows, movies, music, and so on. Over the years I have made many dear friends online, at first on the email lists and forums of the early days and later on the various social networks that began to spring up in the Naughts. What is more, many of them live in faraway place to which I have never been; Canada, Australia, Scotland, Italy, and so on. I have known many of these friends for years now, and I feel closer to many of them than people I have known in person.

Not only have I made new friends through the World Wide Web, but it has allowed me to stay in touch better with old friends and my many relatives. In the old days the only way to keep in touch with friends and relatives was through the post or the telephone, neither of which were necessarily known for their efficiency. With the World Wide Web I could stay in touch through email or instant messaging, and still later through the various social networks. It's because of this that I have to disagree with those critics who believe the Web is driving people apart. I honesty  think it is bringing many people closer together.

In end, for all the criticisms levelled at the Web over the years, I think it has improved people's lives a good deal. I know that I am very thankful for its invention.

And here without further ado, is the post I wrote for the 20th anniversary of the World Wide Web, in which I talk a bit about its history.


It was twenty years ago today, on 30 April 1993, that CERN made the technology of the World Wide Web available free of charge to the public. The World Wide Web would not only revolutionise the Internet, but in the process would also revolutionise the world itself. From science to education to business to entertainment, there has probably not been one field that has not been changed by the World Wide Web.

Indeed, many either are not aware or simply forget that the Internet existed well before the World Wide Web. The Internet's beginnings essentially trace back to the ARPANET, which launched on 29 October 1969. Other networks would be developed in the wake of the ARPANET. Eventually these networks would evolve into what we now know as the Internet (a term first used in 1982). Over time more and more universities, libraries, and other organisations would connect to the Internet. As the Internet grew, keeping track of resources on the Internet became more and more difficult.

As a result various organisations began developing means of tracking the information on the Internet. In the late Eighties an archiver of FTP sites was developed at McGill University in Montreal, Ontario known "Archie." Archie was implemented in 1990. The internet protocol called Gopher was established in 1991 and for a time was a rival to the World Wide Web. Created at the University of Minnesota (hence its name), Gopher would thrive only for a brief time in the Nineties. It was doomed by essentially two factors. The first was that the University of Minnesota decided to charge a licensing fee for Gopher--this only two months before CERN made the World Wide Web totally free. The second is that Gopher documents are much more rigidly structured than the hypertext documents of the World Wide Web.

As to the World Wide Web, it was the result of developments made by Sir Timothy Berners-Lee over the years. Then an independent contractor at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland, it was in 1980 that he developed ENQUIRE. At the time, as it is now, CERN was a vast organisation with a large number of people, with a number of ongoing projects at any time. Much of the work was done via the internet, through email and exchanges of files. As a result CERN needed a means to keep track of everything. Mr. Berners-Lee then developed and proposed ENQUIRE. In many ways ENQUIRE can be considered a predecessor to the World Wide Web. Like the World Wide Web, ENQUIRE relied upon hypertext, and like the World  Wide Web it could operate on different systems.

Sir Timothy Berners-Lee left CERN in late 1980 to work for Image Computer Systems, Ltd. He returned to CERN in 1984 where he continued to use ENQUIRE to keep track of his own projects. It was in 1989 that Sir Timothy Berners-Lee wrote a proposal for "..."a large hypertext database with typed links." It was in 1990 that he found a collaborator in the form of Belgian computer scientist Robert Cailliau. The two of them tried to attract interest in their idea of World Wide Web at the the European Conference on Hypertext Technology in September 1990 to no avail.

Regardless, they continued work on the project, creating the first web site at CERN. Over the next several months Sir Timothy Berners-Lee developed what would be the building blocks of the Web: HTTP (the HyperText Transfer Protocol), HTML (HyperText Markup Language), and even the first web browser and editor (named simply WorldWideWeb). The work was completed by late December 1990. It was on 6 August 1991 that Sir Timothy Berners-Lee put the world's first Web site online. Initially the World Wide Web was adopted primarily by universities. Two turning points would come about in 1993. The first was the introduction of the Mosaic web browser on 23 January 1993. While other browsers pre-dated Mosaic, none possessed the versatility or ease of use of Mosaic. Of course, the second turning point occurred twenty years ago today--the World Wide Web went public.

Of course, in the following years the World Wide Web would experience enormous growth. Web commerce emerged fairly early, with such companies as (1994),  EBay (1995), and others being founded in the mid to late Nineties. By the early Naughts the World Wide Web was nearly commonplace. As of 30 June 2012 78.1% of all Americans and 83.6% of everyone in the United Kingdom are on online.

Twenty years after the World Wide Web was made free to the public it is nearly impossible to imagine life without it. Indeed, it may well have been the most revolutionary medium introduced in the 20th Century, doing more to change the world than even radio or television. For better or worse, the World Wide Web has become a part of everyday life for many around the world.