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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Everything I Need to Know About London I Learned from Doctor Who

"The travel writer seeks the world we have lost - the lost valleys of the imagination."
- Alexander Cockburn

Marlo, where are you???
Some months ago I made note of the impact the James Bond films had on my chosen destinations and impressions of places around the world. A less seemly aspect of all this is the effect watching entirely too much television did for the way I viewed that same world as a kid. (The first Bond film I can remember seeing in the theaters was Live and Let Die, so there was plenty of damage done to my young psyche before Bond took hold.)

As a child, I admit I watched a lot of TV. (Yes, yes, we all turn up our noses publicly, but according to research the average American watches four plus hours a day, so get over your bad self. Yes, you're cool, we all admire your restraint. Move on.) In particular, and no real surprise, comedy programs made up a good share of those shows. At that time it was highly unusual for anyone under 12 to be allowed to stay up much beyond 9pm, and the majority of television programming on the three available networks (*gasp*, THREE?) was built around something called Family Hour before 9pm.
I know Yukon Cornelius is round here somewhere

As such, my view of the world around me was highly restricted to a) places I'd been, which by my twelfth birthday counted Hawaii, Japan, New England and Virginia in addition to California; and b) those other places which I'd seen only on the small screen television set in the family room.

So, being a mildly impressionable…okay, very impressionable young boy, my world was defined by what the television industry refers to as "stock shots" -- pictures of a place used as an introductory shot to the rest of the program, establishing where the story takes place. Shots of the surf along Waikiki for Hawaii Five-O, Miami for Burn Notice. You've seen a million of them as the network comes back from a commercial. 
Mork? Mindy?

My worldvision was defined by these stock shots for years. My "New York" was a vibrant, brightly colored city as shown to me by That Girl, the comedy program about a single woman in Manhattan starring Marlo Thomas. (A whole column could be spent with HER impact on my childhood impressions, but that's an entirely different column, and Blog probably.) I can summon those mid-sixties stock shots of the core of Manhattan, looking down at the city from on-high and looking dramatically different from the grittier New York I would later discover at the movies and for myself much later in life.

Where's the red Thunderbird?
Hawaii, interestingly enough, was represented by Gilligan's Island. To a little kid palm trees are palm trees and since I'd spent some time on Oahu, the connection was an easy one to make. Likewise, Minneapolis was, and may forever be, defined by Mary Tyler Moore's cap toss and picture window. As one of the two major American cities I have left unvisited on my agenda -- the other, stunningly, being Chicago -- my adult impressions of Minneapolis still resonate with that cap toss. And, yeah, Chicago is inexorably linked to Bob Newhart. I never said I've outgrown the easily-impressioned phase of my life.
Mayberry must be right around that corner

Let's see: San Juan was that far-away windy place on The Flying Nun; Get Smart was my Washington, DC; Los Angeles…Hollywood… was The Beverly Hillbillies. The beautiful and scenic college town of Boulder, Colorado was born in my mind as the home of Mork and Mindy.

Yes. Rather idealized and twisted view of the world.

And television dramas weren't exempt from their influence. 

My Las Vegas was represented by Robert Urich's Vegas! The darker edges of Chicago were filled in by no less than Kolchak: The Night Stalker. (Which might explain why the Windy City is still on my to-do list.) 

Adam-12 was my Los Angeles. Still is, in some ways.

Steed. John Steed.
All of this being particularly amusing to me when, as an older teen, I realized that most of these shows weren't even filmed in those places. Now, as then, television is the art of artifice where Long Beach is used for Miami as well as middle-America. Vancouver is a much less expensive alternative for New York and Boston. As I discovered the world of back lots and remote locations I realized how much of those impressions of my childhood were wrong -- and that those cities and other places were far more textured and wonderful than I'd ever imagined. Having by now visited a good portion of the US, and gaining a toehold on Europe, I've found that while some of those daydream locations might lose a little luster in the translation, the majority are far more fascinating and enjoyable than even Marlo Thomas might have suggested. 

Then again, looking back, the London I know from The Avengers and Doctor Who and UFO is still a place I wouldn't mind visiting. Can you suspend belief just this one time? Please guys?


Gotta go. I can see by the clock it's time for my trip to Seattle to visit with my friend Frasier.

Oh, Toto, I don't think we're in Miami any more

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