Wednesday, 18 August 2010

In memory of Michel Strogoff

I want to share my earliest experience of erotic romance. Specifically the television programme that first jumped out at me and said: THIS IS ROMANCE! THIS IS SEXY! YOU ARE MY SLAVE FOREVER, ASHBLESS!  I don't expect it to ring any bells with most of you, because the programme in question was Michel Strogoff, a series dubbed into English from the French, and it aired in about 1978, at a guess.

I can make no claims to accuracy for the following description of the story, given that this is my memory as filtered through my 12-year-old perceptions and several decades of decaying braincells.

Okay: Michel Strogoff is a Cossack and the Tsar's top agent. He is huge and manly and omni-competent and just a tad irritating, and everyone thinks he is awesome. He has a beard. He is sent off on a long journey across Russia on the Tsar's business. On the way he falls in with a simpering blonde girly, whose name I do not remember. She is the Lurv Interest, but it takes till the end of the story for them to get off together.

Opposed to Michel is Ivan Ogereff, who used to be an officer in the Imperial Army but has now betrayed the Tsar because he is half-Tartar, and is now formenting some sort of Tartar invasion. The Tartars are all barbarians with big moustaches. Ivan looks like a mean version of Legolas and has floppy hair. He is Bad but has some code of honour. He has a girlfriend, Sangarre, who is simply the hottest thing in all the Russias: she has wild curly red hair and is Fiery. She likes to knife-fight. When all the Tartars tell her to shut up because she is Just a Woman, Ivan tells them to can it because he Respects Her Opinion. Ivan and Red are all over each other, in contrast to Michel's chaste affair.

I thought Ivan and Red were soooooo hot.

Michael and Ivan fight, and Ivan gets scarred across the face, thus rising by several million points up the Hot Scale. My twelve-year-old brain was going into meltdown by this point.

Michael gets captured by the Tartars, tied up and threatened, and then they blind him by holding a red-hot sword in front of his eyes. He is then released or escapes somehow, and Simpering Blonde leads him across the Russian wastes. At one point she undresses (very coyly) to bathe in a river while Michael sits on the bank, but that's okay because he can't see her.

Except he's not blind at all, ho ho. He's been lying, or maybe just got better.

Stuff happens. Michael fights and kills Ivan. Red goes crazy over his deathbed and runs to the fortress of Kiev where she smashes her fists against the closed gates, screaming in anguish. Probably Michael and Simpering Blonde live HEA, but I don't care by that point. I am devastated by the death of Ivan Ogereff.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I discovered Romance, with all its suffering, torture, racial tension and violence. The number of tropes from that TV series that have turned up in my own work since ... Honestly, my entire erotic romance career could be viewed as an attempt to rewrite a naff  seventies teatime drama with a catchy theme tune.


Craig Sorensen said...

I absolutely love this sort of reminiscing! It's funny how things get under our skin, and how they continue to influence us.

In the late sixties, there was a serial in the US called Dark Shadows. It featured a family named Collins who lived in a great mansion (on the coast of Maine, I think.) There was a ghost called Quentin who played haunting music, and another relation named Barnabus who was a mysterious character who turned out to be a vampire. It came on around 3:00 or 3:30 PM when I got home from school, and I watched it faithfully.

It had this wonderfully creepy intro music, played over images of great waves cracking on a rocky coastline.

It was so different than the other serials, and to my fertile preteen mind, was edgy and eerie and sexy and suspenseful. I just loved it.

Janine Ashbless said...

That's the thing about preteen minds, isn't it? - things stick. Seeds are sown that bear fruit years later. Alchemy happens, from the rawest of ingredients.

Thank goodness I haven't got children. I'd be bloody terrified...

Janine Ashbless said...

And Craig, Dark Shadows sounds just the sort of thing I'd have loved!

P.S: maybe someday I will let y'all know about the very first time I saw something on TV that triggered the "sexy" button in my preteen head. You'll be amazed. And then you'll piss yourselves laughing.

Jo said...

Aw, please tell us more.

I'm a bit alarmed that I can't conjure up a parallel show that sparked an erotic Awakening! There must have been something, but it hasnt' really stuck with me.

Although, I will admit that the Robin of Sherlock series did make me v happy, and played into my happy pre teen hero-fantasies quite nicely. I think I was more about being the hero than the simpering maiden though.

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Janine Ashbless said...

OMG yes: Robin of Sherwood... A knockout show full of sexiness and pagan weirdness. It came along a bit later in my life though.

Jo said...

It would probably seem fiercely silly now - though wasn't Ray Winstone Wiww Scawlett? 'I'w kiww 'im, I wiww...'

I'd actually like to watch that again, if for nothing else than to erase the bad taste of Kevin Costner behind the bow...

Craig Sorensen said...

Yep, I do think you'd have loved Dark Shadows, Janine.

And I definitely want to hear that story!