Every once in a while a song decides for me that it should have a particular function in the world: that it should be featured in a movie, be the theme song for a politician…or be the main title theme for a TV series that doesn’t exist.
The latter is now the fate of the Soft Boys song “You’ll Have to Go Sideways.” I’ve always thought this sounds like a TV theme song…but yesterday the premise for the show whose theme it’d be leapt into my head.
It’s England, 1965. Dr. Reginald Steves, a Cambridge entomologist, also works undercover with MI6, the British international intelligence agency. Through his entomological research, Dr. Steves discovers a rare Egyptian scarab beetle that can be used as a sort of host, a plasmate, allowing the hosted consciousness to travel through time and space. He soon discovers a secretive organization of ancient Egyptians, known as KHEPRI, who’ve utilized the scarab beetle to cause all sorts of mischief and mayhem through the universe. With the help of MI6, he leads a secret team of time/space-traveling operatives known as PRAWN to foil KHEPRI’s plans.
Steves is a tall, thin man in his early fifties, whose somewhat equine head and aquiline nose is topped with a shock of nearly white hair. He exhibits a near-feral intensity which some find off-putting – although his slightly bemusing facial tic of frequent blinking mitigates that intensity – but which also contributes to the overall mad-scientist impression he creates. (Obviously, the ideal actor for this role is Robyn Hitchcock himself.) The show should look as if it had actually been made in 1965 Britain – ideally, in black and white. Even the time-travel sequences should be filtered through a sort of arty, mid-sixties British filter: that is, if we’re in 1890, it’s 1890 as conceived of by fashionable Brits in 1965. No near-future anachronisms, though: if the show presents its fictitious, 1965-British view of 1989, no jetpacks or hovercars – although it also shouldn’t look like our 1989.
The influences here are pretty obvious (Doctor Who, The Man from UNCLE, maybe a bit of Help! with its light parody of then-contemporary spy-movie mise en scène), and the tone derived from the admixture of those influences is pretty much the right one.
The Soft Boys “You’ll Have to Go Sideways” (Underwater Moonlight, 1980)