Why were these decades simultaneously rubbish and amazing?
The most existential question of all perhaps. But to be more specific, this place is about growing up in 60s and 70s as a questioning and not a passive child. This blog is for the more discerning Generation X young consumer, those who weren’t fooled into thinking that Blue Peter was good for you (OK, it was occasionally), those who felt patronised by Play School, The Children’s Film Foundation and The Banana Splits, those who were able to see the weirdness of much of 60s and 70s variety and those who genuinely wanted to be challenged in their viewing, reading and general media consumption. If you fall into any of those categories then you have come to right place. Of course much of this is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder so thoughts, disagreements, reminiscences and suggestions are greatly welcomed.
Many people of my age look back with the rosy glow of nostalgia at some of the TV programmes, films and literature created for children in the 60s and 70s. Most in my opinion were crap. The problem with children’s TV during these decades particularly was that it was created by middle-aged, middle-class, middle-brow people who thought they knew what children wanted. Nothing too challenging, nothing too scary, nothing too real. Most children, and I include myself in this category, wanted exactly that. Challenging texts that pulled back the boundaries of reality. Stories that made us think, that made us uncomfortable, that made us laugh, that didn’t patronise us. With that in mind there will be little discussion on these pages of Play School, of Mr Pastry, of Biggles, of Scooby Doo or even of Crackerjack (although I do have a sneaking admiration for the great Peter Glaze). There will be plenty about the programmes, films and literature that treated children as sentient beings with more intelligence than they were ever given credit for by some programme makers.
Just occasionally, though, a particularly heinous example of bargain basement telly might be considered. Just for a laugh, of course…
The singles charts are no more but is this a good thing?
The way we listen to music now has changed in a way no one could have imagined 30 years ago. Spotify, Deezer, Youtube and iPod were just fantasies in a mad science fiction writer’s crazed mind. To sit down at a small computer and, within seconds, start listening to a piece of music you hadn’t previously possessed is mind-blowing to someone like me who grew up in the 60s and 70s and listened to music in a way that is now completely obsolete. And I actually miss this anti-diluvian system of music consumption in many ways but, although, deep down, I know that the revolution has been good for music fans in so many unimaginable ways (maybe not so much for artists), I miss hugely that fulcrum of musical information, the nexus of any week’s pop knowledge, that perennial pivot of pop power, the weekly singles and album charts.
Now I know charts still exist and are probably still issued weekly by some anonymous data company somewhere and are based partly on record sales (although who buys new music from a shop nowadays?) but, more importantly, ‘downloads.’ Any young person looking at these charts will get an idea of who’s hot and who’s at the time, but nothing like in the same way we did 30 or 40 years ago. To a music and knowledge obsessed teenager like myself (who couldn’t get a girlfriend), the charts were pure gold in so many ways and guaranteed, literally, hours of analysis, interpretation, scrutiny and downright, old-fashioned enjoyment. And why was this? Read on if you’re not already mindnumbingly bored by the subject…….
My first recollection of the singles charts was in 1967. We had a brown and white Bakelite radio that my mum would listen to in the morning to what was the forerunner of Radio 1, The Light Programme. She loved a record by Anita Harris (a 60s and 70s variety stalwart and still very much with us!) that was played quite regularly called Just Loving You and I remember very clearly how excited she got when she heard it had got to number 30 in the charts. To me number 30 seemed nothing special but in later years I realised getting into the top 30 meant selling a shitload of records, thousands in fact, unlike today when you can get to number 1 by getting a dozen downloads. Anita Harris eventually got to a nose-bleed- inducing number 6 and spent a staggering 30 weeks in the top 50. That was the moment I knew there was much more to the charts than met the eye. A few months later I began to take more notice of what was being played on the wireless and have a vivid memory of absolutely loving Hole In My Shoe by Traffic. My passion for weirdness and psychedelia in music was well and truly inspired from this moment.
There were three things to look forward to every week at the age of about 15. The first was Friday at 4.00pm when school finished and the whole weekend stretched before us, secondly, Saturday night at the youth club when I could rub shoulders with girls of my own age, none of whom were interested in me obviously and Thursday when the music papers were available in newsagents and the new updated singles, albums and US charts were published. Never has so much vital information been condensed into such a small space. The movers, the non-movers, the bubblers, the fallers, the number of weeks on the chart and the new entries. All had to be digested, analysed and assessed, which could take a while and I would read NME, Sounds and Record Mirror from cover to cover. Luckily time was something I had plenty of.
The charts sat in the middle of a triumvirate of media outlets, TV, Radio and the music press, each having an effect, although not necessarily an equal one, on the following week’s chart.
As a young person in the 60s and 70s, you were severely limited as to where you could hear, not just the current hits, but any popular music at all outside of TOTP and Radio 1. You might hear a record being played on a juke box in a cafe, Blue Peter occasionally featured unthreatening bands such as Freddie and the Dreamers (see The Beatles of Uncool below)or flute-driven soft rockers Vanity Fair, you might run up a shockingly high (but mercifully unitemised) phone bill by ringing BT’s Dial-A-Disc service, a friend might show-off by playing you a current single they’d bought or you might catch someone playing a tranny in the street but that was about it. Slim pickings to say the least and so you were at the mercy of TOTP and Radio 1 whether you liked it or not, but, at that time, you did tend to like it because you knew no better.
For most people it was Thursday night at around 7.00pm that allowed them to engage with the pop charts. Top of the Pops had replaced the musically and stylistically superior Ready Steady Go in the mid-sixties, purely because TOTP based their show on the pop charts and RSG just featured acts that were ‘hot.’ If you didn’t have a song in the charts, you weren’t on TOTP. And everyone knew that an appearance on TOTP would, almost certainly, have a massively beneficial effect on the artist’s disc. To be invited onto TOTP was most artist’s dream as it was often the making of them, as the majority of the millions of TV viewers every Thursday night probably didn’t listen to the radio and certainly didn’t read the music press. And although many young people who attended live TOTP shows tell a different story, the show came across on TV as vibrant, happening and exciting and everything an up and coming act would look and sound good on (despite miming). Around this time during the early 60s many young people began buying records purely on how a band or performer looked on TOTP. It was also the case that most young people, including myself, for a while believed that the charts couldn’t lie. If an act got to number one, then they must be good and they’d want to be a part of this movement of fandom and would buy the record. Of course, it didn’t take long to realise that this was really not the case and I quickly realised Middle of the Road, Esther and Abi Ofarim, Peters and Lee, Des O’Connor or Cilla Black were neither good nor fashionable. But millions of people still bought their records!
The influence on the charts of TOTP cannot be underestimated. But another huge and, I would contend, insidious influence on the singles charts was wonderful Radio 1. From its inception in 1967 it was always staffed by a bunch of guys (and it was mainly guys) who could have been our rather sleazy uncles, with one or two exceptions. Throughout the 60s and 70s Radio 1 decided each week which records should be placed on their all-important ‘playlist.’ This playlist pretty much decided which records were going to be successful and which were not.
These DJs were generally selected on their ability to talk utter bollocks incessantly rather than on their musical knowledge and having an interest in or knowledge of music was not really encouraged. It was clear that the important element of most Radio 1 shows was the DJ banter between records rather than the records themselves. The music was really only there to give the DJs a breather. Of course, there were a few exceptions to this rule. The great John Peel obviously, Johnny Walker (who eventually left because he got pissed off with this culture), the virtually forgotten but excellent Stuart Henry, Kid Jensen, Paul Gambacini and Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman with his Saturday Rock Show. Those apart, it was a litany of middle-aged guys who loved the sound of their own voices, their funny characters, amusing quizzes, hilarious jingles (What’s that Arnold?) and wacky tabloid news stories. But their influence on the singles chart was terrifyingly significant!
In John Peel’s autobiography “Margrave of the Marshes,‘ he tells a story of being invited to a party at Dave Lee Travis’s huge mansion (they all lived in ‘mansions’ apart from Bruno Brookes who lived in a castle). The first thing Peel did when he went to someone’s house was go and have a look at their record collection. He spent some time searching from room to room before realising that DLT, the ‘Hairy Monster,’ Pipe Smoker of the Year 1982, self-styled arbiter of pop culture, possessed no records whatsoever or even a sound system. I watched one of those excellent Friday night music documentaries on BBC 4 some months ago which showed footage of the Radio 1 panel which selected records for its playlist each week. On this panel sat a number of men and women, all over 50 and some well into their 60s and one Dave Lee Travis. It’s little wonder Peters and Lee, Cliff, Cilla and Des did so well in the charts in these days. I once saw Radio 1’s ghastly Steve Wright described in a UK tabloid as a ‘music expert.’ That single sentence put me in a bad mood for 3 years. (Much more on Radio 1 DJs to come at Genxculture).
That said, the singles charts, the top 50, was an archeological dig of the good, the bad and the hideously ugly. And that’s what made them so fascinating.
The singles charts were a melange of the great, the quite good, the hideously awful, the bizarre, the inexplicable successes, the shocking, the revelatory, the jaw-dropping weirdness, the utterly amazing and, sometimes creating a frisson of excitement, the banned. Take the following randomly selected edition of the NME singles and albums chart of May 22 1976 for example. Within this mid-70s chart exists, I would argue, all the above categories of hit single and offers a template for society at that time.
We can quickly bypass the number 1 and 2 singles as little more needs to be written about Abba, other than, as The Guardian‘s Pete Paphides observed accurately, ‘If you don’t like Abba, you don’t like pop.‘ Little also needs to be said about Abba wannabes Brotherhood of Man with their bland and irritating Euro winner Save Your Kisses For Me. But it’s the nether regions that always held the greatest interest. Have a look a little further down the top 10 and at 9, up a massive 10 places, is Andrea True Connection with the wonderful disco classic, More, More, More. For me, this was the quintessential single of that very trashy period we called the mid-70s. Now Andrea True was actually a porn star and the publicity pics for her record were a little racy, and taking the record’s lyrical content into account, this was a catchy, beautifully produced, trashy record that epitomised that era.
But if you want to know How I really feel Get the cameras rolling Get the action going Baby you know my love for you is real Take me where you want to Then my heart you’ll steal
In short, superb!
Remember what I said about the ‘inexplicable successes? Well have a look at numbers 20 to 22. On its way down from a high of 4, Convoy GB by Laurie Lingo and The Dipsticks and on its way to Number 1, Combined Harvester by The Wurzels. What have both of these records got in common? Correct.
But would you Adam and Eve it? Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks were our old pal, the hairy cornflake, DLT and his partner in musical crime, Radio 1’s forgotten DJ (must have kept his nose clean) Paul Burnett. As a comedic parody of CW McCall‘s 1976 blockbuster Convoy, it was about as funny as a burning orphanage. And it raises the perennial question, who bought that shit and did these people actually think it was funny? Laugh? I thought I’d never start.
The Wurzels were originally Adge Cutler and The Wurzels who appeared on ITV afternoon shows (the ones you watched when you’d skived off school for the afternoon) in the 70s, particularly The Great Western Music Show (I think it was called) until Adge sadly turned his sports car over in 1974 and they became The Wurzels. Combined Harvester was a parody on Melanie’s 1972 No.4 hit Brand New Key and although they may have overstayed their welcome in the charts over the next few years, this was, I suppose, a fairly decent comedy record if you liked that kind of thing.
She’s a fine looking’ woman and I can’t wait to get me ‘ands on her land…..
Interestingly, one of The Wurzels came from Penicuick, Midlothian. Fancy that!
Also falling into the embarrassingly bad and ‘how did that ever get into the charts ?’ category, Reggae Like It Used Be by Paul Nicholas nestles in the middle of this triple decker of trash. I have written in much more detail about PN in Rubbish Songs, Inexplicable Hits section of this little blog, specifically about the even more irritating Grandma’s Party. Needless to say, this was also rubbish.
And notice within the ‘Bubblers’ a certain Judge Dread and his latest waxing The Winkle Man, on its way to a high of No. 35. Judge Dread had 8 top 40 hits in the 70s, none of which were played on Radio 1 or TOTP. His songs were Reggae-inflected rudeness , two of his later minor hits being Up With The Cock and Y Viva Suspenders. You get the idea. Which just goes to show the record buying public loved something a little risqué, whether they had heard the record or not, and it was probably not. There was a certain type of kudos achieved by surreptitiously revealing a Judge Dread record to your pals in the same way you might by conspiratorially displaying a copy of Playboy from its hiding place under the bed. Up until a few months ago I had never heard a Judge Dread song. In December of 2019 I attended a Bad Manners gig in Edinburgh and in support was, believe it or not, a Judge Dread tribute act who reeled off his ‘Big’ hits from soup to nuts. He was really quite good.
Judge Dread was probably only ever outdone in the chart rudeness stakes by Ivor Biggun and The Red Nosed Burglars with their 1978 No. 22 smash, I’m A Winker, and they were very insistent that this was a misprint. Strangely, wonderful Radio 1, DLT and the septuagenarian pop panel failed to add this to the Radio 1 playlist. Turned out Ivor Biggun was Doc Cox from Esther Rantzen’s awful consumerist show, That’s Life. He couldn’t even stop himself being slightly rude on that show either, given his TV name. Mind you, they were obsessed with rude-shaped vegetables. But rudeness aside, records that were not on the Radio 1 playlist rarely made it into the charts.
Anyone casually perusing this chart from 1976 might notice just how many MOR records peppered the top 30, songs that were written in committee as vehicles for various MOR acts. In fact, out of the top 30 well over half could be described as easy listening or middle of the road. There is nothing in this chart that is particularly threatening or might scare the horses. Brotherhood of Man, Cliff, The Stylistics (who really churned out the MOR hits in the 70s), Bellamy Brothers, Sutherland Brothers and Quiver, Frankie Valli, Stylistics clones Sheer Elegance (rubbish name), the overwrought Eric Carmen and just creeping into Top 30, the lovely Tina Charles with yet another song that sounded exactly like I Love To Love. We even have a young Midge Ure and Slik encroaching into chart territory with the bombastic but certainly not fantastic Requiem. With the exception of the legendary Isaac Hayes, some interesting experimental pop from Diana Ross and a bit of ultra-smooth soul from the wonderful Gladys Knight, there is little in this chart to excite any young person with an interest in music.
But hang on a cotton-picking’ moment! Who’s that making such an unholy row around that adjacent temporal corner? Why it’s The Sex Pistols and their punk pals! Come to save us from being smothered by marshmallow light musical blandness. Hurrah! It just takes a cursory glance at this particular chart to see that things had to change. The charts had be wrested back from the terminal Radio 1 mediocrity that controlled them, that had almost turned da kids into The Children of the Damned (and I don’t mean Dave Vanian and Rat Scabies. Yet). But that’s what the singles charts did. They provided a template for our society at any given time. And irrespective of the blandness quotient, they still provided hours of analytical fun. I would go as far as to argue that any chart from the 50s until their ostensible end in the 90s could be analysed meaningfully either sociologically, economically, politically, musically and, of course, aesthetically, which is where the fun would really begin.
As mentioned previously in ‘Rubbish Songs, Inexplicable Hits‘, anyone in the public eye could have a hit record, irrespective whether they could sing or not. There was an unpleasant alliance between ‘celebrities’, Radio 1, some record companies and TOTP. When a ‘celebrity’ (a word I’ve always hated due to the implication that those people should be ‘celebrated’) was ‘hot’ someone would approach them from a smallish record company and suggest they make a single. The celebrity would, through one eye see pound signs and through the other mainstream pop coolness. How deluded they usually were. But because these bozos were well known, they could guaranteee being placed on the septuagenarian Radio 1 playlist and a spot on TOTP. If they could get that, they were made (for a short time at least)! The combination of Radio 1 playlist repetition, exposure to 20 million viewers on a Thursday night along with the TV show they were famous for was irresistible to many gullible sections of the record buying public. Hence we were subjected to the likes of:
Telly Savalas of Kojak fame who got to No. 1 in 1975 with a shocking version of Bread’s ‘If‘
David Soul of Starsky and Hutch who had five, that is FIVE, top 20 hits between 1976 and 1978
Windsor Davies and Don Estelle of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum who got to No. 1 with Whispering Grass (doubt we’ll ever see that show again)
Dennis Waterman of Minder who scored twice with I Could Be So Good For You in 1980 and the embarrassing What Are We Gonna Get ‘er Indoors in 1983
Dick Emery who crept into the top 50 in 1973 with ‘Ooh You Are Awful’
Russ Abbott got to a nose-bleed inducing No.7 in 1984 with the irritating Atmosphere. I remember watching TOTP when the video was premiered and I sat there waiting for something funny to happen, after about 2 minutes I realised it was serious. What a let-down.
Radio 2 DJ Terry Wogan‘s version of The Floral Dance with the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band. Like Telly and Shatner he couldn’t sing so spoke the lyrics. Either way he shouldn’t have bothered.
And the less said about Robson and Jerome, of the Soldier, Soldier military drama serial, the better. Unbelievably, they sit at No. 9 in the chart of most successful singles ever with Unchained Melody selling an eyewatering 1.85 million copies! One of the hard and fast rules of the singles charts always was, ‘The blander the song, the bigger the hit.’ Thus, also in the top ten all-time sellers were Boney M (twice), Queen, Elton John, Wings and John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
During the 80s various actors from Aussie soaps Neighbours and Home and Away, in the days when those programmes were particularly popular here, tried their luck in the UK charts while the going was good for them. The vast majority being dreadful with Stefan (Paul Robinson) Dennis achieving the nadir of Aussie pop with Don’t It Make You Feel Good in 1989. But even that got to no. 16!
The charts even provided a home for sports people, particularly footballers to try their hands at something very different to kicking a ball around. For all of them (and I mean all of them), they should have stuck to putting the boot into opponents rather than into the charts. The first footballers to strike chart gold was the oddly tuxedoed 1970 England World Cup Squad who bawled out their, albeit, quite catchy tune on TOTP, Back Home. This got to number 1 probably because of its novelty value as no football team had ever featured in the charts before.
It began a trend for international teams as well as club teams to record songs which, presumably, only their own fans ever bought. That was enough for many to creep into the charts. Probably the type of single of any genre which has the least, if any, aesthetic value. Even Boney M and Queen singles have more.
Not content with football teams trying for chart success, some individual footballers were puffed up enough to think they might have a chance of pop career. In the front row above, sandwiched between Big Jack Charlton and Alan Mullery, we see West Bromwich Albion’s striker Jeff Astle. On the strength of the EWCS smash hit he released a solo single called ‘Sweet Water‘ but he, sadly, experienced the bitter taste of failure. The single missed the charts completely, a bit like that sitter he screwed past the post against Brazil a few months later. But not so Mr Kevin Keegan in 1979 when he reached number 31 with Head Over Heels in Love written by Smokie’sChris Norman. Or Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle, or Glenn and Chris as they chummily wanted to be referred to, whose ‘Diamond Lights’ got to No. 12 in 1987. Probably not the worst song ever to appear on TOTP but their performance is one of those ‘watch through your fingers’ moments.
But the charts often throw up (and I chose those words carefully) such moments as these. One of the often unadmitted joys of the charts is watching a single or act you particularly dislike moving inexorably towards the top ten. The Bay City Rollers at their peak had a 14 year old me almost ripping up the music papers in disgust. When something has this effect on you it must have a lot going for it. Or when a particular favourite has a head-to-head race to get to the top spot first, such as The Sweet v Gary Glitter or Slade v David Bowie. And to spot early a single no one else had noticed edging its way up the hit parade towards Numero Uno, to have given your pals the SP on it and told them to watch this one go was hugely enjoyable. Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits in 1977 was a good example of this type of slow-burner, having been played regularly by David ‘Kid’ Jensen on his Saturday morning show on wonderful Radio 1, before anyone had even heard of Dire Straits. Or Althea and Donna’s brilliant Uptown Top Ranking which similarly slowly nosed its way up the charts after an inauspicious start. Chart moments like these proved there was a discerning record buying public out there, a public who weren’t just content to listen to Queen, Boney M or Cliff. And the singles charts highlighted such behaviour in a way that bolstered your faith in other music-loving people of all ages.
The charts also provided the basis of many in-depth discussions which wore long into the night. Did a particular band or single ever get to number 1? What was the best number 2 single ever. How many David Bowie top 30 singles can you name? Which was the most successful Motown act? How many number 1s did The Stones have? What was the weirdest single ever to get into the top 10? What was the worst number 1 ever? And in the days before you could access some of these facts on a phone, some of these debates could go on for days, even weeks. Of course, anyone with even a passing interest in the charts will remember that in 1980 Ultravox’s overblown electronic classic Vienna was kept off the top spot by Joe Dolce and Shaddap Your Face. Although I was big a fan of Ultravox, sometimes the charts didn’t lie and the best song did get to No. 1. And that’s why I loved them.
I’m told some form of singles and album charts still exists but it really isn’t the same. Music consumption is completely different today. People no longer wait with baited breath on a particular act’s new release or track its progress inexorably up and down the hit parade. Or argue with friends which particular track from a new album is the strongest single. Or feel that warm glow of satisfaction when a favourite act surpasses someone shit like Brotherhood of man, Bay City Rollers or Queen in the charts. But music of all genres and periods is still listened to, downloaded, streamed, pirated and, for some odd people (like myself) even played on record players. Thankfully, music is still very much alive and kicking, I’m happy to say, in its many different incarnations.
Rarely seen on TV now, everyone knew and loved Adrienne Posta in the 60s and 70s
As I’ve mentioned a number of times in this little blog space, Budgie starring Adam Faith, now being reshown on the wonderful Talking Pictures TV, was one of the pioneering TV series of the 70s and featured a who’s who actors of the time, as well as a few who were certainly on their way up. One face who definitely belonged in the former camp was that of Adrienne Posta. Virtually forgotten now, she was known to everyone in the 70s, maybe not by name but invariably her face was hugely familiar, and anyone from that era spotting her in re-runs from that decade would recognise her immediately. Although not quite a sex symbol, she was the sort of girl most teenage and slightly older boys would love to have gone out with or even just spent some time with. In short, she was lovely, unthreatening in a good way and seemed like great fun. She was also a fine and very versatile actress.
Her CV includes many of the great films and TV series of the 60s and 70s and she worked with many giants of the industry and it’s a CV that cries out for a bit of Genxculture analysis. Still very much with us and mostly doing lucrative voice work as well as teaching at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for the legendary Ms Adrienne Posta!
Adrienne Poster, as she was at the time of her birth in Hampstead, London in 1949, was a child star and after appearing in a range of stage productions made her big screen debut at the age of 7 in No Time For Tears in 1957, a children’s hospital drama vehicle for showbiz royalty Anna Neagle, which also featured that other omnipresent child star, Richard O’Sullivan.
As well as appearing in loads of TV series and films she also launched a recording career releasing a string of singles with titles like Shang A Doo Lang and the, nowadays, rather dubious ‘Only Fifteen‘ (tell that to Charlie Endell) but with no chart success. It did get the child star AP onto such hip music productions as the uniquely 60s titled Gadzooks! It’s All Happening! and a spot on Juke Box Jury three times. She signed for Decca Records, also the home of The Stones, and it was at a party given for her by Stones‘ manager Andrew Loog Oldham to celebrate one of her record releases that Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull were supposed to have met (according to MAF‘s autobiography, at least). Already her 60s credentials are developing nicely. AP’s relationship with music did not end here, however. In 1971 (a landmark year for her) she sang backing vocals on that quirkiest of singles Johnny Reggae by The Piglets (well, it was a Jonathon King production), although there is some dispute about which singer’s vocals are the most distinct. It certainly sounds like AP to me…
In 1974 she married lead singer of The Marbles and later Rainbow, Graham Bonnet. His career was certainly colourful. After joining the Michael Schenker Group in 1983, he lasted only one gig as he drunkenly exposed himself to the crowd at Sheffield City Polytechnic and was promptly sacked. There was a time when a heavy rock band would have approved of that sort of behaviour. Mind you, how dare he besmirch the sainted Adrienne Posta’s reputation. Beast! And talking about beasts, Posta and Bonnet reportedly owned the Dulux dog which appeared in so many paint ads at the time. Fancy that! But the marriage was sadly short lived.
Adrienne Posta was one of a breed of character actor from that period who always added a touch of class to even the most mundane of productions. I would have no hesitation in ranking her alongside greats such as Beryl Reid, Dora Bryan, Thora Hird and regular collaborator Maureen Lipman and, in the male acting camp, John Le Mesurier, Raymond Huntly, Arthur Lowe and Stanley Holloway. All actors who, although rarely stars, gave a film or TV programme a professionalism and gravitas which certain productions sometimes didn’t deserve. Without a doubt Adrienne Posta ranked alongside those legends of the industry.
And it’s this acting career that raised her to legendary status and rather than just list what she appeared in, we’re going to pick out some of the milestones and a few of the just purely interesting stages in her blockbusting 60s and 70s journey. This is not an exhaustive list but more a compilation of, what I think, are the significant works she should be remembered for.
1. To Sir With Love (1967)
Playing alongside Hollywood legend Sidney Poitier must have been a pretty exciting experience for the 18 year old Adrienne. It was here she also struck up a long standing friendship with a similarly young Lulu. So much so that AP appeared as a regular guest in 1973’s Saturday night star vehicle, It’s Lulu. The film also featured a few up and coming and established British actors including Suzy Kendall (who would team up with AP again a year later), Judy Geeson, Geoffrey ‘Catweazle‘ Bayldon and the brilliant Patricia Routledge. Music was provided, along with Lulu, by The Mindbenders.
Although groundbreaking in it’s representation of race for the time, the film dodges the big questions and Monthly Film Bulletin described its ‘sententious’ script, a little harshly, as ‘.. having been written by an overzealous Sunday school teacher after a particularly exhilarating boycott of South African oranges.’
The film is also notable, not only for Lulu’s theme song, a number one hit in the US, but also for the fact Sidney Poitier accepted a $30,000 fee but also 10% of the film’s gross takings. Which turned out to be over $42,000,000 in the US alone. Nice few weeks work for Sidney, but what’s more to the point here, Adrienne Posta had well and truly arrived!
2. Up The Junction (1968)
Originally shown on TV as a one-off play in 1965 and directed by a young Ken Loach, the 1968 film version was more controversial. Despite the film’s main, rather patronising, premise telling the story of Polly (Suzy Kendall), a rich socialite who wanted wanted to live with ‘common people,’ it was actually, against the odds, an impressive depiction of working class life in South London. Featuring a host of 60s and 70s British acting talent, the cast included Dennis Waterman, Maureen Lipman, Susan George, Michael ‘Arthur’ Robbins, the ubiquitous Liz Fraser and an uncredited Mike Reid, as well as AP. The great Hylda ‘Ooh, she knows y’know‘ Baker also plays against type as a backstreet abortionist AP‘s character Rube goes to see after becoming pregnant, in a shocking and prescient scene for the times.
The New York Times review highlighted ‘strong support’ from Adrienne Posta and Maureen Lipman. These two stalwarts of the screen would meet up again on TV quite soon.
3. Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush (1968)
The mid to late sixties was awash with ‘sex comedies.’ Most of which were neither comedic nor sexy, but Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush is worth noting, not so much for its ostensible raunchiness, it was rated as an ‘X’ after all, but for its swinging sixties vibe. Described in one advertising slogan as ‘The most ‘with it’ young cast in the most ‘with it‘ picture of the year.’ Well, it was half right and it certainly was, and still is, a wonderfully psychedelic ‘with it’ experience.
Starring a young Barry Evans (more on him later, I think), whose film and TV career nosedived after this psychedelic offering with Doctor in the House, the very dodgy Mind Your Language, the execrable Adventures of a Taxi Driver and a few other unmemorable skin flicks. It told the story of a young lad in Stevenage, yes Stevenage, who was desperate to lose his virginity. So far, so very formulaic but, to be fair, there was a little more to the film. Believe it or not, it was supposed to compete in the 1968 Cannes Film Festival and was even tipped for success. Sadly for the film, that year’s festival was cancelled due to the student riots in Paris in 1968 which almost brought down the French government.
Films like this one were churned out during this newly permissive period in the US, such as What’s New Pussycat, The Graduate, Candy (written by Terry Southern, see The Magic Christian below), and in the UK Dick Lester‘s The Knack..and How To Get It, Alfie and the alliterative ..em..Nine Ages of Nakedness. My researches uncovered another similarly generic title, Take Your Clothes Off, Doll, which, strangely hasn’t seen the light of day on any of the film channels as far as I’m aware. Unless, of course, you know differently….
The cast really was ‘with it’ and included Judy Geeson (whose naked scene ended up on the censor’s cutting room floor), Crossroads and Nescafe’sDiane Keen, booming- voiced Christopher Timothy as an unlikely ‘wide boy’ and sadly recently departed Nicky Henson.
HWGRTMB is a pretty decent ‘romp’, as these type of lightweight sex comedies are often described. Written by the estimable Hunter Davies, the film features many notable actresses who Evan’s character lusts after including AP who is excellent as runny-nosed Linda.
Like so many of the young adult orientated films of the time, it features a fashionable pop music soundtrack from The Spencer Davies Group and Traffic who sang the theme tune. Which all adds up to a satisfying 60s experience, not least for the participation of the wonderful AP. It’s fair to say, by this time her 60s credentials couldn’t have been more impressive.
4. Percy (1971)
Films like this one, good and bad, just rolled off the conveyor belt in the late 60s and early 70s. Not surprisingly, they look dated now but writers and directors were just beginning to realise the moral straitjacket of the 50s was being loosened, when in previous years a medieval minor unelected Royal servant, the Lord Chamberlain, decided what the British public was allowed to see and what was strictly off limits in theatres and cinemas. Percy starred Hywell Bennett as a man who received the world’s first penis transplant, hence ‘Percy’. Geddit? His quest to find out more about the dead man he inherited his new member from involved a plethora of lovely ladies (obviously) including the lovely AP.
This time the obligatory pop soundtrack was provided by the wonderful Kinks and the cast was the usual group of superb character actors which included Denholm Elliott (again), the brilliant Sheila Steafel,Britt Ekland, Julia Foster, Janet Key, ‘TV tough guy’ Callan’s (and now Emmerdale’s) Patrick Mower as well as the ever reliable AP. As usual she was at the cutting edge (maybe not the best metaphor for this particular film) of British cinema.
5. Up Pompeii (1971)
I don’t care what anyone says. I loved Up Pompeii written by that genius of innuendo, Talbot Rothwell. The theme tune, sung by Frankie Howerd himself, included the line Up Pompeii, Up Pompeii, Naughty, Naught-ay. Rhyming couplets don’t come much better than that. The lovely Adrienne played ‘Scrubba.’ Enough said.
…….It’s fair to say that AP’s film career fizzled out rather after this particular outing although she did appear in a few down-market ‘sex romps’ such as Adventures of a a Taxi Driver (again with Barry Evans on a similar downward cinematic trajectory), Adventures of a Private Eye and Percy’s Progress, a disappointing follow-up to Percy. But it was TV that really brought AP to a grateful public and her great TV years were really just beginning in 1971. She appeared in many of the memorable series from the 70s including Minder, The Gentle Touch, Boon, Dixon of Dock Green and, as detailed at length below, the brilliant Budgie with Adam Faith. Coming up are just a few of the particularly significant series AP appeared in during the 60s and 70s.
1. Alexander The Greatest (’71-’72)
One of the first TV sitcoms to feature a Jewish family, Alexander The Greatest is a rarely remembered show which was about the eponymous 16 year old know-all Alexander (Gary Warren) who wanted to break free of his middle class London life and launch himself on the world. And, of course, the hilarious consequences which ensued. I don’t remember an awful lot about this series other than it starred AP, it had a great theme tune, written by that stalwart of bouncy 70s pop Barry Blue (really name Barry Green) and seemed to include Alexander’s lavish fantasies which were similar to those of Billy Liar. AP was the irritating older sister and the cast also included the great Sydney Tafler, stalwart of, seemingly, hundreds of British films as Alexander’s dad.
Gary Warren was another familiar face in British cinema and TV of the 70s including The Railway Children, Catweazle and the much-missed and virtually forgotten Mickey Dunne (another series suffering from cultural vandalism as no episodes survive). Like AP some years later, he dropped off the radar after appearing as a guard in Escape From Alcatraz in 1979.
2. Don’t Ask Us We’re New Here (’69-’70)
DAUWNH is another series which will be virtually forgotten by most people of a certain age, although I do have vague memories of it. Running for two series on BBC the idea was to showcase young, up and coming comedy talent. AP was certainly talented, we already knew that, and she was hardly up and coming having first appeared on TV in 1957, but the producers may well have thought the programme needed a safe pair of hands to anchor the young members of the cast. Same could be said for Maureen Lipman who had appeared with AP in Up The Junction a couple of years previously. With the exception of Richard Stilgoe, the other cast members sank without trace after the second series ended with the exception of a certain Mike Redway. For it was he who, during the 60s, recorded over 80 albums on Woolworth’s Embassy record label, usually called something like 20 Top Hits! and depicting a pouting young girl in a bikini on the cover. Those were the albums we all bought as youngsters for 2/6 thinking they featured original recordings from the current pop charts, only to be devastated when it clearly wasn’t The Beatles, Middle of the Road or even Lieutenant Pigeon singing their own hits. That man has a lot to answer for.
The show itself was a collection of quick-fire comedy sketches and musical numbers, none of which seemed that memorable. Although I do remember one sketch! The anchor of the show, Frankie Abbott, introduced the sketch which representied a famous film. We then cut to one of the cast dressed as a policeman speaking into his walkie-talkie. ‘They’re robbing the bank! You must get ‘ere! You must get ‘ere! You must get ‘ere!‘ Cut to Frankie Abbott, ‘Thethree must get ‘eres.’ You get the idea. AP was better than that.
3. Moody And Pegg (’74-’75)
Occupying that 9.00pm Friday ITV (when ITV was good) slot that so many other memorable 70s series such as Budgie, Hadleigh, A Bouquet of Barbed Wire and Manhunt all occupied at some point in the decade. Moody and Pegg starred Derek Waring as Roland Moody, a recently divorced womaniser and Charlotte Cornwell as Daphne Pegg, a straight-laced civil servant who had moved to London from ‘oop north to take up a new job. They find themselves living in the same house due to some estate agency shenanigans. The very clever script and the restrained nature of the drama created a classic which was very much of its time when directors and writers were exploring different types of pace and narrative. AP turned up in a few episodes as hairdresser and younger girlfriend of Roland Moody, Iris. Another excellent part in a superb series which didn’t really receive the credit it deserved at the time. I remember as a 13 year old finding the buttoned-up Daphne Pegg really quite attractive and the theme music being very memorable, not to say poignant. The ‘will they, won’t they’ element of the plot kept it interesting and I really can’t remember if they did or not. Given the tone of the series though, they probably didn’t. Which was sad.
4. Play of the Month: The Cherry Orchard (’71)
Just to show AP could do serious acting too, playing Doonyasha in Chekov’s classic. This was a time when the BBC (and ITV for that matter) broadcast serious plays regularly during peak viewing times, before they became engulfed in cookery programmes, lurid mini-series and Mrs Brown’s Boys.
As well as acting in many, many TV series, AP also appeared as a guest on myriad variety shows such Look! It’s Mike Yarwood, It’s Lulu and The Golden Shot. Like Judy Carne and Magpie’sSusan Stranks, she even appeared as a panelist on Juke Box Juryas a member of ‘the young generation’ (not Rolf Harris’s post-pubescent dance troupe…). And for a whole other generation she was a more than familiar face on TV and was rarely off it. But from the late 80s her appearances became rarer and really only popped up occasionally on Give Us A Clue and various other nostalgia shows. Why this was I’m not sure. Maybe she wanted to spend more time with her family and on her teaching. Most of her credits in recent years have been voice contributions to children’s series which although lucrative, deny us the pleasure of seeing her act at full tilt. These days, of course, she’d play much older characters which would be intriguing, not to say alluring.
Her most fascinating adventure, however, took place in the early 70s when she was invited to fly to the US to join the biggest show on telly at the time, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In (See Judy Carne below). One of its biggest stars Goldie Hawn was leaving and AP was pencilled in to replace her. As we all know it didn’t happen and why this was has been obscured by the mists of time. One plausible reason was that she was about to marry singer Graham Bonnet and didn’t want to commit herself to the regular journeys back and forward to the US. I wonder how she feels about this decision now given this marriage was short-lived? I am convinced she would have been brilliant in the show and who knows where she might have ended up as a result of it? We can only speculatate but I think we’d certainly have seen more of her on telly and in films than we did in later years.
Nowadays, I’d guess few people would remember Adrienne Posta without some heavy prompting but for a significant period she was one of the faces of the 70s. As well as appearing in iconic films and groundbreaking TV series she rubbed shoulders with towering pop stars of the time and even appeared on hit records. In short, she was sexy, funny, ubiquitous, a damn good actor and as 70s as Concorde, disco, platform shoes and Findus crispy pancakes. As a 70s icon, there are few whose credentials are more impressive or more memorable.
The 70s may have been a trashy decade but Budgie proved high quality, innovative TV did exist
I’ve mentioned the good people at Talking Pictures TV a number of times in this little blog spot, not least about their broadcasting of the wonderfully surreal and hidden TV gem Sunday Night At The London Palladium (See Tarbuck Memories), and, true to form, recently they have introduced one of the great series of the 70s, Budgie starring Adam Faith and Iain Cuthbertson. This ‘must see’ TV has been criminally ignored for many years and although showing its age in some the attitudes (what 60s or 70s series doesn’t?) there is much to unpack culturally and I can’t wait to get stuck in!
As an 11 year old, along with Monty Python’s Flying Circus and The Avengers (much more on this to come), Budgie was one of the highlights of the viewing week. Going out on Friday nights at 9.00pm it had prime spot on the schedules and only two other channels to contend with, but Budgie knocked all its competitors into a cocked hat. And why wouldn’t it? Budgie’s credentials were top notch in all sorts of ways. Ironically, the low-life, seedy adventures of pathetic petty thief Ronald ‘Budgie’ Bird alternated in 1971 with the upper-crust adventures of ultra-suave Gerald Harper‘s series Hadleigh. But it was Budgie that had the style despite his moral compass being worryingly askew in all sorts of ways. But that’s why he was believable as a dodgy 70s character, as were so many other characters in the series. To view a 70s drama through the moral prism of 2020 is a difficult thing to do, and Budgie inhabited a world very different in many ways to our own but in some ways nothing has changed. In fact, the writers, Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall created a character who was, at the same time, despicable, immoral, pathetic but also sympathetic and even lovable. In other words they created a character who was totally believable for the times.
The first episode of Budgie, ‘Out‘, was broadcast by ITV on 9 April 1971 at 9.00pm on a Friday evening just after On The Buses and Hawaii Five-O. On BBC 1 it was up against The Dick Emery Show and Gala Performance, whatever that was, though it sounds faintly classical. Episode 2 the following week clashed with, again, Dick Emery and then Miss England 1971! There was a conundrum for the discerning viewer. If they didn’t approve of the filth featured in Budgie, they could switch channels for some good, clean, 70s female exploitation. And then they could watch Miss England 1971.
The role of Budgie will always be synonymous with the late Adam Faith. A 60s pop star, he was spotted playing in a Soho skiffle group when he was plain old Terry Nelhams by 6-5 Special producer Jack Good and he went on to have over 20 top 40 hits, his most well-known being his early songs What Do You Want? and Poor Me. The great British film composer John Barry was also instrumental, so to speak, in setting Adam Faith, as he was renamed, on the road to success after his first records bombed. However, although pop stardom was fine and certainly lucrative, Faith’s dream was always to become an actor and while he appeared on the John BarryBBC pop vehicle Drumbeat, he was spotted and cast in the controversial 60s youth culture film, Beat Girl (1960). Controversial because anyone over the age of 40 in early 60s Britain was terrified by the idea of young people having their own culture. Just like today, youth culture is identified by certain older generations as being fuelled by drugs, sex and, of course, rock and roll. Sounded ok then and it sounds ok now. But Beat Girl had an ‘X’ certificate slapped on it immediately by those who knew better, so no young people could see it. Who knows what what might have happened to them if they had? Maybe they’d have had a good time. Although he didn’t exactly act in it, Adam Faith had the acting bug and various roles in theatre and TV began to come his way.
Faith then starred in the comedy What A Whopper (1961) about some young people going to look for the Loch Ness Monster. The first film written by Laugh-In and Are You Being Served‘s Jeremy Lloyd (more about him throughout this blog), it was an inoffensive knock-about comedy that received poor reviews but kept Adam Faith in the acting public eye. With no writing or even acting credits at this point, Lloyd had his very first script accepted and made into a film. Wouldn’t happen nowadays but that’s how some people became famous in the 60s. he just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and that was certainly true of Adam Faith too. Of course, it helped massively to be based in London.
He was subsequently cast in Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall’s seminal 60s play, Billy Liar which toured the country including the Glasgow Citizens Theatre in 1968. Whether Waterhouse and Hall had Adam Faith in mind when they wrote the scripts for Budgie in 1970 is uncertain but it turned out to be a partnership made in TV heaven.
Initially the series was to be called The Loner but was eventually changed to Budgie. For me this was a good thing as Adam Faith‘s eponymous character was a loner in some ways but that wasn’t the central conceit of the series. There were many facets to Budgie’s personality and being a loner was only one of them and all were explored to varying extents in each episode. The memorable theme music to Series 1 by The Milton Hunter Orchestra was also entitled The Loner and, for me, it really captured the mood of the character and the series. The dream-like orchestration and haunting melody of the opening credits providing a musical backdrop to the slow motion sequence of Budgie desperately trying to grab handfuls of cash floating in the wind, encapsulated the tone of the series and the character of Budgie. Success was always within his grasp but something invariably got in the way to deny it.
For some reason the producers changed the theme music for Series 2 and replaced it with a song by the great Ray Davies of The Kinks. The song was called Nobody’s Fool and was performed by Ray Davies himself and Cold Turkey. It’s a decent song and the lyrics certainly reflected the character of Budgie accurately, but it didn’t match the haunting opening of Series 1. At the time I was convinced it was Adam Faith singing and believed this for many years until I found out recently it was Ray Davies. I wonder why they didn’t get Faith to do the theme himself? Maybe by this time he’d turned his back on singing and didn’t want to be associated with the ‘pop star’ Adam Faith?
Series 1 and 2 gave opportunities to three directors all making a name for themselves and each would go on to become well known in their own right. Mike Newell directed six episodes of Budgie and went on to direct Four Weddings and a Funeral,Harry Potter and Donnie Brasco amongst many other successful films. Previously to Budgie he had directed the hugely controversial 60s gangland series Big Breadwinner Hog which caused outrage in the tabloids due its violent content. Michael Lindsay-Hogg became best known for directing videos of Beatles and Rolling Stones songs before videos were fashionable, he was also responsible for innovative episodes of Ready Steady Go and the classic ITV series of Brideshead Revisited. The third director was very unusual for 70s TV due to her being a woman. As well as episodes of Budgie, Moira Armstrong in a 50 year career directed some of the great TV series of all time including Adam Adamant Lives, The Troubleshooters, Z Cars and Testament of Youth plus many, many others. Few people will recognise her name but she was, and still is, one of the great TV directors of the last 50 years.
The style of Budgie was certainly experimental, the late 60s and early 70s being a fertile period for cinematic and narrative experimentation. Italian post-realism and French nouvelle vague often crept into scenes in Budgie. In one episode, for example, (Best Mates Series 1, episode 7) the director, Mike Newell even uses a hand-held camera, very innovative for the time, and there is the suggestion of jump-cutting in certain scenes, in Series 1, episode 3 when Budgie’s wife Jean (Georgina Hale) lambasts him for his uncaring lifestyle, and the camera uses striking fast cuts between close ups and medium close ups of the front and side of her face. This, of course, added to the freshness and alternative style of Budgie for the younger and slightly more sophisticated 70s audience.
The central character Ronald ‘Budgie’ Bird was what was probably known at the time as a lovable rogue. But this would be too easy a description for an extremely complex character. He was lovable in many ways. The viewer couldn’t help but feel sorry for him when yet another scam crumbled before his eyes or slipped through his fingers, whether it be pornography, ballpoint pens or trading stamps. Despite being a petty criminal he had a heart and was never violent, though he threatened it occasionally for show. He couldn’t stop himself trying to help people who were down on their luck. He appeared to have few friends, hence ‘the loner’ epithet, only dodgy acquaintances, and appeared to see Charlie Endell as a father figure, his own father having no interest in him. He was the sort of man who preferred female to male company despite the fact he couldn’t settle down with any one woman. His refusal to accept his own child also suggested a streak of self-disgust in himself.
It’s also fair to say the series Budgie would not have been the same without Iain Cuthbertson‘s brilliant turn as sleazy ‘businessman’ and supposed father figure Charlie Endell. Often funny, always sarcastic, sometimes threatening, he used Budgie as a kicking stool, towards the end even literally. Like Budgie’s yearning for financial stability, Charlie Endell desperately wanted respectability. In a strange sort of way he was a template for Paul Raymond, Soho’s pornographer in chief during the 70s, 80s and 90’s, and he did achieve respectability of sorts, becoming one of the UK’s richest men. As became the case in the latter part of the 20th century with Thatcherism, wealth did bring respectability, irrespective of where the money came from.
The character of Charlie Endell proved so enduring that he was given his own series Charles Endell Esquire by STV in 1979. After two well reviewed episodes a TV technicians’ strike (again) curtailed its run and it would be a year before the series was rerun, although some erroneous reports claim the remaining four episodes were never shown. The series followed Charlie (played again by the excellent Iain Cuthbertson) being released from a long jail sentence and returning to his native Glasgow to pick up the pieces of his life. Also featuring a range of great Scottish actors including Gerrard Kelly, Rikki Fulton and Russell Hunter, the hiatus allowed the programme to go off the boil and a projected second series never happened.
The setting of Budgie also gave a fascinating, and probably accurate insight into the Soho scene and certain parts of London at the time. A dark, grubby underworld populated by petty criminals, pornographers, prostitutes, strippers and bent coppers. In a weird sort of way, for viewers living a long way from The Smoke like myself, it still seemed slightly glamorous and exciting. Maybe not so much now but it’s still certainly intriguing and a touch nostalgic.
The series dealt with a range of morally ambiguous issues which were really only beginning to be acknowledged in the early 70s, and, even now, it’s easy to see why Budgie was quite controversial during this heyday of Mary Whitehouse and her fellow God-botherers, the Association of Viewers and Listeners. Illegal immigrants and some extremely old-fashioned and shocking racist language (Mrs Whitehouse didn’t seem to have any problem with this storyline), pornogaphy, co-habiting, single parenthood, selling babies and even the representation of a petty thief and philanderer as a sympathetic character were all relatively provocative subjects for the time and were dealt with in the series. Some of the treatments and the language used would not, obviously, be acceptable nowadays but that’s par for the course for programmes of this period, but most of us are intelligent enough to put these issues into a modern context.
The representation of women in Budgie was also quite groundbreaking in some ways though deeply conservative and orthodox for the time in others. The main female character, Budgie’s girlfriend and mother of his child, Hazel (Lynn Dalby), is a long suffering but resilient figure. She puts up with more than most women would with him but is fairly self-sufficient and certainly doesn’t rely on him. She gives as good as she gets and is quite prepared and unashamed to be a single parent at a time when unmarried mothers were still talked about in hushed tones. One does wonder why such an intelligent and strong woman would waste her time with such a loser but it’s just as well that she did as their relationship provided an central and hugely entertaining element of the series. Budgie’s wife, Jean (Georgina Hale), is a similar sort of character to Hazel, though slightly more irritating. It’s maybe a weakness of the series that two strong, intelligent women would waste their time on such a failure as Budgie but, as I’ve said, the 70s were a different time.
One other female character of note who I feel I must mention, appeared in the first episode of Series 1. That doyenne of so many 70s programmes and all-round 70s icon (and I really don’t use that overused term undeservingly), Adrienne Posta. Appearing in the very first Budgie episode ‘Out‘, she played the Salford stripper, an employee of Charlie Endell. Budgie was given the task of looking after her for a while and, of course, the story wrote itself as it so often did in Budgie. In a plotline that would never see the light of day in our more enlightened times, she was supposedly 15 (although in reality she was and looked 22), the rather grim 70s immorality was compounded when she ran off with Budgie’s much older pal, Rogan. There is so much to say about this actress who anyone over the age of 55 will remember, if not her name, certainly her face, as she appeared in many classic films and TV programmes of the 60s and 70s. Much more about this 70s ‘It Girl’ coming very soon on Genxculture.com!
Other classic British character actors who appeared at various times in Budgie included Gordon ‘Mr Hudson’ Jackson as a dodgy minister, John ‘Regan’ Thaw as an unlikely gay character, James Bolam, Derek Jacobi, Matthew Corbett (yes, that Matthew Corbett) and one of Stanley Kubrick’s favourite actors, the excellent Philip Stone. Even Golden Girl and wife of The Tremeloes‘ Chip Hawkes, the lovely Carol Dilworth, turned up in Series 1! (See Like A Bolt from The Blue: The Golden Shot).
The second series of Budgie ended on the 14 July 1972 and a planned third series never happened due to Adam Faith being seriously injured in a motor accident and retiring from acting for a long while. Faith did return and as well as acting in a string of well-received films such as MacVicar and Stardust with David Essex and an unlikely but unsuccessful musical version of Budgie, he also managed Leo Sayer (well, he was quite good at the time) and produced Roger Daltrey’s solo album. He became a successful financial journalist and even established a financial TV channel which, unfortunately for him, was one financial step too far and it failed badly.
Faith died tragically young at the age of only 62 of a heart condition and although he will be remembered by many as a huge pop star of the early 60s, for most people of my age, I would argue, he will be remembered as Ronald ‘Budgie’ Bird, petty thief, loser, loner, lovable rogue and one of the groundbreaking central anti-heroes of the 70s.
It goes without saying that in the early 60s everyone in the world was aware, to varying extents, of The Beatles. Certainly in the UK they dominated music, culture, the media and even, to a degree, politics. But there were many other acts around and, because of The Beatles, a few acts from Liverpool enjoyed a huge amount of success, known as The Liverpool Explosion. Some deserved it, such as Gerry and the Pacemakers and some were just incredibly lucky to surf in The Beatles‘ wake (yes, I’m looking at you Cilla and Tarby).
One band who certainly benefitted from The Beatles‘ success was Freddie and the Dreamers, who although seen as being part of the Liverpool explosion were actually from Manchester. They even had a pre-fame residency in Hamburg in the very early 60s and for a short time during the early to mid-sixties Freddie and the Dreamers seemed ubiquitous, they were never off the telly, had a string of hits, even number 1s in the US, and had legions of screaming fans. This was quite incredible for a band who could not have been more different to The Beatles.
Everyone liked Freddie and the Dreamers. They were the sort of band that even your elderly relatives liked because their music was jaunty, melodic and inoffensive and Freddie Garrity even had a pleasant singing voice. But what set Freddie and the Dreamers apart from other bands was… he leapt up and down! This was their USP. As well as Freddie leaping around The Dreamers had a whole repertoire of jerky dance movements. This meant they were safe to feature on Blue Peter, Top of the Pops and Sunday Night at the London Palladium and wouldn’t frighten the horses like some of those other hairy, druggy, dirty bands like The Tremeloes or The Hollies.
Between 1963 and 1964 they had 4 top ten hits including ‘I’m Telling You Now’, which was also a number 1 in the US in 1965, and ‘You Were Made For Me.’ Their fame in the US in 1965, though brief, also led to them being touted for a TV series co-starring Terry-Thomas which would have pre-dated The Monkees but this, sadly, came to nothing. And it was their comedy element which led to them appearing in a few British films and also secured a long running TV series for them in the late 60s.
The late 50s and early 60s saw an explosion of British films aimed at the emerging teenage market. Film companies desperate to get in on the act rushed out, often threadbare, vehicles for singers and bands who just happened to be popular at the time, often fleetingly so, and in many cases these featured acts were no longer popular when the film was eventually released. In 1965 Freddie and the Dreamers were given their own star vehicle, Cuckoo Patrol, in which they played a troop of boy scouts who inadvertently get involved with some criminals planning a robbery. The results were, unfortunately, not hilarious as ten out ten film reviewers on IMDB rated it 1 star out of 10, some of the more positive reviews referred to it as the ‘worst British film of all time.’ Harsh maybe but having viewed it, it is pretty poor although with a few odd redeeming features which may not have been obvious when it was released. Recently The Independent called it ‘Terrifying.’ For some reason, I can maybe guess why, it was shelved for two years and only released in 1967, a couple of years after Freddie and the Dreamers had had their last hit. The film experiments with their often anarchic sense of humour which would be utilised more effectively in a TV series launched a year later. It was also reported that some American states banned the film, not for being truly awful but for belittling the Scout movement.
The very fast moving world of 60s pop also saw them appear in 1965’s Every Day’s A Holiday, set in a holiday camp it was a vehicle for unexceptional crooner John Leyton who’d had a couple of monster hits including Johnny Remember Me two years previously. Also starring Mike Sarne whose big number one, the intensely irritating Come Outside, was three years old. The film itself is a strange but enjoyable romp which does evoke the seemingly carefree world of the sixties holiday camp and the perfect platform for Freddie and the Dreamers to hone their musical comedy skills as a bunch of chefs. Needless to say chaos ensued…! The film also featured such well-known 60s and 70s comedy faces as Richard O’Sullivan, Liz Fraser, Nicholas Parsons and an uncredited Danny La Rue.
In March 1964 at the height of their success they headlined an episode of that weird Genxculture favourite, Sunday Night at the London Palladium (Catch it on Sunday nights on Talking Pictures TV, you won’t regret it). The host Bruce Forsyth, as he was about to introduce them, said ‘They’re here!‘ without even mentioning who exactly he was referring to, suggesting this was a very hot ticket indeed, to the high-pitched squeals of some of the audience. After playing a medley of their big hits Freddie announced to the well-heeled Palladium audience, ‘Welcome t’Labour Club!’ Nice one Freddie. Almost as good as John Lennon’s exhortation to ‘rattle your jewellery‘ a couple of years previously. They went through a series of their song and dance numbers with the band at various times falling on the ground and being picked up again while Freddie bounded acrobatically back and forward across the Palladium stage. Their act looked exhausting.
Freddie was an unlikely sex symbol. At 5’3” with glasses like the bottoms of milk bottles (he did actually work as a milkman before his success), he leapt about on stage to the joy of the , probably slightly older female, audience. Keith Richards once even referred to him, rather disdainfully, as ‘A certain English leaping gentleman‘. The band were no great lookers either but what they lacked in sex appeal they made up for in anarchic humour and silliness. After their initial chart success they worked constantly in pantos and summer seasons and, oddly, in their own TV series Little Big Time.
Starting in 1968 on Wednesday afternoons Little Big Time was a children’s variety show which exploited the comic abilities of Freddie Garrityand The Dreamers, particularly guitarist Pete Birrell who turned out to be a comic genius. The comedy was chaotic in a good way and extremely daft, similar in many ways to the brilliant late 60s pre-Python for children, Do Not Adjust Your Set. The end of the show always had the band fighting over who was going to press the button to start the end credits rolling. It was funny, it really was. It also featured some quite strange variety musical and magic acts. Interestingly, one of the writers for the first two series was Andrew Davies who became a screenwriting household name and went on to write a range of original TV series such the excellent and greatly underrated A Very Peculiar Practice and a host of Hollywood films. In series 2 a story was introduced about Freddie entering a world ruled by, often quite scary, machines called Oliver in the Overworld. The story was surreal and strangely compulsive not to mention slightly disturbing. True groundbreaking children’s telly. This series eventually replaced Little Big Time and only featured Freddie without his Dreamers. Sadly, only one episode of this long running, fairly revolutionary, series is thought to survive.
Freddie and the Dreamers continued to tour with various line-ups and Freddie appeared on a number of TV programmes as himself, including the inevitable Wheeltappers and Shunters, sitcom Dear John (as well as the US version) and the even more inevitable Heartbeat, where his unlikely role was as a drug dealing DJ. He gave up performing in 2001 after he was diagnosed with emphysema and died in 2006 at the age of 70.
Freddie and the Dreamers were different to The Beatles in just about every way but for a short glorious time in the early sixties, they were just as famous.
It may have been manna from heaven for an 11 year horror fan but it didn’t always live up to the hype.
The UK was a ferociously moral country in the late 60s and early 70s, or so it liked to think. Sundays were particularly dreadful occasions where only certain shops opened in the morning to sell Sunday papers and rolls, pubs only opened at lunchtime and parks were no-go areas for kids. It’s become a cliche these days but the swings really were chained up. And I remember very well being chased out of the park on a number of occasions by the fascistic Park Patrol for playing football on a Sunday afternoon.
Weekday television was very much a stop-start affair with Watch With Mother and the news being on at lunchtime then the two-channel TV would close down until Jackanory at 4.45. It would close down again at about 11.30 from Sunday till Thursday. Broadcasters, maybe at the behest of Governments, put the most boring programmes they could think of right at the end of the day. In Scotland the religious Thought For The Day type programme, Late Calltook lugubriousness to a new height and sent people to bed a bit sooner than they’d probably have liked to. The programmes just before this last dose of monotony weren’t much better. So, in effect, from Sunday to Thursday TV effectively shut down at 10, or 1030 if you wanted to watch News at Ten. And the festivities didn’t end there. We still had the National Anthem to look forward to! And this brought the days broadcasting, mercifully, to an end.
However, Fridays and Saturdays were deemed appropriate times for the General Public to let their hair down and, for this reason, TV (all three channels of it by this time) did not close down at 11.30 as it did Sunday to Thursday, but was extended sometimes until nearly 1.00am! Because, of course, most people didn’t have work on a Saturday and Sunday morning so it wasn’t necessary to help get them up at the weekend. Jesus, how it didn’t lead to bloody revolution on the streets I’ll never know, but decent people knew their place in those days. ‘Protestant’, ‘work’ and ‘ethic’ were very much part of life then.
With this relaxation of standards, not to mention morals, in mind, STV launched a strand of films for a Friday night around 1969 which they dubbed provocatively Don’t Watch Alone. This took the form of a horror film being broadcast beginning at about 11.00 and which was heavily hyped throughout the evening. ‘Watch if you dare, but don’t watch alone!’ Now this sounded pretty enticing to me, as it did to most of the kids in my class at school. It was the major viewing event of the week and if you got to watch it, it provided a whole week’s playground conversation, not to mention a bit of towering superiority over those with stricter parents. In fact, myself and a few other pals used to regularly have a Monster quiz about the films shown on Don’t Watch Alone and became pretty knowledgable about this particular genre. Luckily for me, as I’ve mentioned before, my parents were pretty liberal about what I watched and they were quite happy to go to bed on a Friday night and leave me to watch Don’t Watch Alone, alone!
For the ITV companies it was no-brainer. They got some extra advertising revenue, pretty decent viewing figures for that time of night (remember pubs closed their doors at a modest 10.30 then!) and the films they showed will not have cost a great deal as they were all low-budget, often ‘B’ movies and some were very old indeed. What also needs to be remembered about this moralistic time, horror films, or what was deemed ‘horror’, still attracted an ‘X’ certificate if they were shown in the cinema, and cinemas did show old and sometimes very old films as part of their weekly programme. Even ancient curiosities like the original James Whale Frankenstein from 1931 was thought by the censors (yes, they were called censors in those days) to be a threat to viewers of a more sensitive disposition. And remember this was a long time before video recording at home, so this type of offering was a real treat! Especially if you were 11 years old…
Like so many things though, the anticipation was often more enjoyable than the film itself. STV obviously ratcheted up the excitement by having a few trailers during the Friday night and they usually used the original cinema trailers for the films featured. I’m not sure what I really expected but it was usually more than what was delivered. Too regularly I wasn’t even frightened to put the lights out before I went up to my bed.
The problem was, of course, the definition of horror. For me horror was Dracula, Frankenstein (although I was never convinced by it), The Mummy and The Wolfman (more like it). But once those fairly obvious examples were shown, then what? And this is where the strand began to lose its appeal slightly. STV’s view was certainly wide and varied, but this meant I watched some very good films with excellent credentials but felt cheated because they weren’t really scary. I know this now, of course, but an 11 year old’s critical faculties are relatively limited to say the least. And I’ll also admit to not seeing all the films all the way through but being woken up by the end credits, which maybe said more about the film on offer than anything else. But after the more predictable fare, a few real oddities were aired, sometimes, I’m convinced, because the STV film buyer just looked at the title of the film and through, ‘That’ll do.’
One example of this was a film called Night Creatures. To be fair it sounds faintly horror genre-esque, and it was made by Hammer and starred the great Peter Cushing and a young Oliver Reed, but it really wasn’t and apart from a relatively creepy opening, it turned out just to be a yarn about smugglers in the 18th century. The Terror of the Tongwas, as the title suggests, about the Chinese secret mafia-type organisation. The word ‘Terror’ obviously struck a chord with the scheduler but apart from a few mild torture scenes and Christopher Lee hamming it up in heavy Oriental make-up, it was a disappointment and one I did not see through till the end.
Many of the real horror films broadcast could be slow, including many false shocks and blind alleys, and many just built up to the horror money shot at the end. An abominable creature suddenly seen, a character hideously deformed or a beast manifesting itself for the first (and last) time. In the days before videos and freeze framing, it was vital these climaxes were not dwelt upon by the camera incase the viewer would spot the joins in the cheaply produced rubber mask applied to the creature. An example of this type of film was The Gorgon. It also has to be remembered that in the very early 70s no one had a colour TV and even if they did, few programmes, even films, were broadcast in colour. So a film like The Gorgon which relied on some gloriously colourful scenes lost almost all its impact through being shown in monochrome.
It may have petrified the screen with horror but that was about all it petrified. But you can see where they were coming from. It was the classic horror film that alluded to the monster and suggested the monster but until the last few minutes, didn’t show the monster. They hoped the brief glimpse, and it really was a brief glimpse, of The Gorgon at the end would satisfy the casual viewer but it was thin gruel. The Gorgon, to be fair, was a very good Hammer production, but we wanted more!
When a film featured certain actors like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, this sometimes gave the scheduler a good idea as to whether the film would be suitable for inclusion in the strand. The always excellent Vincent Price was another favourite and appeared regularly in the late Friday night slot. The Fly, long before the superb David Cronenberg version, was a typical Price vehicle which was a decent film and even the big reveal when the main character walked into the room wearing the plastic head of a fly seemed pretty impressive. Seeing it now, it just looks funny, but these were different times.
Vincent Price was a regular Don’t Watch Alone performer and his collaborations with horror directors Willam Castle and Roger Corman graced many a late Friday night. Castle was the perfect director for this late night strand. His films were flashy, employed all the techniques necessary for effective shockers and his subject matter was always on the money, certainly for a 12 year old viewer.
The Tingler, one of his collaborations with Vincent Price, was an excellent example of his art. Using a range of gimmicks to scare the 50s audience, it tells the story of a pathologist who believes there is a creature inside all of us, The Tingler, which looks like a small lobster, and emerges when we become frightened but is controlled if we scream. Again, it included the money shot of The Tingler’s reveal. But there was more to this film than just that. It was one of the first films to include a colour sequence in a predominantly black and white film, with a bath of red blood shown right in the middle of the film. Not of much use when watching it on a monochrome telly but the intention was there. And it was perfect material for a dark Friday night. Price also starred In Castle’s The House on Haunted Hill, also an effective shocker, which I can’t recall being on DWA but should have been.
Another of Castle’s productions which featured on DWA was Mr Sardonicus. Another of the films which led up to the big reveal. Mr Sardonicus spends the whole film hiding behind an, albeit quite creepy mask, and we learn that his face is too frightening to show after an unfortunate grave-robbing incident years previously. The late money shot when his mask is dramatically removed is impressive but not quite the effort of trying to stay awake for in the wee small hours of a Saturday morning. It was quite impressive though…
But one film I recall very clearly and, for me, was the most effective and, at the time for a 12 year old, genuinely scary was William Castle‘s film Homicidal. An old dark house mystery involving very strange, unfamiliar characters, Castle uses a range of gimmicks to wind up the audience, including a ‘countdown’ where viewers in the cinema can leave before the heroine enters the house near the end of the film. This, of course, ratchets up the tension and viewers were not disappointed when the heroine did go back into the house. Too see the film nowadays as an adult familiar with the tropes and exhibition of a film, the conceit, or twist, would be spotted straight away, but for a 12 year old it worked a treat! One of the few nights I really didn’t want to turn the lights out! Later films such as Sleuth used a similar gimmick which really didn’t work, but, for me, Homicidal was probably the most memorable film ever shown in this Friday night slot. William Castle’s gimmickry could have been invented for young viewers like myself.
Although not in Homicidal, Vincent Price had appeared in other Castle vehicles as well those of Roger Corman. The Corman films were just a little too high quality for the late night film, which says more about the non-Corman films. I remember starting to watch The Masque of the Red Death and not managing much more than half an hour of it before falling asleep. Having seen it again the lush technicolour turns it in to a very different experience from that of the black and white version. However, Edgar Alan Poe is very wordy for children and, of course, nothing particularly scary happens apart from someone being burnt alive, being shot with an arrow in the throat and stabbed with a poisoned dagger. Thin gruel for a 13 year old horror fan. This was also true of The Pit and The Pendulum and The Fall of the House of Usher, both featured on DWA.
Another actor who turned up quite regularly in DWA presentations was Oliver Reed. He plays a werewolf in Hammer’s excellent 1961 film go Curse of the Werewolf. This was the type of horror flick we were desperate for in the Don’t Watch Alone strand. Bloodthirsty, violent, quite narratively intelligent and involving monsters, in this case werewolves of which we were familiar.
Another Ollie Reed film shown in the DWA series was Paranoiac where he played a young spoiled drunk whose supposedly dead brother turns up just as he was about to inherit the family fortune. More of a psychological thriller than a horror film but a story with a twist which not only kept you interested but featured an excellent performance by Reed. I’ve always been a fan of Ollie Reed as an actor as he always brought a certain gravitas and presence to any film he appeared in, irrespective of the quality of the production. In the excellent biography ‘What Fresh Lunacy Is This?‘ by Robert Sellers, the story is told of how a friend of Reed’s bet him that he couldn’t drink 100 pints of beer in a day. Reed not only won the bet but did a handstand in the middle of the pub just to underline the achievement. Although his behaviour rubbed many of his co-stars up the wrong way, not one of them criticised his acting ability or his reliability on set. He always turned up on time and delivered his lines perfectly.
It’s fair to say STV began to struggle to find suitable films for Don’t Watch Alone after a couple of years given the wafer-thin budget available to them and many of the later films were more thriller than horror. But for a brief time in the early 70s late Friday nights was horror central. And although few films lived up to the hype it was a great introduction to a range of films which otherwise would not have been available to very young film fans.
We did dare to watch and we did watch alone. Didn’t do me any harm……
We may have been in awe of top professional footballers in the 7os but their homes were oddly uninspiring
As has been referenced in previous posts in this blog, football magazines of the 60s and 70s such as Shoot! and Goal often took us into the lovely homes of footballers. At a time when players were much more accessible and the idea of ‘image rights’ hadn’t even been thought of, they introduced us to their trophy wives and families and gave us an insight into what it must be like to be on a £100 quid a week. We young readers didn’t just have to dream.
As well as showing us the upmarket styles and what passed for luxury then, it also made the players that little bit more human, rather than the demi-gods they appeared to be on Sportscene, Match of the Day or The Big Match. It seemed footballers always had to be married, maybe to prove their virility, their status and even they had to follow the social conventions of the 60s and 70s. Georgie Best and his legions of ‘dolly-birds’ seemed an exception to the rule. At least, an exception in the fact he remained single for well into his 20s. Some married footballers, therefore, had to be a little more discreet at their local night spots in the days before the ever- prying eyes of tabloid newspapers. A cursory bit of research highlighted the fact that not all the subjects of the following picture profiles are still with the ladies they were with back then. And some of the players represented are not even with us anymore, sadly.
The pictures were taken by Ray Wright, photographer of Goal magazine, and offer us an insight into the luxurious and sometimes not so luxurious lives of top players. And they represent a time when footballers were not the untouchables many of the footballing superstars are now. For some reason Ray often asked the players and their lovely wives to pose outside their houses with a few random domestic objects, clearly to try and add a bit of extra detail to the pics. But it also had the effect of making the players more human, reducing them to our level which 13 year olds like myself didn’t really want to see, necessarily.
1. Stewart Houston : Manchester United
I’ve started with this one as it seems quite different from the other cosy domestic scenes below. The Houston family look like they’ve just been evicted from their council house in a scene reminiscent of Ken Loach‘s gritty drama Cathy Come Home. Stewart Houston played for Manchester United, then, as now, one of the wealthiest clubs in the country. One would think he’d have been able to afford a detached rather than a semi-detached dwelling, but clearly not. I’ve mentioned in previous a post that when Tommy Docherty was given the job of Manchester United manager in 1973 he was on a three year contract at £30,000 a year. Now that equates to just under £400,000 today. A lot of money you might think but not when you consider today’s English Premier coaches and players are on £squillions per annum. So what was poor old Stewart being paid as this pic was taken around the same time as Docherty took over? It’s true it was much cheaper to get into football matches in those days and TV revenue was a drop in the ocean compared to now, but someone at Man U was making a killing and, going by this pic, it wasn’t the players or manager.
2. Geoff Hurst: West Ham United
Now this is more like it. Not only in living colour but Geoff and his lovely wife Judith are standing in front of their mock-Tudor mansion, as befitting a top 70s player. Now one would expect a 70s footballer, let alone a West Ham footballer, to live in a mock Tudor house and Geoff is only too happy to oblige.
The car just impinging into the shot looks to me like a Vauxhall Viva, a car synonymous with the 70s. If it isn’t it’s something very similar. Surely Geoff, who would have been one of the better paid English footballers, must have been able to afford a fashionable Sunbeam or even a Capri? Maybe he just wasn’t a petrolhead but footballers have always been about obvious consumption were they not? Possibly the mock-Tudor house took up too much of his income. And, of course, there were few lucrative boot or equipment deals in those days.
The lovely Judith, who, like some of the other footballers’ wives, doesn’t seem overjoyed at having to pose on her doorstop for the Goal photographer but for a hundred quid, I suppose, it’s probably worth the effort. Geoff’s marriage to Judith has certainly gone the distance and, according to the good people at Wikipedia, is still going strong. Good on you Geoff, a fine effort in an industry not renowned for fidelity.
3. Mick Mills: Ipswich Town
Mick Mills was a long-serving team captain of Ipswich Town and highly capped England player when this domestic scene was captured. Not long before this photograph was taken of Mick and his lovely wife Sue in 1973, he was the subject of Shoot! magazine’s equivalent of this Goal feature, ‘At Home With…. I remember at the young age of 12 feeling a bit sorry for Mick. The Shoot! photo spread featured only Mick and his Boxer dog. Mick was pictured mowing his lawn and playing with his dog as opposed to the other subjects who were pictured with their families and children in a variety of mundane activities. Now, of course, I realise Mick was what all young(ish) relatively well paid footballers should have been. Glamorously single. But by the time the Goal photographer comes calling he’s not only got himself a bird, but also a wife! Mick may have marauded up and down that Portman Road right flank but there were no flies on him when it came to pulling the ladies in seemingly double-quick time. At first I wasn’t entirely convinced by the scene of domestic bliss above. His lovely ‘wife’ Sue is tucked away in a car that is certainly much more in keeping with a footballer’s lifestyle than Geoff Hurst‘s Vauxhall Viva, but she’s very much in the shade. I can’t help thinking she could have been from Footballers’ Wives Central Casting just for the day. And would she really allow him to wear flip-flops with trousers? But a bit of internet research reveals they are still very much together and living in Suffolk. My cynicism about the lives of 70s footballers is seemingly misplaced…..
4. David ‘Waggy’ Wagstaffe: Wolves
…but hang on a cotton-picking moment because here’s Wolves‘ flying winger Dave ‘Waggy’ Wagstaffe and his severely coiffured wife, Barbara. Now this is much more like a 70s footballer’s lifestyle. They’re leaning against the E-Type Jag in a 60s up- market housing estate in the West Midlands. I mean they’ve even got a balcony! Today, tabloids never refer to a footballer’s home as a ‘house’, it’s always a ‘mansion.’ But here, as is the case in most of these pics, it’s definitely a ‘house’, as stratospheric wages for top players were a long, long way off. And this picture, I believe, demonstrates the difference between playing for a London club where you’re paid more, probably, but your money doesn’t go as far and playing for a northern club where you earn less but everything’s that bit cheaper. Hence the Jag and Barratt home as opposed to the Vauxhall Viva. Waggy isn’t exactly beaming about his enviable life-style in the pic and research showed his partner for the final twenty years of his life was a woman named Val. Sadly, Waggy is no longer with us and the lovely Barbara had slipped out of the picture during the 15 years after this picture was taken.
5. Tommy Taylor: West Ham United
I bet he drinks Carling Black Label!
Ask anyone during the 70s what they would want in a money-no-object, built- to-their- specifications fuck-off house, most would say ‘a bar’ followed by ‘a colour TV’. It was the apotheosis of glamour, sophistication and luxury. And here we see West Ham stopper Tommy and his lovely wife, Pat, enjoying a vodka and Kia Ora. Mind you, Pat doesn’t look old enough to be drinking alcohol and they don’t look the most obvious of couples. It’s unknown whether Tommy and Pat are still together although Tommy is still very much with us and still involved in football, coaching a team in Finland. Bet he doesn’t drink Carling Black Label anymore, though.
6. Harry Redknapp: West Ham United
And who do we have here in their lovely Chigwell bungalow. None other than a young ‘Arry Redknapp and his lovely wife Sandra! There’s a great deal of those 70s favoured building materials, wood and natural stone, in evidence and we had a carpet and fireplace just like that. The fireplace does not appear to be in use as central heating had just become de rigeur for those that could afford it. Such as top footballers.
A few years ago Sky Sport ran a football nostalgia series called ‘Bobby Charlton’s Football Scrapbook‘ in which Bob discussed matches from his illustrious career with the estimable Dickie Davies. Excellent footage of sixties and seventies English First Division games was shown followed by a shockingly dull analysis by the lugubrious Bobby. Poor old Dickie was flogging a dead horse most of the time as he tried to jazz up proceedings with a few gags which fell on Charlton stony ground. One bit of footage featured Harry Redknapp himself in an early 70s West Ham game. Harry was a popular winger, not to mention an unlikely sex symbol, for the Hammers playing 149 games between 1965 and 1972 scoring a rather disappointing 7 goals. During this featured match two teenage girls, rare in 70s football, festooned in West Ham scarves and bell-bottomed Brutus jeans, ran on to the pitch and started kissing an embarrassed ‘Arry. After the action was shown we were returned to the studio where an increasingly desperate Dickie giggled about the incident only to be immediately slapped down by Bobby who morosely exclaimed ‘..yes, but no one should ever run on to the field play.’ Boring old twat.
‘Arry and the lovely Sandra are still very much together and, interestingly, ‘Arry’s former West Ham team mate, Frank Lampard married Sandra’s twin sister Patricia. How odd.
Despite him being dragged through the courts on a number of occasions to face increasingly serious financial charges, nothing has been pinned on him, of course, which suggests his life has been as spotless as the fireplace in the picture above.
7. Gordon Bolland: Millwall
Few people other than Millwall fans of a certain age will remember Gordon Bolland. Other than those, that is, who watched Match of the Day during the 70s. For it was Gordon Bolland who won Match of the Day’s ‘Goal of the Month‘ for September 1971 with a screamer against Bristol City. And that was about as good as it got for Gordon although he played for Millwall successfully for 7 years and was inducted into their Hall of Fame.
When the Goal photographer came to call on the Bolland family they just happened to be doing a bit of home decoration at the time, so he sent the unnamed Mrs Bolland up the ladder in mini-skirt and high heels. This went down like a fart in a spacesuit with Mrs Bolland, it seems, as not only is her underskirt showing but her expression would curdle milk. I wouldn’t want to be around when the Goal photographer packed up his gear and drove off. He may have a BBC trophy for one of the best goals of 1971 but that’s not going save him from a right kicking.
8. Denis Law: Manchester United
The great Denis Law was not only a prolific goalscorer but was prolific in other departments too. It’s little wonder the lovely Sandra Law is sitting down after having so many children in such a short space of time. Luckily for her they decided to call full-time on any more procreation and she could, at least concentrate on bringing up a houseful of toddlers. Poor Sandra. There should be a law against it.
Denis and Sandra met in their teens at an Aberdeenshire dancehall in the 50s and are happily still together. Their emotional symmetry is very much at odds with the decor in their lovely living room. Never have so many styles clashed so menacingly in such a small space. A bit like The Lawman’s effect on opposing defences. Sandra’s dress and the tartan of the kids’ kilts just add to the psychedelic melange. It’s a bit like one of those popular 70s posters where you had to try and spot figures somewhere in the busy detail. And check out the new central heating in the corner. Denis’s status at Manchester United has clearly allowed him to splash out on such luxuries. It reminds me a bit of when the also legendary Jocky Wilson won the World Darts Championship and was asked by a reporter what he was going to do with the all the money. ‘We’re gonnae get the hoose rewired,’ replied Jocky.
9. Alun Evans: Aston Villa
Alun Evans was one of those 70s players who are virtually forgotten despite playing over 250 top level games in the top English leagues. He is best remembered as a Liverpool player between 1968 and 1972. He never really made it at that top level and some believe it was because while a Liverpool player he was attacked and glassed in Wolverhampton night-club and was never really the same again. A reminder of just how violent football could be in the 70s.
We see him here with his lovely, again unnamed, rather young looking wife surrounded by some chintzy ornaments. In those days, maybe it still happens, players were accommodated in ‘club houses’ so they needn’t have to worry about furnishing it. The local 70s equivalent of IKEA would come round and furnish it, which looks like what has happened here. Evans eventually ended up in Australia where he got married again and had more children. So this marriage clearly didn’t last.
10. Peter ‘The Cat’ Bonetti: Chelsea
So here we have recently sadly deceased Chelsea and England goalie Peter ‘The Cat’ Bonetti and family. As this was the early to mid-seventies Bonetti was already an established first team player at Chelsea and an England international. It’s fair to say, however, that Bonetti’s international career never really recovered from England’s defeat to West Germany in the 1970 World Cup as many England fans blamed him for some of the goals, although I don’t really believe the overrated Gordon Banks would have been able to do much about them either. Luckily that aberration didn’t affect his footballer’s lifestyle and here we see the Bonettis outside their ‘mansion’ in the leafy suburbs somewhere near London. His dinky little open top car (despite having four kids) is very chic and certainly what we’d expect a 70s footballer to be driving. I wonder if he has a Hurstian Vauxhall Viva in the garage also? He’ll need something roomy for all his offspring to clamber into. And have you spotted the bonus ball in the corner? A fancy caravan, impossibly exotic then and very handy when you have a large family when a week in Marbella might stretch the purse strings, even for a footballer.
11. Billy ‘Bonzo’ Bonds: West Ham United
Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that the bulk of the above subjects all played for London clubs. And of these London players, most played for The Hammers. There are a few obvious reasons for this I suspect. Firstly, the photographer, Ray Wright, will have been London-based and it was easier just driving round to local players’ mansions than taking a three-day camel ride to Newcastle or Liverpool. Secondly, the glamour players (Bestie excepted) were all based in London and although rarely league contenders, the perception from readers outside the Home Counties (as they were patronisingly referred to by the media), West Ham were pretty glamorous compared to CrystalPalace, Fulham and even Chelsea.
Here we have Billy ‘Bonzo’ Bonds at home with his family in his fairly featureless mansion. Apart from a regulation highly patterned carpet and non-matching armchair, there’s not really much here for analysis in this rather bland domestic scene. Although Marilyn has kept her baffies on and is that a can of beer at the side of the chair? Whether it is or not, you’d have thought they’d have moved it before the shoot. And what about that dog? It looks like a cross between a greyhound, a Great Dane and some nuclear fission. My guess is photographer Ray just wanted to get the photo taken and away before Cujo ripped his throat out. You can see the mutt is just mulling over the possibility as the pic is taken.
It’s fair to say it was a different world then. As the man said, the past is a foreign country. As I have said in previous football posts, players then were more accessible and their lifestyles weren’t hugely different form our own in many ways. Players in the 70s were really just better-than-averagely paid artisans, even though lots of schoolboys worshipped them. How many top players nowadays would invite a photographer into their ‘mansions’ today?
Today’s footballers may be obscenely reimbursed for their efforts, but few really know what to spend their cash on other than another Rolex, Aston Martin or …or…I’m struggling to think of anything else.
In 2003 when top footballers’ wages were beginning to be paid in wheelbarrows, ex-footballer Jamie Redknapp published a magazine called Icon. It was aimed at those in the social stratosphere way above ordinary punters. Available in exclusive First Class airport lounges and sent free to anyone who had a few million quid to spare, it advertised the sort of tasteless things a tiny percentage of the population could afford. By calling the puffed-up publication Icon, it implied its readership was those people us proles were expected to look up to and revere, almost in a religious fashion. Well, speak for yourself, Jamie but we’ll decide who we feel deserve revering, thanks. It was a product of a time when some people were becoming so rich they occupied another dizzying plane within society. Some things never change.
The mag went bust in 2010 amidst a blizzard of debt. I mention this just to highlight the differences between the honest pros above and the image-obsessed, untouchable, high-flying businessmen who turn out for the top clubs nowadays.
A household name in the 60s and 70s, Jake Thackray’s bawdy lyrical brilliance deserves to be resurrected
While watching yet another episode of that surreal 60s and 70s experience Sunday Night at the London Palladium last week from 1974 on Talking Pictures TV, compere Jim Dale sat at the front of the stage and sang a ballad entitled Lah-Di- Dah. He explained it was a song about a young man being taken by his girlfriend to spend a day at the home of her awful family. Dale didn’t say who wrote and originally performed the song but within a few bars I instinctively knew it was a Jake Thackray song. The gloomy ballad gives no indication that there is any humour in the song unless you were really listening to the lyrics but the structure and rhythm was unmistakably Thackray. Whenever the line ‘..and I’ll bill and coo with your gruesome Auntie Susan.. is delivered, you know this isn’t a straightforward love song. The line about her dad ‘ ..and I’ll have to grit my teeth when he goes on about his rup-ture….‘ puts the tin hat on it. This is classic Thackray, all delivered in a wonderfully lugubrious deadpan. The SNATLP audience seemed to pay attention politely but never was a titter heard. Poor Jim must have known he was casting pearls before swine, but good on him for trying to do something that didn’t require sequins and high-kicking Tiller Girls.
Few people in the audience watching this bizarre festival of ‘variety’ schlock would have recognised a Jake Thackray song if they’d met it in their soup, but for nearly 20 years throughout the 60s and 70s Thackray was a regular performer on a range of TV variety shows. His first appearance was on ITV’s The Braden Beat, latterly Braden’s Weekafter it transferred to the BBC. A comedy and consumer affairs vehicle for Canadian Bernard Braden, as well as Thackray the show also featured Peter Cook and the recently sadly departed Tim Brooke Taylor. After the show was cancelled in 1972 due to Braden spreading himself too thinly and advertising margarine on ITV, which was tabloid headline news, Thackray continued to add a bit of class to the successor to Braden’s Week, the shockingly downmarket That’s Life.
I remember clearly watching him on various shows during the 60s and 70s and finding him quite intimidating. Was he meant to be funny? His lyrical mastery was still beyond me as a juvenile, but I knew there was something about him that was different. His lugubrious manner, clipped diction, deadpan delivery and was he really saying what I think he was saying? And that was an important element of his genius, the inspired and unexpected vocabulary, the hilarious grotesqueness of his subject matter, the laugh-out-loud one-liners, the preposterous characters, not forgetting the whimsical beauty of many of his ballads. There were other artists who wrote humorous songs but they laughed along with the audience (Lance Percival anyone?), ruining the effect. Thackray left the audience to make its own mind up and often he was just too quick and clever for it. In fact, after his first appearance on Braden’s Beat the TV company was deluged with complaints but slowly he won people round.
He also contributed regularly to The David Frost Show and even Frost Over America. I wonder what the Yanks made of his songs about cross- dressing nuns, his roly-poly girlfriend and suburban female devil-worshippers?
Coming from a fairly authoritarian home background in Leeds his dad, Ernest Thackray (what a wonderful Thackrayan name!) was a village policeman. Sent to a Jesuit college in Wales, Jake Thackray went on to study Modern Languages at Durham University and moved to France for a number of years to teach. It was here he was introduced to the chansonniere musical tradition, particularly that of Georges Brassens and Jacques Brel, which influenced his music for the rest of his life. His lyrical style was even thought reminiscent of Noel Coward, something which Thackray reportedly hated. But his Yorkshire roots link him more, I believe, to that of Alan Bennett, another Leeds native, and Bennett’s deadpan humour can be heard regularly in his songs. Or maybe it was the other way round….
His bitter-sweet stories can also be traced to later northern songwriters such as Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker whose subject matter was very similar. The Smiths’Girlfriend In A Coma or Pulp’sBabies are songs that seem very much influenced by Jake Thackray. The Morrissey line, ‘..I still love you.. only slightly, slightly less than I used to..’ from Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before is pure Thackray. During the 80s he was accused by some of misogyny with regards to some of his lyrics about women. It’s fair to say that a song which begins ‘I love a good bum on a woman, it makes my day..’ (On Again, On Again) does suggest a negative stereotype but that has to be set against other writers and comedians of the time. To witness Jimmy Tarbuck or Ted Rogers‘ routine on SNATLP would certainly be watching something misogynystic, so to criticise Jake Thackray is not seeing the wood for the trees. But for most of his songs he was singing in character, although maybe much of the subject matter was of the type that interested Jake Thackray. But bollocks to that, he was clever, funny, unpredictable, fascinating and unique and he was no Harvey Weinstein, that’s really all that mattered.
But balance that against his song The Hair of the Widow of Bridlington, about a widowed woman who takes control of her life again, and the accusation of misogyny is just plain wrong.
She found that she could please herself
She could, could the widow of Brid
Swim in the sea when she felt hot
Stay in bed when she did not
And she began to laugh a lot
She did, she did, she did
To sing and dance and laugh a lot
She did, did the widow of Brid
The Hair of the Widow of Bridlington
The excellent Ian McMillan, poet and broadcaster also from Yorkshire, even wrote a stage show about Thackray entitled ‘Sister Josephine Kicks The Habit‘ referencing one of Thackray’s most celebrated and typically strange songs, ‘Sister Josephine,’ about a nun in a convent who appears to be a male burglar on the run from the police, although this doesn’t seem to bother the other nuns.
No longer will her snores ring through the chapel during prayers
Nor her lustful moanings fill the stilly night
No more empty bottles of altar wine come clunking from her cell
No longer will the cloister toilet seat stand upright
Or even the bizarre nature of The Castleford Ladies’ Magic Circle about a group of middle-aged, middle-class ladies who meet up every week to practise devil-worship. A scenario only a crazed but brilliant mind could come up with.
Their husbands potter at snooker down the club
Unaware of the devilish jiggery-poke and rub-a-dub-dub
While Elizabeth Jones and Lily O’Grady
And three or four more married ladies
Are frantically dancing naked for Beelzebub
The Castleford Ladies’ Magic Circle
After all this they go dutifully home to their boring husbands in time for ‘cocoa and The Epilogue.‘ If this isn’t a song about women taking their lives by the scruff of the neck and doing something that pleases them, irrespective of how bizarre, then I don’t know what is. And did the Pythons get their idea for The Batley Townswomen’s Guild’s interpretation of The Battle of Pearl Harbour, amongst other re-enactments, from this song?
And as for Isabel Makes Love Upon National Monuments, it sums up just how irreverent, iconoclastic and downright funny he could be.
Many a monolith has seen Isabel
Her bright hair in turmoil, her breasts’ surging swell
But unhappy Albert, so far denied
The bright sight of Isabel getting into her stride
After his tragically early death in 2002 at the age of 64 the musician Momus described Thackray as ‘..surprisingly sexy, sexist, smutty, saucy in such a sixties way.’ Where does one end and the other begin? It was the way it was then and we know better now, but we’re also capable of putting it into context, and it does not diminish his brilliance one iota. The same could be said for Benny Hill, criminally ignored nowadays as if he was a sex offender. His lyrical virtuosity was on a par with Thackray’s although maybe heavier on the ‘sauciness‘. Not neccessarily a bad thing.
She nearly swooned at his macaroon
And he said if you treat me right
You’ll have hot rolls in the morning
And crumpet every night
Ernie: The Fastest Milkman in the West
Thackray died far too young of kidney failure in 2002 aged 62 and his latter years were not kind to him, but one of his earliest songs ‘The Last Will and Testament of Jake Thackray’ let his public know that mourning was not his bag.
I, the undermentioned, by this document
Do declare my true intentions, my last will, my testament
When I turn up my toes, when I rattle my clack, when I agonise
I want no great wet weepings, no tearing of hair, no wringing of hands, no sighs
No lack-a-days, no woe-is-me’s and none of your sad adieus
Go, go, go and get the priest and then go get the booze, boys
His early death was extremely sad but he left a raft of brilliantly funny, clever, unique and often lyrically beautiful songs that never fail to raise a smile.
60s children’s trading cards didn’t sugar the pill about the horrors of war. And as 5-year-olds didn’t we just love them for it….
In the early 70s there was an ongoing, in fact it’s still going on, debate about the effect of TV and film violence on societal behaviour. It’s fair to say the jury is still out on that, and probably always will be, but the treatment given to films like A Clockwork Orange (see article below) was hugely disproportionate to its influence and its intentions.
It wasn’t always the case though as the sixties were a very different time. A flash of cleavage, a mild swear word or the whiff of marijuana and a film was strictly off limits to the young and impressionable. Even Dracula and Frankenstein films had an’X’ certificate slapped on them as young people could easily have their little heads turned by such horror. Or so it was thought. But primary school children could still get their fix of ultra-violence at the local newsagent and tobacconist for 5 old pennies courtesy of the good people at A, B and C trading cards.
All this talk of censorship and the effects of violence on society is really just a way of introducing what were the most violent, grisly, visceral and completely inappropriate trading cards ever released for children. And, as far as I can remember, no adult batted an eyelid, turned a hair or cried foul during the years that the wonderful Civil War News and Battle trading cards were available to any child who just happened to have 5 old pennies in his pockets.
Between 1964 and 1965, on my journey to Balgreen Primary School in Edinburgh I would stop off at the paper shop on the way and buy one, sometimes two, packets of either Civil War or Battle cards. In each pack there were five cards and a small rectangle of sugary pink bubblegum. There was a palpable feeling of excitement as you flicked through the pile of cards to see if you’d managed to secure at least one you didn’t already have. On reaching the school playground small groups of boys, it was always boys, girls didn’t collect them, huddled round as one member of the group flicked through his huge pile of cards and another boy would use the agreed code, ‘Got, got, got, no-got, no-got..’ At the end of this ritual intense negotiations would take place. If it was a hard-to-get card that could mean a 2 or even 3 to 1 trade of less sought after cards.
If my memory serves me, the Civil War News cards were released a year before the Battle cards. Each card featured a vividly coloured scene form the American Civil War with the date it took place and a title. The back of the card gave more details of the event in the form of a newspaper front page, sometimes being at odds with the images represented on the front. But we weren’t interested in the information anyway. It was really just the often exaggerated depictions of violence we wanted to see. If you were particularly lucky some packs of Civil War News included a facsimile of Confederate dollars, 17 of which could also be collected. These were less sought after though. It was really about the cards.
If those cards were made available to children today it would be tabloid front page news. But we loved them, nobody seemed that bothered and it didn’t turn us into a generation of serial killers. In my case, quite the opposite. To see the cards now, though, is quite a shocking experience but one that needs to be tempered by the fact that as children we knew these depictions of violence were purely comic book and the images were reflected in the children’s comics of the day. But more on those later.
So sit back and enjoy, if that’s the right word, a selection of the most gloriously perverse and inappropriate amusements ever produced for children. And try not to have nightmares.
Civil War News 1964
1. Death At Sea
In a very nicely framed scene from a dizzying angle we see some poor dead schlub tangled in the rigging of a clipper while being attacked by, what looks like an enemy armoured ship. The wound in the centre of his chest shows he didn’t stand a chance. We see his shipmates trying to put out fires below and firing back at the attacking vessel, unlikely to have any effect on the heavily fortified attacking ship. Why the focus of the scene is this poor guy hanging from the rigging is uncertain, other than it will have excited young schoolboys.
2. Savages Attack
This was a bit of a curiosity for early 60s schoolboys. We all knew about Indians (as we referred to them then), there were plenty western series on telly at the time, but found it difficult to reconcile them with the American Civil War. Of course, Westerns inhabited a timeless period in American history. We had no idea when these events might have taken place or even if they had, but here’s some Indians (or ‘Savages‘ as the card sympathetically describes them in true 60s style) attacking unspecified troops and about to scalp them in true stereotypical fashion. According to the information on the back of the card, both Confederate and Unionist forces used Indians to supplement their numbers and they brought their own brand of combat to the conflict. At least according to the artist.
3. Painful Death
Talk about the bleedin’ obvious! Now ‘Painful Death‘ was a great favourite. Not only because of the vividness of the background battle scene but the sheer visceral violence of the foreground. The artist has certainly gone overboard with the reds and yellows in his palette and the blood gushing from the horseman’s wounds shows up vividly against the yellow background. And it sure does look like a painful death, and there were plenty more where that came from.
4. Crushed By Wheels
Not all the cards depicted violence of the most bloody kind, however. Some just suggested violence of the most bloody kind. And ‘Crushed By Wheels‘ was a personal favourite depicting potential carnage. The fact that this poor guy has already been through the wars and the anticipation on his face as he realises he is going to be flattened by a massive cannon wheel shows there is no luck in war. Interestingly, the story on the back of the card makes no reference to this unfortunate individual. It just looked good. Some superb art work here, you have to say.
5. Pushed To His Doom
Like ‘Crushed By Wheels‘, ‘Pushed To His Doom‘ was of a similar type, merely suggesting a nasty end to one of the participants. Those finely sharpened spikes do not look welcoming and the look of sheer hostility on the face of the cannon-loader really made this card stand out. It makes an interesting companion piece to ‘Painful Death‘ as a before and after sequence. If you want to be artistic about it…..
This example does what it says on the card. There’s probably more violence per centimetre than on any other card in the collection. The artist has certainly been creative when told to represent ‘a general slaughter.’ It reminds me a bit of the Monty Python ‘Salad Days‘ sketch. If the five-year-old child wanted value for his 5 old pennies, this is the card that certainly gives it in spade loads. However, I don’t remember ‘Massacre‘ being a favourite. By this time we were probably growing immune to indiscriminate carnage.
7. Death Barges In
This one is particularly dramatic. One does wonder how the horsmen could have ridden into what looks like a hotel or restaurant without some opposition and brutally slay one of the Unionists. The artist has made sure the sword entering him is right in the middle of the picture to emphasise the ruthlessness and bloody murderousness of the attack. There’s a lot of bright red blood coming from that wound!
8. Angel Of Mercy
Occasionally, the cards attempted to show the more merciful side of warfare and the heroic efforts of people, usually women, who tended to the wounded and dying. But the artists couldn’t run the risk of completely disappointing their clients and so even in this heart-warming scene we have a man with a shockingly nasty face injury and blood seeping from the wound. They knew their audience…..
9. Attacked From Behind
First law of combat. Don’t turn your back on the enemy! He’ll not do that again….
10. The Looters
War is hell and no one is safe from the consequences. Some of the cards created scenarios that depicted this. As one soldier grabs the swag the other moves threateningly towards the innocent and vulnerable mother and child. What’s going to happen here? As five year olds we just thought it would end in some nasty comic book violence. As adults we’d prefer not to speculate…
11. Flaming Death
Oh look. A man in flames. Well, it makes a change from endless buckets of blood. Is he the Angel of Death? Maybe we were missing much of the imagery of these cards but probably not. It seems the only flammable part of his anatomy are his arms. Is that a good or a bad thing? You decide.
Well, they didn’t do me any harm. I think. But if you thought Civil War News cards were a one-off, you’d be wrong. If the manufacturers, the good people at A, B and C, thought children had been overexposed to such visceral bloodshed, butchery and carnage, well, that was only the amuse-bouche. The main course of gratuitous slaughter was about to be served, with a generous side order of ……sexual violence! Introducing Battle trading cards...
1. Fight To The Death
It all started off so well with this excellent montage of sickening Nazism and imagery, even including The Grim Reaper! This was a very sought after card. Not only was it Number 1 but it was packed with interesting detail. Maybe lacking in savage violence for the 6 year old taste, but what it lacked in carnage it made up for in World War 2 symbolism. It was vital that this was part of your collection and no one was going to swap this in a hurry!
2. Ambushing The General
Now this is more like it. Not only is this nasty German general being slain but just look at the pompous, strutting popinjay, with his fancy uniform and stereotypical monocle. He could be a character from ‘Allo ‘Allo with a name like Von Sauerkraut or something but, if we follow the trajectory of that bullet straight through his heart, his Nazi days are most certainly over. And good riddance!
3. Fiery Death
But let’s ramp up the violence a little, thinks the artist. If you thought shooting Germans with a gun was a little passe, it’s much more fun to do so with a flame thrower. One does wonder why these Allied soldiers decided to go with the flame thrower rather than the tried and tested rifle, which one of them is toting. Makes for a much more exciting card though. Eat flame, Fritz!
4. Dog Warrior
Ok, a flame thrower is one thing, but let’s not get nasty! And just look at that grinning Jerry hiding behind the bush. The artist has frozen the action at the point of impact. No doubt that Alsatian has been taught to do unspeakable things by the Jerries, and the artist has left you to come to your own 6 year-old conclusions.
5. School Bombing
They’re at it again! Is nothing sacred? Those Jerries stop at nothing! To sell images of a school being bombed to 6 year old children on their way to school seems a touch insensitive. And to depict a teacher and primary age children being blown to bits also seems a little heartless. But war is hell and maybe that’s the message. Nice that they’ve included a bit of obligatory blood on the teacher’s table. But these are Battle cards for god’s sake, they’ve got to have some blood.
6. Death Blow
Oo-er! It wasn’t just the nasty Jerries we were up against, it was those just-as-nasty Japs too. And here we have an execution scene, well, 6 years olds need to know about these things. In 1965 the death penalty had just been scrapped in the UK so death had been all around. Look at those Japs in the background cheering, though, and the look of deep joy on the fat balding executioner’s face. The artist has spared us the view of the blade about to come crashing down, so he wasn’t completely heartless….. And even more sinister is the body of another prisoner whose head is obscured by the prisoner in the foreground, probably because he has already been decapitated. Charming.
7. The Torture Chamber
Well at least this guy is only being tortured! But not in a nice way. It’s all in a day’s work to the moustachioed taciturn Japs. They look as if their leader, Fu Man Chu, is about to step out of the shadows. And if you think this is rather near the knuckle…..
8. Flames Of Death
..what exactly is going on here? A young blonde woman with tight fitting clothing is tied up while a nasty German sets fire to her house. Why is she tied up I wonder and why is he setting fire to the house? Curious. But remember what I was saying about sexual violence…?
9. Beautiful Spy
What is it with these artists and trussed up young attractive women? Note the similar way she is tied to the blonde woman above. There’s something decidedly odd going on here and 6 year olds were probably not the best group to notice. And these Japs do not seem to be observing The Geneva Convention to me.
10. Confession By Force
Now what’s going on here? Whatever it is, the grinning operative at the back seems to be enjoying it. We also have the obligatory balding, overweight torturer taking a little too much pride in his work. What, exactly, has this to do with the Second World War and why is it considered worthy of inclusion in a child’s set of trading cards? Hmmmm. Many years later someone would come up with the description ‘Torture Porn’ and films such as Saw became very lucrative. It became very popular in the 90s, so these cards were way ahead of their time you could say.
Although only a small selection of both card collections, these give a pretty good idea of what they were all about. I can’t help feeling like a slightly down market pornographer by featuring these images in my blog but for some people of a certain age these trading cards were a particularly memorable part of our formative years. None of us really had any idea of what was really going on in them. We didn’t know we were just a conduit for the artists’ darker pre-internet fantasies but looking at them now, one can’t help but think that had those cards been published for adults a few eyebrows may have been raised. Despite the controversial subject matter, we loved these cards. And I didn’t grow up hating Germans or the Japanese, or any other nationalities for that matter. What it does remind you of was the incessant violent images that were circulated in trading cards, comics and TV programmes, all aimed at young kids during the 60s and 70s. Of course the war had only ended less than 20 years previously, so for many people, it was a living memory.
In subsequent years cards became much more innocent and football players, Batman (hugely popular in 1966) and various other film themes replaced the blood-lust of Civil War and Battle. They were good but not quite the same.
I just wonder how I, and so many people of my age, grew up so well adjusted, but we did, as far as I know.
And I still have no desire to see films with explosions.
Fifty years on, The Magic Christian is still relevant so should it be recognised as the flawed masterpiece it really is? Yes!
The Magic Christian wasreleased right at the end of the 60s in December 1969. It starred Peter Sellers, who had become a major Hollywood player around this time, and Ringo Starr who was still dealing with the demise of the Beatles only months previously. It hit the cinemas with hardly a fanfare and disappeared almost as quickly under a deluge of poor reviews. In August 2005 Paul Merton chose the film as part of his ‘Perfect Night In‘ for BBC 2. Previously this film had scarcely seen the light of day and it was really only then that the film could be viewed as one which not only epitomised many of the tropes and attitudes of sixties’ writers and film makers, but also brought together some of the best acting and production talent available in the UK at the time. It was also a fascinating insight into the, often unlikely, motivation of its stars and the type of country it reflected at a time of profound cultural and social change.
The film was based on a novel of the same by American writer Terry Southern whose previous films as writer included Kubrick’sDr Strangelove and Lolita as well as Easy Rider and Barbarella. Films as sixties as they come. Ringo had appeared in his sex comedy Candy released the previous year and clearly, as probably the best actor out of all The Beatles, which is maybe not saying much, he was intent on a film career post-Beatles. Southern’s novels were very ‘counterculture’, satirical, over the top for many, but with extremely serious themes, and The Magic Christian was very much of this genre. It told the story of Guy Grand, played by Sellers, a hugely rich business tycoon who adopts down-and-out Starr seemingly on a whim and, between them, set off on a picaresque journey using Grand’s money to play elaborate hoaxes on the human race, although it’s mainly the establishment and upper class figures who suffer most, who, according to Grand, ‘all have their price.’ The film builds up to a weird climatic sequence aboard a bogus cruise liner named ‘The Magic Christian‘ where the wealthy conceited passengers are made to think the ship is sinking amongst chaos which includes escaped gorillas, a vampire, a dipsomaniac captain and supposed hijackers.
I would even argue that this was, what could have been, the fourth Beatles’ film. That, of course, was originally meant to be Up Against It with a screenplay written by Joe Orton in 1967. On the day Orton was supposed to meet director Dick Lester to discuss making the film, the film company’s chauffeur found Orton and his partner Kenneth Halliwelll dead in their Islington flat. But with Ringo in the cast, music by Paul McCartney, a shot of John and Yoko lookalikes embarking on The Magic Christian and Apple producer Denis O’Dell on board, this was as close to a Beatles film as we were ever going to get. Even the anarchic unconventional narrative and arch nature of the film had a Magical Mystery Tour and Help vibe to it.
The soundtrack was by Paul McCartney and first Apple signing Badfinger who had three top ten hits shortly after the film’s release. Their biggest hit was the film’s opening track, the excellent McCartney penned ‘Come And Get It‘ which chimed with the film’s ‘anything for money’ theme. Other tracks were written by the band who released an album entitled ‘Music From The Magic Christian.’ In years to come two members of Badfinger, Pete Ham and Tom Evans would commit suicide due to, what they believed, was bad management which stifled their career. In 1970 Harry Nillson had a huge worldwide hit with the Badfinger song, Without You, which the band made little from, and in 1994 Mariah Carey screeched her way to success with the same song. It would be 2013 before Badfinger’s financial affairs were sorted out in court. Far too late for Ham and Evans.
Another interesting Beatles, musical note from the film was when the duped passengers piled out of The Magic Christian with the sudden realisation they were still in London, the final crashing piano note to The Beatles’ classic ‘A Day In The Life‘ is heard.
The anti-establishment spirit and cynicism of the film made it an unlikely vehicle for Sellers who was a hot property in Hollywood and he could have pretty much chosen any project he wanted after impressing in films like Dr Strangelove, The Pink Panther and What’s New Pussycat. The Magic Christian was, therefore, a seemingly strange choice. However, this was a film Sellers desperately wanted to make and in an interview a few years later, director Joe Mcgrath revealed that this was very much Sellers’ project. ‘He found the money. He really believed in the film.’ Up to this point Sellers had given no indication that he was at all anti-establishment or countercultural. In fact, given his ‘friendship’ with Princess Margaret, who attended the premiere, and his well known love of money, it seemed the establishment was exactly what he wanted to be part of. So what motivated Sellers to make a film which purported to show the greed and immorality of the human race?
A huge clue was provided in an almost forgotten documentary of the time. During the production of the film a separate documentary was made entitled ‘Will The Real Peter Sellers Please Stand Up‘ featuring Sellers and including an often intimate commentary from Spike Milligan, who also appeared in The Magic Christian. It’s well documented that Sellers was a hugely complex and difficult character and few people really could say they knew him, with the possible exception of Milligan, whose own battles with depression are well documented. In the commentary Milligan talks about Sellers’ loneliness and the word ‘revenge‘ is used regularly. It became clear, according to Milligan, that The Magic Christian was Sellers’ revenge on all the people from the ‘establishment’ to the BBC to film producers, even to women, who all apparently ‘rejected‘ him somehow in the past. In a way, as Guy Grand, he was able to show the human race up as venal, greedy and immoral when offered enough money, similar to the way that Peter Sellers, now at the peak of his fame, was able to make and break careers himself. At one point Sellers is interviewed on the set of The Magic Christian and he admits that, ‘You can buy anyone in the film industry, even myself.’
The film is very sixties in its abandonment of a conventional linear narrative and is made up of a series of vignettes, all based around an elaborate prank or hoax engineered by Guy Grand and his recently adopted son, Youngman, played by Starr. Why Guy Grand suddenly decided to take revenge on all the people he thought ‘had their price‘ is uncertain. Did he wake up suddenly one morning and decide he’d had enough or had these hoaxes been going on for some time. And why did he adopt Ringo Starr? Narrative credibility is certainly not part of this film, which was a very sixties trope.
It’s uncertain what the budget for this film was but given the cast it attracted it must have been pretty generous. With Sellers on board funding was virtually guaranteed and by bringing in Beatle Ringo Starr this will have been the financial icing on the cake, ensuring a young hip audience for what was an extremely hip project. It’s fair to say the film didn’t need so many very well known names in very small parts. Did they really need Dickie Attenborough as the coach of the Oxford boat crew to deliver a couple of lines? Or an uncredited Yul Brynner as a drag artist singing Noel Coward’s camp classic ‘Mad About The Boy, to a silent Roman Polanski? Probably not, but it all added to the sixties mayhem. Other big, and probably expensive, names included Raquel Welch, Laurence Harvey, Christopher Lee and Wilfred Hyde-White. Given it was Sellers pet project it seemed very much a case of him calling in some favours from his Hollywood pals.
Ringo Starr‘s role in the film is an odd one. His presence will certainly have appealed to the money men bankrolling the film. As probably the best actor out of the four Beatles, he had a bit of an acting track record having appeared in Terry Southern’s Candy and been the lead Beatle in Magical Mystery Tour, Help and A Hard Day’s Night. Despite this, the part of Youngman Grand was actually written with John Lennon in mind. Although Starr and Sellers apparently got on well during the filming, Sellers is reported to have been determined that Ringo stole none of his thunder in the film and a number of Ringo’s funnier lines were appropriated by Sellers, leaving Ringo with relatively little to do or say. In fact, Starr’s role is really just as a stooge to listen to Sellers’/ Grand’s philosophising. At this point in Sellers’ career, this was a fairly common occurrence in films he was starring in. Sellers’ meddling even extended to a strange incident involving John Cleese.
A pre-Python John Cleese and Graham Chapman had already written a treatment of the book for screen but on reading it, Seller’s threw out most of it. The only parts of their version that survived in the film were the the Sotheby’s scene where Guy Grand pays a huge amount of a Rembrandt and proceeds to cut out the artist’s nose from the picture in front of an aghast director played by Cleese. The other part of the film that survived was the sequence where Guy Grand bribes the Oxford team competing in that most English of traditions of ‘fair play’, the university boat race. Seller’s reportedly tried to have Cleese fired from the film and put pressure on director Joe McGrath to remove him. Why he attempted this is uncertain. Some say it was because Cleese was upstaging Sellers in the scene, something Sellers at this time could not countenance, others claim it was because Sellers felt Cleese was no good in the scene. In his definitive study of Sellers ‘The Life and Death of Peter Sellers‘, Roger Lewis quotes Sellers as shouting at Cleese ‘Jesus Christ, what are you doing?’ in front of the whole crew. Cleese has talked a number of times about how nervous he got before performing and maybe his nervousness having to perform next to a legend like Sellers took its toll. Either way, the incident was an interesting example of just how difficult Sellers was to work with and Cleese wasn’t fired but it was a scene Sellers was never happy with.
A couple of other interesting Python references to this film. Firstly, Cleese and Chapman wrote the famous and very funny ‘Mouse Problem‘ sketch, later used in the first series of Monty Python, which was rejected by Sellers. It’s also possible that a wonderfully sixties strange cartoon sequence near the beginning of the film may have been the first public, though uncredited, example of Terry Gilliam animation.
The film’s late 60s/ early 70s vibe is bolstered also by the use of a few very well known British TV faces such as boxing commentator Harry Carpenter, radio announcer and boat race commentator John Snagge, reporter Alan Whicker and news anchors Michael Aspel and Michael Barrett. With a few very entrenched establishment figures in that line-up, one wonders what they thought they were getting themselves into. Were they given a script to read beforehand and if so did they read it? Was it explained to them what the film was actually about and if so, did it bother them? As Guy Grand regularly explained in the film, ‘Everyone has his price.’ Carpenter’s sequence is especially funny where he is commentating on a boxing match when the protagonists suddenly stop and begin to make love to each other, disgusting the macho viewing audience, baying for blood. I remember during the 70s Carpenter interviewing a very bling Elton John on Sportsnight after his team, Watford, had just beaten the mighty Manchester United. After a smiling Elton had departed Carpenter grinned into the camera and giggled, ‘That result really made his earrings sparkle.’ Harry wasn’t going to let that sort of unmacho display go unchecked! So it’s my firm belief that Harry had no idea what he was really commentating on. Or maybe he did, as Guy maintains everyone has their price…
The film is also populated by well-known British and American acting faces. A few of Sellers’ friends were dragged in (and he didn’t have too many real friends) such as Graham Stark, David Lodge and Spike Milligan. The scene with Spike Milligan as an officious traffic warden is particularly funny. Milligan has just given Guy Grand a parking ticket, not something that would bother the hugely wealthy Grand but he sees a chance to subvert British authority by paying Milligan a ridiculous amount of money to eat the parking ticket, which he, of course, does. As Grand is driving away Milligan shouts ‘And let that be a lesson to you!’ The scene has an improvised feel to it and it’s almost like it’s been crowbarred into the film, which it maybe has. There are a number of scenes which seem improvised and these are often the funniest and most interesting.
Other British acting stalwarts like Hattie Jacques, who plays a horrendous upper class snob called Ginger who talks about enjoying a book on Nazi atrocities. And, her then husband, the excellent John Le Mesurier as an umpire at the boat race. Clive Dunn, Patrick Cargill (one of the stars of ‘Help‘), Dennis Price and Frank Thornton all turn up at various points amongst many other British acting faces. Even Christopher Lee is happy to put in a turn as his most famous character CountDracula who turns up on the bogus cruiser The Magic Christian to add to the mayhem. I do wonder if any actors turned down a role as they didn’t like the film’s themes? Unlikely, if Guy Grand’s philosophy holds any water. And it would be nice to think that some may even have approved of it.
One of the first sequences featured actor Laurence Harvey as Hamlet. Whether this was mant as a bit of a send-up is unknown as Harvey was never considered an actor with a particularly great range. Guy Grand‘s joke here was that Harvey (and he is referred to in the scene as Laurence Harvey) suddenly begins to perform a strip routine during Hamlet’s famous soliloquy. There are a few gasps from the audience, but, true to good old British convention, no one protests, gets up and leaves or causes a fuss at all. Some elderly gentlemen even appear to enjoy it. And this, I believe, is at the bottom of all Guy’s pranks, the fact that people, particularly the upper classes, will huff, puff and often disapprove but no one will do a blind thing about it.
As a post script to this sequence, what for me, was quite a cruel joke seemed to be played out during the credit roll. It was fairly well known in the film business that Harvey was gay but that his public image portrayed him as wildly heterosexual. The credits list him as playing Hamlet right under another film character who was listed as Laurence Faggot. Was this a rather nasty joke played on Harvey by Sellers, who was certainly capable of such cruelty, or maybe by Terry Southern who may not have approved of Harvey remaining steadfastly in the closet? It’s quite possible Harvey was in on it, but, either way, it seems something of a coincidence that the other character was not only named ‘Laurence‘ but was also spelled in the same way to Harvey.
Homosexuality is just one of the, for the time, taboo themes explored by the film. During the fateful voyage of The Magic Christian, camp, virtually naked, male dancers provide the floor show. As they thrust their crotches towards a bigoted military type in the audience, once again, no one walks out or even complains. They just look embarrassed and pretend it isn’t happening. The same theme, as mentioned, was explored in the boxing sequence, although the more macho crowd booed its disapproval. But, still, no one tried to stop it…
The final scene of bowler-hatted City types diving into the vat of effluent to rescue wads of money Guy Grand had dropped into it was originally supposed to be filmed at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. Bizarrely, the production had been given approval by the New York authorities for this to take place. Clearly they hadn’t read the script (or been given one!) and Sellers, Starr, Joe McGrath et al all sailed to the US on the QE2 to film this scene. When the company financing the film got wind of this (so to speak) they withdrew support and Sellers had to use his not inconsiderable influence to find the money to finish the film. This last scene was eventually shot on the banks of the Thames behind The National Theatre.
A few American stars were prepared to turn up just for a cameo such as Raquel Welch, Yul Brynner and, oddly, Roman Polanski (only a few months before the Manson murders) to no particular narrative point, but they clearly were happy to do Sellers a favour. And one of the weirder appearances included 50s comedy icon Jimmy Clitheroe who turned up during the chaos of the The Magic Christian apparently sinking.
In an odd way the wrangling and the problems that beset The Magic Christian are all part of a wider 60s laissez-faire approach to film making by some artists. Although completely different to what Sellers was used to with Kubrick, it allowed him to influence the film totally to achieve the points he wanted to make. The range of, what Cleese referred to as ‘celebrity walk-ons’, also contributed greatly to the sixties vibe, although, admittedly, only possible in retrospect, and the various contributions of The Beatles cannot be underrated. The left-field sensibility of the text with its images of Che Guevara, Mao Tse Tung and counterculture sloganising root it firmly in the late 60s, only a year after the student protests of 1968 which almost brought down the French government. And ultimately with the confluence of Sellers, Southern, The Beatles, Monty Python and a who’s who of British acting talent, TheMagic Christian plants a flag firmly which states ‘This is, and was, the sixties!’