Category Archives: Movies

David McGillivray’s pitch for a new and sexually shocking Maugham feature film

My previous blog here was about writer-producer-hyphenate David McGillivray’s upcoming autobiography Little Did You Know.

At the end, he mentioned that he had optioned movie rights to Robin Maugham’s scandalous novel The Wrong People, which he is pitching to prospective financiers.

Non-producers/financiers seldom see actual pitches. They only see the finished product if it ever gets made.

So I thought it would be interesting to print the text – with his permission – of McG’s sales pitch for The Wrong People. Here it is. The photos in the pitch were taken in the 1970s by actor Sal Mineo.


SECRETLY PUBLISHED

FORGOTTEN FOR MORE THAN 40 YEARS

ROBIN MAUGHAM’S SCANDALOUS NOVEL
IS ABOUT TO SHOCK A NEW GENERATION

From award-winners David McGillivray and Peccadillo Pictures

Robin Maugham’s

THE WRONG PEOPLE

Set in the UK and Morocco in 1967, The Wrong People follows the torments of English schoolmaster Arnold Turner, who has the misfortune while on holiday in Tangier to be seduced into the dangerous world of Clarence Baird. A rich and unscrupulous expatriate, Baird entraps Turner into bringing him one of his most troubled pupils, Dan Gedge, so that he can be groomed. The monstrous plan, involving a dead-of-night kidnapping and a secret passage to Marseille, has a shockingly unexpected conclusion

Robert Cecil Romer Maugham, 2nd Viscount Maugham, and author of The Servant, took the advice of his famous uncle Somerset when he wrote The Wrong People.

The book’s theme – a sexual predator living in Morocco tries to persuade an English schoolmaster to procure him a boy he can groom – was too shocking even for the “swinging” Sixties. Maugham published the book under a pseudonym. But the revised 1970 edition, under his own name, was well received. “Grippingly told,” said the Sunday Times. “A gripping thriller,” agreed the Sunday Express.

The book was discovered by former Hollywood star Sal Mineo, the kid who adored James Dean in Rebel without a Cause. Mineo wanted to direct his first feature and in 1971 came to London with his partner Courtney Burr to begin pre-production. Nobody wanted to be associated with this hot property.

A succession of writers, among them Peter Shaffer, David Sherwin and Edna O’Brien refused to write the screenplay. Actors including Martin Potter, Leonard Whiting and John Moulder-Brown wouldn’t even meet Mineo. Eventually, a script was written by Murray Smith, known for cheap exploitation pictures made for independent producer-director Pete Walker. Mineo went to Morocco to scout locations. But the authorities wouldn’t allow him to film there. Mineo returned to the US without a deal in 1974.

Two years later he was stabbed to death.

40 years later writer-producer David McGillivray read a new biography of Sal Mineo, which includes a long chapter on The Wrong People. McGillivray had been aware of Mineo’s attempts to film the book since 1973 when, like Murray Smith, he worked for Pete Walker. McGillivray’s screenplays for Walker include the cult classics House of Whipcord and Frightmare. Later, McGillivray produced a gay horror film, In the Place of the Dead, in Morocco and the erotic fantasy Trouser Bar, which premiered at BFI Southbank in March 2016 and caused a furore. Both films received awards internationally.

After re-reading The Wrong People, McGillivray was convinced the time had come for a film of Maugham’s gripping thriller. In 2017 he secured the screen rights and wrote a new screenplay, which has received the blessing of both Courtney Burr – “I enjoyed your script very much. I found the characters clear, distinctive and true to my memory of the book” – and Robin Maugham’s former partner William Lawrence.

Robin Maugham wrote The Wrong People based on his own experiences, both in the UK and Morocco.

Robin Maugham in 1974 (Photo by Allan Warren)

Robin Maugham

Robin Maugham (1916-1981) is known throughout the world for his novel The Servant (1948). In 1963 it was adapted into a celebrated British film, directed by Joseph Losey and written by Harold Pinter, and later included in the British Film Institute’s Top 100 British Films. A stage version premiered in 1958 and is still on tour throughout Europe.

Maugham wrote several other novels, some of which were also filmed. When he showed the manuscript of The Wrong People to his uncle, Somerset Maugham, the great man declared “that it was the first novel for years that he had been obliged to read straight through at one sitting.” Many subsequent readers, including producer-writer David McGillivray, also have found it impossible to put the book down.

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David McGillivray’s autobiography: if you are in it, be afraid… be very afraid

David McGillivray has been described as “the Truffaut of smut” and (by Jonathan Ross) as “a comedy legend”.

He has appeared in this blog at various times – in 2015 touting Trouser Bar, his film of an allegedly hard-core alleged script by the late Sir John Gielgud… alleged, that is, by everyone except the worried guardians of the estate of Sir John Gielgud.

Lawyers’ letters, threats and phrases ensued.

In 2017, he was in this blog touting Doing Rude Things, a reissue of his book on dodgy soft-core porn films.

He has a bit of previous in touting.

When not anguished, people enjoyed the book launch party

When I arrived for this week’s launch of his autobiography Little Did You Know: The Confessions of David McGillivray, people who had already bought copies were feverishly skimming through the index to see if they were mentioned. 

“A huge amount of those people,” David told me, “will have wanted to check for libel. Some sighing with relief when they found they weren’t included.”

Comedian Julian Clary’s approved cover quote for the book is that it is “a meticulous account of a life so sordid I think each copy should come with a complimentary sanitary wipe”.

The book’s press-release says David McG’s autobiography was “eagerly-awaited”. I think it might equally be said its publication was “desperately feared”. I can do no better than quote from the possibly understated PR blurb:

McGillivray (left) and Clary in Chase Me Up Farndale Avenue, s’il vous plait in 1982 (Photograph from Little Did You Know)

“The grandson of an acrobat and briefly the UK’s youngest film critic, McGillivray wrote his first film when he was 23, then moved on to a succession of cheap shockers and skin flicks. After Prime Minister Thatcher dealt killer blows to the UK’s independent film industry, McGillivray found alternative employment in radio, TV and theatre, becoming Julian Clary’s long-serving scriptwriter. Around the year 2000 he put these careers temporarily on hold to dabble in another form of exploitation, but one closely associated with the more secretive side of show business.

“In this sensational memoir, McGillivray takes us through the cocaine-lined world of London’s media industry, the tragic heights of the AIDS epidemic and the sinful celluloid backstreets of Soho… McGillivray hosted London’s wildest parties at his home. They were attended by some of the biggest names of stage, screen, music and fashion. The revelations of what went on under the figurative noses of law enforcement agencies and the literal noses of McG and his high-flying guests are not for the faint-hearted.”

Julian Clary introduced David at the book launch thus:

“It makes my love life seem like an afternoon at the W.I…”

“I thought I put it about a bit in my youth, but this makes my love life seem like an afternoon at the Women’s Institute… McG has said on several occasions that he will never work again once this book has been published, but I don’t think we should get our hopes up. I suspect some seedy project will catch his eye soon…. (maybe) a long-lost lesbian porn script allegedly written by Mother Teresa… You will know and understand David better after you have read this book, but you may cross the road when you see him coming.”

The next day, David and I had a chat in the sinful celluloid backstreets of Soho – well, in the pleasant environs of the Soho Theatre Bar in Dean Street.


McGillivray talked in the sinful celluloid backstreets of Soho

JOHN: You had trouble getting this book published.

DAVID: Oh yes. 

JOHN: When did you start it?

DAVID: 2000. So many re-writes; so many lawyers. Libel was a huge problem in the early editions. It was very stressful. I got very fed up with the process and put the idea on the shelf in 2015, but then I met the publisher Harvey Fenton of FAB Press and I thought maybe it was his cup of tea, because he is the man who gave us Cinema Sewer and Satanic Panic.

It has taken another 2 or 3 years. Now the book comes out officially in the shops on 1st August but, if you pre-order, you will get signed copies sent to you from 1st June. After so many versions and God knows how many lawyers, apparently it will now leave me legally in the clear. There is a disclaimer at the front to tidy up any loose ends:

DISCLAIMER

The inclusion of a person’s name or likeness in this book does not imply that the person has at any time bought, traded or accepted as a gift an illegal drug from the author or has used an illegal drug from any source. Some names and identifying features have been changed.

“It will leave me legally in the clear…”

JOHN: People in the film business? The theatrical business?

DAVID: (LAUGHS) Oh yes… all media. It’s been a colourful life and I’ve indulged in all manner of things in my 71 years.

JOHN: Knowing a lot of it was unrepeatable for legal reasons, why did you start it?

DAVID: I thought there was a story about what was going on at the turn of the century and, while everyone seemed almost supernaturally obsessed with the end of 1000 years and convinced that planes were going to fall out of the sky, I thought there was something else going on. I knew there was something else going on, because it was going on in my living room every Friday night for five years. So I wrote about my own life, particularly around that period, 1998-2003. But the lifestyle I was indulging in those five years stretched back to my teenage years, so I thought I might as well write about my entire life.

JOHN: You said: “…going on in my living room”.

DAVID: That is the essence of what the book is about.

JOHN: Your living room?

DAVID: Yes… Well, it was mostly in my basement. It was a four-storey house in a very charming crescent in Kings Cross.

JOHN: At the time when it was gentrifying…

McGillivray: a life of unbridled glamour

DAVID: When I moved there in 1995, it was still very rough indeed. By the time I left two years ago, it was completely unrecognisable. The old community I knew had completely gone and the rest of the street was virtually rented out for Airbnb. I didn’t like that.

JOHN: So, parties in your basement on Friday nights for five years… Details?

DAVID: I don’t know where to begin… I was a party animal and all that that entails.

JOHN: What does it entail?

DAVID: An enormous amount of activity every Friday night.

JOHN: Activity? Only Fridays? What happened on Thursdays in your basement?

DAVID: Nothing.

JOHN: You are a tease.

DAVID: I’m a wicked tease. Well, I used to be in the exploitation movie business. I want people to buy the book and be surprised.

JOHN: “Used to be”?

DAVID: Well, I haven’t done any of those sort of films since 1977.

David McGillivray & Nigel Havers at the Trouser Bar location

JOHN: What about Trouser Bar – the one allegedly – ooh, err – definitely not written by John Gielgud?

DAVID: I think it is a work of ar…

JOHN: Arse?

DAVID: Art. It’s not an exploitation film.

JOHN: What happened in your house on Saturday mornings?

DAVID: Hangovers and Oh God! Why did I do it? conversations.

JOHN: You are being reticent, but the book is over the top.

DAVID: It’s excessive, yes.

JOHN: But detailed and true. You kept diaries.

DAVID: From the age of 12. I have diaries from 1960 to today and haven’t missed a day.

JOHN: Can worried participants in your life expect a sequel?

DAVID: Almost certainly, yes, because a lot has happened since 2015 and you have blogged about some of those incidents. 

“…and the film WILL be made.”

JOHN: Regrets?

DAVID: I don’t regret anything I’ve done at all. One should only regret the things one hasn’t done.

JOHN: Any other films on the horizon?

DAVID: I’m still trying to find a director for The Wrong People – based on the novel by Robin Maugham. It’s a quite expensive feature film; one I can’t finance myself. I bought the film rights. More controversy: “It’s unfilmable” and all that. At the moment, nobody will touch it with a bargepole. But I WILL get a director for it and the film WILL be made.

JOHN: That sounds like a threat.

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Jamie Patterson has directed 3 movies since the one released two days ago

“The opening scene of the movie is one take for six minutes”

In the last couple of blogs, I chatted to Derren Nesbitt, star of the new film Tucked which was directed by Jamie Patterson. So, obviously, I had a chat with Jamie as well.


JOHN: Why Tucked as a title?

JAMIE: Originally the title was Jackie – the central character’s name – simple and it worked – but then that Jackie Kennedy movie came out with Natalie Portman. 

JOHN: Anything else that you hadn’t foreseen?

JAMIE: Some of the dresses Derren wore were so heavy. I think the dress he wears in the last scene… I’ve never felt something so heavy. I hadn’t even thought about that. And the wig was so heavy. The opening scene of the movie is one take for six minutes. He had to do the full-on stage act, singing, doing jokes, all the lights on him with the heavy dress, the heavy wig, the jewellery… But Derren would never complain.

JOHN: How many takes for that opening shot?

JAMIE: Three. The other two we didn’t use were not because of anything Derren did; we had focus issues because it was quite a tricky move on Steadicam

JOHN: You live in Brighton and Derren lives in Worthing, so you knew him personally before you cast him?

“He did a little bit – a day – on a film I did”

JAMIE: I used to date his step-daughter – she was make-up artist on another film I did. So I’ve known him for years and he did a little bit – a day – on a film I made called Home For Christmas. And I had always had this idea for Tucked and, honestly, as I was writing it, I couldn’t think of anyone else who would be so good in the central role…

The way Derren talks and his persona, his stories… Been in the industry for 50 years and worked with Sinatra and Burton and all these incredible people. He’s got that history and I just knew he would be perfect for it.

JOHN: You finished shooting Tucked in 2016 and finished editing it in 2018. Done anything since then?

JAMIE: Three films. 

JOHN: Heavens! How many films have you made in total?

JAMIE: Fifteen. A lot were Amazon, iTunes, VOD release, that sort of thing. Tucked is the first one to have a theatrical release in the UK. I have had theatrical release in America before – 15 cities – a movie called Caught. A terrible title. A horror film set in the 1970s. Horror is actually my favourite genre to watch, but I like character-driven horror. I’ve never liked gore tests. I like tone and atmosphere.

JOHN: Well, Val LewtonWhat you don’t see is more frightening than what you see.

JAMIE: Exactly.

JOHN: But three films directed since Tucked…!

JAMIE: Yes. A week after we finished filming it, I went off to start a very silly fun comedy called Tracks, an interrailing film all round Europe.

JOHN: A what?

“We did it proper guerrilla stuff to give it an authentic feel”

JAMIE: An interrailing comedy. It’s about a couple who go on trains all round Europe. We had a crew of six and shot in Paris, Nice, Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan. We cast all the supporting roles as we were going. We didn’t have any location secured. We did it proper guerrilla stuff to give it an authentic feel. We have just finished that one now. Very different from Tucked.

JOHN: The entire film was shot on trains?

JAMIE: On trains, in hostels, hotels. I shot in the middle of Venice.

JOHN: Filming sound on a train is dodgy.

JAMIE: I tried to write it so there weren’t many dialogue scenes on a train. The scenes which had dialogue, we shot back in the UK. We rented a train carriage which went from London to Heathrow and back twice.

JOHN: You saw West London passing by through the windows?

The energetic and indefatigable Jamie

JAMIE: (LAUGHS) We made sure we didn’t see too much out the window! Anyway, I did that one, then a movie called Justine, written by Jeff Murphy, who wrote for the TV show Hinterland; he has a musical, Denmark, coming out. A really good writer.

JOHN: And Justine is…?

JAMIE: …about two young girls who fall in love. A lovely little heartbreaking, beautiful, charming love story.

I did that and then I’ve just wrapped a movie called God’s Petting You, which is like a British True Romance. It’s about two addicts who fall in love and together plan on robbing the biggest porn star in Europe. It’s very slick, very colourful. I wanted to do something very different and ‘out there’. It’s inspired by American films in the visuals, but very very British in its content.

JOHN: About two addicts who plan to rob the biggest porn star in Europe… Based on a true story?

JAMIE: (LAUGHS) No…. Well, I know someone who’s like that.

JOHN: So you have made three films since you finished Tucked

JAMIE: Yes. And on July 1st I start my next one.

JOHN: Heavens! Which is…?

JAMIE: The Kindred, a psychological thriller, written by Christian J.Hearn, who wrote a movie I did called Fractured about five years ago now – a couple of films before Tucked.

JOHN: And, after that?

JAMIE: I’ve just signed with an American agency called Gersh, so I’m trying to write my first script to do out in America.

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Derren Nesbitt on Frank Sinatra, being blinded on a movie and £43 million

Derren Nesbitt as 80-year-old drag queen ‘Jackie’ in Tucked

Yesterday’s blog was the first part of a chat with Derren Nesbitt, star of the new movie Tucked, which was released in the UK yesterday.

But there is more to him than merely being an actor. Now read on…


JOHN: You were saying your father, after he stopped being a comedian on the music halls, got in involved in all sorts of businesses…

DERREN: Yes, we had a huge house in Avenue Road, NW London. And a Rolls Royce.  My father just wanted one. He couldn’t drive. I used to drive. I had learned to drive on a Mini Minor. Julian Glover once told me: “We could never understand you arriving at RADA in a Rolls Royce.”

Derren Nesbitt as Major von Hapen in Where Eagles Dare

JOHN: You built your own career, though. Famously, you were a very nasty Nazi in the Clint Eastwood/Richard Burton movie Where Eagles Dare and there was an accident…

DERREN: Yes. I was supposed to be ‘shot’ twice: once in the head and once in the chest.

JOHN: Which one went wrong?

DERREN: The chest. I was always wary of the special effects man, because he had a finger missing!

They put two condoms full of blood on my chest with a metal plate (to protect the skin). We had five jackets for five takes and eight loads of condoms had exploded and splattered blood over the first four. So we got to Take 5… I was very cautious by this time… and when the explosion went off, it went KAPOW! and it looked like I had been hit by a bazooka. It went in my eyes and they took me to Denham Hospital, trailing blood, with a perfect bullet hole in my forehead and said: “He’s had an accident.”

JOHN: You must have had your chin and your nose damaged.

DERREN: No, I moved back, anticipating catastrophe but my eyes got burnt and bits got in them. It was not very pleasant. I was blind for two weeks.

When I could see again, Clint Eastwood sent me a Fortnum & Mason’s hamper with a bottle of Optrex eye wash in the middle.

JOHN: Sounds like a nice man.

DERREN: Yes. I did a film with Frank Sinatra – The Naked Runner. He was a lovely man.

JOHN: Really?

DERREN: Yes, really. He was the biggest star in the world then. Absolutely. One of the tabloid newspapers asked me to write a story for £20,000 or £30,000 about working with the biggest star in the world. But I thought that was tacky. I didn’t want to do that.

He must have heard that this English actor didn’t take the money. And he was absolutely wonderful. So nice. 

We had been going to film in Copenhagen.

He said: “Have you ever been to Copenhagen?”

I told him: “No, never have.”

“Oh, it’s lovely,” he said

Anyway, they changed it and they shot my stuff in Welwyn Garden City instead.

“You’re not going to Copenhagen?” he said. “Well go and have a holiday there on me.”

So we flew there in his private jet and, when we arrived, there was this stretch limousine and a man in a grey suit who said: “Mr Sinatra welcomes you to Copenhagen,” and he handed me a manilla envelope with a LOT of money in it. I counted it up and said to my wife: “We will never manage to spend all this in ten days.” And I have been known to spend money!

There was an amazing apartment for us with the kitchen full. We went out that night; came back at four in the morning; and in the apartment waiting for us was this young man who says: “Mr Sinatra hopes you had a lovely evening,” and he handed me another manilla envelope with – again – LOTS of money in it.

The money was not to cover us for ten days – it was PER DAY. I had money stuffed everywhere: in suitcases and…

Derren Nesbitt and Frank Sinatra in The Naked Runner

When I came back to London, I told him: “That was very very kind of you.”

“Oh no no no,” he said. “It’s no problem.”

He was so kind to me – he called me and invited me to the Festival Hall when he did the concert; I had to be at his table to have dinner with him at Claridges. And I met him after the show and he asked me – this little English actor – “What did you think of the show?”

Now that shows an amazing humility that you don’t associate with him. 

“What did you think?” – He said that to me – a little, insignificant English actor.

I said: “By the way, you didn’t sing the song I like!”

“Which one?”

To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before.”

And he sang me the refrain and all I could think of was: Not many people have had Mr Sinatra sing the refrain of a song for them.

He was a very nice man.

Two takes. That’s what he did on films. Only two takes, which I loved. Go for it. Shoot the rehearsal. The magic happens at the beginning. You are not quite sure what’s gonna happen, but magic happens. If you keep on replaying, you lose that magic. Tony Curtis was exactly the same. Instantaneous. That is really what you’ve got to do. You never quite know what’s gonna happen and every take is different, but the REAL magic happens at the beginning.

Derren was promoting Tucked in London earlier this week

JOHN: Sinatra acted and sang. Have you any musical ambitions yourself? 

DERREN: No. But I did once write a song for my father as a joke. My father was in music publishing and god knows what else. I never really knew him at all – and one Sunday – because he was always working – he said to me over dinner: “What do you think of this song?”

I was so amazed that (a) he spoke to me and (be) he knew my name that I said: “It’s rubbish,” just to get a laugh.

He said: “Do you think you could write something better?”

I said: “Yes.” 

As a joke.

I told my brother Gary: “I’m going to write the worst song ever – as a joke.”

I wrote it in 20 minutes, rolling on the floor, and handed it to my father and thought he would laugh. But nothing. No reaction. Absolutely nothing.

Anyway, there was a young singer called Adam Faith and his first record was What Do You Want If You Don’t Want Money? It sold a million copies. My song was on the ‘B’ side. From Now Until Forever. 

And you got paid the same money as the ‘A’ side.

JOHN: Was that your only brush with the music business?

DERREN: No. I started a company many years ago, in 1971, with my little brother Gary called Our Price Records.

I said to Gary: “We’ve got to start like a supermarket for records. So there was a tiny little tobacconist’s kiosk at the side of Finchley Road tube station in NW London and he was going to retire, so we bought that and I arranged how the records should be sold – which everybody has copied – and it started from there. And expanded.

The 300th Our Price record store in Brixton, south London

JOHN: I remember shops in Oxford Street and all over.

DERREN: Yes. Eventually, we sold the business to WH Smith. They wanted to buy it and I said to my brother: “Sell it, because the days for record shops are over. Sell it.” So we sold it for £43 million in 1986 and WH Smith lost everything. Ridiculous! Why? Why?

JOHN: So what’s next now?

DERREN: I have no idea. People now seem to be asking me to do work again.

JOHN: I’m not surprised, on the basis of your performance in Tucked.

DERREN: I also run one of the biggest drama awarding bodies in the country: New Era Academy. That keeps me out of trouble. We are in Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, France… and Spain is coming now.

… I CHAT WITH THE DIRECTOR OF “TUCKED” HERE

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Derren Nesbitt: subtly sensitive as a loudmouthed transvestite in “Tucked”

The British movie Tucked is released in the UK today. It has already won, among a clutch of other awards, the Best Narrative Feature Award at the Naples International Film Festival and both a Grand Jury Prize and an Audience Award at Outfest in Los Angeles.

“Like a jewel (and) Derren Nesbitt is its biggest sparkle…”

In the UK, the Guardian calls it a “touching, unexpectedly funny end-of-life drama with a terrific performance by 83-year-old Derren Nesbitt.”

It has pretty accurately been called “a slice of life smeared with glitter, laughter and tears” and the Hollywood Reporter singled out the “two splendid performances” at the heart of it. In London, the Financial Times writes: “Tucked is small but bright and multi-faceted: like a jewel. Nesbitt is its biggest sparkle”.

The official synopsis says it is:

A raw and tender drama about an ageing 80 year old drag queen who forms an unlikely friendship with a younger queen, both struggling with their own issues of gender identity and mortality. As they discover more about each other, they realise how to truly be themselves.

Nesbitt stars with 27-year-old Jordan Stephens, one half of successful British hip hop duo Rizzle Kicks.

Comedian Steve Oram turns up as a drug dealer and comedian Brendon Burns wrote some of the on-stage gags and appears briefly as a club MC. 

But the movie centres on Derren Nesbitt’s extraordinarily sensitive performance as the grumpy, foul-mouthed drag artist Jackie, diagnosed with terminal cancer, with only six or seven weeks left to live and his performance is an award-deserving revelation.

IMDB currently describes Derren as: 

A rather intriguing British actor who first appeared on UK cinema & TV screens in the late 1950s, and quickly found steady work as a rather unpleasant or untrustworthy individual. His cold, yet cunning features had him appearing in guest roles on many UK TV series. 

Derren Nesbitt seemed to be all over TV

It seemed like he was in everything you ever saw in the 1960s  and 1970s, on TV and in movies.

His father was Harry Nesbitt, a comedian and music hall artist who came from South Africa with his brother Max and they performed as a duo on stage.

Derren’s mother was also in the music halls as a chorus girl.

Derren was trained at RADA where he won the prestigious Forbes-Robertson Shakespearian Acting award.

From there, he joined Peter Hall’s repertory company.

I met him a couple of days ago in London.


JOHN: So the casting for Tucked… Here is a film with a rather grumpy, foul-mouthed transvestite. Who is the first person I would think of to play that role? Suave, 4-times-married Derren Nesbitt? Erm. No. Not an obvious choice.

DERREN: (LAUGHS) Exactly, because I usually kill people. Jamie Patterson the writer/director and I became vaguely friendly and I thought: He’s very talented. Then he asked me: “Do you want to play a drag queen and a trans-crosser?” So I said: “This script I gotta read!” I read it and I thought: Absolutely! This is really good!

And I’m glad I’ve been proved right on two points.

One: Jamie has now been signed-up to one of the biggest agents in Hollywood.

Two: the film has done magnificently well in Los Angeles.

JOHN: Great acting. Emotion with your eyes.

DERREN: Well, you can never be anybody else. So what you have got is me as a drag queen in those circumstances. What would I be in those circumstances? And that’s what you try and do.

JOHN: He’s a grumpy old bloke, but he’s sympathetic.

DERREN: Well, he’s a human being. The hardest thing in the world is to present true reality on the screen, but that’s the name of the game.

JOHN: For your role as a nasty Nazi in the Clint Eastwood movie Where Eagles Dare, you reportedly talked to an ex-Gestapo man to get the feel for your screen character. 

Did you do any research for your role in Tucked?

DERREN: Well no, not really. Everybody seems to thing you’ve gotta do an awful lot of research. But not in this particular case, because my family were very famous music hall stars. I was in theatres from the age of 5 and, later on, was seeing drag queens and all the rest. So it didn’t take very much for me to ‘become’ a drag queen.

JOHN: Your father was a comedian and your mother was a dancer.

DERREN: She was a chorus girl, but my father and his brother were the biggest stars in London in 1928. They only retired in the mid-1950s.

JOHN: You were you born in London.

DERREN: I was born at the Finsbury Park Empire. Actually born in the theatre.

JOHN: So you were bound to end up an actor…

DERREN: Well, I was very fortunate. I left RADA and I’d won everything there… 

JOHN: …and then you worked for Peter Hall.

DERREN: Yes. He chose me to go to the Oxford Playhouse. But he only did one play there and moved on and then I was very fortunate. I think the movie Victim was the turning point. And I have never done an audition.

JOHN: You’ve still never done an audition?

DERREN: No. Never. People have seen me in other things and thought: He’s the one.

A film very much of its time – 1975

JOHN: You must, at some time, have wanted to be more than an actor because there was The Amorous Milkman in 1975, which you wrote, produced and directed.

DERREN: Yes, I did and, afterwards, I thought: Well, I’ve done it and that’s good enough. I wrote the novel, then wrote the screenplay from the novel. But then, afterwards, I felt: I’ve done it. So why do it again?

JOHN: Any further writing ambitions?

DERREN: So many people have asked me to write my autobiography…

JOHN: You should.

DERREN: I did. I finished it about two months ago. I thought: Who would want to read it? But I wrote it more as a cathartic thing. Whether or not anyone wants to publish it, I have no idea.

I was in the War in London. I was in the Blitz, right in the middle of it. My first memory is seeing a baby’s head in the gutter. I saw the dead bodies and god knows what else. So I start from then.

Well, in fact, the first thing I ever really remember was my mother throwing me in a bush as a German Messerschmitt came over. (LAUGHS) I never quite trusted her after that!

It is really less of an autobiography and more of a book that happens to be true.

JOHN: What’s the difference between a book and an autobiography?

DERREN: I don’t know. I think an autobiography is a little… a little bit… self… 

JOHN: Navel-gazing?

DERREN: Yeah… Yeah… And I’m more interested in knowing the person. I’ve read a lot of biographies and autobiographies and I want to know the person.

JOHN: People are not interested in facts as such; they’re interested in other people.

DERREN: Yes. It’s boring (if it is just facts).

Funnily enough, years and years ago, Richard Harris – an old friend of mine who was a great drunk – was asked by someone to do an autobiography and he took an advert in The Times saying: :”If anybody could remind me what I was doing between…” (LAUGHS)

JOHN: You said your father retired in the 1950s… After that, he did nothing?

“Lew Grade had a huge affair with my mother”

DERREN: He did everything. He was involved in so many different things. Including the Grade Organisation. Lew Grade was a great, great friend of his. In fact, Lew Grade had a huge affair with my mother and told her: “If he doesn’t marry you, I will marry you and adopt him (Derren).” (LAUGHS) Maybe the biggest tragedy of my life!

Years and years later, I went to the South of France where my mother used to live – she had by then married someone richer than my father – and she asked me: ”How is Lew?”

I told her, “it’s LORD Grade now.”

“Oh,” she said, “many years ago, he asked your father to put some money into some new company he had.”

I said: “Pardon?”

“You know,” she said. “Television. You know, you sell beans and things on television.”

And I said: “Ah!… What happened?”

She said: “Well, your father wouldn’t take Lew seriously. If Leslie Grade had asked him, he would have put money in.”

JOHN: And this company was ATV?

DERREN: Yes, my father could have put £10,000 in at the beginning and…”

JOHN: … and that would have been like putting money into MicroSoft when it started up.

DERREN: Mmmmm….

… CONTINUED HERE

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Salvador Dali’s Marx Brothers movie and an unmade Charlie Chaplin film

In 1937, surrealist Salvador Dali planned to make a movie with the Marx BrothersGiraffes on Horseback Salad (aka The Surrealist Woman) starring Groucho, Harpo and Chico Marx with Susan Fleming (Harpo’s wife) plus “new music by Cole Porter”.

The plot involved a Spanish aristocrat named Jimmy (Harpo) in love with a beautiful woman whose face the audience never sees. Scenes included a horde of giraffes wearing burning gas masks, an exploding chicken and Harpo catching “the eighteen smallest dwarfs in the city” with a butterfly net. Groucho was rumoured to have said: “It won’t play,” 

Now flash forward to March 2019 when a graphic novel version of the planned Dali/Marx Brothers movie Giraffes on Horseback Salad was published.

On Thursday, I chatted to its jet-lagged American creator Josh Frank.

He had just flown in to London from Austin, Texas, was plugging the book at an event in the Barbican that night, going to Paris the next day for another event publicising the book and, tomorrow (Sunday), he is talking about it at JW3 in NW London.

Obviously, we chatted in a pub in Trafalgar Square with naval white ensign flags in the background.


JOHN: You’re almost the ultimate hyphenate. You’re a writer-producer-director-composer-playwright.

JOSH: I do a little bit of everything. What I’ve done in the last twenty years has led to me being able to do what I can do now. When I used to write and direct plays right out of college, that added to my toolbox of things that helped me be able to do what I just did with this Marx Brothers graphic novel.

JOHN: It sounds to me as if you are attracted to quirkiness. I mean: “I think I will do a stage play based on Werner Herzog’s 1977 movie Stroszek”… What the fuck?

“Try to think outside the box”

JOSH: I like to try to think outside the box, you know? If you want to accomplish anything in this day and age, you kinda have to come up with something that people are intrigued by but maybe they also don’t quite understand. Because then they can’t cancel it out.

I grew up a big Marx Brothers fan, but this was something I had not heard of. I came across it because, six or seven years ago, I had taken an interest in movie ideas by famous auteurs that never got made.

Movies are the one form where you will create a story and idea but, unless you can get it made as a movie, it might just disappear. 

What other art forms are there where an artist has an idea but it it not taken to completion because of outside elements? Painting, music, books, even plays: these are all things that, despite the odds, you can finish if you really want to and if it’s important to you.

I find it fascinating that someone like Coppola or Herzog can come up with an idea and write it and then, because there’s not $100 million to make it, it just ends up in a drawer. A movie script might be half-finished or fully-finished but, if it’s not made into a movie, no-one can ever see it.

JOHN: Salvador Dali wanted to write a Marx Brothers movie because he was a friend of Harpo Marx. 

Surrealist Salvador Dali (not pictured on the right) and silent Harpo Marx (not pictured on the left)

JOSH: Yes.

JOHN: Harpo is the most interesting of the Marx Brothers.

JOSH: I think so, in a lot of ways. And the most human and the most…

JOHN: …intelligent?

JOSH: Possibly…

JOHN: I mean, there’s the Algonquin Round Table.

(From top to bottom) The four Marx Brothers – Chico, Harpo, Groucho and Zeppo

JOSH:…It would probably be a tie between Harpo and Zeppo, because Zeppo was an inventor.

JOHN: Really??

JOSH: He invented… in a sense, invented the first Apple Watch. In the 1930s or 1940s, he invented a watch that could take your heart-rate. He invented one of the first heating blankets. Look it up. He had like all these patents.

JOHN: I think there were points in Salvador Dali’s screenplay for Giraffes on Horseback Salad where he just wrote: “insert Marx Brothers routine”

JOSH: Yes. So, for those bits, I went to comedian Tim Heidecker and we sat in a writers’ room at Burbank and filled-in those moments in the script.

JOHN: How unfinished was Dali’s script?

JOSH: Very unfinished. There were basically two hefty. useful things. One was the actual 12-page pitch proposal typed in English that I’m assuming was created from Dali’s original notes by a friend of Harpo’s in Hollywood for them to turn in to MGM.

JOHN: Giraffes on Horseback Salad was Dali’s original idea.

JOSH: Yes. The other thing was the 70 or 80 pages of handwritten notes from his papers that I found at the Pompidou in Paris. It was part of an archive they owned, which they had bought at auction about 30 years ago.

JOHN: So not a script as such.

JOSH: No. It was all handwritten ideas and notes. Each page had different paragraphs and I had to actually put them in order. Basically, the actual movie was technically written by Salvador Dali and me.

JOHN: If you have a not-totally assembled script idea from a surrealist, there’s surely no real certainty what order things would happen in. It could be like Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction putting things in the wrong order.

JOSH: Well, I had to use my toolbox of understanding of screenwriting. I tackled it like you tackle any adaptation of a work into a movie. What is the through-line of the narrative? What is the character’s journey? What does each character want?

JOHN: Would there necessarily be a through-line in a Salvador Dali movie?

Irving Thalberg – boy wonder at MGM studios

JOSH: Yes. I was looking at this like it was going to be made in 1937 at MGM by Irving Thalberg. This is a Marx Brothers movie that would have been greenlit by Irving Thalberg – thus it needed to have a very clear storyline with a beginning, a middle and an end; it needed to have the lovers; it needed to have the songs. So that was how I made my decisions for what it would be.

JOHN: And Thalberg was strangely conservative. 

JOSH: Yes.

JOHN: He was not an experimentalist.

JOSH: No. But what he was was a friend to the Marx Brothers and to their antics. I think he would have appreciated the challenge.

JOHN: Presumably you would like to see the thing actually filmed. Is there an elevator pitch for turning your Giraffes graphic novel into a movie?

JOSH: Well, I finished it as much as I could so it would be sort of a no-brainer to the right film-maker. My idea was to present something that Marx Brothers and Dali fans and the world could enjoy now but that a film-maker – the right one with the right resources – could see was basically ready to cast. I hope that happens. 

JOHN: Maybe directed by David Lynch?

JOSH: Or I could see Tim Burton doing it. I could see Terry Gilliam.

JOHN: Luc Besson?… Or you could direct it yourself.

JOSH: No, because I think it would be quite expensive – $40 million or $50 million. There are the rights and you’re gonna want huge names. It just depends how mainstream it’s gonna be. The idea was to make it a sort of a mainstream movie.

JOHN: But currently you’re plugging the graphic novel.

Giraffes on Horseback Salad is illustrated by Manuela Pertega

JOSH: Well, my book tour for Giraffes on Horseback Salad goes on until the middle of June and also we’re finishing the soundtrack, which was a part of my vision and it’s turned into a whole other process which is almost done. An entire soundtrack to the un-made movie – and that’s gonna be released June 21st by a major record label, at first just digitally but, if it gets some attention, there will be a vinyl release too. 

That is almost like its own secondary project. Even though it’s very much a companion to the book, it’s also its own piece of art. It’s a full separate thing. So, really, I’m still very much in the middle of the Giraffe stuff, at least through this summer. 

After that, I’m not sure. I’ve got four or five ideas for maybe a next book. I think I want to do another graphic novel in the vein of Giraffes. I really loved how this was one-third illustrated biography and then two-thirds graphic novel of a lost movie. I really enjoyed that.

One idea that’s very intriguing to me is that I discovered a lost Charlie Chaplin movie. Unmade, but he wrote like 90 pages of it.

JOHN: That’s 90 minutes, then.

JOSH: Yeah. It would have been a feature film and it would have been his first talkie movie – before The Great Dictator. And it’s an interesting story. It was a time when he really thought his career was over because talking pictures were coming. So he took a sabbatical to Bali. He was going to stay a week and he ended up staying six months. This is Bali in the 1920s. I think it would make a really interesting graphic novel.

My agent and others tell me Charlie Chaplin is not as big a deal as the Marx Brothers and Salvador Dali. But… I dunno.

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Filed under Books, Movies, Surreal

Are the Facebook PC police about to ban me because of my sexually risqué name?

I have a Facebook account in my own name – John Thomas Fleming.

On it I post links to articles which I think are interesting and/or funny.

The Daily Mash is a satirical British website.

Today I tried to post a link on my Facebook page to one of the Daily Mash articles.

The Daily Mash’s satiric article was headlined:

MUSEUM OF 1970s SEX EUPHEMISM TO OPEN IN LEEDS

My comment accompanying the link was… “Surely it should open in Bristol?”

A reference to a jolly British euphemism for a lady’s breast.

My post was blanked-out by Facebook because:

“This post goes against our Community Standards on nudity or sexual activity”

and I was banned from posting on Facebook for 24 hours.

Robin Askwith in Confessions From A Holiday Camp (1977) (Photo by Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5871814a)

I am not sure if Facebook objected to my use of the word ‘Bristol’ or the Daily Mash‘s somewhat risqué picture which was a still from one of the 1970s series of Confessions of… films… These were ‘naughty yet acceptable’ films in the genre of the Carry On… movies.

Britain has a long tradition of family filth Stretching back to Shakespeare and Chaucer and certainly including – perhaps most surprising to Americans – the traditional (ideally utterly filthy) British Christmas pantomimes for children.

The Confessions of… films were more permissive than the more innocent Carry On… films. But were still considered middle-of-the-road even then.

Obviously Facebook’s image-searching computers and more puritan-minded American tendencies need a re-tweak.

The worrying thing is that I was given the name John Thomas Fleming by my innocent parents. I was named after my two grandfathers. I believe the origin of the phrase ‘John Thomas’ is Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a novel which I nor I am certain my parents never read.

I now fear for the good citizens of Bristol city, who face a potential blanket ban from Facebook for living where they do: a conurbation which shares its name with an example of Cockney rhyming slang.

This is all a bit reminiscent of the early days of censorship on the internet when farmers found that innocent references to their common farmyard creatures were getting them banned as pornographers… in particular, any reference to their cocks.

Oh, alright… the bloody Facebook image-searching computers actually took exception to the photo… But, really, do me a favour.

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Filed under Censorship, Language, Movies, Sex