Tag Archives: adventurer

GORDON’S ALIVE! – Brian Blessed from “Doctor Who” to “Flash Gordon” to taking a real life rocket into space

Tomorrow, BBC TV celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first transmission of Doctor Who.

The real Brian Blessed - OTT character

The real Brian Blessed – an OTT character

Last night, at a special University of Hertfordshire event, the actor Brian Blessed revealed: “I was once asked to be Doctor Who – after (the first Doctor) William Hartnell – but I wasn’t available.”

Yesterday’s event was not a celebration of Doctor Who, but a celebration of the 1980 film Flash Gordon, one of a series of events leading up to next year’s celebrations of one hundred years of film-making at Elstree and Borehamwood where, coincidentally, I live.

Comedian Bob Slayer once told me a story about Brian Blessed.

“I was outside a pub in Soho,” Bob told me. “The Toucan, next to Soho Square. It’s a small pub and a lot of people drink outside of it in the evening. I was on the phone to a friend when who should walk by but Brian Blessed.

“I mentioned this to my friend on the other end of the phone and he immediately suggested that I should shout out Gordon’s alive! like it would be the funniest thing in the world and no-one else had ever shouted that at Brian Blessed.

“I declined, but my friend double-dared me and so, just as Brian disappeared around the corner, I bellowed: Gordon’s alive!

“Brian then reappeared from around the corner and boomed one word back at me at a volume and resonance that made my effort sound like a choirboy whose voice has not broken. The single word he boomed out was a beautifully simple upward-inflecting CUNT!! – and then he was gone again.”

Brian Blessed’s notoriously booming line Gordon’s alive! comes from the 1980 Flash Gordon film.

Flash Gordon (1980) - kitsch, cult or masterpiece?

Flash Gordon (1980) Is it kitsch, cult or cinematic perfection?

He has an overwhelming OTT charm which could persuade anyone that the inside of an active volcano is a suitable place to use as a refrigerator. Last night, he was talking-up Flash Gordon as great art:

“I’ve got a feeling,” he said, “that Flash Gordon is almost perfection. There is such a great style about it and it’s becoming more and more of a… and then, of course, there is the cry Gordon’s alive!

“There were 70,000 people at the O2 Arena the other week for the Metal Hammer Awards for rock bands and I shouted Gordon’s alive! and I had to shout it about fifty times. It is much requested.

“I was at Buckingham Palace last year at the Christmas Concert – because I’m famous – and the Queen came up and said: You know, we watch Flash Gordon all the time, me and the grandchildren, It’s a wonderful film. Would you mind saying ‘Gordon’s alive’?

“So I shouted Gordon’s alive!!!! for her…

Thankyou so much, she said, very politely.

Brian Blessed grew up in the West Riding of Yorkshire and, in the next village was future Star Trek/X-Men star Patrick Stewart.

Brian’s father was a coalminer; Patrick’s was a milkman. Brian says they have been friends since they were nine years old.

Brian Blessed flying high as Vultan

Brian Blessed stood on a perch & flew with embarrassing wire

In Flash Gordon, Brian played Vultan, prince of the Hawkmen, sporting a large pair of wings.

“Those wings took half an hour to put on,” he explained last night. “I had dark-skinned make-up with very black hair, black beard and they wanted my teeth very white, like in the 1930s serial. I couldn’t sit in a chair because of my wings, so they built me a perch and all the cameramen and carpenters said Pretty Polly… Pretty Polly as they passed.

“Before you ‘flew’, you couldn’t have breakfast, you couldn’t have lunch – you’d be vomiting. Speaking is really difficult with all these wires on you. I had an extra one on my bollocks. We all had to be lowered down when one person fainted.

“When I was cast as Vultan, I thought of the original comic strip and then I thought of Charlie Chaplin. In some of his films, he had a great big guy who bent lamp posts and beat people up if they didn’t pay their bills and he had big black lines under his eyes and a black beard and a great smile. I based Vultan on that character.

“Then, of course, when I saw the old black & white Flash Gordon serial again, I realised he actually plays Vultan in that and he has a grizzly bear with him all the time. So I said to Dino De Laurentiis  (Italian producer of the 1980 Flash Gordon):

Can I have a grizzly bear?  

But he said Fuck off.

“De Laurentiis was a tough guy, quite a terrifying guy – a bit Mafia. When he came on set, we never got much done because the director Mike Hodges got nervous and the cast and wardrobe and make-up got nervous. When I was doing these flying sequences and Dino came in with his henchmen – you could see their guns – you could see the guns they had under their coats – and the money in sachels… Dino was a very imposing figure. Nobody dared say a word but, when I was hung up on the wires for these flying sequence, I told him:

“Dino! We can’t get anything fucking done! Every time you come in, everybody gets fucking nervous, it’s costing fucking millions. Dino – fuck off!

“Dino laughed and said: He tells me to fuck off!

“I was the only one who could tell him to fuck off.”

The cast was equally colourful.

Ted Carroll as Biro - from rugby to pub owner

Ted Carroll as Biro – from England rugby player to pub owner

“The guy with the broken nose – Ted Carroll, who plays Biro – I befriended him,” Brian said last night. “He wasn’t an actor: he used to play wing half for England’s rugby side. He wanted to be seen, so I told him: Keep with me, because they’ve got to put the camera on me. Just keep alongside me.

Now he has a pub in Ilkley in Yorkshire and his pub’s full of photographs of Flash Gordon; you press a button and the film appears.

“We would have done a second Flash Gordon film, but Sam Jones, who played him, was injured in a car crash. The second film was going to be set on Mars and had the Clay Men in it, like the original Flash Gordon serial. And giant lizards. I would be flying around and he would be wounded and I’d be carrying him across the Martian volcanoes, but it never got made.”

Brian is, I guess, a luvvie at heart: lavishing praise on everyone he works with.

Sam Jones starred in a very hard part

Sam Jones: a perfect on-screen bubble of innocence & purity

“Flash Gordon is a very hard part to cast,” he claimed last night. “Like d’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers is a very hard part to cast. You could get lots of handsome actors and put them in as Flash, but he has to have a kind of bubble of innocence, a purity. With Sam, you could put him anywhere and shoot him with the camera from any angle and he was pure, he was heroic. He was the perfect Flash. Just as good as Buster Crabbe in the original 1930s serial.

“And Max von Sydow was wonderful as the villain Ming The Merciless. He told me: I don’t know what to do, Brian, and I told him Use your hands. Use your hands, because you’re a magician and you’re sexual: use your hands. So he used his hands quite beautifully.”

Brian is known for being a larger-than-life, totally OTT character but says: “In my sixty years as an actor, I think I’ve only ever played three or four characters that are over-the-top – in Blackadder, Flash Gordon and Blackbeard. Now, 50% of my life now is exploration and 50% is acting.

“Hamlet says acting is holding a mirror up to Nature, holding a mirror up to life. But, of course, climbing Mount Everest or going to Mongolia or the North Pole IS life – and there is a huge difference. Acting is a great art, but you are pretending.

“I had Michael Gambon and Derek Jacobi and Ken Branagh in front of me and I said this and they said Yes, Brian. You have to pretend. You’re not real. But going up Mount Everest and going into space and going on adventures IS real.

Brian Blessed, modern Galahad, climbing Everest without oxygen

Brian Blessed, adventurer, climbed Everest without oxygen

People say: “Isn’t it dangerous, Brian, going to the North Pole? Isn’t it dangerous going up Mount Everest without oxygen?

“Yes yes yes. But I think the greatest danger in life is not taking the adventure. You’ve gotta go for it.

“I am fucking bored shitless with all this crap about age. Forty is very young. It’s not how old you are – it’s how you are old.

“I’m 77 and next year I’m going back to Everest. In Moscow, I’ve just completed 800 hours in the centrifuge, in the hydra, in MiG-29s… and I am now a completely, fully-trained cosmonaut and I’m going to the International Space Station…”

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English eccentric comedy adventurer Tim Fitzhigham talks futtocks and of rowing a bathtub across the Channel

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

(From left) Me, Tim Fitzhigham, Kate Copstick

(From left) Me, Tim Fitzhigham, Kate Copstick in Edinburgh

A couple of weeks ago, I staged five daily hour-long chat shows in the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe.

In the third show, one of the guests was English eccentric adventurer Tim Fitzhigham, a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominee for one of his annual Fringe comedy shows.

He talked to me and to comedy critic Kate Copstick. This is a short extract from that chat:

_______________________________________________________

COPSTICK: Your adventures… Is it insanity or is it you don’t think you could write a funny enough stand-up show, so you go and do mental things?

TIM: I think that’s right. But I like to see if things are possible. Can you do it? I have the world record for longest distance travelled in a boat made entirely out of paper. I just wondered how far you could travel in a paper boat.

COPSTICK: How far?

TIM: 160 miles.

COPSTICK: What?!

TIM: Where the comedy comes is I try these things and what is normally quite a mundane thing can suddenly take on a… With the paper boat, I had to get insurance for the paper boat before they would let me take it out on the water. I phoned hundreds of insurance companies. Nobody would give me insurance for that. Then one of them phoned me back and said: We will cover you and the paper boat against fire and theft. You couldn’t write a better joke than that. Just the truth is funny… Then I thought: Can you row a bath tub across the English Channel? I thought some Victorian must have done it, but no-one had.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: How long did it take you to row across?

TIM: Nine hours and six minutes and I had my heel on the plug all the way because, obviously, you needed to be able to take the plug out, otherwise it was cheating.

JOHN: Was it difficult to set up?

TIM: When I first phoned the Royal Navy to try and get them on board with the idea, there was a mistake at the switchboard and I got put through to a rear admiral. And that was the best result for me, because both my uncle and my great uncle were in the Navy and they told me If ever you’re talking to a member of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, you always start the conversation with a question – How are your futtocks, old man?

So I get put through to the rear admiral and I say How are your futtocks, old man? and he replies At their furthest reach, dear boy.

When I asked my uncle about this, he said Yes, that was the correct nautical response. I said That’s fantastic, uncle, but what does it actually mean? and he said Well, that’s the thing, Tim. Nobody actually knows. It’s just this mad thing the Navy have done for 300 years.

I then finally got hold of someone sensible about the whole thing and it turns out what a futtock actually is is the ribs on an old-fashioned boat and, when you say, How are your futtocks? if they reply At their furthest reach then the boat is running at its absolute top capacity. You are, in effect, saying How’s your day going? and they’re saying Very well.

I had to go up to the Admiralty Board – which is quite a serious thing. It doesn’t often happen and there are five flag admirals. I sat there and one of the admirals told me: Rowing a bath tub across the English Channel is not possible. We’ve done the calculations. You’re a single guy. It’s just not possible. Physics is against you.

I looked him directly in the eye and said: I’m not saying it IS possible, I’m saying give me the chance to try.

And – literally in a second – he turned to the admiral next to him and said: And THAT’s the spirit that built this nation!

One second. One answer. And suddenly I had the Navy behind me and they are serious.

In a maritime way.

Obviously, they’re less useful in a desert.

But, in a maritime way, they’re the best.

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Malcolm Hardee Week starts to fall apart – ?

What an interesting man Tim FitzHigham is.

If being successful involves a high percentage of sheer luck in being in the right place at the right time, he will soon be mega-famous.

He has his feet and image well inside the differing markets of English eccentricity, mad adventurer type, sophisticated and nostalgic Flanders and Swann entertainment, children’s shows and Andrew Maxwell’s madly OTT Fullmooners alternative comedy shows.

One of those areas must hit paydirt for him at some point, especially as he seems willing to literally break every bone in his body in the quest for a laugh.

He mesmerised me over a drink last night with tales of an English equivalent of  William McGonnagal, lauded like a stand-up comic in Elizabethan times because he thought he was a serious poet but his poems were so crap people loved to hear them.

And then Tim had tales of carousing in Soho pubs with actor Richard Harris, a man of legendary drinking capacity.

And, to top it all, it also turned out (because of an eccentric escapade with a paper boat) that Tim is an honorary member of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames and told me that late comic Malcolm Hardee and Malcolm’s father (a Thames lighterman) are both fondly remembered.

Tim also has access to unpublished and unperformed Flanders & Swann songs, which is something I would certainly like to hear at a future Edinburgh Fringe.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Hardee Week at the Fringe starts, inevitably, to fall apart.

No problem with tonight’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Punch-Up Debate on the proposition that “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish” based on a blog I wrote a while ago.

As far as I know, Kate Copstick, Janey Godley, Paul Provenza and Bob Slayer will all turn up to argue the toss at The Hive venue 6.15-7.00pm. Five people; five chairs; two microphones – it’s the Free Festival.

But the lovely Miss Behave, due to host Friday’s Malcolm Hardee Award Show, is now too ill to do it – she has meningitis and is returning to London.

And two people who were coming up to Edinburgh to help me on people control at Wednesday’s/Thursday’s spaghetti-juggling and Friday’s two hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show – which is really a variety show with an unfeasible number of performers – are not coming.

So I am now desperately seeking a new host and two people to help me. No money on offer. But a free copy to each of the two helpers of Malcolm Hardee’s out-of-print cult autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

How could anyone resist?

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