Tag Archives: Clockwork Orange

Nathan Lang lost 2 Edinburgh Fringe venues but stayed a sketchy stuntman

Nathan Lang has lived in the UK for ten years now. He made his career debut as Pinhead in the Australian soap Neighbours.

“I have forgotten,” I told Nathan,” why we are chatting. Am I meeting you to plug your Edinburgh Fringe show?”

Performing One Man, Two Ghosts at the Edinburgh Fringe last year were (L-R) Nelly Scott, Annie Bashford, Nathan Lang)

“I thought you were more interested,” said Nathan, “in my juicy gossip about losing my Edinburgh Fringe venue twice… You saw One Man, Two Ghosts last year.”

“Oh yes,” I said. “And you were going to bring it back again this year. Three of you. Different cast.”

“We were promised a good time-slot at a venue in the New Town,” explained Nathan. “The management had seen the show last year and loved it. But then, around the time of early bird Fringe registration, the management changed; and the programming changed; and we lost the venue; and it lost us £100 because we missed the cheap deadline.

“Then we got in touch with someone who had also seen the show last year, loved it and was starting up a new venue. She asked us immediately before the final Fringe Programme deadline and the venue just fell through. Everyone has a different story why. I’m not blaming anyone. Just bad luck. A few shows in that venue got re-homed; some collapsed; we got a very good offer from Bob Slayer but couldn’t do it because it clashed with my other two shows. So the three of us decided not to do the show. There seemed no point compromising on a less good venue at bad times on scattered dates.”

“You still have two other shows at the Fringe?” I asked.

“Yes, there’s the sketch comedy show Jon & Nath Like To Party which you saw an early incarnation of. We’ve been previewing it for a year and had a very good Brighton Fringe.”

Playful Jon Levene (right) and Nathan Lang Like To Party

“What’s different from the version I saw?”

“The crap sketches have gone and been replaced by good ones. It’s really good now.”

“Sketch comedy is dead,” I suggested.

“No!” said Nathan. “There’s lots of exciting sketch comedy on the scene at the moment. It’s evolving beyond that episodic kind of style. It’s blurring into alternative stuff and character stuff. What has changed in our show since you saw it is we now have an underlying kind of…”


“No. An underlying thread where we can communicate our selves and our relationship – the way we constantly try to thwart each other.”

“What’s the stage relationship?”

“We’re like brothers but we antagonise the hell out of each other and disagree about everything.”

“And your other show is?”

“My first solo show. The Stuntman. Surely, with that title alone, I should be eligible for a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award?”

“But is it cunning?” I asked. “Do you do your own stunts? Is there an imminent risk of death? Death is always good for promoting a show.”

“Yeah,” said Nathan. “I do my own stunts. I am the Tom Cruise of clowning character physical comedy.”

“Hanging on the side of a plane?” I asked.

“Hanging drunkenly on the side of the bar while my own wind blows my feet up. It’s slapstick. It’s What if the stuntman were always a stuntman, even at home? But family friendly. Well, it is now. Except for the bit where I pretend to be nude for ten minutes.”

“But is there a potential death factor?” I asked.

“One stunt went too far the other night,” said Nathan. “The toothpick stunt.”

“The toothpick stunt?” I asked.

“The toothpick stunt. I impaled my head on a toothpick and, when I pulled it out, the red red krovvy started to flow. Half the audience were delighted; the other half were horrified.”

“Krovvy?” I asked.

Bicyclist Nathan often wears a crash helmet in everyday life

“Haven’t you read A Clockwork Orange?”

“Print is dead,” I said. “I’ve only seen the film.”

“You don’t know Nadsat?”

“Let’s get back to The Stuntman,” I said. “What’s the elevator pitch?”

Evel Kneivel meets Wile E Coyote in Technicolor.”

“With deep canyons to fall down?”

“Not on this budget.”

“Why The Stuntman?”

“Because I really wanted to do a one-man show and it came about through Dr Brown’s clown workshops.”

“Tell me you’ve not been to Gaulier,” I pleaded.

“I’ve not been to Gaulier,” repeated Nathan. “And that makes me feel insecure.”

“But you have done clowning workshops?”

Nathan is not averse to potty training

“Yes. In a Spymonkey workshop, Aitor Basauri told me: Nathan. A clown costume for you, you need three things. Hair slicked back. Outfit very tight to your body. And heavy boots. Aitor is so amazing. He’s such a brilliant clown. Spymonkey are my idols – my clown idols.”

“Is he Hungarian?” I asked.


“Why does not having gone to Gaulier make you feel insecure?”

“Because he and his style are exalted and to be Gaulier-trained seems to me to be the pinnacle of clowning tuition. And also I can’t afford it.”

“It seems to me,” I suggested, “like people go to France, get insulted by Gaulier every day, then come back to Britain, sit on a stage a stare at people until something happens. I could do that.”

“I did Dr Brown’s Clowning in Nature in Wales,” said Nathan. “That was great.”

“Arranged by Adam Taffler?”I asked.


“What is Adam doing now?” I asked. “Last time I met him, he seemed to be organising a sex orgy with philosophical undertones on top of a skyscraper in Docklands.”

“I think there was an Intimacy Convention,” said Nathan.

“That’ll be it,” I said. “I’m still not clear why you decided on a stuntman character.”

“I thought being a stuntman would be playing against type.”

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Hell To Play: Alexander Bennett on Gaulier, DeLarge and hypnotising frogs

Alexander Bennett - Hell to Play as the Devil

Alexander Bennett – Hell to Play as Devil

So I met comedy performer Alexander Bennett because he wanted to publicise his show Hell To Play, which is on at the Backyard Comedy Club next Tuesday, 8th December, featuring comics Bec Hill and Andrew O’Neill.

Alexander plays The Devil.

“OK,” I said, “remind me of the elevator pitch for Hell To Play?”

“It is,” he replied, “a gameshow set in Hell hosted by the Devil. Two comedians compete to save their souls and all of the games revolve round people who live in or are destined to go to Hell.

“In Edinburgh, at the Fringe, it was a genuine underground success. We had people coming two or three times to see the show and we filled the room nearly every night. We’re trying to find a London home for it, so we’re doing a Christmas show at the Backyard where, for Christmas, the Devil is going to give people their souls. There’s the potential that I would write a new one every month.”

“Alright,” I told him, putting my iPhone on the table between us. “You know how this works. You get to plug something but you also have to tell me a humorous anecdote about something irrelevant and I will effortlessly blend the two together in an increasingly prestigious way.”

“You’ve got a formula now?” he asked.

“Same as it always was,” I said. “I get other people to come up with ideas for me.”

“I don’t like this at all,” Alexander told me. “You’ve streamlined the process and made it awful. You walk in, you sit down,  you throw a mobile phone at somebody, you get them to do the thing and you say: Right! Were you raped or have you ever been addicted to heroin? and then that’s a blog.”

“That’s it,” I admitted. “And your point is?”

“I went to the University of Westminster,” said Alexander.

“I’d forgotten that,” I said. “That’s a good link. That’s where you, I and Jihadi John, the ISIS beheader, went.”

“Yes,” said Alexander. “And Trisha and Jon Ronson, Charlie Brooker, several members of Pink Floyd…”

“This isn’t getting us anywhere for the blog,” I said.

Eleanor Morton, Joz Norris, Alexander Bennett, Michael , Brunstrom

Alexander in Edinburgh this year with Eleanor Morton, Joz Norris and Michael Brunström

“I’m going to do something different in Edinburgh next year,” suggested Alexander. “I haven’t been brave enough before now to do what I think my solo character should be like.”

“That sounds promising,” I said. “Any heroin or mental homes involved? Are you going to talk about your life?”

“No,” said Alexander. “No heroin or mental homes involved. Sorry. There are various things I would not talk about on stage yet, but I don’t have a problem opening up on stage. I just don’t think it’s particularly interesting. There are a whole streak of comics who think the best way to be a comedian is to really expose your own psychology. “

“Would you go study under Gaulier in Paris?” I ventured.

“If I had the money, I would,” Alexander told me,“because I think it’s interesting. There are some people I really like who have benefitted by going to Gaulier.”

“Well I think,” I told him, “it’s mostly just going on stage, staring at people and waiting for something to happen. I could do that. I suspect he’s destroyed some talented comedians because he tells them to go on stage unscripted and to live in the moment. I think going to Second City in Canada to study improvisation is probably better.”

“That’s probably more up my street,” said Alexander. “But it’s horses for courses. Different things work for different comedians. Gaulier has made some people better; it’s made some worse. It’s the same with the whole opening-up on stage and being yourself. It’s made some comedians better and some worse. The amount of comedians I still see in Edinburgh using it as therapy! That annoys me. Comedy is meant to be an entertainment, even if you’re making a serious point.”

“Have you heard of Stinker Murdoch?” I asked him.

“No. It sounds like a Johnny Sorrow reference.”

(R-L) Johnny Sorrow, Richard Drake and possibly deaf sound man

Johnny Sorrow (right) at the Edinburgh Fringe

“Ah!… “ I said. “Johnny Sorrow!”

“I love Johnny Sorrow,” said Alexander. “Was it you told me he had an audience of Japanese schoolgirls?”


“They thought he was brilliant and were trying to take photos of him in action but, every time they raised their cameras, he would stop what he was doing and do a silly pose. Eh? Clifton? The Guv’nor?… Me mother!… It’s a bloody big house!

The best piece of improvisation I’ve ever seen was Johnny Sorrow in the Manchester Comedy Festival at a gig where there were three people in the audience, one of whom was French and Johnny was screaming, standing on a table: You’ll never see this at Jongleurs!”

“You had to be there,” I suggested. “As is often the case with Johnny.”

“Yes. The first time I went to the Edinburgh Fringe,” Alexander continued, “I sat with Richard Rycroft and various people in the flat, doing THAT Johnny Sorrow joke in the way other comedians might tell it. Like Chris Rock.”

“Did you ever see Johnny Immaterial?” I asked. “Great act. Though he didn’t actually HAVE an act. Hello. the name’s immaterial. Johnny Immaterial.

“There’s another interesting guy in the Midlands, “ Alexander told me, “called Lozi Lee, who wanders into punchlines occasionally. These are the strange and interesting people.”

“Did you say you had an interest in hypnotism?” I asked.

“I was afraid of hypnotism,” said Alexander. “It was the only phobia I had. I was afraid of being hypnotised. When I was at film school, I wrote a short film about a hypnotist who did psychic things as well.”

“I think,” I told him, “I would be difficult to hypnotise.”

“The easiest people to hypnotise,” he replied, “are intelligent, imaginative people…”

“Exactly,” I said.

“…because, basically, the person who is being hypnotised is doing all the work themselves, so they need both those qualities to do it. I had a book at university about stage hypnotism.”

“Called?” I asked.

“I can’t remember the title, but it was by Ormond McGill and it gave me a little peek into how the world works. The implications of those things are gargantuan.  How people influence themselves without realising it. “

“Have you used that in your comedy?” I asked.

“The direction I’m trying to take the solo show next year,” he explained, “is that the experience is a little bit like being hypnotised. But it’s not going to be like the stuff I read in the book. You cannot be genuinely funny if you’re a hypnotist, because, for it to work, you need to have a sort of doctorly demeanour – that’s all part of the psychology which makes it work.

“There are comedy hypnotists, but the comedy and the hypnotism are very separated. It’s all presentation. There ARE certainly things like speaking softly: things you would associate with calmness. There are certain tropes like using the word ‘sleep’. Sleep is the wrong word for people who are hypnotised. It looks like they’re sleeping but they’re not.  People who are hypnotised are not unconscious. But, using that word – ’sleep’ – their brains know what to do.

Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge in Clockwork Orange

Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge in Clockwork Orange

“My solo show is hopefully going to be a bit like when Alex DeLarge has his eyes open in Clockwork Orange. That’s what I’m going for.”

“Have you tried to hypnotise people?” I asked.

“No, because learning how to do it it would take ages and, when I was reading the book, I was reading it at university, so the only people I was interacting with were fellow students or comedians and I couldn’t come across to any of those people in a doctorly, mysterious way. You couldn’t hypnotise a wife or partner or a parent.”

“What about a chihuahua?” I asked.

“There is,” replied Alexander, “a section in the book on how to hypnotise animals.”

“You’re joking.” I said.


“But they don’t understand what’s going on,” I said.

“Animals are odd,” explained Alexander, “because they have physical things. The way you hypnotise a frog is you hold it flat, between your two hands, turn it upside down and it will stay there. So it gives the impression of hypnosis. You must know the way to hypnotise a chicken?”

“Must I?” I asked.

“You hold it on the ground so its neck and head are pointing along the ground. Then you get a piece of chalk and draw a white line away from its beak and it will just stay there. You can pick it up and it will be limp and it will take a couple of moments to come to… There is a way of doing rabbits.”

Alexander Bennett and dog

Alexander Bennett with unhypnotised dog

“Are we still talking about hypnotism?” I asked.


“Other animals?”

“A lot of it is just turning them upside down.”

“I tried that with a woman,” I said. “It didn’t work.”

Alexander looked at me.

“No,” I said, “I don’t know what it means either. That’s why I am not a comedian.”

I left soon afterwards.

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‘Hated’ comic Alexander Bennett has an interest in serial killers’ lives & the link between comedy and horror punches

Alexander Bennett yesterday in London’s Chinatown

Alexander yesterday in London’s Chinatown

By paragraph 11 of this blog, I stare in open-eyed amazement at comedian Alexander Bennett and say WHAAAAAAAATTT????

Alexander first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011.

Next Monday in London, he will be performing a version of Alexander Bennett’s Afraid of The Dark, his 2013 Edinburgh Fringe show about a girl called Amy who started to hear voices in her head and then went missing. Alexander found her diary and the show involves him enacting her diary. Except neither Amy nor the diary is real. Alexander made them up.

“You’d be surprised what people think,” Alexander told me at Bar Italia in Soho yesterday.

“What do they think?” I asked.

“That it’s real, despite the fact there are obviously constructed jokes in the diary. At the end of the Edinburgh show, I had people come up to me saying Do you know what happened to her? – Yes I do, I told them. Happily ever after. She’s fictional. She got hit by a truck. There you go. I can change what happened to her.

“Why did you think of doing that show?” I asked.

“Because I’ve been doing comedy for a while and…”

“How long a while?” I asked.

“Well,” replied Alexander, “I’m 21 now and I…”

WHAAAAAAAATTT????” I said, shocked.

Alexander faces up to old age as a young man

Alexander really doesn’t look this young in the flesh

“Yes, I know,” said Alexander. “I look much, much older. When I was 18 and gigging in Manchester, an audience member guessed I was 35 and I was so depressed the gig went downhill from there on. A lot of my life has been women telling me they hate me.

“They come up to me and go Your hair’s great; do you mind if I touch it? – No, go ahead – And you don’t do anything to it? – No, I just wash it – It’s really good quality. I HATE you. That’s one reaction.

“The other one is 30-year-old women who are flirting with me who ask How old are you? When I say 21, they are initially annoyed and then they say You’re going to look like that for the rest of your life and then they are even more annoyed with me.”

“You are annoyingly young,” I said. “So you started performing comedy when you were 18?”

“No,” said Alexander. “When I was 15.”

“So,” I said, “you decided when you were 15 that you wanted to be a comedian?”

“No,” said Alexander. “I was younger than that. I loved cartoons – The Simpsons and Wallace & Gromit and all the Aardman Studios stuff. At first, I thought it was because they were cartoons. But then my dad showed me some Ronnie Barker shows and I realised Ah! The reason I like these shows is because they are funny! Then, from the age of 8 or so, I wanted to be Ronnie Barker. And I was watching John Cleese at around the same time.

Tall, aloof but older-looking John Cleese

Tall, aloof but older-looking John Cleese

“I can identify with John Cleese because I’m not a kind of smiley-happy comedian. I come across more authoritarian than loose. I can identify with Cleese because there’s a similar sort of aloofness. The first thing I ever wrote as a kid of 13 was about trying to bury someone who’s not dead.”

“You were writing at 13?” I asked. “I think I may be starting to hate you.”

“Yes,” said Alexander. “That always happens. When I was 16, I made a feature film that cost about £250 and had a crew of three people. It was a comedy horror called Love: A Mental Illness and it is about a stalker. The girl he’s stalking becomes very upset and he realises the reason she is upset is because all of her friends are horrible. So he goes through the process of getting rid of all these friends who are making her life a misery.”

“You did this aged 16?” I asked.

“Yes, that is why I don’t usually tell people my age,” said Alexander. “Because they will hate me. I am young in a way that irritates people.”

“I think I hate you,” I said. “Also, if you are 21, why aren’t you at university?”

“I am,” said Alexander.

“I think research before you meet people for a chat” I said, “is much over-rated.”

“I’m finishing a degree in film & television production.” explained Alexander, “which is a 90% practical course.”

“And you are particularly interested in….?” I prompted.

“My dissertation was on The British Identity in The Horror Film,” he replied.

“Not a lot of laughs in that,” I said.

“One of the greatest comedy films ever made”?

Rape, ultra-violence and “one of the greatest comedy films ever made”?

Clockwork Orange is one of the greatest comedy films ever made,” said Alexander. “That is 100% true. When I first watched it, I didn’t realise it was a comedy. The second time I watched it, I did. Clockwork Orange is hilarious; there are loads and loads of jokes all the way through it.”

“Well,” I said. “There is some vague connection between comedy and horror and I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if maybe laughter and fear release some of the same chemicals into to the body or something like that.”

“I think a lot of comedy has a horrific element to it,” said Alexander. “They say there’s a fine line between comedy and tragedy. Well, if you push that a little bit further…”

“I do think,” I said, that a lot of the great comedies which have lasted have been set in tragic situations. Hancock…”

“I completely agree,” said Alexander. “Steptoe and Son, Porridge. The idea of being trapped, which is central to all good sitcoms is essential to a lot of horror as well. Steptoe and Son are trapped in a relationship.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “And in One Foot in The Grave they’re trapped. A lot of their situations, if they actually happened, would be horrendous. Good comedy is when things go slightly wrong with reality and..”

“Comedy is a break in reality,” said Alexander, “and horror is kind of the same thing, really. The kind of punch in the stomach that can come with something that’s very tragic is very similar to the punch in the stomach that comes with that Ooohhh! of comedy. The ending of Planes, Trains and Automobiles… It’s a very tragic twist to the end of a comedy film.

“Another thing that horror does which comedy also does is it puts people in pressured spaces. All good horror films have a small group of characters who the film puts pressure on until all the relationships break down. And that is a very good description of any sitcom that works.”

“You like dark comedy…” I suggested.

The Mighty Boosh showing their textures

BBC TV’s Mighty Boosh showing some of their many textures

The League of Gentlemen, I think, is the best sketch show I’ve ever seen. The Mighty Boosh, as a television programme, is fantastic because there are so many textures. And Spaced had a very distinct visual grammar that serves what they’re doing very well.”

“You told me off-microphone,” I said, “that you are interested in serial killers.”

“I run a first-Tuesday-of-the-month comedy club called This Is Not a Cult and the basic structure of the show is I give people new rules to live their lives by. At my January night, I said to the audience: Name any serial killer and I will tell you when they lived and how many people they killed, because I have enough of a working knowledge of that sort of thing to be able to respond. Later on during the same show, I tried to flirt with a girl, having forgotten I’d revealed this aspect of myself. It’s not a great chat-up technique, is it?”

“Any comedy heroes?” I asked.

“My real heroes,” said Alexander, “are Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel and early Woody Allen. They all directed, performed and wrote. Stan Laurel ended up virtually directing all the Laurel & Hardy stuff.”

“So you like auteurs,” I said. “And you’ll have a new show at the Edinburgh Fringe in August?”

“Yes. Alexander Bennett: Follow Me. It’s about the people who are looked-up-to in society and I will prove why I’m better than all of them and convert the audience to my cause.”

“Which is?”

“That I’m brilliant. My stand-up persona is a man who thinks he knows how to run the world. I think my act is more a persona than a character. My life feeds into it and it’s presented in a way that is not necessarily me but is born of me. So it’s a persona not a character. I just take the worst aspects of my personality.”

“Which are?” I asked.

“Ego. I do think I’m brilliant, but I know that’s ridiculous. I do kind of think the world would run so much smoother if everybody would shut up and listen to me. But the guy on stage says things I don’t agree with. It’s a persona.”

There is a clip on YouTube of Alexander performing at the 2013 Chortle Student Comedy Awards.


Filed under Comedy, Horror, Humor, Humour, Movies, Television

The Greatest Show on Legs wearing Clockwork Orange noses for Dave Lee Travis’ Manfred Mann clown video

A couple of days ago, comedian Martin Soan was staying at my home and showed me a 1985 BBC TV clip he had found on YouTube in which DJ Dave Lee Travis introduced a BBC-specially-shot video for Manfred Mann’s 1966 song Ha Ha Said The Clown featuring The Greatest Show on Legs – Martin Soan, Malcolm Hardee and (as the clown) Steve Bowditch. You can see it HERE.

Steve Bowditch told me “I remember the director saying to Malcolm We need someone to be the clown and Malcolm said Bowditch can laugh... so I laughed and he gave me the job!”

“We never met Dave Lee Travis,” Martin told me. “All three of us went up to Birmingham. It was done in-house by the BBC. They gave it to young… they weren’t producers… Maybe they were trainees. They all had to put in ideas for pop videos and then a director shot it with a crew of about 20.

“I think it took three days to shoot. After two days, they’d done with Steve and Malcolm but I had to spend another day doing stuff in toilets and things like that.

“Toilets?” I asked.

“Toilets,” repeated Martin.

Clowning around on the sofa

Clowning around on the sofa – but Martin was being polite

“Steve and I had to get on top of the girl on the sofa. I did it very politely and got it out of the way within a couple of minutes. Bowditch then had to lie on top of her dressed as the clown and he took about three hours lying on top of her for that shot.”

“I was a bit dubious about the noses,” I said. “I seem to remember the rapists in Clockwork Orange wore those sort of noses.”

“I think President Reagan originally had Clockwork Orange eyebrows as well,” said Martin. “I’m not quite sure what they were trying to say. But the bit I remember most was where Steve, the girl and Malcolm marched across the screen.

“The director said: I just want you to go One-Two… One-Two… One-Two… Turn… One-Two… One-Two… One-Two…

Malcolm Hardee was completely out of step

Malcolm Hardee completely out of step with everyone

“When they did it, Malcolm was completely out of step. In the first direction, he was kicking the girl’s heels, then they turned round and he was treading on her feet. He was unintentionally completely out of kilter with absolutely everything. I was laughing and the director was looking horrified.

“They did it and Malcolm went: Alright! Oy! Oy! In the can! One-take Hardee! Stick a cheque in the post! and walked off, leaving everyone open-mouthed it was so bad… and then they all broke out laughing.

“I don’t think they attempted to do it again because I guess they thought: No… No… We could spend too much time on this.”

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“A Clockwork Orange”, Dr Jekyll and an actor’s death… Ars longa… Vita brevis…

The SHOCK SHOCK SHOCK poster for Dr Jekyll

The SHOCK SHOCK SHOCK film poster



That was the warning splashed across the movie posters.

Rubbish, of course.

The publicity, not the movie.

Hammer’s 1971 horror film Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde is actually an unusually well-scripted and well-produced (by Brian Clemens) and well-directed (by Roy Ward Baker) movie which mixes the original story with a lot of Jack The Ripper, a little Burke & Hare and a dash of sexual ambiguity.

The idea was suggested by Brian Clemens to Hammer Pictures’ boss Michael Carreras when they were having lunch at Elstree Studios. It was originally a joke, but Carreras liked the idea so much he had a poster designed and then made the movie.

It was made 41 years ago.

21 years ago, its star Ralph Bates died.

So it goes.

As well as several Hammer horror movies, he starred in BBC TV’s drama series Poldark and their comedy series Dear John.

Last night, I attended a screening of Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde at the Cinema Museum. Three actresses from the film were there: Martine Beswick, Irene Bradshaw and Virginia Wetherell,

Virginia Wetherell remembered the first day she met Ralph Bates on the set.

Martine Beswick aka Ralph Bates

Two-faced Martine Beswick & Ralph Bates

“He literally stabbed me in the back,” she said last night. “And, when he put his hand over my mouth, they went Right! Cut! We’ll break for lunch now! and I left with ox’s blood – real blood – all around my face and it stank. It dried really hard and, for continuity, you have to keep the shape exactly the same. So they said I’m really sorry. We’ll bring you up a drink but you cannot eat because the blood will all peel off…

“That was the first time I met Ralph and, two years later, I married him.”

Last night, she talked of her early movies.

Since then, as Virginia Bates, she has opened the very successful Virginia Antiques shop in Portland Road, London W11.

Coincidentally, her first film was Michael Winner’s West 11 but she also acted in thrillers by now almost forgotten cult director Pete Walker:

"The Big Switch" aka "Strip Poker"

Pete Walker’s movie “The Big Switch”

“A laugh-a-minute,” she said last night. “Working on a Pete Walker film, you were lucky if you got three weeks to do a full-length movie – including the editing and the dubbing. He just knocked ‘em out. If it snowed or rained or you fell over – too bad – it got put in the story. I fell over during filming on the West Pier in The Big Switch. I got up and Pete yelled: Go on! Go on, Virginia! Why are you stopping? and I said Because I’ve fallen over and I’m looking in camera! and he yelled Don’t matter! Don’t matter! Keep going! Keep going!… And we did.”

But she also appeared, just before Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, in the rather more prestigious A Clockwork Orange with the meticulously obsessive Stanley Kubrick directing.

“A genius,” Virginia said last night. “You just trusted this man like he was God. When I auditioned, the role was to play a psychiatrist, which I assumed involved wearing a white overall and maybe a stethoscope – though I did have to have my hair dyed blue.”

A Clockwork Orange pair of knickers

Stanley Kubrick needed a dozen knickers

She appeared in a late scene in which hero Alex is undergoing ‘The Ludovico Treatment’ and she tests the effectiveness of it.

“I was hanging around the set for three or four days and nobody said anything, nobody talked to me. I just turned up every morning. A car would pick me up at 5.30. Finally, it was my turn and we shot in Norwood Library and the whole of the auditorium was packed with people who were meant to be from the Ministry.

“I was a little confused because nobody, obviously, was given a script – but my role was a psychiatrist and I was waiting for this white overall  and then the assistant came up to me and said: Oh, I’ve been told by Mr Kubrick I‘ve got to take you shopping, but we have to wait now for the shop to open. It doesn’t open till nine o’clock.

“So eventually off we went to the local store in Norwood and we bought twelve pairs of knickers. Alright. Fair enough. So then Stanley puts them all down on the stage and says I want you to put those on, so I put them on and I walk and we go through them all until he decides which are the right pair – because that was my entire costume.

“If it had been Pete Walker, I wouldn’t have done it. I’d have said I don’t play those kind of roles! But Stanley Kubrick? I didn’t even think twice about it.”

The screening of Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde at the Cinema Museum last night was in aid of the Ralph Bates Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund which Virginia set up in her late husband’s memory.

Virginia Wether

Virginia Bates at the Cinema Museum last night

When he was diagnosed with cancer, she “was told nothing could be done and he only had between six and eight weeks left to live… He was performing on stage in the West End with a movie lined-up for the Autumn… He and our 13 year-old son William had enjoyed the summer together messing about in boats and he’d spent many evenings with Daisy, our daughter, helping her with lines for the TV series Forever Green… Ten weeks and one day later, Ralph died.”

So it goes.

It took two months for Ralph Bates’ cancer to be diagnosed.

“This, unfortunately, is one of the hazards of pancreatic cancer,” Virginia Bates said last night. “It is difficult to detect and, when it is detected, it is usually too late.”


No government funding. Donations are vital

The charity is based at St George’s Hospital in Tooting and, since 1993, has actively funded research into the disease.

Over 90% of all donations are spent on the research work; the Trustees receive no remuneration and no reimbursement of any expenses.

In 2007, it funded the purchase, via an operating lease, of endoscopic ultrasound equipment for St George’s.

The total cost was £183,000.

The research receives no direct government support apart from Gift Aid on qualifying private donations.

More information on the Fund’s website.

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The News of the World, the Profumo Affair and the planned military coup

(This blog was later published in The Huffington Post)

I studied journalism at college – well, radio, TV and journalism.

The man in charge of the journalism part of the course was the Production Editor of the News of the World. So we got lots of good lecturers – people like Cecil King, who had created Mirror Group Newspapers and the then-all-powerful IPC.

As a result, we got a very good insight into the real workings of the press and occasionally some great anecdotes.

One was about Rupert Murdoch’s take-over of the News of the World in 1969.

At the time, obviously, there was a lot of publicity about the re-launch of the ‘new’ Murdoch version of the paper and the News of the World’s TV ads promised one big thing – the REAL story of the 1963 Profumo Affair which had brought down Harold Macmillan’s government.

The News of the World had been a major player in the 1963 scandal and had interviewed almost everyone involved in the affair on tape at the time and had sworn affidavits from all and sundry.

But, when Rupert Murdoch took over the News of the World in 1969, he realised that, sitting in the basement in boxes of tapes and papers, there was much that had gone unpublished in 1963 – in particular about the sexual proclivities of Profumo’s wife, actress Valerie Hobson… and about exactly what type of sexual services Christine Keeler provided to Profumo (the UK’s Secretary of State for War) and to Yevgeny Ivanov, the senior naval attaché at the Soviet embassy in London.

However, when the News of the World published their ‘new’ stories about the Profumo Affair, they were just the re-heated previously-published stories. There was nothing new or earth-shattering.

Apparently this was because there had been such unrelenting legal, political and financial pressure on the News of the World that they had backed off. There were even stories of the police listening to tape recordings in one room while, next door, News of the World staffers were busily erasing parts of tapes.

I am a great fan of Doctor Who and, boy, do I wish I had a fully-functioning TARDIS so that I could come back in 100 years or 150 years and find out what had really been happening during my lifetime.

Cecil King, our occasional lecturer at college, was an interesting man because, with some good reason, he had an ego that engulfed any room he entered. Years later, it was claimed or revealed (two words that expose a gulf of possibilities) that he had, in 1968, talked to Lord Mountbatten (who was later assassinated) about the possible overthrow of Harold Wilson’s government with Mountbatten replacing the Prime Minister.

It seems to have been a relatively low-key bit of idle ego-boosting by Cecil, as opposed to the more seriously-thought-through plans for a military coup to overthrow the Wilson government in 1974-1975.

This plan for a military coup in the UK was briefly mentioned in some editions of Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times in 1987 but, I think, removed from later editions. The article does not seem to exist online at the Sunday Times, but I have the original newspaper cutting.

I did once ask the MP Dale Campbell-Savours about the ‘Cunard Affair’ – part of the plans for a military coup in the UK – as he had brought the subject up in the House of Commons. He asked me to phone him at home at the weekend, not at the House of Commons. I did. And he then told me he could not remember any details. “We were looking into a lot of things at the time,” he told me. “I can’t remember.” I always thought this was a little strange. However many murky affairs you were looking into, a planned military coup to overthrow the UK government (with a dry run during which tanks were taken to Heathrow Airport), might stick in the memory.

Only journalists or time travellers know the truth about history while it is actually happening.

The general consensus seems to be that the perceived necessity for a military coup in 1974/1975 lessened and became unnecessary when Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party in February 1975 and subsequently won the 1979 General Election. The so-called Operation Clockwork Orange in which Margaret Thatcher’s close adviser Airey Neave (who was later assassinated) may have been involved may also have had some effect.

Clockwork Orange and the linked Colin Wallace affair, in which he was framed and imprisoned for manslaughter after he claimed the security services had tried to rig the 1974 UK General Election, surely has the makings of a feature film. A pity the title has already been used.

Conspiracies and conspiracy theories are always gripping entertainment, especially if they are real and who knows what is real?

Earlier in this blog, I specifically wrote that both Lord Mountbatten and Airey Neave were peripherally involved in political machinations and were both later assassinated.

Paranoid conspiracy theorists could have a field day with that. But, of course, they were both assassinated by Irish terrorists for reasons totally, utterly unconnected with the alleged plots: they were assassinated because they were high-profile targets.

As for other matters, I always think it is healthy to maintain a certain level of paranoia. There was a saying circulating in the 1960s: No matter how paranoid you are, they are always doing more than you think they are.

I wish I could get a time machine and go forward 100 years to see what was really happening in the world during my life.

If only.

If only.

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The truth about “A Clockwork Orange” and why some movie critics deserve a colonoscopy

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned actor Rutger Hauer’s famous death speech in Blade Runner and someone complained on my Facebook page that, in fact, I should have credited the film’s writers – the screenplay was written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?

In fact, it’s almost inconceivable but true that Rutger Hauer actually made up the speech off the top of his head. I saw a TV interview with the film’s director, Ridley Scott, where he said Rutger just went over in a corner and came back with the speech in its entirety:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

It wasn’t in the script; it wasn’t in the book; the director didn’t write it; the actor made it up.

But the guy who complained about my crediting the actor not the writer is quite right in general. People tend to overlook who actually creates movies: the writers. Without them, zilch. A director may be brilliant – for example, David Fincher with Fight Club and The Social Network – but the 1950s French-spawned cult of the director is just as stupid as any other piece of intellectualising about movie-making.

It never fails to amaze me what pseudo-intellectual bullshit some so-called critics spout about the movies. When you create an academic subject, it seems that reality goes out the window and, rather than look at the movies, some people just look up their own arses

Last night, I went to a special screening of Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 movie If…. introduced by Sir Alan Parker. He had chosen If…. as the movie which had most influenced him, despite the fact that its director Lindsay Anderson didn’t much like him and had once (with John Schlesinger) sued him in the courts for defamation of character over a cartoon he had drawn.

In fact, it seemed, Alan Parker had mostly chosen If…. because he greatly admired its director of photography Miroslav Ondricek, not its director.

A lot of film criticism is utter twaddle written from the bizarre ivory towers of academia. I can never get over the stupidity of film courses which claim that the ideal movie is Casablanca and therefore, by extension, people should follow the example of Casablanca when writing a film script.

Casablanca was a terrible mess of movie production. The truth is that the actors – along with everyone else on the movie – had no idea what was going to happen at the end and had no idea if the Ingrid Bergman character was going to go off with Humphrey Bogart or Paul Henreid in the final scene, so could not tailor their performances accordingly.

Virtually each night, after completing a hard day’s shooting, they were given new script pages and script rewrites for the next day’s shooting. Neither the director not the producer and especially not the writers (credited as Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch with an uncredited Casey Robinson, based on the play Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison) – nobody – had any idea what was going on.

So the ideal way to shoot a movie would be (in this ludicrous theory) to start shooting with no finished script and actors who have no idea what their characters think or feel.

Much has been written about the fact that If…. has some sequences in colour and some in black & white. I had heard this was because they had run out of money and (surprisingly in 1968) it was cheaper to shoot in black & white.

Alan Parker said last night that he had heard the interiors of the church were shot in black & white because shooting in colour would have required much more lighting and, as a relatively low-budget film, they could not afford that, so Miroslav Ondricek shot with faster black & white film. The rest of the black & white sequences appeared to be simply random and done on a whim.

As for the auteur theory that the director creates and controls everything, at the summit of this must be Stanley Kubrick, who was a legendary control freak. There are stories of him going to suburban cinemas with a light meter and taking readings off the screen so he would know the intensity of light with which his films had to be screened for optimum viewing by ordinary audiences.

He insisted on take after take after take of scenes – sometimes 50 times for one shot – so that the lighting, framing, acting et al were perfect.

A Clockwork Orange is one film of his that has been written about endlessly

But, last night, Alan Parker said the star of A Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell, had told him that, when cast in the lead role of Alex, he wasn’t sure how to play the part and had asked Lindsay Anderson for advice. Anderson told McDowell to remember the slight smile he had put on his face as the character Mick Travis when entering the gym for the beating sequence in If…. and to play the character of Alex like that throughout A Clockwork Orange. McDowell said it was the best piece of direction he had ever received.

The auteur theory?

Academic film critics?

They might as well get a colonoscopy and stick the camera up their arse.

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