Tag Archives: films

Comedy critic Kate Copstick explains her work on French porn movies

This week’s 30-minute Grouchy Club Podcast discusses porn movies, the British comedy industry and the fact that co-host Kate Copstick got gang-mugged on a bus in Kenya last week. She had been working out there over the last three-and-a-half weeks for her charity Mama Biashara.

Among other things, the muggers stole her laptop computer.

This short extract from the podcast starts when I asked her about the stolen computer.

Grouchy_KateCopstick_JohnFleming

COPSTICK
What it had on it were six of my diaries – my blogs – and the already-rejected script for a French porn movie.

JOHN
Why was it rejected?

COPSTICK
Ahhhhhh…..

JOHN
We should establish you are not a newcomer to the French porn movie industry.

COPSTICK
Absolutely not. I’m delighted to say I’ve been working in and around the professional porn industry for quite some time. In fact, at least 50% of the money that started Mama Biashara came from porn. Given that I’ve rendered myself, for various reasons, pretty much unemployable within the television industry, the only way I get to make money these days is the occasional porn script, which pays 200 quid but, y’know, that buys a lot of pot noodle.

JOHN
90-minute films?

COPSTICK
Yeah. 90 minutes. Marc Dorcel Films, Paris. Anyway, I had written a script, then they changed their minds about what they wanted, so I re-wrote it, then they changed their minds again.

First of all, they wanted it finishing with this woman, this MILF, shagging her best friend’s daughter. Then they wanted her shagging a bloke with whom there was a lot of sexual tension; then they didn’t want the sexual tension; then they didn’t want her screwing her best friend’s daughter; and then they decided the big finish was going to be a gang-bang featuring a very well-known, very beautiful porn actress who’s well-known for not even doing anal.

And this is all for 200 quid.

I am out there saving lives (in Kenya), up to my nipples in slime, poverty and cholera and trying to think: Now, mmm… How do we get round this gang-bang situation.

JOHN
So you are actually writing this in your slum in Kenya?

COPSTICK
In my slum in Kenya, yup.

JOHN
Because you don’t live in luxurious hotels…

COPSTICK
I wish. I look at them as I go past.

JOHN
You did live in a  crate at some point, didn’t you?

COPSTICK
No. I’m living in a container, but it’s made into a little house. But that’s the last time. I can’t live there any more. because they’re demolishing the entire area. That’s what happens in slums. They’re not that permanent. You can go away and come back and find out your house just isn’t there any more.

JOHN
Can’t the crate be moved? That’s the thing with crates. Crates move.

COPSTICK
But it’s not my crate and it is being moved. It’s being moved out to Rongai which is a rural area on the outskirts of Nairobi.

JOHN
So you’re squatting in someone else’s crate…

COPSTICK
So I’m squatting in someone else’s… Well, I’m paying rent.

JOHN
Hold on… To support your charity work, you’re squatting in someone else’s crate in a slum writing porn scripts.

COPSTICK
Yeah.

JOHN
Good. I thought we should establish that.

COPSTICK
I tried Bono but, frankly, I find him morally reprehensible.

JOHN
Is ‘Bono’ some sort of porn term I don’t know?

COPSTICK
Several of them around.

JOHN
Have you ever indulged? You should co-star. You would make more money, surely.

COPSTICK
Indulge? No. I’ve got a couple of friends that I’ve roped in as extras.

JOHN
When you say ‘roped in’…

COPSTICK
Well… When I say male…

JOHN
When you say ‘roped in’…

COPSTICK
… and two females. I said: Do you wanna come along, hang out with some stunningly gorgeous women who are going to be naked all day…?

JOHN
When you say ‘hang out’…

COPSTICK
Well, it was like the Porn Week series that I did (on Channel 4). People came along on a holiday and they got to hang out on a porn set, share a hotel with the cast and crew and then, depending on how close you wanted to get to the action, you could either just sit and watch the scenes being shot or you could be the ‘lube’ guy… you could hold the porn box… There were a couple of movies where there were parts for extras. You got to fondle. A bit of fondling in a monk’s robe.

JOHN
Fluffing?

COPSTICK
No, no such thing as fluffing, John.

JOHN
That’s the wrong word?

COPSTICK
No, no, no. There’s no fluffing. Nobody has fluffed since the 1960s. They can’t afford them.

…AND THUS THE PODCAST CONVERSATION PROGRESSED…

YOU CAN HEAR THE FULL AUDIO PODCAST HERE

WE ALSO TESTED IT IN VISION ON PERISCOPE AND YOU CAN SEE THAT TEST ON YOUTUBE… BECAUSE IT WAS A TEST, THE FRAMING IS DODGY

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A little-remembered part of social history involving porn cinemas

The ever interesting Anna Smith

The ever interesting Anna Smith

Three days ago, I ran a piece in which Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, described thinking she had experienced an earthquake.

She later noticed that one of the ‘Likes’ on that blog was from an anonymous other blogger who mentioned bookstores and Baltimore.

“I hoped for a minute,” she told me, “that it was film director John Waters… But no, it doesn’t appear to be him. In a recent Globe and Mail article, Waters was lamenting the demise of the porn cinema – He is hosting a series showing ten classic porn films.

“He observed that when people went (to a cinema) to view porn films it used to be a social activity whereas now, although there is a limitless variety of subject matter available, it has become a solitary experience. Having danced in porn cinemas on three continents I have to say that I am also sad to see them go. John Waters said that most of the ones in the U.S.A. have been turned into churches.”

Now, I have been around an awfully long time and I do remember old-style porn cinemas, but I don’t think I was ever in one.

Actually, that may not be true: I may have bizarrely seen a screening of BBC TV’s then-banned documentary The War Game in a porn cinema near Piccadilly Circus.

There were only ever two porn films which appealed to me.

One was She Lost Her You-Know-What because it was billed as ‘based on a story by Alexandre Dumas’, which I found intriguing. I can find no trace of this movie at all, but I swear-to-god I saw it advertised when I was reviewing films for (I think at that time) the International Times.

Title caption for the little-remembered 1973 movie

The title caption for the little-remembered 1973 porn movie

The other porn film which appealed to me certainly exists: a 1973 UK/German short called Snow White and the Seven Perverts (Schneeflittchen unter die Sieben Bergen – which Google Translate confusingly reckons literally means Snow Hussy Among The Seven Mountains).

My understanding is that the Walt Disney company threatened to sue the film-makers, rather dubiously claiming copyright on the title Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (surely a Brothers Grimm original?), so the producers then re-titled their magnum opus Some Day My Prince Will Come.

I thought: These producers are creatively interesting.

Anyway, the concept of having live dancers perform in a porn cinema sounded to me unnecessarily spendthrift for presumably very financial sensible porn cinema entrepreneurs. So I asked Anna Smith for her expert knowledge on the subject.

“It was around the time when VCRs first appeared.” she told me. “For the first time, people could watch porn movies at home. So the porn cinemas were desperate to get their audiences back and brought in live dancers, who were billed as ‘feature acts’.

Snow White & The Seven Perverts: NOT a Walt Disney film

Snow White – not the Disney version. Maybe a bit Grimm

“I first danced in cinemas in Toronto and really enjoyed it… It was the first time I got to dance in a place where there was no smoking. Also, it was a theatre setting rather than a nightclub, so the audiences were not drunk and were more attentive. Our pictures appeared in newspaper ads, our names were on the marquees and some places even had graphic artists who painted our names on lobby cards.”

So there you have it: a little-remembered part of social history involving porn cinemas.

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Why you can do nothing if the BBC or anyone else steals your TV or film idea

The figure of Justice - blindfolded to avoid seeing any truths

Justice, as always, is blind in the UK

I went to a Creative England ‘crew night’ at Elstree Studios last night.

In theory, these evenings are a chance for people to sell their services – as camera people, accountants, make-up artists, prop suppliers and the rest – to producers, directors and production companies. In practice, it mostly turns out to be suppliers of such services talking to other suppliers of similar services and to recently-graduated film students while they desperately look over their shoulders for non-existent producers, directors and production company executives.

I went because Elstree Studios are at the end of my high street in Borehamwood and because I correctly guessed there would be free egg sandwiches and crisps. I am an overweight man without shame.

I got chatting to an enthusiastic young man who foolishly started talking to me because (I think) he figured anyone as old and overweight as me must be a good bet for an established figure with finance to spare.

How wrong can an enthusiastic young man be?

“I’ve got this great idea,” was his opening gambit.

Mistake Number One.

Never tell a stranger your idea. They may steal it.

If a large, established film company wants your idea, they will probably just pay you money and give you a producer credit.

If a successful, well-financed film company simply steals your idea, you can do nothing about it. They will out-finance you in any legal case and, if you abandon your case, you will be liable for their costs.

If a small film company steals your idea they may possibly, if you are lucky, give you a percentage of the film’s net profit (which will be zero), no salary and a producer credit.

If a small film company screws you and makes an unsuccessful film from your idea and you sue them, you are throwing your money away in legal costs because the film made no money and there are no profits in which you can share.

If a small film company screws you and miraculously makes a successful film from your idea, gets shedloads of money and you sue them then, again, they will simply out-finance you and, if you abandon your case, you will be liable for their costs.

If a TV company steals your idea, you are similarly screwed.

You cannot afford to sue a TV company. They will out-finance you in the legal process and, if you abandon your case, you will be liable for their costs.

Malcolm Hardee outside Grover Court in 1995

Malcolm Hardee told the man from the BBC to “Fuck off!”

Many years ago, the late Malcolm Hardee and I had an idea for a 26-part TV series. It would be made either as an independent production for the BBC or, more probably, as a BBC series with us as producers/associate producers or in some way involved and paid. We mapped out the structure and detailed series format.

We suggested our idea to the excellent and entirely trustworthy Janet Street-Porter who, at that time, was Head of Youth at BBC TV. She liked it and passed it upward to Alan Yentob who, at that time, was Controller of BBC2. He said he wanted to do it.

This was early in the year.

By autumn, the legendarily indecisive Yentob had changed his mind and decided he did not want to make the series. It may have been for budgetary reasons. Or on a whim.

But fair enough. No problem.

The idea, pretty much, had to be made as a BBC production/co-production or not at all because it partially relied on a lot of the BBC’s archive material.

About three years later (I can’t be exact) Malcolm received a phone call from someone at the BBC saying they were thinking of making a 26-part TV series and could they talk to him about putting them in touch with various people. The proposed BBC TV series had the same title as our idea, was on the same subject and had the same structure. There was no mistaking the rip-off.

Malcolm told the BBC man to fuck off and laughingly told me about the phone call. The BBC had forgotten from whom they had stolen the idea and had approached the very person they had nicked it from.

But it is not as simple as that.

Ideas are only ideas and two people can separately have an entirely original idea.

That was not the case with our idea, as the structure and even the title of the series was what we had suggested. It had been blatantly ripped-off, though it was never actually made.

Oddly, in the UK, the BBC has a worse reputation for stealing ideas than ITV, Channel 4 and the small independent producers. I suspect this is because of size.

I suspect what happened with our idea (which had been given a provisional go-ahead as a general, well-formatted idea for a BBC project but had not had any concrete work done on it) was that it had been discussed by and mentioned to various people and, three years later, someone simply plucked it from their memory without remembering or caring how it had got into their mind.

Channel 4 has fewer reasons to steal ideas

Channel 4 is less likely to steal

Channel 4 has no corporate reason to steal ideas: it commissions but does not make programmes. And, unlike the BBC and ITV, small independents (by and large) have no standing staff crews. They do not have staff instantly available for projects. They get ideas commissioned and then employ people on a project-by-project basis.

So, if you take an idea to them and you have all the contacts, knowledge and experience, they might as well bring you in as part of the production team and possibly (though rarely) cut you in on a small percentage of the money because it is easier to use your knowledge rather than employ someone who has to get to the state of knowledge you already have. Also, it is not the production company’s money; they can insert you into the production process within the budget which gets agreed by the commissioning channel; you become part of the overheads.

With the BBC, there are large numbers of staff on the payroll, so it is psychologically easier to rip-off external people’s ideas because the BBC is a vast organisation; and it is practically easier to rip you off because there are people already on the ongoing BBC payroll who can get together all the facts, contacts and research required.

It is easier to screw you and the person screwing you will probably not even be the person you gave your idea to.

It will be their boss or their boss’s boss or another producer who heard the idea from another producer who heard it from the secretary of the person you originally told.

So…

– There is simple theft of an idea.

– There is second-hand theft of an idea.

– There are cases where people have genuinely forgotten they heard the idea from someone else and think it is their own new idea.

– And there are cases where two unconnected people have simply come up with exactly the same idea because it is a concept whose time has come.

Whatever.

You can send manuscripts, plot outlines, formats and everything to yourself or your solicitor in strongly sealed envelopes by registered post and not open them when you receive them – thus being able to prove that you had a specific idea in detail on a specific date…

But, by and large, if a TV or film company or a producer decides to rip off your idea, there is nothing you can do about it unless you win the Lottery.

So it goes.

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Filed under Copyright, Movies, Television, Writing

Late producer Gerry Anderson on his TV success, movie catastrophes and the state of pre-Thatcher Britain

(This was also published by Indian news site WSN)

Yesterday, British TV and film producer Gerry Anderson died, aged 83.

Back in the media mists of 1979, I interviewed him. This was just  two years after Margaret Thatcher was elected for her first term as British Prime Minister. Earlier this year, I posted the interview in three of my daily blogs.

Below, those three blogs are combined, in their original, unchanged 1979 form.

* * *

Producer Gerry Anderson is best known for Thunderbirds and Space 1999, but his career dates back 23 years; it includes thirteen TV series and three feature films. For sixteen of those years, he worked for the expansive (Lord) Lew Grade, boss of ATV and its subsidiary ITC. The ending of that long working relationship seems to have left at least a trace of bitterness.

Anderson is a Londoner. He was born on 14th April 1929 in West Hampstead and educated in Kilburn, then Neasden – “I lived in Neasden,” he says. “What can I say? I can’t deny it.” His father supplied cigarette machines which ordinary people kept in their living rooms. The business was literally run from a cupboard under the stairs. Anderson Sr acquired customers by knocking on doors and asking: “Would you like this French-polished cigarette machine in your house?”

One of young Gerry’s first ambitions was to be an architect. In fact, he says, he would still like to design his own house but, whenever he’s had the money, he’s had no time… and whenever he’s had time he’s had no money. In his early days, he went to Building School and studied plastering. However, after an accident, he discovered he was allergic to plaster. So he went to work in a photographer’s studio in Regent Street and became interested in the visual medium.

He soon moved on to the post-war Colonial Film Unit at the Ministry of Information. He says that was “when we still had a British Empire – Before Lew Grade bought it all”. After that, Anderson moved to Gainsborough Pictures (at what is now BBC Lime Grove Studios). He worked in the cutting rooms on The Wicked Lady, So Long at The Fair, Jancy, Caravan and various other movies.

At this point, he was called up for National Service with the RAF and (he claims) his IQ was so low he “was offered the choice of the cookhouse or the military police”. In fact, he became a radio telephone operator, guiding aeroplanes in to land – this started his interest in flying.

After military service, he returned to the film industry and worked as a sound editor at Pinewood Studios, where director Lewis Milestone gave him the advice: “It’s impossible to please everybody, so please yourself”.

Anderson says: “I’ve tried to follow that advice without any success at all.”

Spreading his wings, he went to a small company, Polytechnic Films of Maidenhead. He worked for them on a series of documentaries about unusual people – a man in Austria who lived for a year in a bottle… a woman who could type in ten languages simultaneously… a man who hypnotised crocodiles. The series was called You’ve Never Seen This. No-one did; the company went bankrupt.

He stayed in Maidenhead to form AP Films with Arthur Provis in 1955. Their premises were a disused ballroom at Islet Park and, eventually, they were commissioned to make a 52-part series for the newly-created ITV. It was only after they agreed to the project that Anderson and Provis discovered it was to be a puppet series: The Adventures of Twizzle. This led to Torchy The Battery Boy, then Four Feather Falls for Granada TV (with Nicholas Parsons as the voice of Tex Tucker).

These series proved a success, so the Anderson company moved to a factory on the Slough Industrial Trading Estate. There they made Supercar for Lew Grade’s ATV. That was followed by Fireball XL-5, the only Anderson series to be networked in the US. Following that success, Lew Grade told Anderson: “I am going to buy your company”.

First series after the take-over was Stingray, which was also the first British TV film series made in colour. Then there was the world-wide success of Thunderbirds. Followed by what Anderson calls the “tragic error” of Captain Scarlet. – The heads and bodies were made in realistic proportion to each other, so the puppets stopped being caricatures and this, he thinks, was unacceptable to the viewers. Anderson’s last two Supermarionation series were Joe 90 and The Secret Service. He then went into live-action with UFOThe Protectors and Space 1999.

But, for all this success, Gerry Anderson is not a totally happy man. He’s had great success and everyone can understand success. But he’s also had sudden commercial failures which, to this day, he cannot explain. Also, three years ago, his marriage to Sylvia Anderson broke up. It happened between the two series of Space 1999 – a show which itself must have been tiring because of the much-publicised production and front-office problems.

Since then, in his own words, he has been “marking time”. His company Gerry Anderson Marketing currently has the lucrative European merchandising rights to pop group Abba. Last year, he also made a Supermarionation TV ad Alien Attack for Jif Dessert Topping – the only ad he has done apart from three award-winning ones for Blue Cars (a travel agent) in the late 1950s.

I interviewed Gerry Anderson in his office at Pinewood, the studios where he worked after National Service and where Space 1999 was shot. He is a surprisingly quiet man who is very polite and whose apparent policy in interviews is to be as helpful, honest and open as possible. He talks quietly and reasonably slowly, as if choosing his words carefully. Presumably, he is a man made wary by a great deal of contact with media corporations. He worked with Lew Grade and ATV/ITC for sixteen years and, as he says, “sometimes it’s better to be a big cog in a small machine, rather than a small cog in a big machine.”

* * *

At last year’s Fantasy Film Convention, you said Thunderbirds was the highlight of your career to date.

Well, I think I would probably stand by that statement. When I was making Thunderbirds, it was not the highlight of my career. It was a terrible chore with horrible little puppets whose strings kept on breaking and whose eyes went cross-eyed and it constantly shortened my life. We got very little footage in the bag every day. It was a long, laborious, painful process. There were many films that didn’t work and were weeks in the cutting rooms being repaired and new shots being made.

So, at the time, I think my attitude was that puppets were a pain and the quicker I get out of this the better. But, looking back, people would say: “Gerry Anderson – Thunderbirds,” and there would immediately be a crowd wanting autographs. That series brought me real fame. I think it did more for me than anything before or since.

Lew Grade of ATV, who commissioned it, changed his mind about the format, didn’t he?

I think really what happened is that he ordered a half-hour show and, when we delivered the pilot, it was such a fast-moving, unusual and action-packed show that he obviously screened it to a few people and somebody must have said, “What a shame it isn’t an hour!” So he called me up and said: “Can you turn it into an hour?” And I said: “Look! We’ve completed the first one. We’ve got eight more shot. We’ve got about six more scripted! My God!” But he has a marvellous way with him inasmuch as he puts his arm round you and says: “Y’know, Gerry, I have such faith in you! I know that if I told you it meant a lot to me, you somehow or other would do it.” How can you resist that? So we did it.

And the three US Networks bid for it, but didn’t screen it.

I was not present at the meetings. I have never been involved in the sale of the programmes and therefore I don’t know the whole story. But certainly Lew went to America and came back with two of the three Networks having made an offer for it. When he got back to London Airport, he was tannoyed and when he went to the telephone it was the other Network saying they wanted to bid for it as well. I don’t know what happened, but the deal fell through.

Since this is going into print, I can only speculate. Whether he asked too much money or whether they had second thoughts or whether there are some politics I’m simply not aware of… I don’t know the reason, but I know that one Network dropped out and then, of course, panic set in – “I wonder why they’ve dropped out!” – and the next one went and then BANG all three went. And that was tragic. I say tragic for me – I mean, it must have been tragic for Lew. Let’s face it, he must have been bitterly upset about it.

You made two Thunderbirds feature films which seemed to be quite successful.

They weren’t successful. They were terrible failures.

How did they get financial backing?

Lew had made Thunderbirds Are Go on spec. United Artists saw it and picked it up immediately. They were so impressed with the picture. David Picker who, at the time, was with United Artists, when the lights went up turned to me and said, “Whatever subject you want to make, Mr Anderson, it’s yours.”

When it went out for its premiere, Piccadilly was blocked. It caused more of a stir in Piccadilly than the Abba premiere. It was a wonderful premiere and it was absolutely packed. Everybody cheered and I remember leaving the cinema and the manager said, “You get a picture like this and they start queuing up at four o’clock in the morning”. We went back to the Hilton, where they’d made all the vehicles in ice – a fabulous party. The head of UA at the time said to me, “I don’t know whether it’s going to make more money than Bond or not. I can’t decide.” I was sitting there (thinking I was) already a millionaire. I mean, all these experienced people: how could they all be wrong?

The next day, the Dominion, Tottenham Court Road (a large London cinema) had about ten people in it.

How was it promoted?

Well, I made a film called Doppelganger with Universal which had lousy promotion. But, I’ve got to be fair about this, Thunderbirds Are Go! was superbly promoted. The Dominion had all the vehicles made in fluorescent lights – a fantastic display. It was well-advertised. It went out over Christmas. But it failed. And I went to my local cinema and there were like five people in the back row and three down the front and that was it.

So why did they make Thunderbird 6?

I think the reason they made the second film was that nobody could believe that this thing had failed. They didn’t know what the mistake was but somewhere there was a mistake. Perhaps it was the wrong story. Perhaps it was released at the wrong time of year. Perhaps they built it up too much in the minds of the potential audience. I don’t know. Anyway, they had to try again. They tried again and the same thing happened!

Why did your film Doppelganger have its title changed for the American market?

Well, you know, I’m not too anxious to knock the Americans on this one. I thought Doppelganger was a fabulous title. A friend of mine thought of it and I thought it was a very, very good show, but I’m not exactly sure the Americans aren’t right inasmuch as they try very hard to get an immediacy into their titles, which gives you an idea of what it is you’re going to see. And, rightly or wrongly, they felt that the average person would not understand the title Doppelganger. So they changed it to Journey to the Far Side of the Sun.

The interesting thing about the whole exercise is that I insisted that it should be called Doppelganger over here because I thought it was an interesting word and, if people didn’t understand what it meant, they would find out. It made the film sound rather unusual. But it failed in Britain and America. Which goes to prove something or other. I’m not sure what it proves, but it certainly proves something.

Doppelganger got nasty reviews. ‘Puppets without strings’ reviews.

Well, generally speaking, I think critics (pause) like to write clever lines. And some subjects make it all too easy. What a great line – “The actors are wooden… Gerry was pulling the strings” and so on. (Pause) I don’t think that their criticism was unfounded. I just think it was wildly out of proportion.

Doppelganger was live-action. You were trying the same thing on TV with UFO.

Yes.

Was that because you had saturated the market for TV puppet series? You were competing with re-runs of your own series?

Well, I think we had saturated the market and I think Lew knew that I wanted to do live-action. I think people were beginning to say, “Lew, you can do this with puppets… If you can do it with live-action… you can clean up!” And so we did UFO and, like a lot of things, it was ahead of its time. I think if it was in production today, with all these UFO sightings going on, it would be marvellous.

We had a bit of bad luck on UFO because there were a lot of sightings at the time but, when the programme was halfway through being shot, the US Army Air Force issued the findings of an inquiry they’d been conducting for about two years. And they said categorically, “There are no UFOs”. It did tend to kill interest in the subject for quite a long time.

UFO almost went into a second series, I believe.

Well, the second series was really Space: 1999.

The Space:1999 series was refused by all three US Networks despite its very high production values. Why?

I think the reason is all too clear now. (Pause) It was ‘serious’ science fiction. On the other hand, so was Star Trek. But, you know, Star Trek got away with it because of (studio) politics. A studio (Desilu) was sold to a Network (NBC) and part of the condition was that they bought Star Trek with it. Then they took it off the air and 12,000 fans – who were probably the only people who watched it in the States – went to NBC and demanded its return. And then it became a cult show. But, I mean, it never had high ratings ever. It’s a show all on its own. I think Space: 1999 suffered from being British.

It didn’t get networked in Britain either. Why do you think that was?

I don’t know the answer to that. I wish you could tell me.

Well, at the time, programme planners for regional ITV companies were very jealously guarding their control over films and film series. There was a lot of resistance over networking film series.

I really don’t know. When I see some of the rubbish that is networked…

It was shoved away into Saturday morning slots on some ITV stations.

Well, I think we were killed before we even started. If you don’t get simultaneous networking, then the newspapers aren’t interested in commenting; if they don’t comment, people don’t watch; it’s like the hoola hoola bird going in ever-decreasing circles until you disappear up your own channel.

I heard somewhere that the original stars of Space: 1999 were to have been Katharine Ross and Robert Culp.

Not Katharine Ross. Robert Culp was interviewed. We met in Beverly Hills. I’m a great fan of his because he’s a very, very competent actor and has a very great charisma. He arrived and I said, “Right, I’ll tell you what the series is about…” And he said, “Look, before you tell me what the series is about, may I say a couple of things?” So I said, “Certainly.” He said, “First of all, I am a superb actor.” And I said, “Yes. That’s why we’ve invited you here.” He said, “Fine. But what is not generally known is that I am also an outstanding writer.” So I said, “Well that, I must confess, I didn’t know.” And he said, “Finally, I am an even better director.” Now all of those statements may well be true. But, knowing what television production means, where you’ve got one picture a fortnight going through – one hour every ten days – in my view the lead artist hasn’t got the time or the physical strength to cope with leading the series and be involved with the writing and also criticise the direction.

I felt that this would be a great danger and so, very politely, I said, “Thank you very much and goodbye.” And, equally politely, he said, “Thank you very much. Goodbye.” We didn’t have any kind of argument. I respected his point of view. Whether he respected me, I don’t know. But the interview terminated there.

That poster on your wall is for the new Space: 1999 film , isn’t it?

Yes. I think Destination – Moonbase Alpha, is going to be damn good entertainment, particularly for people who like science fiction. What I think is a great shame is that here we have Superman on screen with its $50 million or whatever budget. Close Encounters with its $20 million budget. We’ve got some mighty expensive pictures on the screen at the moment. Even Star Wars was almost $10 million when it was made and probably now the same picture would be $25 million. With Destination – Moonbase Alpha we have two television episodes (Bringers of Wonder, Parts 1 & 2) strung together and the title reads: Sir Lew Grade Presents a Gerry Anderson Production and it doesn’t say it’s two television episodes strung together. The damage it does is that people who’ve seen all these (other) fabulous pictures now go and see that and say, “I would’ve expected something a bit better than that from Gerry Anderson.”

I’ve heard you say you’d like to move more into theatrical presentations.

Well, hopefully I’ll never see television again. That means if I were offered a good television series this afternoon I would crack a bottle of champagne and celebrate and do it and love every minute of it. But it is such a terrible strain, producing one hour a week, that I would much prefer to do theatrical – that is cinema – pictures. At the time of this interview, I’m at the point of a very, very big breakthrough. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it’s about or who’s involved because it would spoil the chances of the picture going.

Is it for a studio or for an independent?

It is a major subject with a major studio, a major director and a major star. And a fantasy subject. We’re right on the knife-edge at the moment.

If it works out, you’ll be producing again. Why do you produce rather than direct?

I always wanted to direct and I made the fatal mistake of thinking if I start my own film company and I’m making my own pictures, when it comes to the director, I will be able to direct. That’s how I hoped to become a director. Instead of which, you find you are so busy organising production that, when it comes to the crunch, you have to take somebody else on because you can’t handle it yourself.

You have directed, though.

When we first started, I directed 26 Twizzles, 26 Torchys, 52 Four Feather Falls, the pilot of UFO – I’ve directed an awful lot of our stuff.

Do you think you’re a bankable director?

No, certainly not. Because most of the films I’ve directed have been puppet films and bankable directors are directors who have directed theatrical (cinema) pictures that have made millions of dollars. I haven’t directed any theatricals, so I can’t be bankable.

You were saying there are a lot of big-budget films around at the moment. There’s a danger in big budgets, isn’t there? With a big budget you do what’s easiest whereas, with a small budget, you have to be more creative.

Well, this is Gerry Anderson feeling sorry for himself. I think, in an ideal world, people who have for years worked on a small budget and therefore got the very best out of each pound or dollar… when science fiction took off, those were the people who should have been given the chance to take the big budgets and produce something really sensational. But business doesn’t work that way. Americans are so much more adventurous than British people at the moment. They get the money and they arrive at London Airport with their sack containing $20 million and they’re certainly not going to come into a British studio and say, “Can you recommend a British producer to whom I can give this $20 million so that he can make himself a fortune?”

That is not going to happen so, consequently, people like myself have not benefitted from this tremendous book in science fiction. It is, in the main, American money. The profits, as in the case of Star Wars, which was shot in Britain, will go back to America to encourage further investment for new American producers. British technicians have gained, but that’s short-sighted. The profits are going back to America. They are not remaining here and they will not fund future British productions.

Why do you think it’s so difficult to get backing in Britain?

Why do I think that is? Why, as we sit here, are we likely to have a State of Emergency in the next 48 hours? Because, sadly, this lovely country of hours which, at one time, had so many wonderful qualities, is falling apart. People don’t think any more; people are lazy here; people don’t want to work; people don’t want to take chances; people are out of touch with new ideas. It’s a national disease.

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Advice on four ways to make money illegally in movies and sport

No 1: Become a movie producer

This morning, I was reading an old interview with famed Hollywood scriptwriter Tom Mankiewicz, in which he mentioned big-budget movie producer Alexander Salkind, one of whose productions was the 1978 Superman film starring Christopher Reeve, which Mankiewicz scripted.

If you make a big-budget international movie, you have a perfect excuse to move money, people and odd pieces of complicated props and machinery with space in which to hide things backwards-and-forwards between countries without arousing suspicion.

Salkind was a rather dodgy character who occasionally came to the attention of the authorities. I vaguely remember him once getting arrested by police – I think for fraud – and unexpectedly producing a diplomatic passport, which gave him immunity from prosecution. My memory is that it was a Panamanian diplomatic passport, but Tom Mankiewicz says Salkind, in fact, paid the government of Costa Rica to secretly make him their cultural attaché to Switzerland. This would give him, he thought, total diplomatic immunity.

But the scam did not work 100%, according to Mankiewicz. In the United States, where there was a warrant out for his arrest, the FBI said: “I’m sorry, cultural attaché from Costa Rica to Switzerland doesn’t cut it with us. That’s not a diplomatic passport as far as we’re concerned.”

Which is why Salkind did not and could not ever show up for any of his movie openings in the US.

Who knows what was happening to the money Salkind was moving from country to country in large amounts?

But it reminded me of three sporting scams which worked… mostly.

No 2: Hide the drugs inside something very high profile

I was told that one particularly creative heroin smuggling gang managed to get a man working inside the team of a Formula 1 World Champion. The heroin was transported from country to country inside the World Champion’s racing car (without his knowledge). After all, which brave Customs man is going to dismantle the World Champion’s hi-tech racing car to search for drugs?

Perhaps small scale for heroin smuggling, but it worked.

No 3: Steal money from people who are taking bribes

I was once also told the true story of a top British champion jockey (now dead) who was being paid to lose races (to help a betting scam). Obviously, he received the money in cash and, to avoid ‘misunderstandings’, he got it at the racecourse immediately after the race. On one occasion, he was paid for losing a race, then had to be helicoptered elsewhere for another high-profile race before being returned to the first racecourse. So he left the money (several thousand pounds) in the boot of his car.

A criminal who heard about this arrangement, simply stole the money from the boot while the jockey was away. When he returned, it was assumed by the jockey to be a random car theft and, of course, the theft of the bribe could not be reported to the police as a crime.

As near to a perfect crime as you can get.

No 4: Go to the dogs

On an even more admirably creative level, a British comedian with criminal links in his past told me a story about the ‘wrong’ dog coming round the final bend at Romford Stadium and someone throwing four footballs onto the track in front of the dogs to cause chaos and get the race abandoned.

The late comedian Malcolm Hardee, inevitably, topped this story by telling me he had once shared a prison cell with a man nicknamed ‘Teddy Bear’. This odd nickname came about because the man had been paid to stand by the rail at various stadiums around the UK and, if the ‘wrong’ dog was winning, he would throw a teddy bear onto the track. The dogs then went crazy and tore it apart, stopping the race. “His great talent,” explained Malcolm, “was that he could run very fast after he had thrown the teddy bear.”

I can only presume that, on one occasion, he failed to do this fast enough.

Crime does not always pay.

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Gerry Anderson on making movies and the state of the pre-Thatcher UK in 1979

In blogs earlier this week, I ran an intro and the first part of an interview I had with TV and film producer Gerry Anderson in 1979. The interview was published  two years after the first Star Wars movie had been released and one month before Margaret Thatcher was elected for her first term as British Prime Minister. This is part of the conclusion of that interview…

Your series Space:1999 was refused by all three US Networks despite its very high production values. Why?

I think the reason is all too clear now. (Pause) It was ‘serious’ science fiction. On the other hand, so was Star Trek. But, you know, Star Trek got away with it because of (studio) politics. A studio (Desilu) was sold to a Network (NBC) and part of the condition was that they bought Star Trek with it. Then they took it off the air and 12,000 fans – who were probably the only people who watched it in the States – went to NBC and demanded its return. And then it became a cult show. But, I mean, it never had high ratings ever. It’s a show all on its own. I think Space: 1999 suffered from being British.

It didn’t get networked in Britain either. Why do you think that was?

I don’t know the answer to that. I wish you could tell me.

Well, at the time, programme planners for regional ITV companies were very jealously guarding their control over films and film series. There was a lot of resistance over networking film series.

I really don’t know. When I see some of the rubbish that is networked…

It was shoved away into Saturday morning slots on some ITV stations.

Well, I think we were killed before we even started. If you don’t get simultaneous networking, then the newspapers aren’t interested in commenting; if they don’t comment, people don’t watch; it’s like the hoola hoola bird going in ever-decreasing circles until you disappear up your own channel.

I heard somewhere that the original stars of Space: 1999 were to have been Katharine Ross and Robert Culp.

Not Katharine Ross. Robert Culp was interviewed. We met in Beverly Hills. I’m a great fan of his because he’s a very, very competent actor and has a very great charisma. He arrived and I said, “Right, I’ll tell you what the series is about…” And he said, “Look, before you tell me what the series is about, may I say a couple of things?” So I said, “Certainly.” He said, “First of all, I am a superb actor.” And I said, “Yes. That’s why we’ve invited you here.” He said, “Fine. But what is not generally known is that I am also an outstanding writer.” So I said, “Well that, I must confess, I didn’t know.” And he said, “Finally, I am an even better director.” Now all of those statements may well be true. But, knowing what television production means, where you’ve got one picture a fortnight going through – one hour every ten days – in my view the lead artist hasn’t got the time or the physical strength to cope with leading the series and be involved with the writing and also criticise the direction.

I felt that this would be a great danger and so, very politely, I said, “Thank you very much and goodbye.” And, equally politely, he said, “Thank you very much. Goodbye.” We didn’t have any kind of argument. I respected his point of view. Whether he respected me, I don’t know. But the interview terminated there.

That poster on your wall is for the new Space: 1999 film , isn’t it?

Yes. I think Destination – Moonbase Alpha, is going to be damn good entertainment, particularly for people who like science fiction. What I think is a great shame is that here we have Superman on screen with its $50 million or whatever budget. Close Encounters with its $20 million budget. We’ve got some mighty expensive pictures on the screen at the moment. Even Star Wars was almost $10 million when it was made and probably now the same picture would be $25 million. With Destination – Moonbase Alpha we have two television episodes (Bringers of Wonder, Parts 1 & 2) strung together and the title reads: Sir Lew Grade Presents a Gerry Anderson Production and it doesn’t say it’s two television episodes strung together. The damage it does is that people who’ve seen all these (other) fabulous pictures now go and see that and say, “I would’ve expected something a bit better than that from Gerry Anderson.”

I’ve heard you say you’d like to move more into theatrical presentations.

Well, hopefully I’ll never see television again. That means if I were offered a good television series this afternoon I would crack a bottle of champagne and celebrate and do it and love every minute of it. But it is such a terrible strain, producing one hour a week, that I would much prefer to do theatrical – that is cinema – pictures. At the time of this interview, I’m at the point of a very, very big breakthrough. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it’s about or who’s involved because it would spoil the chances of the picture going.

Is it for a studio or for an independent?

It is a major subject with a major studio, a major director and a major star. And a fantasy subject. We’re right on the knife-edge at the moment.

If it works out, you’ll be producing again. Why do you produce rather than direct?

I always wanted to direct and I made the fatal mistake of thinking if I start my own film company and I’m making my own pictures, when it comes to the director, I will be able to direct. That’s how I hoped to become a director. Instead of which, you find you are so busy organising production that, when it comes to the crunch, you have to take somebody else on because you can’t handle it yourself.

You have directed, though.

When we first started, I directed 26 Twizzles, 26 Torchys, 52 Four Feather Falls, the pilot of UFO – I’ve directed an awful lot of our stuff.

Do you think you’re a bankable director?

No, certainly not. Because most of the films I’ve directed have been puppet films and bankable directors are directors who have directed theatrical (cinema) pictures that have made millions of dollars. I haven’t directed any theatricals, so I can’t be bankable.

You were saying there are a lot of big-budget films around at the moment. There’s a danger in big budgets, isn’t there? With a big budget you do what’s easiest whereas, with a small budget, you have to be more creative.

Well, this is Gerry Anderson feeling sorry for himself. I think, in an ideal world, people who have for years worked on a small budget and therefore got the very best out of each pound or dollar… when science fiction took off, those were the people who should have been given the chance to take the big budgets and produce something really sensational. But business doesn’t work that way. Americans are so much more adventurous than British people at the moment. They get the money and they arrive at London Airport with their sack containing $20 million and they’re certainly not going to come into a British studio and say, “Can you recommend a British producer to whom I can give this $20 million so that he can make himself a fortune?”

That is not going to happen so, consequently, people like myself have not benefitted from this tremendous book in science fiction. It is, in the main, American money. The profits, as in the case of Star Wars, which was shot in Britain, will go back to America to encourage further investment for new American producers. British technicians have gained, but that’s short-sighted. The profits are going back to America. They are not remaining here and they will not fund future British productions.

Why do you think it’s so difficult to get backing in Britain?

Why do I think that is? Why, as we sit here, are we likely to have a State of Emergency in the next 48 hours? Because, sadly, this lovely country of hours which, at one time, had so many wonderful qualities, is falling apart. People don’t think any more; people are lazy here; people don’t want to work; people don’t want to take chances; people are out of touch with new ideas. It’s a national disease.

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How Charlie Chuck got into showbiz and what’s next at the Edinburgh Fringe

Next week, I am organising – if that is the word – Malcolm Hardee Week at the Edinburgh Fringe – five events over five days to celebrate the memory of the late great godfather of British alternative comedy. Things seem to becoming together fairly well.

Yesterday morning, Paul Provenza agreed to take part in the first Malcolm Hardee Debate on Monday 22nd on the proposition that “Comedians are Psychopathic Masochists with a Death Wish”. I will be chairing the debate which will, in theory, be serious but, with luck, include lots of laughs.

Paul will be flying in from Los Angeles this Thursday in time for next Monday’s debate. He is perhaps most famous on this side of the pond for directing The Aristocrats movie. Also on the panel for the Malcolm Hardee Debate will be “the godmother of Scottish comedy” Janey Godley and Show Me the Funny judge and doyenne of Fringe comedy critics Kate Copstick. There will also be a forth, hopefully jaw-dropping panelist who cannot be confirmed nor named until later this week.

I think it’s quite an interesting line-up, especially if I get that fourth surprise and surprising guest. It starts Malcolm Hardee Week on an interesting level and the week ends with the likes of Puppetry of the Penis, Frank Sanazi and Charlie Chuck in the two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on Friday 26th.

Which I why I went to have tea and two fried eggs with Charlie Chuck yesterday lunchtime.

He is living in a flat in Dalry House near Haymarket in Edinburgh. In the late 1600s, a rich bloke called John Chiesley owned the house. In 1688, he divorced his wife who wanted a lot of his money in settlement and the local magistrate Sir George Lockhart told John Chiesley he should pay it. He didn’t take this news well. He shot the magistrate dead the next year. They arrested him, chopped off the arm he shot the gun with and hung him. The ghost of ‘Johnny One Arm’ was said to haunt Dalry House until 1965 when a body was found in the garden – a 300-year-old one-armed corpse. The hauntings stopped.

“I suppose,” Charlie Chuck suggested, “after he were dug up, he figured I can’t be bothered any more.”

But Charlie Chuck had other problems when he moved into the house for the Fringe.

He told me: “The woman upstairs seen me going in and out of the building with long hair and a bicycle I’d borrowed and a balaclava hat on me head because of the rain and she called the police. They came and talked to me and they went upstairs and they told the woman:

It’s Charlie Chuck. He got a four star review in The Scotsman.

“The woman felt awkward about this, so she comes down knocking on my door with a pink cake she’s baked to say sorry. She had looked on my website and seen all about Cakey Pig and One-Eyed Dog and she’d made me a big pink cake shaped like a pig’s head and she said it were Cakey Pig.

“I were a bit apprehensive at first and thought Oh, I hope she’s not put nowt dodgy in it, but she’s a lovely lass and she’s from Texas. I said to her At least it’s not the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I got on great with her and she might be coming to see the show tonight.”

Charlie Chuck – or, rather, Dave Kear – the man who is Chuck – covers an extraordinary range of British showbiz history in music and comedy, from meeting Bill Haley and the Comets through playing as a drummer in a soul and a hippie band to performing at US air bases in Germany for US troops going off to Vietnam, many of whom never returned… to being part of a highly successful German Oompah band and performing on the mainstream British holiday camp circuit before turning to alternative comedy, Malcolm Hardee, fame on the James Whale TV shows and The Smell of Reeves & Mortimer.

Charlie Chuck’s career mirrors enormous social changes in Britain over the last 50 years.

At one time in the mid 1960s – well before his TV fame in the early 1990s – he owned six houses and became a horse race tipster – he was banned from three betting offices for being too successful. He had inside information: he knew someone who was married to a multi-millionaire who sold meat to Morrison’s supermarkets:

“She knew by looking at a horse if it were fit,” he told me.

“My dad were a coal miner for thirty year. I had a rough upbringing in Leeds. I remember one old woman was found half-eaten by a rat. What changed me life were sitting down and having dinner with the team from the Carry On films.

“I used to be a dustbin man but I strained myself and they put me on road sweeping – picking dead dogs up. I had two dustbins, a flask on one side and a radio on the other. I was also playing part-time as a drummer in a band called Mama’s Little Children. We had an agent called Eddie who also managed The Troggs, but they weren’t famous then.

“Round about 1961 or 1962, Eddie got us booked into Battersea Park in London. It were a three-day event for the News of the World. Roger Moore was there because, at the time, he were famous as The Saint on TV and Sean Connery because he were James Bond and there were Cheyenne off the TV and the cast of BonanzaDan Blocker and all that lot – and James Mason. Then there were lots of bands who were famous at the time: The Fourmost, The Merseybeats, The Swinging Blue Jeans.

“So, on Friday night I were a road sweeper… then Saturday I’m in Battersea Park at this mega-event held in three compounds… When I went out of the compound, I were mobbed. People were mobbing me thinking I were maybe one of the Swinging Blue Jeans cos I had long hair. There were that many celebs and bands they didn’t know who I were, really, but they thought I might be famous. And I thought Well, this is fantastic!

“When I went back in the compound, away from the public, of course, I were a nobody. Mama’s Little Children and The Troggs were doing the gig for free – cos we weren’t famous. But I met all these people and we sat down for dinner – big long table – and I were sat next to The Pretty Things and Charles Hawtrey from the Carry On films.

“On Sunday night, I came back home from this exhilarating experience and I were picking me dustbins up on Monday morning in Seacroft in Leeds. I thought Bloody hell! I don’t want this!

“That was in the August. In November, me and two of the lads who worked at Burtons the tailor and another who were a taxi driver – we all turned professional and all went to Germany. We were out there playing gigs until January. My wages as a dustbin man were £11 a week; but in Germany, I got £53 a week and we toured with Tony Sheridan who the Beatles had played with.

“It were great. That were how it all started.”

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