Tag Archives: gangster

“The Long Good Friday” – inside one of the two greatest British gangster films ever made

Last night I went to the Museum of London’s Docklands cinema for a special screening of the 1981 movie The Long Good Friday, introduced by its scriptwriter Barrie Keeffe. Very appropriate, as the film’s plot is partly about 1980s plans for Docklands’ re-development. In the film, there is a model of what Docklands might look like in the future. As Barrie Keeffe said last night: “We never imagined it would look like it does tonight – Manhattan…”

I am a great admirer of The Long Good Friday – it is on an equal footing with Get Carter as the greatest British gangster film ever made.

I have blogged before about The Long Good Friday – I was working at Lew Grade‘s ATV in Birmingham when the film encountered its post-production problems.

Both Barrie Keeffe and I assume that Lew Grade did not actually read the script before agreeing to finance the £1 million film but then – hey! – I never read the Killer Bitch script which I financed – I still haven’t. Not that the two movies are exactly comparable… Anyway…

When Lew Grade saw the completed movie of The Long Good Friday, he was so shocked by some of the plot details – especially the film’s climax – that he refused to release it as a feature film, refused to screen it on TV without massive cuts to the violence and the plot and even refused to allow anyone to buy it off him – until George Harrison (yes, the Beatle)’s Handmade Films made him an offer he felt he couldn’t refuse – a financial offer not involving any horse’s head.

It is difficult to discuss The Long Good Friday without mentioning the twist that most offended Lew Grade, but here goes…

It is a wonderful film partly because the crucial opening sequence is shot without audible dialogue – the only line clearly heard by the audience is someone saying something in an East London accent during an abduction… also partly because the audience is suckered into looking the wrong way in plot terms… and also partly because it has a triple ending.

There are two scenes at the end which feel like the rounding-off of a normal thriller but then there’s a sudden shock ending which should, in theory, have an equally sudden cut-to-black (as in French Connection II). Instead, director John Mackenzie uses a final static and very effective shot held on one character’s face for an extraordinarily long time.

Barrie Keeffe says his inspiration for The Long Good Friday was his love of film noir movies from the 1940s and 1950s. He wanted to make a black and white Humphrey Bogart film noir of the 1940s in colour in 1979 (when the film was written) – and he always had the then relatively inexperienced Bob Hoskins in mind for the central role of gangster Harold Shand; producer Barry Hanson had previously worked with Bob.

Barrie and Barry had a crucial script discussion with Bob shortly after he returned from filming Zulu Dawn in South Africa. They went to see him at the School of Tropical Medicine in London because he had managed to get ill with a 26-foot-long tapeworm inside him during the shooting. The film-making duo were told by medical staff not to get Bob excited about the Long Good Friday script because they were operating on him the next day and, if he got too excited, the tapeworm might split in two with dangerous consequences. Bob got excited but the tapeworm kept calm.

One format for film noirs is that the chief protagonist is a gangster who faces rivalry from another gangster. Barrie decided to make the opponent Harold Shand faces not a rival gangster with his own values but an opponent of an entirely different kind who does not share Shand’s values.

Perhaps mistakenly, Barrie revealed who that opponent was to the audience before last night’s screening and some members of the audience had not previously seen The Long Good Friday. A friend who was with me had not seen the movie before and told me afterwards that knowing whodunnit had not spoiled her enjoyment of the film (she said it was “brilliant”) but I still think audience ignorance is a good thing in The Long Good Friday.

The film was criticised by one newspaper for over-use of religious symbolism – in particular. the sequence in which one man is found crucified on a wooden warehouse floor. But, as Barrie explained, this was not uncommon as a punishment in London gangster circles at the time. As a young reporter on East End newspaper the Stratford Express, he was once sent to interview the victim of a crucifixion. The guy lay there in his hospital bed covered in bandages and, when Barrie asked him what had happened, his reply was: “It was a self-inflicted D.I.Y. accident.”

Barrie’s background was partly as a journalist on the Stratford Express during the heyday of the Kray Twins in 1960s London. As an innocent-eyed 18 year old, he once stood in the men’s toilet of an East End pub with notoriously violent and rampantly gay Ronnie Kray.

“Take a look at this,” Ronnie said to him standing at the urinal, looking down at his own groin. “Go on, son, look at this – the handle on it.”

Barrie reluctantly looked down.

It was a gun.

Barrie was relieved it was only a gun.

In The Long Good Friday, there is a scene in which a gangster is approached by a woman in black widow’s clothing who raises her veil and spits in his face. This was taken from a real incident in which a bereaved widow raised her veil and spat in Barrie’s face after he had pretended to be working for a newspaper rival of the Stratford Express.

After the screening, I was able to talk to Barrie briefly and ask if it was true that he had once been going to re-write John Osborne’s classic 1950s play The Entertainer with comedian Malcolm Hardee in the Laurence Olivier role.

“I wasn’t going to re-write it,” Barrie told me, “but we were going to adapt it to suit him.” He paused, then added: “But I don’t know what his discipline would have been like…”

Indeed.

Yes.

Indeed.

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How an Apple iPad could finally cure my concussion and help me forget the embarrassing toilet incidents

In yesterday’s blog, I wrote about Jason Cook, who is dyslexic but has written three gangster novels and I mentioned that, since the morning of 9th March 1991, I have not been able to read a book – not since I got hit by a large truck while standing on the pavement in Borehamwood.

I have written books since 1991, but I am physically unable to read them. Always best not to mention this to a publisher.

In 1981, ten years before the accident, I contributed three chapters to the anthology Anatomy of the Movies (which I have just now looked up on Amazon and copies appear, astonishingly, to be selling for £57.60 upwards; sadly I get none of this).

But, since 1991, I have been unable to read any book, though I have written several.

I have no actual memory of getting hit except I was standing on the pavement at a junction. What I have reconstructed in my mind is that I was rushing down to the post office on Saturday morning to send a friend her birthday card before the final midday collection. At a junction, I stood on the pavement and turned round to see if any traffic was coming. The driver’s cab of a large truck passed me by but the front corner edge of the wider, protruding container behind it hit me on my turned-round shoulder, breaking my collar bone in two places.

I was thrown backwards with a slight spin and the back of my head hit the sharp edge of a low brick wall maybe nine inches above the ground. What I didn’t know until much later was that my spine had been twisted and jerked when my head hit the wall.

I don’t remember any of that. But, from what I do know, that’s what must have happened.

I do have flashes of memory after that. I remember lying on the ground looking up at a group of people looking down at me; some were kneeling. I remember being in an ambulance and being asked my name and address.

“Ah, you need to write down my details,” I remember saying to an ambulance man.

“No,” he replied. “I’m just checking you know who you are.”

I remember looking at the ceiling while being wheeled along a corridor in Barnet Hospital.

I have only hazy memories. I think I had about ten or twelve stitches in the back of my head, but I can’t remember. I was theoretically in the care of whichever doctor(s) looked after concussion and brain damage; but I was in an orthopedic ward for people who had broken bones because of my collar bone. So the brain doctor upstairs who had responsibility for me didn’t visit that downstairs orthopedic ward because it wasn’t his area and the nurses in the ward I was in were only observing me for the specialist who didn’t come.

I had enough trouble trying to remember if you put the plastic toilet seat up or down when you sat on it. Sitting on the white ceramic of the bowl didn’t seem to quite work and was distractingly cold on the buttocks. And I can tell you the curved edges dig into your bum. I spent a week there. In the hospital, not in the toilet. I was eventually released from the hospital when a very weary and over-worked junior-looking doctor from the ‘mind’ ward came down to the ‘bone’ ward and said I seemed to be OK. He was very kindly but was just about to go home for some much-needed sleep and appeared to me to be in much worse condition than I was. But what did I know?

It took about eighteen months to (mostly) sort out the pain in my shoulder – but only after I went to a Chinese doctor (ie Chinese medicine not the NHS).

It took about nine or ten months to get over the concussion.

I kept thinking I was better but my mind kept draining away for periods. I would come home, sit on the sofa and look at the wall, blankly, unable to think.

To formulate thoughts in my mind, I needed words and the words would not come to my mind nor come together. I could not hold thoughts together. It was like I could feel my nerve-endings or brain strands like little hands reaching out and trying to connect with one another but not quite being able to reach each other. I could almost put the thought together but could not quite reach. My brain was like thin vegetable soup with separate strands of spaghetti floating about like living worms trying but not quite able to touch each other.

When I tried to read a newspaper, I could only read about three lines of the first paragraph before I lost concentration. It was like looking at an object but then your eyes de-focus. I could see the words in newspapers and magazines OK but, after two or three lines, I could not hold their meaning together in my brain.

It was a flash forward to my own inevitable senility.

After a couple of weeks being OK, I would think I was better, but then my mind would go into vegetable soup mode again for two or three days. Then I would think I was better again. Then it would go soupy again. There was no NHS aftercare, of course, because I had been no-one’s specific responsibility. This went on for nine or ten months.

Since then, I can read newspapers and magazines with no problems, but I cannot read printed books.

Too much print. Too much density of words.

Whether it’s a psychological or physical problem I don’t know.

But I CAN write (and read) books on my computer. I think it’s because the amount of text you see at any given time is much less. Somehow this doesn’t flummox my mind the way holding a 300-page book in my hand does.

Since 1991, I have written comedian Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (published 1996)…

I edited the anthology Sit-Down Comedy (2003) which involved commissioning original work from 19 comedians and then badgering them to deliver the stuff; some just delivered perfect manuscripts; some needed suggestions and help; some needed careful editing; it was a bit like juggling meerkats.

I then edited comedian Janey Godley’s utterly amazing autobiography Handstands in the Dark (I can say that because I did not write it and it was justly a top ten bestseller in 2005 and 2006)…

And, in early 2010, I wrote the first 55,000 words of a 70,000 novelisation of the by-anyone’s-standards controversial movie Killer Bitch. The publisher pulled that one two weeks before I finished the manuscript because all the supermarkets and WH Smiths refused to handle the book (despite the fact they had not read any of it). I might still revive/finish that one, though I’m useless without deadlines.

Anyway, I have written and/or edited/proof-read/shepherded all of the above, but I have not read any of the published printed books.

However, I have an Apple iPad with its gob-smackingly beautiful iBook application.

You can make the pages sepia, change the font and size of the text and turn a page with your finger just like a real book. The corner or edge of the page curls over as you move your finger and you see on the back of the previous page the reversed text and illustrations which were on it.

I adore it.

It is a thing of beauty.

And I think I could read a book on it, just as I can read a manuscript on my normal computer.

I have not yet tried a whole book, but I feel the urge coming on.

The Apple iPad could yet save me from illiteracy.

Oh and – yes – I do have trouble reading printed TV and film scripts too.

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My inability to read books, the dyslexic ex-gangster and the recent arrest of one of the Cheeky Girls

Since the morning of 9th March 1991, I have not been able to read a book.

I have written books since then, but I am physically unable to read them.

Last night, at Elstree Studios, I had a chat with author and would-be film producer Jason Cook, a very interesting man who has written three novels despite being severely dyslexic.

I am not dyslexic.

Jason Cook is an ex-criminal… some might say he’s an ex-gangster, but defining the word ‘gangster’ is a matter of semantics. By anyone’s definition, though, he is a very amiable, charismatic, creative dynamo of a man.

He was smoking and selling hash from his bedroom at the age of 12. By the time he was 16, he had moved on to ecstasy and had become involved with – by any definition – local gangsters. He took steroids, worked out at the local gym to build himself up and also had a tendency to carry knives AND guns; he was always thorough. By the time he was 17, he was helping the same local gangsters collect drug-related debts.

He was also addicted to cocaine.

Eventually, he was arrested and given a seven and a half year prison sentence, though he only served two years and nine months of it. While he was inside, he joined the education programme, volunteered for the drug-free wing (interesting that the prison authorities only labelled one wing as being drug-free) and was given support to kick his drug habit.

As part of this rehabilitation programme, he was encouraged to start writing about his experiences. The result is three novels – There’s No Room for Jugglers in My Circus, The Gangster’s Runner and the soon-to-be published A Nice Little Earner. This, remember, is from a man who is severely dyslexic.

All three novels have now been scripted as movies and ballpark budgeted. A few months ago, I advised Jason against joining the glut of cheap Brit movies and go for the big-time, big-screen legit movie area. Now he has offices at Elstree Studios. And now, I suspect, the fun and painful games will really start…

Well, in a sense the fun has already started.

At the beginning of last month, shortly after meeting Jason to discuss a role in the first of his planned trilogy of films, ‘Cheeky Girl’ Gabriela Irimia was arrested by police in Wilmslow, Cheshire, for shoplifting £40 worth of groceries from a local Sainsbury store. Her formidable mother Margareta told the Daily Mail that Gabriela “was getting into character” for her forthcoming role in the film version of Jason’s first book.

The Cheeky Girls are still in line to appear on-screen.

Jason is still trying to get full finance for his three movies and he is so energetic anything is possible.

As for my inability to read any book since the morning of 9th March 1991, more about that tomorrow…

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“Killer Bitch”, ‘Dodgy’ Dave Courtney, Scots comedian Janey Godley’s podcast and the UK gun laws

In the new Episode 27 of stand-up comic Janey Godley‘s weekly podcast (about 35 minutes in), her daughter Ashley Storrie (grand daughter of the late low-profile  but notable Glasgow ‘face’ George Storrie) talks about spending a day on the Killer Bitch film set with Dave Courtney and an assortment of dodgy London ‘chaps’ towards the end of 2009.

Ashley gets one detail slightly wrong – a day or two after the Killer Bitch film shoot at Dave Courtney’s home, police raided the house and arrested him on three charges of illegally possessing firearms. The main gun in question was never used on the Killer Bitch shoot.

What had happened, very basically, was that ‘Dodgy’ Dave and his wife owned a perfectly legal gun which they had on open display on their wall of their sitting room and which they occasionally used as a stage prop. But possession of the gun – with virtually no publicity – had been re-classified as illegal because it is relatively easy to re-activate it into being a ‘real’ gun.

Dave and his wife did not know possession of the gun had been reclassified. Thrown into prison, Dave was refused bail despite the fact that, on the three charges he faced, he was clearly no danger to anyone. The police kept him locked up over Christmas 2009. When he came to trial, the jury took only two hours to find him Not Guilty on all three charges.

Janey Godley was herself arrested in the mid-1990s for possession of firearms – a veritable arsenal of weapons – and she too was released – a sanitised but still fascinating version of why she was released appears in her gob-smacking autobiography Handstands in the Dark. She revealed the fuller reason in her 2004 stage show Good Godley! which rather belatedly opens in Australia (at the Adelaide Fringe Festival) in February/March this year.

Ashley does not appear in Killer Bitch. The movie, though widely banned from most retail shops, is still available at HMV shops and online from HMV, Amazon, Play.com etc.

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