Tag Archives: movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Try to think outside the box”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOSH: Yes.

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

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

JOHN: …intelligent?

JOSH: Possibly…

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

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

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

JOHN: Really??

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

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

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

JOHN: How unfinished was Dali’s script?

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

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

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

JOHN: So not a script as such.

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

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

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

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

Irving Thalberg – boy wonder at MGM studios

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

JOHN: And Thalberg was strangely conservative. 

JOSH: Yes.

JOHN: He was not an experimentalist.

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

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

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

JOHN: Maybe directed by David Lynch?

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

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

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

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

Giraffes on Horseback Salad is illustrated by Manuela Pertega

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

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

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

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

JOHN: That’s 90 minutes, then.

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

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

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Filed under Books, Movies, Surreal

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

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

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

The Daily Mash is a satirical British website.

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

The Daily Mash’s satiric article was headlined:

MUSEUM OF 1970s SEX EUPHEMISM TO OPEN IN LEEDS

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

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

My post was blanked-out by Facebook because:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Censorship, Language, Movies, Sex

Comedian Julian Clary and tell-all hack McG linked via sexploitation horror film

I get sent loads of PR bumph (I feel you can never get too much) including the generic PR interviews that are sent out to one-and-all in the media to plug upcoming events. Indeed, I wrote one myself a few months ago to plug a comedian’s UK tour.

The idea is that local papers etc may run the full PR interview as if they themselves had conducted it. Or edit or cannibalise it for quotes, facts and photos.

I never use these PR interviews myself.

Why bother? If I’m interested, I will chat to the person myself.

However here – below – is the exception.

PR man Greg Day is plugging the fact that the Horror Channel in the UK will be screening cult director Pete Walker’s 1976 horror and sexploitation movie Schizo this Saturday. And today Greg sent me his PR interview with the film’s screenwriter David McGillivray who has occasionally turned up in my blog before – notably in 2016 to plug his would-be notorious gay sex film Trouser Bar.

David McG is publishing his inevitably scandalous, tell-all autobiography Little Did You Know in a month’s time and I have already arranged to chat to him the day after its press launch.

But I won’t be asking him about Schizo… So here, as a teaser, in its full glory, is the PR Q&A for Schizo:


SCHIZO – “When the left hand doesn’t know who the right hand is killing!!”

Q: SCHIZO is unusual in your body of work with director Pete Walker because the concept and narrative were not of your choosing. How much of a problem was that for you?

A: Huge. I thought the script that we re-worked was terribly old-fashioned and this led to big arguments with Walker that ended our relationship.

Q: You often play a cameo in the movies you’ve written – You’re ‘Man at Séance’ in SCHIZO. Any particular reason?

A: I liked to write myself parts so that I could observe Walker at work. He was an extremely talented exploitation director who influenced the remainder of my career.

Q: SCHIZO exhibits many Hitchcockian references and Pete Walker cites Hitch as a hero. Is he for you too?

A: Yes, of course. Psycho is one of my favourite horror films.

Q: You’ve written many films for many people in so many genres, but what’s your own personal favourite?

A: My first film for Pete Walker, House of Whipcord. It was very exciting because it was the kind of film I’d dreamed of writing.

Svengali – The Rocky Horror that got away

Q: Just prior to SCHIZO you wrote a pop opera in the Rocky Horror vein for Pete Walker titled SVENGALI based on George du Maurier’s Gothic melodrama. Do you regret that project being shelved?

A: No, it would have been a disaster. Walker realised this and cancelled it almost before I’d typed the final page of the script.

Q: Your autobiography Little Did You Know is published in June. Rumour says it’s not your typical memoir though, so what’s it all about?

A: I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Suffice it to say that after its publication I will never work again.

Q: Your love/hate relationship with Pete Walker is common knowledge. Are there any more scandalous revelations about that in the book?

A: Oh yes…

Julian Clary – Never knowingly understated

Q: You write a lot of the material for a comedian. How did that business relationship begin and is this the nearest you can get to the Golden Era of the British sexploitation film you so brilliantly essayed in your book Doing Rude Things

A: Writing smut for Julian Clary is my day job. I enjoy it immensely. I have written for him for something like 37 years. In Julian’s latest show, which tours the UK before playing the London Palladium on 8th June, unsuspecting audience members are subjected to so-called ‘Heterosexual Aversion Therapy’. If you sit in the front row, you deserve all you get.

Q: You’ve announced your next film project is The Wrong People based on the novel by Robin Maugham. So you have no intention of retiring from the film industry just yet?

A: I love movies. I am fresh from a meeting with a director who bravely has chosen to take on this project. But, in all likelihood, it is so controversial that probably it will finish both our careers. If Little Did You Know hasn’t finished mine already.

Q: Finally, SCHIZO receives its Horror Channel premiere on Sat April 27th. Will you be watching?

A: I’m pleased Horror Channel viewers will get the chance to see it, but will I be watching? Certainly not. I can’t bear to see my own work, which is all dreadful.

David McGillivray – the soon-to-be-autobiographer – never a man to mince his words

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Filed under Horror, Movies, PR, Sex

What really happened Once Upon a Time in London – one gangster’s view

In my last two blogs, actor/producer/writer Terry Stone was talking about his new movie Once Upon a Time in London (released in the UK two days ago), which told the story of Jack Spot and Billy Hill, the dominant figures in London crime before the Kray Twins managed to capture the headlines in the mid-1960s. 

I thought it would be interesting to watch Once Upon a Time in London with Micky Fawcett, who was an associate of both Billy Hill and the Krays and who wrote arguably the most factually accurate book on the Twins: Krayzy Days.

So we watched Once Upon a Time in London and had a chat.


Micky Fawcett at Elstree and Borehamwood station

MICKY: There was a lot of money spent on it.

JOHN: All the main Jack Spot stuff is before your time.

MICKY: Yeah. All the pre-War stuff.

JOHN: What did you think of it?

MICKY: It’s like a violent fairy tale. Not my cup of tea. There was so much of it.

JOHN: The violence.

MICKY: Yeah. Too much. It cheapened it, in my opinion. It devalued it.

JOHN: Why?

Jack Spot and wife Rita go to court in 1956, after they were both attacked by five men

MICKY: All that violence was too much for me. I mean, the violence didn’t work, did it? It’s no good unless you’ve got thoughts and reasons; plotting and scheming. But they did the fight scenes pretty good.

JOHN: You seemed amused with one bit where someone was just hitting and hitting and hitting someone else.

MICKY: You’d have only had to do it once.

JOHN: You thought all the hitting people over and over was too violent?

MICKY: Yeah. And throwing darts in people’s faces… I thought it was over the top. But they put it in to appeal to the audience, which is fair enough. Most of the violence was over the top, though the fight with the Twins at the end was very realistic and the Twins were very realistic in the way they were talking. The Krays was a good bit of casting.

JOHN: The actors are real-life twins.

Terry Stone as Jack Spot in Once Upon a Time in London

MICKY: And Jack Spot was a good bit of casting. Terry Stone acts the role of Jack Spot very well. He’s very believable. Though Spot, what I saw of him, he wasn’t quite as outwardly aggressive. A bit shrewder. I only really knew him for about five minutes when I was 17. And I met Spot again when he was old. He came in the gym one day. He was all bent-over. Hillsy was quieter. He was very smart.

JOHN: Smartly-dressed?

MICKY: Yeah. His attitude. He would have shirts made. Very, very smart. He paid his bills and played the game. Jack Spot knocked everybody.

JOHN: Knocked?

MICKY: He didn’t pay any bills. Wouldn’t… you know what I mean? He was a totally different type of person to Billy Hill. That sounds like just an on-the-surface thing, but it shows you their natures. Billy Hill was very keen on his clothing. All that beating up and getting back up. He wasn’t into that. He was a bit of an actor too.

JOHN: Acting the part of being a gangster?

MICKY: Yeah.

JOHN: There must have been lots of actual violence, though.

MICKY: Well, in his book, Billy Hill says whenever you cut somebody (with a razor), always do it this way. (HE DEMONSTRATES)

JOHN: Vertically down the cheek?

MICKY: Yes. Because, if you do it this way (diagonally) and you happen to cut them here (round the bottom of the chin) you’ll probably kill them and only a mug kills people. That’s what he said: “Only a mug kills people for no reason”.

Not necessarily totally 100% true…

JOHN: Billy Hill’s book was called Boss of Britain’s Underworld.

MICKY: Yeah. That book. Hillsy said to me: “It’s the biggest load of bollocks ever written: don’t believe a fucking word in it.”

JOHN: When you have to choose between history and legend, print the legend.

MICKY: I knew Albert Dimes as well. He was very hot-tempered was Albert: typical Italian. In the fight in Frith Street in Soho, in the film, they didn’t show Spot getting hit on the head with the scales or some big metal scoop. There was a woman in the shop called Sophie Hyams. She hit him on the head.

JOHN: She’s mentioned but you don’t see her hitting him. Bad for his image in the film, I guess. I didn’t really fully follow the stuff on the racecourses.

MICKY: That’s where it kicked off. The racecourses. The sponges. They can’t just demand money off you. At the racecourses, the bookmakers had to write the odds up on the board and they had a man who went along and wiped it all off. The bookmakers had to pay and there was a squabble with Albert Dimes at a racecourse.

The Kray Twins: were not always up for a fight

The Twins backed out of that. They didn’t want to know. And they were afraid of Billy right until the end. Right till the very end. The Twins didn’t want to know when it kicked off in 1955. They were 22 at the time. All the big men were fighting. The Names.

I was told there was a phone call made to them and they said: “It’s nothing to do with us.”

I was with Reggie one day in their Double R club and Big Pat said: “Jack Spot and Johnny Carter have come in the club!” It was like God had come in. They looked up to him and Billy Hill.

JOHN: What did Billy Hill think of them?

MICKY: He told me he suggested they write the letter to the Home Secretary about Frank Mitchell. He told me: “You don’t think those two brainless cunts had the sense to do it, do you?” He didn’t have no time for them at all.

JOHN: You went out to Spain with Billy Hill. (MENTIONED IN A 2017 BLOG)

Teddy Machin (Photograph from Krayzy Days)

MICKY: Yeah. He told Teddy Machin to invite me out. He was 58 at the time and he seemed like an old man to me. One day we were lounging round the pool – me, Machin, Hillsy – and I said: “I was coming out here with a mate of mine anyway. He’s opening a shooting club up near Madrid.”

And Hillsy said: “Mick, you may have said something that’ll set you up for life.”

I said: “What?”

It was when General Franco was in power. 

Hillsy said: “In Spain, the only licensed gambling allowed is in a shooting club. There’s nowhere else you can gamble. I’m with a mob, the Unione Corse; we fucking run the West End (of London)”

JOHN: What’s the best film you’ve seen about this era?

MICKY: None. There are some good French gangster films I like. The Godfather is a good film but things like the wedding and that are not to my taste.

JOHN: It’s a very Catholic film. Lots of ceremonial-type stuff. Did you see The Long Good Friday?

MICKY: Yeah, but I can’t remember it.

JOHN: The Wee Man?

Martin Compston as Glasgow’s Paul Ferris in The Wee Man

MICKY: Yeah. I thought it was good.

JOHN: Good. But not necessarily spot-on with the facts: very much Paul Ferris writing his own version of events and creating his own legend.

MICKY: I thought it was… realistic. I think the best gangster film I’ve ever seen was Casino.

JOHN: Oh, yes. Lots of true stories. The bit about the eyes popping out was true, wasn’t it… Why did you like it?

MICKY: Well, it was all sort-of reasoned. And the woman playing-up. The wife. They weren’t like gangsters; they were like cafe owners. The best bit was when they were talking and someone said: “He won’t talk. He’s a good kid. A stand-up guy. He’s solid.” And one of the others says: “Look… why take chances?”

JOHN: So they get him killed.

MICKY: Yeah. Why take chances?

Johnny Depp (left) as Donnie Brasco, with Al Pacino

JOHN: Did you ever see Donnie Brasco?

MICKY: Oh yeah! Maybe that’s a better one. Maybe that’s the best one. Very, very good. Al Pacino was the best in it. A feller I knew – he’s dead now – he was exactly like that.

JOHN: Someone should film your book Krayzy Days.

MICKY: Yeah, but it’s all different things, ain’t it? It’s not one story. 

JOHN: The unwary would assume it’s all about the Kray Twins, but it isn’t. There’s the Unione Corse and…

Krayzy Days – remembered as they were

MICKY: Well, nothing much happened with the Unione Corse. Billy Hill wanted me to… I was going to do the Unione Corse thing here, but I got in trouble – I wish I hadn’t – and Hillsy kept away from me, because he knew the feller I was arguing with – Teddy Machin – and he knew something would go down not-too-good and Machin got shot. 

There’s all that stuff in the book and the Tibbses are at the end of it. Someone put a bomb in his car; dunno who. The best story, though is the Banksy one which doesn’t involve any violence. I sold one of his old pictures the other week – a print that he’d done – numbered.

JOHN: All legal and legit and above-board?

MICKY: Yes. Of course.

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Filed under Crime, Movies

Once Upon a Time – Terry Stone, Terry Turbo, Princess Margaret & Mad Frank

In yesterday’s blog, former ‘rave’ organiser Terry Turbo – now film producer Terry Stone – was talking about his new film Once Upon a Time in London (released in the UK yesterday).

He has also produced the three (soon to be four) Rise of The Footsoldier movies, Bonded By Blood and other true crime films.


Terry Stone played Tony Tucker in Rise of the Footsoldier

JOHN: You were saying you are interested in true crime.

TERRY: Yes. In Rise of the Footsoldier, although there’s a lot in there that was made up, all the Essex Boys stuff was true. I’ve got a friend who’s on the Murder Squad so I know for a fact what stuff happened.

The conspiracy theories at the end are open to interpretation, but I know for a fact that all the Essex Boys stuff is 100% true. I look at that film and I’m proud of it.

JOHN: The title Once Upon a Time in London… It’s presumably intentionally reminiscent of Sergio Leone – Once Upon a Time in the West, Once Upon a Time… The Revolution, Once Upon a Time in America.

TERRY: Once Upon a Time in America was one of my favourite movies. If you were to ask me what film Once Upon a Time in London is most like, it would be the British version of that. We were not trying to copy it, but we went: What stories haven’t been told in this country?

JOHN: And Once Upon a Time in America was vaguely based on the truth – the early days of organised crime in the US.

TERRY: In Once Upon a Time in London, everything in that happened. There’s nothing made up. The only scene that may have been changed slightly was the darts scene. That may not have happened. But the guy was getting tortured and, instead of having darts thrown at him, he might have had bits of his ear being cut off. But we thought: That’s too much like Reservoir Dogs, so why don’t we just do the darts cos it’s funny and no-one’s ever done it. It’s just fucking terrifying.

JOHN: It is. And it’s in character. ‘Mad Frank’ Fraser would do that.

The real Jack Spot (played by Terry in Once Upon a Time in London) after being attacked by ‘Mad Frank’ Fraser in 1956

TERRY: He would. He’d be pulling your teeth out with pliers or he’d be cutting bits off you. He was a fucking lunatic. That’s why I liked him as a character. He’s so fucking off-key. He spent possibly 60% of his life in jail. He just liked violence. He didn’t care about money; he just wanted to hurt people. Maybe he wasn’t wired-up right; I dunno. If you said to him “Go and kill that guy” he would just do it and then worry about it when he was in jail and then kill someone else and think: Oh well, I might as well kill him as well because I’ll be in jail anyway. That was how his thought process worked.

JOHN: He once offered to do free dental work for me if I ever needed it done. I wasn’t quite sure how to take that. I presume he meant dental work on other people; not on me. I think he was just trying to live up to his legend.

TERRY: When I met him, I was shocked. What shocked me about all of the people from that era was how fucking small they were. You meet them all now and they’re these tiny little fellers. Maybe we’ve just become bigger through genetics or food or whatever

JOHN: How tall are the Adamses?

TERRY: I dunno. All the people that I’ve met now all seem bigger. When you meet someone who is part of a firm or someone who’s heavy-duty nowadays, they look the part. They don’t have to be six foot high and twenty stone, but they look the part. With the old ones, because they’re now in their 70s and 80s, they’re lovely little old men and you think: Did he really go round pulling people’s teeth out? He seems such a nice guy.

JOHN: All the really violent people I’ve met have been very quiet and polite. The SAS men I’ve met have been terribly polite and quiet. I guess, if you move in certain circles – certainly criminal circles – it’s best to be polite to strangers in case they turn out to be homicidal maniacs living on a hair-trigger.

The real Billy Hill, subject of Once Upon a Time in London (Photo from Krayzy Days)

TERRY: There’s a old saying: Walk softly but carry a big stick.

JOHN: Well, if you really are dangerous, you don’t have to ‘big it up’ to prove it to yourself… Anyway… There are obvious sequels to Once Upon a Time in London. The continuation of the Billy Hill story and the whole of the ‘Mad Frank’ Fraser story.

TERRY: We’ll see what happens with this one and if it goes the way we think it’s gonna go – worldwide with someone like Netflix or Amazon – then, if they think they want some spin-offs or more films – then happy days.

A lot of people from that era have now retired or are dead. But we have access to Frank’s surviving family, access to the Sabinis – all of the people. So we have access to all the stories.

JOHN: The Godfather had real criminals in small parts. Was Once Upon a Time in London the same?

TERRY: There’s a few. And we used a few fighters. There’s a few people in there, if you’re into fighters or underworld figures. But we didn’t cast any villains in big parts.

JOHN: Real dodgy people often don’t look dodgy. I always thought Johnny Bindon looked a bit wimpish on screen. Though I wouldn’t have said that to his face.

TERRY: That’s a good story, that is. John Bindon. The only problem is, when I’ve talked to people about it, they’ve all gone: “Well, he was sort of an actor/villain. But he didn’t really do anything.” His selling point was shagging Princess Margaret and smoking weed with her. He was in the Sixties set, but with all the people I’ve mentioned it to, no-one really bit on it and I don’t know why.

JOHN: It’s psychologically fascinating. The end is a bit of a downer, but that could be handled.

TERRY: I would fucking love to play John Bindon. That would be a great part.

JOHN: That’s what they all said he had.

Poster for Once Upon a Time in London at Leytonstone tube station, East London

TERRY: The problem, being a working class London lad with my sort of build is you get regularly asked to be the henchman or the murderer. Do you wanna clump someone? I don’t mind doing that, but I actually want some substance to it. 

The part I play in Once Upon a Time in London was interesting because it had range – there was a family involved. I hope when people see the film, people will react: Oh! Actually, he can be more than just the guy who says “I’m gonna do you in” and all that shit.

If you haven’t got the material to show what you can do, nobody will give you the chance as an actor. Sometimes people are lucky: they get a part and shine.

JOHN: Sylvester Stallone held out and wouldn’t sell the Rocky script to anyone unless he was cast as Rocky.

TERRY: And he was absolutely on his arse. He was waiting on tables, doing anything, living in a fucking bedsit and they were offering “Here’s a million dollars for your script” – which is probably $5 million now – and he was unknown. And then he went and won a fucking Oscar and the rest is history. But a film about John Bindon… Everyone I talked to about it said: “There’s not really a story.”

JOHN: A massive rise and fall. Fleeing to Ireland at the climax; all that.

TERRY: But think about the kids now, right? They go and watch Legend because it’s Tom Hardy. They watch Footsoldier because it’s people getting bashed-up and carved-up and thrown through windows and girls with their tits out. If you say there’s a film about John Bindon, they’d say: “Who’s that?”

JOHN: But people don’t know about Jack Spot and Billy Hill.

TERRY: They know it’s the ones before the Krays. That’s the hook.

JOHN: And the Krays are in the trailer, which is great.

TERRY: But you look at John Bindon, what would you say?

An uncompromising photograph of John Bindon and Princess Margaret on the island of Mustique.

JOHN: They made The Bank Job about robbing the bank to get the compromising photos of Princess Margaret, though she was never named. Do you think that story is true?

TERRY: Well, if you were the government or the Queen, you’d be going: “I wanna get them fucking pictures!” And you would probably reach out to… 

I know a friend of mine who is… y’know… a villain. 

And the government have actually said to him: “If you do this, then…” … just like they went to the Mob and asked them to kill Castro. There are things the government can’t do and, if a gangster does it for them, they’ll do him some favours or they’ll overlook things. That’s how the world works.

JOHN: Wasn’t it Lucky Luciano who helped the Americans invade Sicily in the Second World War? Local knowledge and local contacts. Anyway… So what’s next for you?

Terry in his previous incarnation

TERRY: I wrote a book about the club scene (King of Clubs – Sex, Drugs & Thugs) and we have just-about signed a deal with a big TV company to turn it into a TV series. And I’ve just done two documentaries about the birth of drum & bass and the birth of garage music. It’s me and the DJs and the MCs talking about it and how big the brands were. 

I’ve also got a feminist horror film. I’ve got a couple of business partners – Richard Turner and Chris Howard. 

We’re always trying to do something new. We’re developing a lot of TV stuff and animated stuff.

… MORE ON THIS HERE …

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How ‘rave’ organiser Terry Turbo became film producer Terry Stone

Once Upon a Time in London there was organised crime: Terry Stone as Jack Spot (3rd from left)

The British gangster movie Once Upon a Time in London is released today. The star, co-producer and co-writer is Terry Stone.

 Once upon a time, in the 1990s, he used to organise raves under the name Terry Turbo.

How did that career change happen?

Last week, I asked him.

With rave organising now behind him, actor, producer, writer Terry Stone in sunny Soho last week.


JOHN: Your first appearance as an actor was in ‘celebrity gangster’  Dave Courtney’s 2003 movie Hell To Pay (released in 2005). That must have been an interesting experience…

TERRY: I turned up on set. There was no script and I was told “You stand there” and I said “Well, what am I going to be doing?” and they said “Just stand there” and I said “Well, I’m not going to be in the fucking film, then. I’m not going to stand there and be an extra. You said: Do you wanna be in the film? I wanna be in the film.” 

So the director gave me some lines.

Basically, the whole film was improvised with no script which, at the time, I thought was cool. But then, afterwards, I realised it was insane.

I said to the other actors: “I’ve really enjoyed being on this film. It’s been a lark. How do you go about getting into the business?” 

They told me: “Do a showreel off this work, get some pictures done, send ‘em out and see if you can get an agent.”

I thought: Sounds really simple. 

So I did that, got an agent, did a bit of EastEnders, The Bill, some theatre, My Family, the usual stuff that jobbing actors do. But, after a year… Well, anybody who’s a professional actor will tell you it’s a fucking hard life. There’s no money; there’s no work; any work you get is peanuts. You have to sweep floors, wait on tables, drive taxis – anything to just keep the lights on.

I thought: Y’know what? I’ve made a mistake here.

Because, before I got into acting, I used to run clubs all round the world.

A few of my friends who I’d told “I’ve sold my business; I’m gonna to become an actor” all asked me “How’s the acting going?”

I said to ‘em: “Not bad, but not great. I’m not earning enough money.” 

At the time, I had a mortgage, a wife, a child. 

I thought: I’ve made a massive mistake here.

A friend said: “What do you really wanna do?”

I said: “I actually wanna be in films.”

Terry Turbo – “The Rave Scene Richard Branson” said Vice

He said: You used to put on big events for 20,000, 30,000 people. How hard can it be to make a film?”

So I said: ”You got me thinking now. If I get a script, would you put some money in it?”

And he went: “I’ll put some money in.”

So I went round to all my mates and told ‘em: “Let’s all put some money in and make a film. It’ll be a laugh.”

That’s how I raised the money for my first film One Man and His Dog – and it was a dog, that film. But it was my film school. It was released and it went out in Holland, Germany. We got it out, which was an achievement, and we got 25% of our money back on it, which I thought was a disaster but, considering we didn’t know what we were doing, it was an achievement.

JOHN: How much did it cost?

TERRY: £140,000.

Then a friend of mine in the club scene contacted me and said: “Have you ever thought about doing a movie on the black-on-black gun crime in London?” It was a kinda Boyz n the Hood kinda film: Rollin’ with the Nines.

It won the Jury Prize at the Raindance Film Festival in 2005 and the director Julian Gilbey was nominated for the Carl Foreman Award at the BAFTAs. We made that for £250,000.

And that gave us a stepping stone to do Rise of the Footsoldier, which was a £1.3 million budget.

JOHN: Based on Carlton Leach’s book.

TERRY: Yes, which I hadn’t read when he suggested to me it would make a good movie. I knew Carlton from club days and I thought: Who’s gonna wanna watch a film about a doorman? At the time, I didn’t know about his involvement in the Inter City Firm or The Essex Boys.

I read his book and thought: Fucking hell! It’s really interesting! And I thought: If I was to pitch the idea, it’s The Football Factorymeets Goodfellas.

So I paid someone to write the script and I developed and created the Rise of The Footsoldier franchise. I got the money together, made it and, since then, there’s been four of them. They’re just making the fourth one now; almost finished. It comes out in October.

After that, I did a film called Doghouse but what Rise of The Footsoldier did was allow me to be an actor AND a producer and the reason I’m glad I made that decision was because, when you’re not developing something, you’re raising money. When you’re not raising money, you’re making something. When you’re not making something, you’re acting in something. There’s always something to do.

At the moment, I’m still a jobbing actor. If a role comes along and I like it and it’s well-paid, I’ll do it. You need to pay the bills.

I suppose because I’ve got a low boredom threshold, I need to be entertained… constantly.

So what I’ve done is create a load of work for myself. But I enjoy it and now it’s my 17th year in the business. I’m an old boy now. (LAUGHS LOUDLY)

JOHN: When you were doing the raves, you blew up a police car on stage at Wembley.

Terry as Tony Tucker, one of the Footsoldier’s ‘Essex Boys’

TERRY: It was all about doing something different and making it fun. Let’s do some mad shit. Blowing up a police car on stage at Wembley was funny. Having Prince William and Prince Charles and the Queen lookalikes coming to the raves was funny.

JOHN: Once Upon a Time in London is about the pre-Krays era in crime – about Jack Spot and Billy Hill who most people have not heard of…

TERRY: I think the thing about the Krays was they were ‘celebrity gangsters’. They wanted people to know who they were which, obviously, was their downfall. Whereas, if you spoke to any other criminals, they’d always be like: No publicity; no pictures. We don’t want anybody to know what we’re doing.

JOHN: What’s interesting is that, in the 1920s, they were making films about Billy The Kid and Jesse James who were active in the 1870s and 1880s – which was 40 to 50 years before. Today, the Krays’ era was around 50 years ago. There comes a point where villains become acceptable anti-heroes or even heroes.

TERRY: All the films I’ve made have been based on true crime, but they don’t glamorise it. I’m not interested in doing pretend-gangster films about a load of wallies that don’t exist. I have always had an interest in true crime. I thought about making a film about Jack Spot and Billy Hill in 2010. But, back then, nobody was doing period crime films.

JOHN: The Kray era is period crime…

TERRY: But that was the 1960s. The Jack Spot story is 1930s, 1940s, 1950s. Back in 2010, there was no Peaky Blinders, there was no Boardwalk Empire and I thought it was a bit of a risk. But then I heard Ray Winstone was gonna play both of the Krays in Legend  (it was eventually made with Tom Hardy) and Peaky Blinders came on and I thought: Now’s the time to get this going

As Jack Spot in Once Upon a Time in London: “It took a couple of years to get the money together”

It took a couple of years to get the money together and stuff but what fascinates me is that Once Upon a Time in London is about the birth of organised crime here. There’s always been crime in this country since probably the Stone Age. But actual organised crime where people have protection rackets, prostitutes working for them, they had bookmakers, they had spielers, they had restaurants, they had clubs. And you had the backdrop of the Second World War – rationing stamps, people didn’t have any money, people had lost their homes – we were fucked – So these criminals thought: There’s an opportunity here, boys! Let’s make some money!

JOHN: I don’t remember any other British gangster film focusing on the Jewish angle. Once Upon a Time in London starts with Oswald Mosley’s plans to march his blackshirts through the East End in 1936, which resulted in the Battle of Cable Street

TERRY: I think Once Upon a Time in London is the first British Jewish gangster film. 

JOHN: Now there a marketing opportunity.

TERRY: I was on page 3 of the Jewish Chronicle (LAUGHS) fully-clothed!.. The woman who interviewed me asked: “Why are you making a film to glamorize Jewish gangsters? It’s something that, really, we want to forget about.”

I said: “Listen, there’s nothing glamorous about what happened to Jack Spot…”

…  CONTINUED HERE

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Short horror films and an international festival – probably not for chickens…

Tonight, Sunday 17th March, BBC4 is screening a selection of short films in the UK under the umbrella title Born Digital: First Cuts.

I saw a preview of all the films earlier this week and Janitor of Lunacy by London-based Japanese director Umi Ishihara is well worth watching. What on earth it is about is another matter. It runs 12 minutes.

Coincidentally producer, director and actress Amanda Fleming’s company De Profundis has started a new international festival for short films – specifically horror films. The first – free – one-day festival is being held in Manchester in two weekends’ time.

I asked her: “Why?”


Amanda Fleming with halo at Soho Theatre Bar in London

AMANDA: Well, since I make short films and my direct theatre pieces tend to have a lot of horror.

JOHN: Why are you plugging other people’s films?

AMANDA: There are a lot of films that don’t get seen and a lot of film festivals that are particularly picky about how much money is spent on the film. I want to showcase talented up-and-coming film makers, so I thought it would be good to have a forum and to actually make a creative day of it.

It’s also a platform to meet some of the international people who have been entered into the festival – there will be Q&As.

We’ve had 75 submissions, 30 of them from abroad. Some of them were not the right genre of horror. Some were more psychological thriller rather than horror. Not quite the genre we were looking for. Maybe on the next one we will add in extra categories.

JOHN: There is a very nice dividing line between psychological thriller and horror.

AMANDA: We labelled it a ‘horror’ film festival. I was interested to see what came in.

JOHN: How do you decide something is a psychological thriller but not a real horror film?

AMANDA: Psychological tends be twists and turns – like somebody who thinks she’s hearing something and thinks it’s ghosts, but it’s just her own insanity or a stalker or whatever. The type of horror we were looking for was supernatural/Gothic, a little bit of zombie, a little bit of vampire.

JOHN: Val Lewton films in particular were all about the things you don’t see being more frightening than the things you do see. Were there films submitted that were on the borderline of your definition?

AMANDA: There was one. It won’t fit in this first festival but it was so good I am going to put in the next one. The festival is going to be twice a year. The first one is one day. Six hours. This first festival will be a small start-up one to see how it goes, then we will move to a slightly bigger venue in October or November this year.

JOHN: And this film which ‘doesn’t fit’ would be in the second festival in October or November?

AMANDA: Yes. I’m going to add an extra specific type of category so it will fit in. 

JOHN: What’s that?

AMANDA: Comedy horror. This film’s amazing. It’s called Fowl Fury.

JOHN: Fowl?

AMANDA: Yes, so you know where it’s going to go, right?

JOHN: Why is it not horror?

AMANDA:
Too funny. We are looking for more horror-horror. But I might even put it in this first festival as a token laugh moment. The trouble is we already have so many worth screening.

JOHN: They are all short films?

AMANDA: The films run between 2 minutes and 20 minutes.

JOHN: Two minutes is a scene, not a film.

AMANDA: But the 2-minute one is so good… to the point I have actually emailed them and said: I can see this becoming a major production. We are interested in talent and potential.

JOHN: You should have a Phlegming Award for Horror.

AMANDA: If we could afford it, we would, but we are just starting up. We are just awarding certificates for Best UK Film and Best International Film for this first one.

JOHN: And we will have to wait until October or November to see Fowl Fury…?

AMANDA: Probably… But, if we can fit the chicken one in this time, we will.

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