Saturday, 29 June 2013

Mabey, Baby

Richard Mabey, may very well – in my eyes, qualify for the title of ‘Greatest Living Englishman’. A writer, he specializes in the relationship between nature and culture. His book ‘The Unofficial Countryside’ has changed the way I see the England outside my window. Canals and scrublands become places of endless fascination. 

In 1972 Maybe filmed a documentary of the same name for the BBC’s World About Us programme. Then a young and dashing man with beautiful neck-length brown hair and groovy lather jacket, walked among the nettles and pylons expounding the joys of weeds.

'I ended up at an abandoned brickyard at the very edge of my chosen area. I suppose that it had ceased to be used about three years before, and it was now a dumping ground for any household rubbish too big for the bin. But successive excavations of the sand and clay for the bricks had left the yard with a legacy of mature waste ground. The abandoned mounds were thick with wild rose, hawthorn and the young shoots of rosebay. The steep-sided pits had filled with water, and though they had little or no vegetation in them, they were buzzing with water boatmen, diving beetles and newts. And the paths between, once heavily-used tracks over the light soil, carried one of the most brilliant collections of dry-soil flowers I have ever seen: ox-eye daisies, centauries, vetches, late cowslips, lady’s bed straw, musk mallow knee-high.'
From Unofficial Countryside (1972)

He's what my old Mum would call 'Chu-Chi"

Friday, 28 June 2013

Friday Night Film: The Power

I can remember seeing ‘The Power’ on a Saturday night in the early eighties, not at one am or anything daft like that, but at eight o’clock, prime time, BBC1. It was a very different world back then. It’s a strange, funny, semi- psychedelic film – a crazy, colourful collision of ‘The Man From UNCLE’,  ‘North By Northwest’, ‘The Fury’, ‘Scanners’ and ‘Altered States’, i.e. pretty interesting.

George Hamilton, the cut price, Cuprinol coated Warren Beatty, stars as a bio-chemist who works in a team where one of the scientists obviously has telekinetic powers, but nobody is admitting it. Toys come to life; fairground rides go mad; a man is spun around in a centrifuge until his peepers pop out of his head; an illuminated sign starts making up messages, and the team gets smaller and smaller, knocked off one by one by an assailant with strange, secret powers.

The climax, in which Hamilton meets the killer and is subjected to a psychic attack is brilliant – the most metaphysical sequence in US science fiction cinema since ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ over ten years earlier. In his beleaguered mind, Hamilton is drowned, frozen, burned, thrown into space – his body disintegrates, his skeleton explodes and the atoms are scattered across the universe. It’s superbly done. Hamilton, however, has latent powers of his own and, in order to survive, suddenly unleashes them with deadly consequences, making for a literally heart-stopping climax.

It’s a brilliant way to end a film that drags in parts and can’t really decide whether it’s a conspiracy thriller or a psychedelic fantasy - if the whole film was like the last ten minutes it would now be an undisputed classic of pop art sixties cinema, a sci fi Hitchcock – as it is, however, it fits into this particular series of curios, oddities and also rans very nicely indeed.      

Feelin' Groovy

010: Robert Fraser (1937-86)

Thursday, 27 June 2013


Five stills of Susan Penhaligon, posing outside Denholm Elliot's window and driving him sexually insane (from 'The Last Chapter' 1974)

It's worth breaking the rules of Quintalogue to provide this shot of mr Elliot's perfectly justifiable reaction. And let's face it, nobody would have thanked me for 20% less Penhaligon.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Walrus Was Paul

Recently I've been thinking about doing a bit of interior design at home. Alright, I really just mean clearing up the piles of junk the lie about the place. As I began some research I quickly came to the conclusion that looking at pictures of nice houses is probably preferable to living in one. My natural messiness would render any 'design' unrecognisable in a matter of hours. I took inspiration from the 1970s home interiors bible, Terence Conran's 'The House Book' and also Mary Gilliat's 'The Decorating Book' (1981), where everything looks very brown and reassuring.


I spotted a familiar friend among the children's bedroom section. O-ho! No Owl-Octopus conundrums here. But wait! My eyes froze on W as I scanned along the alphabet frieze. W is for... Walrus?

Call me Ishmael...

Paul, is this your doing again? It's Whale, motherfucker, WHALE!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Geoffrey Knows, You Know

Geoffrey Fletcher was documenting London's underbelly and forgotten spaces decades before any of the trumped up so-called 'psychogeographers'. With just a sketch book and an eye for detail he published many books of his observations and walks around London. Originating as a regular column in - of all places, The Daily Telegraph, he wrote beautiful vignettes, odes to the porcelain urinals in Holborn or the faded glory of the disappearing Music Halls.

The London Noboby Knows is his most famous book and was turned into a documentary film in 1967 by Norman Cohen. It starred James Mason in a cloth cap who pointed at poor people with his walking stick.

Sheer Shire

Dedicated to dear old Dolly Dolly.

He isn't dead, by the way. I just re-read that and thought 'it sounds like he's dead'. Seriously, he's fine. I'm sure of it. I'll just text him...

Monday, 24 June 2013

Lady Godiva Rides Again

To all intents and purposes, we now apparently live in a world of talent shows and get rich schemes. If you want a job, don't check the classified ads, simply go on telly and be humiliated for twelve weeks by a grumpy millionaire. If you want to open a small business, don't go to a bank, take part in a bake off. If you are lucky enough to be talented in the performing arts, please remember that your talent can only really be validated by those that have none.

Thing is, though, this isn't anything new. Indeed, it is the central theme of 1951 film 'Lady Godiva Rides Again', a film that sounds like it should be a 'Smut Britannia' entry, but isn't. Made as part of the fun for The Festival of Britain, the film concerns a pretty but ordinary waitress who, by chance, finds her way into show business for a short time before being dragged back down to earth. 

Marge (L); sexy friend (R).

Marge lives in Coventry and, as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations, auditions for the park of Lady Godiva in a local pagaent. The audition consists of a hundred assorted girls traipsing around a dance floor while a young-ish Jimmy Young sings at them. Oddly, Jimmy has less hair than he has now. As the girls stumble about, they are scrutinised by a bunch of old men who, after a good lech, pick Marge.   

Two tickets, please.

Phwoar! No wonder Tom was peeping.

Marge's Dad (Stanley Holloway) is disgusted ('we haven't had any scandal in this house since I found the chewing gum on the bed post!') but is finally persuaded that it will all be in the very best of taste. Marge's golden wig is so shaggy that it covers her up completely but, perhaps because its a slow news year, her hairy ride makes national headlines and she becomes slightly famous. 

Having tasted the heady brew that is minor celebrity, Marge decides that this is what she wants out of life and promptly enters a competition to become Miss Fascination Soap, where she meets Diana Dors, a nice, comely but cynical young woman who has an interesting job: she's a professional contest winner, i.e. she is in cahoots with the organisers, ensuring that they can offer amazing prizes without having to make good on them. In this case, for instance, the prize is a thousand quid, a fur coat and a trial with a film studio. Normally Di would have accepted just a hundred quid but, in this case, because she likes Marge and because the organisers won't let her have the fur coat, she fixes it so that Marge can win.

Interesting hair.

Diana, looking fit and well.

The lady below is real life beauty queen Violet Pretty, who later changed her name and became actress Anne Heywood. She's uncredited here, just appearing as a contestant, apparently along with blink and you'll miss them roles for Joan Collins and (!) Ruth Ellis (I blinked and, subsequently, missed them).

Pretty Violet.

'And the winner is...'

A study in reactions.
A triumphant Marge has her photo taken with her hero, hearthrob actor Simon Abott (Dennis Price) and embarks on a torrid but short- lived time in the spotlight.

Simon Abbott, always with an eye to business. 

Marge is now far too busy for her dopey boyfriend (George Cole), so he goes off with her sexy best friend instead (Bernadette O'Farrell, who died in 1999. Is there an etiquette for fancying young, alive versions of dead people? It's a bit of a strange one). George has the curliest hair I've ever seen on a caucasian male, he must have gone through a dozen pots of brylcreem a week.  

Interesting hair.
Marge's trajectory can be described by the following screen shots:





In the end, having knocked off Simon Abbott's wig after he made a pass at her, her contracts are all cancelled and the dream of 'going to Hollywood and having a coloured maid and a swimming pool' quickly disappears. She ends up modelling nude in a saucy revue directed by Sid James until she is rescued by a lovestruck Australian pineapple farmer and taken down under for the 'real' fulfilment of having a family.

A thrown together but nevertheless interesting film, 'Lady Godiva Rides Again' says much about the feel of post war, pre-Festival Britain: boring, deprived, wet and cold and grey - and sympathetically concludes that it's no wonder that girls like Marge crave excitement and glamour and fame and fortune. In the end analysis, however, wanting it isn't enough - you have to have something to give in exchange, i.e. talent - and, nice as she is, Marge simply doesn't have any. 

To conclude, there's a great little speech delivered by Eddie Byrne, a roving talent scout who sees some potential in Marge and tries to convince her Mum and Dad that show business is not necessarily a pit of depravity. With a few number and name changes, I don't see that it is much less relevant today.

"There are three million girls in this country between the ages of seventeen and twenty three hurling themselves down the same blind alleys: dances, speedways, films. Worshipping at the altar of Jean Simmons and Betty Grable, living by proxy - with what at the end of it? Marriage to some factory worker or counter hand - seven years to live and then the kitchen sink".  

With this in mind, who could begrudge Marge her brief moment in the spotlight?