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David Bowie: ‘Heroes’ photo session outtakes
12:13 pm


David Bowie
Masayoshi Sukita

How to be a Retronaut has done it again by posting these outtakes from the photo session that yielded the Heroes cover. Shot by Japanese photographer and designer Masayoshi Sukita in 1977. 

More Heroes outtakes by Sukita after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Ken Russell’s early documentary: ‘A House in Bayswater’

Between 1959 and 1969, Ken Russell flourished as a brilliant director of television documentaries for the BBC, where he single-handedly advanced the documentary genre by creating a hybrid of the drama-documentary. Firstly with his splendid film on Elgar in 1962, developing the form with Oliver Reed in The Debussy Film in 1965, then making the classic drama on Delius, Song of Summer in 1968, before finally and most controversially making his masterpiece Dance of the Seven Veils A Comic Strip in Seven Episodes on the life of Richard Strauss 1864-1949, which infamously depicted the German composer of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” as a Nazi, and lead to questions being raised in the British Parliament, before it was eventually banned.

Russell’s brilliant style of film-making was a long way from how things worked when he first arrived at the BBC. Then ‘biography’, as Joseph Lanza explained in Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell and His Films, was:

...more like strict documentary. There was no place for metaphors or speculative drama. The network’s purists felt such tactics were synonymous with the kinds of exaggeration [the Futurist artist] Henri Gaudier championed and that Russell longed to create. So Russell kept a humble exterior while secretly plotting to subvert the BBC’s codes of propriety.

“Ken was different in every way from what he is now,” Russell’s BBC boss Huw Wheldon reflected in the early 1970s on working with Russell in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. “To start with, he was virtually wordless. He was shy and quiet. Quiet in every way: his clothes, his haircut, his countenance. A little watchful, but silent and completely modest. I couldn’t make head nor tail of him, partly because he wouldn’t help me. He didn’t say anything. He just looked at me.”

Russell’s first short film for the BBC’s Monitor series was Poet’s London - an effective evocation of John Betjeman’s poetry; quickly followed by Guitar Crazy on the rise of guitar music; Portrait of a Goon, a look acclaimed comic and scriptwriter, Spike Milligan; and a profile of dance legend, Marie Rambert and her ballet company. Then in 1960, during a summer break from the series, Russell wrote, directed and produced his first full-length documentary film, A House in Bayswater.

In An Appalling Talent - Ken Russell, film writer and critic, John Baxter described Russell’s film as ‘...ostensibly a protest at the razing of tall old buildings to make way for office blocks…’

‘Beginning as a systematic representation of Bayswater as a hive of creative activity - his chosen terrace houses a painter, a photographer, a ballet dancer and ex-pupil of Pavlova, a retired lady’s maid who pines for the affluent USA of the Twenties, and an odd but lively landlady - the film changes tone as both artists reveal themselves as tedious poseurs, and Russell’s sympathy swings towards the old people, sustained and enriched by the past. The dancer, leading her willing, wispy pupil through a two-woman show hazed in memoriesof better days (“My next solo is one I did on Broadway in 1929 and I am wearing the same costume”) is faded but not absurd, the maid’s images of New York have the insouciant fever of Scott Fitzgerald, and the concierge who sells her junk to the photographer for props, offers bumpers of sherry as rent receipts and cultivates toadstools and deadly nightshade in the garden with a philosophical “They might come in useful” celebrates the indestructible eccentric. The last Cocteauesque image, of the dancer and her little pupil battling in slow motion against a windy torrent of streamers and balloons (to be recalled in the 1812 episode of The Music Lovers) holds the promise of immortality for all those who survive and, above all, keep faith.’

A House in Bayswater is a beautiful piece of documentary-making, which slowly develops towards a memorable finish. What isn’t revealed is that the fact this was this house in Bayswater was Ken Russell’s home during the 1950s.

I have lived most of my life in rooming houses, and shared apartments, and run-down hotels, where there is great comfort in anonymity and company amongst strangers, and understand Russell’s nostalgia for a life that is being slowly removed, as cities are carelessly gentrified. Watching it in the month when New York’s Chelsea Hotel announced its demise, only reinforced how much of our shared environment is now monetized for the benefit of a few. This is apparent in Russell’s film, as the film details the lives and hopes of the tenants, connected by a house that was soon to be lost to demolition and replaced “by a soulless office block.”

Previously on Dangerous Minds

The Book, The Sculptor, His Life & Ken Russell

Ken Russell’s banned film: ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’

Ken Russell on Antonio Gaudi


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For H. P. Lovecraft’s birthday: Mark E. Smith reads ‘The Color Out of Space’

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born today in 1890, the cult writer who has been described as the 20th century’s greatest practitioner of horror fiction. Lovecraft has influenced and inspired such diverse writers and film-makers as Stephen King, Sam Raimi, Robert Bloch, Alan Moore, Tim Burton, Neil Gaiman and Mark E Smith.

To celebrate Lovecraft’s birthday, here is Mark E Smith reading “The Color Out of Space”.

Originally recorded by the BBC in 2007 as part of series of tales for Christmas, Smith briefly explained his choice:

“I’ve been a fan of HP Lovecraft since I was about 17. I chose to read this story because it’s very unusual for him; it’s not like his other tales. They are usually about people who live underground, or threats to humanity – which I like as well – but The Color Out Of Space is quite futuristic.”

Smith’s reading makes Lovecraft’s tale sound like the lyrics to one of his songs for The Fall, which only adds to the tale’s eerie quality.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Rule Britannia’ from Derek Jarman’s ‘Jubilee’, 1978

There have been few films as truthful about the state of MerryEngland as Derek Jarman’s Jubilee. Here is a world bought by bankers, sold by politicians, all with public money. A world where everything has its price, and liberty is defined by our Right to Shop. A world best described in the film by the wonderful creation, Borgia Ginz:

“You wanna know my story babe. It’s easy. This is the generation that grew up and forgot to lead their lives. They were so busy watching my endless movie. It’s power babe, power. I don’t create it, I own it. I sucked and sucked and I sucked. The media became their only reality and I owned their world of flickering shadows. BBC. TUC. ITV. ABC. ATV. MGM. KGB. C of E. You name it, I bought them all and rearranged the alphabet. Without me, they don’t exist.”

After its release in 1978, Jubilee was denounced by some of the people who should have supported it, but were horrified by its nihilism. Jarman explained his motivation to the Guardian‘s Nicholas de Jongh:

“We have now seen all established authority, all political systems, fail to provide any solution - they no longer ring true.”

As true today, as it was then.

Here is Jordan as Amyl Nitrite, giving it laldy with her rendition of “Rule Britannia”.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Rare recording of Kenneth Williams reading Gogol’s ‘Diary of a Madman’, 1963

Here is a rare and rather wonderful piece of Kenneth Williams’ archive: his brilliant interpretation of Nikolai Gogol’s farcical short story Diary of a Madman .

In 1963, Kenneth Williams agreed to narrate an animated version of Gogol’s Diary of a Madman for film-maker Richard Williams. The pair had previously worked together on the short cartoon Love Me Love Me. According to the splendid biography Born Brilliant: The Life of Kenneth Williams by Christopher Stevens:

Gogol’s story gave lunatic scope to [Kenneth] Williams’s voices. It told of a lonely clerk, who is driven out of his wits by unrequited love until he succumbs to delusions that, as the uncrowned king of Spain, he is spied upon by talking dogs.

In a recording session that stretched for more than six hours without a break, Williams read from the clerk’s diary in a halting voice, like a man on a window-ledge who cannot will himself to suicide. Other personalities pierced the reading - the sadism of the office supervisor, the contempt of the boss’s daughter, the shrill proclamations of King Ferdinand VIII. ‘I was pretty hard on him, and made him read passages again and again to get the right effect. It freaked him out,’ Richard Williams recalled. ‘At one point he walked out of the studio and I had to run after him. It was a block and a half before I caught up and persuaded him to come back.’ Full of repetition and bitter nonsense, the piece is almost nauseating as the clerk slops and flounders towards insanity. While no recordings exist of Williams in his most unsettling stage roles, Diary of a Madman is proof of his merciless gift for sustained, upsetting performance.

Sadly the animation was never completed, but this incredible recording was later re-edited by the BBC and broadcast on Radio 4 in 1991.

Dramatization by James Burke
Music by Peter Shade
Directed by Richard Williams
Produced by Ned Chaillet
Re-mixed for radio by John Whitehall

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Kenneth Williams: Stop Messin’ About

Bonus - Kenneth Williams reads a classic ‘Just William’ tale, after the jump…

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A Brief History of Recent Pop Culture as told through Photographs of Alice Cooper and Friends

A brief history of recent pop culture, as told through various photographs of Alice Cooper and Friends.
Marxism: Alice and Groucho.
The Super Group: Alice, Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson, Marc Bolan, 1973.
Surrealism: Alice and Salvador Dali.
Popism: Alice, Ray Manzarek, and Iggy.
Previously on Dangerous Minds
When Alice Cooper met Colonel Sanders
Culled from various but special thanks to This Is Not Porn
More photo-history with Alice plus bonus clip, after the jump…

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Original Photo-spread for Ken Russell’s ‘Lisztomania’, 1975

This year marks the bi-centenary of Franz Liszt‘s birth - that legendary composer, pianist and mad shagger.

It was Ken Russell who first saw the similarities between Liszt and the excesses of modern day rock stars. Liszt’s concerts were attended by hundreds of young women, who screamed their hearts out at the composer’s flowing locks, long, dextrous fingers and incredible virtuosity at the piano. He was mobbed by these fans, who tore at his clothes, and ripped souvenir handkerchiefs that had been cast into the crowd (just like Elvis would do over a century later) to shreds. Liszt’s concerts were said to raise the mood of an audience to “mystical ecstasy”, all of which led to the term “Lisztomania” to describe the public’s excessive adoration of the randy composer.

Lisztomania became the title of Russell’s “scandalous” and “outrageous” 1975 cartoon bio-pic, starring Roger Daltrey as Liszt, with Paul Nicholas as Wagner, Ringo Starr as the Pope, Fiona Lewis as Marie d’Agoult and Sarah Kestelman as Princess Carolyn. As Films and Filming noted in this pictorial preview it was to be Russell’s “most spectacular and controversial” film, and while it turned the critics off, it is a film that has grown in reputation and influence since its first release. While not Russell’s best work, it’s still sand-in-the-face to the majority of pap pumped out into today’s multiplexes.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Original Photo-spread for Derek Jarman’s ‘Jubliee’

More pics from ‘Lisztomania’ after the jump…

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Alice Cooper picks his favorite records

Alice Cooper guested on the classic BBC Radio show Desert Islands Discs in 2010, where he discussed the highs and lows of his long and successful career, and chose some of the records which best captured those moments from his past. Dear olde Auntie described Alice Cooper thus:

As a teenager he says it was British music that he tuned in to - listening to The Beatles, The Yardbirds and The Who. He realised that while rock music had many heroes, there were few villains - that was the territory he marked out for himself. He developed his trademark look - blackened eyes, straggly hair and glamorous clothes - and set about designing live shows that were gleefully gory and macabre.

While critics have described him as ‘the world’s most beloved heavy metal entertainer’, it took him a while to untangle himself from his creation. “For a long time I honestly didn’t know where I began and Alice ended. My friends at the time were Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and I was trying to keep up with them. And I realised when they all died that you didn’t have to be your character off stage.”

Alice’s selection:

The Yardbirds - “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”
The Beach Boys - “I Get Around”
The Who - “I’m A Boy”
Laura Nyro - “Timer”
King Crimson - “21st Century Schizoid Man”
Jane’s Addiction - “Been Caught Stealing”
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band - “Work Song”
Bob Dylan - “Ballad of a Thin Man”
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Alice Cooper: Black Juju, 1971


Special Bonus Clip - Alice Cooper live showcase 1971, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Bad Reputation’: Excellent Thin Lizzy documentary
04:21 pm


Phil Lynott
Thin Lizzy

Phil Lynott was Thin Lizzy. The talented, beautiful, iconic Irishman was the band’s heart and soul, and its demise in 1984, presaged Lynott’s early death on January 4th 1986 - fifteen years to the day Thin Lizzy started recording their first album.

Bad Reputation is an honest and affectionate documentary that tells the story Ireland’s greatest band. Starting with guitarist, Scott Gorham and drummer, Brian Downie remixing the classic Jailbreak album, the film quickly revisits the band’s early incarnation as The Black Eagles, Orphanage, and then Thin Lizzy, named after a character from the comic the Beano.

Produced and directed by Linda Brusasco, the film includes very rare footage of a young Phil at the start of his career, and includes revealing interviews with him through the highs and lows, together with interviews from nearly all of the key players, Brian Downie, Scott Gorham, Eric Bell, Brian Robertson, Midge Ure, Bob Geldof, and legendary record producer, Tony Visconti.

The reformed version of Thin Lizzy are currently touring, check here for details.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Thin Lizzy: Live Rock Palast, 1981

The rest of ‘Thin Lizzy: Bad Reputation’, after the jump…

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Harold Pinter at the 92nd Street Y, November 1964
02:41 pm


Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter wrote poetry throughout his life, not just the “big sweary outburst about how crap the war in iraq is” which saw him win the Wilfred Owen Prize in 2004, but poetry of mood, nuance and subtle observation.

In November 1964, Pinter appeared at the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center, New York, where he read a selection of his poetry and short stories. This audio recording is the full program of Pinter’s reading and includes:

“Tea Party”
“New Year in the Midlands”
“A Glass at Midnight”
“You in the Night”
“The Drama in April”
“The Anesthetist’s Pen”
“The Error of Alarm”
“The Table”
“The Black and White Selection”
“The Examination”

This is followed by a Q&A where Pinter:

...talks about literary influences, point of view, his opinion of Edward Albee’s Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the classic Beatles vs. Rolling Stones debate.


Previously on Dangerous Minds

The Everyday Genius of Harold Pinter


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Notes towards a portrait of Francis Bacon

In the final moments of a documentary on Francis Bacon, made by a French TV channel, the great artist turned to camera and jovially announced, in his best Franglais, that he had lost all his teeth to his lovers. That is what he was like –dramatically revealing intimate scenes from his life at the most unexpected of moments. His paintings did the same, as they were images, which unnervingly presented the “brutality of fact,” within the most intimate and commonplace of locations – a bedroom, a living room, a toilet.

I once played Francis Bacon on his deathbed, tended by nuns. It was for a drama-documentary, which examined the Bacon’s work through his asthma. The idea was to find out how much this medical condition shaped the artist’s life. For as Bacon once said to critic John Russell

“If I hadn’t been an asthmatic, I might never have gone on painting at all.”

If this was true, then arguably, it was his asthma that made him a painter, and his asthma, which induced the heart attack that killed him.

Of course, there have been other suggestions as to why Bacon became an artist: the childhood trauma of being locked in a cupboard by the family nanny, or more luridly, as writer John Richardson has claimed, it was Bacon’s masochism that inspired his work. Yet, neither of these fully explain his drive or resilience, or the influence of his strange relationship with his father had on his work.

Bacon was 82-years-old when he died in Madrid, on the 28th April 1992. In many respects, it is a surprise he lived so long.  Bacon was a prodigious drinker, had a damaged and diseased heart, lost a kidney to cancer, and once, nearly lost an eye, after being “pissed as a fart” and falling down the stairs of his favored drinking den. But Bacon had resilience, rather than seek immediate medical attention he merely pushed the offending orb back into its socket, and continued with his afternoon debauch.

Bacon was a gambler. He saw himself as open to the opportunities of chance in both life and art. He made and lost small fortunes on the spin of the roulette wheel. He was an atheist who saw no hope of an afterlife, and gave credence to “the individual’s perceived reality.” He claimed he had been “made aware of what is called the possibility of danger at a very young age,” which led him to treat life as if it were always within the shadow of death:

“If you really love life, you’re walking in the shadow of death all the time…Death is the shadow of life, and the more one is obsessed with life the more one is obsessed with death.  I’m greedy for life and I’m greedy as an artist.”

In the late 1940s, Bacon was told by his doctor he had an enlarged heart. One of his friends, Lady Caroline Blackwood, then wife to artist Lucian Freud, later recounted a tale of a dinner when Francis had joined her and Lucian, at Wheeler’s Restaurant :

“His (Francis) doctor had told him that his heart was in such a bad state that not a ventricle was functioning; he had rarely seen such a diseased organ, and he warned Francis that if he had one more drink or even became excited it could kill him.

“Having told us the bad news he waved to the waiter and ordered a bottle of champagne, and once it was finished ordered several more.  He was ebullient throughout the evening but, Lucian and I went home feeling very depressed.  He seemed doomed.  We were convinced he was going to die, aged forty.”


More on Francis Bacon and part two of his interview with David Sylvester, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Original Photo-spread for Derek Jarman’s ‘Jubilee’

It was porn that brought me to Derek Jarman, browsing through the soft core pages of Cinema Blue there was a photo-spread on his first feature Sebastiane.

It caught my interest because of Jarman’s association with Ken Russell on The Devils and Savage Messiah.  Now, in 1977, he had made a film about frisbee throwing Roman centurions romping in Sardinia, with a script spoken in schoolboy Latin, and a cast that included Peter Hinwood and Little Nell from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the boyish Richard Warwick from If…, and the idyllic TV series Brensham People.

Dismissed as a sex film and with a hint of notoriety, Sebastiane  was whispered about in the schoolyard, but as Cinema Blue pointed out, it was too intelligent and too well made to be a skin flick, but was instead a brilliant art house film.

I checked the papers, but no cinema had Sebastiane in its listings. It was therefore to be Jarman’s next film, Jubilee that started a love affair with his work.

March 1978 and Films and Filming featured Adam Ant, the star of Derek Jarman’s second feature Jubilee, on its cover. Inside was a 4-page photo spread.

Directed by Derek Jarman, from an original screenplay by James Whaley and Jarman, about a gang of girls fighting for survival on the streets of London in the near future. With Jenny Runacre, Little Nell, Jordan, Toyah Wilcox, Bermmine Demoriane, Iaan Charleson, Karl Johnson and Adam Ant. Music by Adam and the Ants, Siouxsie and the banshees, Chelsea, Wayne County and the Elecrtric Chairs, Suzi Pinns and Brian Eno. Produced by Howard Malin and James Whaley.

Here in its grainy black and white glory is that photo-spread.

More pages from the past, plus bonus clips of Jarman’s ‘Jubilee’, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The everyday genius of Harold Pinter
03:49 pm


Harold Pinter

I started reading Pinter when I was about 12, and found his work strangely reassuring, for here was the dialog of the adults all around me, full of peopled silences and casual menace. Whether it was The Caretaker or The Birthday Party, it all seemed so normal, only as I gained a year, did I realize that perhaps it wasn’t meant to be so normal after all.

Pinter observed and refracted the world around him through the prism of his experience - a repertory actor caught in digs, mixing with landladies, traveling salesman, became The Room, The Basement, and The Birthday Party. As Pinter told his biographer, Michael Billington:

“I went to these digs and found, in short, a very big woman who was the landlady and a little man, the landlord. There was no one else there, apart from a solitary lodger, and the digs were really quite filthy ... I slept in the attic with this man I’d met in the pub ... we shared the attic and there was a sofa over my bed ... propped up so I was looking at this sofa from which hairs and dust fell continuously. And I said to the man, “What are you doing here?” And he said, “Oh well I used to be…I’m a pianist. I used to play in the concert-party here and I gave that up.” ... The woman was really quite a voracious character, always tousled his head and tickled him and goosed him and wouldn’t leave him alone at all. And when I asked him why he stayed, he said, “There’s nowhere else to go.”

Or, the start of family life, married to the actress Vivian Merchant, living together in a threadbare flat in Chiswick, the location which inspired The Caretaker:

“a very clean couple of rooms with a bath and kitchen. There was a chap who owned the house: a builder, in fact, like Mick who had his own van and whom I hardly ever saw. The only image of him was of this swift mover up and down the stairs and of his van going . . . Vroom . . . as he arrived and departed. His brother lived in the house. He was a handyman . . . he managed rather more successfully than Aston, but he was very introverted, very secretive, had been in a mental home some years before and had had some kind of electrical shock treatment . . . ECT, I think . . . Anyway, he did bring a tramp back one night. I call him a tramp, but he was just a homeless old man who stayed three or four weeks.”

Then there was his sexual and romantic relationships Landscape, Silence, Betrayal; and even his influences - a moot point that without Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr. Sloane, he wouldn’t have written The Homecoming.

In 1963, Pinter wrote an essay about his theater and his plays:

I’m not a theorist. I’m not an authoritative or reliable commentator on the dramatic scene, the social scene, any scene. I write plays, when I can manage it, and that’s all. That’s the sum of it.

I’ve had two full-length plays produced in London. The first ran a week, and the second ran a year. Of course, there are differences between the two plays. In The Birthday Party I employed a certain amount of dashes in the text, between phrases. In The Caretaker I cut out the dashes and used dots instead. So that instead of, say, “Look, dash, who, dash, I, dash, dash, dash,” the text would read, “Look, dot, dot, dot, who, dot, dot, dot, I, dot, dot, dot, dot.” So it’s possible to deduce from this that dots are more popular than dashes, and that’s why The Caretaker had a longer run than The Birthday Party. The fact that in neither case could you hear the dots and dashes in performance is beside the point. You can’t fool the critics for long. They can tell a dot from a dash a mile off, even if they can hear neither.

Nigel Williams directed this superb two-part film biography on Harold Pinter for BBC’s Arena strand, which explores:

Pinter’s life, work, and political passions - from his East End childhood to his work as an actor, his experience of both early critical rejection and adulation, his screenwriting, and his love of poetry and passion for cricket.

Part One explores Pinter’s key theme - the room - through the very rooms in which he wrote his first great series of plays. Arena reveals the links between the plays and places, and meets the people who live there now. We visit the East London terraced house room where Pinter grew up and first wrote poetry; the theatre dressing room where he began to formulate his ideas about playwriting and language; the sitting room in the London cold-water flat where he wrote his first hit, The Caretaker, and his study in the bow-fronted house in Worthing, where he lived in the sixties with his first wife Vivien Merchant, and wrote The Homecoming.

Harold Pinter has given Arena exclusive access to personal recordings in which he talks frankly to his biographer Michael Billington. Presented for the first time on television, they tell Pinter’s story in his own words, as he remembers it.

In part two of this film biography, Arena explores the relationship between the public and private dimensions of the famous playwright and actor’s life and work; the intimacy of his plays since the seventies; his work in films and television drama; his passion for poetry; and his fervent ‘political engagement’.

Arena accompanied Pinter for two years to film plays and events in America and all over Europe. The wildly funny Celebration features a group of friends celebrating in a restaurant and, over the course of the evening, revealing details of their private lives in this very public space.

Arena reunites members of the cast, including Lindsay Duncan, Andy de la Tour, Susan Wooldridge and Indira Varma, who discuss their working relationship with Harold Pinter.

Other contributors include his wife Lady Antonia Fraser, journalist John Pilger and Pinter’s biographer Michael Billington.


Part 2 of this excellent documentary on Harold Pinter, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘The Crystal Cube’: An early bit of Fry and Laurie

I wonder why it’s generally the rich and famous who like to tell the public, ‘Money does not bring happiness’? It’s so condescending. Do the poor wander around informing whoever will listen, ‘Poverty does not make you happy’? Hardly. I was thinking about this as I finished reading Stephen Fry’s latest volume of highly readable autobiography, where the great man informs us:

I know that money, power, prestige and fame do not bring happiness. If history teaches us anything it teaches us that. You know it. Everybody agrees this to be a manifest truth so self-evident as to need no repetition. What is strange to me is that, despite the fact that the world knows this, it does not want to know it and it chooses almost always to behave as of it were not true. It does not suit the world to hear that people who are leading a high life an enviable life, a privileged life are as miserable most days as anybody else, despite the fact that it must be obvious they would be - given that we are all agreed that money and fame do not bring happiness. Instead the world would prefer to enjoy the idea, against what it knows to be true, that wealth and fame do in fact insulate and protect against misery and it would rather we shut up if we are planning to indicate otherwise.

It’s a clever piece of writing, and rather troubling. If money hasn’t made Mr Fry happy, perhaps that’s because he wasn’t happy before he had it? As someone who has spent a considerable part of his adult life in poverty, dirt and a miserable ease, I can assure the universally loved writer, actor, broadcaster and tweeter that money can and does bring happiness, for it allows independence. Moreover, if money’s not important, then why is so much of our politics based on the redistribution of wealth?

Of course, it’s not just money, Mr Fry is writing about, but fame, and his depression, and all that entails, which he recently discussed, along with his thoughts on suicide, in the talk-show In Confidence:

‘It is exhausting knowing that most of the time the phone rings, most of the time there’s an email, most of the time there’s a letter, someone wants something of you. They want to touch the hem of the fame, not the hem of the person.

‘You resort to not travelling on the Tube or walking round the street any more and going in a big car with a driver.

‘And people think, “Oh, he thinks he’s so grand, doesn’t he?” Well, no. I’d rather walk, but sometimes I just can’t.

‘I feel I would love to close down for a number of years in some way and just be in the country making pork pies and chutneys and never have to poke my head out of the parapet.’

In 1989, I had the pleasure of meeting Fry, when I was a researcher working on Open to Question, a “yoof” interview series where groups of inquizzitive teenagers grilled various invited guests: from politicians (Gary Hart, Tony Benn), through performers (Billy Connolly, Jim Kerr) to Royalty (Princess Anne). Fry’s show was recorded on the same day we filmed an episode with Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens), in which the seventies pop star discussed the fatwa on Salman Rushdie and his Islamic beliefs. In one corner of the green room was Fry with cigarettes and red wine, in the other Yusuf Islam with an entourage of veiled assistants.

Fry was affable, eminently likable, terribly polite and deflected the most intimate and probing questions. When asked if he had always wanted fame, Fry avoided a direct answer by explaining his definitions of fame. There was “real fame like Charlie Chaplin”; and another kind, like original James Bond (on radio) and British TV host, Bob Holness. Fry said when he was younger he wanted to be famous like Holness, and managed to slip this in without the interviewer, (future Channel 4 newsreader) Krishnan Guru-Murthy picking up on his youthful ambition.

In The Fry Chronicles, he explained this ambition more openly:

A part of me - I have to confess this, moronic, puerile and cheap as it may sound - really did ache to be a star. I wanted to be famous, admired, stared at, known, applauded and liked.

Now of course he’s bigger than Holness and as universally loved as Chaplin, which in light of his recent comments about hem-touching fans, does, sadly, seem to confirm what Saint Teresa of Avila once wrote:

“More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones”

It’s thirty years since the loveliness that is Stephen Fry first came to prominence alongside Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, Tony Slattery, Paul Shearer and Penny Dwyer in the Cambridge Footlights’ comedy revue “The Cellar Tapes”. It’s the last really great Footlights show, as those following it may have highlighted some great individual talent (Sue Perkins, Robert Webb, David Mitchell, and Richard Ayoade) but never achieved the legendary status of “Beyond the Fringe”, “A Clump of Plinths” (aka “Cambridge Circus”) or “The Cellar Tapes”. Understandable, you may say, considering the unique and exquisite talents felicitously brought together for our entertainment.

The success of “The Cellar Tapes” led Fry and Laurie to be asked by the BBC to come up with a pilot for a possible series:

We conceived a series that was to be called The Crystal Cube, a mock serious magazine programme that for each edition would investigate some phenomenon or other: every week we would ‘go through the crystal cube’. Hugh, Emma, Paul Shearer and I were to be regulars and we would call upon a cast of semi-regular guests to play other parts.

This is that pilot, in all its VHS glory, and as someone comments on the youtube page was there a more brilliant threesome as Fry, Laurie and Thompson? Answers on a postcard, care of the usual address.


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John Waters: 10 Things Every Role Model Needs

To coincide with his appearance at this year’s Hay Festival, in Wales, film director, writer, stand-up comic, artist and all-round-good-guy, John Waters has compiled a list of “10 things every role model needs”:

1. History. You can’t have a one-night-stand role model. No one can become a role model in 24 hours. It helps a lot if you knew them when you were young, so they sort of grow or fester with you, like Johnny Mathis was for me.

2 Be extreme: all my role models have to be. They have to be braver than I’ve ever been. Even to survive success is hard, no matter if it’s widespread success like Johnny Mathis had, or Bobby Boris Pickett, who his whole life just had to sing one song [The Monster Mash]. Today too many people are trying hard to be extreme. For the people I admire it was natural, and they turned it into art.

3 Style. You can have bad style, but you have to have some style. That’s why I wrote about Rei Kawakubo, who reinvented fashion to be damaged and to be everything you hoped it was not when you bought an outfit. And she quadrupled the price. That’s a magic trick.

4 Be alarming – I think that’s important. And it’s different from being shocking. Alarming threatens the very core of your existence, it doesn’t just shock you – but you don’t know why it makes you nervous at first. You know, St Catherine of Siena drank pus for God. That was important to me because I thought: I want to be her, I don’t want to be half-assed! If I was going to be a Catholic, it would have been before the Reformation.

5 Humour. It’s very important to be well-read, but I never understand why people are so sure their partners have to be smart. What kind of smart do they mean? I’m not interested in talking about literature in bed! I like people who can make me laugh. Humour gets you laid, humour gets you hired, humour gets you through life. You don’t get beat up if you can make the person that’s going to beat you up laugh first.

6 Be a troublemaker. All art is troublemaking, because why go through all the trouble of making it if you don’t cause a little stir?

7 Bohemianism. Bohemia saved my life. And by bohemia I mean all sexualities mixed together, and people who do what they do not to get rich – freedom from suburbia. People who want to fit in but don’t are losers. Bohemians are people who don’t fit in because they don’t want to.

8 Originality. Someone unique like Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West, is an easy role model to have. She could fit into any of these categories – her outfit looked like Comme des Garçons, and anybody who could scare children like that… The problem was, I wanted to be her. And as I turn 65, that has sort of come true.

9 Neuroses. I think it helps to be neurotic. Neurotic people always end up being in the arts. If your kid fits in while in high school they’re going to be a dull adult. I still see a few people I went to high school with, but the other ones, when they come up to me I say: “I’m sorry, I took LSD, I don’t remember you.” It works, because then they aren’t offended personally. It’s really just manners.

10 Be a little bit insane. That’s different from neurotic. You can stay home and be neurotic. You have to go out to be insane. You can be a little bit of both, but both need to be joyous. As long as you can find a moment of joy in even your worst behaviour, it’s something to be thankful for.

John Waters will be discussing his book Role Models on Saturday at the Hay Festival at 8.30p, details here.

John Waters answers questions from The Big Think
Via the Daily Telegraph

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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