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Happy Birthday Oliver Reed

Oliver Reed would have been 75-years-young today. Probably still making movies, entertaining audiences and no doubt fulfilling the needs of unimaginative TV commissioners by appearing, or pretending to be drunk on their tacky chat shows.

I think boredom inspired much of Reed’s bad behavior—it usually took less than 10 minutes of dumb questioning before Reed was playing-up as the resident drunk. It is still refreshing to find an olde interview with the great Hell Raiser, when he was having a night-off and talking (mainly) sense to his interrogator—here Michael Parkinson.

In interviews, Reed could still play the idiot savant (here making daft and knowingly offensive comments about intelligent women—who probably terrified him—Reed was dsylexic, and his own education had been piecemeal), if he had lost interest in the subject matter. Then reveal himself as someone who thought about what he was doing—notably here he discussed making The Devils with Ken Russell, which he tied directly into the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, where Religion had once again divided a country and set its people murderously against each other.

‘I’m still getting paid for that film. Neither Ken Russell or I got any money for that film [The Devils]. We got our expenses—but we made that film because we thought it was the proper time, and in light, maybe, of the Troubles in Ulster now, it was the proper time for that film to be made. We weren’t trying to afford anybody proper niceties, any proper little entertainments, little asides before tea, we were showing them the bigotry that goes on, or that humanity is capable of, and that was all we were doing….

....How many times have armies fought under the banner of Christianity, and how many lives have been destroyed? Let’s not have it again, please.’

The interview is from the Parkinson chat show in 1973, and amongst the guests are novelist Mickey Spillane and TV personality (famed for being on What’s My Line? in the 1950s, who sadly committed suicide after a shop-lifting charge in the 1980s). Throughout, Reed’s self-deprecating humor is evident and he did couple of funny impressions of Michael Winner and James Stewart. However, it’s still sad to think that such a naturally talented actor is no longer with us.

Happy Birthday Oliver Reed!

Bonus: the full interview with Oliver Reed, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Elton John and Michael Caine having a knees-up on ‘Parkinson’ from 1976

If you want to know what British TV was like in the 1970s, well, apart from watching the repeats on BBC4, this will give you a fair idea. Elton John and Michael Caine getting all “Knees-up Mother Brown” round the olde joanna on Michael Parkinson‘s show.

All this the same year The Sex Pistols released “Anarchy in the U.K.” on EMI, The Ramones singled “Blitzkreig Bop” and Patti Smith “Pissing in a River”. Cor blimey, guvnor.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Tears of a Clown: The Wit and Wisdom of Kenneth Williams

O, he was loved, but did he know it? And if he did, would it have made any difference? For the great comic actor Kenneth Williams was torn by the need to be loved and the fear of intimacy that love brings.  Should we be surprised? For he was shaped as much by his parents as he was by the times. A gay man in a country where homosexuality was illegal and punishable by gaol. His parents formed the two poles to his world: his father - morose and homophobic; his mother - theatrical and needy. Yet, Williams was to find a halfway-house while serving in the army:

I found that if I got up on the stage to entertain the troops I could make them shut up and look.

Through performance, Williams created a persona that protected him and allowed him to live vicariously. It was how he was. He made a career out of being Kenneth Williams.  Over thirty films, innumerable TV and radio shows, he perfected his comedic style of camp double entendre. The innuendo suited Williams, for it allowed him to imply without having to commit; and commitment was something Williams was unable to do.

In one recently released letter to his two close friends, Clive Dennis and Tom Waine, Williams gave a moving declaration about his frustration at ever finding true love:

“All problems have to be solved eventually by ONESELF, and that’s where all your lovely John Donne stuff turns out to be a load of crap because, in the last analysis, A MAN IS AN ISLAND.”

We were only to find out how lonely Williams was when his diaries were published posthumously. He kept a diary for over 40 years, and as writer Christopher Stevens uncovered in his recent biography on the actor, Born Brilliant, Williams coded his diary entries with a colored pen - “[He] wrote in red pen when discussing his health and in blue when he had dramatic news, for example.” More interestingly Stevens noted how Williams’ writing style would changed dramatically through the forty-three volumes, depending on his mood, whether frustrated, boyish, intellectual or depressed. Always at the heart of his life was a failure to celebrate his sexuality and find happiness with someone.

“Living with someone always means a denial of self in SOME way and I suppose I have always known it was something I couldn’t accomplish. So I’ve always stayed on the sidelines. Getting the pleasure vicariously. It’s not wholly satisfactory, but then of course no lives are, and you know what I think about indiscriminate sex and promiscuous trade. I think it’s the beginning of a long, long road to despair.”

The Kenneth Williams Diaries haven’t been out of print since their first publication in 1993, and have added an extra dimension to a talent who is best remembered for his work on the franchise of Carry On films, a series that defined British comedy through the 50s and 60s. By the 70s, the humor was tired, and the audiences demanded more explicit material, something Williams was unable to give. He returned to TV and became a fixture of chat show programs, most notably Michael Parkinson’s excellent late-night series. On the chat show, Williams was able to entertain and captivate, but without a script, without a character to play, he mined his own life, his own history, himself and TV soon ate him up. As he wrote in his diary:

“I wonder if anyone will ever know the emptiness of my life.”

Here are a selection of highlights from Kenneth Williams’ best moments on the BBC chat-show Parkinson.
Kenneth Williams on Parkinson 02/17/1973 Part One, with Maggie Smith and poet Sir John Betjeman. Here Williams describes critics as the eunuchs in the harem. “They’re there everything night. They see it done every night, but they can’t do it themselves.”

More Kenneth Williams plus bonus radio and TV clips and ‘The Vag Trick’ after the jump…

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‘GhostWatch’: Before ‘Paranormal Activity’ Banned BBC Drama

On 31st October 1992, the BBC aired a drama that terrorized the nation. Recorded two weeks before transmission, Stephen Volk’s GhostWatch was broadcast as a live on-air investigation into alleged poltergeist activity in a house in Northolt, London. Presented by journalist and chat-show host, Michael Parkinson, the program had live link-ups with reporters Sarah Greene and Mike Smith, on location at the haunted house. The documentary form of the show and its use of journalists, caused the majority of the British public to believe the televised events were in fact real.

Viewers watched as a series of cleverly constructed interviews, with the family who lived at the house and their neighbors, revealed details of the poltergeist, nicknamed Pipes, so-called from its habit of knocking on the house’s plumbing. The reporters discovered Pipes was the ghost of a psychologically damaged man called Raymond Tunstall, who was believed to have been troubled by the spirit of Mother Seddons – a baby farmer turned child killer from the 19th century. As the show developed, it was revealed (in Quatermass fashion) that the broadcast was acting as a “national seance,” giving Tuntsall’s ghost horrific powers. It ended with host Parkinson possessed by the evil spirit, and reporter Greene seemingly killed.

Like Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast, a mass panic ensued. Over 30,000 telephone calls were made to the BBC switchboard in 1 hour, with some people claiming poltergeist activity in their own homes. One man, 18-year-old Martin Denham, was so disturbed by the drama that he committed suicide 5 days after its broadcast. The central heating in his home had broken down and caused the pipes to knock, as in the show. Denham left a suicide note that said, “if there are ghosts I will be ... with you always as a ghost.”

In February 1994, a report in the British Medical Journal described cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in two 10-year-old boys. It was the first recorded occasion that a TV show had caused PTSD.

After its screening, GhostWatch was banned by the BBC for a decade. Since then it has only ever been shown once on Canada’s digital channel Scream and the Belgian channel Canvas

Stephen Volk, author of the screenplay, recalled in a BBC interview the effect GhostWatch had:

What surprised me was the avalanche of ‘IT SHOULDN’T BE ALLOWED’, ‘HEADS MUST ROLL’ and ‘HOW DARE THEY INSULT OUR INTELLIGENCE!’ The anger at being, as certain members of the viewing public saw it, duped and hoaxed by trusted Auntie Beeb.
I think the only [serious] review I read about it as a piece of drama was in Sight and Sound where Kim Newman, bless his cotton socks, referred to Quatermass and obviously got ‘it’.

We were doing a piece of drama with a theme and nobody discussed that. It was all ‘SHOCK, HORROR, SICK’ tabloid stuff.

I must say in all honesty that in all the meetings I had with the Drama Dept at the BBC, I never heard anyone at any time use the word ‘hoax’. We were just doing a drama in a particular style (as The Blair Witch Project has done more recently) to give a modicum of authenticity. The idea that we wanted to make fools of people is absurd and just wrong.

Subsequently Ghostwatch has become a staple subject for Media Studies projects: one University lecturer told me that somebody chooses it virtually every year!

In 2002 the British Film Institute released a DVD of GhostWatch.

Bonus clips of ‘GhostWatch’ including TV response after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment