Saturday, December 24, 2022

Cinema Limbo: Give My Regards to Broad Street

I've once again been a guest on Cinema Limbo, the podcast that picks over odd, old films. In this case, it's Give My Regards to Broad Street, the peculiar musical from Paul McCartney.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Blake's 7: No Name preview

The latest edition of the free Big Finish podcast includes a fair bit on my forthcoming Blake's 7 audio story, No Name.

At 39:25 there are interviews with producer Peter Anghelides, me and actor Brian Croucher about the story. Then, at 1:09:53 you can hear the first 15 minutes of No Name. It's the first I've heard of the episode, and I'm thrilled.

No Name will be released later this month as part of the Allies and Enemies set, alongside stories by Lizbeth Myles and Jonathan Morris.

Blake's 7: No Name by Simon Guerrier 

Everyone on Vanstone is hiding something. That’s why they are there. Hiding from her own past, Arlen wonders what has brought Roj Blake to this remote outpost.

Has Arlen uncovered a buried secret? And what does Space Commander Travis want on Vanstone?


Sasha Mitchell (Arlen); Brian Croucher (Travis); Victoria Alcock (Mac); Nigel Lindsay (Stor / Lux); Robots (Lisa Bowerman).

Sound design by Naomi Clarke, music by Jamie Robertson, directed by Lisa Bowerman.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Cleaning Up on Free Thinking

Last night, Radio 3's Free Thinking was on the subject of landladies. The guests included magnificent Louise Jameson, and at 13.40 conversation turned to her role as landlady Mrs Pellman in Cleaning Up, the short film written by me and directed by my brother Tom - which is still available to buy from Big Finish. It's a particular honour to be spoken of alongside the great This Sporting Life (1963), a film that's been much on my mind lately. 

Thanks to presenter Matthew Sweet and producer Torquil MacLeod.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

WGGB First Novel Award shortlist

The Writers' Guild of Great Britain has announced its 2023 awards shortlist, the winners to be announced at a ceremony on 16 January. As chair of the guild's books committee, I've been running the First Novel Award, and our three shortlisted titles are:

An Olive Grove in Ends by Moses McKenzie

Braver by Deborah Jenkins

The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmad

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Charles Hawtrey 1914-1988 The Man Who Was Private Widdle, by Roger Lewis

Charles Hawtrey of the Carry On films had an alcoholic cat. It was,

“pampered with port-soaked sugar lumps, its bread and butter sprinkled with Cyprus sherry, [and] used to walk into doors and see double when chasing mice.” (pp. 70-71)

This is just one extraordinary, sad and savage anecdote in Roger Lewis's pithy biography. Lewis has been diligent in going through BBC and BFI paperwork and in talking to those who knew Hawtrey in person. As well as the cast and crew of various productions, Lewis spoke to cab drivers, publicans, neighbours, and is good on the gulf between the cheery, cheeky persona captured on film and the angry, lecherous drunk of real life. 

Hawtrey's meanness is quite something:

“Of necessity [Lewis claims] he was frugal, penny-pinching. He maintained his account at the Royal Bank of Scotland (Piccadilly branch), because he believed the Scots would keep a beadier eye on their customers’ shillings. He’d lug bags of carrots from Leeds to Kent, because vegetables were cheaper in Yorkshire. He pilfered toilet rolls from public lavatories — or at least his mother did. She was notorious for wiping out supplies at Pinewood and, when rumbled, tried to flush away the incriminating evidence, which blocked the drains, closing down production on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Hawtrey was told that in future his mother would have to be locked in his dressing room.” (p. 72)

That's a fantastic a story but I'm not sure it can be true as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang began filming in June 1967 and Wikipedia claims that Hawtrey's mum Alice died in 1965. Lewis doesn't provide a source.

There's lots on money here. Hawtrey and his costars did not get rich from the Carry On films but producer Peter Rogers did. Instead, Hawtrey converted his house in Kew into bedsits  though implied to Roy Castle while making Carry on Up the Khyber in 1968 that he owned a “block of flats”. But Lewis says this enterprise didn't work out, and Hawtrey ended up being “ripped off” (p. 89). He retired to Deal, got banned from all its pubs and finally collapsed in a hotel doorway.

It's a troubled end to a troubled career. Hawtrey “never mixed with the rich and famous” (p. 12), and yet and some notable early roles. As well as playing several women on stage, he understudied Robert Helpmann as Gremio in Tyrone Guthrie’s production of The Merchant of Venice at the Old Vic, the cast including Roger Livsey as Petruchio and, in a small part, the future novelist Robertson Davies. A couple of years later, Hawtrey was in the cast of New Faces, the show that debuted Eric Maschwitz's hit song, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.”

But Lewis shares excerpts over three pages from polite, curt rejections from the 1940s and 50s. Then, on page 61, he gives a long list of names at the BBC that Hawtrey wrote to in radio and TV, but concludes that these were,

“all radio or television apparatchiks, and not a single one of these names rings any bells with me” (p. 61n).

In fact, the list includes television pioneer Rudolph Cartier, Cecil McGivern (Controller, then Deputy Director of Television) and Shaun Sutton (later Head of Drama). I recognised various jobbing staff directors from the drama department, and Graeme Muir from light entertainment. So Hawtrey wasn't just writing to “everybody at Broadcasting House, from the Director-General to the janitors”; this is evidence of his range and aspirations  a serious, dramatic actor as well as comic foil.

Friday, December 02, 2022

Clips from a Life, by Denis Norden

It's been a busy few months running the First Novel Award for the Writers' Guild of Great Britain - the shortlist to be announced shortly. Now I'm back to reading stuff related to my forthcoming biography of David Whitaker, former chair of the Writers' Guild and first story editor of Doctor Who.

Before that, Whitaker was script editor for Light Entertainment at the BBC, at the same time that Denis Norden and Frank Muir were employed as advisers on comedy. Whitaker then succeeded Norden (and Hazel Adair) as chair of the guild. So I scoured this memoir for any telling detail.

As Norden admits, it's is a rather loose collection of memories, jotted down as they occurred to him and then assembled in rough chronological order. There's a lot on his love of puns and odd turns of phrase, and much of the history is given by anecdote. He doesn't mention Whitaker but provides some fun tales about people in the same orbit - Ted Ray, Eric Maschwitz, Ronnie Waldman, the sitcom Brothers in Law starring Richard Briers and June Barry (Whitaker's first wife), and the early days of the guild.

For example, there's the striking fact that Hazel Adair, co-creator of Compact and Crossroads, who was Norden's co-chair, “at the Guild’s first Awards Dinner opened the dancing with Lew Grade” (p. 281).

Norden's eye for comic detail means there's plenty of vivid, wry observations. I particularly liked this, on the cultures of cinema:

“During the early forties I did some RAF training in Blackpool, where I discovered the cinemas were in the habit of interrupting the main feature sharp at 4 pm every day, regardless of what point in the storyline had been reached, in order to serve afternoon tea. The houselights would go up and trays bearing cups of tea would be passed along the rows. After fifteen minutes, the lights would dim down again, the trays would be passed back and the film wold resume. Anyone unwise enough to be sitting at the end of a row at that point could be left holding stacks of trays and empty cups.” (p. 33)