Thursday, 26 January 2017

Stanley Baxter


Stanley Baxter:

Yes, he's hardly 'unknown' - in the UK at least. In fact the impish Scottish actor Stanley Baxter is virtually the last man standing of the golden era of British film comedy, alongside his old sparring partner Leslie Phillips. In films produced by the film company Independent Artists, Baxter played a series of characters whose indignant innocence and highland integrity was set off against Phillips's casual caddishness. In 'The Fast Lady' (1962) and 'And Father Came Too' (1964) their rivalry was played out under the critical eye of the great James Robertson Justice. In these he made a likeable, if rather unlikely, male lead - winning the girl through dogged virtue rather than matinee-idol dash.        

 
Publicity still for 'The Fast Lady' (1962)
In 'Very Important Person' (1961) and 'Crooks Anonymous' (1962) the emphasis was more on his vaudevillian skills of comic characterisation, in which he was considerably more nuanced than, say, Norman Wisdom, but not as sophisticated as Peter Sellers. To me, his craggy features and mischievously mobile expressions gave him a rather sinister quality, particularly in drag. His love of the dressing-up box was later to become the raison d'etre of his television sketch shows.            


With Leslie Phillips in 'Crooks Anonymous' (1962)

By the later '60s and early '70s, the light family comedies had been brushed aside by smuttier Carry-Ons and the horror boom and television became his natural domain, although it always seemed that his audience was an older one. The shows featured some memorable skits, particularly his long-running 'Parliamo Glasgow' language course routines which offered an early observational take on the peculiarities of Scottish culture, later taken up by Billy Connolly and the 'Rab C Nesbitt' series. Other sketches, however, tended towards overlong costume pieces with the spectacle of a gargoyle-like Baxter in elaborate drag as a series of Hollywood actresses proving not all that funny. Especially if you were a ten-year-old who didn't know his Ethel Mermans from his Rita Hayworths.

Showing off his regional accents in a 'Nationwide' skit. Ill-advised blacked-up
Baxter (yes really) in the BBC's 'Brixton' studio not shown  
Hello who is this? Shirley MacLaine? Who knows?
This one must be 'Gone With The Wind'. Not very
many people gave a damn, I suspect 

His regular shows became less regular, eventually just an annual Christmas special, but there was a final flourish as the Andy Warhol-meets-Patrick Troughton children's TV star 'Mr Majeika' in the '80s before he settled down to national treasure status. Born in 1926, he's now in his nineties and hopefully going strong. 

As 'Mr Majeika'. As scary as only strange childlike elderly men can be

Anyhoo. Lang may his lum reek.       

Stanley Baxter - imdb

Friday, 6 January 2017

Michael Culver



Michael Culver: 

Now here's a face of the seventies, a lean, shrewd-looking actor who carved his name into a swathe of memorable roles through the heyday of popular television, yet without quite becoming a star.   

As the caddish Danny, telling the world that he doesn't love Annabelle. Soon to be 
pushed off the Albert Bridge by that miffed lady and not, as it turns out, by
a lovelorn Rodney Bewes. All in a day's work for a 'Man In A Suitcase'.  
         
He's another of that dwindling band of actors whose careers straddle the cult TV years of the '60s and '70s, when he appeared in 'Maigret', 'The Avengers', 'The Plane Makers', 'Man In A Suitcase', and 'Space:1999', and more mature roles in dramas such as 'Within These Walls', 'Doomwatch', 'Churchill's People' and 'Warship'. Perhaps his highest-profile part was in the very popular 'Secret Army' as the comparatively sympathetic German officer Brandt who tempers some of the Nazi fervour of his Gestapo counterpart Kessler (played by Clifford Rose). Younger viewers at the time would probably associate him more with 'The Adventures Of Black Beauty'.

Hirsute's you. Culver plays the dastardly kidnapper Kurt with some
impressive mutton chops, alongside the late Ralph Bates at his glossiest
in 'Nuisance Value', an episode of 'The Persuaders' from 1972 
The later '70s and early '80s kept things nicely on the boil with appearances in favourites like 'The Sweeney', 'Minder', 'Squadron', 'Hammer House Of Horror', 'The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes', 'Boon', 'The Professionals' and 'Shoestring'.  


As Prior Robert in the medieval detective series 'Cadfael'

Then there's the cinema CV, which contains some pretty impressive titles, kicking off with (uncredited) roles in 'From Russia With Love' (1963) and 'Thunderball' (1965), and including 'A Passage To India' (1984), the Peter O'Toole 'Goodbye Mr Chips' (1969). As with many British character actors, though, he is known throughout geekdom for his brush with the Star Wars franchise, in this case as Captain Needa, another imperial officer who gets on the wrong side of Darth Vader. 


Still breathing in 'The Empire Strikes Back' (1980). But not for long. 

Michael Culver
-imdb

Friday, 16 December 2016

Jane Freeman



Jane Freeman:

Jane Freeman's acting career has been pretty much defined by one role, that of Ivy, the permanently disgruntled proprietress of the cafe in 'Last Of The Summer Wine'. She appears, fully formed, in 'Of Funerals and Fish', the play which became the pilot for Roy Clarke's interminable series of geriatric misadventures, and then went on to repeat much the same lines in another 273 of the programme's 295 episodes. Only Peter Sallis has been in more - all of them, in fact.     


'Last Of The Summer Wine publicity shot,
with screen hubby Sid (the late John Comer) 
Beyond her epic 1973-2010 stint in Holmfirth, there have been a few interesting interludes: several outings of 'Play For Today' (including 'The Fishing Party' in 1972, which also featured her LOTSW co-star John Comer), and roles in 'Within these Walls', 'Silas Marner' (the 1975 BBC adaptation starring Ben Kingsley), 'Prince Regent' and 'The Black Adder'. It seems her sole cinematic outing was in the tough girl drama 'Scrubbers' (1982).

As the guest house tyrant Audrey in 'The Fishing Party'
In some ways it seems a shame that she didn't get to play a few more varied parts over all those years, she would have been good as a jolly farmer's wife, a crooked clairvoyant or a merry widow. But I'm sure many actors would (and did) jump at the chance of decades of such regular work and she's certainly become, if not a household name, a very familiar face.    

Jane Freeman
-imdb

Monday, 12 December 2016

Ken Bones





Ken Bones:

A great name for this vaguely familiar skull-headed actor with a mix of doomy gravitas and steely intensity, Ken Bones has appeared in many TV favourites, from 'Doctor Who' and 'Doctors' to portentous religious epics like 'Bible' and 'AD: The Bible Continues'. 


In Jack The Ripper (1988)
Ken Bones in 'Spooks'
Other TV credits include cosy stuff like 'New Tricks', The Inspector Lynley Mysteries', 'Bergerac', 'The Hour', 'Heartbeat' and six different roles in six episodes of 'The Bill'. These are nicely balanced by medium-heavy historicals ranging from 'The Virgin Queen', 'Henry VIII: Mind Of A Tyrant' (in which he plays the theologian Erasmus), and 'Medici: Masters Of Florence' to the Nazi dissenter Otto Strasser in 'Inside The Mind Of Adolf Hitler'. 


In the 50th anniversary episode of 'Doctor Who'
On the big screen, his major appearances were in 'Troy' (2004) and 'Exodus: Gods And Kings' 2014', but he also shows up in 'Bellman And True' (1987), 'Split Second' (1992) and as the 13th landlord in 'The World's End'.  

He seems like a natural for a JK Rowling franchise, but in fact you'll only see him if you visit a thrill ride at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in Florida where he appears as Salazar Slitherin in the short 'Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey'.    

Ken Bones-imdb

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Peter Jonfield

Actor Peter Jonfield in the 1973 Play For Today 'Blooming Youth'


Peter Jonfield:

With a memorable debut in the 1979 Sherlock Holmes movie 'Murder By Decree', Peter Jonfield's acting career swung into action. The film, starring Christopher Plummer and James Mason, is rather dated, apart from its fashionably '70s conspiracy theme, and it's surprising to find it was shot simultaneously with the groundbreaking 'Alien' at Elstree.    

Shutting the gate behind Natasha Richardson and Joss Ackland in the
1985 'Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' episode, 'The Copper Beeches'


Peter Jonfield's television career includes a lot of crime series, for instance: 'Bulman', 'Wycliffe', 'Widows 2', 'Bergerac', 'Spender' and a good few episodes of 'The Bill', in which he plays tough coppers, concerned citizens and shifty villains with equal aplomb. 

He also appears in TV comedy such as 'Smith & Jones' and 'Mornin Sarge', and period drama from 'Age Of Treason', 'Foyles War' and 'Bramwell' to 'The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes' and 'Sharpe's Regiment'.       

Throttled to death at the docks, attempting to
escape justice in 'Murder By Decree' (1979) 
His film CV includes roles in 'Clockwise' (1986), 'Pink Floyd: The Wall' (1982), 'McVicar' (1980), 'Time Bandits' (1981), 'A Fish Called Wanda' (1988), and in a slightly different mature role as Mr Andrews in 'Pierrpoint: The Last Hangman' (2004).

In 'Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman' (2004)


Monday, 22 February 2016

Avril Elgar



Avril Elgar

A splendidly severe-looking actress, yet impressively versatile, her long career encompasses roles as varied as society ladies and exhausted servants, via a slew of nouveau riche harridans, cruel nurses, shy spinsters and nosy neighbours.     


In 'Ladies Who Do' (1963)
Although Imdb suggests that she is best known for three feature films, 'Room At The Top (1959), 'Betrayal' (1983) and 'Wilde' (1997), her contribution to these is worthy but minimally memorable. Better perhaps to remember her turn in 'Spring And Port Wine' (1969) as Mrs Duckworth next door, or even the slightly strained comedy 'Ladies Who Do' (1963) in which, with fellow City office cleaning ladies Peggy Mount, Miriam Carlin and Dandy Nicholls, she indulges in some lucrative insider dealing. She's also briefly in 'The Medusa Touch' (1978) with a cursed Richard Burton.

I don't know if it still exists but I would love to see the Ken Russell-directed silent movie version of 'Diary Of A Nobody' made for the BBC's 'Monitor' arts programme in 1964, which saw her play Mrs Pooter in a great little cast that also included Murray Melvin, Jonathan Cecil and Brian Murphy. Particularly as it has music by Ivor Cutler.    
       


As Lou Evans in the Nina Bawden adaptation 'Carrie's War'
a major BBC family drama success of 1974.
  
Publicity shot for 'The Three Sisters' with George Cole.
She's a highly respected stage actress with previous at the National Theatre, and a successful and widley publicised 1967 run of Chekhov's 'Three Sisters' at the Royal Court Theatre with Glenda Jackson and Marianne Faithfull. But it's probably in television that she's most familiar. Sitcom fans will immediately spot her as Yootha Joyce's social-climbing sister Ethel in the popular 'Man about The House' spin-off, 'George & Mildred'. She had a slightly similar role in one of Roy Clarke's gentle Northern comedies, 'Rosie', as the young copper's monstrously overbearing mother.  


In George & Mildred' as the social climbing Ethel with wealthy hubby
Humphrey, played by king of the sitcom bosses, the late Reginald Marsh.
Other television includes 'Campion', 'Agatha Christie: Poirot', 'Midsomer Murders', 'A Taste For Death', 'Shoestring', two episodes of 'Tales Of The Unexpected', 'Minder', 'New Tricks' and a good few more. Quite revealing as to her range is the fact that she has appeared in three episodes of 'Doctors' as three very different characters between 2004 and 2011. Sterling work.  

Trivia note: After 20 years, Avril Elgar appeared in 'The Moles', an episode of 'Tales Of The Unexpected', alongside Harry H Corbett, her co-star in the film 'Ladies Who Do'. It was to be his last role and was screened a month after his death in 1982.    

Avril Elgar-imdb

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Godfrey James





Godfrey James:

You've probably seen Godfrey James's face many times in films and television without realising it, as aside from his distinctive dimpled chin (often hidden by a beard), there's nothing particularly memorable about his broad, even-featured countenance. Quite possibly we fail to do justice to this ubiquitous actor for that very reason, despite his appearance in some of our most beloved cult favourites, from 'Department S', and 'The Strange Report' to 'UFO', 'Space: 1999' and 'Doctor Who'.    


A fleeting appeareance as the chauffeur in
'Séance On A Wet Afternoon' (1964)


Starting in the early '60s, he has had a varied acting career, kicking off with an interesting role in the first season of 'The Avengers'. He's in 'The Frighteners', the only episode to survive intact from that run. His powerful frame saw him grab a series of parts as intimidating heavies and brusque coppers, interspersed with prosperous businessmen, yeoman farmers and faithful retainers. His '60s and '70s TV work includes 'Z Cars', 'Softly Softly', 'Dixon Of Dock Green', The Forsyte Saga', 'Black Beauty', and 'The Onedin Line'.      


In 'Witchfinder General' (1968) 

In the cinema, he makes appearances in some classic Brit horror, including 'Witchfinder General' (1968), 'The Oblong Box' (1969), 'Cry Of A Banshee' (1970) and 'Blood On Satan's Claw' (1971). He's also in the '70s family adventures 'At The Earth's Core' (1976) and 'The Land That Time Forgot' (1975).

As the father of Angel Blake in 'Blood On Satan's Claw' (1971)
As the '70s rolled into the '80s, he proved popular with casting directors of primetime TV, leading to parts in 'The Sweeney', 'Minder', 'Bergerac', 'Dempsey & Makepeace' and 'Bulman'. He's also in the episode of 'Tales Of The Unexpected' in which John Gielgud's sneaky antique dealing vicar gets his comeuppance when he discovers a rare Chippendale sideboard.    

As Mr Bumble the beadle in the 1985 BBC adaptation of
Oliver Twist. With June Brown as Mrs Mann.
In slightly more recent times, you might have spotted him in anything from 'Agatha Christie: Poirot' or ''The Darling Buds Of May' to 'The Tripods' and 'The Return Of The Antelope'.  

Very sound stuff in general, but here he is in full silly alien splendour in 'Space: 1999'. They don't make 'em like that any more.


The 'Space: 1999' episode 'The Rules Of Luton'. Yes, really.


Godfrey James-imdb