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

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