Sunday, 20 January 2019

Join Bernard, Bob and June for some Punch Lines!

Here's a lovely thing from the BBC Radio archives. As you'll probably know, the great Bernard Cribbins recently celebrated his 90th birthday. To help mark this momentous occasion, BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcast a range of special programmes from the BBC archive.

Punch Line was a comedy panel game from Radio 2, originally broadcast in the mid 1970s. The show came from an idea by Myles Rudge, a song writer who was known for writing musical revues in the 1950s and 1960s and for crafting a range of novelty pop songs for the likes of Joan Sims and Cribbins himself.

This episode, from 1975 features the glorious Bernard alongside two other comedy legends, the great Bob Monkhouse and the recently departed and much-missed Dame June Whitfield. Another icon of radio, Terry Wogan, acts as referee.

You can listen to this slice of comedy magic right here

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Saturday, 19 January 2019

Remembering Windsor Davies

The actor Windsor Davies has very sadly passed away at the age of 88. Windsor, as has been seen by the reaction on Twitter today, was an actor held in tremendous affection by the British public, mainly thanks to a series of high profile and well received roles in television situation comedy. An instantly recognisable actor with an unforgettable booming Welsh voice, his death marks the latest in a very sad list of legendary Carry On faces we have recently lost.

Windsor came to acting relatively late on, turning professional in the early 1960s in his early thirties. He came to the Carry On films late in their run too. Joining the team for Carry On Behind in 1975, Windsor was an instant hit with both his fellow team members and the viewing public. His all guns blazing performance as lusty butcher Fred Ramsden was one of the highlights of the film and his double act with Jack Douglas was natural, easy going and very believable. I understand the role of Fred was written by Dave Freeman for Sid James, however with Sid touring overseas at the time, up stepped Windsor. He was the perfect choice. So popular was Windsor that he was quickly brought back for the following film, the Second World War comedy Carry On England in 1976. By now, sadly, Sid James had died and nothing would be quite the same again. Despite this, Windsor gives a spirited performance in a leading role, as the bombastic Sergeant Major, not a million miles away from one of his most famous small screen creations. Again forming a deliciously funny double act (this time with Kenneth Connor) Windsor is one of the few good things about England.

Windsor's Carry On association does not quite end there. Many years later he popped up for a cameo in the ITV drama, Cor Blimey! This adaptation of Terry Johnson's stage play Cleo, Camping, Emmannuelle and Dick, told the story of Sid James, Barbara Windsor and Kenneth Williams and their lives on screen and off. Windsor plays an actor rehearsing the role of Sir Toby Belch opposite Samantha Spiro's Barbara Windsor towards the end of the film. Curiously, Windsor had guest starred as Charlie, a co-worker of Sid James in Sid's classic sitcom Bless This House back in 1974, the year before he would take his place in the Carry On series.

Windsor Davies, one of our most famous Welshmen, was actually born in Canning Town on 28 August 1930. He actually shared a birthday with yours truly, although we were born quite a few years apart. Windsor was born to Welsh parents and the family moved back to Wales upon the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. After receiving his education in the Ogmore Valley, Windsor took on a variety of jobs including that of a coal miner before training to be a school teacher. He was also posted overseas to Egypt amongst other places during his National Service in the 1950s. During his time as a teacher, he also started to become involved in amateur dramatics in his spare time. This eventually sealed his fate, as his wife persuaded him to enrol in a drama course. 

The early 1960s saw Windsor well on his way to success as he began to rack up a long list of credits, mainly on the small screen. His debut came in 1962 when he played Wallace Morton in a television film called The Keep. This comedy drama focussed on a Welsh family tied to the memory of their revered and long dead mother. Before long recurring roles in television series came his way, with parts as Bill Morgan in Probation Officer (1962) and as Detective Sergeant Wade in Ring Out an Alibi (1964). Windsor also made his first forays in cinema at this time with supporting roles in two Agatha Christie adaptations - as Sergeant Brick with Margaret Rutherford in 1964's Murder Most Foul and a year later as Dragbot in The Alphabet Murders. 

He appeared several times as Willy the Gospel in the Sam Kydd family adventure series Orlando in 1966 before being cast as a Returning Officer in two episodes of Granada's Coronation Street later that year. His episodes see regular character Len Fairclough become a Weatherfield Councillor, beating the formidable Rovers Return landlady Annie Walker. Windsor also appeared in another soap opera around this time - as Dan Cray in The Newcomers, which also featured a young Wendy Richard. Later in 1967 Windsor also had a brush with Doctor Who, playing Toby in the Patrick Troughton saga The Evil of the Daleks. 

Windsor continued to play many supporting roles in a useful mix of comedy and drama across the late 1960s and early 1970s, appearing in series such as The Worker with Charlie Drake, UFO, Nearest and Dearest and Special Branch. In 1971 he even joined fellow Carry On actor Peter Gilmore to play Taffy in the classic serial The Onedin Line. However it was his starring role as Sergeant Major Williams in the Perry and Croft BBC sitcom It Ain't Half Hot Mum which catapulted this hard working character actor to lasting stardom. In a cast which also featured Melvyn Hayes, Michael Bates, Donald Hewlett, Michael Knowles and Don Estelle, Windsor played the most iconic character of all. It even led to a chart hit for Windsor and Don in 1975 - a certain Whispering Grass. The series ran to 56 episodes from 1974 until 1981 and became a huge hit, although it is rarely broadcast today due to certain themes broadcasters deem unacceptable. I'll leave you to make your own mind up on that one.

Despite the success of It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Windsor continued to make many appearances elsewhere, in what must have been a very busy schedule. Aside from the two Carry Ons, he also played Mr Truscott, father of Lynda Bellingham's character Mary in the 1976 film Confessions of a Driving Instructor. That same year he joined familiar Carry On faces Carol Hawkins, Leslie Phillips, Ian Lavender and June Whitfield for the Ray Cooney film farce, Not Now, Comrade. And in 1978 he took on what apparently proved to be his favourite part, as Welsh rugby fan Mog Jones in the comedy adventure, Grand Slam. As soon as It Ain't Half Hot Mum came to an end in 1981, Windsor launched himself into another long running sitcom role. He starred opposite Donald Sinden as two rival antiques dealers in the series Never the Twain. Produced by Thames, the series lasted for 67 episodes and for ten years, finally ending in 1991. The 1980s brought many other roles, quite a few of which were in children's television with appearances on The Sooty Show, Alice in Wonderland and Danger: Marmalade at Work. In 1985 he also starred in the comedy series The New Statesman, playing George Vance. 

Windsor continued to work right throughout the 1990s and although comedy still featured, with guest parts in the likes of Oh Doctor Beeching! and 2Point4 Children, both for the BBC, he also got to stretch his dramatic muscles in a range of period dramas. I remember him as Prime Minister David Lloyd George in Channel 4's excellent drama series, Mosley in 1998, with Jonathan Cake playing the infamous British fascist leader, Oswald Mosley. Windsor also played General Tufto in two episodes of the serial Vanity Fair, broadcast the same year. And in 2000, Davies was part of an all star cast for the BBC2 production of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast. Windsor played Rottcodd in a cast which also featured Warren Mitchell, Eric Sykes, June Brown and Christopher Lee. Windsor's last appearances came in the medical drama series Casualty in 2000 and four years later, in a cameo as a Night Porter in the Robert Lindsay and Zoe Wanamaker BBC sitcom, My Family.

Windsor Davies chose to retire from the acting profession in 2004 at the age of 74. He retired to the South of France with his wife, Eluned. Windsor and Eluned had married in 1957 and were together until her death in September 2018. Together they had five children. 

Windsor clearly had a long, successful life, both professionally and personally. Reaching the grand old age of 88 is a wonderful thing, yet that does not make his passing any easier for those who knew him and loved him. As fans of the very best of British comedy and drama, we can cherish his prolific career and all those brilliant roles he played as only he could. Rest in peace, Windsor, and thanks for all the laughs. 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

Friday, 18 January 2019

Carry On Blogging Interview: Juliet Mills

It was an absolute thrill to catch up with actress Juliet Mills this week for a chat about her long career on stage and screen. Juliet, based in the United States for many years, is currently in the UK touring with a stage adaptation of the classic 1938 Hitchcock film The Lady Vanishes. More on that below.

Catching Juliet between performances on a matinee day at the Theatre Royal Windsor, there was so much I wanted to ask her about her life and career and the people she has worked with. Of course, this being a Carry On blog, I had to ask about her association with the series having made her one and only starring appearance as Sally in 1963's Carry On Jack. I started however, in the present day with her current theatre tour.

First of all, I wanted to ask how the play is going? It’s based on one of my favourite films, the 1938 classic starring Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood

Oh it's a lovely play. It's a really interesting adaptation of the original film and it's directed by Roy Marsden who's doing an excellent job. We're at Windsor at the moment and it's going awfully well. We've had a great reaction from audiences so far. They seem to love the mix of thriller mystery and comedy. There's a lot of very funny moments in the play as there were in the film. 

Linked to the film of The Lady Vanishes, back in the early 60s you worked with the star of that film, Michael Redgrave on No My Darling Daughter. What was he like?

Oh Michael was a lovely sweet man. He was also just a very good actor. He played my father in that film and that was really my first leading role on screen, I was about 18, 19 at the time. But I already knew Michael well as he and Rachel (Kempson, Redgrave's wife) were friends of my parents (Sir John and Lady Mary (Hayley Bell) Mills). I also knew Michael's children, the actors Vanessa, Corin and Lynn and we all sort of grew up together. He was a great man and as I'd known him so long already it was great to be playing opposite him in that film.

You starred in several films for Peter Rogers in the 1960s. You worked with Ronald Lewis in both of those. What was he like to work with?

Oh Ronnie Lewis was a charming man and I worked with him quite a bit in those days. There was Twice Round The Daffodils and then Nurse On Wheels. And then a few years later we worked together in a production of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan in London. I was Lady Windermere and Ronnie was Lord Darlington. The cast also included Coral Browne and Wilfrid Hyde White. Ronnie was a very good actor and a gentle person to be with. I've been thinking about him recently as we've been staying near Windsor for the play and every time we drive past Datchett, he comes to mind as he had a house there for a long time. He was a nice man with a gift for light comedy. 

An actress I have to ask about is Esma Cannon. She played your mother in Nurse On Wheels, another classic. One of my favourite comedy actors…

Oh Esma! Didn't she do Carry Ons as well?

Yes she appeared in four of the films around the time you made Nurse On Wheels together.

That's right, I remember. Oh it was such a long time ago but wasn't she a wonderful actress! And such a sweet little person to work with, she just came on and did the scenes really. Just a joy to be with. I couldn't believe it was 60 years last year since the first Carry On. I know I wasn't in them at the beginning but I couldn't believe so much time had passed! 

On Carry On Jack you got to know Kenneth Williams and I remember he mentions you in his infamous diary. Was he fun to be with?

Oh I absolutely adored Kenneth. I got to know him quite well, as much as you could anyway. We saw quite a bit of each other when we made those films, going out to dinner and that sort of thing. He was also good friends with the actor Andrew Ray who we both worked with and Andrew became a good friend of mine too. Kenneth was probably the funniest man I've ever met. He could make you laugh so easily, the faces he pulled and his body language. Such a clever man. At one point I remember I was granted access to his flat, which at the time was near Madame Tussauds. He was quite solitary I think and didn't let a lot of people in, as it were. But he was a genius I think. 

I loved seeing you reunited with Bernard Cribbins for the Carry On Forever documentary. What was it like to see him again after all that time?

Oh that was wonderful! We went down to Virginia Water I think, where we shot a lot of the stuff for Carry On Jack! It was so incredible to see him after such a long time. I mean Bernie is a lot older now but he was still in such good form and as sharp as a tack!! I have such happy memories of making that film with him so to be reunited after all those years was wonderful. 

And he's just recently celebrated his 90th birthday…

Has he really?! Wow well he's doing well on it. He's still sharp and sounds exactly the same. Lovely man.

On the film Avanti you starred with one of my favourite actors, Jack Lemmon. What are your memories of working with him?

Well I think making Avanti is probably the highlight of my entire career. To work with Jack Lemmon and the director Billy Wilder was just unforgettable really. Jack and Billy had obviously worked together a lot and were the best of friends and as we spent a lot of time on location in Italy I got to spend time with them both. I had to put on 35lbs in weight for that part and Billy used to keep bringing me food onto the set or taking me out to dinner! Jack was such a wonderfully generous actor. He was very easy going, good to be with and good at reacting to you in a scene. So present in the moment and always with lots of enthusiasm. 

And I still do something to this very day that I saw Jack do when we were making Avanti. In fact I did it in the theatre this very afternoon. Before a take he used to rub his hands together repeatedly, very fast and say "Magic Time! Magic Time!" and apparently it helps to focus the adrenalin! It works for me and I've done it ever since!!

You worked with the legendary Maureen O’Hara on The Rare Breed – she was one of my dad’s favourite actresses. What was she like to work with?

Oh Maureen became such a good friend to me. I first met her when I went to New York in 1959 to transfer with the play Five Finger Exercise, by Peter Shaffer. I had played Pamela Harrington in the original London production. I went on to appear with her in a television version of the film Mrs Miniver in 1960 - Maureen played the title role and I was Carol. And then a few years later we starred in The Rare Breed with James Stewart. She also worked with my sister Hayley in The Parent Trap. 

I kept in touch with Maureen ever since and I think I last saw her at the Turner Classic Movies Festival in Los Angeles for a special screening of How Green was My Valley. She was over 90 by that stage but she still looked immaculate. Such a beautiful lady with an amazing complexion and that gorgeous red hair. We had tea in her suite and spent a couple of hours together. 

I know you’ve been based in America for a long time, so I wanted to ask what you think the main differences are of working as an actor in the US compared to here in England?

There's not a lot of difference really, Graeme. When you're in a television studio or on a film set you could be anywhere. It might just be because I was born here, but I always think the theatre audiences in England are more friendly! But the business has changed so much over the years and making television has changed an awful lot since I started out. I don't do as much television now but I still love the theatre. I still love the company of actors, I think they're a great breed. I was born into an acting family of course and it's all I've really known. And I love coming home to England to work. Working in the theatre here is wonderful, touring round new theatres and seeing places I've not been to before is great and I always love working with my husband (actor Maxwell Caulfield).

And with that I wished Juliet all the best with The Lady Vanishes and let her head off to relax before her evening performance. It was a joy to talk to Juliet, she was so warm and friendly. And what a thrill to hear her reminisce about her career and working and knowing the likes of Kenneth Williams, Jack Lemmon and Maureen O'Hara. You don't often get blogs that feature Maureen O'Hara AND Esma Cannon!

The Lady Vanishes is touring the UK right now, playing at Theatre Royal Windsor until Saturday 19 January and then Southend Palace from 21 until 26 January. The production will then move on to Theatre Royal Bath from 28 January until 2 February and after that, Theatre Clwyd, Mold from 4 until 9 February. The tour will continue on until the Summer.

Full details of the touring dates and schedule can be found here

And you can read my blog on the production here: Juliet Mills Stars in UK Tour of The Lady Vanishes

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram