Monday, 25 September 2017

Up Front with Valerie Leon!

 

The ever-glamorous icon of the 70s, Valerie Leon makes her Live At Z├ędel debut this Autumn.

During her career, Leon has been associated with three British film series that have all become cults - Bond, Carry On and Hammer Horror - and was the face of one of the most successful advertising campaigns in British history; the Hai Karate series.

She appeared in six Carry Ons, two Bond films - The Spy Who Loved Me with Roger Moore and Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery - and had a dual starring role in Blood from the Mummy's Tomb.

Leon worked with Michael Caine in the original The Italian Job, Richard Harris and Richard Burton in The Wild Geese and took whipping lessons to prepare for her role as Tanya the Lotus Eater in Revenge of the Pink Panther with Peter Sellers.

Leon made her West End debut in Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand at London's Prince Of Wales Theatre.

This presentation is about her life and work during the golden age of film and television, and is illustrated with vintage material from her association with some of the 70s classics.

"Leon gave us an insight to her long and varied career... and we realised why she still tops the bill as one of the UK's most glamorous and articulate thespians" - Encore Magazine

Valerie will also be available for autographs after the show.

 

You can find out more and buy tickets for the event here

Up Front with Valerie Leon will be at Brasserie Zedel on Thursday 9 November from 7pm.

Please also visit http://www.valerieleon.com/ for more information on Valerie's career and her upcoming public appearances. You can also follow Valerie on Twitter @thevalerieleon

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

Robin Askwith Takes to Twitter - for one day only!

 

Excellent news - the legend that is Mr Robin Askwith will be taking to Twitter next Sunday, 1 October! To be quite honest with you, anything could happen! Robin, never shy of speaking out or telling a few tales, will take the reigns of the lovely Tracy Crocker's account for just one day only.

Many on Twitter have been campaigning for Robin to launch his own Twitter account however after speaking to him earlier in the year, it's clear he's a bit cagey of signing up for real. Despite this, Tracy has been doing a sterling job of posting some classic and little seen photos from Robin's life and career and it's clear he still has a big fan base out there. Robin has had a long, varied and successful career on film, television and on stage with hits including the film of Bless This House, Carry On Girls, If, Britannia Hospital and of course the Confessions films. On television we've also seen him in Benidorm, Coronation Street and Casualty among many others.

And don't forget Robin will be back in the UK for a special one man show at the Phoenix Artist Club on Tuesday 10 October. You can find out more about that here

Also, you can check out my interview with the man himself here and here 

So give Tracy Crocker a follow on Twitter and watch out for Robin's social media take over next Sunday! It's bound to be a right Carry On!

 



You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

A Celebration of Iconic 1960s & 1970s Television at Elstree Studios

 

Last night my Dad and I travelled to Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire for a very special, nostalgic evening. As a culmination of Elstree's 90th anniversary celebrations, the studios were raising a glass to some of the most iconic television series ever made in this country - all produced at Elstree. The 1960s and 1970s were a high point in British telly and everything from The Avengers and The Saint to Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and Jason King was made at those fabulous studios in Borehamwood.

The evening out was a treat for my Dad who has recently celebrated his birthday. I joked that it was all for him as he was the one old enough to talk fondly of watching John Gregson in Gideon's Way but as it turned out I knew as much about the series being celebrated as he did. As we took our seats in Stage 9, home to many a classic Elstree production, the 400 strong audience was treated to the sight of the original Volvo driven by the late, great Sir Roger Moore in The Saint. The stuff of boyhood dreams! 

Giles Watling, Valerie Leon, William Gaunt & Morris Bright
Our host for the evening was the wonderful Elstree chairman and friend to this blog, Morris Bright. Morris began by introducing a superb montage of clips from some of the very best shows made at the studios before he talked a little about each of the very special guests joining us for the evening. As each actor took their moment in the spotlight I got goosebumps as each and every one of them has played an important part in all our lives over the years. We were joined by the likes of Norman Eshley, William Gaunt, Aimi MacDonald, Derek Fowlds, Peggy Cummins, Derren Nesbitt, Jack Smethurst and Dave Prowse. Flying the Carry On flag were two of my favourites - the lovely Valerie Leon and Angela Douglas. Both Valerie and Angela appeared in many classic series made at Elstree over the years and it was fantastic to hear from them. And guest of honour was one of my all time favourite actresses, Mrs Emma Peel herself, Dame Diana Rigg.

Derren Nesbitt, Angela Douglas, Norman Eshley & Morris Bright
We were treated to two panel discussions, both led by Morris and featuring comments from Valerie, Angela, Derren Nesbitt, William Gaunt, Giles Watling and Norman Eshley. Valerie delighted the audience by producing her contracts from various shows made at Elstree to prove how little actors were paid when they guested on shows back in the 1960s! It was lovely to hear these great actors reminisce about life as an actor in those heady days and how much working at Elstree had meant to them. We were then treated to a special interview Sir Roger Moore gave before he very sadly passed away earlier this year. It had never been screened before and it was a joy to hear him once again. It was obvious, both from the interview and comments from those present, just how fond Roger was of Elstree Studios and all the people who worked there over the years. 

Famous faces on the stage and in the audience shared their memories of working with Sir Roger and some (particularly those from Derren Nesbitt and Jack Smethurst) were absolutely hilarious and perhaps unprintable! What came across though was how genuine the affection was for Roger and what a lovely, kind man he had been, regardless of his fame and success. 

Guest of honour Dame Diana Rigg with Morris Bright
Morris then introduced a montage of clips showing Emma Peel at her very best in The Avengers before ushering the evening's guest of honour, Dame Diana Rigg, onto the stage. Dame Diana was everything you could have wished for. Warm, witty and razor sharp with her memories of working at Elstree on The Avengers. Most touching was her fondness and gratitude for her late co-star Patrick Macnee. The two actors had delicious chemistry together as Steed and Emma and it was lovely to hear they got on so well off screen as well as on. 

Despite her huge success on stage and screen since The Avengers first catapulted her to world-wide fame, Diana was still humble and extremely grateful for the chances working on The Avengers provided and the people it enabled her to work with. She quite rightly said that Britain has the best television in the world and the best character actors in the world and I completely agree with her. A rare public appearance for one of our finest living actors and I'm so glad she came as she seemed really touched when Morris presented her with a special edition of the book on the history of Elstree Studios. The evening was given extra significance when it was revealed that some of The Avengers was actually shot on Stage 9 where we so enjoyed the evening.

The BBC Elstree Concert Band give us the theme from The Avengers

After a brief intermission, the BBC Elstree Concert Band took to the stage to entertain us with renditions of themes from some classic Elstree productions. Each piece was introduced by Elstree's historian, Paul Welsh MBE who proved to be one of the highlights of the evening. His comments throughout were hilarious and at times outrageous!! The band played themes from The Pathfinders, On the Buses, The Third Man (the television series was made at Elstree), The Muppets, Superman, The Saint and my own two favourites of the night - The Avengers and the 1974 film of Murder On The Orient Express. Paul revealed that he had met Agatha Christie around the time the film was made and that the famous author had thought long and hard about giving the go ahead for the film to be made. Apparently she had been less than keen on the previous adaptations filmed with Dame Margaret Rutherford!

We had the best time at Elstree last night. It was an evening put together with care and affection and was full of nostalgia. We were hugely entertained for three hours by some of our heroes from the very best of British television and film and the memories will stay with us for a long time to come. Many thanks to everyone at Elstree for organising such a smashing event and special thanks to both Morris Bright and Paul Welsh for being such terrific, welcoming hosts. 

 



You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

Friday, 22 September 2017

Whatever Happened to Denis Shaw?

 

The late actor Denis Shaw only appeared very, very briefly in a Carry On film yet his face is so instantly recognisable to a generation of British film and television fans I felt he was deserving of a Carry On blog all of his own. I admit when I watched Carry On Regardless as a child I mistook Shaw for a Robbie Coltrane cameo. There are similarities in their appearances, however my younger self apologises profusely to both actors.

My interest in Denis Shaw was sparked when I listened to the Carry On Regardless DVD audio commentary by the joyous, colourful Liz Fraser. When Shaw's scene came on, Liz took a deep intake of breath and exclaimed: "Denis Shaw! He was a villain! A proper villain in Soho!" Now, one takes Liz's comments with a huge pinch of salt however perhaps there was some truth in her comments as Shaw was well-known for propping up many a bar in the infamous West End London district during the 1950s and 1960s. Soho in those days was a well known hangout for all kinds of everything so one can only guess as to who he came into contact with and befriended. He certainly came across the famous journalist and raconteur, Jeffrey Bernard, as Denis is referenced in Keith Waterhouse's play, Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell.
 

Anyway, back at least for a moment, to Denis Shaw's cameo in Carry On Regardless. He appears in one of my very favourite sequences in that film, the 39 Steps send up starring Kenneth Connor's hesitant little man, Sam Twist. This sequence is probably Kenneth's crowning glory in the Carry On series and he stumbles, crumbles and misunderstands his way through several delightful scenes with the likes of Esma Cannon and Betty Marsden. He also shares a very brief scene in a train compartment with two shady looking types played by Shaw and that other screen legend, the great Victor Maddern. Initially assuming this pair are up to no good, it is swiftly revealed that all they want is a third for a game of cards. It's a delightful moment played beautifully by Shaw, Maddern and Connor.

Denis Shaw was born in Dulwich in London in April 1921. A heavy set man with dark, wavy hair and slanty eyes, he very quickly gained a reputation for playing slimy villains and suspicious characters in all manner of post-war British film and television. Probably one of his moment famous film roles was that of the German prison guard Priem in the 1955 film, The Colditz Story. The 1950s saw Denis appear in countless films, often in the horror genre, mainly in supporting roles. His films included titles such as Jack The Ripper, The Mummy and The Curse of the Werewolf. He grabbed a rare leading role in the 1959 film The Great Van Robbery as a judo expert detective Caesar Smith. The cheaply made Danziger Brothers film co-starred Kay Callard and future Carry On player Julian Orchard.

 

Shaw appeared in another comedy film the year Regardless was released and A Weekend with Lulu also co-starred several familiar Carry On faces including Kenneth Connor, Shirley Eaton, Irene Handl, Leslie Phillips and Sid James. Around this time he also worked on a film with Liz Fraser herself - The Night We Dropped A Clanger - which co-starred Cecil Parker, Brian Rix, Hattie Jacques, Leslie Phillips and William Hartnell. 

Later in Denis Shaw's career, he began appearing in the blossoming word of television drama. As with most jobbing character actors of the era, he made appearances in all the usual suspects during the 1960s. At various points you could catch Denis popping up in titles such as The Avengers, Z-Cars, Sherlock Holmes, Danger Man, The Prisoner and Dixon of Dock Green. Denis Shaw's last credited appearance was a soldier in an episode of the 1970 children's series Here Come the Double Deckers, which starred a young Peter Firth (who would go on to appear in Equus and Spooks) and Brindsley Forde who played pupil Wesley in the big screen version of Please Sir! in 1971.

 

Denis Shaw's prolific screen career came to abrupt end at the end of February 1971. Sadly, at the age of just 49, Shaw passed away after suffering a sudden heart attack. 

If anyone knows anything else about the life and career of Denis Shaw, please do get in touch.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Carry On Watching: Tonight on Talking Pictures TV

 

Talking Pictures TV is showing a couple of very interesting and sadly, rarely seen British films later on this evening. Both feature strong, mostly dramatic performances from two leading ladies who we know best for their comedy work.

First up is the 1972 film, The Best Pair of Legs in the Business. This film tells the rather sad story of an ambitious, yet pretty talentless entertainer at a holiday camp. His obsession with the business and still having a chance to make it in the profession means that he's blind to the fact the rest of his life is falling apart. The lead in the film is On the Buses favourite Reg Varney. This was a very brave role to take on following several years as the star of one of the most popular knockabout sitcoms on British television of the time. Not surprisingly, the public didn't take to the change of pace and the film performed poorly. However The Best Pair of Legs does feature a wonderful co-starring role for Diana Coupland as Varney's wife Mary. Diana is of course best known for her role as Jean, long-suffering wife of Sid James in the long running ITV comedy series, Bless This House. I've always been a big fan of Diana's and it's great to see her take on a different kind of role in this film.

 

The Best Pair of Legs in the Business will be on Talking Pictures TV this evening at 10pm.

Now to a better known film perhaps, although you may need to set your recorders for this showing! I'm a big fan of A Taste of Honey, however the tone and content of the film means I have to be in the right mood for it. The film features extremely strong performances from its small cast of excellent actors, including a young Rita Tushingham, Maggie Smith's first husband Robert Stephens, the great Paul Danquah and Theatre Workshop and Stratford East regular, Murray Melvin. A Taste of Honey was the first play by the British dramatist Shelagh Delaney, written when she was just 18 years old. The play was first produced by Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop and was premiered at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in May 1958. 

 

A Taste of Honey is set in North West England in the 1950s. It tells the story of Jo, a seventeen-year-old working class girl, and her mother, Helen, who is presented as crude and sexually indiscriminate. Helen leaves Jo alone in their new flat after she begins a relationship with Peter, a rich lover who is younger than her. At the same time Jo begins a romantic relationship with Jimmy, a black sailor. He proposes marriage but then goes to sea, leaving Jo pregnant and alone. She finds lodgings with a homosexual acquaintance, Geoffrey, who assumes the role of surrogate father. Helen returns after leaving her lover and the future of Jo's new home is put into question.

A Taste of Honey was and remains a really important film for the way it tackled issues such as race, class and sexual orientation head on at a time when, while these issues existed and affected the people of Britain, they were not yet openly discussed in film. The film features a stunning dramatic (albeit with comedic edges) performance from the wonderful Dora Bryan, again probably best known for her comedy roles. Three years after her role as Norah in the first ever Carry On, Carry On Sergeant, Dora proves what a capable, strong and truthful dramatic actress she could be in the role of Helen.

 

A Taste of Honey will be on Talking Pictures TV tonight at midnight.



You can watch Talking Pictures TV on: Virgin 445 / Freeview 81 / Sky Channel 343 / Freesat 306 / Youview 81

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Whatever Happened to Freddie Mills?

 

Freddie Mills is a name that has certain connotations for those who have been around long enough to remember. Freddie was a famous British boxer who, once his career in the ring came to an end, turned his hand to several other high profile projects, including a bit of acting on film and television.

Born in Bournemouth in 1919, Freddie originally became an apprentice milkman before finding he had the skills to become a boxer. Mills first took an active interest in the boxing world at local fairgrounds before his first official fight, which took place in 1936. He proved a success, being crowned the World light heavyweight champion between 1948 and 1950. This success guaranteed Freddie Mills a significant amount of fame, being known as Britain's "boxing idol" for much of the post-war period. 

 

Following his retirement from boxing, Mills quickly found work in the entertainment industry. Helped by his already strong public profile, he began appearing in films. One of his earliest roles was that of Emergency Call, a 1952 Nettlefold Films production, directed by Lewis Gilbert. Freddie plays Tim Mahoney and among the cast was his long-time friend, future Carry On leading man Sid James. Emergency Call also features actors such as Eric Pohlmann, Sydney Tafler and Thora Hird. An early comedy role came Freddie's way in 1955 when he played Harry the Scar in Fun at St Fanny's. This film revolves around the teachers and students at St Fanny's private school and stars future Carry On Up The Khyber guest actor Cardew Robinson as well as other names from the series - Davy Kaye, Stanley Unwin, Gerald Campion, Marianne Stone, Melvyn Hayes and Peter Butterworth. Watch out also for an early appearance from a certain Ronnie Corbett.

Freddie Mills first worked for director Gerald Thomas and producer Peter Rogers in 1958 when he was cast in their film, Chain of Events. This film version of a radio play by actor Leo McKern tells the story of a bank clerk who tells a white lie to avoid paying his bus fare. This then sets in motion a series of catastrophic events involving blackmail and death. Quite different from the world of Carry On Gerald and Peter would soon inhabit! Susan Shaw, soon to make an appearance as Kenneth Connor's wife in Carry On Nurse, heads the cast of Chain of Events with other Pinewood regulars such as Joan Hickson and Cyril Chamberlain popping up throughout the film. Freddie plays the character of Tiny. 

 

Peter and Gerald were obviously impressed by Freddie Mills as the following year saw them employ him again as part of their blossoming series of low budget British comedies, the Carry On films. Freddie makes a brief appearance as a jewel thief at the start of Carry On Constable. Mills returned to Pinewood for the very next film in the series, Carry On Regardless. Regardless provided Mills with a slightly bigger role as a boxing promoter who catches up with old mate Bert Handy (who else but Sid James again). Bert provides "Lefty" with a couple of seconds in Charles Hawtrey and Bill Owen, for a fight featuring Joe Robinson (sadly recently departed at the age of 90). Of course Charles Hawtrey's involvement leads to much farce and innuendo and the sequence ends with a memorably staged boxing match which sees Charles triumph over the burly Tom Clegg!

Away from films, Freddie Mills also had a recurring role in the television series Six-Five Special - one of the very first music shows on British television. Featuring a host of stars including Cleo Laine, Pete Murray and Petula Clark, the Six-Five Special also saw early screen appearances from future Carry On legend Jim Dale, here in his earlier incarnation as a rock and roll star. Freddie was part of the presenting team between 1957 and 1958. 

 

By the early 1960s Freddie was a very recognisable face in Britain. As well as his fame as a boxer and his acting appearances, he was also something of an impresario, owning a restaurant in London's Soho for several years before it eventually became his infamous nightclub. Although performing well in its early days, the club soon led Freddie into financial difficulty and into the path of the Kray twins. By the mid 1960s Mills was sadly in various kinds of trouble and on 24 July 1965 the nation woke to the news that Freddie Mills had been found dead in his car, parked near his nightclub. He had been shot. The coroner's inquest later ruled the death as suicide.

Since Freddie's early death at the age of just 46 there have been many conspiracy theories surrounding the final years of his life and the reasons behind his demise. While he certainly mixed in interesting and often colourful circles, these theories remain just that. Mills married Marie, the daughter of his manager, in September 1948. Together they had two daughters and lived, until Freddie's death, in the Denmark Hill area of London. Undoubtedly a very interesting man and a man of many talents, there will always be much mystery surrounding the life and times of Freddie Mills.

 



You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

Misty Moon Presents: Robin Askwith - An Evening with ... Tables and Chairs!

 
After a successful mini Summer tour earlier this year that saw Robin Askwith up and down the country thrilling audiences with his tales, everyone's favourite window cleaner is BACK at The Phoenix Artist Club for a one-off late night show.

This will be a showcase as we look forward to celebrating Robin's 50 year career next year. You can't have a Robin Askwith gig without Darth Vader,  Miriam Margolyes and Alan Lake getting a mention but there will much, much more. As always this isn't rehearsed and anything could happen! So come and celebrate the half century of Robin Askwith...

And after Robin's recent threat that if I didn't attend this gig, he'd never speak to me again, I can confirm that I already have my ticket booked and I can't wait to see him in the flesh (as it were). 

I had a terrific chat with Robin earlier this week when I asked him all about his early film appearances, his time making the films Carry On Girls and Bless This House and memories of co-stars such as Carol Hawkins, Sid James, June Whitfield and Judy Matheson. You can read Part 1 of the interview here and Part 2 here

 

Come and see Robin at The Phoenix Artist Club on Tuesday 10 October. Doors open at 8.45pm with the gig starting at 9.15pm. Tickets cost £15 and you can buy them here


You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram