Friday 16 June 2017

Carry On Blogging Interview: Mark O'Connell


I've recently had the very great pleasure to catch up with writer Mark O'Connell. I first came across Mark's work on Twitter and due to his connections with Pinewood Studios and his love of British film, I just had to contact him. Thankfully Mark agreed to an interview, so read on to find out more about Mark's career, his love of Pinewood and of 007 himself, James Bond. And of course, this being a Carry On blog, there's a few questions about our favourite British comedy films too...

- You describe yourself as a "writer, author cultural pundit peddler" - How did you get into this line of work and what do you enjoy most about what you do?

I came from a film studies background and then fell into screenwriting which became comedy writing which then led to my first book. I always try to say yes to most writing opportunities as it always hones what I do – whether it is penning a travel piece, a movie review, a look at Bond for a news channel, doing media interviews, a political op-ed feature or a personal skewed piece. What I enjoy most is being fortunate enough to be doing the work and writing that I want to do. Very few writing gigs work in a vacuum so things can often lead to other things. 

- I loved your recent piece in The Guardian recounting your meeting with the late Sir Roger Moore. What are your thoughts on the great man?

Roger Moore was a gent, a charmer, a British icon, a better actor and screen star than he gave himself credit for and a vital 007. I think if any of us could achieve just one of those we’d be happy. I always found Sir Roger to be utterly welcoming, humble and blessed with a covert concern to make sure people were alright. He cared about the details – be it onscreen, with his colleagues or on the UNICEF campaign trail. 


- Bond obviously plays a big part in your life. Why do you find the films so endlessly appealing?

They are a constant. They are part of the seam and fabric of both British and global cinema culture and identity. They are rich productions with everyone working at the top of their game and pushed by that Broccoli working ethic of making it good, of making it right. And they reward your time. Whether it is a new 007 epic or one we have all seen countless times, they don’t disappoint. And they are all like a well-stocked and diverse cellar full of good wines. Some need airing before drinking. Some need to be sipped carefully. Some need to go with a good meal. And some are guilty pleasures we quickly drink before they are chilled to the right temperature. I think now the films are endlessly appealing because they exist in a shared canon. They comment and compliment each other now, whilst always working as standalone movies. 

- Can you tell me more about how your debut book, Catching Bullets - Memoirs of a Bond Fan came about? 

As a Bond fan I had been contributing some long thoughts and nearly essays to various 007 forums online. Some I wrote were getting big traffic and I naively thought how that could be monetized somehow. Or at least get my thinking and writing out of the rabbit holes of fandom and into something that could be appreciated by everyone. A pal suggested writing a book. I briefly dug my heels in for various reasons, but suddenly the looming fiftieth anniversary of 007 in 2012 gave it all a personal sense, gave it a natural structure and a potential publishing window of opportunity. My personal links to Bond and EON Productions were always the aspects I held back on until that same pal sat me down and shone light on what could be a very original take on a lifetime with Bond - when it was not just my lifetime I could discuss. I also wanted to re-evaluate the films – to buoy up the successes of the lesser acclaimed bullets and shed new light and thinking on the classics.


- Barbara Broccoli wrote the prelude to your Bond memoirs. What was it like having her involved in your first book?

She did indeed. It was and still is a total blessing and a privilege for all sorts of personal and creative reasons. It made great familial sense for the O’Connell family and eventually Catching Bullets, but it was never planned or even assumed. But Barbara read the book and it went from there really. I think people forget how she is the world’s biggest Bond fan so it was perfect all round.

- As I write about the Carry On films, I must mention that several actors appeared in both of these famous franchises at Pinewood Studios (Shirley Eaton, Madeline Smith, Valerie Leon...) Do you have a favourite cameo amongst these and why?

I am a big Valerie Leon fan. Catching Bullets has a running theme about how all secondary actresses in a Bond film are Leon Lovelies. And she is of course glorious in her Carry Ons. It is curious how she gave the Carry Ons a bit of Bond girl glamour rather than just the familiar bawdy double-takes and displays of flesh. She holds herself brilliantly in Up The Jungle and Girls – and took on given key, narratively important roles and was often the authority figure. If anything, she is more Carry On in The Spy Who Loved Me and more Bond Girl in Matron and Up The Jungle.


- I noticed on your website that you'd worked quite a bit with the great Jonathan Harvey. I am a big fan of his work and wondered what he's like to work with?

He’s lovely. And has been really influential to my writing and the chances it has afforded me. He was an early supporter which was surreal and highly flattering as Gimme Gimme Gimme is an airtight masterclass in dialogue and verbal comedy pacing. When I later worked with Jonathan on his Beautiful People series, I learnt so much from being in the eye of that comedy production storm. And it was never a storm. It was always funny, always silly and always professional. I learnt a lot from Jonathan – not just about having a voice, a queer voice and maintaining it in your writing when others are part of the equation or even fighting for something that makes you laugh, but also just how to conduct yourself on set, in meetings, casting sessions, rehearsals and beyond. And he has a gloriously filthy sense of humour. But my god, he can turn a moment into sadness and poignancy with such ease.

- I've read that your family has various associations with the legendary Pinewood Studios. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

My grandfather worked for the Broccoli family and EON Productions for many years. Part of that time was naturally spent at Pinewood where he would have many an hour to kill just wandering the stages and corridors. He was a very private man, so getting the stories out of him in his later years was always hard. He was always quietly proud and protective of his associations and times with Bond, yet moreover the Broccoli family who he held very dear until the day he died. That was the spur to Catching Bullets - but it had also been the starting pistol to a love of cinema and production. 


- I read that you got married at Pinewood - what was that experience like?

Surreal! When we were planning to get wed and starting down that tedious path of checking out venues and tables and food and numbers, we briefly pondered the thought of Pinewood. We knew it well enough. It was not new to us and we wanted somewhere that was very us, but very classy and cool too. But we moved on from that thought as it seemed too obvious, too expected. Then we started to see what other venues can offer and the logistics involved and suddenly Pinewood ticked every box and enabled us to be two guys getting wed in the biggest boy’s toybox of them all. We were the first gay couple to hold a full marriage on the lot. We now go back and wander around with the knowledge a little bit of Pinewood’s history is part of ours now. I like that. One of the deciding factors was that – as two grooms – all we saw was bride-steered venues with their promises of dream princess weddings and everything a bride expects from her day. To us, Pinewood was the opposite of that.

- Two questions I must ask - firstly, what's your all-time favourite James Bond film and why?

Well you’ll have to read the book to find that out!! I do have two – a favourite and a best. I think after nearly 25 films and 55 years of movie making us Bond fans can be greedy and pick two. My favourite is always the controversial one. But I stand by it, and begin to see braver, younger Bond fans popping their heads up over the trenches of fandom and outing themselves with that same entry too. I always say that everyone’s entry point into fandom is personal and theirs. Catching Bullets doesn’t demonise any Bond film because I know that my launching pad into the world of 007 was mine and mine alone. It comes back to those wines in the cellar again. There are different ways and times to enjoy different bottles. It is the same with the Carry Ons.

-...and what's your favourite Carry On film and why?

Carry on Camping is one of my most favourite films of all time. It is a masterclass in comedy dialogue and blessed with a tennis match of puns, put downs, smut-stick gags and retorts. The backdrop allows everyone to literally be in the same place or field so it becomes about the personalities and not really the plot. I think it is also a key cultural movie – one that reflected a very different Home Counties Britain, its streets, marital hierarchies and gender politics. I knew that Britain – or rather the slightly overcast country lanes, the muddy paths, the dual carriageways, the camping equipment, icky toilet blocks and I had a thing as a kid for tents (!). At our wedding we had various tables named after the Pinewood productions that shot in and around where we were. We had a Carry On Camping and Up the Khyber table. That was a given. I was most pleased I not only got wed at SPECTRE Island, but also Chayste Place. We played the score from Camping as our guests took their dining seats. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.


- Finally what projects are you working on at the moment that you can tell me about?

I am in ‘post-production’ on my new book – which could very much be bracketed as a follow on to Catching Bullets. Or is it?! It is all watch this space for now, but hopefully the publishers and I will be announcing it sometime soon. I am very pleased with it.

Many thanks again to Mark for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about Mark over on his website which you can find here 

And more about Mark's book Catching Bullets here 

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

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