Wednesday 10 February 2016

From the Archive: The Fantastic Ms Fraser

I have written about how much I love the glorious actress Liz Fraser before, but perhaps not in a great deal of depth. A contemporary of the likes of Joan Sims, Patsy Rowlands and Dilys Laye, Liz appeared in many classic films and television series during what many consider to be the golden age of British entertainment.

She made her name as the sexy teenager opposite Ian Carmichael in the classic British comedy I'm All Right Jack in 1959. As a new young actress, she held her own opposite the likes of Peter Sellers, Irene Handl, Terry-Thomas and Margaret Rutherford. Quite a line up! This film was just the beginning for Liz, who quickly cornered the market in glamorous blondes who were nobody's fool! 

Liz went on to star in many wonderful films, including four classic Carry Ons - Regardless, Cruising, Cabby and Behind. She appeared in Two Way Stretch in 1960 opposite Peter Sellers; Doctor in Love the same year with Joan Sims as a pair of strippers; The Bull Dog Breed with Norman Wisdom; The Pure Hell of St Trinian's; Raising The Wind (1961); A Pair of Briefs (1962) and my favourite, Double Bunk in which she co-starred with Sid James, Dennis Price and Ian Carmichael.

In the 1950s and 60s Liz Fraser also regularly appeared with Tony Hancock and Sid James in the iconic Hancock's Half Hour on television. This association led her to be cast as Sid's girlfriend in the spin-off series Citizen James. 

In the 1960s, Liz began to appear in more dramatic parts, an attempt to get away from the dizzy blonde roles of earlier years. This led to parts in films such as The Americanisation of Emily (1964); The Family Way (1966) and Up The Junction (1968). In the 1970s Liz made several forays into the world of the sex comedy, always maintaining her dignity while those around her were losing theirs. I almost wish Liz had stayed clear of these awful films, however she obviously enjoyed the experience from what I've read and at the time, parts in British film must have been few and far between. In the late 1970s, Liz appeared in two Confessions films, Adventures of a Taxi Driver, Under The Doctor, Adventures of a Private Eye and Rosie Dixon: Night Nurse. Moving on...

Two of my favourite Liz Fraser performances cropped up on the small screen. The first came in an episode of The Professionals in 1978. Liz plays a "fence" called Margery Harper and she makes a gloriously dubious, blowsy woman who takes a shine to Martin Shaw's Ray Doyle. It's all deliciously tongue in cheek. I also loved Liz's cameo appearance in the classic BBC adaptation of the Miss Marple story, Nemesis. Liz plays a drunken Mrs Brent and it's a wonderfully tragic performance.

I wish Liz had been given more opportunities to play dramatic parts. In 1988 she played a woman dying of cancer alongside Jean Boht in a BBC play called Eskimos Do It. Sadly I've never seen this film and I doubt the Beeb will repeat it any time soon. As with many actors in the public eye, Liz probably became pigeon-holed as a certain type of character actress, which is a shame as this gutsy woman obviously had a lot more to give.

Liz appears regularly reminiscing about the glory days of British film and it's always a joy to hear from her. She is a realist, always speaks her mind and clearly doesn't give a damn what people think, qualities I admire! She always speaks so fondly of her fellow actors, particularly Sid James and Joan Sims. Liz defends Sid so eloquently when so many others just want to muck rake and I love her loyalty. She was also very close to Joan and was obviously a very dear, loyal friend to Sims throughout her life, providing both practical and emotional support. 

Robert Ross once described Liz Fraser as the British answer to Marilyn Monroe and I must agree with him. She is stunning in so many of her films, combining glamour with a natural acting talent and flair for comedy. She is a highlight of many classic British comedies and a firm fan favourite. Liz is now in her 80s but is still a force to be reckoned with and long may that continue!

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan 

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