Saturday 8 September 2018

My Five Favourite Liz Fraser Performances

We lost a great talent this week with Liz Fraser passing away. I know my Twitter feed has been pretty focussed on this the last couple of days but I think Liz's contribution to the best of British film and television warrants this coverage. A big thank you to everyone out there who commented positively on my tribute to Liz, posted after I heard the sad news. It wasn't easy to write but I'm glad it was well received.

I thought, after the sad news, I would take some time to write a blog on my favourite Liz performances. As she was on our screens for seven decades and worked with just about everyone this is no easy feat. So what I've come up with is a purely personal list of favourites. Some are from the cinema, some the small screen. Some are starring roles, some are small yet important cameos. 

I hope you like my choices.

Cynthia Kite in I'm All Right Jack (1959)

I couldn't do this without including Liz's breakthrough role in this Boulting Brothers classic. Despite being almost sixty years old, I caught this film again recently and it made me laugh and kept me fully engaged throughout. Not only that, it also made my husband laugh and he has a very un-British, very American sense of humour. The tale of trouble at the works boasts a stellar cast, headed by Ian Carmichael and Peter Sellers. Liz shines as Peter's sexy young daughter Cynthia who flutters her false eyelashes at Ian's Stanley Windrush and dons many a tight sweater. This role saw Liz nominated for a BAFTA and her career as a British comedy icon and glamorous sex symbol began. In an interview with The Art Desk in 2015 Liz was still immensely proud of this film and rightly so. Her seduction of Ian Carmichael in his bubble car is a highlight with that knock out line: "Is them your own teeth?" Brilliant.

Delia King in Carry On Regardless (1961)

Liz joined the Carry On team for three adventures in the early 1960s followed up by a supporting turn in Carry On Behind in 1975. She brought a breath of fresh air to the established cast and although labelled another 'Carry On Blonde' she was always much more than that. Yes, she was blonde, busty and beautiful but she was also a damn fine comic actress. She brought something different to the films from other 'Carry On Blondes' such as Shirley Eaton or Barbara Windsor. I think my favourite of Liz's Carry On roles is her very first, as an eager member of the newly established Helping Hands Agency. Although a late addition to the cast following the withdrawal of Hattie Jacques due to illness, Liz fitted like a glove. She was acting with her Hancock co-star Sid James and alongside lifelong friend Joan Sims and everything just clicked. In a cast bursting with talent, Liz holds her own.  And in my eyes, she never looked lovelier. 

Sandra in Double Bunk (1961)

By all accounts, Liz's own personal favourite from all the films she made, Double Bunk is just a delight from start to finish. In many ways it's Genevieve by boat and that's not a bad thing. It's charming, innocent black and white fun with a touch of sauce. Starring alongside Sid James, Ian Carmichael and Janette Scott, Liz joins a rather unexpected voyage on a rusty old houseboat. Liz is again working closely with Sid and the pair share tremendous chemistry. She also provides the silver screen with one of the sexiest and yet most innocent strip teases in order to pinch some petrol from fiendish cad Dennis Price. Double Bunk is light and frothy and fairly inconsequential but it wins through on bright, breezy charm and the cosy familiarity of a bunch of actors who get on well in real life having a hoot together in the studio.

Margery Harper in The Professionals: Backtrack (1979)

With the British film industry in severe decline by the late 1970s, actors like Liz were appearing more often on television. The Professionals, an action adventure crime fighting series featuring heightened violence and focussing on the negative aspects of Britain in the 1970s, may not immediately feel like the right home for an actress like Liz but her appearance is an utter joy. The Professionals, starring Gordon Jackson, Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins as leading members of CI5, although a hard-hitting drama, also featured many moments of surreal humour. As blowsy antiques dealer cum fence Margery Harper, Liz shines in an over the top performance of high camp, tight flared trousers and buckets of green chartreuse. Helping out agents Bodie and Doyle, Liz's Marge takes more than a shine to Shaw's Ray Doyle while making several hilariously snide asides to the brutish Bodie (Collins). It's camp, knowing and Fraser is obviously having a whale of a time. Where else can you find Liz Fraser screeching around Kensington in the middle of the night, dressed in furs in the back of a big American car? Wonderful stuff.

Mrs Brent in Miss Marple: Nemesis (1987)

Joan Hickson was the definitive Miss Marple. Her BBC adaptations from the 1980s and early 1990s are just the best. For me, they'll never be surpassed. They always boasted a superb cast of supporting actors and Nemesis is one of the best. Liz appears in just one scene in this feature length drama, playing a grief-stricken mother fond of a tipple. As Mrs Brent, Liz shares one small but powerful scene with actor John Horsley's Professor Wanstead. Mrs Brent's daughter Nora has disappeared and is presumed dead. Although initially bright and cheerful in her respectable 1950s semi, as Wanstead starts to ask questions, Mrs Brent's face slowly cracks and the emotion is palpable. Liz achieves this excellent emotion by completely underplaying it and the tears she sheds are very real. As her character sips her orange squash laced liberally with gin, the facade slips. This role remained a favourite of Liz's and you could tell she was very proud of it, even though it was the subject of two frequent quips. The first, that she loved it as it provided regular royalty cheques from the BBC and the second that the day after it was first broadcast a woman stopped her in the street to commend her saying, "I didn't know you could act!" 

That was Liz though. There was a spiky bluster to her but you could tell she had a heart of gold. She was proud of some of the roles she played, less so of others. She was a realist and took jobs because she both enjoyed the work and needed to work. I hope she would approve of my choices here and I hope you'll agree she was right to be proud of each and every one of them.

You can read my tribute to Liz Fraser here

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram

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