Rebecca, Mrs Mainwaring and Mrs Ventress

Here are three very well know characters – one from a classic film and the other two from well loved British Television.

Rebecca – a Hitchcock film classic with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine

What a great film this was – beautifully made and superb acting by Joan Fontaine – I didn’t think Laurence Olivier was that good and it is said that Hitchcock wanted Ronald Colman for the role as Max De Winter but for whatever reason he did not get him. I would have thought that Ronald Colman would have been perfect as he was a brilliant screen actor – probably one of the finest.

Laurence Olivier was quite new to films and was never a good screen actor in my view

I always think that this film is dominated from the title onwards by Rebecca who dictates the action and the storyline and indeed nearly every aspect of the film – and yet she NEVER appears.

Anyone reading this will have worked out that these fictional characters all have one thing in common – they are often mentioned and have a significant impact on some of the stories – and yet we never see them on screen

Mrs Ventress

The unseen wife of PC Alf Ventress, although he often mentions her at work, off duty and throughout his retirement. Together, they have at least one daughter, Gail, who is living in Cardiff. She has an unseen sister, who lives in Whitby

Alf Ventress

It is believed that PC Bellamy has probably met Mrs Ventress at some point. In the episode when PC Ventress has gone missing, PC Bradley picks up the phone and says that it is Mrs Ventress, Phil then says ‘I’m not here!’

Also Bernie Scripps has possibly met Mrs Ventress because there was a conversation in one episode when Alf’s chimney came down which someone describes as ‘an act of god’, Bernie then says “Not even God would dare to drop a chimney on Mrs Ventress”

One of my own favourite remarks from Alf was after he had helped apprehend a quite violent criminal inside a farm shed – Alf gave him a ‘rabbit chop’ which results in the crook firing his gun in the air which gave the police the knowledge of where he was. Alf is found lying unharmed but face down in straw and manure.

Oscar Blaketon : Are you all right Alf ?

Alf Ventress : A bit winded, that’s all. A quick karate chop to get away – five years in the Commandos taught me that. And when you’re in trouble, just lie doggo – thirty years of marriage to Mrs. Ventress taught me that.

On another occasion, Sergeant Miller was having trouble in his marriage. Alf brought tea into his office and initially the sergeant was quite short with him, then he apologised and told Alf about it.

He said ‘ I can’t seem to talk to her these days’ to which Alf replied ‘ You might just try listening Sarge – I’ve found that it works wonders with Mrs Ventress

Mrs Mainwaring

Elizabeth Mainwaring was reclusive wife of Captain George Mainwaring, of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard. She did not actually appear ‘properly’ in a single episode of Dad’s Army, but a picture of her personality and character was formed throughout the series.

Mrs Elizabeth Mainwaring was the daughter of the suffragan Bishop of Clegthorpe . She married George Mainwaring, son of an Eastbourne tailor, shortly after the First World War. They spent their honeymoon on a remote Scottish island where George learned to play the bagpipes because “there was nothing else to do”.

The couple lived at 23, Lime Crescent, Walmington-on-Sea, a fictional seaside resort in Kent with a pier and such other attractions as Stone’s amusement arcade and a novelty rock emporium. Mrs Mainwaring’s parents evidently looked down on their grammar school-educated son-in-law, even after he had become assistant manager, with a partitioned cubicle of his own, at the Walmington branch of Swallow Bank.

In one episode, Mr. Mainwaring tells Wilson that Elizabeth is only fond of silent movies because she was so shocked when she heard a character on a film speak a line.

According to Mr. Mainwaring, his wife had led a sheltered life (“she hadn’t even tried tomato sauce before she met me”.) One of her hobbies was making lampshades. The marriage was childless, although Mr. Mainwaring, claimed, rather unconvincingly, that it had been “blissful”.

The Second World War

In 1940, in response to a radio broadcast by the Secretary for War Anthony Eden, her husband George (who by then was manager of the bank) set himself up as Captain of the local Home Guard (initially known as the Local Defence Volunteers).

Captain Mainwaring’s various attempts to involve his wife in the extramural activities of the platoon usually came unstuck. On one occasion he arrived at a function with a black eye which had plainly been acquired during a domestic dispute. His excuse that he had struck his eye on the linen cupboard door was greeted by the cheerful remark of Private Walker “hasn’t your old woman got a rolling pin then?”. Captain Mainwaring usually comes up with some convoluted reason why his wife is not joining in the platoon’s social functions.

He once remarked that Mrs Mainwaring had not left the house “since Munich” (in 1938). Even so, much to her husband’s horror (he fainted), she ended up playing the part of Lady Godiva (who, in the 11th century had, according to tradition, ridden naked through the streets of Coventry) during a carnival to raise money for Spitfire fighter planes. This was intended as a tribute to the city of Coventry which had suffered heavy German bombing in 1941, though the rather stuffy Captain Mainwaring had tried to prevent the town clerk, vicar and others from assessing the merits of predominantly young candidates for the role who were dressed only in their bathing costumes.

There were frequent misunderstandings involving Mrs Mainwaring. When Captain Mainwaring was holding a small party at his house for a section of his platoon, Mrs Mainwaring was heard coming downstairs, but she went back again as soon as an air raid siren sounded. Her husband’s calls for her to come down to say “hello” were ignored. When he went upstairs to encourage her, the Chief ARP Warden Bert Hodges (played by Bill Pertwee and snobbishly dismissed by George as “a greengrocer”) arrived to complain that, contrary to blackout regulations, a light was showing in the house. On being told of Captain Mainwaring’s whereabouts, Hodges misconstrued his motives: “Oh, it’s one of those sorts of parties”.

In another episode, Mr. Mainwaring obtained some cheese (a treat due to rationing) and telephoned his wife, a vegetarian, to say that he “might have a surprise for her tonight”. Predictably, this suggestion was misunderstood and Captain Mainwaring ended up sharing the cheese in his office with his urbane, long-suffering Sergeant, Arthur Wilson (John Le Mesurier).

The closest we, the viewers, ever got to seeing Elizabeth is when Captain Mainwaring is sleeping on the bottom bunk in his Anderson Air Raid Shelter. Elizabeth is above and the heavily sagging mattress gives a clue as to her figure. She is also heard groaning


It is only fair to point out that Mrs Mainwaring did appear in the excellent 2016 Dad’s Army film in which Toby Jones played Captain Mainwaring – quite superbly I would say

Mrs Mainwaring in action in the films dramatic conclusion

ABOVE Toby Jones in superb form as Captain Mainwaring

Dads Army 2015 – a dramatic scene

Whilst writing this I was tempted to include Captain Peacock – but his wife did appear in a couple of episodes of ‘Are You Being Served’

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Gene Autry – The Singing Cowboy

Now here is a personality from the early days of films who did very well out of them – first by starring in many and then financing and producing quite a number of Television series including ‘The Range Rider’ which was very popular here in England in the early fifties.

Another one was ‘Champion The Wonder Horse’

Gene Autry another mode of travel ABOVE and BELOW

A barnstorming flight enthusiast, Gene Autry travelled to many of his performances in his twin-engine Lockheed 10 aircraft.

During World War II, he qualified to fly 16 different Army Air Force aircraft and flew the hazardous supply route over the Himalayas known as “the Hump.” Throughout this time, he also entertained at military shows and volunteered at bond rallies and recruiting drives.

I can’t say that I was ever a fan of Gene Autry but in fairness I can’t even remember seeing any of his films and there were quite a few

He is the only person to have FIVE stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Gene Autry (1907-1998). U.S. Army Air Force WW II. Enlisted 1942. As a pilot and Technical Sgt. he ferried fuel, ammunition, and arms in the China-India-Burma theatre of war.

He also volunteered his talents as an entertainer for numerous Air Force shows. He had his own radio show entitled “Sergeant Gene Autry.” When the war ended, he was reassigned to Special Services where he toured with a USO troupe in the South Pacific until 1946.

His Life Story:

In 1928, Gene Autry had his first big-time audition as a self-taught guitarist and western music singer.

He was so nervous, he flopped.

That only made him determined to get better.

By the time he retired from show biz in 1964, he was headed for unique status in Hollywood.

He would be the only person awarded stars on the Walk of Fame in all five categories: music, live performance, radio, film and TV.

Gene Autry (1907-98) was given the name Orvon upon birth in Tioga, Texas. He spent most of his youth in the Lone Star State and Oklahoma, helping out on his uncle’s farm and working various jobs.

“Even as a boy he took on extra jobs to help support his family and he didn’t mind it, thriving on working hard,” Jackie Autry, his widow, told IBD. “He didn’t have an easy time of it as a youngster, but he was determined to succeed in life.”

In his spare time, he taught himself how to play guitar after ordering one from a Sears, Roebuck catalog at 12. While in high school, he traveled for a few months to provide the opening entertainment for a medicine show.

After leaving school in 1925 to help his family, Autry learned Morse code and served as a telegraph operator for the railroad, keeping himself awake during the midnight shift by strumming the guitar. He got to know dispatcher Jimmy Long, who taught Autry songwriting. Soon they were playing local dances together.

In 1928, Autry took two months off to go to New York City to try to break into the music business.

There, he schmoozed with stars of hillbilly, pop and blues music and learned about music copyrights. He also got an audition with a big producer, who told him he needed to practice for at least six months before coming back.

So back West he went. Autry used a referral letter from the producer to impress radio programmers in Oklahoma while he hired a voice coach, took professional guitar lessons and learned how to yodel like popular western singers.

Taking another break from his telegraphy job, Autry went back to New York in October 1929 to cut test records, which included some of his original songs.

Within weeks, he had commitments to press records with his new stage name, Gene Autry.

His first hit, “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine,” co-written with Long, came in 1932 and sold a phenomenal half-million copies.

“Early in his career he saw the value in owning or co-owning copyrights to numerous songs, as well as starting music publishing companies, which built a fortune that continues to yield earnings today,” said Holly George-Warren, author of “Public Cowboy No. 1.”

Moving to Chicago, Autry started multiple radio shows, toured the Midwest to promote his records and built a loyal fan base.

“Gene was quite an avid reader, and during those years when he made so many personal appearances, he would make it a practice to read the local newspapers of the town he was in right down to the want ads so that he could get a good feel for the community,” said Jackie Autry.

Her husband said: “It occurs to me that music, with the possible exception of riding bulls, is the most uncertain way to make a living I know. In either case you can get bucked off, thrown, stepped on, trampled — if you get on at all. At best, it is a short and bumpy ride.”

By that standard Gene Autry was one of the all-time recording rodeo champs, cutting 635 songs, half of them his own or co-written, selling 60 million copies and earning a dozen Gold and Platinum records.

Among his holiday discs were “Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane),” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” whose 30 million copies make it the second-best-selling holiday single of all time.

From 1940 to 1956 he had a top radio show, “Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch,” featuring the music, comedy and action of his movies.

Eight years into that run he announced his Cowboy Code, which stated a cowboy must:

Never take unfair advantage.

Always tell the truth.

• Be tolerant.

• Be a patriot.

Fans who grew up wanting to emulate him included future music stars Johnny Cash and James Taylor.

The gospel of goodness that Autry preached was a projection of the real man, said his widow: “Everyone in the entertainment business came to know that if you had a handshake from Gene, it was a done deal. No paperwork required.”

Autry’s lesson is to develop a positive reputation and make sure everything you do is aligned with the values behind that.

Autry’s first Western movie was “In Old Santa Fe” in 1934. He was soon a B-movie innovator, bringing cars and planes into the genre.

With his vast touring supporting the popularity of his films, theater owners voted him their No. 1 star in 1937. By then he was receiving 40,000 fan letters a month.

His film plots usually had him capturing bad guys and interspersing action with singing. Some of his movies were even based on his records, such as “South of the Border” and “Back in the Saddle.”

His film producer refused to pay the expense of answering mail, so he hired assistants to help his secretary send autographed photos.

Three years later, Autry was the fourth-biggest box office attraction, behind just Mickey Rooney, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy.

As the Great Depression took its toll, Gene Autry broadcast optimistic messages about America’s economic future. He promoted everything from Western tourism to trade with Latin America, according to Michael Duchemin, former senior curator at the Autry National Center and now director of the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles.

“As a small entrepreneur selling cultural products in global markets, Autry knew something about the international economy,” said Duchemin. “He became a national icon as he incorporated these messages. His most significant support was to shape public opinion to favor war preparedness, and he starred in films like ‘Mexicali Rose’ and ‘In Old Monterey’ with that message.”

With America fighting in World War II, Autry joined the Army Air Corps in July 1942. His service salary was $114 a month, although he would report earnings that year of $432,000, worth $6 million today.

His job in uniform involved recruiting drives, entertaining troops and promoting war bonds. After his service ended in June 1943, he starred in overseas USO shows.

Now back in his cowboy suit, he continued to shoot Westerns, but as they faded in popularity he decided to make the last of his 93 feature films in 1953.

By then he had shifted to the new medium of TV. In 1950 the first of the 91 episodes of CBS’ “The Gene Autry Show” was on the air. He also produced other popular programs, including “Annie Oakley.”

“He was the first major movie star to star in a television series,” George-Warren said. “He was the first star to create his own production company. He became a merchandising entrepreneur in the 1930s, licensing his name and image to hundreds of products, including comic books and breakfast cereal.”

Autry’s lesson is to extend your brand by making it appeal to different audiences. Such as:

 Rodeo.  Gene Autry rode that way with his World Championship Rodeo Co., which furnished livestock for the sport. He began as a partner in 1942 and became sole owner in 1956, operating on a 24,000-acre ranch in Colorado.

 Baseball. A huge fan, he tried to strike a deal in 1961 to broadcast games of the American League’s new Los Angeles Angels over one of the radio stations he owned.

Baseball executives were so impressed, they persuaded him to become owner of the team.

By 1966, the renamed California Angels were playing down the road in Anaheim. In 1996 he sold controlling interest to Walt Disney Co. 

“It was a delight to see him sign baseballs at Anaheim Stadium and chat with fans while dressed in his cowboy suit,” said R.L. Wilson, whose “Colt: An American Legend” is dedicated to the Autrys. “Gene never forgot his humble origins and was beloved of all.”

In 1988, the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum opened in Los Angeles to exhibit and interpret the heritage of the West and show how it influenced America and the world. In 2003, it was merged with the Southwest Museum of the American Indian and the Women of the West Museum, thereby creating the Autry National Centre

“Of his many triumphs, the National Centre is his most lasting,” said Wilson, who served on its board of trustees. “With over 500,000 items, some of its collections are the best that exist, whether public or private.”

Near his death at 91, Autry’s net worth was estimated by Forbes magazine at $320 million.

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Fury at Showdown 1957

Directed by Gerd Oswald
This western has a very small budget.

However the story and the actors are as powerful and motivated as if it were a blockbuster.

John Derek plays quite a complex character in this film. He is trying to live down his reputation as a gunslinger by running a cattle farm with his younger brother played by Nick Adams.

However a non too honest lawyer played by Gage Clarke and his hired bodyguard – John Smith – try to pressure him into selling his property. When his brother is killed John Derek shows his fury at showdown – shoots the bodyguard and has the Lawyer arrested and marries his girlfriend played by Carolyn Craig. Also in the cast were Robert E Griffin, Malcolm Atterbury, Rusty Lane, Sydney Smith, Frances Morris and Tyler McDuff.

Gerd Oswald directed a couple of films with stories of high morality. This one is his best – and, would you believe, he is said somehow to have pulled this picture off in a week – if so – astonishing !!

This is a quotation from the Director’s Television interview: “That was one of my six or seven day epics… The line producer, John Brett, said, ‘You are only allowed so much money for this picture and tomorrow we’ve got a big lynch scene. We’re supposed to have 50 extras, and I can only give you 12. That’s all — we just don’t have any more money.’ So by necessity I was forced to do certain set-ups that I normally wouldn’t have done. I filled half the screen with the profile of one man, then filled the background. I created a mob scene with just 12 people.”

Of course, you need a good script, capable actors and an ingenious cameraman to cut corners like that and end up with a decent film. The screenplay is by Jason James, adapted from the 1955 novel Showdown Creek by Lucas Todd. Todd is a pen-name for Stanley Kauffmann, the noted film and theatre critic for The New Republic and The New York Times.

There’s a solid performance from John Derek, a terrific one from Nick Adams, who underplays nicely, and appropriately hateful turns from John Smith and Gage Clarke.

Carolyn Craig ABOVE with John Derek as his love interest and later his wife – and a stable of trusty character actors hold their own.

Director of photography Joseph LaShelle was known for his gritty realism, making him an ideal choice for films like Laura (1944, which landed him an Oscar), Hangover Square (1945) and Road House (1948).

Joseph LaShelle had an ability to make a budget look bigger than it really is, which made him perfect for this one

A one-week picture tends to have a rushed feel – not the case with Fury At Showdown. Obviously, planning and rehearsal made all the difference. It was shot on the RKO Western street and at the Iverson Ranch in mid-July 1956.

Upon its release, A.H. Weiler of The New York Times called Fury At Showdown “a surprisingly decent little Western” and said “this unpretentious, low-budget entry is leanly written, tersely acted and, above all, straightforward… Under Gerd Oswald’s sure direction, this tightly authentic atmosphere, the good, blunt dialogue and some discreetly inserted music do much to project the urgency of Mr. Derek’s plight—that of a young man at his life’s crossroads.”

A good review no doubt.

ABOVE – John Derek and Nick Adams – I remember Nick in ‘The Last Wagon’ made just before this one – and a favourite of mine.

Years later, in his massive book The Western, Phil Hardy wrote: “A stylistic tour de force and undoubtedly Oswald’s best film, Fury At Showdown has a formal excellence that belies its five-day shooting schedule and shames many a bigger budgeted movie… Rarely has economy been put to such a positive use.”

Fury At Showdown (1957) is a real gem, one of those neglected little masterpieces that are so fun to discover.

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Go Kart Go 1964 – Cardew the Cad

It is often funny how these little items come back to us – about a week ago I met up with someone who I later described as looking a little like ‘Cardew The Cad’

Then, in fact only today, there was a Children’s Film Foundation production on Talking Pictures called ‘Go Kart Go’ from 1964 with a young Dennis Waterman and Frasier Hines – but also in the cast was Cardew Robinson. His name had cropped up twice within a short time

Back in the 50s and 60s there had been a levy / tax on the cost of a cinema seat which went to the Children’s Film Foundation enabling them to make films for the Saturday morning children’s shows that took place in all circuit cinemas. The films would always feature children as the main characters with a smattering of familiar faces in the adult roles.

Many of these shots were filmed in Harrow

In this film Dennis Waterman plays the head of a gang of boys and girls who are trying to win a Go kart race.However their main rivals will stoop to underhand tactics to prevent Waterman winning.

Will he win in the end ? Well just to help him we have such familiar actors as Cardew Robinson and Wilfred Brambell.

ABOVE – Another familiar face Campbell Singer

Cardew Robinson

I remember Cardew the Cad from the Radio Fun comics of the early fifties. He did seem to be around quite a bit on the Radio at that time.

DOUGLAS ROBINSON was best known as a comedian for his characterisation of ‘Cardew the Cad of the School’. Clad in a striped school cap with a long scarf draped about his scrawny neck, the tall, bony body with prominent teeth, was a familiar figure of fun during the last days of the variety theatre and the early days of television. So popular was his schoolboy persona that he adopted his fictional name, becoming Cardew Robinson for professional purposes from the Fifties.

Robinson was born in Goodmayes, Essex, in 1917 and appeared in many of the Harrow County School concerts as a boy. Already touching six feet tall, and as very skinny, his appearance alone was enough to win the laughs of playmates and parents. Ambitions to become a writer led him to a local newspaper job, but hardly had he learned to type when the paper closed down. Remembering the fun of performing before his schoolmates, Robinson invested in a copy of the Stage, price twopence in those pre-war days, and immediately spotted an advertisement placed by one Joe Boganny who needed recruits for his touring team of Crazy College Boys. One look at the long, lean lad with the protruding teeth was enough for Boganny, who signed him up on the spot.

Boganny’s Crazy College was, as Robinson later wrote, ‘a sort of downmarket Will Hay team. It consisted of Boganny himself and his dog, whose sole purpose was to walk across the stage with a false dog’s head tied to its backside]’ The human part of the act was Robinson, two other boys, and two dwarfs. Robinson took over from a small boy and was given the original cut-down costume to wear. ‘That will look very funny on you, so you can be the comic,’ said Boganny. And he was. Robinson was given one line. ‘I say, you’re late, where do you come from?’ asked Boganny. ‘You say: ‘From a little place called Cookeroff,’ and I hit you on top of the head and say: ‘Well, you Cookeroff back again]’ ‘

In May 1934 Robinson and the Crazy Collegians opened at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, dashed over to the Balham Hippodrome for two more houses, and rushed back to Hammersmith for the second house. The laughs came every time.

He later enlisted with a touring repertory company, he followed a part in Peter Pan with perhaps his most macabre moment in his career, as the monster in Frankenstein. Then came the Second World War.

Joining the RAF in 1939, AC2 Douglas Robinson found himself stationed at Uxbridge, where he quickly found a place in the camp shows. It was in 1941 that he came into contact with Squadron Leader Ralph Reader, the producer/entertainer/songwriter and set on several tours with ENSA

After demob, Robinson continued his association with Ralph Reader, starring in a variety tour of the RAF Gang Show mounted by the impresario Tom Arnold. Given the chance to perform a solo act as a stand-up comic, he developed an idea he had first tried out in 1942. This was ‘Cardew the Cad of the School’, inspired by his own boyhood reading of the weekly maagzine the Gem.

This featured tales of St Jim’s school written by the prolific Charles Hamilton under his pen-name Martin Clifford. Robinson had always enjoyed the caddish capers of Ralph Reckness Cardew, the schoolboy who was both suave and slightly sinister, and first as a rhyming monologue, then as a comedy act, eventually as a radio personality, the character began to take over his life.

Listeners to the BBC’s popular Variety Bandbox responded with delight and Cardew Robinson became the programme’s resident comedian for a spell, reading out a weekly bulletin of school reports: ‘Here is the news from St Fanny’s and this is Cardew the Cad reading it’ By 1950 the listening world numbered the headmaster Dr Jankers, the fat boy Fatty Gilbert, and the delightful Matron among its comedy favourites, although the BBC never gave him the honour of his own radio series. In 1954 Robinson formally changed his name from Douglas to Cardew, and established his catchphrase, ‘This is Cardew the Cad’

Robinson had entered films as early as 1938, when he appeared in a short in the series Ghost Tales Retold, directed by Widgey R. Newman, a name to conjure with in the back-alleys off Wardour Street. He resumed his film career in 1948 in a slightly longer cheapie entitled A Piece of Cake, starring Cyril Fletcher. He would continue in films for the rest of his working life, appearing in more than 50 parts, medium-sized, small and smaller, but never larger than the one film in which he starred. This was Fun at St Fanny’s (1955), with a cast of comedians of every shape and size, from the elephantine Fred Emney, a superb Dr Jankers, to the diminutive Davy Kaye, plus the veteran Claude Hulbert, incomprehensible Stanley Unwin, bumbling Peter Butterworth and plump Gerald Campion, television’s Billy Bunter cast here as Fatty Gilbert. Young Ronnie Corbett played a schoolboy, and in support was the current king of the pop discs, Johnny Brandon, backed up by Francis Langford’s Singing Scholars (surely a sentimental throwback to Joe Boganny’s Crazy Collegians?).

The film, still unshown on British television, was recently revived at the Museum of London, where Cardew Robinson himself emerged lankily to introduce his one and only starring epic. The packed audience loved him, and also the film which, incidentally, was based on the comic strip which began in Radio Fun in 1949.

The film, still unshown on British television, was recently revived at the Museum of London, where Cardew Robinson himself emerged lankily to introduce his one and only starring epic. The packed audience loved him, and also the film which, incidentally, was based on the comic strip which began in Radio Fun in 1949.

Robinson’s longest stage stint was as King Pellinore in the Drury Lane production of Camelot – he appeared in all 650 performances – and in more recent times he was well received as an after-dinner speaker. His early hopes to become a writer were eventually realised, and, apart from comedy scripts for himself and fellow artistes including Dick Emery and Peter Sellers, he wrote a book, How to Be a Failure.

He also devised the radio game show You’ve Got to Be Joking, and guested on many television panels including Call My Bluff, Looks Familiar and Quick on the Draw.

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Never Let Go – Peter Sellers and Richard Todd

This Film should be much better known.

Peter Sellers as a deranged car salesman and a villainous character in ‘Never Let Go’ plays Lionel Meadows, a sinister, vicious, dishonest car showroom wheeler dealer. He a real nasty piece of work – an aggressive, tough gangster who runs his business like a machine, ticking all the boxes to ensure everything goes smoothly and he stays, king of his empire.

At this time in his life, Peter Sellers was married to his first wife Anne and during the making of this film, she said that he came home often after filming, almost possessed by the character Lionel Meadows to such an extent that on one occasion he started an argument from nothing and then threw a flower vase at his her – narrowly missing, then stormed into the bathroom, rolled up a towel and used it as a tool to smash pictures from the wall. He was living the character he played during the filming.

At this time his children were terrified of him – none of the family knew what he would do next.

Never Let Go (1960) peter sellers Lionel Meadows thuggish sinister gangster

Richard Todd in this film is a low-level cosmetics sales man struggling to make good sales figures. He has recently bought a car to help him cover more ground more easily, but due to the financial dent he couldn’t afford insurance on it. One day at work his car gets stolen by Adam Faith, who steals cars for garage owner Peter Sellers. Sellers, keeping his own garage fully legal, has another garage change the plates and such on these stolen vehicles, and then sells at a nice profit. Despite his wife Elizabeth Sellars’s wishes as well as those of police inspector Noel Willman who wants to nail Sellers for his entire operation, Richard Todd decides that this is one fight he does see through all the way, and he starts searching for his car. Besides his stolen car racket, Meadows played by Peter Sellers also has to deal with his girl Carol White, who is fed up with her prisoner life, bored with him, and is more interested in Adam Faith.

Never Let Go (1960) Tommy Towers (Adam Faith) car thief
Never Let Go (1960) ford anglia stolen car peter sellers richard todd

This film deserves to be much better known and is a minor classic of its type. Problem is that here we had two top line actors, both playing against type in the characters that they portray. Nevertheless, they are both at the top of their game here.

The role played by Peter Sellers is so wildly over the top in it’s sheer nastiness and I cant think of a portrayal that comes close. It is a career defining role for Peter Sellers but it just didn’t do that – instead he took a different path, and you have to say, a successful one at that.

Never Let Go (1960) richard todd salesman John Cummings
Never Let Go (1960) cafe rockabillie bikers richard todd british drama

There is a top rate cast here – see Adam Faith ABOVE

Other characters caught up within this story are Richard’s wife Anne (Elizabeth Sellars), Lionel’s girl Jackie (Carol White), Lionel’s muscle Cliff (David Lodge) and newspaper seller and terrapin lover Alfie Barnes (Mervyn Jones).

Never Let Go (1960) peter sellers Lionel Meadows Jackie (Carol White)
Never Let Go (1960) richard todd John Cummings Anne Elizabeth Sellars

ABOVE – Richard Todd with Elizabeth Sellars

With its blistering jazz score from composer John Barry and director John Guillermin’s fast paced story, this is a rapid-fire, entertaining film. Add to that the cinematography and first-rate performances from a great group of actors and the novelty of seeing Peter Sellers in such a part, it all adds up to making this such a superb film.

Never Let Go (1960) peter sellers Lionel Meadows car showroom dealer gangster

The end scene is quite unique. Also with the mannerisms and controlling ways Lionel uses his power over, not only with his young terrified girlfriend, but also everyone who happens to be in his way. The mad smile and quirky voice from within the shadows is both menacing and fascinating at the same time.

This is definitely a superb gem of British film drama and well worth seeing.

ABOVE – Stills from the film

David Lodge beats up Richard Todd ABOVE

ABOVE – Mervyn Johns as a terrified older man living in mortal fear of Lionel Meadows

Richard Todd very much the worse for wear BELOW

ABOVE – an action shot in the final violent confrontation

I am tempted to say that Peter Sellers in this film plays Lionel Meadows in a role so dominant that I thought of Robert Newton as Long John Silver – but that is not quite the case as Robert Newton’s role had some humour and appeal whereas Lionel Meadows has none.

Only in the way those roles are played do I see some small similarity – both powerful.

However Robert Newton in his role is remembered to this day but Peter Sellers in this is virtually completely forgotten

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‘Quantez’ and ‘The Land Unknown’

Looks like a cracking good double bill here with ‘Quantez’ a Western starring Fred McMurray and Dorothy Malone supported by ‘The Land Unknown’ with Jack Mahoney

‘Quantez’ produced one critical comment at the time ‘Static, turgid, claptrap’ which someone else described as ‘generous’

I personally have not yet seen it so am in no position to comment.

The review goes on to say that ‘Producer Gordon Kay misapplied the talents of Fred MacMurray, Dorothy Malone, James Barton, Sydney Chaplin, John Gavin, John Larch and Michael Ansara in a screenplay by R.Wright Campbell from a story by Campbell and Ann Edwards, which suffered among other things from verbal diarrhoea. The story is all about a band of bickering outlaws who are holed up in a ghost town surrounded by Apaches – after robbing a bank.

It was photographed in Cinemascope and Technicolor

A flying Pterodactyl, a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex and a swimming elasmosaurus were just three of the creatues encountered by Navy Scientist Jack Mahoney as leader of the expedition in ‘The Land Unkown’.

The setting was a strange and mysterious warm-water area in the middle of the Antarctic which Jack Mahoney in the company of lady news reporter Shawn Smith, helicopter pilot William Reynolds and mechanic Phil Harvey discover when the helicopter they are travelling in collides with a Pterodactyl, forcing the party to descend through heavy fog into a warm subterranean chasm.

Special effects men Fred Knoth, Orien Ernest and Jack Kevan did wonders in boosting this modest sci-fi adventure into the realms of the impressive – at least by the standards of the day – they were very good effects in reality.

Wlliam Alland’s Cinemascope Production also had Henry Brandon as a Scientist who was also a member of Admiral Byrd’s 1947 expedition to the South Pole, and ten years previously had also crashed into this strange prehistoric world and whose mind is now twisted to the point of madness.

In Cinemascope – see the exciting trailer below :

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Art Director Peter Lamont has died

The production designer Peter Lamont, who has died aged 91, was born in London. His father was a signwriter who sometimes worked at Denham film studios, in Buckinghamshire, where Peter visited him regularly and later got a job as a runner.

After two years in the RAF, he returned to Denham and worked as a junior draughtsman for more than a decade.

Among the first films he worked on was ‘The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men’ at Denham for Walt Disney under the guidance of legendary set designer Carmen Dillon who was at her very best on this film.

ABOVE and BELOW – Some of the Film Studio Sets for ‘The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men’ which Peter Lamont may have worked on in the design stages along with Carmen Dillon

Much later he worked on every James Bond film between Goldfinger (1963), the third in the series, and Casino Royale (2006), the 21st official instalment. He was absent during that time only from Tomorrow Never Dies, which clashed with James Cameron’s Titanic (also 1997). It was Lamont’s work on the latter which brought him an Oscar, following nominations for Fiddler on the Roof (1971), the Bond adventure The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Cameron’s horror sequel Aliens (1986).

As he moved up the ladder from draughtsman to set decorator and art director before finally being appointed production designer on For Your Eyes Only (1981), Peter Lamont became a prized member of the Bond family. “I so admire Peter and his colleagues,” said Roger Moore in his 2008 autobiography My Word Is My Bond. “They make the impossible possible and the unbelievable believable.” Michael G Wilson, who with Barbara Broccoli took over the producing reins from Broccoli’s father, Albert, said: “The first thing we do when we start working on the script, and we’re thinking about locations and whether we can do this or that, is we call up Peter Lamont.”

His responsibilities on the series were wideranging and unpredictable. On Goldfinger, he was recruited by the great production designer Ken Adam to help design Fort Knox. For the sea-bound Thunderball (1965), he took a crash-course in scuba-diving after Adam told him: “You’d better learn to swim underwater.” The film, shot partly in the Bahamas, also required him to spend time at RAF Waddington studying a Vulcan bomber in preparation for building a 14-ton replica which then had to be shown sinking at sea.

One of his most challenging assignments came as one of the art directors on The Man With the Golden Gun (1974). The night before he left for the Thai island Khao Phing Kan, the production designer Peter Murton told him to be prepared to stay for some time.

“I came home seven months later,” he told Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury for their Bond encyclopedia Some Kind of Hero (2015). “It was a place that was undeveloped at the time. Believe me, the Bonds have always been first in these places. I was the one who ran everything. Telephones didn’t work. Telexes took three days, and a letter – God knows where it went.”

Peter also taught the actor Christopher Lee to assemble the golden gun brandished by his character, the villain Scaramanga, and comprised of everyday objects such as cuff-links, a lighter and a fountain pen. Lamont commissioned the prop from the London jeweller J Rose when the one supplied by Colibri, the credited jeweller, proved unusable.

After the soaring costs of Moonraker (1979), the series went back to basics with For Your Eyes Only, for which Peter stepped into Ken Adam’s shoes. John Glen, the film’s director, said: “He was reaching a stage in his career where we were either going to promote him to production designer or he was going to leave the fold and do his own films for someone else because he was that good you couldn’t ignore him anymore.”

Peter Lamont produced impressive sets resourcefully; the ceremonial barge in Octopussy (1983), for instance, was constructed from a pair of abandoned boats which he found on the banks of Lake Pichola in Udaipur city in India. He also came to the rescue in 1984 when the 007 stage at Pinewood burned down following an accident on the set of Ridley Scott’s fantasy adventure Legend. Within 12 weeks, Lamont had overseen the reconstruction of what was now renamed the Albert R Broccoli 007 Stage, and had parcelled out sections of the latest Bond production, A View to a Kill (also 1985), to other stages.

To avoid the bureaucratic complications of filming a tank chase in St Petersburg for GoldenEye (1995), he proposed building sections of the city at Leavesden studios.

I can say that this outside set at Leavesden was terrific. My family and I visited there after filming had been done. The reason for the visit was that the family owned company we have, hired some very large storage tanks to Eon Productions for Goldeneye and these were to complete the set of a Russian Nerve Gas Plant. We asked to be able to visit and were allowed to literally wander around the very large site – now the Harry Potter experience.

There we saw and walked up the St Peterberg street set that days or weeks before, action had taken place with James Bond driving a rampaging tank around the city – actually this set.

There were numerous Lada cars littered around the set and near area I remember.

Also there was a very large outdoor model of the large parabolic dish thet was the scene of the fight to a finish between James Bond and the villain played by Sean Bean

Judi Dench, cast in that film for the first time as the intelligence chief M, singled out for praise “the flat Peter Lamont designed … this gorgeous apartment in Canary Wharf”. On Casino Royale, he designed over 40 sets, from the casino’s salon privé to the building site where the film’s spectacular pursuit was staged.

Before the Bond films, art-directing credits included Sleuth (1972), starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, and the Nazi-hunting thriller The Boys from Brazil (1978), also with Olivier.

As production designer, he worked on the wartime spoof Top Secret! (1984) as well as continuing his collaboration with James Cameron on the action comedy True Lies (1994) another big one very much in the Bond style.

It was Bond, though, which dominated his life, as reflected in the title he chose for his 2016 autobiography, The Man With the Golden Eye: Designing the James Bond Films. In it, he revealed that he had not intended Casino Royale to be his swansong.

In 1952 he married Ann Aldridge; she predeceased him. Peter Lamont is survived by their daughter, Madeline, and son, Neil, an art director and production designer who worked with his father on several films including GoldenEye and Titanic.

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Valerie French – British Film Actress

I mainly know Valerie French for her leading role in ‘The Secret of Treasure Mountain’ released in 1956 which was a supporting film and not a major Western but nonetheless it is a film I like.

Prior to this she had a starring role in the excellent Glenn Ford Western ‘Jubal’ having only the previous year left England to make her home in California.

She never really cracked into the big time but did lots of Television shows of the day and then went back to Theatre where she seemed to have been more successful

After she left England, Valerie set up home in Malibu where her neighbours included Kim Novak, Shirley MacLaine, and Rod Steiger – and Elvis Presley had rented a cottage nearby from Hugh O’Brien at that time. She loved the location but during the frequent times when she was involved with a film, she had little time at home to enjoy it.

Valerie always dreamed of Hollywood even in the days that she was on the bus heading for rehearsals in London at the Saville Theatre – this I remember was the very Theatre that, just over a decade after this, we went to see Chuck Berry and Del Shannon perform there – what a night that was.

ABOVE – Valerie French looking lovely in ‘Jubal’

Valerie French was a British film, television, and stage actress. Born Valerie Harrison in London, England, she attended Malvern Girls’ College in Worcestershire. In 1951 she made her stage debut in Treasure Hunt at the Theatre Royal in Windsor. French’s early career was marked by her popularity as a young starlet who was frequently photographed attending show premieres and parties in London during the early 1950s. In 1954, she made her film debut in Maddalena, and the following year she was hired as a contract actress for Columbia Pictures. After moving to the United States in 1955, French acted in several western films in Hollywood, such as Jubal (1956), The Hard Man (1957), and Decision at Sundown (1957).

Valerie French had roles in several television series throughout her career, appearing in over twenty shows between 1953 and 1982. During the 1950s and 1960s she acted in multiple episodes of The Edge of Night, Alcoa Theatre, and Have Gun-Will Travel. French’s stage career took off in the 1960s; her Broadway credits include Inadmissible Evidence (1965), Help Stamp Out Marriage! (1966), and A Taste of Honey (1981).

Valerie French was married and divorced twice, first to playwright and screenwriter Michael Pertwee in 1952, and later to actor Thayer David. She died of leukemia in 1990

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Wind Across the Everglades 1958 – Christopher Plummer and Burl Ives

Although Christopher Plummer had appeared in quite a few TV films, this was one of his first feature films – and it is a good one.

He has just passed away, so I thought we would do an article on one of his lesser known earlier films.

‘Wind Across the Everglades’ is set in Florida – in the Everglades – at the turn of the century. It is the story of a booze ridden conservationist played by Christopher Plummer attempting to preserve the area’s wild life against the onslaught of property developers.

ABOVE – On Location in the Florida Everglades

The Technicolor outdoor location sequences are visually stunning

Also starring is Burl Ives in the type of role he had played before as ‘Big Daddy’ in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ and also in ‘The Big Country’ just before that – in fact these three films came out pretty close to one another.

I always had the impression – and still do – that Burl Ives could hold his own in the acting stakes no matter who he was cast with – he is a powerful personality and someone who adds more than a bit of style to whatever film he is in.

His ‘Ugly Bug Ball’ song from ‘Summer Magic’ for Walt Disney some years before this is so memorable – and he delivers it perfectly

Chana Eden

Chana Eden played the female lead in the film – she didn’t have that well known a career but after this, she was in quite a few high profile TV shows such as ‘Rifleman’ with Chuck Connors

Here she is ABOVE in Florida on the set of ‘Wind Across the Everglades’

In terms of film making and indeed in terms of general interest I have always had a fascination for the Everglades ever since seeing one of my favourite Westerns ‘Distant Drums’ at a showing in our local village hall in the early fifties. Great Film.

I later learned that some of the underwater swimming sequences in the MGM Tarzan films were done at Silver Springs in Florida – certainly that was the case for ‘Tarzan Finds a Son’ and ‘Tarzans Secret Treasure’.

Also the classic ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’

ABOVE – Burl Ives and Christopher Plummer

I am really surprised that I don’t know this film but now have purchased the DVD so expect I shall rectify that but I have the feeling that this is one I will really enjoy.

It does seem to have been a happy film to make from the photographs we see which is underlined by this charming one of the writer and leading lady

A very young Peter Falk makes his screen debut in this film

Screenwriter Budd Schulberg with actress Chana Eden on location of “Wind Across the Everglades” in Chokoloskee. BELOW

Screenwriter Budd Schulberg with actress Chana Eden

This is taken from a Review written at the time :-

When we reach the climax of the film Christopher Plummer is alone in a boat with Burl Ives – the self-acknowledged “king” of the poachers – and then the film takes fire. The showdown test of character and resolution between these two stubborn men in a sequence that takes some twenty minutes is exciting and colourful. Burl Ives in a red beard and black hat, adorned with the plume of an egret, and wearing a cottonmouth moccasin as a wrist adornment, is the lustiest looking thing in the film. He has it all over Christopher Plummer, who is adorned with little more than hair and sweat. Chana Eden plays a sultry swamp charmer The “swamp rats,” are played by various roving actors, jockeys, prize fighters and circus clowns, but the natural outdoor settings, in the wilds of “the “glades,” are for real. So are the birds that fly in clouds and the dawns and sunsets. There is definitely life in this odd film.

and – another Review – more recent with the film being showed at a Film Festival in 2019:-

It’s early twentieth century as game warden Walt Murdock (Christopher Plummer) intent on stopping the decimation of the local plume birds, slaughtered in droves to supply all those rich ladies with fashionable feathers in their hats, and finds himself at dangerous odds with both the town businessmen, and the fierce and brutal gun-toting poachers living out in the wild ‘glades, leading to an inevitable confrontation with their larger-than-life leader Cottonmouth (Burl Ives).

With its unabashed focus on environmental concerns, its heavy ‘nature’ setting, what a unique oddball of a Hollywood film Wind Across the Everglades is. Rarely a Hollywood film of the 50’s was particularly concerned with ecological concerns.

With so much of the production having been set clearly in the inhospitable Florida Everglades, as Christopher Plummer’s courageous Murdock is taken in by the poachers for almost the film’s entire second half, with Burl Ives’ brutal Cottonmouth taking a liking to the young man, sensing a bit of a similar wild man in his spirit despite the fact that he knows he’s there to end their livelihood and take him back to the law. — Director Nicholas Ray was fired during production (with legendary screenwriter Budd Schulberg having taken over at some point) makes this production – and film — all the more fascinating.

A young Christopher Plummer

It’s a gorgeous looking film, with the various colours and textures of the swamp popping off the 35mm print

Not everything works in the film, though. While Cottonmouth’s actions in the last third of the film, voluntarily agreeing to go back with Murdock, as his eventual prisoner, if Murdock can navigate his way through a murky and danger-filled swampland he is unfamiliar with and that Cottonmouth knows like the back of his hand, are never entirely convincing (feeling more like a script contrivance that no one ever overcame than something from the character). Murdock’s love interest, played by Chana Eden, is even more thankless than these roles tended to be at the time, setting it up without much development or narrative interest.

“Wind Across the Everglades”, a film I hadn’t even heard of before, is a fascinating, beautiful film – an admirable one, obsessing over things not usual for Hollywood of that time, in its subject matter and setting. Even seeing it on a cropped 35mm print was worth it (the only other way it appears available is on similarly cropped DVD from Warner Archives).

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Piccadilly Circus

This picture came from a newspaper article on a very different subject to the films of the time, but looking closely at it, we get a glimpse of what is showing in one particular Cinema in the West End – probably later in the summer 1953.

Abbott and Costello meet Captain Kidd with that great film actor Charles Laughton.

This was released at Christmas 1952 and did pretty well at the Box Office.

It seems a strange coupling between these two popular comedians on film and Charles Laughton but it does seem to have been a successful one but just maybe Charles Laughton wanted, in a way,to reprise his famous role as Captain Blighe but this time with a nod towards comedy and possibly a touch of Robert Newton’s Long John Silver.

It was filmed in SuperCinecolor

However I now turn to the supporting film ‘No Escape’ which ran for a mere 76 minutes but from the reviews I have seen, it was a very good thriller

No Escape 1953 with Lew Ayres, Marjorie Steele and Sonny Tufts

Quite often – and this is proof of that – a “B” picture needn’t be of inferior quality.

Back in the 1930s, Lew Ayres was on top of the world in Hollywood. After starring in “All Quiet on the Western Front”, he had a steady career in Hollywood. When he had got the lead in MGM’s Dr. Kildare series, Lew Ayres continued on his winning ways. However, WW2 arrived and he was an avowed pacifist. While he bravely volunteered to be an orderly in the military, his refusal to fight soured him with the public and the studios.

As a result, his career, with a few exceptions (such as “Johnny Belinda” in 1948), was mostly flat in the post-war years. He worked but the quality of the films declined. This is why he starred in a low-budget film like “No Escape”…a film that paired him with Sonny Tufts – who, himself, had fallen even further in his career thanks to his off-screen habits.

However No Escape turned out to be a really good and tense thriller

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