Archive for May, 2011

The Unknown

May 11, 2011

Earlier today I had what can only be described as a supernatural experience.
I was sitting in my club thinking about the Duke of Westminster when, lo and behold, the  cove walked in! It was – as the youngsters today call it –spooky! I am sure many of you have experienced something similar – although not in my club, I doubt you would be eligible for membership.
It led me to think about the other supernatural experiences I have had in my life. Some were charming, others were curious, while the rest, quite frankly, scared the tripes out of me!
The first kind were similar to that which I had this morning; eerie foretellings or inexplicable sensations. What the more sceptical probably call ‘coincidences.’ Many the time I have had that unnerving inkling that something somewhere was going horrible wrong – only to return to my car to find a parking ticket, or my tax bill on the door mat, or that my wife had left me (or in one case, that she hadn’t left me).
So do I have a sixth sense? Or am I just more perceptive than the man on the street. Obviously, yes, to the latter, but I do think the sprits have always looked out for me. I have been so fortunate in my life, from public school, through to my time in the army as a commissioned officer, via my stretch running the family wine business, to my career as a best-selling author, that I have felt as though I was somehow mysteriously privileged, watched over by a fairy godfather who has nudged me along the right paths at the right time. Not that sort of fairy, I hasten to add, I have never despoiled myself in any way for personal gain. Not that I am being judgemental; many of my best friends have been despicable perverts.
But what about ghosts, Sir Desmond, I hear you cry? And demons? And witches? And other things that go bump in the night – and I don’t mean my second wife as she fell out of bed after one too many post-conjugal G&Ts.
The simple answer is – I don’t know. My gut instinct is “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” as my fellow scribe Billy Shakespeare once scribbled on the back of a fag packet!
More of my unearthly experiences anon!

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The Creepy Cottage of Chisel part 2

May 9, 2011

(This article brought back many frustrating memories. Apologies for the crass language used within, but, frankly, my experiences with Chisel Films oft reduced me to a rather ‘blue’ vernacular)

Chisel Films
From ‘You Never Had It So Bad: British Horror Films of the 50s & 60s’ by Henry Burge (Professor of Movie Studies, Greenford Polytechnic)

The Moonquake Horror was made very cheaply and very quickly at the peak of the TV series popularity in late 1962. It was produced by Chisel Films, a small British company which had hitherto specialised in quota quickies and a series of fuck-brained comedies starring Billy Bonkers, a perennial on the number two variety circuit.
Bonkers had for years entertained the less evolved members of the country with his whirling eyeballs, his high-pitched voice, and his catch-phrase of “You’re right, Vicar, I am bonkers!’ His act, which he had inherited from his father who had in turn inherited it from his father and so on, hadn’t changed one iota since the first day it had been performed, probably with Chaucer in the audience. And it had never ever been funny.
But as with those aristocratic families whose power and influence today originated in the long-lost days of yore, the Bonkers tradition was accepted by most people as one of those peculiar things about Britain that was rubbish but too much like hard work to get rid of. Like the House of Lords or Morris Dancing.
Chisel’s films with Bonkers were made in approximately a week to ten days for next to nothing, and usually made a nifty profit, though how, no-one was quite sure. Channel 5 had recently broadcast a season of the Bonkers films, and next to their usual output, they didn’t seem so bad after all.
Chisel Films had been set up in the mid-fifties by Archie Fernstein, a grizzled Canadian ex-travelling Bible salesman turned film executive, who had been booted out of Hollywood for his habit of masturbating during business meetings. This unsavoury practice had for years been considered comparatively harmless and most had turned a blind eye, thus proving the old adage that self-abuse does affect the sight.
Fernstein was relatively discreet, his animated penis always kept out of sight beneath the desk or table, but his red cheeks, heavy breathing and glazed expression always gave away the fact that it wasn’t the current business he specifically had in hand.
But eventually he went too far, and one day, during a singularly important meeting with Gloria Swanson, he had asked her if she had any tissues in her purse as he seemed to have run out. She obliged with a small bundle and had been horrified as she had watched him put them to use.
So he had ended up in the graveyard of the film industry, or England as it was known to Hollywood insiders. He had set up Chisel Films and had continued to do what he specialised in back home; shovelling shit to the masses with as little financial outlay as possible.
Then one day the sensational popularity of Moonquake had been brought to his attention by one of his creepy side-kicks, a ex-Luftwaffe pilot called Heinrich who had a hidden agenda of bringing down England via bad cinema.
So Fernstein had speedily snapped up the rights. The BBC in those days was run by a bunch of public school/Oxbridge amateurs with very little idea of the real world so Fernstein had taken them for a ride, getting the movie rights in his well-exercised little claw for next to nothing.
The next step Fernstein had taken was to get rid of everything that had made Moonquake popular in the first place; the writers, the ethos and, most importantly, leading man Rupert Houghton himself. You could not sell a movie in Arkansas with a British leading man, Fernstein argued, ‘specially not an old codger like Houghton.’
So Houghton exited the equation. He hadn’t even been approached, let alone received an apology. The press tried to stir up a feud, but Houghton, never one for interviews anyway, refused to play ball, although inside sources claimed he was hurt and upset by the decision.
A script was cobbled together by the Henderson Twins, Jerome and Norman, illiterate crap-mongers who regularly shat out the Bonkers scripts. The resulting screenplay, an average monster-on-the-loose pic, bore no relation to Moonquake on TV, but did give the Hendersons the chance to indulge their mutual loves of pro-American jingoism, misogyny, and phallic symbolism. Professor Moonquake, from being a pacifist humanist scientist, mutated into a reactionary xenophobic bully, with a penchant for blasting anything that didn’t look Republican.
Then came the next big question; who exactly would play the Professor? Lots of big names were put forward in the papers from Charlton Heston to Paul Newman. Then the announcement was made – Tom Trelawney would play the Professor. ‘Who?’ everyone responded. Erm, Tom Trelawney, came the reply, you know. Oh him, was the general baffled response.
Tom Trelawney was a B-movie actor who had specialised in westerns. He usually played the heavy who would upset the local town by rustling cows or bribing officials or raping chickens. Usually, after an hour of unsubtle chicanery, he would get shot in the Corral by John Wayne Lite. But Trelawney, after about a million identical films, had become an embittered alcoholic. He wanted to play leads in A-movies and, when he couldn’t, dived into a bottle of whiskey. So he didn’t work at all.
When Archie Fernstein decided that he needed an American Moonquake, he had one problem; he couldn’t afford anyone even half way decent. Not that anyone with the barest coherent vision of their long-term career would have worked for The Office Jerker anyway. So all Fernstein could get was Trelawney. Everyone warned him off, but no, Fernstein wanted a Hollywood name, albeit one of ill repute, so Trelawney got the gig.
Sadly, when Tom Trelawney was called an alcoholic, it was rather akin to describing the Titanic as a mishap. Not only did he drink a bottle of vodka before breakfast (and another one for breakfast), he wore a toupee with an aversion to staying on his head. There were also the little problems of an inability to remember even a syllable of dialogue, and a very poor working relationship with gravity.
Filming commenced and was not the jolliest of shoots. All the sequences without Trelawney were accomplished quickly and professionally by the mostly British supporting cast. Then, after lunch when Trelawney was eventually prised groggily from his trailer, he would be planted firmly in the ground (literally, his feet would be buried in thick wet sand to keep the old pisspot ham upright), his wig would be gummed to his skull, and his shots were filmed, a line at a time, using idiot boards less than a yard from his tumescently maroon nose.
Unfortunately, for all his delusions of A-list grandeur, Trelawney had just one character in his repertoire (the charmless heavy) and just one way of delivering dialogue (shouting), so in every scene he bellowed out the script. Thankfully there were no subtleties in the script, because otherwise Trelawney would have trampled over them with his booze-soaked, but mighty tonsils.
The finished result was, needless to say, an utter disaster. The film bombed in Britain because (a) it was crap, (b) it wasn’t anything like the series, and, most importantly, (c) Rupert Houghton wasn’t in it.
In the States, it laid a big one mainly because of point (a) see above.
Shortly after this, Fernstein moved into porn, where he was unsurprisingly successful until his suspicious death by lawn-mower-and-river in 1972.

The Creepy Cottage of Chisel

May 9, 2011

I don’t waste my time with regrets, but one great sadness to me is that so few of my books have made it to the silver screen. What is wrong with the British Film Industry, eh? They have one of the finest and most-loved story-tellers in the world today on their very doorstep, and yet do they ever pick up the phone and ask me to lunch at Claridges in order to pick my imaginative brain? Do they hell!

However, there has been one reasonably high profile film bearing the Stirling name. I’d rather like to forget it, but as the bugger turns up on the box with depressing monotony, I have to acknowledge the existence of the wretched thing.

Chisel Films was a production company set up in the 50s by a rather dissolute Canadian by the name of Archie Fernstein – known in the industry as the Office Jerker for his unsavoury habit of indulging in self-abuse under his desk during meetings! One day – so legend has it – he did this very act while conducting a meeting with Joan Crawford. He was lucky to escape with his old feller still attached!

One day, they decided to go upmarket and film my debut novel Satan’s Claws Are Coming To Town. I was cautiously excited. The money they offered would pay for my third divorce, and I was convinced – foolish fellow – that I would retain some sort of creative control.

Alas! To where has that naïve young chap gone?

It started to go wrong with the casting. My hero, the redoubtable Charles needs a very specific type of actor. Tall, good-looking, broad-shouldered piercing eyes, aristocratic bearing – one needs to believe this is a man with a millennium of good breeding.

Richard Wattis would not have been my first choice. Now, don’t get me wrong, Dickie was a first-rate drinking chum with some screamingly funny stories, albeit with a tendency to grope the nearest waiter. But as Our Hero? I’m sorry, but that type is perfectly fine playing vicars, or window dressers, or hair-dressers, but fail dismally when asked to play men.

Anne Aston as the young juvenile girl was pretty enough, if rather common; the boy’s hair was too long; and Deirdre Hogan as Marjorie simply wasn’t sufficiently slutty. Marjorie needs to be played by a actress who can convey someone with no morals whatsoever. Now, one would think someone like that would be terribly easy to find, but, no, we ended up with a prissy madam who not only turned her nose up at an offer of a weekend in Littlehampton with the author, but also became rather shrill in her ungracious rebuff. Quite why she felt the need for the Constabulary to be involved, I will never understand.

The special effects were, as one expected from Chisel, barely adequate. The representation of the Devil by dying a goat’s beard black and slapping on some eye-liner was laughable, and I have seen better transformations scenes in the pantos of my youth at the Aldershot Alhambra. The orgy scenes were pathetic – Trevelyan and I were old school chums and a quiet word in his ear would have ensured us an AA (even with full tit-and-minge).

As for the new ending…! It’s one of the first rules of drama – the hero saves the day. But oh no, that communist director – whose name I have thankfully forgotten – insisted on our heroes being rescued by the character of Forster – whom those who have read the book (and if not why not, why not, it is after all on the O-Level syllabus?) is Charles’ manservant. A skivvy coming to the rescue! I ask you? How utterly red can one be? At the gala premiere (which took place at the Acton Odeon, now demolished, I believe), it was whispered to me that Forster was played by the leftie director’s current boyfriend which didn’t surprise me. Appalled me, but surprised – no! Showbiz is, after all, stuffed to the gills with the inverted. But it was very galling to have one’s book ruined all for the sake of a leg-over. And not even a proper one with a lady

Since then I have been wary of allowing the film rights out of my hands. That Spielberg chap seemed frightfully keen on The Eunuch of Willesden, but wanted to relocate it to Bel Air. I said no. I gather there has been a version of Bitchfinder General made in Farsi, but I have never clapped eyes on it. ITV made an adequate version of The Limp-Wristed Mountebank starring the splendid Peter Wyngarde, and the Japs apparently made a cartoon version of my Warrior Nun trilogy. I once tried to set up a TV series based on my Derek Playfair books – possibly starring Ian Carmichael – but sadly that never got off the ground; toffs had long been out of fashion at the British Bolshevik Corporation!

The halcyonic dynamo which lit up my childhood

May 5, 2011

Childhood
I had a somewhat idyllic childhood. I spent my early days in Aldershot, where my memory tells me the sun was always shining. Except when it was raining. I can still recall my first thunderstorm! I was terrified, until Nanny reassured me that it was the just the sound of God’s anger at all the wickedness in the world. Between my debut in the world and the age of four when I was sent to my prep school St Mungos’ on Orkney, I had seventeen different nannies. I loved all of them. Well, almost all of them. Nanny Ferdinand didn’t endear herself to me, what with her belief in the health-giving properties of sour milk and her daily habit of practicing her acupuncture on me – but she left abruptly, even more abruptly than most of them did. I woke up one morning, cried for Nanny as usual, and was informed by my Mother – who was most cross to be woken up by a screaming child, something she wasn’t used to – that Nanny had had to leave in the Night. Never quite got the bottom of why exactly – I left for St Mungo’s only 2 nights later – but The Great War commenced the next morning.
My mother was a tall, willowy woman, always beautifully dressed. I can never think of her without seeing her accompanied by one of my many aunts. We always seemed to have an aunt staying in the house. They must have been a great comfort to Mama when Pater was off on one of his many business trips. Aunt Camilla is the first I can recall – no two aunts ever stayed at the house at the same time. She was very pretty and smelled of vanilla custard. Pater was very fond of her too, and she joined him on one of his business trips once. I never saw her again. I can vividly recall Aunt ‘Geoffrey’ – a stout lady who wore trews and a monocle. She alarmed me, and funnily enough, the last time I saw her was the night before Nanny Ferdinand left.

I will write about my school days anon, but I always get rather emotional – I start to shake and my fingers tremble and tears drip onto the paper and smudge the ink. Happy memories!

Why on Earth did I become a writer?

May 3, 2011

Why on Earth did I become a writer, I hear you ask. The simple answer, dear reader, is that I was broke!

After the army, I had tried various jobs; vacuum cleaner salesman, prep school teacher, wine merchant, brothel-keeper, bodyguard to a minor Saudi Arabian prince…

All perfectly enjoyable in their own ways, but none were bringing in the necessary readies…. And my slate at the Garrick was building up and mutterings were being heard! One day, while wallowing in the bath my man had run for me, the proverbial light bulb suddenly lit up – not safe in all that water!

I would write a best-selling novel! So, after a long lunch at the Ivy, I toddled off to the local pawn brokers, exchanged my Rolex watch for a typewriter, and, accompanied only by a glass (or two!) of Mr Glenlivet, I started tapping away. Heaven knows how long I remained there – it must have been days – but next thing you know, my debut novel Satan’s Claws Are Coming To Town was down on paper, my fingers were sore, the ink barely dry.

I then contacted my old school chum Niffy Baden-Baden whose pater owned a publishing house. A quick word in Niffy’s ear about a little incident in the Upper 5th involving him, a school scullery maid, and a necessary trip to a small room in a back street off Lancaster Gate, and – hey presto, he had persuaded his old man to have quick shufty at the magnum opus.

The rest is history. The book is a best-seller, and yours truly starts churning out them out regularly and next thing you know I am the world’s most successful and beloved author.

Now I don’t claim to the world’s best writer – how can I when Sven Hassel is still with us? – but obviously my work just chimes with the common man (although not too common as those poor wretches still can’t read thanks to that soi-disant ‘comprehensive’ system). But I know what the lower orders want from a book. When they pass over their hard earned 25p for a brand new paperback they don’t want dreariness and long words; they want exciting plots, and glamorous gals and a deserved come-uppance for the villains. If I can slip in a few morsels of subtle political education without them noticing, bless ‘em, then all the better!

Tuesday

May 3, 2011

Nothing from the Palace. I was expecting Her Majesty to phone. I appreciate she is busy – what with the post-wedding hoo-hah – but I was her late Mother’s oldest chum, God Bless Her.