My Beatnik Doll

I need your help here, please – I bought this little beatnik doll from a flea market recently, well, I think it’s a beatnik doll…  I’ve named her Vali, after the dancer and artist Vali Myers, but I wondered if anyone knows anything about this little lady – what type of doll she is, who made it, where and when it comes from &c.

She’s made of hard plastic and has winking eyes.  I like her eye make-up, her necklace and the little sandals (painted on).  I didn’t want to mess up her clothes too much but I can’t really see any markings other than the “Empire” sticker which is on the bottom of one of her feet.  I’m assuming this just means empire made, but I know very little about dolls!

If anyone has seen one of these dolls before or knows anything about her, please let me know!  (Excuse the “stuff” in the background, you might have noticed I am a bit of a “collector” – or “hoarder”, if you prefer…)


My Hero: Alan Sillitoe

I was always an avid reader from a very young age and my mum got me into reading Alan Sillitoe’s books when I was still quite young (I had to get special permission to borrow them from the school library because they were deemed to be “too adult” for me). I used to be able to talk to my mum about Alan Sillitoe’s characters – we talked about them as if they were real people, because they seemed to be real to us – and what was most special for me was that Sillitoe came from Nottingham, which is my home town.  I felt a kind of connection with him and his “people”.

It’s funny the things you remember.  In the 1980s, I got myself a part-time job working at the Nottingham Playhouse and I remember that Alan Sillitoe’s brother was in the band which was playing during one of the runs there – one day I saw Mr Sillitoe in the orchestra pit when I was checking the theatre and I was very worried that he might be dead as he was lying down and his eyes were closed.  Turned out he was just having a kip between shows, but he didn’t half give me a fright!

Something else I remember was seeing Alan Sillitoe doing a Q&A session at the Broadway Cinema in the early 1990s, I think, and afterwards there was a chance to meet him – I tried but I was just too terrified, because he was my literary hero and I was scared that I would embarrass myself by busting out crying – roaring, as we called it in Nottingham – so I just let him walk past without telling him how much his writing meant to me.

Years later, a friend who knew this story and worked for the press, asked me if I would like to go and interview Alan Sillitoe at the Phoenix Artist’s Club in London.  I figured I should do it whilst I had the opportunity, even though there was always the chance I would start roaring.  The date was 3 April 2008 and, yes, I did start roaring and he was very nice about it.  How embarrassing, eh?  He was a gentleman though – very occasionally your heroes live up to your expectations after all.

My mum always wanted me to be a writer and I remember thinking that if I ever wrote anything, the two people I would want to like my work would be my mum and Alan Sillitoe.  But when I showed my mum this interview, all she could say to me was that there were two typos in it so I never showed her any of my writing.  Funnily enough, Alan Sillitoe gave me his address and said that if I ever wanted to send him any of my work to look over I was welcome to do so.  Sadly, I never got around to doing that before he died nearly 7 years ago.  I’ve been working on a book (non-fiction) on a very part-time basis for the past 3 years, it’s hard work but I am dedicated to it; hopefully this year I will be able to finish it, but I know that I won’t be able to show it to my mum or Alan Sillitoe, as they’re no longer with us.  Maybe someone else will like it?!

Anyway, for whatever reason, I don’t think this interview was ever used – I was never told so if it was.  So I thought that as it’s very nearly 9 years ago that I met my hero and he was so very encouraging, I should share my interview here now.  If you spot those two typos my mum mentioned, you know what to do!

PICTURE “BORROWED” FROM THE WONDERFUL ALAN SILLITOE WEBSITE  (Go and visit it after reading this interview, please!)

This is the article exactly I wrote it back in April 2008:

Alan Sillitoe was born in Nottingham in the East Midlands in 1928.  He began writing at the age of twenty when he was struck down with tuberculosis and had to spend eighteen months in hospital.  His first novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was published in 1958.  His second book The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, a volume of short stories, was published in 1959.  Both Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner were made into influential British New Wave films in the early 1960’s.  Nearly fifty years on Sillitoe has had more than fifty books published.  This year to coincide with his 80th birthday, A Start in Life, a novel originally published in 1970, is being re-issued by London Books.

Are you pleased to see A Start in Life re-issued?

I’m very pleased actually because I’ve always rather liked it.  I mean, you write a lot of books, some you like, some you don’t particularly like – although none of them you hate, obviously – but I was very happy when London Books said they would re-issue it because… well, I mean the reason I have so much affection for it really is because I wrote it at a time when I needed to sort of cheer myself up.  In a way I wrote it for myself, entertaining myself and making myself laugh, and thinking that if I could make myself laugh then so would everybody else because I’m just a normal person like everybody else I meet.  So I do like it for that reason.  I was playing music all the time when I was writing it – Handel’s Messiah and also another great piece of music by Handel Israel in Egypt from the Bible.  Wonderful!  Over and over again.

A Start in Life, to use your words, ‘tells the ordinary and no so ordinary experiences of a bastard and a proletarian to boot.’  The tale starts in Michael Cullen’s home town of Nottingham and follows his journey to London in the 1960’s.  There was a follow up in the 1980’s and there’s going to be a third volume shortly, isn’t there?

First of all you had A Start in Life in 1970, then in 1985 you had Life Goes On and now there’s Moggerhanger, but so far I haven’t really got a publisher for it.  Maybe one day London Books will do it but I don’t know yet.  [Moggerhanger] is the final volume – that’s the lot – and it takes place in the present day.

A Start in Life seems to be essentially about sex and gangsters, so it’s rather cheeky that the protagonist Michael Cullen says ‘there’s more to books than reading about sex and gangsters.’  Of course, the book proves him right…

There’s been so many good books about sex and crime throughout history anyway, of a certain sort, think of Alexandre Dumas and all of those wonderful writers.  But [A Start in Life] is not explicit though – you’ve got to put two and two together and then it’s about sex and crime and all the rest of it.

You’ve written so many books about the Seaton brothers, Arthur and Brian; several books about William Posters; and now you’ve written your third volume on Michael Cullen.  Do you get attached to your characters?

I do actually, I mean the thing is whenever I’m at the end of a book, I just don’t know what is going to happen to them.  Then two years later I think, ‘Whatever happened to William Posters?’ or ‘Whatever happened to Arthur Seaton?’, as if they lived and I knew them.  I always think of them as people because in that way they’re very vivid to me.  It’s then up to me to make them very vivid to others.

How much of your characters is in you personally and how much is incidental?  For example, you have the same initials as Arthur Seaton, who, like you, has a brother called Brian…

That’s true, but I never thought of that when I was writing Saturday Night [and Sunday Morning] – it’s funny that!  Somebody pointed it out to me – but it is very interesting.

And Michael Cullen wears waistcoats, which you always wear…

Yes, this comes out in details sometimes but I’m not basically [like my characters], although I must be a little bit, somewhere, otherwise I wouldn’t have had this sympathy [for them].  You know, you have to love your people whether or not you love them as a brother or love them as a sister or whatever.  And if you do that you get into them and if they become real to you on the paper, as I said already, they’re real to others who read the book.

A lot of your books are set in your hometown of Nottingham.  Nottingham has changed a lot over the years and, sadly, for many people, perhaps those who have not visited, it always seems to be linked with news reports of violence and crime these days.  Has this perception affected the way you write about Nottingham characters at all?

It’s not the old Nottingham types who are involved in crime, we all know that – it’s the drug dealers killing each other and I would never write about them because I have no sympathy for them; anyone who can murder with such ease, you just can’t get to them… I’m always up and down to Nottingham and always have been all of my life, even though I haven’t lived there since I was 20 or 21, I want to know what’s going off and the rest of it.  When I’m with my two brothers, Michael and Brian – Brian just died – we’d just put on our cloth caps and go to a pub and we’d just laugh, talk, reminisce and all the rest of it.  And it was just like it ever was, and if there’s one thing that doesn’t die, first of all is the accent, secondly the argot, the slang – new things come in but if they’re not suitable for the Nottingham slang they go out again very quickly.  I love Nottingham really; I always have.

Your characters quite often seem to be working class anti-heroes.  Would you agree with that?

Yes and no.  They’re all individuals really.  I don’t believe in the working class at all.  The Nottingham character is an idiosyncratic bastard, awkward, opinionated and so on.  But they’re human, very, very human; I couldn’t deal with anyone else.

Characters like Michael Cullen, Arthur Seaton and Colin Smith all seem to be rebellious and opposed to authority and the establishment.  At the end of the film of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning even though Arthur Seaton is settling down in one last act of defiance he throws a stone at the new build houses – in effect, at his own future life – and Colin Smith in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner throws the race…

Well, [Arthur throwing the stone] was more futile than Colin Smith throwing the race.  That story, [The Loneliness of] the Long Distance Runner, is really my guide through life actually.  You’ve got Colin Smith in Borstal, he’s trying to keep his integrity whilst they’re all bombarding him with what he should and shouldn’t think.  When he lost the race, he put them in their place and told them what he was.  So that was a good action, even though, as my mother used to say, he cut off his nose to spite his face.  But, still, everything costs something and he knew it; he wasn’t a fool.  So that’s what he did… if he’d won the race there wouldn’t have been a story.

Albert Finney played Arthur Seaton in the screen version of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning in 1960 (directed by Karel Reisz); Ian McKellen played the stage version in 1964 at the Nottingham Playhouse; Tom Courtenay played Colin Smith in Tony Richardson’s screen version of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner in 1962.  Who would play Michael Cullen if A Start in Life were ever adapted for the screen?

It’s a good question – who would I pick?  Somebody a bit Irish really, a blabbermouth, a seducer, a confidence trickster… I’ve actually had offers to make it into a film but they’ve all fallen through.  I’ve written a treatment of it, so if we do it I would have to meet the Casting Director and they would show me who was possible.  With Saturday Night I was not absolutely keen [on casting Albert Finney as Arthur Seaton] but I realised that he was a good actor and that was all that mattered really; that’s a lesson I learnt.  Of course he was perfect for it but that surprised me because when I was writing it I’d got it into my head that Arthur Seaton was tall, a little bit thin, hard, muscley, and so not physically exactly like Albert.  But in the long run you need a good actor.

I read in an interview somewhere that you said for someone with your background to be a doctor or a lawyer would have been a real difficulty, ‘but if you want to be a writer – there’s the pen and paper, and you just write.’  You are a very prolific writer, having written more than fifty books in all (including novels, volumes of short stories, poetry, children’s books, plays, an autobiography and essays).  But is it really that simple – ‘you just write’?  Do you have any advice for budding writers?

Well, I mean yes, you read everything you can possibly get your hands on.  All the Latin and Greek classics in translation, all the great novels from everywhere; Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Dickens – everyone really that’s gripped life in their writing – Shakespeare and the Bible.  They were all such a pleasure to read.  Yes, [they influenced my writing] but then I threw the influences off and found my own voice.  You’ve got to be influenced, but you’ve got to find your own voice.  Reading, reading, reading, and then writing.  When you write, you use your pen and ink or what you do and over and over again you re-write so that it becomes clearer, in clear English.  Mix it with the demotic, you’ve got a style; you’ve got a style, people remember.  Anyway, that’s what I would say.  It took me ten years from beginning, from starting to getting something published, which is not long.  It seemed like forever at the time but if I look back on it, it’s not long.

A writer should be like a fish in water; nobody knows you, you walk around the streets, nobody knows you, it’s wonderful.  You see faces; a face can suggest a story or a character or something, or part of a character.  So you just are an observer of life and then you try to, what shall I say?, mash it up inside you until it comes out like ‘art’ if you can used such a pathetic word; you try to make some kind of art out of what comes into your brain.

What does the future hold for Alan Sillitoe?  Will you carry on writing?

That’s not for me to say.  I’ll either be pushed into continuing or I shall not.  If I am, so much the better; if I am not, I’ve got nothing to lose.  [Moggerhanger] was finished a couple of years ago.  I’m writing a book now, a novel, which I haven’t finished but I’m polishing off.  It’s about a carpenter who lives in Arnold [a district of Nottingham].  Well, I don’t know who he is but he just popped into my mind.  I just like to keep my head down and work and hope it keeps coming and if it didn’t, so what?  I’ve done a lot of work.

A Start in Life is now available in hardback, published by London Books.  An authorised biography of Alan Sillitoe, The Life of a Long-Distance Writer, by Richard Bradford is also available, published by Peter Owen Publishers.

Raye Du Val Triple Winner of the World’s Non Stop Drumming Marathon Contest

Earlier this year I bought myself a book about Joey Dee and the Twist for £1.  The photos and diagrams in it are great, but I was even more excited when I realised that the book had previously belonged to Raymonde Du-Val, the drumming marathon champion and drummer for everyone from Gene Vincent to Johnny Kidd and the Pirates.  As a kid I remember me and my brother were obsessed with What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For?, which Raye Du-Val drummed on.  Who’d have thought that all these years later I would have a book that belonged to the drummer of Emile Ford and the Checkmates?!

Twist Raye Du Val001 Twist Raye Du Val002 Twist Raye Du Val003

The book’s not in very good condition, and it looks like it has changed hands a fair bit (all those different prices in the front page!), but I love the fact that Raye had his own stamp and bothered to put his full address in the front cover of his books!

Interview with Durch die Nacht mit director Hasko Baumann

Regular readers of Hero Culte will have noticed that I have written a few little articles about a German/French co-production called Durch die Nacht mit / Au cœur de la nuit, (aka Into the Night) which is basically two artists or cultural figures spending an evening together on the town.  It’s not a “set-up” or scripted, it’s two people hanging out followed by a camera crew – sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn’t.  I’ve written articles about 3 different shows now (Franco Nero and Fred Williamson; Michel Houellebecq and Calixto Bieito; Alejandro Jodorowsky and Daniel Pinchbeck) and they all happened to be directed by this chap: Hasko Baumann.


The good thing about doing this site is that sometimes people get in touch with me – not often enough for my liking, I’m always pleased to hear from people!  When people do get in touch thought it’s usually a very nice experience.  Hasko Baumann first got in touch when I wrote the Michel Houellebecq review; it was lovely to hear from him and we’ve been in touch again when I wrote the other articles.  In the end, instead of getting all the inside info for myself I thought I should just ask Hasko for an interview for the site.  He was kind enough to agree and here it is:

Hero Culte (HC):  Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into film making in the first place

Hasko Baumann (HB):  I have been a film fan for as long as I can remember.  But at first, I didn’t really dare to go into that field because I had no idea how to and the requirements of the film school applications really scared me off.  After dabbling in – and totally screwing up – studying law I finally ended up studying film and television.  I never graduated though; I did several internships in television production companies and when one of those offered me a job, I just took it.
I started by doing very basic television features mainly on movies, just your regular press junket interviews intercut with movie clips.  Very basic.  But I was only 28 years old and already talking to people like Van Damme or Tim Burton, so I was happy.  I felt ready to somehow integrate my passion for genre films into the work so I started researching for what I thought would be the best and biggest doc on horror films.  This was in 2000 so horror still had a bad rep and wasn’t filling cinemas. I found a producer and shot it on a low budget, managing to get a stellar cast.   You can see the trailer for Screen Terror here:

Hasko doc horror

In the end the producer and I fell out.  I had no access to the footage anymore.   Years later, he hired another director and she turned it into a gender discussion thing.   It even got a limited theatrical release!  I was quite hurt.  But something good came out of it…

HC:  What was your first Durch die Nacht mit show?

HB:  For the doc, I also filmed with John Carpenter.  So when I worked on Durch die Nacht as a producer for the first few shows, I told the production company I usually direct so I’d like to do one myself.  And they said, if you can come up with two great guests you get the job.  I knew that John was totally smitten with German actress Franka Potente (Run Lola Run) so I asked him if he wanted to do the show with her.  He did, and she also said yes, and off I went to LA.  The rest is history, so to say.

John und Franka

It was a difficult shoot because you have to get used to the parameters of the show.   You have to prepare it meticulously, but you have to allow it to lose control when it starts.  We tended to overthink it in the beginning and it took some years to get some routine into it.   People in the business still can’t believe that it’s actually real because no one dares to work like that anymore.

HC:  I have seen the John Carpenter and Franka Potente episode now and it’s great – they seemed quite sweet together.   How John was trying to help Franka find a toilet seat and I can’t believe how much food they were putting away!  I also really enjoyed an episode (this one not directed by you) where Crispin Glover met Juliette Lewis.  But what have been your favourite Durch die Nacht mit shows?  And if you can pick your absolute favourite one?

HB:  People always ask me that.   It’s really hard to say.  There are some that I didn’t direct that are absolutely fantastic.  There was one with a German artist, Christoph Schlingensief, and a politician, Michel Friedman.   It’s still considered the best of them all – and it was only the second episode!   The one with Henry Rollins and Iranian artist Shirin Neshat is brilliant.

HC:  I want to see the Henry Rollins one, I’ve not tracked it down yet…

HB:  The one with Udo Kier and Grayson Perry is great.

HC:  I have seen that one – it was excellent.  I love them both, so it was a pleasure to see them together, although I felt a little uncomfortable for Grayson; I think Udo had fallen in love with him, or at least his female alter ego anyway!

HB:  And there was a fascinating episode with economists Joseph Stiglitz and Bruce Greenwald, right when the economic crisis hit.   That episode showed how far the programme can be taken.

Regarding my own episodes, which there are 55 of I believe, of course there are those dear to my heart with the artists I love.  Williamson and Nero has to be up there.

Brian Yuzna and porn mogul Pierre Woodman, that is a favorite of mine.   Intellectual and totally sleazy at the same time!  Dolph Lundgren and German actor Ralph Herforth.  It was the first time that people actually understood what a smart and charming guy Dolph is.  James Ellroy and Bruce Wagner, because it was all just show and it gave me the opportunity to direct it like a nightmare in LA.  Glenn Gregory and Midge Ure because I just love those guys and they were amazing.   James Gunn and Michael Rooker because they were so funny.  But if you look at it just from a neutral point of view, I have to say that the one with Moby and Will Cotton was probably the strongest show I’ve done because it is the perfect mix of interesting and insightful conversation, great locations and lots of visual style.

HC:  You know how much I loved that Franco / Fred episode already, but I have to track some of those others down now!  For an English person like me it’s such a shame that we don’t get these shows screened in the UK with subtitles for the ones that are not conducted in English.  There’s loads I’d like to see but my German is not quite good enough for it.  Anyway, who would be your ideal guests for the show if you could have anyone at all?

HB:  I would have loved to do one with Stephen King in Maine.  But he just doesn’t do this kind of thing.   And Falco – remember Rock Me Amadeus? – he would have been absolutely perfect.  But he died years ago.

HC:  What was your involvement in the Eurocrime! documentary?  I see you got a thank you on it.  I love those Italian crime films and it was a great documentary, although it just made me want to see more films and re-see films I’d already seen!

HB:  Oh, that was just a nice gesture of Mike Malloy, the director.   A great guy.   I wanted to do the same doc but it was a hard sell.   He got wind of it somehow and he’d heard about me because of Moebius Redux.  So we got in touch and told each other about our plans.   But I just didn’t have the energy he had in pursuing this basically without money.   I was afraid I’d end up with another Screen Terror.   I would have loved to work with him on it; Mike is just a great, great guy.   And he made his film with love and passion.   It’s not a Mark Hartley documentary.

HC:  My boyfriend just bought your documentary about Moebius but I’ve not seen it yet – how did that come about?  Was it after working with Jodorowsky on Durch die Nacht mit?

HB:  I was actually asked.  Someone important at Arte wanted a documentary on Moebius and I was asked because everybody assumed that I’m a comic book guy.  Well, I am but I’m a Marvel and DC guy and I really did not know much about Moebius!   So I did some research, wrote a treatment and got the job.   It turned into an international co-production and was shown on TV (in different versions) in lots of countries; not least the UK, on BBC4.   It also did a great festival tour on four continents.   To this day, it’s the biggest thing I’ve done.   I actually toyed with the idea of doing a doc on Jodorowsky’s version of Dune after that.   I had already talked to Alejandro about it!  But after Moebius Redux, which wasn’t easy, I needed a break from those people.   And I forgot all about it.   Damn!

Moebius Redux

However, the Into the Night with Jodo came years later.   It was unbelievably difficult to get Alejandro to do Moebius Redux.  But it was very easy on Into the Night.   He mellowed so much after finding the love of his life.   We worked together another time, two years ago.   He always forgets about me afterwards.   What an exceptional human being though.


HC:  Because I love Houellebecq so much and enjoyed your show with him and Calixto Bieito, could you say something about that show?

HB:  Oh well, the Bieito/Houellebecq show was a gruelling experience for everyone involved except Houellebecq.  I have no idea why he agreed to do the show.   Calixto came to me after a few hours and asked “What can I do?”  And because I knew I needed more footage, I said “I have no idea, but keep on doing it a little longer!”  I think Houellebecq actually enjoyed himself.   He worked with Bieito, who admired him so much, afterwards.   In a way, it was a turning point for Into the Night.  Before that show, we often tried to make the shows as entertaining as possible; leave out the lulls, the arguments, the moods.  But what makes Into the Night special is the authenticity.   There’s nothing fake about it.   You have to be honest with it.   So after coming back, I looked at the footage and decided to show the evening for what it was.   I tried to accentuate the uncomfortable moments, but also find the comedy in it.   Some parts I think are very funny; some are unbearable.   It paid off, the episode got rave reviews and I think it helped Into the Night to win the German equivalent of the Emmy.   The show was never the same afterwards.  It’s still puzzling to me how much the Houellebecq fans – and they are hardcore – are siding with him regarding the show.

HC:  Well, I’m a big admirer of Houellebecq but it’s impossible to take his side unless you’re just being bloody-minded and biased.  What about Franco Nero and Fred Williamson?  That was a really fun show.

HB:  That was pure joy.   Pure wish-fulfillment.   I am such a big fan of the Italian genre films of the 70s.   So I put everything in there that I could.   I was in heaven when the two of them sat down with Enzo.  Your article on it was great and spot-on.   But you have to understand something about Fred.   He is The Hammer.   It’s his image.   When the cameras roll, he puts on the Hammer show.   So he’s always competing with Franco who’s a totally different kind of guy.   I’m not even sure if Fred knew who Franco was!   But they are still in touch.   Fred is in Rome right now and maybe he sits there having a Sambuca with Franco.

There was so much good stuff there, but I had to take some of it out because the show got too long. They were playing billard right at the beginning so that was the first pissing contest rightaway.   Oh, and we had this old 70s car for them.   When the people who rented it out brought it to us, there were two men following it around in a van.   They looked like heavies and they didn’t talk.   At all.   So I asked the guy with the car who they were.   And he said, “Oh, they are there in case the car breaks down.”   And the car did break down!  Right in the middle of shooting!   When Franco and Fred were inside the book store, it stood on a piazza and looked like it was on fire!   The two heavies managed to repair it just in time.   The first and only time I saw them breaking a sweat.   They happily took the bottle of whiskey from the car that Fred and Franco didn’t drink.

I really tried to make the show look like something from the 70s or 80s; lots of lensflare, lots of crash zooms and all that great music from those films.   And I think it worked out pretty well.

HC:  It certainly did.  I’m so jealous you manage to meet all these people from the world of film, music and literature.  Next time you’re hanging out with Franco and Fred, put in a word for a Hero Culte interview, please!  And let us know what you’re up to in the future as well.  Thanks for the interview, Hasko!

– – O – –

After this I just want to see some more of Hasko’s shows.  Take a look at these photos Hasko kindly provided (I’ve included his commentary with them):

About Men 1
HB:  About Men, a pilot I did which I’m quite proud of because it looked really cool

HB:  This is from Bambule, a TV show/magazine I was head of for two seasons (the lady in red)

HB:  This is me and George A. Romero and German punk rock superstar Bela B for a show I did: Hotel Bela
HC: I really want to see this one – MUST FIND IT SOON!!!

HB:  This is from Ma Vie – Markus Lüpertz, a doc I did on a famous German painter

PICT0611 - Copy
HB:  This is Stanley Tucci taking pictures in the United Nations building, an unforgettable Into the Night shoot

Rothrock und NortonHB:  This is me and Cynthia Rothrock and Richard Norton discussing the show

HB:  This is me and Brian Yuzna and Pierre Woodman in Prague for Into the Night

All photos, aside from the Screen Terror screengrab, have been provided by Hasko Baumann and are used on this site with his kind permission.  

One Upmanship with Franco Nero and Fred Williamson

This is one of my favourite Durch Die Nacht Mit shows so far – again directed by Hasko Baumann – this is the one where Franco Nero meets Fred Williamson.  Absolute classic, you need to track it down if you’ve not already seen it.  Here we go:


So what’s on the itinerary?  A visit to an old man’s club, a meeting with a young stuntman, then the Libreria Cinema where they meet Barbara Bouchet, dinner at a restaurant where they meet the writer Lorenzo de Luca and Franco joins in with the house band, then finally a meeting with Enzo G Castellari at the cinema before calling it a night.

For me, Franco Nero comes across as a lovely, friendly laid-back chap who will shake hands or give an autograph to any fan who accosts him on the street (it’s a very regular occurrence), but Fred Williamson seems to be trying to impress the whole time and goes in for one-upmanship.  In his defence I should say that Fred is not on his own territory in Rome – everyone knows Franco and loves him and maybe they’re not expecting to see Fred Williamson on the streets of Rome, so they might not want to go up to some big guy and say, “Excuse me, are you Fred Williamson?” in case they’re wrong.   And maybe it is something to do with his background in professional sports, but he always seems to want to compete.  I bet if they had bought ice cream Fred would have wanted to see who had the biggest scoop.  Anyway, I am sure he is a nice chap, it’s just that Franco was far more laid-back and I like that.  There’s nothing of the star about him – very down to earth and silly.

Here’s my summary of their evening out:

  • Women – Fred Williamson has brought his wife along for the trip and left her back at the hotel.  He says of her, “All my money goes there”.  Later he tells Franco that he had spent the day walking around Rome with his wife and she was “spending money like crazy”.  When they look in on a women’s clothing store next door to the old man’s club, Fred says the women don’t come into the social club because they are in the shop spending money.  That is clearly what Fred thinks of women: they spend money.  Here’s what I think of Fred: he is obsessed with women, or at least he wants to give that impression.  He says he wouldn’t go to Franco’s club because there are no women there.  Franco says, “Forget the women”.  He just goes to the club to unwind with his friends – they play cards and watch sports on the TV.  It’s like their equivalent of having a garden shed or an allotment – somewhere to go to get away from the women.  In this respect Franco and Fred are total opposites.  Or so it seems.  In the film bookstore, Fred complains to a customer that he wanted to meet the “beautiful women of Rome”, but Franco points out that Fred’s wife is waiting for him back at the hotel.  Fred tells Franco: “I get the women in all my movies; I want you to know this.”  Franco responds, “I’m not bad too, I tell you.”  Fred has the last word:  “Yeah, but you marry them all.  I never had a wife, only girlfriends.”


  • Competitive sports – when Franco says he still plays football and only needs to get 3 more goals to achieve 2,000, Fred tells him that he played competitive American football for 10 years and that it is “more violent” than the “soccer” Franco plays.  Franco says he went fishing in Palm Springs (where Fred lives) and Fred tells him that fishing is for old men.  Later, when they meet Enzo Castellari, Franco says he is still fit and young and plays tennis – Fred says he doesn’t run around though, so Franco calls on Enzo (clearly the father figure in this scenario) “I run, tell him!” and Enzo confirms that he has seen him and he does.  Franco, cheekily, getting back at Fred for the earlier fishing comment, says: “He plays golf; old people play golf”.  Franco may have been the White Ninja, but Fred was the Hammer and he is an expert in Gun-Fu!


  • The Stuntman – I don’t know what this guy Alex Mariotti has done to Fred Williamson, but he really has it in for him.  First off when Alex says he understands they will kick his ass, Fred says “No, I don’t beat up people smaller than me.”  He is 6′ 3″, so maybe it’s his get-out clause cos that’s pretty tall and even Franco Nero looks small next to him.  That way he gets out of fighting.  That’s my theory.  Then Alex asks him for tips with the ladies and Fred immediately writes him off as a lost cause:  “Well, you have to be tall, dark and handsome first of all, so that eliminates you right away.  You’ve lost already.”   Ouch!  Then Fred slags off modern day stunts, saying that they’re just not realistic looking these days – Alex is a modern day stuntman, so it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realise that Fred is saying his stunts aren’t worth watching.  O dear… Fred loves to do his own stunts though, “I love it! I love to hit!”


Fred Williamson hits Alex Mariotti where it hurts

  • The film industry – Franco says there used to be 13,000 cinemas in Italy but at the beginning of the 1980s the number had gone down to just 1,600.  Fred and Franco discuss people they know from the film business: Menahem Golan, who Fred says has now opened an amusement park, he also alleges that there is not one person that Menahen doesn’t owe money to; producer Ibrahim Moussa, who looks quite geeky, but who somehow was quite handy with the ladies, including Nastassja Kinski, Candice Bergen and, apparently, Isabelle Adjani bought him a Rolls Royce for some unspecified reason.  Franco thinks he knows the reason why – he whispers, “The women say he has the biggest cock in the world.  That’s what they were saying.  Can you imagine it?”  Apparently Fred can imagine it, but he also wants Franco to know that black men are blessed in that respect too.  Franco has heard that as well.  Fred also helps to clear up the conspiracy theories about Bruce Lee’s death.  Lorenzo de Luca says Jean-Claude Van Damme told him Bruce Lee died because of drugs, but Fred is not having that.  Fred knows what happened to Bruce Lee – here’s the story:  Bruce Lee hurt a lot of people for real in Enter the Dragon and so they told him he should never come back to Hong Kong or there would be trouble.  Bruce Lee came back to Hong Kong and there was trouble – he got into a fight with 6 or 7 guys and he won the fight but when he got home he felt ill.  Eventually he was taken to hospital and he died of a blood clot to the brain.  And that is what happened to Bruce Lee.  Fact!  (According to Fred Williamson, anyway…)


  • The film bookstore – Poor old Fred, you have to feel for him really.  When they head off to the Libreria Cinema to meet Barbara Bouchet, Fred can’t get the door open and pretends to kick it down.  Franco puts his hand on the door knob and turns and, Open Sesame!, the door opens no problems.  Fred asks Franco if he’s ever made a film with Lucio Fulci cos he’s done 2 with him; turns out Franco has done 3 or 4 films with him.  Franco shows Fred a book about R.W. Fassbinder – Fred doesn’t know Fassbinder, so Franco describes him as “a genius, one of the greatest directors of our time” and tells him that he acted in his film Querelle, which was, he says, “a masterpiece about homosexuality.”  Fred’s response?  “Was it a sexy film?  Franco , you did erotica!”  Things don’t get much better when Barbara Bouchet turns up – one hour late, after getting a manicure done – and she doesn’t seem to remember Fred at all much to his chagrin.  During their conversations about films, Tarantino and Fred’s background in American football, it suddenly dawns on Barbara that she has a photograph of herself with Fred.  She doesn’t remember at all even when he tells her that they had previously met several times at the Taverna Flavia and through their mutual agent Rosanna Policia.  To make matters worse, Barbara has been invited to a Tarantino retrospective in LA and Fred hasn’t and, furthermore, she knows Franco really well and even played his wife in a film.  You can feel Fred’s embarrassment: “Maybe next time you’ll remember that we know each other?” (Sad Charlie Brown walk…)


  • Franco’s theory on small dogs – Fred wonders out loud why Italians have such big dogs; Franco thinks it because they make them feel safe.  He also has a theory on why women have small dogs:  “You know the small dogs, what they do with women?  They lick the pussies.  That’s what a woman told me.  A woman told me.  Believe me!”


  • Fred Williamson the First:  Fred was the first black cowboy, the first black sportsman in martial arts films, the first black James Bond.  Fred Williamson likes to come first
  • Franco’s (ahem!) singing: It doesn’t take a lot to get Franco up and “singing”.  He takes Fred to a restaurant where he made his film Forever Blues and when the house band start to play his favourite song When You’re Smiling there’s nothing you can do to stop him joining in.  If someone knows better and there is something you can do, please, someone just do it!  Just look at Fred’s face to see what I mean


To take his mind off it, Fred tries to think of nicer things, like getting his photograph taken with fans – one of them is a lady, there, that’s better:FN FW DDNM 28

  • Enzo Castellari – Now, surely this should be safe since both the boys know Uncle Enzo (a very smiley chap)?  Erm, not so much.  Fred did 3 films with Enzo.  Fred asks Franco: “You only did one film with Enzo?”  No, Fred, No!  Franco tells him he did 10 films with Enzo.  Fred is just not going to win this competition, is he?  But, nonetheless, they all seem to have fun and there’s a great sequence where Fred suggests they all make a film together because now they are more “mature” they can “go deeper into the characters” (he says, making a digging gesture with his hand).  Franco joins in and then Enzo suggests that they can do it with two hands instead.  Haha!  Maybe you have to see it or be there – it was a great way to end the evening


Then they make their way out into the night.  The incorrigible Fred suggests, “There are 5 girls at a table.  Let me introduce you to them…”


A fun watch – thoroughly recommended for a viewing or two!


Lost and Found: Wolf Cub Jubilee Scrapbook with Matchbooks

I like collecting other people’s collections – very lazy of me, I know.   I picked up Baloo’s scrapbook today at a car boot sale and loved the matchbooks, although I must admit I was a bit disappointed that he (guessing Baloo was a boy…) had cut them up to stick them in his book.  My favourite one is this French one below but I’ve scanned all the pages in (excuse any wonkiness or blurring as I didn’t want to damage the book):

Chamois Matchbook

Wolf Cub Scrapbook001 Wolf Cub Scrapbook002 Wolf Cub Scrapbook003 Wolf Cub Scrapbook004 Wolf Cub Scrapbook005 Wolf Cub Scrapbook006 Wolf Cub Scrapbook007 Wolf Cub Scrapbook008 Wolf Cub Scrapbook009 Wolf Cub Scrapbook010 Wolf Cub Scrapbook011

Norman J Warren at the 42nd Street to Paradise Film Festival

On Friday last week I went along to the first 42nd Street to Paradise Film Festival in Birmingham to see just what Grindhouse madness they had in store.  The schedule looked good with a drive-in cinema on Friday evening screening Terrorvision (dir Ted Nicolaou, 1986) and Deadbeat at Dawn (dir Jim Van Bebber, 1988) and further screenings at the Custard Factory on Saturday.

The two films were great fun, my enjoyment of the drive-in cinema was marred only by two guys talking all the way through both screenings and not even having the decency to shut up when told (several times but very politely) that it was disrupting our viewing of the films.  To my dismay I soon realised that the two people talking were the directors of one of the films to be screened on the Saturday (VHS Forever? Psychotronic People) – all I can say is that I am surprised they have managed to watch even one entire film between them because they could not keep their traps shut for even five minutes.  If you’ve seen Cinemania (dir Angela Christlieb / Stephen Kijak, 2002), you’ll know what I mean when I say I’m like one (or a combination of all) of the cinemaniacs and I just wanted to tape their mouths shut, or worse!

The talking continued throughout Saturday, which was a terrible bore – just SHUT THE F*** UP!  Anyway, that’s enough on that subject although I do feel the guy organising it could have been a bit more “present” and a bit more commanding, but he was trying his best to organise the festival (which must have been a lot of work) and aside from the disruptive element it was a very good festival which shows promise for the future if it continues.  I hope it does.

The screenings on Saturday included the aforementioned VHS Forever? Psychotronic People (dir Darren J Perry / Mark Williams), which was good if only because the subjects of the film were interesting and amusing; technically it was lacking somewhat but to give them their dues, they wanted to make a film and just went out and made one.  That’s a positive to bestow on them but that’s as far as I will go.  And, no, they didn’t stop talking even for their own film – the mind boggles…

Herschell Gordon Lewis’ The Wizard of Gore (1970) was next up and it also was good fun – laugh out loud funny and terribly bloody but the kind of gore I can stomach.  By far my favourite film of the weekend was Umberto Lenzi’s Violent Naples (1976), which starred the fabulous Maurizio Merli and John Saxon.  It had the most exhilarating motor bike race through Naples that had the audience gasping in awe.  I just love those Italian cop thrillers and it was absolute perfection, complete with tearjerker scenes with a child which had me crying with laughter (maybe it was just me but it was so corny that it was hilarious).

Norman J Warren Dave Portrait

Photo of Norman J Warren by Dave Tinkham of Datapanik Design

The highlight of the weekend, for me at least, was getting to see Q&A sessions with the director Norman J Warren and the actor Ian McCulloch.  After much preamble and moaning about people talking in the cinema (one of my pet hates, but I think you got that already), here is a little write-up of the Norman J Warren session.  The Ian McCulloch session will follow shortly.  Just to explain, these are not interviews I carried out, I wrote notes from the sessions and am just writing them up in case they’re of interest to anyone who couldn’t be there.  I wrote extensive notes (what can I say?  I used to be a committee secretary and minute taker…) but instead of quoting verbatim I am just writing these notes up in categories.  Hope someone will find them of use or interest:

How Norman J Warren got into film making

As a child Norman J Warren spent a lot of time at the cinema as his mother was mad about films.  He described how he became fascinated by the beam of light, convinced that that was where the magic came from.  His aunt worked at a cinema and managed to get him an invitation into the projection room to see the magic for himself – he was hooked.  By the age of 12 he was making his first films – comedies – and he joined a local cine-club.  He made films at the weekend and he knew that was what he wanted to do with his life.

When he left education, he followed up on his wishes to join the film industry but found it was largely a closed shop.  He eventually managed to get a foot in the door, starting as a runner and working his way up.  It required dedication and he knew that he would have to be prepared to give up his life outside if he was to get anywhere.

Horror Films

Horror films were always of interest to Norman, although they were banned when he was a teenager.  He saw films like Creature from the Black Lagoon but the Hammer films started his interest in the genre.  Another film that has stuck in his mind is The Beast With Five Fingers, which featured Peter Lorre.  Later, when Suspiria was released, he became aware of the work of Dario Argento; he has been a great influence on him ever since.

Norman has mixed feelings about modern horror films and is not very keen at all on the Hollywood films, which he feels are losing their way a bit and lack imagination.  The output in the UK is pretty low at the moment – although he did enjoy The Descent and 28 Days Later… – so he mainly watches Korean films.


Earlier in his career, Norman had worked as an editor doing censor cuts on other people’s films but his own films have largely avoided censorship.  Terror (1978) had a few cuts, Inseminoid (1981) had no cuts.  The thing to bear in mind, he says, is that your film will be changed by your distributors anyway as soon as it goes out.

Films Norman J Warren didn’t get to make

  • Gargoyles – a project that was to be co-financed by Richard Gordon, but which collapsed and led to him making Inseminoid instead
  • The Naked Eye – it was going to star Vincent Price, but sadly never got made
  • The Book of Seven Seals – he didn’t give any details about this one
  • Back to the Future – No, he was not in the running to direct this but when asked if there was any film he wished he had directed, Norman named this one and described it as “A beautifully made film, perfectly constructed”

Norman J Warren 2

Spaced Out (1979)

Norman made this space sex comedy because, to quote him, “I needed the money, to be honest”.  He didn’t really want to do it but the producers really wanted him on board and said he would be allowed to change things a bit.  As a jobbing director, as Norman described himself, he said he had to do such things but that ultimately it was “not such a bad experience” and, apparently, it did well in America!

Inseminoid (1981)

This film came off the back of the unmade film Gargoyles, Norman was given a script called Doomseed to look at after the collapse of Gargoyles – he said it all happened very quickly, with the film being financed from the initial script within 6 weeks.  The film was also made very quickly.  Nick Maley, who wrote the screenplay, also created the creature, the SFX and gore effects for the film.  It took 9 people to operate the babies.  This film was on the “hit list” for censorship but it actually avoided being banned.

Gunpowder (1986)

Norman described this one as a James Bond spoof (I’ve not actually seen it myself, but I’m going to look it out) but he said it didn’t get much of a release.  It was being shot in Macclesfield at the end of November / December when it was cold and dark and they were supposed to have helicopters, boats and all the glamour you associate with James Bond type films but the reality was very different.  An atomic submarine was supposed to be used for one sequence but in the end they had to use something like a drain pipe in place of a submarine.  Furthermore, there were not many extras and so people often had to die twice!

Bloody New Year (1987)

This one was made with the same producer as Gunpowder (Maxine Julius) and Norman experienced problems on this one too – mainly because the cast had already been selected and he was tied in to using them; the problem being that they were models and not actors.  The film was also lit like an American TV show and Norman felt it needed to be darker.

Satan’s Slave (1976)

Norman enjoyed working with Michael Gough and said he had a wonderful sense of humour.  The film was shot in Techniscope and for one particular scene they had to have Michael Gough sitting on a bed which was raised about 8-9 inches off the floor, so they could get everything in the shot.  The only problem was Michael Gough forgot about this and when he had to get off the bed, he fell onto the floor and said: “If you want me, I’m downstairs”

Terror (1978)

This was, according to Norman, a hard film to do in a very short time.  However, he enjoyed it a lot and said it was like being at a party every day whilst they were working on it; at the end of the film, they all just wanted to carry on.  The budget was, again, restricted and at the end of filming they could only afford one electrician for the last day – but even though they knew they could not be paid, they all turned up to work.

Fragment (1965)

This lovely little short arty b+w film is one of the extras on BFI Flipside’s excellent release of Her Private Hell – it was also screened at the festival.  Norman said it was “very arty, very much the fashion then”.  He described it as “very important” to him as it helped him to get accepted as a director.  He was 23 or 24 then and he was getting frustrated at not being able to break into directing and so he made Fragment with his own money.  It cost him about £200 to make, which was obviously quite a lot back then, but even so he couldn’t afford any sound, hence no dialogue and the limited story.

Norman managed to get Johnny Scott to do the soundtrack for free – he had just been working on a documentary called Shellarama, which Johnny Scott worked on.  When Norman said he had no budget to get a soundtrack for Fragment, Johnny Scott offered to do it for free.  Apparently, a vinyl EP will be coming out shortly of the Fragment soundtrack.  It sounds like something Johnny Trunk would put out, so keep a look out for that soon.  The soundtrack is excellent, as is the film.

When Fragment was made, Norman had to go out talking to cinema managers to ask them to screen it.  Eventually a manager at a Kensington cinema agreed to put it on and it turned out that he was trying to get into film making himself; he and a friend had decided to make sex films because they thought that was they way to make money.  They gave Norman a call and that’s how he got into making his first feature film!

— 0 —

That is all the notes I took, but I have to tell you that Norman J Warren is such a lovely guy and his love of cinema comes through when he is talking.  It is such a shame that guys like him don’t get more opportunities and better budgets to make films.  I, for one, would love to see him make some more films soon.

Norman J Warren 3

Norman J Warren – an interesting film maker and a lovely guy

Jodorowsky reads the tarot for Daniel Pinchbeck

Ever since I watched and wrote about Michel Houellebecq meeting Calixto Bieito for the TV show Durch die Nacht mit (aka Au coeur de la nuit), I have been meaning to watch more of the show.  I’ve seen a few now but the latest one I’ve seen was when Alejandro Jodorowsky met Daniel Pinchbeck, again directed by Hasko Baumann, and it was most excellent.

Jodorowsky 4

Jodorowsky 1

Jodorowsky is described as a film maker, writer, tarot expert and shaman, which reminded me of Garth Marenghi:  “I’m Garth Marenghi.  Author.  Dreamweaver.  Visionary.  Plus actor.”  But Jodorowsky is all of those things and more besides – what comes over is that he is a very understanding man and, above all, a lovely person.  The writer and journalist Daniel Pinchbeck, on the other hand (at least for me), needs to work on himself – he comes across as quite a self-absorbed sort of person who has little time or place in his world for a significant other.  I should forgive him a little for this as his father never really wanted him and had no real interest in him – luckily for him, Jodorowsky offers the advice his father should have given him but never did.

They discuss everything – the mystery of crop circles; collective intelligence; abstract mysticism; collective manifestation; communication with extra terrestrials from the star system Sirius; serpents; space ships; crocodiles; vomiting; useful art (to heal people) as opposed to conceptual art (business for the museums); drug taking.  But maybe Jodorowsky can sense that Pinchbeck is “stuck” because he offers him guidance in the way that he sees best – first of all by suggesting that if you smoke (which Pinchbeck does) and drink, that you won’t live a long life.  Jodorowsky does not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or even drink coffee because he wants to live to 120 years or more – I’ve got to say he does not look bad on it at all (he’s about 80 in the image you see above).  It may have something to do with his abstinence but, then again, he does also have something magical in his life: the love of a good woman, and a young one at that (more than 40 years his junior).  His wife is the artist Pascale Montandon.

Jodorowsky tells Pinchbeck that when you find the woman of your life, it’s absolutely evident.  Pinchbeck is still at the stage in life when he seems to want it all, he declares himself happy in his relationship “for the time being” but says he is considering “alternative relationship models” because monogamy is something he finds difficult.  Jodorowsky’s response to this is that “When you find the treasure, you don’t need anything more.”  He suggests Pinchbeck can attain the same happiness he has by healing himself first, putting the past in the past, rejecting all the bitter experiences and moving on.

Jodorowsky 14

There’s a hilarious sequence when he explains to Pinchbeck how he can do that – his idea is that Pinchbeck should dress up in his dead father’s clothes, hold one of his paintings, dress his girlfriend up in his mother’s clothes and then “Make love with her, like this.”  Pinchbeck rejects this notion as impossible because his mother is short and his girlfriend is tall and his mother’s clothes will look silly on her, but do you think Jodorowsky sees this as an obstacle?  Not for one second, here’s his response:  “When you was a child, you see your mother very tall.”  No room for excuses, Daniel Pinchbeck!  But somehow I doubt he took the advice.

Here’s a few images of Jodorowsky looking rather fabulous in his youth to break this up for you a little bit:

Jodorowsky 6Jodorowsky 7Jodorowsky 8Jodorowsky 2Jodorowsky takes Daniel Pinchbeck to a hotel to read his tarot cards.  It seems he has previously done a reading for Marilyn Manson:

Jodorowsky 3

But in room 26 of this hotel in Paris, he offers Pinchbeck the cards and tells him he cannot tell the future, just the present, but if he has any questions he wants to pose he can do so.  Pinchbeck, surprisingly, asks how he can find some level of contentment and happiness in personal relationships, so maybe there is hope for the boy yet:

Jodorowsky 10Jodorowsky 11

Daniel Pinchbeck thinks that men and women desire different things; Jodorowsky concludes that Pinchbeck has a fear of dominant women and needs to live another 20 years before he will be ready to open his heart and give and receive love, but in the meantime here is his advice summarised down in one of my little diagrams:

Jodorowsky diagram

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But can he put his money where his mouth is?  I guess so, look at the way his wife looks at him:

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And the way they put their arms around each other as soon as Pinchbeck leaves their house:

Jodorowsky 17

They look very happy to me, so my advice to any gentlemen reading this blog post would be:  Follow Jodorowsky’s advice if you want to keep your lady happy.  And where are my flowers and chocolates, come to think of it?!

Other interesting things from this episode:

An Italian perfume maker loved Jodorowksy’s book so much that he created a perfume especially for him.
Jodorowsky 16

Smells like Jodorowsky’s spirit

Jodorowsky was once ripped off by a “Master” – that’s my take on it anyway, although Jodorowsky didn’t see it that way.  He wanted to be “enlightened” so he went to see a Master (Oscar Ichazo) and had to pay him $17,000 in order to achieve enlightenment.   The Master did this by giving him LSD and one hour later a joint – Jodorowsky’s trip lasted for 8 hours.  After this he made The Holy Mountain, which looks fabulous, and maybe Jodorowsky managed to write-off the $17,000 fee to production costs, I don’t know.  But, otherwise, it sounds like expensive drugs experimentation to me.

Jodorowsky thinks he speaks English like Speedy Gonzales.  He does have a strong accent, but it sounds lovely anyway.

As with the Houellebecq episode of Durch die Nacht mit, I thoroughly recommend seeing this if you can track it down, it’s so interesting and very stylishly made.  My one complaint:  I wish the show was more easily accessible in the UK.

Jodorowsky 13Jodorowsky 5Jodorowsky and Pinchbeck sitting in a tree: togetherness…

Interview with Paul Nicholas

Here’s a recent interview I did with the very lovely actor and singer Paul Nicholas, who was in Bath last month performing at the Theatre Royal in the Agatha Christie play And Then There Were None.  A little while back I had interviewed Paul via email for another project, but I wanted to do a fuller interview with him about his career in general and he was very happy to oblige when he was in town.  I met him at the theatre stage door and he took me to the Society Cafe in Kingsmead Square for a coffee and a chat.  Very nice it was too.

Aside from the fact that Paul is just really casual and easy to chat with, what I enjoyed most about this interview was the fact that he was refreshingly honest about what he enjoys about his career, which is doing things that people enjoy and that he feels he can do well.  He’s had a long and varied career and shows no sign of slowing down now he’s getting older (he’ll be 70 later this year), but then why would he?  He’s doing projects he enjoys right now – and lots of them too.

Just before the interview I had been given a copy of a French TV show Dim Dam Dom, featuring a behind the scenes report on the film Cannabis (dir Pierre Koralnik, 1970), which Paul had appeared in with Hero Culte favourites Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin.  I thought Paul might like to see the show, so I gave him a copy of it before starting the interview:

Paul Nicholas CannabisPaul Nicholas Cannabis 2Paul Nicholas Cannabis 3Paul Nicholas Cannabis 4Paul Nicholas Cannabis 5

Hero Culte (HC):  You’re playing double bass with Serge [Gainsbourg].

Paul Nicholas (PN):  Really?  I don’t remember any of that

HC:  Yeah, it’s quite funny because he’s talking to the interviewer in French and you’re saying, “What are you saying? What are you saying?” and he says something like “I’m saying you’re my friend but you are a bad boy”

PN:  He was very nice

HC:  It’s just you two messing about together…

PN:  Oh, great, well that will be nice to see – thank you

HC:  It’s in black and white

PN:  Yeah, well, aren’t we all? At least there’s sound!

HC:  Yeah but you don’t say a lot, you’re being quiet

PN:  I was quite shy…

HC:  Also, they were just all talking in French

PN:  Yeah, I didn’t… You know, the funny thing about that film was, I was supposed to learn French and I didn’t speak French.  So we tried it and I didn’t know what the hell I was saying and my pronunciation was probably really bad.  So we ended up [with Serge] speaking in French and me speaking in English.  So we never quite knew when the other one had finished.  Cos he didn’t speak very good English.

HC:  (laughs) Anyway, I wanted to ask you how’s the play, And Then There Were None, going?

PN:  It’s going very well actually.  It’s sold out [in Bath], I think, pretty much.  It sold out last week in Guildford.  So we’re very happy with it.  It’s probably [Agatha Christie’s] most famous novel, but it’s a real potboiler.  You know, it’s good entertainment for the audience and they’re enjoying it.  It’s good, solid entertainment and they kind of know what they’re going to get.  They’re gonna get Agatha Christie, they’re hopefully gonna get actors who can do it, produced by a guy called Bill Kenwright [Hero Culte Note:  Bill Kenwright was in the musical comedy Passion Flower Hotel with Jane Birkin] who has done loads of stuff over the years, so it’s a pretty bankable evening.  Particularly when the prices of tickets are pretty expensive.

HC:  It’s like a fulfilment thing, isn’t it?  It’s that thing that you know there will be a resolution at the end of it and working your way through that.

PN:  Exactly.

HC:  You might guess it, you might not.

PN:  Exactly.  So I think it ticks all the boxes for the audience.  And for us, as performers, it’s great to go out and play to full houses, particularly with a play because we’ve all done plays where you’ve had only a few people in so to be involved in something that works is good.

HC:  Do you prefer theatrical work to film?

PN:  The thing about filming is it’s so bitty.  You know, you might do two minutes a day or whatever.  So it’s not very satisfying whilst you’re doing it.

HC:  And it’s not always shot in chronological order, is it?

PN:  No, so it’s not very satisfying.  You know, when I was young I did a few bits and pieces film wise and I didn’t particularly enjoy it.  Now, of course, you’d give your left arm to be in a film and nobody wants you!

HC:  You could be like Ian McShane and have a renaissance!

PN:  Yeah, but the thing about Ian McShane is, he always had a career in America.  Cos he went over quite young when he started to do well, and then he had a bit of a dip… In fact, I did a film with him called Yesterday’s Hero

HC:  I’ve seen it!

PN:  Yeah, dreadful, isn’t it?

HC:  It’s really enjoyable though.

PN:  Is it?  I’ve never seen it.

HC:  I didn’t know if it was a vehicle for you and the lady singer, I can’t remember her name…

Paul Nicholas Y Hero

PN:  It was Suzanne Somers, she was a big star in America with this show called… Three’s Company, which was a spin-off of Robin’s Nest that was here.  So she was quite a big star…  No, I don’t know what it was really, I think it was at the time when Elton John was involved in the Watford football club and so there was a kind of pop/football tie-up and that’s what the film was about, wasn’t it, basically?

HC:  You know who I thought was terrible in it, and it’s a shame as I usually like him, Adam Faith.  I thought he was just awful in it.

PN:  He was playing a coach, wasn’t he?

HC:  Yeah, and he was really vindictive.  He had the sheepskin coat and everything.

Adam Faith Y Hero

Adam Faith – apparently he had cheek implants for the film to make him look like a cross between Joe Shishido and Tim Burgess, maybe…

PN:  He was a very nice man.  He was also in Stardust

HC:  Which you were in…

PN:  …Which I was in, and he was better in that probably because it was about pop singers and he knew about that.  I think, you know, with pop singers who don’t really have a lot of acting experience unless they’re real naturals you have to be careful about what you do as that kind of performer.  Now, I started off as a rock ‘n’ roll piano player but I’d done quite a lot over the years and learned quite a lot, probably… I’m not sure that Adam did that much…

HC:  He did Budgie!

PN:  Yeah, he did Budgie and he was dead right for that, wasn’t he?

HC:  Yes, he was.

PN:  I mean, some things you’re right for and some things you’re not. But if you’ve not really done it a lot or if you’ve not been to Drama School, then it’s quite daunting to become an actor

HC:  Did you go to drama school?

PN:  No.

HC:  When did you start?  Quite young?

PN:  I started playing piano for Screaming Lord Sutch – do you know who he is?

HC:  I LOVE Screaming Lord Sutch! O my god!

PN:  I was a Savage.

HC:  Were you?!! [very excited]

PN:  Yeah, Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages.  If you go on YouTube, in 1903, well, actually, it was 1962, the BBC when they first started they did a documentary on him called Sutch is Life, or something like that.

Hero Culte Note:  It seems to be called Screamin’ Lord Sutch and it was, apparently, from 1965.  You can watch about half an hour of it here

Paul Nicholas Sutch Doc

PN:  And it was a one hour show but if you go on YouTube you can see bits of it and you can see me as a 17-year-old playing the piano for him.  So he used to do this thing called Jack the Ripper, it was a terrible act…

Paul Nicholas Sutch Doc 1Paul Nicholas Sutch Doc 2Paul Nicholas Sutch Doc 3Paul Nicholas Sutch Doc 6

HC:  Did he have his Tarzan outfit on?

PN:  No, we used to wear those…

Paul Nicholas Sutch Doc 4

Back of Joe Meek’s head – recording in the studio

Paul Nicholas Sutch Doc 5

HC:  I’ve got a French TV show with Screaming Lord Sutch and he’s wearing his Tarzan outfit and he looks *really* nice…

Hero Culte Note:  You can see photos from it here 

PN:  Well, we used to wear those. The funny thing about him was, he used to have really long hair in 1962, before anyone had long hair, so his whole act was based on being a wild man.  And if you look on YouTube you’ll see the opening number that we do, he couldn’t sing, but you’ll see he fires a gun at the audience and we all pretend to be frightened.  It’s all a bit of an act, so from my point of view I then learnt that I enjoyed the fooling around and the dressing up much more than just playing the piano and singing.  And so it wasn’t then until I managed to get into Hair, the musical, that I got to do a combination of drama and music…

HC:  Were you wearing anything?

PN:  I did! Yes, I was the only one who did wear something, cos I sang a song called Where Do I Go? and they all stood up around me and took their clothes off.  But I didn’t have to cos I was singing.  So for me, that was a real breakthrough, because that was that combination of music and drama which I’ve sort of been doing ever since.  And it was while I was in that show that I got Cannabis.

HC:  Yeah, I read that.  But you were in Season of the Witch as well, weren’t you?

PN:  I was, yeah, with Julie Driscoll.

HC:  What’s she like?

PN:  Well, she was a pop singer and she had a hit called Wheels on Fire and this guy, this BBC producer, wanted to do this show about two guys in Brighton who fall in love with the same girl. She was the girl, I was one of the guys and the other guy was Robert Powell.  So we worked together, in fact I saw him the other day he came to see [the play] and he said to the director, “I haven’t seen this guy for 30 or 40 years” or whatever it was, but it’s not true I had seen him, erm… (laughs)

HC:  He just forgot.

PN:  Yeah, he forgot, I didn’t forget!  Erm, yeah, so I did that and again I got that whilst I was in Hair – I think they were looking for a hippie type person…

HC:  Buy you’ve played lots of bad boys – you’re a gangster in Cannabis, you were sadistic in Tommy, weren’t you?

PN:  A little bit, yeah

Paul Nicholas Tommy 1 Paul Nicholas Tommy

HC:  And then you were a psychotic killer in See No Evil and a granny killer in What Became of Jack and Jill?

Paul Nicholas See No Evil

See No Evil – Paul Nicholas trying to strangle Mia Farrow whilst she’s in the bath and getting his face squished!

Paul Nicholas Jack and Jill

Butter wouldn’t melt in What Happened to Jack & Jill? but the atmosphere was dead at Grandma’s party…

Paul Nicholas Jack and Jill 1

HC:  Did you like playing bad boys?

PN:  Yeah, well I have to say it’s easier to play a bad boy than it is to make people laugh.  It’s much easier. But, erm, yeah I did get a lot of bad boy roles but they were all slightly, I mean Cousin Kevin was slightly tongue in cheek.  In fact, I’m directing that this year, Tommy.

HC:  On the stage?

PN:  Yeah, at the Blackpool Opera House with Joe McElderry playing Tommy.  Do you know Joe McElderry

HC:  Erm, was he in X Factor?

PN:  Yeah, he’s a very good singer.  Yeah, so I did play quite a few bad boys but what can I say?

HC:  It’s a bit at odds with your pop star image in the 1970s though…

PN:  Yeah, the reason I did that was when I started off as a rock ‘n’ roll piano player, and being in groups since I was about 16, the one thing you want to have is a hit record.  And I never had a hit record and then I got into Hair and that career.  But when I got a bit further down the road, in my late 20s, I thought I’d like to have a hit record.  So I went out and looked for some songs and I eventually met these guys, who played all these songs, and they said they had this song Reggae Like It Used To Be, and I said, “Well, let’s hear it” and I said, I thought that sounded like a hit; a bubblegum sort of light song.  And I went with Chris Neil, this bloke I’d been in Hair with, and he was becoming a producer, and we stuck my voice on their backing track, put a couple of strings on it, some vocal backing.  I found a very good plugger who did plugging at the BBC, cos you need to get it played, and he then became my manager.  And we had a hit.  And then we had a few more because we came up with some sort of style, bubblegum sort of songs, because I couldn’t go on and be a heavy sort of rocker, could I?

Paul Nicholas Captain

Paul Nicholas – not a heavy rocker

HC:  But what about Stranded in the Jungle?  How did you get to that one?  Were you a fan of the New York Dolls or P J Proby?

Paul Nicholas Jungle

PN:  I got a little pop show on ITV and I had to do things and that was a number I found, Stranded in the Jungle.  When did the New York Dolls do that?

HC:  Very early 70s…

PN:  No, it’s an older song than that…

HC:  The fifties… the Cadets?

PN:  Something like that.  I don’t know, but I knew of the song and I had a friend who used to sing it to me.  So I looked it up and did it on that little show that I had.

HC:  It’s great!

PN:  Yeah! (laughs)

HC:  I have to tell you, I bet everyone says this to you… when I told my friends I was interviewing you they were all really jealous, you know why?

PN:  Yeah, but that was fifty years ago and I’m not like that anymore!  Well, that was a good show for me.

Just Good FriendsYum yum – Paul Nicholas and Jan Francis

HC:  Do you mind that people mainly remember you for Just Good Friends?

PN:  No, no, no.  Not at all, I mean, you’re glad that anyone remembers you for anything.  Basically, the great thing about this business is that you don’t quite know what’s coming around the corner.  What happened was, I made a bit of money as a pop singer and I went to live in America for a year and when I came back I didn’t really have any work, but I got one TV show.  It was a play with Judy Cornwell called A Little Rococo and I played an antique dealer on the telly who had an antique shop and this older lady came in, she had children and everything, I was this younger guy  and we had a sort of love affair.  And, er, blah blah blah.  And that was the only thing I did but also Andrew Lloyd Webber called me about doing a show called Cats.  But the good thing about the TV show was that John Sullivan, who wrote Only Fools and Horses and lots of other shows, saw me in it.  And he got me in to audition with Jan [Francis] for Just Good Friends, which was very brave of him but interestingly because when you establish yourself as a pop singer, which was sort of the freshest thing in people’s minds, they’re not going to think of you as an actor in a sitcom.  Not really, not in the 70s they weren’t.  But he did, which was great.  But, mind you, he had seen me act in A Little Rococo.  So I went along and I met him, I met Jan Francis and I met Ray Butt, who’s the director.  And we both spoke to them, we both read a bit.  And they thought it would be a good idea to do the pilot.  So we did the pilot and then it was shown to John Howard Davies.  John Howard Davis was the original Oliver Twist in the original movie, he’s the one who goes up and says “Can I have more?”, in the black and white movie.  The one that I think Carol Reed did.

Hero Culte Note:  It was actually David Lean who directed it

PN:  But he [John Howard Davies] then became the head of comedy and he wasn’t sure about me, he thought I was a pop singer and he wasn’t sure I’d be able to sustain it.  So, Ray Butt who was the director, ran a very scientific test to see if people liked me.  He showed it to 5 secretaries (laughs) and they came up and they said, “We think he’s right”.  And we did the show and it became pretty much an instant success.  And that was it really.

HC:  There weren’t as many episodes as I thought there were…

PN:  No, there was only 21, I think, and a couple of specials.

HC:  Anyway, we all loved it – women of a certain age (myself included) in particular remember it with fondness!  But what about music, cos you were in lots of musicals but also musical films too?  It obviously means a lot to you, music?  Do you enjoy doing that type of work more?

PN:  Not particularly.

HC:  No? (surprised)

PN:  To be honest with you, the only thing I’m interested in terms of what I enjoy – for me the thing is, can I do it?  can I do it okay?  and does anyone like it?  So I don’t care if it’s being in Tommy or if it’s doing teenybopper hit singles that people like.  It doesn’t matter to me.  The problem is, for me as a performer, if people aren’t quite sure what you are then they don’t take you seriously.  Because they can’t quite work it out or because they think, “He’s not serious in that”.  Which is true because I’m not really serious about anything.

HC:  Which is a good way to be!

PN:  Well, I am in that I take my work seriously but I can’t get locked into one thing.  There’s nothing wrong with having a good bubblegum hit record if people like it.  There’s nothing wrong with being a killer in an Agatha Christie if people like it.  And it’s, of its kind, good.  I mean, those records that I made weren’t musically groundbreaking or anything but they had an appeal and they were something that people liked to listen to.  For a limited amount of time.  And the public are never wrong.  To be honest with you, I do think there’s a bit too much snobbery with music.  Why can’t you love everything?

HC:  A bit of everything, yeah? But not everything.

PN:  Yeah, well, you don’t have to love everything but what I’m saying is you should be open-minded enough to listen.  I mean, I’m not crazy about classical music to be honest with you, there are bits that I like.  But a lot of classical music is like an arrangement in search of a tune if you ask me.

HC;  Too many notes!

PN:  Too much orchestration, where’s the tune?  They have to embroider it cos the tune’s not very good.

HC:  Were you in any other bands?

PN:  Yeah, I had my own band but we were basically a covers band.  So what was ever working at the time…

HC:  And that ties in with you wanting to do things that people like…

PN:  Yeah, but you know it was boring because all you were doing is replicating what was out there and it wasn’t particularly interesting.  In those early days most of the really great bands were in the North, like the Beatles, the Hollies, most of them.  Down in the South, there was…

HC:  The Troggs!

PN:  Yeah, but they were later, weren’t they?  Are they from down here?

HC:  Yeah, Andover

PN:  Yeah, but they were later.  I’m talking about 1961, 1962.  So the only really decent band that I can think of, other than people like Chris Farlowe, John Mayall, people like that, there was this band that I really liked called Cliff Bennett & the Rebel Rousers.  They were a great band, they had a saxophone, they were really good, but again they were a covers band.  But they were doing rhythm & blues.  A lot of bands in the South in the early 60s were doing covers of Cliff Richard or Presley, but the guys in the North like the Beatles and the Merseybeats were writing their own stuff, which Southern bands didn’t tend to do.  And then later came bands like the Who – I worked with the Who when I was on a package tour.  You had these package tours where you had the Who, and I played piano for Del Shannon, my band backed Del Shannon.  You know that song Runaway?

HC:  (nods)

PN:  So you know the song I mean (hums the keyboard line), well, I used to do that and I used to screw it up every night and poor old Del used to turn around and look at me (laughs).  So I knew the Who, and Keith Moon, for example – when I had my band in North London, he used to come and see my band.  And then I saw his band, which was the Who, playing at a place called the Railway Tavern in Harrow, and they were just very special.  They wrote their own songs, visually they were very interesting, they were very of the time.  And Townsend was great, and Daltrey was great.  And they were really a great antidote to those Northern bands.  So I sort of went through all that but we were not good enough, basically, we weren’t interesting enough.  So when Sutch came along, for me, that was an interesting thing because, well, you’ll see it [in the documentary].  I mean, it’s not great but you have to remember that I’m only 17 at the time, so it was great fun.

Paul Nicholas Stardust 2 Paul Nicholas Stardust

HC:  Can I ask you about Stardust?  Did you enjoy working on that?

PN:  Yeah, that was produced by David Puttnam who then, I think, produced this film called Lisztomania after Tommy.  Have you seen Lisztomania?

HC:  Yeah, it’s mad!

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Paul Nicholas as Wagner (Hitler!) in Lisztomania – Mad Max Fury Road eat your heart out!

PN:  I think Ken Russell gave up on it half way through (laughs) but Stardust I don’t remember much about it, except I wasn’t in it for very long cos I was the flash lead singer or I wanted to be the lead singer but pissed the rest of the band off.  And I suppose that was quite true to life.  It was directed by Michael Apted, who did quite a lot of stuff thereafter.  But I knew David [Essex] prior to that film and I knew Keith [Moon] prior to that film.  I remember one very funny incident on that film was because Keith was always meant to have a slightly bigger part in the film; I don’t know, but he and the writer who was called Ray Connolly, a pop writer, a nice guy.  We were filming at the Belle Vue in Manchester where Jimmy Savile started, I think…

HC:  [Groan]

PN:  Yeah! And Keith and Ray had not really got on very well and I think it was something to do perhaps, I don’t know, I’m surmising, that Keith wasn’t exactly happy with his part.  So it was bubbling and bubbling and they began to have a row.  And they began to, you know… [gestures fisticuffs] and the makeup guy is standing up and going [adopting camp voice], “Don’t hit his face! Don’t hit his face!”, cos he was worried about the continuity.  It was just so funny, “Don’t hit his face! Punch him in the stomach but not his face!”  So, other than that I don’t really remember much about it.  I had known David for years and for David that was really the height of his fame, because the film he did prior to that, which was called That’ll Be The Day, when he was doing that film he got to number one with Rock On in America, which was a great record.  So it was all great for him.  But I got thrown out very early by Adam Faith!  He said to me, his line for getting rid of the band members was “Do you fancy a cup of tea?”, which was the line he said and so I got a cup of tea quite early on in the movie.

HC:  What about Three for All?

PN:  Well, don’t even talk about that!

HC:  (laughs) You don’t like it?

PN:  I’ve never seen it.  Don’t we put paint on our faces or something?  Is it alright?

Paul Nicholas Three For All

HC:  Yeah, I mean it’s kitschy, you know…

PN:  Daft!  Adrienne Posta’s in it.

HC:  Yeah, she was lovely.

PN:  She’s good, very good.

HC:  Oh, Richard Beckinsale, I had such a crush on him!

PN:  Yeah, he was in it.  Wasn’t he the manager or something?

HC:  No, wasn’t he Jet Bone or something?

PN:  [laughs] Robert Lindsay was in it.

HC:  Was Arthur Mullard in it?  Or am I making that up?

PN:  I think he might have been in it.  Yeah, I think he was in it.  I did something once with Diana Dors playing my mother, was it that film?  I think she was my mother in it, which was a bit of a coup for me because she was a bit of an icon for me, growing up, Diana Dors.

HC:  Yeah, but I think she was going through that phase of doing anything – you know, “Have you got any films for me?”

PN:  Yeah, but she was a nice woman, I remember.

HC:  Everyone says that.  What about working with Ken Russell?  What was he like?

PN:  I think Ken Russell started life as a cameraman as a stills photographer, I think, so he did all those early films for BBC on those composers, all of which were very visual and very interesting.  I think the great thing about Ken Russell was that he… I watched Tommy the other day and I suppose I don’t want to slag him off because he was a good director in a way but he was very good at the visual, he knew what he wanted visually, but I’m not sure how good he was at the beginning, the middle and the end bit.

HC:  That doesn’t matter in film!  But I know what you’re saying, it makes it easier for the viewer if there is a beginning, a middle and an end!

PN:  If you can follow the story (laughs), sometimes people want that.

HC:  I sometimes like films where you don’t know what’s going off!

PN:  Yeah, well that’s good too.  So he was very good in that sense and I think the film did quite well, but then we went on to Lisztomania and he’d done many, many more [films about composers] prior to that, a little less off the wall, you know, a little more arty than Lisztomania, but he was on a roll with Roger [Daltrey], I think, and I’d done alright as Cousin Kevin.  But truthfully I think, and I don’t really know, but I think he was better at the visuals than telling the story.  And if he wrote it himself, probably his imagination took over a little bit too much.  Cos for some people you have to have a beginning, a middle and an end.

HC:  Yeah, that’s not going to appeal to everybody.

PN:  No, if it’s just a series of images, exactly.  So, the version of Tommy that I’m doing is a version that was done in conjunction with Pete Townshend and a guy called Des McAnuff, and he has given it a beginning, a middle and an end so it makes a little bit more sense to an audience.  It was done on Broadway, and it was done at the Shaftesbury in the 90s.

HC:  And when is that starting?

PN:  That starts in September.  It’s a three week run in Blackpool at the Opera House, which is a very big venue, and the producer wants to see if anyone comes, cos you never know.

HC:  What happened with your glam rock musical Blockbuster?  We never got to see it cos I don’t think it made it over here…

PN:  I did it, it wasn’t too badly received but nobody came.  Well, I wanted to try it out in three venues, but it wasn’t very fair on the musical because we did it just after the kids went back [to school] and that’s a difficult time in the theatre.  We went to Dartford and we went to Birmingham and we went to Croydon.  We needn’t have bothered about Croydon.  And, to be honest with you, they didn’t come enough so you’d be worried about putting it on for 25 weeks or whatever.  The thing is, in this day and age there are so many great would-be West End shows out on the road that in order to compete, it’s quite difficult.  I mean, I think they just did Saturday Night Fever here, didn’t they, a few weeks ago?  And I produced that with Robert Stigwood and David Ian in 2000.  Even shows like that with a bigger name might find it a bit difficult.  And with a brand new show… but it wasn’t a bad show, we had all those songs from the seventies.  Great songs, great songs written by Chinn and Chapman.

HC:  That would have been excellent.  Can I ask you about something, you might not remember this – there was a German film you were in, or supposedly in…

PN:  Was that Alice and the thingummybob?

HC:  No, it was called Feminine Carnivores

PN:  It was called what?

HC:  Feminine Carnivores

PN:  It wasn’t me

HC:  Die Weibchen?  It was filmed in Czechoslovakia.  You’re credited on IMDb but I couldn’t actually see you in the film…

PN:  You didn’t see me in it then?

HC:  No…

PN:  Well, I’m not in it, that’s why!

HC:  It says you are on IMDb…

PN:  Maybe it’s another Paul Nicholas?

HC:  Well, that explains why I couldn’t see you in it but it’s a shame as it was a very stylish film.  But was it you who did the music for Adventures of a Private Eye?

PN:  Yes.  I did it with Chris Neil, I think.  We wrote the theme song

HC:  It was very good, a bit glammy.  I want to ask you about something else as well – did you work with Michel Polnareff on The Three Musketeers soundtrack? [I show him this from the CD Le Cinéma De Michel Polnareff ]

Polna Nicholas 1 Polna Nicholas 2

PN:  Oh yes, Annie Fargue, my darling Annie Fargue.

Hero Culte Note:  Annie Fargue was Michel Polnareff’s manager and at one point also his girlfriend

HC:  She died a couple of years ago, didn’t she?

PN:  Yes, she did.  She was a lovely woman.  Are there any pictures of her in there?

HC:  No, I don’t think so, but it says this about you working on The Three Musketeers. Was it you?

PN:  No, a different Paul Nicholas.

HC: But it sounds just like you.  It does really sound like you.

PN:  Hang on, let me have a look at that… I know Patrick Wachsberger… Patrick Wachsberger was the son of the guy who produced Cannabis

HC:  Is his name Nat Wachsberger? [total geek, I know…]

PN:  Something like that, yeah… [reading the booklet]  Well, maybe I have done it and forgotten.  But I have no memory of that, but I know Patrick Wachsberger, I remember him, he was a young guy.

HC:  But did you know Polnareff?

PN:  No.

HC:  You’ve never met him?

PN:  No.

HC:  Because I think he used to go out with Annie Fargue…

PN:  Yeah, he did, didn’t he?  But that was later though, I knew Annie quite well…

HC:  Cos she took Hair over to France, didn’t she?

PN:  Yeah, that was when I first met her but then I later met her because she was a very good friend of Robert Stigwood.  And I went on holiday with her and things like that, so I knew her really well and I had dinner many times with her and Robert.  And the last time I saw Annie I think was when I was doing Saturday Night Fever at the Palladium.  Something like 15 years ago.  And then I read she died; I sent her some flowers.  That probably is me, then.  Because the time makes sense, maybe they got me to do it and I can’t remember.  What is it, one song?

HC:  No, I think it’s throughout the film, but there’s a really great song which I think is on this CD – yeah, it is – it’s called Wake Up, It’s A Lovely Day.

PN:  I don’t remember it at all.

HC:  It’s so catchy.  It does sound like you.

PN:  It probably is then.  No, it must be because of Patrick Wachsberger.  He produced it and he probably said, “Why don’t you sing that?” and I’ve done it.

HC:  Just gone in, done it and forgotten about it…

PN:  Yeah, exactly.

HC:  That’s excellent cos I’m a really big fan of Polnareff.  But going back to Cannabis, which you just mentioned, how did you end up being cast in a French film?

PN:  Cos my old man was a showbusiness lawyer and his name was Oscar Beuselinck and he was a friend of Nat Wachsberger – and I guess they must have been talking and he must have said, “My son’s in this, blah blah blah…” and I just went over there [to France].

Paul Nicholas Cannabis 6 Paul Nicholas Cannabis 7 Paul Nicholas Cannabis 8 Paul Nicholas Cannabis 9

HC:  On the DVD there’s an extra, an interview with Jane Birkin and the director Pierre Koralnik.  In the interview Jane says that Serge thought you were really handsome.

PN:  Well, apparently, it’s funny you should say that cos some guy who was a musicologist – if there’s such a word – a French guy, came to visit me at some point two or three years ago because he was kind of doing a roundup of all Serge’s songs and he said he wrote a song called Paul and he said, “Was that based on you?”

HC:  Is that an unreleased track from the soundtrack to Cannabis maybe?  But he has a son called Paul…

PN:  Well, I said I didn’t think Serge would write a song about me, but he was trying to track down the reason…

HC:  Okay, well, that’s interesting… But the thing about Serge was because he always thought he was ugly…

PN:  Did he?

HC:  Yeah, because of his ears and his nose and he wasn’t what people thought of as conventionally handsome but, you know, I think he was… but because of that he did have ideals of male beauty, like Robert Taylor and Alain Delon and so on… And he obviously thought you were handsome…

PN:  Yeah, yeah… I was very light on my feet, I noticed.  Carmen, my daughter, said, “Look at you, skipping down there…”, it was funny because I had a look the other day at the opening shots of Cannabis and we come out and there all these dead bodies and all these women lying there with no clothes on.  And we couldn’t keep a straight face cos if we looked down we could see all these women, you know…

HC:  There are some really stylish scenes in Cannabis, but for me it’s a little disappointing after seeing Anna – which is a musical comedy film Serge did with Koralnik – and that was pure style, pop art, great music, the beautiful Anna Karina and Jean-Claude Brialy. And then there’s Cannabis, which is just not as stylish and accomplished as Anna

PN:  I think they were going for a commercial American style gangster crossover thing…

HC:  And it was made to order as well…

PN:  It was a bit sort of… it didn’t feel that good.

HC:  No.  But it had its moments.

PN:  But for me, you see I’d never done a film before so it was a learning process for me.

HC:  Was there a lot of hanging around?  It looks like it from that behind-the-scenes thing… you know, with all the ballet dancers, where you’ve gone off to that place that’s a bit like the Albert Hall…

PN:  I don’t remember it…

HC:  You’ll see it on the DVD, but you were mad in that film – you went up onto the top of the roof and you were running across the roof…

PN:  Oh, I remember that, that was on the top of the Paris Opéra.  Wasn’t there a fight or someone was chasing me?

HC:  I think you killed the ballet director, maybe, cos he was one of the guys behind the drugs gang?

PN:  I don’t know what it’s about even…

HC:  It was a very strange film in that you’re trying to work out what it’s supposed to be – if it was re-edited maybe…

PN:  It could be better. Yeah.

HC:  There was some strange thing going off which I couldn’t really work out, they kept going on about the blind people, I think there was a gang of blind people somehow involved in all of the drugs smuggling, I don’t know…

PN:  I think some of it got lost in the translation…

HC:  I think it might have done!  It was very surreal.  Talking of which, do you remember that you had to go around barking like a dog?!

PN:  No, in that film?

HC:  Yeah, you just got down on all fours in the middle of the night because you were jealous of Serge and Jane when they were off together…

PN:  Shagging…

HC:  Yeah, and you’re in the other room, fed up because you think he should be paying you attention instead of Jane.  So you just start barking like a dog!

PN:  That was probably Pierre Koralnik’s nod towards art

HC:  No, that was you being crazy!

PN:  Oh!


We start chit chatting about other stuff, about where the Agatha Christie play is going next – And Then There Were None is currently touring, then Paul leaves in July to go and do Tommy in Blackpool before returning to do And Then There Were None for another 7 weeks.  At the end of the year he will be appearing as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.  We round off the interview with this:

PN:  So I met David Ian (who’s just produced Gypsy, which just opened last night or the night before) on a show called Pirates of Penzance.  And we formed a company and the first thing we produced was Jesus Christ Superstar cos I did that in 1972, so we did a 25th anniversary concert with me in it and this was about 20 or 30 years ago when we did this now.  And then we went on and did things like Saturday Night Fever…  The film you didn’t mention was Sergeant Pepper[‘s Lonely Hearts Club Band]

HC:  I haven’t seen that one, is it good?

PN:  It was produced by Robert Stigwood, it had the Bee Gees, and the music was done by George Martin who worked with the Beatles, and it was pretty much hailed as a disaster.  (laughs)  I haven’t seen it either.

HC:  I’m going to watch it now!

PN:  But that was great cos I was working with people like George Burns, and working with George Martin, the Bee Gees I knew anyway, cos years ago I did a record that they sing on, one of their songs called Holiday.  And they sing backing vocals to my crappy lead vocal.  So, anyway, we did the Saturday Night Fever thing, we put that together.

HC;  You obviously have a strong connection to Robert Stigwood?

PN:  Yeah, cos when I started off quite young I did a few early records with him – one of which was written by David Bowie called Over the Wall We Go.  And I was called Oscar.  You can look that one up, it was banned by the BBC cos it was taking the piss; at that time there were a lot of prison breaks so Bowie wrote this song (and in those days he wasn’t called David Bowie, he was called David Jones).  He was doing the mime, I remember, he was learning all the mime stuff.  But he was quite a serious guy; he and I were quite different in that sense but he wrote that song, I recorded it  and he’s on it as well.  He says something in the middle of it; it’s a comedy song.  I think we did the Ken Dodd Show on TV, as Oscar.

I also did a song by Pete Townshend at that time, called Join My Gang, which is very, very rare.  It wasn’t a hit but I think it scraped into the bottom of the Radio London Top 40 or something.  They never recorded it either.    So I had a little association with the Who at that point but prior to that I’d already done that tour with them, with my band doing the backing for Del Shannon.  And Herman’s Hermits and all those people.

HC:  I’m going to look these songs up – but I really want to see that Sutch documentary!

PN:  Well, you’ll see me as a 17-year-old dressed in a leopard skin!

Well, I’m not sure how old he was, but I definitely saw him dressed in a leopard skin – look at this lovely photo shamelessly stolen from Ronnie Harwood’s website, which you can find here


I had spent a lovely hour chatting with Paul Nicholas, learnt a lot of surprising stuff about his musical career (although afterwards all my friends claimed to have known he was in The Savages, I’m pretty sure they didn’t as not one person mentioned it to me when I said I was interviewing him!) and I finished off by taking a few photographs:


I did one “arty farty” one as Paul called it – I took a double exposure and also shot using the bulb mode, but the result just looks a bit odd, look:


Also, notice in the shot of Paul outside the theatre that everything is in focus except his face (a bit like Robin Williams when he was out of focus in Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry!) – how did I even manage that?!  Unlike Ken Russell, I can’t get me visuals right!


And Paul took this one of us together as well – a few of my friends were very jealous…

Just Good Friends with Paul Nicholas

Later that evening I went to see And Then There Were None.  It was very entertaining, Paul was excellent in it as were the rest of the cast (including Susan Penhaligon, Frazer Hines and Mark Curry) but the one who I was very pleasantly surprised by was Emmerdale‘s Verity Rushworth, who was just fabulous.  If you get a chance to catch And Then There Were None whilst it’s on tour, definitely do as it makes for a very enjoyable evening.  It’s next in Richmond from 26 May 2015 but the rest of the tour dates can be found here.

Thanks very much to Paul Nicholas for taking the time out to do this interview with me.