Monday, January 12, 2015

Gone But Not Forgotten

It's been a lousy start to the year: first of all we lose Rod Taylor, now its Brian Clemens.  Unless you are of a certain age, you won't necessarily recognise either of those names, but they both played a big part in my TV and film viewing when younger. Arguably, both had their best years in the sixties.  To turn to Taylor first, back in the sixties he headlined a lot of films.  Although now best remembered as a square-jawed lead in action movies, Rod Taylor actually appeared in a wide variety of films, including Hitchcock's The Birds, a couple of Doris Day movies, George Pal's adaptation of The Time Machine and the title role in the Sean O'Casey biopic Young Cassidy.  Despite this, Taylor never seemed to quite be in the front rank of Hollywood leading men and, by the early seventies, had moved back into TV, with limited success.  A likeable leading man, Taylor was often at his best when cast against type, as in The Liquidator, an adaptation of the first of John Gardener's 'Boysie Oakes' espionage novels.  Here Taylor effectively parodies his 'heroic' image, playing Boysie Oakes, an abject coward mistaken by the British Secret Service for a cold blooded assassin.  Despite his inability to kill anyone, Oakes enjoys the glamourous lifestyle which accompanies his new job, so sub-contracts his killings to Eric Sykes' undertaker cum hitman.  Sadly, apart from The Birds, Taylor's films are of the sort of age which means they rarely get TV outings these days.  That said, when I had TCM some years ago, every other film the showed seemed to feature Rod Taylor.

Brian Clemens was best known as a writer and producer of TV series, most notably The Avengers, which ran through the sixties and made stars out of Patrick MacNee, Diana Rigg and Honor Blackman.  Becoming increasingly surreal and bizarre as it went on, (rather like the decade it was made in), The Avengers was packed full of sexual innuendo, wild plots and striking production design.   It probably also resulted in an entire generation of British men thinking that their ideal woman was a black leather clad martial arts expert.  Whilst Clemens failed to recapture the magic of the original with the seventies follow-up The New Avengers, he scored another hit with The Professionals, grittier and more violent and 'realistic' than The Avengers, this show was probably more in tune with the tastes of the TV audiences of the late seventies and early eighties.  But Clemens didn't just work on TV: in the seventies he also ventured in cinema, writing, producing and directing a number of movies.  Personally, I've always had a soft spot for the films he worked on for Hammer Films in this period.  Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, from 1971, was, as far as I know, the first film to apply a gender-switch twist to the Robert Louis Stevenson tale, with he lovely Martine Beswick as Hyde to Ralph Bates' Jekyll.   Clemens' script throws everything into the mix, from Jack the Ripper to Burke and Hare, resulting in a barmy, but highly entertaining film.  Even better was 1972's Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter, which Clemens also directed.  A truly insane, but hugely entertaining, film in which the titular Captain wanders around what appears to be Seventeenth Century Europe hunting vampires and engaging in sword fights (he's also the fastest sword in the West).  Unfortunately, Hammer seemed to have no idea how to handle the film and it sat on the shelf for a couple of years before being released as part of a double bill.

So, there you have it, two more of my heroes gone: likeable Australian leading man of the second rank who nevertheless made some very entertaining films and one of the most imaginative and inventive writers to have worked in British TV.  Also, last, but by no means least, I should also note the passing of comedian and actor Lance Percival.  I best remember him for his appearances in films like Carry on Cruising, although his talents went way beyond British comedy movies.  He was one of those people you always feel should be better known than they are.  Interestingly, his obituaries mentioned him voicing two of The Beatles in an cartoon series in the sixties - which confirms the series actually existed: for years I thought that I'd hallucinated it.   It consisted of 5-10 minute episodes, each 'inspired' (very loosely) by a Beatles song.  Anyway, I've lamented the passing of some childhood heroes long enough. Back to the usual shenanigans next time.

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