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Quest for Fire & Burgess (1980)

Found- a press-cutting from 9th November 1980 about Anthony Burgess and the making of the movie Quest for Fire - which came out in 1981. Burgess created a primitive language which is spoken in the movie by the Ulam tribe. The article is joshing in tone. It was published in the 'Public Eye' section of The Observer, possibly a sort of gossip column.

Anthony Burgess Back to Basics

Remarkable things have come off the typewriter off the author Anthony Burgess; but none so odd  as two hours of grunts for a £4 million film about the Stone Age.' Hell of a lot of work creating a language on basic principles', he says.

The grunting, Burgess-style,  has been going on around Aviemore in the Scottish highlands. 14 elephants, heavily disguised as woolly mastodons are also playing their parts, trumpeting as they fancy without literary guidance.

On the telephone from his home in Monaco, the distinguished grunt writer seemed astounded  that the film Quest for Fire was not being shot in Iceland. 'I thought they'd sent the elephants up there'  said Burgess.  'The lights good in Iceland.' [Some info about location problems, cost etc.,] …but there was no stinting on the grunts.  Burgess came to London to show the actors how to have a meaningful meaningless dialogue. Author/ anthropologist Desmond Morris joined him, to teach the right gesticulations for naked apes.

There are no star names amongst the cave persons, who are largely occupied in fighting one another for fire (it comes naturally, no doubt, in the Highlands just now).  The script by Gerard Brach derives from a somewhat obscure French novel published in 1912. On Wednesday the entire team, 80 strong, flies off to grunt in a warmer clime, in Kenya.

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I once met…Luise Rainer

Sad to hear of the death of the film star Luise Rainer at 104, but as we (often) say in England, she had  'a good innings'. I met her in the mid 1990s when she must have been in her late 80s. Myself and the esteemed rock musician and bookseller Martin Stone travelled to her villa in the Italian part of Swizerland to buy some of her books. I recall she picked us up at the station in a smart and powerful car and took us along  winding, perilous mountain roads at considerable speed. Something of a white knuckle ride. She was full of energy and amusing chat. She told us that life was not very social in this part of Switzerland. When she had arrived she gave two enormous parties for everybody interesting in the neighbourhood. She had done this before at other houses in her long life and usually after these events you just sat back and waited for invitations to come in and your social life was 'sorted.' Sadly, she did not hear a word from anyone, apparently this was not untypical of the Italian Swiss. Lots of old friends had come to stay however. She told us  of a 100 year old British peer who had stayed for a month or two. Because of his great age she had hired a local nurse to look after him and Luise was rather surprised that he later willed this nurse a large sum of money!  We saw some good books including several presentation copies (a first of House of Incest by Anais Nin signed and presented to one of her husbands comes to mind). She was considering a move to London and asked me about  prices in the Knightsbridge area. I am sure she found London a lot more fun than the Alps…

She was a great beauty in youth and this could be seen even in old age. Luise had some good art on the walls and some sculpture. I recall a Sonia Delaunay and a Marie Laurencin. I guess she must have moved shortly after. In February this year I tweeted a happy 104th birthday to her and mentioned our trip to see her near Lake Como. I was amazed to get this tweet back from her "..would love to see photos of that trip if you have any…?" Sadly we took no photos, this being slightly  before the smart phone era. R.I.P. Luise, a truly great star!

Martin Stone wrote in with this (I had forgotten entirely about the snake!) :

That trip to see her did seem to leave a strong impression,didn't it? Sitting on the terrace with the lake far below, she announced she was leaving to live in London."But why go from here?"one of us said,"this is paradise.""Oh,I've had enough of Paradise",she said,"now I'm ready for Hell".

Do you remember the snake in the basement that we refused to dispose of for her? I thought that might have blown the deal...I also remember several Egon Schiele paintings/drawings and a sensational medieval triptych spotlighted- I think you tried to buy them with the books,and she said "No,Sotheby's Geneva next month! " Great lady.

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Nixon at the BBC (Face to Face)

FACE TO FACE PROGRAMME

Found among the papers of Hugh Burnett,producer of the Face to Face series of television interviews with John Freeman shown between 1959 and 1962, this amusing slightly tongue-in-cheek memo to BBC friends sent out well after the event in 1973. The show was and is (6 set DVD available) memorable for the probing style of its charismatic interviewer John Freeman (more than once causing interviewees to break down..) and also for the importance and variety of its guests. They included Lord Birkett, Bertrand Russell,Dame Edith Sitwell, Lord Boothby, Nubar Gulbenkian, Adlai Stevenson, John Huston, Carl Jung, King Hussein of Jordan, Tony Hancock, Henry Moore, Dr Hastings Banda, Augustus John, Sir Ray Welensky, Stirling Moss, Evelyn Waugh, Gilbert Harding, General von Senger und Etterlin, Lord Reith, Simone Signoret, Victor Gollancz, Adam Faith,Otto Klemperer, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Jomo Kenyatta, Sir Compton Mackenzie, John Osborne, Cecil Beaton, Danny Blanchflower and, of course, Richard Nixon, then (1959) the Vice-President…

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Simon Watson Taylor: surrealist, pataphysician & cabin steward

The death in 2005 at the age of 82 of aged hippy and anarchist Simon Watson Taylor went almost unnoticed in the Arts pages and it was left to his friend and former house-mate George Melly to supply an obituary in the Independent in which he pointed out the major contributions of the writer and translator of Alfred Jarry to the Surrealist and Pataphysics movements in Europe during the fifties and sixties. On a personal level, Melly also alluded to his friend’s ‘acid humour ‘, his delight in confronting and dispatching the pretensions of the bourgeoisie, and a determination to remain free of encumbrances. At one point in his early life we are told that he took a job as an airline cabin steward in order to travel the world.Indeed, among all his friends who had some way embraced aspects of the bourgeois life- style, Melly claimed that Watson Taylor stood out as a man ‘truly free’.

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I don’t want to be alone (or I was Garbo’s double)

The real Garbo left. Thanks GarboForever.com

General Montgomery, Idi Amin and various Japanese emperors had doubles, and so it seems did the screen siren Greta Garbo. Her name was Jeraldine (or Geraldine) Dvorak and the revelation first appeared in a magazine in September 1931.

Today, we would call them body doubles and when they are used it is usually to undertake dangerous stunts. Seldom, if ever, are close shots taken of them and even when long shots are used it is only for a second or a fraction of one. Most shots of body doubles are taken sideways or from the back, most memorably as in the case of the seduction scene in The Wicker Man, when we are treated to the attractive backside belonging to the double of Ursula Andress.

The photos show that the resemblance of Dvorak to Garbo was astonishing and only differed in one small respect—the colour of their eyes, which in the era of black and white movies would not have mattered anyway. In the car smash scene in Woman of Affairs Dvorak, and not Garbo, was lifted from the wreckage; and Dvorak also acted in the snow scenes in Love. She could supply a passable Swedish accent and even sang in place of the star in Romance. We know that Garbo was no singer, but why she couldn’t be bothered to act as an injured car passenger or get her shoes damp is not explained in the article. Later sources suggest that she might have been pregnant at the time. Nor was Dvorak required only for long shots. On one occasion a cameraman got away with a ten foot close-up of her face!

So confident were the studio chiefs in Dvorak’s ability to stand-in for the star that on one famous occasion they arranged for her to impersonate Garbo off-screen as well. Garbo disliked film premieres and so at the premiere of a film in which she had starred alongside John Gilbert, Dvorak was commanded to accompany the male lead. In the theatre she found it hard to respond naturally to the audience acclaim that was obviously meant for Garbo, so she just wore a fake smile throughout. Nor, to everyone’s relief, did she attempt to sign any autographs. Thankfully for all concerned the evening went off without a hitch and Dvorak was duly congratulated for her best performance yet.

Like all stand-ins Dvorak yearned to be appreciated for herself, but alas she was to remain either a Garbo or Dietrich double or to take on bit parts as models or party guests. She doesn’t seem to have acted much after the late forties and died a forgotten figure in 1985.

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Mornington Crescent – the poem

Found - a slim volume of poetry called Annotations (London: Humphrey Milford, 1922) by 'Susan Miles'' (i.e. Ursula Wyie Roberts 1887-1975 feminist, suffragist and poet). She wrote a pamphlet in 1912 The Cause of Purity and Women's Suffrage. This copy is signed in 1960 to Russell and Letitia Sedgwick. The poem's title is taken from the famous tube station (and later the humorous improvisational radio game) Mornington Crescent. It is slightly reminiscent in sentiment and setting of Ezra Pound's earlier imagist haiku of 1919 In a Station of the Metro - 'The apparition of these faces in the crowd;/ Petals on a wet, black bough.'  Persephone recently republished Susan Miles's  Lettice Delmer, a novel in verse, which had first appeared in 1958. ‘Its simplicities are at a profound level. The theme is a great one and the characters are superb,’ wrote Storm Jameson. Her poetry was also anthologised in the 1920s by poetaster Harold Monro, said to be a hard man to please when it came to poetry...

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A statement from Chaplin via Raymond Williams

Found in a copy of Preface to Film (Film Drama Limited, London  1954) this statement by Charlie (Charles) Chaplin. An interesting and rare book by two notable figures from the 1940s - Michael Orrom and Raymond Williams. The dust jacket art is by Michael Stringer, an illustrator mainly associated with natural history books. Williams was an important academic, novelist and member of the 'New Left' and Orrom , also a man of the left, became a documentary film maker. Chaplin's statement first appeared in the magazine The Adelphi in 1924, this is probably its first appearance in a book. Orrom and Williams' book advances new film theories: the blurb states: 'The main belief of the authors is that naturalism, as a dramatic method and technique in the film, is not finally satisfactory...' There is one change in Chaplin's statement from the 1924 version, possibly a misprint - 'terrifying' becomes 'terrific.'

I prefer my own taste as a truer expression of what the public wants of me than anything that I can fathom out of the things that I observe either in my own work or in that of others who are unmistakably successful.

I have heard directors, scenario writers, and others who are directly concerned with the shape that the motion picture shall take, argue under the shadow of this great fear of the public. They begin with a good idea, then they lose courage and deceive themselves. The consciousness of what the public will want is for them so terrific [terrifying.]If they do something that is a little different because they have forgotten while filming the episode that there is such a thing as an audience, they are in doubt about it when they stop to consider. It is difficult to consider the public secondarily, but unless the person making the picture can achieve that state, there will be no originality in his work. [Charles Chaplin]

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John Osborne observed in 1959

Reading Which of Us Two? The Story of a Love Affair (Viking, London 1990).It is the record of a 'youthful, illicit and intense' relationship between John Tasker (1933 – 1988) the theatre director and Colin Spencer (born 1933) artist and writer. Spencer uses a  collection of letters the lovers wrote to each other (his were returned after John Tasker's death) and considers the relationship and why he 'murdered its future'. Spencer makes acute and amusing comments on literary figures including John Osborne (whose library we bought last year). This entry was starred by Osborne in his copy:

17.iii. 59. Yesterday I began drawing the great Mr Osborne, tall, thin, spectral: in black skin-tight trousers that showed a cute bottom and a huge lunch. And camp, my dear – not 'arf.  And the musical, my dear, cor that's a queer dish too, everybody changes their sex halfway through and deliciously lovely Adrienne Corri grows hair on her chest. Most peculiar: he was moving about so much, it's only the second week of rehearsals...though I did some lightning things with a brush, it just won't do so I'm going back after Easter and try some more. He has a curiously camp voice and he appears to stare at one with his teeth...

Colin Spencer says of this letter:

The John Osborne musical was of course The World of Paul Slickey, soon to become the only commercial failure of his early years. [We]admired Look Back in Anger, our generation felt that Osborne encapsulated the rage we all felt over the limitations of the British theatre.Yet like so much of the later Osborne the play now seems an hysterical diatribe, the characters thin and invalid,the plot negligible..it was brilliant journalism.. masquerading as theatre.

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Hughie Green and his Gang

‘And I mean that most sincerely, folks’. This was one of Hughie Green’s catchphrases. Another was ‘Vote, vote, vote, ‘cos your votes count’. As the host of quiz show Double Your Money and Opportunity Knocks, a forerunner of Britain’s Got Talent, he had one of the most recognisable faces (and voices) on TV in the sixties and early seventies. Then, abortive lawsuits, womanising and alcohol all took their toll and he died largely forgotten in 1997 aged 77. But what many below the age of eighty might not know is that Green was once a child star who, with his very own 'Gang' of fellow child performers, toured the halls from the mid thirties. One of his star turns was a distinctly manic solo dance routine.

So what we have here is evidence that young Green and his Gang performed at The Empire, Swindon in February 1937. Evidently, Mrs Barbara Slocombe, his landlady at 5, Farnsley Street, was a bit of a celeb spotter and kept an album in which she got her showbiz guests to sign, perhaps with a message, a calling card, and often with a signed photograph, or even a drawing. Several of Green’s gang obliged, but there is no record of the boy wonder himself leaving a signature. What we do have, however, is a postcard from Penge featuring a photograph of Green which was sent by one of the gang, Willie Mars, asking if Mrs Slocombe would kindly send on the sports jacket that he had left behind in her guest house.

I wonder what happened to Willie Mars.

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Carroll Levis and the Meaning of Dreams

Found in The World's Strangest Ghost Stories by R. Thurston Hopkins (Kingswood: The World's Work, London  1955) this piece in the preface about the American writer, TV personality and dream therapist Carroll Levis. There is much on Carroll online with Pete Waterman claiming he invented reality TV and The Beatles in their earliest form as The Quarrymen failing in the first rounds of one of his TV talent contests(1957). Paul McCartney described him as the 'Hughie Green of his day.'

Thurston Hopkins is dealing with an earlier incarnation of Levis as a radio star and before that a sort of analyser of dreams (during the depression.) At the end Hopkins even brings in our own J.B. Priestley, also in his time something of a star...The radio show where the public's dreams are re-enacted seems ripe for rebirth.

In 1931, Carroll Levis, who presented the Levis Discoveries Radio Show to eight million aficionados, published Dreams and their Meanings, which was syndicated and featured in newspapers in Canada and the United States. The same year, he wrote a radio series entitled Dream Dramas. Listeners were invited to send a description of their most vivid dreams to Levis, who rewrote them into short twelve-minute playlets. The dreams were re-enacted by  a group of actors, under the direction of Carroll Levis, and at the conclusion of the dramatized dream, a three-minute analysis and interpretation was given to the listeners.

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Doctor Who fan solicits Abu autograph

An interesting fan letter from 2005 found among a collection of TV memorabilia. A very polite and thoughtfully composed letter from an ultra-keen collector of 'The Doctor.' He even goes as far as enclosing a pen, a good idea for an autograph hound on the street but unusual in a soliciting letter (surely?). 850 autographs is pretty good going...could only find one photo of Terence Brown in his role as Abu. By the way the factoid about the early use of dry ice sounds convincing but how true is it?

Dear Mr Brown

I am writing in the hope that you can add to my collection of Doctor Who autographs.

If possible, I should be grateful if you would sign the enclosed cards, which relate to the Doctor Who story The Krotons in which you appeared as the doomed Gond  student "Abu."  His death at the hands of the croutons  was one of the first major uses of dry ice in television drama, and was the catalyst for the Doctor and his friends becoming involved in Gond society. Also enclosed is a pen, which should help with signing certain cards, and a return envelope with sufficient postage for both the cards and a pen.

Of course, I appreciate that Doctor Who is only a very small part of your career, and that you make the firm not to sign certain cards, but I should be grateful if you would return them in any event.

Terence Brown as Abu

Please could you also let me have a signed photograph. I have made one using images from the Doctor Who website, as I realise you may not have any available, but please accept my apologies for the quality. I much prefer a signed picture of the actor, rather than their role in Doctor Who, so I should be grateful for a current photograph if at all possible. These items are solely for my personal collection of over 850 actors and crew from the programme, and I'm quite happy if you would like to dedicate them.

The Krotons is one of the Doctor Who stories for which I have only been able to obtain a couple of autographs, most recently from actor Gilbert Wynne.

I do hope that you will find the time to reply…

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The earliest reference to television in literature

Sent in by loyal jotter RR. Interestingly we recently catalogued a literary magazine edited by Lawrence Durrell 'International Post' (1939) -- it had a TV critic and was full of promise but went to just one highly elusive issue. Our copy sold immediately at a substantial premium.

One strong contender ( I would welcome more examples from readers) must be this poem which appeared in Poems (1936) by Michael Roberts. We don’t have a date for this composition, but it was doubtless written when very short experimental broadcasts using the Baird process were being made late each evening from Alexander Palace during the period 1933- 36.My Christmas 1934 issue of The Radio Times lists these in the radio section. They consisted mainly of a series of dances performed by an elegant lady who was obliged to wear a special designed TV- friendly costume that emphasized stripes and zig-zags. There were also vocal recitals and other simple performances that would easily fit into the twenty minute slot.

When, in 1936, the largely unsuccessful and decidedly clunky, Baird method was replaced by the electronic EMI-Marconi process, a greater flexibility in programming was possible. The time allocated to television was greatly extended and in the three years in which it operated, television gave broadcasters like John Betjeman, John Piper and Geoffrey Grigson, opportunities to become well known to an albeit ( the broadcasts only  reached London and parts of the Home Counties) limited audience.

Alas, all this growing potential came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of the Second World War. [RR]