Death log 2016 – part 1


© American International Pictures


You may have noticed that one or two people died in 2016.  Here are some folk who passed away this year who’ll be particularly missed at Blood and Porridge.


January 10th saw the departure of musical legend and stylistic chameleon David Bowie, who was commemorated in no fewer than three postings on this blog:


Die Hard (1988)
Directed by John McTiernan
Shown: Alan Rickman

© Silver Pictures / 20th Century Fox


The British actor Alan Rickman died four days later.  Rickman’s career, and especially his talent for playing delightfully fiendish villains in movies like Die Hard (1988) and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991), was also celebrated at Blood and Porridge:


January 9th saw the passing of American actor Angus Scrimm, who’ll be fondly remembered by horror-film fans for playing the Tall Man in Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm movies.  And Scottish writer Robert Banks Stewart died on January 15th.  Banks Stewart was well-known for creating the TV detective shows Shoestring (1979-80) and Bergerac (1981-91) and he also scripted two of the scariest stories of Tom Baker-era Doctor Who, 1975’s Terror of the Zygons and 1976’s The Seeds of Doom.  The alien monsters in the former adventure, the repulsively slimy and sucker-covered Zygons, proved so popular that forty years later they’re still menacing Peter Capaldi in the revived Doctor Who.




Another British actor to depart in January 2016 was actor Frank Finlay, who passed away on the 30th.  Finlay played Porthos in the classic trilogy of Musketeers films directed by Richard Lester in 1973, 1974 and 1989; Van Helsing in the BBC’s stately adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1977; and Dr Fallada in a less reputable vampire epic, Tobe Hooper’s hilarious Lifeforce (1985).  He also had the curious distinction of playing Inspector Lestrade in two different films where Sherlock Holmes investigates the Jack the Ripper killings, 1965’s A Study in Terror and 1979’s Murder by Decree.  The final day of January saw the death of Irish broadcaster Terry Wogan, whose twinkly-eyed, possibly toupee-bearing visage seemed to symbolise the BBC during the 1980s as much as Ronald McDonald did McDonald’s or Colonel Sanders did the KFC.  Equipped with a soft brogue, gentle wit and inability to take himself or anyone else too seriously, the ubiquitous Wogan could host any ropey old chat-show or game-show and make it entertaining.


Italian author Umberto Eco died on February 19th.  I always thought his acclaimed novel The Name of the Rose (1980) was overrated, but at least the film version six years later gave Sean Connery one of his last good film roles.  On February 22nd, the British cinematographer Douglas Slocombe passed away at the venerable age of 103.  Slocombe’s half-century career included such highlights as Dead of Night (1945), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Servant (1963), The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), The Italian Job (1969), The Great Gatsby (1974) and the first three Indiana Jones movies (1981, 84 and 89).  Another great behind-the-scenes man of British cinema, production designer Ken Adam, died on March 10th.  Not only was Adam responsible for the spectacular and now iconic sets of seven James Bond movies between Dr No (1961) and Moonraker (1979), but he designed the War Room in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove (1964), reckoned by Steven Spielberg to be the greatest movie-set ever.


© Hawk Films / Columbia Pictures


Another Kubrick veteran, the actress Adrienne Corri who appeared in 1971’s A Clockwork Orange, died on March 13th.  Among her other credits was a role in the bloody but fairy tale-like Hammer horror movie Vampire Circus (1972).  Two days later saw the death of Sylvia Anderson, the one-time Mrs Gerry Anderson, co-producer of such classic kid’s puppet TV shows as Stingray (1964-65), Thunderbirds (1965-66), Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-68) and Joe 90 (1968-69) and such adult sci-fi TV shows as UFO (1970)  and Space 1999 (1975-77).  In Thunderbirds, she also provided the voice for the gorgeous and glamorous, though frankly plastic, Lady Penelope.  Author Barry Hines died on March 18th.  His most famous work was A Kestrel for a Knave (1968), which a year after its publication was filmed as Kes by mighty British director Ken Loach.


© ITC Entertainment


The comedy world took a treble hit in spring 2016.  The English comedienne, actress, writer and director Victoria Wood died on March 24th; the Scottish comedian and comic performer Ronnie Corbett on March 31st; and the great American stand-up, actor, writer and producer Gary Shandling on April 20th.  The passing of the impish and fruity-toned Corbett prompted this tribute from Blood and Porridge:




Welsh actor Gareth Thomas, who played intergalactic freedom-fighter Roj Blake in the BBC’s downbeat 1970s space opera Blake’s Seven, died on April 13th.  Surely the most traumatic TV moment ever came at the end of Blake’s Seven’s final episode, which sees Blake bloodily gunned down by his second-in-command Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow) who wrongly suspects him of treachery.  (“Have you betrayed us?  Have you betrayed… me?!”)  A week later, on April 20th, film director Guy Hamilton passed away.  Hamilton was another James Bond alumni with four 007 movies under his belt, most notably 1964’s Goldfinger.  And April 21st was a day when another great musical talent was snuffed out: Prince.  Blood and Porridge paid its respects to the saucy purple one here:


On April 24th we bid adieu to two character actors who’d enlivened many an old British B-movie: Australian Lewis Fiander, who’d had supporting roles in the horror movies Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) and Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972) and was the leading man in Narciso Ibanez Serrador’s splendidly creepy Spanish film Who Can Kill a Child? (1976); and British-Chinese actor Burt Kwouk, who was best known for playing Inspector Clouseau’s manservant Cato in the Pink Panther movies, though he’d appeared in a lot of movies and TV shows besides.  Kwouk was a big favourite at Blood and Porridge, which published this tribute to him a year ago:


By June, the month when the United Kingdom voted for Brexit, it was clear that 2016 was going to be remembered as a monumentally shite year.  This unhappy fact seemed to be reinforced by the passing of the great Muhammad Ali on June 3rd, which was recorded on this blog here:




June 12th saw the death of one of Scotland’s more outré eccentrics, Tom Leppard, aka the Leopard Man, who was reckoned by the Guinness Book of Records to be the world’s most tattooed man.  A former soldier, Leppard had his body covered in a leopard-skin pattern of spots and spent much of his later life living in a remote bothy on the Isle of Skye.  On June 19th, the American-Russian actor Anton Yelchin died in a tragic freak accident.  Aged just 27 at the time of his death, Yelchin had made a name for himself in impressive movies like Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) and Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room (2015), as well as in the rebooted Star Trek movies where he played Chekov.  And Bud Spencer, the burly Italian Olympian swimmer and comic actor, died on June 27th.  In partnership with Terence Hill, Spencer made 20 movies of rumbustious and destructive slapstick that regularly turned up as supporting features in British cinemas during the 1970s.  Watch Out, We’re Mad (1974) and Crime Busters (1977) are particularly fondly remembered at Blood and Porridge.


Finally, June ended and July began with what Blood and Porridge dubbed ‘the curse of the Radiohead video.’  No sooner had the avant-garde British rock band released a video for their new song Burn the Witch, which combined the look and the Claymation animation style of the classic British TV children’s shows Camberwick Green (1966), Trumpton (1967) and Chigley (1969) with the plot of the classic British folk-horror movie The Wicker Man (1974), than: (1) Gordon Murray, producer and animator of those children’s shows died on June 30th; and (2) The Wicker Man’s director Robin Hardy died on July 1st.  Here’s what Blood and Porridge had to say about Hardy:


© XL


To be continued…  Unfortunately.


I’ll get you, John McClane / Robin Hood / Harry Potter!


(c) Silver Pictures / Gordon Company / 20th Century Fox


I’ve been suffering from death exhaustion recently.  During the last few months the death-toll among the great and the good – Lemmy, David Bowie, etc. – has been appallingly high and when actor Alan Rickman also popped his clogs on January 14th, I simply hadn’t the energy to write and post yet another tribute on this blog.  However, I thought now, a fortnight after the event, I’d pen a few belated words in his memory.


Rickman was an acclaimed theatrical actor whose CV included Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, Antony and Cleopatra), Chekov (The Seagull), Ibsen (John Gabriel Borkman), Noel Coward (Private Lives), Christopher Hampton (Les Liaisons Dangereuses) and Theresa Rebeck (Seminar).  But because I’ve lived for most of my life out in the sticks and away from the world’s great theatrical hubs, my only exposure to Rickman’s acting talents was through his movies.  Where, of course, he was fantastically good at being despicably bad.


Yes, Rickman may have found it a pain in the arse but for many people he was the greatest purveyor of cinematic villainy in the last 30 years.  Fiendishly dapper-looking in a suit but way too intelligent-sounding to make a regulation Hollywood leading man, and blessed with the ability (in the words of John Sessions) “to talk without actually letting his lips touch his teeth”, he was an inspired choice for the role of criminal mastermind Hans Gruber in Die Hard, the influential high-octane action / disaster movie of 1988.


(c) Silver Pictures / Gordon Company / 20th Century Fox


Gruber and his henchmen spoil Christmas for policeman John McClane (Bruce Willis) and his missus (Bonnie Bedelia) by turning up and hijacking the corporate skyscraper in which Mrs McClane and her colleagues are holding their festive works party.  And while the audience-members are officially on the side of Willis as he worms his way through the building’s ventilation shafts trying to foil Gruber’s plan – to pinch $640 million’s worth of bearer’s bonds from the building’s vault – I’m sure quite a few of them are secretly hoping that the vilely charming and entertaining Gruber will win.  He certainly gets the best lines.  When he takes Bedelia hostage and she accuses him of being “nothing but a common thief,” he retorts, “I am an exceptional thief, Mrs McClane.  And since I’m moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.”


In fact, Rickman is so good in Die Hard that you really miss him in the sequel, 1990’s Die Hard 2.  His absence leaves a hole in the second film that’s so big you could fly one of its Boeing 747 jets through it.  Die Hard 2’s main baddie is played by William Sadler, an actor whom I like but who can muster only about 2½ on the Rickman Villainy Scale.  No wonder that for the series’ third episode, 1995’s Die Hard with a Vengeance, they brought in Jeremy Irons to play Hans Gruber’s equally evil kid brother, Simon Peter.  Wow, those Grubers must have been one dysfunctional family from hell.


Irons, by the way, was just one of many English thespians who must have thanked Rickman for the work he sent their way.  Once Rickman had set the trend for hiring highbrow English actors to play European (or Arab) scumbag villains in blockbusting Hollywood action movies, they were all at it: Charles Dance (in 1993’s The Last Action Hero), Art Malik (in 1994’s True Lies), David Suchet (in 1996’s Executive Decision) Gary Oldman (in 1997’s Air Force One), etc.  Things got so extreme that in the 1993 Sylvester Stallone movie Cliffhanger, the evil baddie was played by an American actor, John Lithgow, but the filmmakers got him to sound English.


Happily, Die Hard wasn’t Rickman’s only foray into screen villainy for, three years later, he appeared in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as the Sheriff of Nottingham.  Rickman was dubious about accepting the part and told the playwright, scriptwriter and director Stephen Poliakoff beforehand, “I’m about to ruin my career!”  In particular, he had a low opinion of the script and later confessed to rewriting his dialogue away from the set, in a Pizza Hut, with some friends (one of them the comedienne Ruby Wax).


(c) Morgan Creek / Warner Brothers


Now on paper Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves should be dire.  It has the twin handicaps of a flat, leaden (and all-American) performance by Kevin Costner in the title role; and a theme song, Bryan Adams’ Everything I do, I do it for You, which was so shite it spent 16 consecutive weeks at number one in the UK singles chart and, even today, is commonly played at the weddings of people with no taste in music whatsoever.  However, Rickman was a great actor and, like all great actors, he could appear in a piece of crap and make it entertaining.  Which Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is, at least for as long as he’s onscreen.


Once again, Rickman gets the best lines – well, he would do if he had Ruby Wax secretly doctoring them.  When he threatens to cut out Robin Hood’s heart “with a spoon” and Sir Guy of Gisborne asks him why a spoon and not an axe, he retorts: “Because it’s dull, you twit!  It’ll hurt more.”  (Later, after he stabs Gisborne to death, he comments, “At least I didn’t use a spoon.”)  And he’s truly horrid when he loses his temper: “Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings!”  And there’s worse: “Cancel Christmas!”  It’s a barnstorming performance that would scarcely look out of place in a pantomime, but audiences loved him for it.  It even netted him a BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1992.  Accepting the award from Helen Mirren, Rickman noted wryly, “This will be a healthy reminder that subtlety isn’t everything.”


When J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels started getting the film treatment in the early noughties, there was of course only one man the producers could turn to when it came to casting Hogwarts’ evilest schoolmaster, Professor Snape – though later Harry Potter instalments suggest that Snape might not be as rotten as he appears to be.  I like the books but don’t think much of the films.  I find them convoluted and stodgy; and in trying to be faithful to the myriad twists and turns of Rowling’s plots, they paradoxically don’t leave much space onscreen for her characters to come to life.  That said, Rickman is one of the best things in them.


(c) Heyday Films / 1492 Productions / Warner Brothers


Elsewhere, Rickman essayed further villainy in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007).  And he was sort-of-villainous as Éamon de Valera in Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins (1996); where, to quote the critic Roger Ebert, de Valera, the dominant figure of 20th-century Irish politics, is portrayed as a “weak, mannered, snivelling prima donna whose grandstanding led to decades of unnecessary bloodshed in, and over, Ireland.”  Rickman also excelled at science fiction, playing a Mr Spock-type figure in the amusing Star Trek piss-take, Galaxy Quest (1999) and providing suitably lugubrious vocals for Marvin the Paranoid Android in the movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005).


His death two weeks ago was greeted with dismay by many actors and actresses who’d worked with him: Emma Thompson, Ralph Fiennes, Daniel Radcliffe, Kate Winslet, Brian Cox, Colin Firth and so on.  I could understand their sense of loss – he seemed like a great bloke.  Though especially when he was playing a shit.