The Troggs may have sung that “Love is all around”, but in 2015 I got the impression that another major component of human existence (or non-existence) was all around. Death, not love, seemed to be ubiquitous.
During the year, so many people I admired were kicking the bucket that this blog was in danger of turning into a full-time obituary column. While I wrote about a few people whom I was sad to see go – B.B. King, Christopher Lee, Patrick Macnee and William McIlvanney, for example – I had to exercise real willpower to ignore some of the other deaths of 2015 so that I wouldn’t spend all my time penning tributes to the departed.
So here, just before the year’s end, is a quick mention of some other people who went to meet their maker in 2015 and who’ll be missed by Blood and Porridge.
Hefty kaftan-wearing Greek crooner Demis Roussos died in January. Now I certainly wasn’t a fan of Demis’s output (most famously, Forever and Ever in 1973) but I liked how he was the favourite singer of Beverly, the suburban housewife / heroine / monster in Mike Leigh’s masterful satirical play of 1977, Abigail’s Party. There were many naff musical acts around in the 1970s, but somehow Abigail’s Party wouldn’t have been the same if a singer other than Demis had been warbling in the background at Beverly’s ghastly, chintzy London flat.
And actually, there is a Demis Roussos song in my record collection. He appears on Tales of the Future, the ninth track on the Blade Runner soundtrack album composed by his fellow Greek, Vangelis. Weird, unsettling and occasionally spine-chilling, Tales of the Future is a million miles removed from Forever and Ever. It’s surely Demis’s finest hour.
February saw the death of Leonard Nimoy, who of course played Mr Spock on Star Trek. I wasn’t a Star Trek fan either, but I always liked Nimoy. He was willing to make fun of himself by, for instance, guest-appearing in one of the best episodes of The Simpsons, 1993’s Marge vs. the Monorail. Also, he managed to spend half-a-century hanging out with the dreadful William Shatner without surrendering to the urge to give him the Vulcan Death Grip, which suggests he was a man of saintly patience.
(c) 20th Century Fox
Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld novels, died in March at the age of 66. I’ve never read any of Pratchett’s fiction, which must make me a rarity. But he always seemed a decent bloke who faced up to the disease that finally killed him, early-onset Alzheimer’s, with admirable courage and good humour. (He contemptuously referred to his Alzheimer’s as the ‘the embuggerance’.)
Another fantasy writer, Tanith Lee, died in May. I enjoyed her macabre fiction when I was a teenager – I came across short stories of hers like Eustace (in 1968’s Ninth Pan Book of Horror Stories) and A Room with a Vie (in 1980’s New Terrors 1). In later years, I heard that she had difficulty getting her books into print – though when I looked at her Wikipedia entry after her death, I was surprised at how extensive her published work was. Presumably, though, the bulk of the titles were put out by small publishers and so had passed below my radar.
Charles Kennedy, former MP and the Liberal Democrat Party leader for seven years until 2006, died in June. In 2003, he was the only major political leader with the gumption to oppose British participation in the disastrous invasion of Iraq. And in the 2005 general election, his party won 62 seats, its highest total since 1923. However, the Liberal Democrats dumped him as leader when rumours surfaced about him being overly fond of a drink and he was replaced by Menzies ‘Ming’ Campbell. Ming was himself dumped a year later because his party feared he was too old to appeal to the voters.
The Liberal Democrats finally chose to be led by the young, sober and uncomfortably Blair-esque Nick Clegg. He formed a coalition government with the Conservatives in 2010, ensuring that David Cameron became Prime Minister – and alienating so many of the Liberal Democrats’ previous supporters that they were slaughtered in the 2015 general election and ended up with just eight MPs. A clear illustration of the old adage about being careful about what you wish for.
Charlie Kennedy was affable, amusing and generally in possession of something that most politicians lack, a personality. I just wish he’d reacted to the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition (which he wasn’t happy about) by quitting the party and becoming an independent. If he’d done that, I suspect he’d have had a better chance of hanging onto his constituency of Ross, Skye and Lochaber, which he lost to the SNP in the 2015 election.
Venerable British character actor Ron Moody died in June at the age of 91. Moody is best-known for playing Fagin in Oliver! (1968), Sir Carol Reed’s film adaptation of the Lionel Bart musical that itself was an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. I have to say, though, that I find the glorified Cockney singalong that is Oliver! annoying. Instead, I prefer Moody’s appearances in various low-budget British comedy, crime, horror and children’s films, for example, The Mouse on the Moon (1963), Murder Most Foul (1964), Legend of the Werewolf (1975) and the UK Disney movie The Spaceman and King Arthur (1979), in which he played Merlin to Kenneth More’s King Arthur, John Le Mesurier’s Sir Gawain and Jim Dale’s Sir Mordred.
Cecil the Lion was slain just outside Hwange National Park in Matabeleland in Zimbabwe at the start of July. His killer was American dentist and would-be big-game hunter Walter Palmer. I can only surmise that Palmer carried out this pointlessly cruel deed in the belief that it would increase his penis size. And maybe it’s worked. Maybe now Palmer’s penis is no longer two millimetres long. Maybe now it’s three millimetres long.
(c) The Daily Telegraph
American wrestler and actor Roddy Piper died in July. I’ll cherish Piper for his performance in the 1988 science-fiction movie They Live, directed by John Carpenter. Piper plays a down-at-heels labourer who finds a mysterious pair of glasses that show the world as it really is – run by skull-faced capitalist aliens who, in league with earth’s yuppie classes, are stripping the planet of its resources whilst keeping the general population docile by bombarding them with subliminal messages telling them to consume, watch TV and not ask questions. Carpenter meant They Live as a satire of Ronald Reagan-era America; but nowadays, in this era of multinationals, oligarchs and law-onto-themselves banks, the film seems ten times more relevant than it was then.
July also saw the passing of another British character actor, Aubrey Morris. Morris popped up in various British horror movies that made an impression on my teenaged self: 1971’s Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (in which he perishes in a blast of malevolent, ancient-Egyptian psychic energy directed at him by Valerie Leon), 1973’s The Wicker Man (in which he plays an eccentric gravedigger who winds up Edward Woodward) and 1985’s bonkers Lifeforce (in which he, Peter Firth and Frank Finlay try to deal with a brazenly naked space-vampire lady played by Mathilda May). Morris had a wonderful screen persona – he resembled an even twitchier and more sinister version of Freddie Jones.
(c) British Lion Films
In August actor George Cole died. Book-ending Cole’s career were two famous performances as Cockney wheeler-dealers. In the St Trinian’s film comedies from 1954 to 1966, he played the pencil-moustached spiv Flash Harry who skulks about St Trinian’s School and schemes with its unruly female pupils – bottling the gin they’ve cooked up in the chemistry lab and placing their bets on the horse-races. Rationing ended in Britain the same year as the first St Trinian’s film; so the spiv, with his black-market connections, was a familiar figure to British cinema audiences at the time.
Three decades later Cole played Arthur Daley, used-car salesman, would-be importer / exporter and general dealer in dodgy goods, in the 1980s TV comedy-drama Minder. This chimed with the times as well – the 1980s being the era that Margaret Thatcher supposedly gave free rein to Britain’s entrepreneurial instincts. (One Minder episode sees Arthur’s long-suffering sidekick Terry, played by Dennis Waterman, accusing Arthur of fancying Mrs T – his boss has her portrait hanging on his office wall. Arthur retorts that he admires certain of her ‘womanly attributes’. Yuck.)
August was also the month that American horror-film director Wes Craven died. I have mixed feelings about Craven’s films and I consider The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and even A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) overrated. But I loved his Scream movies – the first two of them (1996 and 1997) anyway – and I’m fond of his neglected 1991 film The People under the Stairs which, like They Live, has a few things to say about Ronald Reagan-era America.
And alas, 2015 was when we said goodbye to Uggie, the Jack Russell terrier who stole the show from his human co-stars Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo and John Goodman in the Oscar-winning 2011 movie The Artist. Uggie shuffled, or snuffled, off this mortal coil on August 7th.
More deaths to follow…