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:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6104

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6114

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6130

 

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:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6183

 

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.

 

© BBC

 

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:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6367

 

© BBC

 

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:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6441

 

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:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=5707

 

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:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6607

 

From www.wantedinrome.com

 

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:

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=6706

 

© XL

 

To be continued…  Unfortunately.

 

When he was king

 

(c) PolyGram Filmed Entertainment / Gramercy Pictures

 

The world seems a smaller, sadder and quieter place after the passing of boxing superstar and all-round sporting legend Muhammad Ali yesterday.

 

Smaller, sadder, quieter and also less eloquent, less witty and less entertaining: for Ali was a rare thing, a sportsman who’d honed his words to be as devastating as the way he’d honed his body.  You could fill a book with his pronouncements, witticisms and (usually) good-natured insults.  Of Sonny Liston, he said: “The man needs talking lessons.  The man needs boxing lessons.  And since he’s gonna fight me, he needs falling lessons.”  Of George Foreman: “I’ve seen George Foreman shadow boxing and the shadow won.”  Of Joe Frazier: “Joe Frazier is so ugly that when he cries, the tears turn around and go down the back of his head.”  On his refusal to serve in the US Army and fight in Vietnam, he said bluntly: “Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.  No Viet Cong ever called me nigger.”  On aging: “A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”  (Well, that’s me told.)  And of course, on his less-than-modest self: “I’m not the greatest, I’m the double-greatest.  Not only do I knock ’em out, I pick the round.  I’m the boldest, the prettiest, the most superior, most scientific, most skilfullest fighter in the ring today.”

 

In his prime, his gob was massive and his patter was relentless; but still he was an idealistic man who wasn’t afraid to make bold and unpopular decisions.  However out-of-favour he temporarily became, though, through actions such as affiliating himself with the Nation of Islam or refusing the draft, he still ended up the best-known and best-liked American on the planet.  I got a sense of his universal appeal one winter’s day in 1996, while I was living in Sapporo on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.  Out on a freezing ice-and-snow-covered street I encountered a prim, middle-aged lady whom I knew as the mother of one of my Japanese friends.  Where, I asked, was she off to on an inhospitable day like this?  Oh, she said with an eager gleam in her eyes, she was going to the cinema — which was showing When We were Kings, the acclaimed and just-released documentary about Ali’s legendary ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, i.e. his bout with George Foreman for the world heavyweight title in Kinshasa in Zaire in 1974.  The fact that a Japanese housewife could be hurrying to see a documentary about a black American boxer who’d fought his last fight 15 years earlier was a sign of the weird and wonderful world that Ali had created.

 

And in fact I remember that Ali-Foreman fight of 1974 – when it rumbled, in the jungle.  I was a kid in Northern Ireland and no doubt all sorts of Troubles-related mayhem was happening that day, as it seemed to happen every day back then.  But the Rumble was the only thing anyone wanted to talk about the next morning.  We were discussing it, my eight and nine-year-old compadres and I, in the primary-school classroom.  Why, even our primary school teacher – another prim middle-aged lady – was talking excitedly about how Ali had beat Foreman.  And it was the same a year later when he took on Joe Frazier during the ‘Thrilla in Manilla’.  The next day we were rabbiting on about that too.

 

He was a divisive figure for a long time in the US, but 1970s Britain loved him.  He never seemed to be off British telly.  (Did Ali apply his publicity machine equally to every country in the world, I wonder, or did he just get a special kick out of indulging the limeys across the Atlantic?)  He was interviewed several times by Michael Parkinson.  He appeared on This is Your Life with Eamon Andrews.  He sent a cheeky filmed message to English football manager Brian Clough, a man who famously produced as much hot air as he did: “Clough, that’s enough.  Stop it!”   Christ, he even turned up on Jim’ll Fix It and I seem to remember him giving Jimmy Savile a friendly, joshing tap on the chin.  It’s just a pity he didn’t punch Savile’s horrible greasy face down his throat and out of his arse.

 

Ali’s boxing career didn’t end happily.  His 1980 fight against Larry Holmes, for instance, was a horror show.  It’s said that afterwards Holmes felt so bad about beating Ali so humiliatingly that he sat crying in his dressing room.  Thereafter, of course, Ali had to suffer the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s Disease – an affliction whose worst crime, perhaps, was to rob him, the most articulate of men, of the ability to articulate himself.

 

So it’s best to remember him by watching When We Were Kings, a documentary that captures the glory (and, admittedly, some of the grotesqueness) of the Rumble in the Jungle.  It shows you Ali at the peak of his greatness and a surprisingly dark and threatening George Foreman.  (This might come as a shock to a younger generation who know George primarily as the patron of the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine.)  It also allows you to see the 20th century’s most opulently corrupt dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, who’d arranged the staging of the fight in Zaire.  And some of the 20th century’s greatest musicians, like James Brown and B.B. King, whom Mobutu had flown in for a musical gala to accompany it.  And the 20 century’s biggest literary ego, Norman Mailer, who was there to report on it.

 

Norman Mailer, actually, got a book out the event, 1975’s The Fight, which is well worth a read.  It provides a fascinating insight into the mind of the man who believed he was the greatest.  (It also mentions Muhammad Ali.)

 

(c) Penguin Books

 

Muhammad was a giant but he achieved his worldwide celebrity on account of his talents: his athleticism, his grace, his wit, his humour and his bloody-mindedness.  Which puts the modern-day celebrity of, say, Kim Kardashian into pitiful perspective.  And as someone who eventually became one of America’s greatest ambassadors to the rest of humanity – regardless of the often uneasy relationship between him and his mother country – it’s worth remembering that he was a Muslim.  Donald Trump, take note.