Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

'70s British cinema & the curious case of Barry Evans

Today we look back at Seventies British cinema - which brings to mind that famous quote from THE GO-BETWEEN: "The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there". 70s British cinema began quite well with those well-regarded films like SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY, THE GO-BETWEEN (an award winner at Cannes) and DON'T LOOK NOW, as directors like Schlesinger, Losey and Roeg were at their peaks; and there were cult hits like THE WICKER MAN (originally sent out on release as supporting feature to DON'T LOOK NOW)..  British television was also good then in the early '70s, with series like COUNTRY MATTERS, WESSEX TALES, the BBC's TAKE THREE GIRLS and the hit ITV series UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS (the DOWNTON ABBEY of the era). 
The UK still only had three television channels (BBC1, ITV and BBC2, Channel 4 did not start until late 1982), video had yet to arrive - I got my first recorder in December 1979, so one either saw things at the time or missed them. BBC had a great series of sitcoms, we loved HI-DE-HI, ARE YOU BEING SERVED? and DAD'S ARMY. ITV sitcoms were generally weaker, and seen as a bit dim or low rent. I have to admit I did not bother with series like those spin-offs like DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE, DOCTOR AT LARGE or the later MIND YOUR LANGUAGE which ran from 1977 to 1986, all featuring Barry Evans (1943-1997), today's subject, or those series with Richard O'Sullivan, a spin-off from GEORGE AND MILDRED, though that may be my loss.

HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH 
As the Seventies wore on British cinema still turned out some interesting films, usually featuring Glenda Jackson (probably England's busiest actress then)  with either Oliver Reed, Alan Bates, Michael Caine or Peter Finch - titles like TRIPLE ECHO, STEVIE, RETURN OF THE SOLDIER - she is terrific leading that cast in NASTY HABITS, and there's the dreadful THE INCREDIBLE SARAH - Glenda kept churning them out; I saw her on stage too in THE MAIDS with Susannah, which was also filmed (and in THREE SISTERS at the Royal Court in 1968 - Glenda label).
People still went to the cinema a lot, the 70s was a great decade for European cinema and that new American cinema of Altman, Scorsese, Coppola, De Palma etc The CARRY ONs and Hammer Films were still going too even if getting tattier by the day, soft porn was invading them too ..... which brings me to a double bill I recorded the other day, which was on sometime during the night on one of those cable channels: ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER and ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE, dating from 1976 and 1977, when the tat really hit the fan.
Now lets go back to 1968, when the two Swinging London films we loved (being in our early 20s at the time) were SMASHING TIME (Rita Tush and Lynn Redgrave come down from the North to wreck havoc in George Melly's delightful script as directed by Desmond Davis - see label) and Clive Donner's HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH set in Stevenage New Town with a great cast of new faces (Barry Evans, Judy Geeson, Adrienne Posta, Angela Scoular) and that Traffic score - it caught the scene perfectly, my pal Stan and I loved it. The brief nudity in it was fresh and engaging too - not cheap and tatty as in those later films.

Smut though was coming to the fore by the early 70s - kinky as in DORIAN GRAY or GOODBYE GEMINI (see Trash, 70s, British labels for more on these) but generally cheap and unfunny as in those CONFESSIONS OF A WINDOW CLEANER and others featuring the charmless chump Robin Askwith (still going now, as in the BENIDORM series which seems to have lost the plot completely). Then there was PERCY in 1971 and those Hywel Bennett films, like the mess they made of Joe Orton's LOOT .... Then there was that spate of '70s British gangster movies (covered here already, British label), like ALL COPPERS ARE, THE SQUEEZE, VILLAIN, SITTING TARGET, HENESSEY etc. and John Wayne (with toupee) taking on the '70s London underworld in the very enjoyable BRANNIGAN.

After MULBERRY BUSH Barry Evans had a small part in Donner's next, the interesting ALFRED THE GREAT in 1969 (David Hemmings and Michael York leading), and he was busy in television including those series mentioned. However in 1976 he starred in a CONFESSIONS OF ... rip-off titled ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER, which was an interesting view to flick through quickly (one would hardly want to see them in real time) with its follow-up ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE - Barry bailed out of that one, the lead was a charmless nonentity called Christopher Neil. There was even a CONFESSIONS OF A PLUMBER'S MATE, but we were spared that - all directed by one Stanley Long - dare one mention him.
What was so depressing about these apart from they being desperately unfunny was seeing Barry and the MULBERRY BUSH girls (Geeson, Scoular, Posta) re-united a decade later but now given nothing to do apart from situations where their clothes fall off, and seeing the likes of Diana Dors (cheerfully playing the blowsy, harridan mother in both epics), Suzy Kendall, Liz Fraser, Harry H Corbett, Fred Emney, Irene Handl, Ian Lavender, Julian Orchard, Jon Pertwee, Anna Quayle, William Rushton etc roped in and given nothing to do. It may have been the only work going, but they would hardly have earned much for doing a day or two on poverty row productions like these. It must have been a lean time for comedians and young actors when the British cinema - so prolific in the '50s and '60s - was now on its knees and just producing smutty rubbish. At least the guys had to strip off too, as Barry or Chris had to run naked from various ladies' bedrooms as the husband returned ... presumably that had them rolling in the aisles. 

Barry's MIND YOUR LANGUAGE series ran until 1986 and his last credit was in 1993. By then he was a taxi driver in real life, in Melton Mowbray, where he was found dead in 1997, aged 53, in rather mysterious circumstances. 
The circumstances of his early death remain a mystery; He was found dead in his bungalow in Leicestershire, England with bottles of whiskey and aspirins nearby. A youth was charged with his murder, but acquitted on lack of evidence. A local coroner later recorded an open verdict.
There was also some story about him being involved with a rentboy, and having had a blow to his head - maybe by the youth mentioned above. A sorry end to when he was 18 and won a scholarship to train for the stage at the Central School of Speech and Drama. 

Sad how some actors' careers and lives pan out .... some die too young (Stanley Baker), some careers are over before the actor dies (Stephen Boyd, Laurence Harvey), some simply vanish - like the interesting case of Jeremy Spenser (see label), a 1950s actor who was the young prince in THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL, and in SUMMERTIME, THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE, FERRY TO HONG KONG etc, which shows that acting with Monroe, Olivier, Katharine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Orson Welles is no guarantee of a long career. As I have said before, most personable actors though if they are fortunate get ten good years and can usually parlay that into smaller roles as they get older: Michael York, Terence Stamp etc. 
Next: a look at those pals Oliver Reed and David Hemmings and how their careers intertwined and changed over the years, as they did ...  

8 comments:

  1. Dear Heart, (and it's a fabulous film which you must must must get),

    If you are going to quote from a fillum or a book then at least get it right! The quote is "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there". Otherwise fab article that has made me want to see HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH again. I know it's just come out on bluray. Now should I buy it, he asks himself!

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  2. Yes, that was a typo on my part. how kind of you to correct me.

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  3. DEAR HEART is next to factor in this week ..... It should be nice to see Geraldine away from the Tennessee Williams histrionics, and Dame Angela in bitch mode again.

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  4. I loved MULBERRY BUSH again when re-saw it recently and have the dvd, it brings it all back, just like BLOW-UP or SMASHING TIME.

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  5. Nice piece Mike. One small point - Mind Your Language did not really run till 1986. It was axed by Michael Grade at LWT in 1981 and then revived for one series in 1986 after he'd moved on to the BBC. About half the original cast ( including Evans ) were involved in the re-boot.

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