Still, I can't wait to try out the new train station.....
Still, I can't wait to try out the new train station.....
Here is a picture of Stephen at Pinewood in the seventies with a guest he was showing around. Stephen tells me that behind him is a large shooting stage door. At one stage, this door was painted red and used as the fire station building in "Fahrenheit 451".
Pinewood had extensive grounds at the rear of the studio, known as the 'back-lot', where all the exterior sets are constructed. The most memorable sets that I recall were the the 'city of Loudon'. This was a massive set that had a large cathedral at one end and a wall and other small buildings constructed in a circular fashion all in white. This was for Ken Russell's film "The Devils". The other set was the 'Baker Street' set for Billy Wilder's "Private Life of Sherlock Holmes". Unlike many sets that are 'struck' or destroyed after the film has finished shooting, this set sat around for several years and was utilised on several Pinewood productions such as the 'Carry On's and the Hammer film "Hands of the Ripper". Eventually, due to several of Britain's severe winters. the set was torn down. Unlike Hollywood studios where the climate is more even and hot. Outdoor sets can last for decades.
The 'Baker Street' set from "Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" is seen here utilised in Carry On At Your Convenience!
Here is a call-sheet for Diamond Are Forever, from Stephen's personal collection.
Here's a fabulous shot, again from Stephen's private collection - This one is of John Barry recording the soundtrack to Diamonds Are Forever..... Stephen can be seen in the shot on the far right hand side!
Ron catching some children trying to bury their dead pet hamster in the grounds of the Classic Cinema. They tell him that they keep burying him in the garden at home but the dog keeps digging him up again! Ron explained that they couldn't really do that, but offered to pop the poor wee fella in the incinerator in the bowels of the cinema as a cremation! The kids agreed and were delighted with the send off (Ron even muttering a few words along the lines of "God bless out pet"!!). The children went off very happy, and the parents later come down to thank Ron, and say that it had really cheered the children up giving their pet a proper send off. Cue a steady stream of parents, kids and dead pets from then on! Classic quote of the night when Ron says rather sheepishly something along the lines of "there were so many at one point, I think the parent were killing 'em"!
Ron used to show the Rocky Horror Picture Show as a Friday late nighter every six weeks at the Classic cinema. I remember this well and went to it on numerous occasions. On these nights Ron used to open up a third toilet, one for him, one for her and one for him dressed as her!
Apparently there was a natural spring directly underneath the Classic cinema, with various contraptions within the building to keep the water at bay. During one Saturday morning children's show, the system broke down, and the cinema started to fill with water. As the auditorium was sloped, the 'screen end' was filling up quickly as was soon deep enough to jump in! The kids went crazy for it and were diving in from all angles! Ron said that all the dye was coming out of the plush carpet, and it turned all the kids red!
Playing a trick on a regular punter who always used to fall asleep. Ron got his staff to dress up as cleaners and push the hovers round the sleeping gents feet. Once he was awake they pretended it was 10.30 the next morning (rather than the 10.30pm that it actually was)... "my wife will kill me" he screamed, as he shot out the door!
An elderly couple visiting Ron when he was the manager of the Regal cinema in Rayleigh. The cinema was about to close for the last time, and the couple asked if they could have two specific seats. Alternative (and much easier to dismantle!) seats were offered, but they were adamant on the two selected... these were the seats that they had sat in on their first date, throughout their courtship and every other visit from then to the current day. To his eternal credit, Ron set to work unbolting the seats from the row, and eventually had separated them from the floor... Only for them to say "Can you bring them round to our house and fit them please?". He did too!
There was also a Q&A session with the audience, and during it, I finally got an answer to a question that I've pondered for years.... Look at these two pictures of the same cinema (there are some considerable decades between the two shots!):
There was a great 'South West' episode of the wonderful 'Comedy Map of Britain' TV programme a few years back (oddly, I've caught this very episode at least twice this year whilst flicking through the satelite channels), and they dedicated some time to the Gleneagles Hotel, and the odd behavior of its manager. Stories include Sinclair throwing a bus timetable at a guest who dared to ask when the next one to town was, verbally abusing Terry Gilliam because his table etiquette "wasn't British", and the famous chucking of Eric Idle's suitcase over a wall because Mr Sinclair thought it might have contained a bomb!
Michael Palin's excellent book - "Diaries 1969-1979 - The Python Years" has a couple of entries in May 1970 relating to this episode. Palin notes that Sinclair "seemed to view us as a colossal inconvenience right from the start”, and goes on to say that when he and Graham Chapman decided to leave the hotel after just one night, the Sinclair's gave them a bill for two weeks! Chapman too wrote about the experience in his book "A Liar's Autobiography", where he described Sinclair as "completely round the twist, off his chump, out of his tree". Cleese has said of Sinclair that he was "the most marvellously rude man I've ever met".
Almost all of the Pythons checked out of the Gleneagles rather quickly, in favour the Imperial Hotel down the road. But John Cleese stayed on for weeks, and even invited his then wife Connie Booth to join him and marvel at their host.... and comedy gold was born!
The first series of Fawlty Towers was broadcast in 1975, however an early prototype of Basil Fawlty was actually aired several years earlier in 1971. John Cleese was a writer for the sitcom Doctor in the House, and in the the third series (which by then was titled Doctor at Large) one of the doctors checks in to a hotel, owned by a very aggressive and incompetent manager!
There's a clip of this Doctor at Large episode on YouTube, but the rotter has disabled embedding... but if you're keen to see a non-Cleese Basil Fawlty, click here.
A number of stories used in Fawlty Towers were based on second hand accounts of Sinclair. The episode The Builders was inspired by an incident involving several builders who had come to rebuild Sinclair's garden wall. Sinclair's berating of Terry Gilliam must have been the inspiration behind the Waldorf Salad episode. And the "we've had a bomb scare" moment in Basil the Rat must surely relate to poor old Eric Idle's suitcase! Oh and Sinclair really did employ cheap foreign labour too, many of whom suffered abusive treatment from him. And the coincidences don't stop there either, many years later, in the interminable film Rat Race, John Cleese plays an eccentric hotel owner called Donald Sinclair!
However the Gleneagles is not the building shown in the opening titles of Fawlty Towers, as many think... in fact none of the programme was ever filmed in Torquay. Those opening credits show Wooburn Grange Country Club at Bourne End in Buckinghamshire (which was alas demolished in the early 1990's).
Oh and guess who's voice was merrily chirping away on my Tom-Tom as we drove past the Gleneagles, yup John Cleese! Weird!
|Definition:||To amuse oneself in a light, frolicsome manner.|
|Synonyms:||cavort, frisk, frolic, gambol, lark, rollick, romp, run around, skylark, sport|
Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves.
Henry David Thoreau