As this blog now appears to be staying alive I thought I’d give a mention to an upcoming book about British horror films of the 1980s, I’ve written up a couple of bona fide horror titles for the book (Don’t Open Till Christmas, Moonstalker, Attack of the Killer Computer), some borderline entries (The Naughty Dreams of Miss Owen, Return to Waterloo) and proving we're nothing if not comprehensive a few films that never even got made (The Pike, Plasmid). More details about DEAD OR ALIVE - BRITISH HORROR FILMS 1980-1989 can be found in the publicity blurb below:
"DEAD OR ALIVE - BRITISH HORROR FILMS 1980-1989
Limited 'Festival Edition' - available for pre-order right now!
(£20 per copy - please pay via PayPal to Darrell@buxton.freeserve.co.uk)
British horror films? In the 80s? Were there any?!
Prepared to be surprised. 'Dead or Alive' is the new book from the team behind 'The Shrieking Sixties' (British Fantasy Society Award nominee, 2011), and contains full-length, in-depth reviews of a procession of U.K. horror features made during "the decade that the British film industry forgot"!
From the work of major talents such as Stanley Kubrick, Ken Russell, and Clive Barker, through to ambitious amateur items shot on video and Super-8, 'Dead or Alive' covers the whole range. The 80s were a time when the very notion of 'film' and 'filmmaking' changed forever - paving the way for the current 21st century boom in production, and new technologies and freedoms permitting anyone to have a go! As ever, the horror scene back then proved fertile ground for budding tyros and innovators, leaving the 80s awash with a bloody wave of terror both here and globally. Box office and critical hits, cult classics, undiscovered nuggets awaiting attention for over three decades - all are present, in a new book designed to reappraise the 80s as a bustling, inspirational era for British screen chills.
Edited by Darrell Buxton ('Samhain', 'Creeping Flesh', 'Giallo Pages', 'Offbeat', 'We Belong Dead') and with a foreword by pioneering independent director Michael J. Murphy ('Invitation To Hell', 'Nekros', 'Skare', 'Bloodstream'), 'Dead or Alive' contains new writing by a variety of acclaimed U.K. and international contributors. The book includes material on more than 90 British horror feature films, plus substantial sections on movies made for British TV, borderline fare, and short subjects.
From celebrated chillers (HELLRAISER, THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, THE SHINING) to fondly remembered programme fillers and video store favourites (XTRO, INSEMINOID, DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS), not to mention heaps of obscurities (amateur and semi-pro offerings, supporting featurettes, and a forgotten Monty Python-related project among them), we guarantee that 'Dead or Alive' will leave you looking back at the eerie 80s in an entirely new way. Relax!
'Dead or Alive - British Horror Films 1980-1989' will be published in May 2015 but is available for pre-order from March.
The book will be launched at a special event as part of the forthcoming FANTASTIQ festival, May 8-10 at Derby QUAD, and editor Darrell Buxton will also be appearing at the 2015 Southend Film Festival, May 21-25. "
Wednesday, 25 February 2015
Loathe as I am to do so it looks like I may have to cave in to internet censorship and remove a significant amount of content from the gavcrimson blog. Received this email notice from blogger the other day, as it seems did everyone else who runs an ‘adult’ blog.
“Dear Blogger User,
We're writing to tell you about an upcoming change to the Blogger Content
Policy that may affect your account.
In the coming weeks, we'll no longer allow blogs that contain sexually
explicit or graphic nude images or video. We'll still allow nudity
presented in artistic, educational, documentary or scientific contexts, or
where there are other substantial benefits to the public from not taking
action on the content.
The new policy will take effect on 23 March 2015. After this policy comes
into force, Google will restrict access to any blog identified as being in
violation of our revised policy. No content will be deleted, but only blog
authors and those with whom they have expressly shared the blog will be
able to see the content that we've made private.
Our records indicate that your account may be affected by this policy
change. Please refrain from creating new content that would violate this
policy. We would also ask you to make any necessary changes to your
existing blog to comply as soon as possible so that you won't experience
any interruptions in service. You may also choose to create an archive of
your content via Google Takeout
For more information, please look here
The Blogger Team”
This is a pain, albeit not a big surprise, the writing has been on the wall for a while what with google blogs that either have been flagged for adult content by their owners or their readers having been stigmatised by google and left out of their search engine results, and now this. Looking at my opinions it seems like I’d be best to edit the blog down to a ‘safe for work’ version and remove its ‘content warning’, that way hopefully it will avoid the cull at the end of March. Though if it does go down I might then look into starting up a new blog elsewhere. I feel allot more sorry for my friend Russ whose ‘kameraclub’ blog has similarly been marked for death, and clearly won’t even be salvageable under the new blogger rules, meaning all the work he has done on that blog will have been in vain come the end of march. Unlike my blog his is a comparatively new venture, with clearly allot more material that he has yet to share with people and which he no longer can do on blogger. There are some more of his own thoughts on what he can do next here: http://www.thekameraclub.co.uk/.../site-hosting-update.html
By sheer coincidence I had been considering taking my blog away from being so sexploitation heavy and diversifying its subject matter, but I do object to having my hand forced in this matter by censorship, and it is yet another worrying blow for freedom on the internet.
Saturday, 10 January 2015
RIP Lance Percival, I found myself watching him recently in an 1978 episode of Target, where he got to show his range by being cast against comedy type as a detestable hack writer, but he also brought considerable warmth and charm to one of my favourite films, 1968’s ‘Mrs Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter’ where he played spoon playing, aristocratic tramp Sir Percy. On the basis of that role I’ve often thought Percival probably would have made for a decent Doctor Who, his ‘Mrs Brown’ turn suggests he would have slotted in quite well between Pertwee and T. Baker. An affectionate wave goodbye to this English Gent.
Sunday, 21 December 2014
Monday, 15 December 2014
A dark cloud looms over this month, with the news that my internet pal Chris O’Loughlin, who also wrote under the pen name Jonny Sambuca, passed away on the 21st of November, after a battle with cancer. I guess you could say it was Timmy Lea who first caused Chris to enter into my orbit, when Chris contacted me with the idea of him writing a book about the Timmy Lea ‘Confessions of a’ film series. What initially struck me was that Chris was an Australian, born in Hobart, Tasmania, and while I’d been aware that Australia was something of a second home for British sex comedies –with even terrible ones like The Love Pill and Emmanuelle in Soho having been released there- Chris really opened my eyes to just how well loved Robin Askwith’s cinematic sexcapades were ‘down under’. Chris had amassed a huge collection of Confessions related memorabilia from around the world, Yugoslavian stills, Icelandic pressbooks, back issues of Titbits, and ads for cheapskate ‘Confessions’ tie-in competitions with prizes including an electric blanket and a deluxe pop-up toaster, good grief Columbia pictures and Greg Smith were really pushing the boat out with those glittering prizes.
Chris’ main reason for contacting me was due to my friendship with Suzy Mandel, who he’d hoped to interview for the book. A plan that eventually morphed into Suzy writing the ‘outro’ for the chapter about Confessions of a Driving Instructor. I encouraged Chris to seek out further former Confessions starlets for the book, not that he needed my encouragement there, Carol Hawkins initially showed an interest but never got back to him, Chris did however strike up a friendship with Nicola Blackman, ‘Blackbird’ in Confessions from a Holiday Camp. Nicola’s outro to the Holiday Camp chapter turned out to be a superb piece of writing in its own right, and satisfied my own curiosity as to what the actress made of a now rather contentious role thirty odd years on. Chris had hoped to round out the book with an interview with the great man himself, Robin Askwith, but in the event had to make do with archive interviews with Askwith and Greg Smith, originally conducted in the mid to late 2000s.
So much hostility exists towards the Confessions films on home turf, decades of put downs, snobbery and historical revisionism have taken its toll on the series, with much of the criticism predictably emanating from people detached from the working class culture these films were a product of. This was one of the reasons why I threw whatever support I could behind Chris’ book. Much like Su Tune’s Robin Askwith blog, I felt that having being born outside the land these films sprung from was actually their mutual strong point. The likes of Chris and Su never having been tainted by the negativity that haunts these films in the UK, or the fear of being branded ‘unhip’ for saying anything nice about the Confessions series. Sure enough, Chris’ book boasted a true fan’s enthusiasm for the series, with pages and pages of headshots of his favourite characters, the crème de la crème of their Christopher Wood dialogue, and bits and bobs of rarely heard trivia (Suzy was particularly tickled by the revelation that Confessions producer Greg Smith had been a pantomime dame early on in his career.) Chris wasn’t afraid to ruffle a few politically correct feathers either, and fully entered into the spirit of the films by phwoaring over their actresses. Olivia Munday earned his praise for her “great slutty performance”’ in Window Cleaner, whilst in Confessions of a Driving Instructor “Suzy Mandel looks real hands down the front of ya pants horn cracking, the best she has ever looked on film”. Everything about the book spoke of his gratitude for the fun and enjoyment the films had given him over the years “it was a great thrill to be amongst two hundred odd people laughing and hollering from the very first opening to the closing credits” he wrote of attending a 1981 cinema screening of Confessions of a Window Cleaner.
His take on the Confessions films wasn’t entirely in keeping with my own or popular opinion, he wasn’t a big fan of Confessions of a Pop Performer and thought the sequels director Norman Cohen was an notably inferior director to Window Cleaner’s Val Guest (I’ve never seen the join where one ends and the other’s work begins myself). However the book was Chris’ own personal journey to the heart of the Confessions films, and I couldn’t help but respect the time and effort he’d put into it.
Privately I was rather concerned that finding a publisher for such a book would be an uphill struggle, especially with it being a visually driven book, and one that only the expensive, coffee table treatment would have done justice to. Realistically, I have to admit that British sexploitation cinema is a very hard sell to people, harder than say British horror or American sexploitation cinema. I kept my fears to myself though, hoping they were unjustified, and passed onto him the names of just about every niche British publisher I could think of who might pick it up and run with the idea. Their responses were- I gather- a bit muted, with one publisher pretty much echoing my private fears when they turned him down- citing the fact that a similar themed book they’d published had been one of their lowest selling titles.
I didn’t hear back from Chris for a long while after that, and he seemed to disappear from the internet for a time. His silence I’d hoped would be entirely down to him being busy re-tuning the book and pitching it to various publishers, but when he eventually re-emerged ill-health sadly turned out to be the real reason for his absence. “I’m alright at the mo, but long-term unfortunately doesn’t look too positive” he told me back in June. It was around this time that he sent me a 185 page PDF copy of the book, and asked for my feedback. Under normal circumstances I might have chipped in the odd bit of constructive criticism and advice, but given the awfulness of his situation, I felt the need to offer nothing but praise and good will. I did make the suggestion that if all else failed then maybe the book could be published electronically, or self-distributed on data CDs, but I got the impression that he always wanted it to be a ‘real’ book, and besides I suspected his health needed to be his number one priority and that the book was being put on the back burner. In our last correspondence I brought up the subject of Guy N. Smith’s unofficial ‘Confessions’ books, which Chris had given a special visual mention to at the end of his book. Atrocious looking, even by the inglorious standards of Confessions rip-offs, these books were so creatively barren they came up with their names by merely adding the word ‘sexy’ to the titles of pre-existing Askwith films, hence ‘Sexy Confessions of a Window Cleaner’ and ‘Sexy Confessions of a Pop Performer’.
Smith’s writing in these books appears to play second fiddle to softcore photos of lame Askwith and Olivia Munday clones going at it. Whereas in Smith’s horror paperbacks the characters were frequently in danger of being killed by crabs, the models in his Confessions books look more in peril of contracting the crabs. Needless to say, the sneak peek of the Smith knockoffs in Chris’ book makes you instantly want to go out and find one of these monstrosities for yourself. “They are what you would expect” Chris jokingly warned. So our relationship at least ended on a high, and a laugh, with both of us taking the piss out of Guy N. Smith.
In a perfect world, Chris would still be around, I wouldn’t be writing this, and you’d be holding a glossy, hardback, coffee table version of his book in your hands. I can only hope that the book surfaces in one form or another, and I’m heartbroken that he didn’t realize his dream of having it published. It deserves to be regarded as a treasure trove by Confessions fans, and Chris himself deserves to be remembered as a man who flew the flag high for all things Confessions.
Thursday, 11 December 2014
Double Exposure turns out to be that rare beast, an Anouska Hempel vehicle that is actually worth seeing. James Compton (David Baron) a middle-aged fashion photographer accepts a private commission from shipping tycoon Howard Townsend (Alan Brown) to photograph Townsend’s trophy girlfriend/mistress Simone (Hempel). A series of intimate photo-shoots soon unwisely transforms into a secret affair between photographer and subject. However romance gets nipped in the bud when Simone is kidnapped by three criminal former associates of Townsend, who use their knowledge of the affair to blackmail Compton into the dangerous position of acting as middle man between themselves and the crooked Townsend, whose shipping business is a front for arms dealing.
Double Exposure appears to have been independently produced then jointly distributed by two big American companies (Columbia and Warner Brothers), fittingly then it’s a low-budget film that is initially preoccupied with masquerading as a major studio production. Anything that indicates wealth and success, be it characters travelling by Rolls-Royce, private jet and steam train, or country estates and rows of antique cars is treated as visually holy here, and constantly captures the eye and camera of regular British exploitation director of photography Alan Pudney. It doesn’t really have the budget to stretch to A-List stars though, a factor that isn’t necessary a disadvantage. Since as a result, Double Exposure is filled with solid British character actors, all clearly relishing the opportunity to get their hands on larger-than-usual roles for them. David Baron makes for a laid back but efficient hero. With his lived in face and hangdog expressions, Baron is perfectly cast as the Bailey-esque swinging Sixties photographer disgracefully drifting into middle age and unapologetically still wearing jeans and suede jackets to work. You can just about buy into the idea that Simone would go for him, due to a combination of Compton’s own likeability and the despicability of Townsend, who isn’t above slapping Simone around as a way of relieving his frustrations.
Another standout performance comes courtesy of Robert Russell, a prolific TV and film actor, probably best remembered as John Stearne in Witchfinder General. Cast here as Bradley, the head kidnapper, at the outset it’s the type of sadistic goon role that Russell could have played in his sleep, but the character grows more compelling as the film progresses revealing Bradley to be a man who isn’t entirely without his own moral compass. Bradley acts as Simone’s savour at one point when his brutish underlings try to rape her, and attempts to justify his kidnapping of her by pointing out that Townsend himself has committed far worse acts in the pursuit of money. In the process stirring Simon’s long dormant consciousness over the murderous activities that have been funding her and Townsend’s privileged lifestyles.
Hempel is the cast member who has drawn the short straw when it comes to roles here, while male characters develop during the film, Hempel is stuck with a role that goes from beautiful but shallow fashion model to captured damsel in distress. Inevitably evoking unwanted memories of her role in the dreaded Tiffany Jones, and denying her any of the acting sparks that flew by the casting of her as a villainess in Russ Meyer’s Blacksnake. Maybe I’m being a bit unfair on the filmmakers and The Hemp there though, as there is evidence in the film to suggest we are deliberately deceived into thinking of Simone as weak, defenceless and one-dimensional in order to pull the rug from under us right at the very end (the UK and Canadian VHS covers are unfortunately hugely spoilerish in this respect, both drawing on a key image from the final scene in the film).
As double-dealings and plot twists are the name of the game in Double Exposure, we are definitely talking the type of film here where the less you know about the plot going into it, the better. Not that I had much of a choice myself, little having been written about Double Exposure over the years, and the film having an almost invisible presence on the internet. The only passing mention of it I could find on the net being during an overview of Hempel’s career contained within bloodypitofhorror blog’s review of Blacksnake, but even there the reviewer hadn’t managed to see the film and was uncertain whether Double Exposure should be regarded as a horror film or a crime thriller. Having had the benefit of tracking it down, I can confirm Double Exposure to be in the crime thriller camp, albeit with brief, but vicious moments of violence that wouldn’t be out of place in a Pete Walker film of the period. An opening face slashing and shooting to death of a minor character makes the preceding ‘AA’ BBFC certificate card seem quite lenient, but the one scene guaranteed to linger in the memory here finds two of Townsend’s heavies dressed up as cleaning ladies in order to sneak up on a “double crossing bastard” associate of his, who is summarily thrown off the top of a building!
A subplot that sees Compton enlist the help of Patterson, an ex-government boffin who has moved on into computer espionage, brings about the surprise casting of a pre-fame Hazel O’Connor, in one of her two film appearances prior to Breaking Glass (the other one being David Hamilton Grant’s Girls Come First). Briefly cast as the Moneypenny character to Patterson’s ‘M’, O’Connor first shows up as an ordinary office secretary before being given the gem of a request to “put on a mini-skirt and heavy make-up, we’ve got a special assignment for you”. Said assignment involving O’Connor strutting her stuff up Greek street and posing as a hooker in order to distract the thugs Townsend has had trailing Compton. For a laugh keep your eyes peeled for the pervy looks O’Connor gets from real life passers-by during this scene, who don’t appear to be aware they were being filmed.
Apart from Hazel O’Connor, Patterson’s other trick up his sleeve is a (then) futuristic device that Patterson has created by hooking up a phone to a computer which allows him to connect to other people’s computers and steal information stored on them. In what could now be seen as an early example of the internet and computer hacking, showcased here a good few decades before either would become commonplace. “Computer espionage is the trend of the future” predicts Patterson with allot more spot on accuracy than the filmmakers could have ever dreamed of.
While Double Exposure doesn’t quite make it into the same league as say, Get Carter, Sitting Target and The Squeeze, it leaves a decent enough impression for you to question why the film isn’t better known. It’s certainly on a par with a better than average episode of The Sweeney or The Professionals, to which it shares a certain kinship, due to the presence of actors associated with TV shows of that nature and a shared passion for the funkier side of the era’s library music. Nobody gets to walk around or drive about in Double Exposure for very long before some lively piece of 70s library music starts to overpower the soundtrack.
By rights the film should have acted as a calling card for its director to go on and helm episodes of TV action series, much in the way that ‘Freelance’ did for Francis Megahy, but as far as I can tell the credited director/writer/producer William Webb doesn’t appear to have made anything else. Should that unfortunately be the case, Webb can at least take solace in the fact that the one film he did make fetches high prices these days. According to the bloodypitofhorror’s Blacksnake review a Canadian VHS release of Double Exposure recently sold for $250 on Ebay, an eye-opening amount given we’re not talking about a well-known or much sought after film here. In light of the rumours about Anouska Hempel having bought the rights to Tiffany Jones in order to suppress further screenings of said film, is it wicked of me to wonder out loud whether a person willing to pay that much for a VHS of Double Exposure might also be a person with a burning desire to perform a disappearing trick on their former acting career?
Sunday, 23 November 2014
Coming across like a cash strapped Northern cousin of Dick Emery’s ‘Ooh… You Are Awful’ film, A Couple of Beauties offered a one-shot stab at film stardom to female impersonator Bunny Lewis, and is set right in the heart of the Mancunian club land and variety circuit that Lewis knew well. As with the Emery film, a crime thriller premise is what pushes its hero into a frock and high heels here. Lewis plays Bernie Lewisham, a barman who witnesses his boss being gunned down by gangsters in London, and as a result has to flee to his native Moss Side in Manchester with the bad guys in hot pursuit.
Rather than coming up with an effective way of doing a disappearing act, such as putting out a story that you’ve been garrotted by a contract killer then high-tailing it to a Greek island, Lewisham’s spivvy agent Tim Baxter has the idea that Lewisham should reinvent himself as a drag act under the name ‘Bunny Lewis’. An unorthodox scheme that would not only grant Lewisham much needed incognito but conveniently also keep him on Baxter’s books. Despite Lewisham’s protests “me in drag…no…cobblers…not bloody likely” a drag star is soon born, but while finding fame under a feminised version of his name might temporary keep him off the gangsters’ radar, Baxter’s plan has unforeseen consequences. For not only does Lewisham have to reign in his heterosexual urges around the female entertainers he rubs shoulders with in the clubs, he also finds himself the target of lechery and gets hit upon by a series of men played by the likes of James Beck, plus special guest stars Bernard Manning and Colin Crompton. Should Lewisham throw in the towel on the drag act and risk exposing himself to the gangsters, or keep up the pretence of being a woman and risk being exposed to Bernard Manning exposing himself. What is a boy to do?
Both director Francis Searle and co-producer Ronald C. Liles had form making B-level crime thrillers for the likes of Butchers Films in the 1950s and 1960s, and the early scenes in A Couple of Beauties tend to find them caught up in a time warp. The opening murder scene and its nightclub setting being especially ‘Butchers-esque’, a tone that spills on over into the subsequent run around London. Once the setting transfers to Manchester however, Searle and Liles get seduced away from their usual cinematic fare in favour of showcasing the type of variety acts that were doing the rounds in early 1970s Manchester. Namely a toothless toga wearing old goofball pretending to be Mark Antony in a Cleopatra themed turn (with Lewis dragged up as Cleo) and an all-girl pop band whose lack of rhythm and unemotional swaying about on stage is the film’s highpoint in terms of unintentional hilarity. All just evidentially an average night out on the town in Manchester back then, but a history lesson now in what people did for entertainment back in those pre-internet, pre-X Factor days.
As with Cliff Twemlow’s GBH (1983) which treaded similar Manchester nightlife territory, the settings and co-stars offer a window into the times and social circles its star moved in. Lewis’ showbiz connections being confirmed by the presence of James Beck and Pat Coombs –both reportedly close friends of Lewis- there to lend some much needed acting professionalism (Coombs’ take on a Northern accent is far superior to Becks). The songs performed by the girl group were co-written by none other than Kenny Lynch. Filling out the cast is ex-wrestler Tommy Mann, and Manning and Crompton. Mann is of the Milton Reid school of wrestlers turned movie heavies, only with a severe, scene stealing comb-over, and boy do Manning and Crompton look well pissed in this film.
Bunny Lewis: out of and in drag.
Lewis himself is the unlikeliest of leading man, and in truth as out of his depth as an actor as Mann, Crompton and Manning. Diminutive and baby-faced, as a man Lewis has a ‘cheeky cherub’ look to him akin to David Sullivan in the 1970s, but shatters that illusion every time he opens his mouth, revealing a voice that could only come from somebody ‘up North’. Given Lewis’ limited acting ability you get the impression the film can’t wait to get the opening crime flavoured scenes out of the way and push on towards getting Lewis into drag. Make no mistake, rubbish as he was as an actor, Lewis was obviously at the top of his game as a drag act. The ‘rabbit caught in the headlights’ nervousness to his performance completely disappears when he gets into women’s clothes.
It is a pity then that A Couple of Beauties’ storyline and its purpose as a vehicle for Lewis’ talents do occasionally butt heads and leave us with a main character whose behaviour is ermm amusingly inconsistent. Early scenes portraying Lewis as a butch, completely straight guy who is intimidated and appalled by the idea of having to camp it up in order to stay alive, only for him to mysteriously lose all these characteristics the moment he hits the stage. His stage act taking in jokes that sell him as a honorary sister to female audience members (“never buy one of these dresses, it’s like trying to walk with two legs down one knicker”), launching into a song that isn’t shy of gay sexual innuendo (“I see that look when I count to ten, while I just measure them for size”) not to mention tarting it up in the costume department. Lewis’ appearance mid-way thought the film, squeezed into a tight dress and mini-skirt and wearing an oversized blonde wig can’t help but make you think that a career side-line as Diana Dors’ stunt double was a missed opportunity. An obvious opportunity for comedy here would have been to have Lewis initially make a dog’s dinner of impersonating a woman- along the lines of say Bernard Bresslaw in Carry On Girls- but as the raison d'etre here was to capture Lewis’ act in the best light possible, it is a route the film prevents itself from exploring.
Assuming the film presents a reasonably accurate reproduction of Lewis’ stage act, it is a notably outrageous one. Taking into account it would have been played out in the rough and tough, pre-politically correct atmosphere of the Northern clubs, where the mere indication of male homosexuality was likely to have been met with the furrowed brows of audience members. “I just want to be myself in every way, you do what the man says, okay” is the message of Lewis’ musical number, which also takes in Lewis swooning over the prospect that “this great big world is full of different types of men” and suggestively acknowledging the microphone after delivering that “I just measure them for size” line, just in case anyone missed what was being implied there. Kudos to Lewis it must have taken balls to pull off that routine back then, even if the balls in question had to be kept well concealed.
Manchester Plays Itself.
Exploitation angles were available here but are never fully pursued, the girl band members only strip down to their underwear at their digs and the blue comedians in the cast are on their best behaviour. “No blue gags, we’re very particular here, I wouldn’t allow any bad language from anyone, artists or customers” points out a club owner early on in the film. Spelling out what appears to be the film’s own restrictions upon itself, whilst admittedly setting up one of the best visual gags in the film, when no sooner has the club owner laid down those house rules then who should wander into shot than Bernard Manning, no stranger to blue gags and bad language. In retrospect the film might have been wiser to just have gone for an X certificate. Without the armour of tits n’ asses n’ expletives, A Couple of Beauties had to do battle against the likes of the Carry On series in the arena of risqué, but family friendly comedy and doesn’t really have the funds or material to adequately take on the Carry On goliath. The jokes in the Cleopatra routine (“the other snakes wouldn’t let him hiss in their pit”, “kiss my asp”) sounding suspiciously like they’ve been napped from the script of Carry on Cleo. Moments in the film that do embrace honest to goodness vulgarity (“have I got time to go for a slash” asks Lewis after leaving the stage) and regional specific jokes (“she used to think of herself as Oldham’s answer to Raquel Welch”) could to interpreted as the filmmakers’ admission that their little film was never going to win favour with the knobs and the toffs, and play directly to a Northern club mentality.
A Couple of Beauties also suffered the unfortunate fate of being released in the midst of an unexpected slew of films about female impersonators, including Emery’s Ooh you are Awful, Danny La Rue’s Our Miss Fred and Reg Varney’s comparatively sober take on a drag queen’s lot that is the film adaptation of The Best Pair of Legs in the Business. After A Couple of Beauties, Lewis was rarely troubled by film or television again, instead enjoying success outside of the two mediums by continuing his nightclub act, owning his own club in Manchester and appearing in adult pantomimes like ‘Cinder’s a Fella’ and ‘A Puff in Boots’. It wouldn’t be until the early 1990s that Cliff Twemlow tempted Lewis back to the screen with a small role –not featuring him in drag by the way- in GBH 2: Lethal Impact (1991).
At its heart A Couple of Beauties is a harmless, uncynical end of the pier romp, whose only crime appears to be wanting to entertain everyday people, and maybe sneak a bit of Eady money into its handbag when no one is looking. Not that this nor its utter obscurity –it was unknown to even the most die-hard British film and comedy aficionados till a few years ago- prevented it from being trashed in ‘Truly, Madly, Cheaply’. A 2008 BBC2 documentary on Britain’s B-Movie legacy which predictably became uncomfortable with its subject matter once its focus turned to the more exploitative 1970s. “As you watch this film you can see the life haemorrhaging out of the B-Movie form” sneered the narration as clips illustrating the film’s Northern setting, use of transvestite humour and use of Bernard Manning were waved in front of a BBC2 audience in an attempt to extract a mortified response and sense of cultural shame out of them. Follow on clips of the sexual assault scenes from ‘Take An Easy Ride’, and references to a pair of films called ‘Dreams of 13’ and ‘The Younger, The Better’ (conveniently ignoring the fact that those two aren’t even British films) reeks of a hatchet job designed to give the uninitiated the false impression that 1970s British exploitation cinema was all about titillating rape scenes, jailbait fixations and Bernard Manning. A combo likely to alienate and drive a BBC2 audience behind the sofa, rather than pique their curiosity for the decade’s cinematic underdogs.
Going after A Couple of Beauties in that manner seems such a mean-spirited, cheap shot- the phrase ‘shooting fish in a barrel’ comes to mind- that you find yourself being pushed towards the more difficult, but decent path of standing up for the past, and coming out metaphorically swinging in its defence. The measure of a man is –after all- how tall he walks. The irony is that since that documentary went out we’ve seen the British public hoist ‘Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie’ to the top of the UK film chart for two weeks. Demonstrating that the public’s love affair with men in drag and so-called ‘low-comedy’ is alive and well in 2014, and not exactly the forgotten footnote to British cinema that Truly, Madly, Cheaply would have you believe. So maybe A Couple of Beauties gets to have the last laugh here after all.