Monday 29 August 2011

Emma Peel and the case of the fake moustache (FrightFest 2011 Part 1)

WARNING: The following blog contains frequent and intense use of alliteration that some readers may find upsetting. You are therefore strongly advised to reasonably refrain from reading this recent review. Thank you.   
As I start to type this dear reader, FrightFest 2011 will be well into its fourth day of five of fearsome fantastic fare at the Empire Leicester Square. I attended this festival of ferocious filmic fun for three days this year. During this gloriously, gory, gallows-humoured laden time I gorged myself on numerous new horrendously horrible highlights heralding from the UK and the rest of the planet. 

From its modest beginnings back in 2000 this festival has grown in both size and reputation and is now the biggest event of its kind in the UK. From the relatively humble beginnings at the Prince Charles Cinema off Leicester Square, to the Odeon West End on the square where it in turn progressed from the 500 seater screen to its 800 seat bigger brother downstairs and then ultimately in 2009 moving into the prestigious Empire Leicester Square. It cannot be underestimated what a delicious delight it is for both the eyes and ears to be able to watch horror films on such a magnificent expanse of screen (25 ft high and 60ft wide) in pin-sharp definition with booming sound. How so dear reader? Well my friend, in comparison, back in the grim and dark 80’s we were sat at home on our sofas screwing up our eyes (literally) trying to discern what (allegedly) diabolical moral challenging shenanigans were being portrayed through the wobbly tracking, snowy grain, garbled squelchy sound and squashed pan and scanned images from our fifth-generation dodgy VHS copies of the so-called ‘video nasties’.  Of course nowadays the internet can provide the dedicated horror aficionado with downloads of practically anything – legal or otherwise (or so I’m led to believe dear reader), but nothing compares with the collective experience of sharing FrightFest’s delightfully dreadful cinematic pleasures with an auditorium crammed full of fellow fear fan boys and girls, together with a generous sprinkling of actors, directors, producers and technicians thrown in for good measure. Unless, that is, they constantly nip to the toilets during the film, instigating unwelcome impromptu Mexican waves from their unfortunate row sharing neighbours...
Sorry, I seem to have somewhat ruined the mood with that last sentence. Please ignore, and let me give you a flavour of the FrightFest experience this year. Rest assured I will not dwell on the content of the actual films I saw, we are after all still getting to know each other, and I’m yet to ascertain whether you have the stomach for such delights. So take my hand, as our FrightFest tour this year starts not in any cinema but instead in Boots the Chemist...
Thursday 25th (afternoon).
The opening film of FrightFest 2011 was due to start at 6.30pm. My plan beforehand was to catch Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg (DBE) (or The Avengers’ Emma Peel as she’s perhaps best known, or James Bond’s only wife in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) and acquire her autograph and - with a bit of luck and a favourable wind - a photo with her. No, not in Boots, but rather at the stage door of the Garrick Theatre in the West End where she is currently performing in Pygmalion. Really, what DO you take me for, some kind of stalker who lurks around pharmaceutical practices in the vague hope a celebrity will come in to collect their Night Nurse and Nurofen? I’m truly shocked, really I am

However, I will accept your apology, a misunderstanding and we shall speak no more of it. Now where was I? Ah yes, I was in Boots to print out a couple of images of Ms. Rigg for her to hopefully sign; one with her in disguise as a policeman looking resplendent in full British bobby uniform and sporting a nice bushy fake moustache, and the other as a chef looking equally resplendent in a Persil white disguise with chef’s hat and another fake moustache as previously referred to.  Oh ha ha, that’s really very amusing, but in answer to your absolutely hilarious japing, I most certainly do not have a ‘thing’ for actresses wearing fake moustaches. It just so happens that these images were taken from one of my all-time favourite films: ‘Theatre of Blood’, in which Ms. Rigg plays the daughter of demented Shakespearian thespian Edward Lionheart, played by the legendary Vincent Price. Her role requires her to adopt several disguises in order to aid her father’s gruesome revenge on the theatre critics who foolishly (and fatally) fail to award him the Critic’s Circle award.
Right, now that’s cleared up, we can get back to the matter in hand. I am shuffling along Piccadilly carrying a shoulder bag the contents of which include, but are in no way restricted to, a clutch of Sharpie pens in four different colours, autograph book, camera, mints (well you never know do you) and a travel bag, also slung over my shoulder, containing clothing and essential supplies to last for three days of FrightFest. The sweat is dripping into my eyes as I barge my way through the steady stream of tourists and sharp suited business people, nervously checking my watch every twenty-seven seconds hoping I would get there by 1.30pm. The matinee performance was at 2.30pm and I figured an hour would be sufficient to catch Ms. Rigg on her way in to the theatre. I reached the Garrick at 1.35pm and prepared the photos, pens and camera for action. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a small cluster of ladies by the stage door and I went to join my fellow like minded autograph seekers. One of them appeared to be holding a Pygmalion leaflet which in turn very much appeared to be sporting a flourish of handwritten black ink.
I’d missed Diana Rigg by about five minutes.
She was very nice apparently, and signed the leaflet as the lady hadn’t got anything else apparently, but she’d really been waiting for Alistair McGowan you see, apparently, so why would she have specially selected freshly printed 7x5 images from one of Ms. Rigg’s lesser know films which had been chosen for it’s unusual character and for which it was hoped, would amuse Ms Rigg who would hopefully find it refreshing not to be presented with yet another Emma Peel image, or worse a free leaflet from the foyer of the play she was currently performing in.
Naturally I was a tad disappointed by this rather unfortunate turn of events, but fortune favours the brave as they say (whoever they are), and after checking with the ticket office I resolved to return to the Garrick’s stage door at 4.30pm, a full fifteen minutes before the performance was due to finish, and hope for better luck.
Now dear reader, here’s a little fact you may not be aware of. No reason at all why you should after all, but as we’re hopefully becoming friends you and I, let me share this tiny crumb of information with you. Diana Rigg didn't come out between matinee and evening performances as she liked a little snooze between shows.
Alastair McGowan told me that at 5pm.
Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg DBE (20 July 1938 – 10 September 2020)
To be continued next time...

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Time for Tubby bye bye's...

I used to be given chocolate bars from a rotund cinema usherette nicknamed ‘Tubby’.
There, I’ve said it, and now that it’s out in the open I feel much much better, so can we move on now please? Look it was a long time ago, I was probably only 2 or 3, and it’s not like my parents weren’t with me at the time. Must I explain myself further? Ok, for the sake of closure, ‘Tubby’ was a barrel-tummied man with brylcreemed thinning hair and a kindly disposition, who worked at the Biograph cinema in Wilton Road in Victoria. Often, when passing by with my parents (we lived literally around the corner in Gillingham Street) I would regularly be presented with a bar of confectionery whilst ma and pa would converse with my chubby chocolate benefactor. About what they would chat I couldn’t say, I was probably far too busy munching on my cocoa gift to care. What became of ‘Tubby’ (his real name will remain a mystery for ever more I’m afraid), I know not, but the cinema he presided in front of was demolished in August 1983. I don’t recall ever actually entering that particular palace of delights; however that may not have been such a bad thing given that it went on to become an establishment largely frequented by men looking to entertain each other rather than by whatever happened to be flickering across the silver screen before them. (Apparently the queue for the gent’s toilets was consistently long throughout most screenings). Did ‘Tubby’ still preside over the Biograph during it’s rather notorious final few years – I really cannot say – but to me he will always have a special place in my early childhood memories as ‘Tubby’ the chocolate giver.
As for the cinema he ushered for, the site is now a rather swanky, utterly soulless hotel. Incidentally, the B+B my parents ran just around the corner in Gillingham Street, The Albion, would itself go on to acquire a modicum of notoriety itself thanks to a certain ex-politician / popular author and his (alleged) dalliance with a lady of easily purchased virtue. (Of course this took place well after we’d left this establishment you understand; we would never have tolerated such lurid behaviour on our watch.)
Right dear reader, I must leave you here as I’m off to FrightFest at the Empire Leicester Square tomorrow to gorge myself (not on chocolate from rotund usherettes) but instead on the latest horror genre offerings from around the world. We shall resume these little soirees as soon as I return. I think for out next outing we’ll head up to the West End and see what’s playing there....
Till then, take care, and remember – never, ever, accept sweets from strangers.