Morrissey and Johnny Marr performing on the ‘The Oxford Road Show.’
A recent post that featured two-hours of “mind melting” high quality footage of Siouxsie and the Banshees performing on various music television shows such as the The Old Grey Whistle Test, Rock Goes to College, The Oxford Road Show as well as the ever popular, Top of the Pops was unsurprisingly very popular with our readers. As I was not familiar with The Oxford Road Show, I decided to take a deep-dive into YouTube land to see what other vintage delights the BBC show might have to offer. I was not disappointed—and you won’t be either.
Robert Smith of The Cure in a still from ‘The Oxford Road Show.’
Once allegedly parodied as “Nozin’ Aroun’” on “Demolition,” the pilot episode of cult British sitcom The Young Ones, The Oxford Road Show (later known as “ORS”) was around for about four years until it marched off into the sunset. While not every band performed live (as you will see with the video of The Smiths below), many of them did and early on in their emerging careers. I cherrypicked a few highlights from The Oxford Road Show that I found most compelling such as The Cure’s 1983 appearance on the show performing “One Hundred Years” from their 1982 album, Pornography and Bauhaus in 1982 doing two of their early 80s singles, “Passion of Lovers” and an absolutely balls-out performance of “Lagartija Nick.” But what really killed me was The Smiths’ lipsynching 1984’s “What Difference Does it Make” while Moz sashays around on stage looking like he wishes he was home dancing in front of his mirror while giving zero fucks. In other words, what you are about to see is pure 80s vintage goodness that once again proves that the much maligned decade was actually pretty great.
The Cure performing ‘One Hundred Days’ on ‘The Oxford Road Show’ in 1983.
It was 1974 when Gary Trudeau debuted the newest member of his Doonesbury comic crew, “Uncle Duke,” to the world. And the man whom the character was based on, gun-toting Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson was not pleased. In an interview with High Times, Thompson recalled the moment he became aware of Uncle Duke.
It was a hot, nearly blazing day in Washington, and I was coming down the steps of the Supreme Court looking for somebody, Carl Wagner or somebody like that. I’d been inside the press section, and then all of a sudden I saw a crowd of people and I heard them saying, “Uncle Duke,” I heard the words Duke, Uncle; it didn’t seem to make any sense. I looked around, and I recognized people who were total strangers pointing at me and laughing. I had no idea what the fuck they were talking about. I had gotten out of the habit of reading funnies when I started reading the Times. I had no idea what this outburst meant…It was a weird experience, and as it happened I was sort of by myself up there on the stairs, and I thought: “What in the fuck madness is going on? Why am I being mocked by a gang of strangers and friends on the steps of the Supreme Court? Then I must have asked someone, and they told me that Uncle Duke had appeared in the Post that morning.
Thompson went on to say that “no one grows up wanting to be a cartoon character” and that if he ever caught up with Garry Trudeau, he would “rip his lungs out.” While that never happened, in 1992 Trudeau published book called Action Figure!; The Life and Times of Doonesbury’s Uncle Duke that chronicled the misadventures of Uncle Duke that came with a five-inch action figure of dear Uncle Duke along with a martini glass, an Uzi, cigarette holder, a bottle of booze, and a chainsaw. While Trudeau has never been one to shy away from controversy, this bold move seemed rather suicidal or at the very least a very direct threat to the current location of Trudeau’s lungs. You can actually still find the book and its sneering Uncle Duke action figure on auction sites like eBay and on Amazon like I did.
Mae West in a publicity photo for the 1934 film, ‘Belle of the Nineties.’
Ten men waiting for me at the door? Send one of them home, I’m tired.
There are so many reasons to love the great, boundary-smashing Hollywood starlet Mae West, it’s hard to know where to start as the iconic blonde pretty much did it all. Not only was West an early supporter of women’s liberation back in the 1920s, she was also openly supportive of gay rights. West penned a play called The Drag whose storyline featured homosexuality and cross-dressing (The production was closed down in 1927 after a two-week run due to its controversial subject matter). From a very young age, West’s mother (a former model herself) helped encourage her daughter to perform, which she did starting around the age of seven in talent shows. By the time she was fourteen West was already a professional taking the stage in New York in productions put on by the Hal Clarendon Stock Company under the moniker “Baby Mae.”
A vintage show poster advertising Mae West’s controversial 1926 play, ‘Sex.’
Penning under the name “Jane Mast” West gave herself her big break by writing, producing, directing and starring in Sex in 1926. Sex played to packed houses until the venue was raided by the police (after complaints from religious types that don’t want anyone to have any fun), and West and the entire cast were arrested. And, since this is Mae West we’re talking about, instead of coughing up the dough in order to avoid sitting behind bars—West was given a ten days in jail on the laughable charge of “corrupting the morals of youth”—the willey platinum blonde bombshell decided that going to jail was better (and free) publicity. West only served eight days of the ten-day sentence due to “good behavior.”
By 1932, West was under contract with Paramount and would go on to star in numerous films, with two of her best alongside Cary Grant in 1933; She Done Him Wrong, and I’m No Angel. That same year in a review for I’m No Angel (published in October of 1933), entertainment magazine Variety said that West was as “hot an issue as Hitler” (who had been appointed Chancellor of Germany in January that same year).
West is also well known for her over-the-top costumes that she wore in her films. Legendary costume designer Edith Head created West’s looks for She Done Him Wrong that according to West were ‘tight enough so I look like a woman, loose enough so I look like a lady.” A look that West would continue to cultivate during her career that no other actress at the time could ever quite equal.
I’ve included many of West’s outlandish getups from photo shoots and films such as her “lion tamer” look from I’m No Angel, and her jaw-dropping looks from 1934’s Belle of the Nineties where she dons bat and butterfly wings, as well as a set of eight spider legs in her role as a fictional vaudevillian Ruby Carter. The images that follow are vintage visual treats for your eyes of a woman who always played by her own rules. If you’d like to learn more about Mae West, the 1997 book by Emily Wortis Leider Becoming Mae West, is a fantastic, in-depth exploration of the whip-smart, cinematic icon.
A publicity photo of Mae West from the 1934 film, ‘Belle of the Nineties.’
Another publicity shot of West in butterfly wings from ‘Belle of the Nineties.’
The Associates were a band that should have conquered the world. In fact they almost did. They had had the music in them and a sound that was uniquely their own. Formed in 1976 by the dovetailed talents of musician Alan Rankine and singer Billy MacKenzie, The Associates produced three first class albums between 1980 and 1982: The Affectionate Punch, Fourth Drawer Down and the magisterial Sulk. They had a clutch of hit singles and a fanbase that believed The Associates were the future of music.
Then, at the height of their fame in 1982, it all fell spectacularly apart on the verge of a million dollar record deal and their first world tour. Rankine quit. MacKenzie carried on as The Associates. Neither quite ever reached the creative highs and popular success they had so easily achieved together. This is Alan Rankine’s story of The Associates—egg-slicers, chocolate guitars and the legendary Billy MacKenzie.
It could have been all so very different.
If Alan Rankine had been a few inches taller he could have been a tennis player. A world class tennis player. A champion. Hitting grand slams for breakfast.
“When I was nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, I was heavily into tennis. I was really, really into tennis. Big time. I was beating people when I was twelve and they were sixteen. I was really pissing them off—especially when I was beating them in front of their girlfriends.”
Winning was easy for Alan—but he became aware he had one fatal drawback to ever making tennis a lifelong career.
“I was a midget. I was a bit of a shortarse. I could see the writing on the wall—as tennis got more powerful because of the rackets and the strength of the rackets—no one was going to win anything unless they were six foot two. I was never going to be more than five foot eight, and I was proved right.”
Rankine dropped tennis and started looking for something else, something better to master. He liked the guitar. Beat bands were in—The Beatles, The Stones, The Who—so playing guitar seemed the obvious thing to do.
“I remember I annoyed the hell out of my father. You know these little egg slicers you get that’s got a scooped out bit for the egg and it’s got ten strings? Well, I’d go around the house behind him plucking on this thing—Buy me a fucking guitar, buy me a fucking guitar—annoying the hell out of him for weeks. ‘Okay, okay, anything to make this stop.’ On my eleventh birthday he got me a guitar.
“It just seemed right. I started playing the guitar the whole time—I just never stopped. I was either playing along to records or playing along to the radio—just switching between channels and listening to everything. Then I got an electric guitar, then a better electric guitar and just kept on going and going and going. It just seemed easy.”
As he had found with tennis, Alan had a natural talent for the guitar. He practiced in his room for six hours at a time getting the songs he liked down pat—until he could play them note perfect.
“Pretty soon I moved on to my granny’s piano—Christ, this was easy too. I thought this was the way it was for everyone. It was just so easy.”
His father could play the violin. Badly. His uncle played French horn with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. There was no other notable musical talent in the family—that is until Alan picked up the guitar. It was the first move towards his legendary career as one half of The Associates.
Alan Rankine was born in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire, Scotland in 1958.
“I stayed in Dundee from the ages of five to twelve. I stayed in Broughty Ferry—the posh part. Then I came to Glasgow, Newton Mearns—the posh part. Then Linlithgow—fairly posh.
“My dad always used to ask me—‘Who are you playing with? Where do they stay? Are they from council houses?’ I got this the whole time—he was always very, very protective. But I always seemed to gravitate to the people from the council houses.”
“I was in Linlithgow. I was fifteen years old. As you do when you’re fifteen turning sixteen you try and get into certain pubs because you want to be a man and have a pint and all that stuff. And there were certain pubs out of the twelve or thirteen that went along the one main street in Linlithgow where you could go and you know a nod’s as good as wink and get served.”
“I went into one and there was a band playing. I said, ‘Christ that guitar is shit.’
“I went up to the lead singer after their set—they’d been playing all this Steely Dan stuff—and I said, ‘Your guitar is shit.’ He must have thought, ‘What’s this little cunt coming up to me and saying this for?’
“I said, ‘Look, come up to my house tomorrow.’ He came up to my house and I just ripped off “Kid Charlemagne” and all these Steely Dan numbers. Note perfect. Sound perfect. Everything. I got the job with that band.”
Alan’s first taste as a gigging musician was playing cabaret clubs and miners welfare clubs. He moved to Edinburgh. Every week on a Sunday the band learned to play six new songs—chart songs, hit singles, stuff from the catalogs of Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb. When not playing the cabaret circuit, the band was booked for “real gigs as a band” playing some clubs across the city.
“These other people in the band—no detriment to them—they were into Yes and Genesis and it was all too much wanking your plank to no avail.”
“If you’re going to do something have a point. I’m reminded of that line when Steve Martin said when he was berating John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles: ‘And by the way, you know, when, when you’re telling these little stories, here’s a good idea. Have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!’”
Not long after he joined, the band’s lead singer went “a bit loopy.” The search for a replacement brought Alan to a club in Edinburgh where he heard this voice—this utterly amazing voice. The club was jumping. Alan was at the bar and couldn’t see beyond the dozens of people crowded around the stage—faces upturned, happy, joyous, glistening with sweat watching the singer on the stage: a young man called Billy MacKenzie.
“I got the person who was booking our gigs to contact the person who got that gig for that venue. Within four days of that call, Bill was getting out a taxi in Edinburgh. Two days after that he staying on the sofa bed in my girlfriend’s and I’s flat in Edinburgh.
“We just hit it off like that.”
Billy MacKenzie was born in Dundee in 1957. He was one of those wild boys Rankine’s father warned him about. At just nineteen, MacKenzie had already experienced a far more exotic and adventurous life. He quit school at sixteen. Moved to New Zealand then Australia. Worked as a driver of forklift trucks (“Can you imagine Billy doing that?”). At seventeen, he traveled to America where he outstayed his travel visa. In order to stay longer in the States, Billy married a young woman called Chloe Dummar—the sister-in-law of one of his aunts. He described his wife as “a Dolly Parton-type.” Billy later claimed that during their wedding ceremony the minister spent most of his time flirting with him. The marriage didn’t last. Billy returned to Scotland and rekindled a childhood passion for singing. He joined a band and started gigging across the country.
Billy was a star. He was camp. Fey. Beautiful. With the voice of an angel.
Artist Kii Arens’ gorgeous poster commemorating Cheap Trick’s introduction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
When it comes to Cheap Trick, I was a late-bloomer. I was a huge metal head and for some reason, I just didn’t “get” Cheap Trick when I was in high school. I even dated a guy who was a Cheap Trick super-fan who never stopped trying to help me understand how great the band was. It wasn’t until I got into college that I finally realized that there was clearly something wrong with my ears, and finally embraced the band after hearing “Stop this Game” from their 1980 album All Shook Up. The first time I saw the band live I was (gulp) already in my 30’s and I actually fucking cried when they broke into one of the greatest rock anthems ever written, “Surrender.”
This footage of Cheap Trick on Rockpalast in 1979 captures the band at the very top of their game after the face-smashing success of their live album, Cheap Trick at Budokan that finally saw a US release after a frenzy of demand for the record (which was only available in Japan at the time). That album catapulted the band into the stratosphere of rock and roll superstardom. Here they rip through eleven songs with switchblade precision and I don’t know if I’ve ever heard vocalist Robin Zander sound better than he does here.
I recently caught Cheap Trick’s acceptance speeches at the 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and I was really moved by drummer Bun E. Carlos’ (who no longer performs with Cheap Trick) reminiscing about how the first time he heard guitarist Rick Nielsen’s name was in the fourth grade. Still going strong, Cheap Trick kicks off a massive tour in support of their seventeenth studio album, Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello on June 4th in Syracuse, New York.
Watch Cheap Trick live on German television after the jump…
Lemmy being Lemmy back in the day with a few of his close, personal friends.
In this brief clip from an interview Lemmy did in the late 90s on the short-lived British TV program, The Girlie Show (which you can see it its entirety, here), Lem got asked about the number of women he had slept with in his lifetime, to which the mighty Motörhead bassist replied “thousands” (though the man himself has usually put the number somewhere in the neighborhood of one thousand). I’m not going to get all hung up on numbers (I hate them), or even attempt to dispute either claim because despite the moles and his unconventional looks, Lemmy was one charming and intelligent son-of-a-bitch. Note to all you aspiring wannabe ass-wranglers—watch Lemmy and learn.
Lemmy on the set of the ‘The Girlie Show’ back in the late 90s.
Lemmy and Kelly Johnson of Girlschool.
Then one of the show’s hosts, Sarah Cawood, throws a curveball at the always affable Lemmy when she ambushes him with a visit from three of his ex-girlfriends including Girlschool guitarist Kelly Johnson (during the segment Cawood refers to her as the “love of Lemmy’s life”). Johnson and Girlschool collaborated with Lemmy back in 1980 calling themselves “Headgirl” and recorded a cover of “Please Don’t Touch” (originally recorded in 1959 by one of Lemmy’s favorite bands, UK group Johnny Kidd & the Pirates) as an A-side to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre EP. The B-side featured Girlschool’s cover of Motörhead’s 1979 track, “Bomber” and Motörhead’s recording of the Girlschool single “Emergency” from 1980.
Henry Miller was always looking for something though he never seemed to find it. Throughout his life the author of cult favorites Tropic of Capricorn and The Tropic of Cancer signed-up for various philosophies and crackpot ideas but inevitably canceled his subscription. He was always willing to believe any kook who claimed to have a knowledge of god, the afterlife, the cosmos or some esoteric wisdom. Miller was willing to give anything a go. At least for a little while.
He tried Madame Blavatsky and her Theosophical Society. He half-believed Blavatsky’s “Secret Doctrine” of the seven planes of existence and the seven cycles through which everything moves—which she claimed came via a secret brotherhood of Mahatmas in Tibet—until Miller “discovered” Blavatsky had invented the whole thing and forged the correspondence with her spiritual guides Koot Hoomi and Mahatma Morya.
In his youth, Miller latched onto the teachings of the former Evangelist preacher Benjamin Fay Mills like “a drowning man.” Miller later explained the preacher’s teachings offered him was a brief respite from his “battle” with his own libidinous sexual desire.
In the 1950s, Miller was convinced “flying saucers” were about to invade Earth. He thought the US government was covering up their knowledge of UFOs and extraterrestrials. Miller corresponded with ufologists ‘fessin’ up his own experience of seeing flying saucers (two objects twinkling in the sky) and witnessing them “far out on the horizon, at dawn, and without aid of glasses.”
Miller was a “cosmic tourist.” He visited “...the Scientology of L. Ron Hubbard, the apocalyptic studies of the Essenes, Christian Science, Kahlil Gibran, White Witchcraft and the modern hinduism of Sri Ramakrishna.” He dabbled with astrology and Buddhism, and was suckered by the conman guru “Lobsang Rampa” who wrote a book titled The Third Eye describing his spiritual life and upbringing in Tibet—but Rampa turned out to be a plumber from Devon called Cyril Hoskin who had never once set foot outside England.
Yet Miller never felt cheated by these cranks. He was open-minded about everything and was never dispirited, disappointed or angered when he found out he’d been conned by yet another New Age charlatan. Miller’s view was simple:
Any theory, any idea, any speculation can augment the zest for life so long as one dies not make the mistake of thinking that he is getting somewhere.
Those of you that are of (ahem) a certain age will certainly remember faux-50’s band Sha Na Na not only for their music but also for their syndicated television show that ran from 1977 to 1981. I was absolutely obsessed with that show, and adored the band’s goofy antics and faithful fashion homages to the 1950s from the top of their greased back hair, to the seams on the famous gold lamé pants worn by Frederick “Dennis” Greene, Johnny “Kid” Contardo, and Scott “Tony Santini” on the show—one of the most popular in TV syndication at the time.
In addition to appearances in the film 1978 Grease (where the band was depicted as a fictional 1950s band called Johnny Casino and the Gamblers), Sha Na Na was also featured on the films wildly popular soundtrack, and the tearjerker “Sandy” (sung by John Travolta) was co-written by Sha Na Na’s Screamin’ Scott Simon, who got his start with the band playing piano back in 1970, and still performs with them to this day. In this footage (which I’m pretty sure is gonna blow your mind), the band performs nineteen songs for the enthusiastic studio audience in attendance for a taping of German music television show Musikladen in 1973.
From the minute they hit the stage, it’s clear that we are all in for some high-octane doo-wop, class-act choreography, and the visual treat that is the gangly, rock-and-roll Frankenstein known as “Bowzer” (Jon Bauman)—he’s probably the most recognizable member of the group, too. Since departing Sha Na Na, Bauman continues to tour as his alter-ego “Bowzer” with his group The Stingrays and was also instrumental in helping the passage of the Truth in Music Act—a law that protects musicians and bands from identity theft. Now that’s fucking rock and roll.
The gold lamé suits worn by Sha Na Na that drove my young libido into overdrive back in the late 70s
And what about those skin-tight gold lamé suits (pictured above)? While conducting my very important “research” for this post, I discovered that all three of them are currently up for sale (along with the matching gold lamé boots and belts, thank you very much) for the tidy sum of $2,500. A small price to pay for a piece of rock and roll history that I’d do almost anything to squeeze myself into (those boys were tight back in the day, to say the least). I’ve probably watched this footage at least five times since stumbling on it and every time I do, it gets better. As one commenter on the Youtube page said, “this deserves a million likes.” To which I say AMEN, brother. If you dig it as much as I do, you can get your very own DVD of the show, here. Enjoy!
Sha Na Na on German music television show, Musikladen in 1973.
Pauline Boty was an artist, activist, actress and model. She was one of the leading figures of the British Pop art movement during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Her contemporaries were Peter Blake, Derek Boshier and David Hockney. But when Boty tragically died at the height of her fame in 1966, her work mysteriously disappeared. Not one of her paintings was exhibited again until 1993.
Boty was all but forgotten by the time a cache of her paintings was rediscovered on a farm in the English countryside in the early 1990s. The paintings had been stored in an old barn for safe-keeping by her brother. Their rediscovery placed Boty firmly back into the center of the Pop art boy’s club.
Throughout her life, Boty kicked against the men who tried to hold her back. Born into a Catholic family in 1938, her father (a by-the-book accountant) wanted his daughter to marry someone respectable and raise a family. Instead she chose to study art to her father’s great displeasure. In 1954, Boty won a scholarship to Wimbledon School of Art.
At college, Boty was dubbed the “Wimbledon Bridget Bardot” because of her blonde hair and film star looks. She went onto study lithography and stained glass design. However, her desire was to study painting. When she applied to the Royal College of Art in 1958, it was suggested by the male tutors that she would be more suited studying stained glass design as there were so few women painters. Though Boty enrolled in the design course she continued with her ambitions to paint.
Encouraged by the original Pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi, Boty began painting at her apartment. Her makeshift studio soon became a meeting point for her friends (Derek Marlowe, Celia Birtwell) and contemporaries (Blake, Boshier, Hockney and co) to meet, talk and work. Boty started exhibiting her collages and paintings alongside these artists and her career as a painter commenced.
In 1962, Boty was featured in a documentary about young British pop artists Pop Goes the Easel alongside Peter Blake, Derek Boshier and Peter Phillips. The film was directed by Ken Russell who created an incredibly imaginative and memorable portrait of the four artists. Each was given the opportunity to discuss their work—only Boty did not. Instead she collaborated with Russell on a very prescient dream sequence.
It opens with Boty laying out her paintings and drawings on the floor of a long circular corridor—actually the old BBC TV Center. As she examines her work a group of young women appear behind her. These women walk all over her artwork. Then from out of an office door, a nightmarish figure in a wheelchair appears and chases Boty along the seemingly endless twisting corridors. Boty eventually escapes into an elevator—only to find the ominous figure waiting inside.
Her performance in Russell’s film led to further acting roles—in Alfie with Michael Caine, with James Fox on the stage, Stanley Baxter on television and again with Russell in a small role opposite Oliver Reed in Dante’s Inferno. Boty was photographed by David Bailey, modeled for Vogue, regularly appeared as an audience dancer on Ready, Steady, Go!, and held legendary parties at her studio to which everyone who was anyone attended—from the Stones to Bob Dylan. Boty was the bright flame to whom everyone was attracted.
She was a feminist icon—living her life, doing what she wanted to do, and not letting men from hold her back. But the sixties were not always the liberated decade many Boomers would have us believe. Boty’s critics nastily dismissed her as the Pop art pin-up girl. The left-wing party girl. A dumb blonde. Of course, they were wrong—but shit unfortunately sticks.
Boty’s work became more politically nuanced. She criticised America’s foreign policy in Vietnam; dissected the unacknowledged sexism of everyday life; and celebrated female sexuality. She had a long affair with the director Philip Saville—which allegedly inspired Joseph Losey’s film Darling with Dirk Bogarde and Julie Christie. Then after a ten day “whirlwind romance” Boty married Clive Goodwin—a literary agent and activist. She claimed he was the only man who was interested in her mind.
In 1965, Boty was nearing the top of her field when she found she was pregnant. During a routine prenatal examination, doctors discovered a malignant tumor. Boty refused an abortion. She also refused chemotherapy as she did not want to damage the fetus. In February 1966, Boty gave birth to a daughter—Boty Goodwin. Five months later in July 1966, Pauline Boty died. Her last painting was a commission for Kenneth Tynan’s nude revue Oh! Calcutta! called “BUM.”
Pauline Boty in her studio holding the painting ‘Scandal’ in 1963.
‘A Big Hand’ (1960).
More of Pauline Boty’s paintings plus Ken Russell’s ‘Pop Goes the Easel,’ after the jump…
The list of movies Ken Russell didn’t make is nearly as impressive as the ones he did.
Russell had plans for a movie version of Hamlet starring David Bowie. He developed a film about Maria Callas which was to star Sophia Loren. He had plans for a film version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Peter O’Toole as the Count, Peter Ustinov as Van Helsing and Oliver Reed as Renfield. Other book adaptations included Graham Greene’s A Burnt Out Case, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth and D. H. Lawrence’s St. Mawr.
He also wanted to make a film based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs and one of Rabelais’ Gargantua—“the man with the biggest prick in the world.” He had a thriller All-American Murder lined up with Christopher Walken, and tried for years to make a film version of Charlie Mingus’ autobiography Beneath the Underdog. He turned down The Rose (to make Valentino with Rudolf Nureyev) and had been a favorite to direct A Clockwork Orange before Stanley Kubrick with Mick Jagger in the lead.
Russell always had a film project on the go—it is only a shame that so few of them made it to the screen.
In 1997, I met Russell for the first time—interviewing him for a documentary I directed about the legendary dancer Nijinsky. I knew he had tried to make a film about Nijinsky but had somehow never managed to find the financial backing. We talked about films and he told me about two scripts he had just written. One was a full-length feature about young vampires—a rollicking romp through youth culture, gangs and the lives of traveling people. The second was a short called Ein Kitten für Hitler—A Kitten for Hitler.
Russell told me A Kitten for Hitler was inspired by a discussion about censorship with his friend and one-time collaborator (The Music Lovers, The Debussy Film) Melvyn Bragg—the author, broadcaster and editor of legendary arts series The South Bank Show. Russell had suggested there were some films that shouldn’t be made—as he later explained in the Times newspaper in 2007:
Ten years ago, Melvyn Bragg and I had a heated discussion on the pros and cons of film censorship. Broadly speaking, Melvyn was against it, while I, much to his surprise, was absolutely for it. He then dared me to write a script that I thought should be banned. I accepted the challenge and a month or so later sent him a short subject entitled A Kitten for Hitler.
‘Ken,’ he said, ‘if ever you make this film and it is shown, you will be lynched’.
I read both of Ken’s scripts and liked them. Russell gave me his blessing to see if I could raise funding or find a suitable production company who would be interested in making his films.
I pitched the scripts to producers, production company execs and a whole host of bland minions who were all at first excited by the name “Ken Russell” but scared of making any form of commitment. While these bods liked the vampire movie—they balked at A Kitten for Hitler. It was “sick,” “twisted,” “not suitable for viewing” and something they were “not interested in pursuing at this time.” Having already experienced years of smug, barely pubescent TV execs shitting on good ideas, I found the rejection of Russell’s scripts galling. This wasn’t some unknown film director or some hip young punk whose only claim to fame was working in a Blockbuster—this was Ken Russell. One of the greatest film directors of the second half of the twentieth century. The man who had made The Billion Dollar Brain, Women in Love, The Music Lovers, The Boyfriend, The Devils, Savage Messiah, Tommy, Altered States, Lair of the White Worm, Salome’s Last Danceand so on and so on.
While I didn’t get anywhere with these projects, Russell thankfully did. He did manage to make A Kitten for Hitler through the auspices of Comedy Box in 2007. It varies ever so slightly from the script I’d read—but the story’s the same and still as uncompromisingly offensive. Unable to cast a child actor as the boy Lenny, Russell cast Rusty Goffe. Ken’s wife Lisi Tribble plays Lenny’s Mom, Rufus Graham plays Harry S. Truman, Rosey Thewlis plays Eva Braun, and Paul Pritchard is Hitler. Ken Russell himself appears as Santa Claus.
Watch Ken Russell’s ‘A Kitten for Hitler’ after the jump…