IMDB lists this hour-long session of Michael Caine teaching some students the art of film acting as being produced in 1987, but I have a hunch it was recorded a few years earlier. For one thing, aside from Alfie (1966), the acting exercises lean heavily on two movies that would have been very current in, say, 1984: Educating Rita and Deathtrap. Also, I think I remember seeing this on Bravo (yes, kids, there once was a time when Bravo had almost entirely highbrow, high-quality programming) earlier than 1987, although I could be wrong about that.
Noted non-actor Howard Stern has said of this documentary, “I watched the video and had my doubts ... I thought a lot of what he said was horseshit, but halfway through the movie I thought: The son of a bitch is right!”—so you know it has to be good. Howard Stern says so!
The appearance of this video on YouTube warmed my heart. It’s a pleasure to see such detailed evidence of Caine’s mastery of movie acting.
The most famous bit from this documentary is when Caine demonstrates a couple of key tips about closeups in the movies: “If I keep blinking, it weakens me. But if I’m talking to you, and I don’t blink, and I just keep going, and I don’t blink, and I keep on going, and I don’t blink, you start to listen to what I’m saying….”
Michael Caine—not blinking….
Caine’s very charming and tells a number of illumating stories along the way. One of his memorable bits is a story about George Cukor telling Jack Lemmon that the best movie acting is simply doing “nothing.” It’s startling to see him explain a point by doing some lines from the scene we have just seen the student actors doing. No disrespect to them, but it’s quite amazing how different and how much better Caine’s versions are! And you can also see decided improvement in the students’ performances as the hour goes on. Unfortunately, I don’t recognize most of the young actors—two of them apparently became regulars on strictly-for-U.K.-audiences Coronation Street and EastEnders. I did recognize Celia Imrie from a few U.K. mysteries; I don’t remember her from Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace but I congratulate her on landing such a lucrative gig.
When I set on writing about 1979’s Ashanti, I was initially daunted. Not because of any issues of complex plot or obtuse dialogue, which are missing anyways, but due to one bit of research that turned up in my pre-planning notes. The bone chilling information in question, courtesy of IMDB, is that star Michael Caine has been quoted stating that it was of the worst films he has ever worked on. We’re talking in the top three and while Caine is undoubtedly a great actor, but he also undoubtedly has starred in a healthy amount of cinematic bunkum. So when the actor who has been in Jaws: The Revenge is saying something is bad, you understand my reticence.
After mustering up some reviewer fortitude, I popped in Severin’s lush Blu-ray edition of Ashanti and gave her a go. Much to my relief, it wasn’t nearly as bad as Jaws: The Revenge, which is a blessing. Albeit a small one, but a blessing nonetheless. Ashanti, based on the Alberto Vazquez-Figueroa novel Ebano, deals with the theme of modern day slave trading in parts of Africa and the Middle East. Working for the World Health Organization, Dr. David Linderby (Michael Caine) and his wife, Dr. Anansa Linderby (supermodel and first African-American to ever grace the cover of Vogue, Beverly Johnson), are working on inoculations in a small village in Africa. As the natives start to dance, David stays to take some photos, while Anansa goes off for a nude swim while. By herself, which seems like an incredibly bad idea masquerading as a potential plot device. The potential part pays off quite quickly as she gets kidnapped by the smarmiest slave trader this side of Mandingo, Suleiman (Peter Ustinov).
Assuming that Anansa was just a beautiful local, Suleiman (pronounced soo-lay-mon) soon realizes that while her heritage is with the Ashanti tribe (hence the title), she is not only a born and bred American, but she also works for the United Nations. A smarter villain would have either let her go or disposed of her immediately, but then we would only have a 20 minute short as opposed to a movie approaching the two hour mark. Instead, he decides to try to sell her to the highest bidder. David goes on a hunt for his wife and with the aid of the aging but still dashing Rex Harrison, ends up getting help from both a grizzled mercenary, Jim or as I like to call him, Merc Jim (William Holden) and most importantly Malik (Kabir Bedi). But more on him in a second.
Time starts to run out as Suleiman gets closer to the market, hoping to sell Anansa off to a wealthy Prince (Omar Sharif). Will David be able to rescue his wife and spare her the indignity of having to get friendly with the Prince’s crypt-keeper-like father?
Ashanti is a film whose ambitions are never quite met, but yet doesn’t sink completely under its weight. The pros include some gorgeous cinematography, with the blue skies and earth tones of the landscape really popping, all thanks to the director of photography, Aldo Tonti, who worked with both Frederico Fellini and Luciano Visconti. Some of the acting is good, with Johnson standing out, despite being the acting acolyte surrounded by a veritable buffet of seasoned character actors. Harrison and Holden both are solid, as usual. Caine, who is typically a great actor, seems only halfway committed to the character. Granted, given some of the hokey dialogue he has to say, his lack of enthusiasm is understandable. Sharif’s role is essentially an extended cameo and Ustinov’s Suleiman is one of the greasiest portrayals of an Arab ever.
The real star of Ashanti is Kabir Bedi as the golden-eyed, vengeful Malik. His character is the most compelling, involving a backstory where his wife was raped and murdered by Suleiman, who also sold his two children into slavery. Since then, Malik has made it his life’s mission to avenge his family. All of this torment and grief has made the formidable Malik one helluva a badass, kicking mucho-macho slave-trading booty. Bedi has such incredible charisma and physical presence that as soon as he shows up, milquetoast David just fades even more in the background. Ideally, the film should have revolved around Malik and his struggles. That would have made it an infinitely more interesting work.
Another element that hurts Ashanti is that it doesn’t quite know if it wants to be an sand, death & lurid behavior exploiter or a respectable, serious film about the then and now current topic of slave trading. There’s Anansa’s aforementioned skinny dipping and one particularly weird scene where a young boy screams while (off camera) being molested. Then there’s the poster art, which features a painting of Anansa shackled with her breasts halfway hanging out. I have zero problems with luridness in cinema but like any ingredient, you have to know exactly what you are working with and how to use it. Otherwise, you’re in danger of it either being too strong or too bland. Ashanti tends to fall into the latter.
That said, Ashanti does have its merits and is still a damn sight better than Jaws: The Revenge. Plus getting to see Kabir Bedi in action is worth a viewing alone.
Terence Stamp and Michael Caine once shared an apartment in the early 1960s. Stamp was the star, with Billy Budd, Term of Trial and The Collector to his CV, while Caine was still on his way up. The turning point came when Stamp knock-backed the title role of Alfie, a role he had made his own on Broadway, but didn’t want to reprise on film. Caine spent a long night trying to change Stamp’s mind. He failed and the role was given to Caine.
Years later, Michael Caine wrote how he sometimes dreamt of that long night trying to convince Stamp to take the role, and “still wakes up sweating as I see Terence agreeing to accept my advice to take the role in Alfie.”
Stamp made Modesty Blasie instead, which on paper sounded fabulous - directed by Joseph Losey; starring Monica Vitti and Dirk Bogarde; adapted by poet and writer Evan Jones from the best-selling Peter O’Donell comic strip. Sadly, it flopped, and the blue-eyed, angelic Stamp was slowly eclipsed by his former room-mate, Caine.
Yet, Stamp was no longer interested in making films for the sake of making films. He was beginning to choose roles because he wanted to make them. He turned down an incredible amount of work, as he later explained in an interview with Valerie Singelton in 1978:
‘I didn’t accept a lot of work because I was of the opinion, if one wanted the long career, one should do good, interesting things. One shouldn’t do anything.
‘So, that was a kind of a political decision really, apart from the fact I enjoyed to do things that interested me. It didn’t interest me to play Tate and Lyle lorry drivers, you understand? I did that already. I didn’t want to do that in a movie. I wanted to play princes and counts, and intellectuals and things that I wasn’t, rather than something I was.’
After Modesty Blaise, Stamp opted to work with radical film-maker Ken Loach, on his first movie Poor Cow, which co-starred Carol White. The film was a surprise hit in America, largely down to Stamp’s casting. He then appeared in John Schlesinger’s Far From the Madding Crowd with Julie Christie, Alan Bates and Peter Finch. Yet, for all his success, there was something missing.
‘And this thing which came later was a feeling of an inner emptiness success didn’t fill. I had assumed that this inner poverty would be transformed when I became rich and famous. And it took me a few years of being rich and famous to understand that the inner void was very much there.
‘And, you know, if I couldn’t fill it with one Rolls-Royce, I couldn’t fill it with three.
‘I started traveling and looking at myself. Looking, thinking the answer was outside still in a form of, you know, I transfered from beautiful female companion, to highly, holy, spiritualized person. So I was kind of looking for that in truth - it was an inner odyssey that was going on.’
Stamp moved to Italy and then onto an ashram in India, where he found he could get ‘Groovy Kashmiri hash or groovy golden guru - you get what you’re looking for.’ Here he was “transformed from Terence Henry Stamp to swami Deva Veeten.”
The years passed and the roles had dried-up, until (as in all good tales) one day in 1977:
‘On this particular morning, as we enter, I am hailed by the concierge who showed me to my original room. Apparently he remembers me. “Mr. Terence”, he says in an accent worthy of Peter Sellers. “We have a cable for you”. He extricates the telegram from the depths of his nightstand and presents it to me. Dog-eared, with tickertape strips glued onto the square envelope and smeared with dust, I have no idea how long the urgent missive has been waiting. However, as it is dropped into my palm it has the psychic weight of the English breakfast I am about to order. I read the typed front piece and realize why. It is addressed to: Clarence Stamp, The Rough Diamond Hotel, Dune, India. It is a miracle that it is even in my hand. Goose pimples spread up my arm and I have a sense that my life is about to change. The telegram is from my long-suffering agent James Fraser, who came across me playing Iago at the Webber-Douglas Drama Academy in 1958 and, bless his heart, has represented me ever since. The telegram reads: ‘Would you be prepared to travel back to London to meet Richard Donner regarding a role in the Superman films 1 & 2. You have scenes with Marlon Brando. Could you stop over in Paris to talk to Peter Brook who is going to make a film of George Gurujieff’s Meetings With Remarkable Men. I read it again. Can hardly believe it, but yes, it’s there, in the palm of my hand. And yes, my life is about to change.’
After Superman, Stamp was cast as the Count in a London production of Dracula, (one of several productions about the great undead vampire that had appeared on both sides of the Atlantic). It was during this production that the following interview with the BBC took place, where Terence Stamp explained, to interviewer Valerie Singleton the attraction of Count Dracula.
‘I always think of evil and the Devil being terribly groovy - not unattractive at all, they have to be really interesting and really seductive because that’s the magnetism of evil, you know, it has to be outwardly beautiful and fetching.’
By 1968, Dirk Bogarde thought his film career was drawing to a close, as his days as a matinee idol were long over, and the offers of work had slowed. With his partner Tony Forwood, he moved to France, and started a second career as a writer. Bogarde proved to be an exceptional writer, producing 15 bestsellers, including volumes of autobiography and fiction. He was also a dedicated correspondent, penning letters to his many friends and fans. Bogarde’s letters are filled with gossip and back-biting, sketches and scintillating tales of his life.
This first letter was written when Bogarde had finished work on Richard Attenborough’s A Bridge Too Far, with Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neil and Michael Caine, and was also re-dubbing his voice on Alain Resnais Providence.
Though Bogarde was a prolific writer, he could not spell (ahem…rather like Nigel Molesworth), and the following is presented as was written.
To Bee Gilbert, Clermont, 13 September, 1976
What a lovely long letter to cheer me up on my return, three days ago, from a hellish week of looping in Paris. I got there to find that I had to loop the entire fucking film… 200 loops. The sound engineers were dreadful (from Telly natch) and the birds, dogs and airoplanes which scattered across the locations screwd us up even more. Well… it is done now. Am home again for a couple of weeks before returning to Old Father Attenboroughs Disney-Arnhem. Which I dread. Ah well. It will make a bomb, with all those Stars how can it fail? Adored Sean C and worked very happily indeed with him… and made a surprising new mate in Ryan O’Neil who could not be nicer, jollier and brighter! That WAS a surprise. Tote says it was because he was so bloody respectful to me all the time… but I just liked the bloke. And he’s good too. And THAT was a surprise. Gene Hackman was a bit Methody and got cross if the camera operator was on the set while he was rehearsing… but was very pleasant to me and quite good, not more, when it came to the Acting.
Mike Cain pulled the Movie Star bit a bit much… the big cigar, black glasses and fat Cadillac… but he was pleasant if dull and has to have the ugliest voice in the business… and pop eyes. And that was a surprise too. I dont think I could go through it again for anything. Even the lolly. A woman from The New York Times ruefully mumbled that doing something as crappy for so much loot left ‘a kind of stain.’ I wonder if she was right. Holland was hell. Apart from the van Goghs, Rembrants and the Vermeers it is all a lot of crappy horror… We stayed in a ‘dainty’ little hotel in a wood where dinner started at 6.30pm and was off at 8.45. THAT went down like a cup of cold sick as you may imagine. Especially as the prices were identicle to the Lancaster in Paris! However we had three weeks there and flew back on a beastly Caravelle, which bounced all the way to Nice…
We have had, unlike you, a soaking summer… everything green and lush… while the great trees in the Luxumbourg Gardens are all dead. And now Tote is out mowing acres of white daisies and autumn crocus and I think I’d better go and help him… regretfully. I am so lazy and full of reaction… odd.
God bless you, pretty Sno… all love as ever for ever… as you know.
Bogarde did not have worry too much about his cinematic career, as the 1970s saw him working with Luchino Visconti on Death in Venice, Liliana Cavani on The NIght Porter, with Rainer Werner Fassbinder on Despair and Bertrand Tavernier’s Daddy Nostalgie.
In 1983, Bogarde’s partner Tony Forwood was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and cancer, which led the couple to leave France for England in 1987. Not long after their arrival Bogarde suffered a stroke, and the following year Forwood died. Bogarde was devastated, only his writing kept him from suicide. He maintained his various correspondences, including one to Penelope Mortimer, whom he had written to since 1971.
In this letter from 1991, Bogarde responds to Mortimer’s gentle cajoling, and gives a portrait of his life after Forwood’s death.
To Penelope Mortimer, Cadogan Gardens, 24 September, 1991
Bloody hell, you are difficult. I TOLD you that you would find my letter nausiating, people like you, those who see everything in dusk-tones, would. I AM a sort of Pollyanna… and after years of just keeping away from people on account of millions came to me to watch my cavorting, living a secluded life in my small-holding I suddenly got shoved into FULL LIFE with no protection and in a Foreign Land.
After a time of, shall we say reflection?, I decided that having had one stroke and not much liking the effects, I could very well have another, had to live in filthy UK… had to live in London… where better to be than where I started off at 16 as a Student at Chelsea Poly? Parents had been students there too. And the Slade. I felt ‘right’ in the area. Coming to terms was difficult. To terms with walking quite unprotected in streets jammed with curious people.
‘I think it is. Look!’
‘You ask him. Go on. He cant bite you?’
‘Were you Dirk Bogarde?’
‘Left France, have you?’
‘I remember your face but not the name? Humphry someone… ‘
I ducked into my anorak and tried to walk, as I told you, only at dusk or just when shops had opened. Fewer people. No standing with curious, autograph hunting, housewives in lines at the Check Outs. Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose were soon abandoned. People followed one.
‘He’s buying tinned tomatos.’
‘Thinner than I imagined.’
‘And balding… see?’
‘Pity. But after 50, you know… ‘
‘Could you sign this? Not for me, for my neice, grandmother, wife, son, sister, baby-sitter, cousin Agnes, Eileen, with two e’s please, Anne with an “e”...’
No one, ever, in France behaved like this. Not even in Paris… unless they were British. I felt, all the time, as if my cock was hanging out of my pants: I hunched my shoulders, wore a Purdy cap, scuttled (as far as I could scuttle with a wonky leg) and my doctor thought that it might be ‘obesessional’. Might it? I’d never had an obsession before, save for lizards, frogs, birds, and those kinds of things. So I decided to either go mad or face up to it. I faced up to it. Took off the cap… walk INTO the Check out… smile at everyone because they SMILE at me! Memory jogs them… of some time in which I must have figured in their private lives somewhere… at any age from 10 to 70. My films are always on TV on Sunday. I am counted as a friend. OK. I’ll settle for that. It is far better than hiding in this flat wondering what to do, how to die gracefully.
RAGE. Yes. You make the error of thinking that RAGE has to be manifest, that one shouts and screams with what you call ‘fury’. Balls. RAGE is sometimes inside. Heard of a Rage To Live?
You react to one puny sentence in my letter about 50 years and body-bags on a too small stair-case. But RAGE did’nt remotely come NEAR the thing. Acceptance, humility, fear of ‘what now’, relief that three years of almost unendurable suspense, of desperate distress physically, of loss but relief that it was over. Knowing is so much better, I promise you, than wondering: and hope is pretty hollow when it leaves.
No sense of injustice. Helplessness, yes. To a point. But one is forced by distress and need to rally. No fury. At all. Why? It happens; we are born to die. When Anna, the Night Nurse, and I tried to turn the patient [Tony Forwood] he said, and I could only hear by putting my head against his chest and ‘took’ the vibrations, ‘If you did this to a dog they’d arrest you’. Right. He was being ‘jokey’. But he was right. Which is why I am now the Vice President of VES… and sticking my neck out against Catholics and British Manners and Members of the BMA. IN public. But no Rage. I had the most wonderous 50 years of my life. So did my partner. WE both knew that we’d have to pay. And did. OK?
I have come to terms with my life, I only have an active 10 years reasonably left. Christ! Why waste them? I have just written to Radio Drama. TV [sic] and refused, politely, their kind offer to write a play, or a series, for them. I have quoted the things I watched for homework. ‘Tittmuss’, House of Elliot, Trainer and some dire thing, they adored, which starred my (once) deeply respected Tom Courtney. Impossible to believe any of them. Lowest-Common-Watcher. I’d rather stay with my Telegraph Readers. At least they write back intelligently. I’m off to do a bit of Auschwitch again: then there is RAGE. Then, my love.
Will that do? Hope that you are not vexed that I shoved R. Fox the Handle? It’s only a nudge of course. But he’s bright, clever, and very sharp. Also his track record is amazing, and his wife is to die [for,] she is so adorable, tough, beautiful and can act! Wow!
I always preferred Len Deighton’s anonymous spy to Ian Fleming’s James Bond. There was something too glib and unexciting about Bond, like Superman you knew he could never be defeated, which made it all rather pointless. Whereas Deighton’s spy was fallible, awkward, funny and quite often messed things up.
When it came to the films, it was a more difficult choice. Sean Connery made Bond his own, and has never been equalled. But Michael Caine was equally successful with his interpretation of the Deighton’s insubordinate spy (now named) Harry Palmer in a trilogy of brilliant spy films. Of course, he later nearly blew it all by making two sub-standard Palmer films in the 1990s, the less said about which the better.
Here is Michael Caine with a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the second Palmer movie, Funeral in Berlin. The quality of this video is not brilliant, and yes, it does have an irritating text written over it, but there is enough fascinating things going on to make Man on the Wall very watchable.
If you want to know what British TV was like in the 1970s, well, apart from watching the repeats on BBC4, this will give you a fair idea. Elton John and Michael Caine getting all “Knees-up Mother Brown” round the olde joanna on Michael Parkinson‘s show.
All this the same year The Sex Pistols released “Anarchy in the U.K.” on EMI, The Ramones singled “Blitzkreig Bop” and Patti Smith “Pissing in a River”. Cor blimey, guvnor.
Let’s start with the painting, for that was the sign something ominous was about to begin.
In East Germany during the Cold War, you didn’t join the Stasi, the Stasi asked you to join them. This is what 19-year-old Hagen Koch discovered when the Stasi approached him and said, “We need you to help secure our country’s peace.”
Koch arrived in Berlin on April 5th 1960, to a city without a wall, without barbed wire, without division. He had been chosen for a specific job and was soon promoted to Head of Cartography.
It was a warm day in August 1960, when Stasi Private Hagen Koch arrived at Checkpoint Charlie and started painting a white line. No one took much notice, which was understandable, only in the following days would the enormity of Koch’s actions become apparent. For unknown to Berliners and the West, Koch was marking the ground for the building of the Berlin Wall.
Years later, Koch said the Wall was not against the West but “against the population of East Germany.”
It was also the first sign that East Germany’s so-called “Workers’ and Peasants’ Socialist Heaven” had failed, and marked the start of the slow and difficult demise of Soviet bloc Communism.
Further, the creation of the Berlin Wall led to a standoff between Russia and America that nearly caused World War Three.
How the Berlin Wall nearly led to War and how holidays brought it down, after the jump…
Françoise Dorleac made her first film when she just 15. “A photographer asked if I would model for some fashion pictures and I said fine. A producer saw my pictures in the press and hired me for a small role for a film during the school holidays.” Acting was in her blood. Her father, Maurice Dorleac, was a veteran character actor of stage and screen; her mother, Renee Simonot, was an actress who revoiced Hollywood films, including Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz; her younger sister is Catherine Deneuve.
Françoise was as beautiful, as talented, and as big an international star as her younger sister. However, Françoise wasn’t as ambitious or as wild as Catherine.
“I see myself as a girl who is always dreaming of romance, and the man she wants to marry, a girl who dances when she is happy.”
Françoise made sixteen films during her short career, including Roman Polanski’s classic film Cul de Sac, in which she brilliantly captured the self-obsessed Teresa against the weak and dominated, Donald Pleasance, as George. Françoise gave substance to Francois Truffaut’s tale of adultery La Peau Douce (aka The Soft Skin), and was almost a match for Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer in Ken Russell’s greatly under-rated The Billion Dollar Brain .
On 26 June 1967, Françoise died in an horrific accident when she lost control of her rented car on the Esterel-Côte d’Azur freeway. She was traveling to Nice airport to fly to London, where she was to finish filming on The Billion Dollar Brain . The car flipped over and burst into flames. Witnesses saw the actress struggle to escape the vehicle, but she was unable to open the door. Police identified Dorleac from a stub of her check book, her diary and her driving license.
Her early death at the age 25, has often over-shadowed the quality of her work - both as actress and singer - and it robbed cinema of “a tried and true talent and incomparably beautiful mademoiselle who showed every sign of taking Hollywood by storm.”
Here is something to remember her by: the beautiful and wonderful Françoise singing, Mario J’ai Mal. Plus a bonus clip of Françoise with her sister Catherine Deneuve in the candy-colored musical Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (aka The Young Girls of Rochefort), in which they co-starred with Gene Kelly.
Bonus clip of Françoise Dorleac and Catherine Deneuve, after the jump…
“You’re a big man, but you’re in bad shape. With me it’s a full time job. Now behave yourself.”
It’s Michael Caine as Jack Carter, intimidating a small-town gangster, Cliff Brumby, in the 1971 film, Get Carter. Within seconds, Carter has shown Brumby, played by future TV soap star Bryan Mosley, who’s boss - a quick karate chop and Brumby’s on his knees. That’s what Carter does. He’s a hardened criminal, a killer, and now he’s back home to find out who murdered his brother.
Taken from the novel Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis, Get Carter changed modern crime fiction. Firstly, it created a new genre British Noir; secondly, it kicked in the French windows at St. Mary Mead, and replaced the anaemic Miss Marple with the harsh reality of professional criminals, and the brutality of their lives, from which ever succeeding British crime writer has taken their cue.
Lewis was born in Manchester in 1940, and raised on Humberside. He showed skill as an artist and as a writer, and attended Hull Art School. In 1965, his first novel All The Way Home, and All Through The Night was published. Lewis then worked as animator on The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, before writing Jack’s Return Home. He wrote a further 7 books, including 2 more Jack Carter novels, and the classics Plender, Billy Rags and GBH. He died too soon, too early, and almost forgotten in 1982. What a fickle fucking world we live in.
At its heart, Jack’s Return Home was in part inspired by a real-life killing that took place during the height of the swinging sixties.
In August 1967, criminal Angus Sibbett bullet-riddled body was found in his Mark Ten Jaguar under Pesspool Bridge, County Durham. Sibbett was a bag man involved in extortion and collecting slot machine money.
Sibbett was employed by notorious, North-East gangster Vincent Landa, a man considered “more important than the Prime Minister”. Sibbett worked with London criminal Dennis Stafford and Landa’s brother, Michael Luvaglio. Luvaglio had no previous convictions, but Stafford, who went under an alias, had served a 7 year sentence for possession of a firearm, and had notoriously escaped from Dartmoor and Wandsworth prisons, eventually fleeing to Newcastle, where he set up a company, which was a front for fraudulent activities.
When Sibbett was discovered creaming off Landa’s takings - pocketing £1,000 a week - he was killed.
It seemed an open-and-shut case. The police came after the gang: Landa fled the country, while Stafford and Luvaglio were arrested for Sibbett’s murder. But both men claimed their innocence. However, they were tried, found guilty and sentenced to gaol.
Stafford believed he was charged because of his previous activities whilst on the run in Newcastle, and has since stated, “If it had not been for me, Michael would never have been charged.”
While Luvaglio has said: “When I was arrested, the police told me that I only had to say that Stafford had left me for a while that night and I would go free.”
In hindsight, the whole case seemed like a fit up, as the evidence against both men was flimsy to non-existent. Importantly eye-witness statements and forensic evidence, which could have cleared both men, was ignored.
On that fateful night, Sibbett was to meet Stafford and Luvaglio in The Birdcage nightclub in Newcastle. Eyewitnesses vouched for both men, apart from a period of 45-minutes around midnight - the time Sibbett was murdered. This 45-minute window proved crucial, as the police claimed Stafford and Luvaglio had left the nightclub, driven 16 miles, pushed Sibbett’s vehicle off the road, then pumped 3 bullets into him, before returning to the club.
In 1967, even in a souped-up cop car, traveling at full-speed, lights flashing, it wasn’t possible to do what was claimed. But it didn’t matter. Luvaglio and Stafford were set for punishment. It was a warning to any other London criminals (most notably London’s notorious Kray twins) against moving their operations north.
Stafford served 12 years but always insisted his innocence, claiming a Scottish shooter committed the crime. This was confirmed in a TV documentary by John Tumblety, who said on camera that he in fact had driven the real murderer back from Pesspool Bridge to the Birdcage club and that man was neither Luvaglio nor Stafford.
In May 2002 Sibbett’s slaying (now renamed The Get Carter Murder) made news when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the British Home Secretary had kept Dennis Stafford in jail longer than was necessary and ordered £28,000 compensation to be paid.
To this day, both men continue to campaign to clear their names of the crime they didn’t commit
In Get Carter the film’s slot machine king was played by playwright, John Osborne, whose character Cyril Kinnear, lives in Dryerdale Hall, Durham, the very building Landa used as his gangland HQ.
In 2002 Landa said :
“The two (Stafford & Luvaglio) men were wrongly convicted and the evidence was incorrect. If they were tried today they would never have been found guilty. It was a political trial. The Home Office had suffered at the hands of gangs like the Krays and the Richardsons and they stepped in to smash what they thought was an organised crime ring.”
These aren’t the only characters Lewis adapted for his novel, and later the film. Property developer Cliff Brumby was a hybrid of Newcastle City councillor, T. Dan Smith and architect John Poulson. Both men were notorious in the sixties, and were later found guilty of bribery, corruption and giving backhanders to MPs and councillors in order to have shoddy building plans passed.
The pair destroyed most of Newcastle and built cheap concrete housing and offices. At the trial, the judge said that the scandal “now couples corruption with the north east.” So far reaching were their underhand activities that Conservative Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling resigned over the scandal.
Smith was accused of infiltrating councils across the North of England and corruptly forcing them to give business to architect John Poulson. Smith used £500,000 of Poulson’s money as bribes. Smith ruled with an iron hand and was described as a “demagogue”. He ended his life championing pensioners’ rights from the 14th floor council flat in a block he had built.
Get Carter was a flop on its release, described by critics as “soulless and nastily erotic…virtuoso viciousness”, a “sado-masochistic fantasy”, that “one would rather wash one’s mouth out with soap than recommend it.” Since then Get Carter has become arguably the greatest British crime film ever made.