Thursday, 26 January 2017

Stanley Baxter


Stanley Baxter:

Yes, he's hardly 'unknown' - in the UK at least. In fact the impish Scottish actor Stanley Baxter is virtually the last man standing of the golden era of British film comedy, alongside his old sparring partner Leslie Phillips. In films produced by the film company Independent Artists, Baxter played a series of characters whose indignant innocence and highland integrity was set off against Phillips's casual caddishness. In 'The Fast Lady' (1962) and 'And Father Came Too' (1964) their rivalry was played out under the critical eye of the great James Robertson Justice. In these he made a likeable, if rather unlikely, male lead - winning the girl through dogged virtue rather than matinee-idol dash.        

 
Publicity still for 'The Fast Lady' (1962)
In 'Very Important Person' (1961) and 'Crooks Anonymous' (1962) the emphasis was more on his vaudevillian skills of comic characterisation, in which he was considerably more nuanced than, say, Norman Wisdom, but not as sophisticated as Peter Sellers. To me, his craggy features and mischievously mobile expressions gave him a rather sinister quality, particularly in drag. His love of the dressing-up box was later to become the raison d'etre of his television sketch shows.            


With Leslie Phillips in 'Crooks Anonymous' (1962)

By the later '60s and early '70s, the light family comedies had been brushed aside by smuttier Carry-Ons and the horror boom and television became his natural domain, although it always seemed that his audience was an older one. The shows featured some memorable skits, particularly his long-running 'Parliamo Glasgow' language course routines which offered an early observational take on the peculiarities of Scottish culture, later taken up by Billy Connolly and the 'Rab C Nesbitt' series. Other sketches, however, tended towards overlong costume pieces with the spectacle of a gargoyle-like Baxter in elaborate drag as a series of Hollywood actresses proving not all that funny. Especially if you were a ten-year-old who didn't know his Ethel Mermans from his Rita Hayworths.

Showing off his regional accents in a 'Nationwide' skit. Ill-advised blacked-up
Baxter (yes really) in the BBC's 'Brixton' studio not shown  
Hello who is this? Shirley MacLaine? Who knows?
This one must be 'Gone With The Wind'. Not very
many people gave a damn, I suspect 

His regular shows became less regular, eventually just an annual Christmas special, but there was a final flourish as the Andy Warhol-meets-Patrick Troughton children's TV star 'Mr Majeika' in the '80s before he settled down to national treasure status. Born in 1926, he's now in his nineties and hopefully going strong. 

As 'Mr Majeika'. As scary as only strange childlike elderly men can be

Anyhoo. Lang may his lum reek.       

Stanley Baxter - imdb

Friday, 6 January 2017

Michael Culver



Michael Culver: 

Now here's a face of the seventies, a lean, shrewd-looking actor who carved his name into a swathe of memorable roles through the heyday of popular television, yet without quite becoming a star.   

As the caddish Danny, telling the world that he doesn't love Annabelle. Soon to be 
pushed off the Albert Bridge by that miffed lady and not, as it turns out, by
a lovelorn Rodney Bewes. All in a day's work for a 'Man In A Suitcase'.  
         
He's another of that dwindling band of actors whose careers straddle the cult TV years of the '60s and '70s, when he appeared in 'Maigret', 'The Avengers', 'The Plane Makers', 'Man In A Suitcase', and 'Space:1999', and more mature roles in dramas such as 'Within These Walls', 'Doomwatch', 'Churchill's People' and 'Warship'. Perhaps his highest-profile part was in the very popular 'Secret Army' as the comparatively sympathetic German officer Brandt who tempers some of the Nazi fervour of his Gestapo counterpart Kessler (played by Clifford Rose). Younger viewers at the time would probably associate him more with 'The Adventures Of Black Beauty'.

Hirsute's you. Culver plays the dastardly kidnapper Kurt with some
impressive mutton chops, alongside the late Ralph Bates at his glossiest
in 'Nuisance Value', an episode of 'The Persuaders' from 1972 
The later '70s and early '80s kept things nicely on the boil with appearances in favourites like 'The Sweeney', 'Minder', 'Squadron', 'Hammer House Of Horror', 'The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes', 'Boon', 'The Professionals' and 'Shoestring'.  


As Prior Robert in the medieval detective series 'Cadfael'

Then there's the cinema CV, which contains some pretty impressive titles, kicking off with (uncredited) roles in 'From Russia With Love' (1963) and 'Thunderball' (1965), and including 'A Passage To India' (1984), the Peter O'Toole 'Goodbye Mr Chips' (1969). As with many British character actors, though, he is known throughout geekdom for his brush with the Star Wars franchise, in this case as Captain Needa, another imperial officer who gets on the wrong side of Darth Vader. 


Still breathing in 'The Empire Strikes Back' (1980). But not for long. 

Michael Culver
-imdb