Tuesday 20 November 2018

Rachel Bell

Rachel Bell

Rachel Bell:  

John Sullivan's '80s lonely-hearts sitcom 'Dear John' had a pleasingly melancholy undertow that makes it more appealing - to me, anyway - than his poll-winning national treasure, 'Only Fools And Horses'. A lot of that can be put down to the downbeat performance of Ralph Bates, previously best known for playing dashing Hammer Horror leading men, but also to a strong ensemble cast. The encounter groups were led by the fearsomely helpful Louise, played strongly by Rachel Bell as a self-help dragon spouting lurid Freudian analysis and trite '80s motivational claptrap.       

Under tough questioning in a 'Crown Court' episode from 1978
With Ronnie Barker in 'The Magnificent Evans' 
Before 'Dear John' in 1987, a number of television productions had featured her talents, among them 'Disraeli' with Ian McShane, 'The Magnificent Evans', 'Alas Smith & Jones', 'Miss Marple', a couple of 'Play For Today' dramas, and the 'Only Fools...' episode 'To Hull And Back'. She was also a regular in a spoof chat show on the newly-created Channel 4 called 'For 4 Tonight', written by  a pre-fame Ruby Wax and directed by a post-fame Mickey Dolenz. Sounds interesting, maybe, but I can't find any archive video.      

The latter '80s and early '90s included some situation comedies: 'Home To Roost', The Upper Hand',  'Last Of The Summer Wine'; some drama 'We'll Meet Again', 'Goodbye Cruel World', and the very odd 'Doctor Who' story 'The Happiness Patrol', before she landed another plum role, as the snooty Edith Pilchester in 'The Darling Buds Of May'.        

In 'Dr Who: The Happiness Patrol'. The weird Sylvester McCoy
era story with the Bertie Bassett-esque alien, The Kandyman  

As Miss Pilchester in 'The Darling Buds Of May' 
'Grange Hill' gave her a long run as Deputy Head Mrs Holmes during its later few years, and the new millennium has brought a steady supply of work ranging from 'Chucklevision', 'Birds Of A Feather' and 'The Bill', to 'The Detectorists' and JK Rowling's low-key detective series 'Strike'.   

As a teacher in the post-Harry Potter reboot
of 'The Worst Witch' for CBBC   
She can be spotted in a few feature films: 'The Edge Of Love' (2008), 'Red Mercury' (2005), 'Mary' (2005), and 'Sweet William' (1980), and also stepped neatly into Patricia Routledge's shoes for the stage version of 'Keeping Up Appearances'  

Rachel Bell-imdb

Tuesday 13 November 2018

Christopher Sandford

Christopher Sandford:  

 The '60s were remarkable years, fizzing with possibilites, of sudden opportunities and lingering disappointments. Christopher Sandford's story is fascinating in the way it touches obliquely on some pivotal pop-culture moments. Without knowing it, I'd watched him in a number of my favourite films and television programmes, without a glimmer of recognition or connection.

'Coronation Street' Oct 1963, as would-be beat sensation Walter Potts   

Early roles as a teenager included a few TV shows, mostly now lost, and typical light comedies such as the inevitable cruise-ship romp 'Next To No Time' (1958) with Kenneth More and Sid James, and the equally inevitable schoolboy hi jinks of 'A French Mistress' (1960), with James Robertson Justice. But it was his role as Walter Potts, the gormless window cleaner of 'Coronation Street' that brought him to the public's attention. In 1963, as Beatlemania was gathering momentum, the primetime soap's storyline saw Walter transformed into "Brett Falcon" by would-be impresario Dennis Tanner. This neat TV-pop crossover even resulted in a flurry of real-life singles on Decca and Fontana. 
His solo album on Transatlantic from the mid-'60s. 

Demonstrating a radio tracking device to
Patrick McGoohan in 'Danger Man'  
He appears in several episodes of 'Danger Man', notably as a Arthur the departmental boffin and as a DJ/agent on a pirate radio station in 'Not So Jolly Roger'. He seems to have been ticking along nicely with the odd part in popular shows of the time, including 'Z-Cars', 'No Hiding Place', 'Public Eye' and 'The Saint'. He also appears in 'Half A Sixpence' (1967) as Tommy Steele's mate Sid, and the BBC adaptation of Dickens's 'Dombey & Son' from 1969.   

Flash bang wallop what a picture.  In 'Half A Sixpence' (1967)
with Tommy Steele (and the late great Julian Orchard). 
As Brett Sinclair's tuneless cousin Onslow, about to get electrocuted in a
'Kind Hearts & Coronets'-influenced episode of 'The Persuaders'    
The '70s presented a new landscape. Sandford's swinging London pop-persona was in demand, but looking increasingly outré in the new decade. He appears in full comedy-mode in 'The Persuaders' Ealing-esque episode 'A Death In The Family' as Roger Moore's groovy duffer of a cousin. On the darker side, he turns up as the brilliantly-named depraved pornographer David Thing  in "Cool It Carol' (1970) a rather grimy, if moralistic, sexploiter with Robin Askwith.        

Great character name. With a curious mix of guest stars in the
Robin Askwith sexploitation movie 'Cool It Carol' (1970)  
Darker still is his slightly chilly turn as Sue's fiancé in the marvellous 'Deep End' (1971), and another rather grim gooseberry role in the obscure Giallo-style 'Die Screaming Marianne' (1971).       

As the fiancé of Sue (Jane Asher) in 'Deep End' (1971)
'Die Screaming Marianne' (1971)
The remainder of the '70s saw relatively few highlights, and in fact there are only six entries on imdb covering the period from 1975 to 2006. He also returned to music with a couple of pastiche comedy records. A modest claim to fame comes from his appearance in the 'Dad's Army' episode 'Time On My Hands' as the German airman dangling from the Walmington-on-Sea town hall clock.  

A mixed bag, but some real gems, some terrific oddball stuff and a fascinating story.   

Christopher Sandford-imdb

Thursday 8 November 2018

Leon Lissek

Actor Leon Lissek as a taxi driver in the 1968 'Avengers' episode 'The Forget-Me-Knot'

Leon Lissek: 

Although born in Australia, Leon Lissek has spent the majority of his long acting career in the UK where his mobile features and expressive eyes have made him a memorable face in a range of supporting roles. Which isn't to say that he is simply a master of the shrug, gape or head-shake, as a series of slightly more substantial acting successes makes clear.     

In the Hammer horror 'Countess Dracula' (1971)
A few major films have featured his talents, such as 'Nicholas & Alexandra' (1971) which featured a Tom Baker as Rasputin, and alongside Albert Finney's Poirot in 'Murder On The Orient Express' (1974, ), as well as 'Sweeney 2' (1978), 'Time Bandits' (1981), 'Personal Services' (1987), and 'The Unbearable Lightness Of Being' (1988). There's also an early role in the revered 'Marat/Sade' (1967). It's in television though, that he has really made the bigger impression.   

In the dock in a 'Crown Court' story from 1973 

With equal aplomb, Leon Lissek has met with television's casting demands for Jewish rabbis, businessmen and revolutionaries, Spanish priests and waiters, Arab sheikhs, French maitre d's, and various Greeks, Russians, Hungarians and Mexicans. You could have spotted him in police and adventure shows ranging from 'Softly Softly', 'Special Branch', 'Z-Cars' and 'Van Der Valk' to 'The Avengers', 'The Protectors', 'The Return Of The Saint' and 'The Professionals'.       

Continental shenanigans in 'Return Of The Saint'
He seems to have returned to Australia for a spell in the mid-'70s, to appear as a regular in 'The Sullivans', and several other Australian programmes. In the UK, lighter fare included low-brow comedies 'Not On Your Nellie' and 'Take A Letter Mr Jones', and kids TV 'Tottering Towers', 'Robert's Robots' and 'The Famous Five.' Better things were around the corner though, with his performance in the big-budget TV drama 'Shogun' as Father Sebastio.    

Waiting for the bathroom in an episode of
the BBC sitcom 'Ever Decreasing Circles'    
The '80s and '90s saw a sprinkling of quality drama - 'Our Friends In The North', 'The Final Cut', 'Cambridge Spies' - and occasional small roles in some popular productions such as 'Ever Decreasing Circles', 'A Fine Romance' and so on, culminating in a stint on 'EastEnders' with the legendary Stella Tanner, as Bruno and Luisa Di Marco, before the cast was dramatically pruned in late 1998.       

Playing Lavoisier in 'Marat/Sade' (1967)

Leon Lissek-imdb