Tuesday 28 September 2021

Caroline Blakiston

Actress Caroline Blakiston in the TV series 'Shoestring'

Caroline Blakiston: 

For someone who can lay claim to a named character in the Star Wars franchise - Mon Mothma in 'Return Of The Jedi' (1983) - as well as a royal flush of the classic cult TV adventure shows of the '60s - including 'The Saint', 'The Baron', 'The Champions', 'Department S' and no fewer than three episodes of 'The Avengers' - it's surprising that you might be forgiven for not immediately knowing the name of Caroline Blakiston.

In 'Return Of The Jedi' (1983) briefing on the attack on Endor.
In later films, and the upcoming TV spin-off 'Andor', the role of
Mon Mothma was taken over by Australian actress Genevieve O'Reilly.   

Amazingly assured and accomplished from an early age, she has commanded substantial roles since the very beginning of the '60s, including two of the biggest successes of that decade in 'Emergency Ward 10' and 'The Forsyte Saga'. Radiating upper-class style and authority, she excelled as professional and aristocratic characters. She is, in fact, related to several titled families, although by no means a snob, having been married to fellow character actor, the great Russell Hunter - who came to the profession via the Glasgow shipyards.     

In the enormously popular television melodrama
'The Forsyte Saga', here with John Phillips 
In the dramas and period melodramas of the '60s and '70s, she cuts an impressive swathe of lady magistrates, doctors, high-ranking civil servants and landed gentry. Spot her in 'Wives & Daughters', 'The Mallens', 'Charters & Caldicott' and 'Raffles'. She was a regular as a barrister in 'Crown Court', and can be seen in 'The Sweeney', 'Nanny' and many more. 

In the stylishly-shot 'Public Eye'

Caroline Blakiston's movie credits beyond 'Jedi' are surprisingly slim. She's in 'The Magic Christian' (1969) with Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr, and a couple of other biggish films like 'Yanks' (1979), 'Fourth Protocol (1987), and Woody Allen's 'Scoop' (2006), but it's more likely that you've spotted her on the small screen.  

As a programmed super agent in an episode of
'The Champions', entitled 'The Experiment

In an episode of 'The Saint' with Roger Moore

The '80s and '90s saw her  pop up in 'Shoestring', 'Chancer', 'Mulberry' and the counter-espionage drama 'Mr Palfrey Of Westminster' with Alec McCowan, in which she plays Palfrey's M-like boss, the Coordinator.  On the comedy front, she's in 'Murder Most Horrid' and the mill melodrama pastiche 'Brass'.    

As the mysterious Coordinator in the understated  
spy drama series, 'Mr Palfrey Of Westminster'

More recently there have been medical machinations of the 'Casualty', Holby City' and 'Doctors' variety, and some detective and period pieces such as 'Poirot', 'Midsomer Murders', 'Father Brown', and 'Poldark. All quite in order for the latter stages of a long and distinguished career stretching back to the early '60s.  

Friday 10 September 2021

Murray Melvin

Murray Melvin, British actor

Murray Melvin:
† Aug 10 1932 - April 14 2023

What, really? Yes, you may be surprised to see me add Murray Melvin to this particular blog, celebrating as it does the tier of British actors who are much admired but just below the status of household name. He's certainly a touchstone for that most inventive and creative period in British film and drama, the kitchen-sink school of the '60s, Joan Littlewood's visionary open-door theatre and the work of the British film outsider auteurs who went on to great things. Yet, outside an increasingly rarefied audience for classic cinema, his name might not be on every lip.        

In 'A Taste of Honey' 

A truly individual actor, Murray Melvin's acid-camp performances are always mesmerising in their precision, microtonally nuanced in emotion. His path took him from West End office clerk to sweeping the stage at the East London's Theatre Royal Stratford East, where Joan Littlewood nurtured a company of remarkable natural actors plucked from all walks of society. She chose him to play the implicitly gay Geoffrey in the ground-breaking play 'A Taste Of Honey', a role he reprised in the film version in 1961, winning himself a Best Actor award at Cannes.        

As the feckless Lupin Pooter in Ken Russell's 
1964 film for the BBC, 'Diary Of A Nobody' 

His other early film appearances include Joseph Losey's 'The Criminal' (1960), 'Petticoat Pirates' (1962), 'HMS Defiant' (1962), 'Sparrows Can't Sing' (1963), the with-it 'Kaleidoscope' (1967), and a pair of '60s classics; 'Alfie' (1966) and 'Smashing Time' (1967).

Reunited with Rita Tushingham at the day-glo end of
the '60s with a cameo in 'Swinging Time' (1967)  

The next decade saw things step up a bit in terms of arthouse cinema, with his old friend Ken Russell, in 'The Boy Friend (1971), 'The Devils' (1971) and 'Lisztomania' (1975), with Stanley Kubrick in 'Barry Lyndon' (1975), and in the likes of 'A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg' (1972) and 'The Bawdy Adventures Of Tom Jones' (1976).      

In Ken Russell's inquisition emission, 'The Devils' (1971)

During this long purple patch there were small-screen roles in 'The Avengers', Ken Russell's TV movie 'Isadora' (1966) with Vivian Pickles, 'The Flaxton Boys', 'Bulman', 'The Onedin Line' and a smattering of Plays for Today. He also turns up in the odd thing like 'Super Gran', the star-studded 1999 TV movie of 'Alice In Wonderland', and the obscure but well-liked Canadian sci-fi series 'Starhunter'

Unmistakably neat and dapper, the astute and erudite  
 Mr Melvin is a popular interviewee for students of the arts. 

At the grand age of 89 (at time of writing), I'm pleased to see that Mr Melvin is still quite active and busy. His work since the '90s has included the film version of 'The Phantom Of The Opera (2004), and 'Jonathan Creek' and 'Torchwood' on television. Familiar rather than unknown then, I hope this small salute will alert new viewers to his unique cinematic presence.    

You can (as of Sep 2021) watch the 1964 Ken Russell film 'Diary Of A Nobody' via the YouTube link below. It stars Bryan Pringle and features a great cast including other Familiar Unknown alumni: Avril Elgar, Brian Murphy, Vivian Pickles and Jonathan Cecil. With harmonium score by Ivor Cutler. Enjoy.

'Diary Of A Nobody: The Domestic Jottings Of A City Clerk'   

Thursday 2 September 2021

Enn Reitel

 Enn Reitel:   

You may not be able to place where you've seen Scottish actor Enn Reitel, but you've certainly heard his voice without ever realising it. An enormously versatile and in-demand voice actor, he was a key member of the 'Spitting Image' team - putting words in the wobbling mouths of Geoffrey Howe, Roy Jenkins, Leonard Nimoy, Vincent Price, Donald Sinden, Julian Clary, Clint Eastwood, Norman Fowler, Mikhail Gorbachev, Dustin Hoffman and Ian St. John, to name but a few...

Some of the Spitting Image voice talent: (l-r) Chris 
Barrie, Steve Naillon, Jon Glover and Enn Reitel.

He has appeared on-screen occasionally, and there was even a period in the '80s where he seemed to be positioned as an upcoming sitcom star, somewhat in the vein of Hywel Bennett's sardonic 'Shelley'. He took the title role in the reboot of Kingsley Amis's 'The Adventures Of Lucky Jim' with Glynis Barber and David Simeon. At one point he was also mooted to play the part of Del Boy in 'Only Fools And Horses', which would surely have been a mistake, even without the benefit of hindsight. 

Reitel with Karen Smith in an episode of 'The Optimist'  

Menawhile, 'The Optimist' was a Channel 4 curiosity. An evocation of the poignant humour of the silent era, shot on location entirely on 16mm film. It was an elegant idea, well realised and running to a second series, but few seem to remember it now.    


As a lawyer in an episode of the popular
Victorian detective series 'Cribb' 

There was also the Clement & LeFrenais comedy 'Mog', about a burglar feigning insanity to dodge jail. Unlike their classic creation, 'Porridge', 'Mog' was short on comedic spark and lacked that show's unforgettable characters. Marty Feldman was originally cast as Mog, but died before filming began. Reitel struggled manfully with the part, but it was a narrow premise and little too dark to be at all popular. To be honest, I can't imagine the inevitably hectic overacting of Marty Feldman making a success of it either.       

'Mog', with his psychiatrist, played by the glamorous Catherine
Schell. The programme was about as funny as it looks here.  

Enn Reitel's lasting claim to fame is his ongoing voice-over work. His versatility with accents is the perfect adjunct to his natural rich baritone, and he seems able to jump from straight advertising and narration work to the most extreme parody without missing a beat. The computer game industry has been a fertile territory for him, with credits in a number of big-franchise titles like 'Avatar: The Game', 'Star Wars: The Old Republic', 'Elder Scrolls', 'Chronicles Of Narnia' and 'Metal Gear Solid'.     

Enn Reitel also provided the voicing for Nestor, the faithful
butler of Marlinspike Hall in 'The Adventures of Tintin' (2011)

Here's a little voice-over agency playreel to give you a sample of his work.

Enn Reitel-imdb