Diamond Geezer: George Cole’s Lobster

Born in Tooting on 22nd April 2015 and adopted at ten days old, George Cole spent his childhood in Morden, his earliest memory being his mother’s ire when she discovered he had sold a pair of new shoes to a rag-and-bone man in exchange for a toy windmill. Whilst he excelled academically, Cole first love was acting, and as he later remembered, ‘I was always in plays at school and in school concerts – you could say I liked to show off.’

After leaving school at the age of 14, he worked first as a butcher’s delivery boy and dreamt of joining the Merchant Navy, a dream that was hastily abandoned when he landed a role in the musical comedy The White Horse Inn and then Cottage to Let, which was turned in to a film in 1941, starring Alastair Sim and John Mills. Sim and his wife offered Cole and his mother lodgings and Cole was to live with them until he married the actress Eileen Moore in 1954.

Between 1941 and 1947, Cole would appear with Sim in eight films, most notably The Belle’s of St. Trinian’s and Blue Murder at St. Trinian’s in which Cole played Flash Harry, a spiv who encouraged the girls to get up to all sorts of mischief, and Sim their indulgent headmistress, Miss Fritton. Oher significant roles included the part of ‘the Boy’ in Olivier’s Henry V (1944) and Curley, a member of the Lancaster Crew in the 1945 war film Journey Together, with Richard Attenborough and Jack Watling. The latter enabled Cole to draw upon his own experiences as an R.A.F. radio operator from 1944 to 1947. Continue reading

The Whirl Of Life: Vernon Castle’s Walk

At the dawn of the Jazz Age, the birth of recorded sound allowed for the growth of exciting new musical genres, and these modern tunes required fresh ways to move to them. To many who filled ballrooms and dance halls across America in the years before the Great War, no dancer captured the public’s imagination more than Vernon Castle. Alongside his ravishing wife Irene, he caused a rhythmic revolution, and, as another major conflict loomed in 1939, their compelling story inspired the hit musical, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Above: Scene from The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939)

Born William Vernon Blyth on 2nd May 1887, as the son of a publican he grew up in Norwich and London, before moving to New York with his actress sister Coralie Blythe (having changed her name from Caroline) and his brother-in-law, Lawrence Grossmith, a music hall performer and the son of the Victorian comedian, actor and composer George Grossmith.

Accepting minor roles under the wing of the legendary vaudeville star and manager Lew Fields, he became professionally known as Vernon Castle, and in 1910, he met Irene Foote, a 17 year-old amateur actress, at the New Rochelle Rowing Club. Though Irene later claimed, ‘I could tell by looking at him that he was not my cup of tea,’ her feelings rapidly changed and within weeks, ‘I realized that he was as much in love with me as I was with him.’ They were married a year later, to the dismay of her father, an eminent New York physician whose objections stemmed from his belief that ‘actors never had any money.’ Spending their honeymoon in England, Irene considered the local women to be ‘dowdily dressed,’ and complained of how she found London ‘inferior to New York.’ Continue reading

The English Boy: Richard Warwick’s Great Performances

The third of four sons, Richard Carey Winter was born in the Kent village of Longfield on 29th April 1945, but grew up near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. He would always consider the county his true home and speak fondly of it, marvelling at its rich history and once telling a friend that, as he sat in a local dentist’s chair, he delightedly realised that he was in the very room from which Margaret of Anjou had observed the bloody aftermath of the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471.

With a father who was an aeronautical engineer, and no familial acting connections, it came as a surprise to his parents when Richard won a place at RADA after leaving the Dean Close School in Cheltenham. From RADA, Richard joined the National Theatre, and, having adopted the stage name ‘Warwick’ for Equity reasons, at the age of 23, he was cast as Gregory in Franco Zeffirelli’s lavish Romeo and Juliet.

At the same time, he appeared as the recusant sixth-former Wallace in If…., Lindsay Anderson’s brutal dramatisation of the English public school system. Catching the counter-cultural wave that was spreading across Britain and other parts of Europe in the 1960s, the film was a cinematic triumph, and was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1969. Malcolm McDowell, may have been the film’s main protagonist, but as Anderson said of Warwick, ‘I never met a young actor like Richard! Without a touch of vanity, completely natural yet always concentrated, he illumines every frame of the film in which he appears.’ His enormous talent, stage presence and charmingly boyish looks made Warwick ideal for the televised plays then loved by British audiences.

Above: Trailer for If…. (1968)

Continue reading

Heavy Melodies: The Quiet Existence of Herman Bang

Born in Asserballe on the Danish island of Als on 20thApril 1857, Herman Bang came from a family with a long history of eccentricity, tales of which his paternal grandfather delighted in telling him. After graduating from the Sorø Academy, a boarding school that had once been a monastery and dated back to the twelfth century, in 1879, Bang made his literary début with the collection of essays, Realism and Realists. The volume’s positive reception saw its author drawn towards the Modern Breakthrough, a Scandinavian movement founded by the critic Georg Brandes in 1870, to promote naturalism – a theory influenced by Darwin and espousing the notion that environment and social situations had the most profound influence of all upon human behaviour. Therefore, even the most disturbing aspects of human existence were to be embraced.

Bang’s first collection of short stories, Heavy Melodies was published in 1880, followed by his first novel, Generations Without Hope. The book told the tale of William Hawk, the last surviving male descendent of an aristocratic family who becomes embroiled in a torrid love affair with the much older Countess Hatzfeldt. Generations of Hope was banned after its romantic descriptions resulted in it being classified as pornographic by an outraged Danish press. In July 1881, Bang was tried for obscenity and faced a hefty fine or fourteen days imprisonment; he chose the former.

Nevertheless, the scandal propelled him into the public eye and he moved to Copenhagen. Living in the Danish capital, he produced works such as At Home and Out (1881), Phaedra: Fragments Of a Life History (1883) and Eccentric Short Stories (1885). From 1885 to 1886, he lived in Prague, Vienna and Berlin with the German actor Max Eisfeld, who was also his lover, and wrote the novel Quiet Existences. Separating from Eisfeld, Bang returned to Denmark, where he penned several poems about their relationship, including Night and New Year, and completed the novels Stucco in 1887, Tina in 1889 and Two Tragedies in 1891. Continue reading