Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Late Great George Cole

George Cole, who played Flash Harry in the "St Trinian's films" and Arthur Daley in the TV show Minder among may other roles, died on August 5 2015 at the age of 90.

George Cole was born in Tooting, London on April 22 1925. His biological mother abandoned him when he was only ten days old. He was adopted by George and Florence Cole, who were respectively a labourer and an office cleaner. They were also amateur musicians who performed in music halls and young George joined them when he was old enough. He attended the Surrey county council school at Morden, but had to leave school at 14 to support his family when his father fell ill. For a time he delivered newspapers before getting an apprenticeship with the local butcher. On the Friday night prior to the Monday that he was to start working at the butcher shop, young Mr. Cole saw an advert in the The Star for a boy in a West End show. The next day, Saturday, he auditioned and was ultimately given a part with the touring company performing The White Horse Inn.

George Cole made his film debut when he was only 15 years old in Cottage to Let (1941). He played opposite Alastair Sim in the film. During its filming George Cole spent his weekends at Alastair Sim and his wife Naomi's house. Mr. and Mrs. Sim helped with George Cole's training as an actor, including helping him lose his Cockney accent. Ultimately, except for his time in the Royal Air Force, George Cole would live with the Sims for the next twelve years. Over the next few years George Cole appeared in the films Those Kids from Town (1942), The Demi-Paradise (1943), Henry V (1944), and Journey Together (1945).

In 1944 George Cole enlisted in the RAF. He trained as a wireless operator at Cardington, Bedfordshire until it was discovered his eyesight was too poor. He was transferred to Coastal Command H.Q. in Northwood, Hertfordshire for a year before he was assigned to running a mess hall in occupied Germany. In the Forties following the war George Cole appeared in the films My Brother's Keeper (1948), Quartet (1948), The Spider and the Fly (1949), Morning Departure (1949), The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950), and Gone to Earth (1950). He made his television debut in the 1948 production Dr. Angelus. He appeared on television in the productions The Anatomist and The Three Kisses.

It was in the Fifties that George Cole appeared in two of most famous roles. In the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol (AKA Scrooge), he played a young Ebenezer Scrooge (his friend and mentor Alastair Sim played the old Ebeneezer Scrooge). In 1954 in the The Belles of St. Trinian's he first appeared as con-man Flash Harry. He would play the role three more times in the "St. Trinian's" films. In the Fifties he appeared in such films as Flesh & Blood (1951), Laughter in Paradise (1951), Lady Godiva Rides Again (1951), The Happy Family (1952), Who Goes There! (1952), Top Secret (1952), Will Any Gentleman...? (1953), Our Girl Friday (1953), Happy Ever After (1954), Quentin Durward (1955), It's a Wonderful World (1956), The Green Man (1956), Blue Murder at St. Trinian's (1957), Too Many Crooks (1959), Don't Panic Chaps (1959), and The Pure Hell of St. Trinian's (1960). He starred in the TV programme A Life of Bliss. He guest starred on the shows Suspicion and ITV Television Playhouse.

In the Sixties George Cole appeared in the films Cleopatra (1963), One Way Pendulum (1965), The Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery (1966), The Green Shoes (1968), and The Vampire Lovers (1970). He appeared frequently on British television throughout the decade. He starred in the show A Man of Our Times in 1968. He guest starred on such shows as Gideon C.I.D., A World of Comedy, The Wonderful World of Disney ("The Scarecrow of Romney March"), Comedy Playhouse, The Informer, Blackmail, Vendetta, ITV Play of the Week, Out of the Unknown, Jackanory, The Root of All Evil, and Armchair Theatre.

In the Seventies George Cole starred in the TV series Don't Forget to Write! and had a recurring role in the mini-series The Voyage of Charles Darwin. He guest starred on such shows as U.F.O., Madigan, Dial M for Murder, Affairs of the Heart, Quiller, The Sweeney, Good Neighbours, and Return of The Saint. He appeared in the films Fright (1971), Take Me High (1974), The Blue Bird (1976), and Double Nickels (1977).

It was in 1979 that George Cole took the role of Arthur Daley, a morally dubious used car salesman, on the TV series Minder. The show proved very popular, running throughout the Eighties and into the Nineties. He also starred on the TV programmes The Bounder, Blott on the Landscape, and Comrade Dad. He was a voice on the animated series Tube Mice. He appeared in the film Deadline Auto Theft (1983).

In the Nineties George Cole continued to appear on the TV show Minder. He starred in the TV shows Root into Europe, An Independent Man, and Dad. He appeared in the films Mary Reilly (1996) and The Ghost of Greville Lodge (2000).  In the Naughts George Cole appeared in the mini-series Bodily Harm. He guest starred on the shows Family Business, Agatha Christie's Marple, Diamond Geezer, New Tricks, Midsomer Murders, and Heartbeat.

George Cole may well be best known for playing shifty characters, many of which he played over the years. In fact, his two best known roles could quite aptly be described as "shifty". In the "St. Trinian's" films, Flash Harry was the consummate con man, selling race cards and helping the girls of St. Trinian's School bottle and sell the gin they made. Arthur Daley on Minder was actually much more than an unscrupulous used car salesman, as he engaged in wholesale, imports and exports, and nearly anything to make money whether it was legal or not. Although George Cole was not the least bit dodgy in real life, he was good at playing very dodgy characters.

Of course, Mr. Cole played more than con men and ne'er-do-wells in his career. As young Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1951) he played a sad young man who felt abandoned by his overly strict father. In The Vampire Lovers he played a hapless landowner who falls afoul of a vampire. In the short lived sitcom Comrade Dad George Cole played a role about as far from the capitalists Flash Harry and Arthur Daley as one could get--a British working class father who is sympathetic to the Communists after the United Kingdom is taken over by the Soviet Union.  George Cole was a remarkable actor and one of the best British characters to emerge in the late 20th Century. He may be best remembered as Flash Harry and Arthur Daley, but he played a wide variety of roles during a remarkably long career.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Colleen Gray Passes On

Coleen Gray, who appeared in such films as Kiss of Death (1947), Red River (1948) and The Killing (1956), died on August 3 2015 at the age of 92.

Coleen Gray was born Doris Jensen on October 23 1922 in Staplehurst, Nebraska. She spent her childhood in Hutchinson, Minnesota. She earned a Bachelor's degree in English and music from  at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. After graduating from college she moved to California. She worked for a waitress in La Jolla for a time before moving to Los Angeles and enrolling at the University of California, Los Angeles. While attending UCLA she worked in the university's library as well as the YWCA.  Eventually she was signed to a seven year contract with 20th Century Fox.

Coleen Gray made her film debut in an uncredited, bit part in State Fair (1945). She appeared in another uncredited bit part in Three Little Girls in Blue (1946) before her first major role, playing the female lead in Kiss of Death (1947). In the late Forties she appeared in such films as Nightmare Alley (1947), Fury at Furnace Creek (1948), Red River (1948), Father Is a Bachelor (1950), Riding High (1950), and The Sleeping City (1950).

Despite appearing in The Killing in 1956, Coleen Gray's film career began to decline in the late Fifties. By that time she was appearing in such low budget films as The Vampire (1957) and The Leech Woman (1960). During the decade she appeared in such films as I'll Get You for This (1951), Apache Drums (1951), Models Inc. (1952), Kansas City Confidential (1952), The Vanquished (1953), Las Vegas Shakedown (1955), Frontier Gambler (1956), The Black Whip (1956), and Johnny Rocco (1958). She made her television debut in 1950 in an episode of Pulitzer Prize Playhouse and appeared frequently on television in the Fifties. She guest starred on such shows as Danger, Schlitz Playhouse, The Ford Television Playhouse, Lux Video Theatre, Four Star Playhouse, Damon  Runyon Theatre, Climax!, Mike Hammer, Playhouse 90, Tales of Wells Fargo, The Deputy, and General Electric Theatre.

The Sixties would see her career mostly take place on television. She appeared on such shows as Lawman, Maverick, Have Gun--Will Travel, Rawhide, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, 77 Sunset Strip, Mister Ed, Perry Mason, The Virginian, My Three Sons, Run for Your Life, Bonanza, The Name of the Game, and Adam-12. She appeared in the movies The Phantom Planet (1961), Town Tamer (1965), and P.J. (1968). She was a regular for a time on the soap operas Days of Our Lives and Bright Promises.

From the Seventies into the Eighties Miss Gray appeared on such shows as The F.B.I., Mannix, The Sixth Sense, Ironside, Emergency!, McCloud, and Tales from the Darkside. She appeared in the films The Late Liz (1971), Mother (1978),  and Cry from the Mountain (1985).

There can be no doubt that Coleen Gray was incredibly beautiful. Sadly, her wholesome yet delicate beauty largely dictated the sort of roles she was given.  In both films noirs and Westerns Coleen Gray was always the girlfriend or wife. It did not matter that her characters were often in love with bad men, they were nearly always virtuous. Coleen Gray played such roles very well, but she could clearly do much more. She proved that in The Leech Woman, as well as many of her television appearances. Hardly a good film by any stretch of the imagination, The Leech Woman at least gave her the chance to play a villainous character, namely the title character who drains men of their youth. In some of her appearances on Perry Mason she also got to play characters who were very different from those she had in film--namely, women who were not below scheming to get what they wanted. In the Rawhide episode "The Devil and the Deep Blue" she not only played a woman who was cheating on her husband, but one capable of murder as well.  While Coleen Gray will most likely be remembered for the many wholesome women she played in films noirs and Westerns, she was capable of playing many more roles.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Godspeed Cilla Black

Cilla Black died on August 1 2015 at the age of 72. The cause was a stroke.

Cilla Black was born Priscilla White in Vauxhall, Liverpool on May 27 1943. She attended St Anthony's Junior and Secondary Schools in Vauxhall. After leaving St. Anthony's she enrolled in courses in office skills at Anfield Commercial College.  Following her graduation she worked as a filing clerk at British Insulated Callenders Cables.

Eager to become a professional singer, she took another job working part time checking coats at the Cavern Club. Eventually she became a guest singer with such Merseybeat bands as Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes, and the Big Three. It was at the Iron Door Club, which was relatively near the Cavern Club, that she sang with an up and coming band called The Beatles. It was Bill Harry, the publisher of Mersey Beat, who gave Cilla her stage name when he mistakenly called her "Cilla Black" in an article in the paper. Cilla liked the name "Cilla Black" better than her given name and took it for her stage name.

It was in early 1962 that John Lennon of The Beatles introduced her to their manager Brian Epstein. Following an unrehearsed audition in which she sang Gerhwin's "Summertime" at a Beatles concert at the Majestic ballroom in Birkenhead, Brian Epstein turned down the opportunity to manage her. Fortunately he changed his mind a bit later when he saw her perform with John Rubin's modern jazz band at the Blue Angel in Liverpool. She made her first official appearance with The Beatles at the Odeon in Southport on August 30 1963. It was only a week later, on September 6 1963 that Cilla and her father signed a management contract with Brian Epstein. It was shortly afterwards that Brian Epstein introduced Miss Black to The Beatles' producer George Martin, who signed her to Parlophone Records.

Cilla Black's first single, "Loved of the Loved", was written by Paul McCartney (although credited to Lennon–McCartney). Released on September 27 1963, it only managed to reach number 35 on the British singles chart. Fortunately, Cilla Black's next single would prove to be much more successful. "Anyone Who Had A Heart" was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and had been recorded by Dionne Warwick in the United States. Cilla Black's cover of the song proved to be a hit in the United Kingdom and actually prevented Miss Warwick's version from going any higher than no. 42 on the British singles chart. As to Cilla Black's version of "Anyone Who Had A Heart", it went to number 1 on the British singles chart and topped the Irish singles chart as well.

Cilla Black's third single, "You're My World", would also go to number 1 on the British singles chart. It also went to number 2 on the Irish singles chart and number 1 on the Australian singles chart. It would be her only hit in the United States, reaching number 26 on the Billboard Hot 100. He following single, "It's for You", reached no. 7 on the British singles chart and no. 17 on the Australian singles chart, but only reached no. 79 in the United States.

Miss Black had several more hit singles in the United Kingdom in the Sixties, including her cover of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'", "I've Been Wrong Before", "Love's Just a Broken Heart", "Alfie", "Don't Answer Me", "Step Inside Love", "Surround Yourself with Sorrow", and "Conversations". She recorded several albums during the decade. Her debut album, Cilla, was released in 1965 and went to no. 6 on the British album chart. It was followed by Cilla Sings a Rainbow (1966), Sher-oo! (1968), Surround Yourself with Cilla (1969), and Sweet Inspiration (1970).

Throughout the mid to late Sixties Cilla Black appeared on various variety and music shows in the United Kingdom, including  Ready, Steady, Go; Top of the Pops, Juke Box Jury; Thank Your Lucky Stars; Blackpool Night Out; and Five O'Clock Club. In the United States she appeared on Shindig and The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1968 she became the star of her own variety show, Cilla, which ran on and off until 1976. She appeared in the Gerry and the Pacemakers' film Ferry Cross the Mersey (1965).

Cilla's music career declined in the early Seventies. Her last top ten single was "Something Tells Me (Something's Gonna Happen Tonight)", which went to no. 3 on the British singles chart in 1971. Her following single, "The World I Wish for You", only reached no. 51 in 1972. In the Seventies her only other singles to chart were "Baby We Can't Go Wrong", which went to no. 36 on the British singles chart in 1974 and "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song", which went to no. 51 in that same year. She released six albums in the Seventies, but none of them charted.

As the Seventies progressed Cilla Black was thought of more as a television personality than a singer. Her variety show Cilla continued to air on the BBC until 1976. In 1975 she starred in a situation comedy anthology series, Cilla's Comedy Six. The following year she starred in a similar situation comedy anthology series, Cilla's World of Comedy. She guest starred in a 1971 edition of The Goodies.

By the early Eighties Cilla Black's career was at low ebb. Fortunately an appearance on Wogan in 1983 would revitalise her career, although it would be as a television personality rather than as a singer. In 1984 she became the presenter on the long running reality show Surprise Surprise. The show ran until 2001. In 1985 she became the presenter on the dating game show Blind Date. It ran until 2003. She appeared on the shows The Keith Harris Show and Blankety Blank. Her song "Surprise, Surprise" (from the TV show) went to 90 in 1985.

In the Nineties Cilla Black continued to host Surprise Surprise and Blind Date. In 1998 she became the presenter on the game show Moment of Truth. It ran until 2001. She appeared in the specials Cilla's Celebration and Cilla's World. She appeared on Mr. Bean, Pebble Mill at One, and Stockton's Fling. Her single "Through the Years" went to no. 54 on the British singles chart. A single with Dusty Springfield, "Heart and Soul", went to no. 75.

In the Naughts she was a judge on the reality competition show Soapstar Superstar and a regular on the panel show Loose Women. She appeared on such shows as  So Graham Norton, Today with Des and Mel, GMTV, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, Parkinson, and The Paul O' Grady Show.In the Teens she appeared on such shows as Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Your Face Sounds Familiar, and Through the Keyhole. In 2013 she appeared in the special The One and Only Cilla Black.

There can be no doubt that Cilla Black was one of the most memorable singers to emerge from England in the Sixties. She certainly had a distinctive voice. Writing about Miss Black in the Liverpool Echo, David Charters her as having "...a voice to tremble the stars and scare the angels - and enough ambition to fill a cathedral, or two." There can be no doubt that her voice packed a wallop. Her version of "Anyone Who Had a Heart" packed more emotion than Dionne Warwick could ever hope to muster in any song. Although it originated as an Italian song by Umberto Bindi ("Il Mio Mondo") and it would be recorded by others, Cilla Black's version of "My World" was always the best. Cilla Black had a powerful voice and sang with such sincerity that one could nearly believe she had lived the lyrics.

Of course, Cilla Black would later become a television presenter. She had a great deal of success presenting TV shows, to the point that an entire generation in Britain is probably more familiar with her from television than they are her singing career. As a presenter Cilla Black was unashamedly Liverpudlian and clearly working class, and it gave her a charm many other presenters always lacked. As a presenter she displayed the same unabashed honesty as she had in her songs and an incredible sense of humour. In the end Cilla Black was the consummate performer, a singer with an incredible voice and the ability to make any audience happy.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Thank You for a Successful Blogathon!

I just wanted to thank all of you who wrote posts for the 2nd Annual British Invaders Blogathon a success. This year's blogathon literally spanned the history of British film, with the earliest subject of a post coming from 1910 and the latest subject coming from 1988. A wide array of film genres were represented as well, everything from the Gainsborough melodramas to the Ealing comedies to British Noir.

Over the next few days I will be commenting on your posts! Again, thank all of you so much.