Tuesday, December 06, 2016


And, 2016 goes and claims another great favourite of yer actual Keith Telly Topping, dear blog reader. The actor Peter Vaughan, who has died aged ninety three, seldom played leading roles. But in an astonishing career lasting more than seven decades he became a virtual ever-present figure on stage, screen and television. Peter described himself as a character actor, saying that he did not have the looks to play romantic leads. 'If you're a character actor, you don't need to wait for the next leading role,' he once said. 'But, if you are a leading man you have to wait for the next part. Sometimes that means long periods without work.' Peter's hefty frame could appear intimidating or benevolent; his beady, hollow eyes menacing or avuncular. Adept at playing both sides of the law, his characters usually possessed a strange, somewhat wary countenance that kept the audience slightly off-balance. He cut his teeth in the theatre where he specialised in playing police officers, secret agents and excelled in roles as the menacing villain. But, he gained a wider audience with his TV roles, notably in the popular sitcoms Porridge and Citizen Smith and acclaimed drama series' like Fox and Our Friends In The North. Latterly, in his nineties, he featured in the hugely successful Game Of Thrones series, in which he played the elderly, blind Maester Aemon of The Night's Watch. His agent, Sally Long-Innes, said that Peter had 'died peacefully with his family around him' on Tuesday morning.
He was born Peter Olm in April 1923 in the small market town of Wem in Shropshire. His father worked at a bank whilst his mother was a nurse. His parents, reportedly, did not have a very happy marriage and Peter spent much of his adolescence as something of a loner, an experience which left him emotionally repressed, he would later suggest. He attended Uttoxeter Grammar School before joining Wolverhampton Repertory Theatre in what would prove to be a long stint in touring theatre. It was interrupted by war when he was called up to the army and saw service as an officer in Normandy and Belgium, an experience which he later described as 'terrifying.' He was transferred to the Far East, where he witnessed the liberation of allied prisoners of war from the appalling conditions in Singapore's Changi jail. 'It was a strange way, between the ages of eighteen and twenty four, to form a character. I think I was in a daze when I came back to Britain. It took me a while to come to terms with it.' While in Singapore, where he was commissioned in the Royal Corps of Signals, he had his first experience of radio work as a newscaster for Radio Malaya. At the end of the war the radio company offered him a three-year contract but he decided to rejoin his old rep company in England. He went back into the theatre playing dozens of minor roles and also married an up-and-coming actress, Billie Whitelaw, in 1952. The marriage was not a success, although the couple stayed together for more than a decade. However, Peter found it impossible not to feel resentment at his wife's increasingly high profile as the decade progressed. 'As I got more and more work, Peter's difficulty in dealing with this was starting to show,' Whitelaw later wrote in her autobiography. In turn, she had a series of affairs.
Peter's first West End performance came in 1954 in a production of Moliere's Le Malade Imaginaire. He decided to stay in London and went into lodgings with another young actor, Donald Pleasence. In those lean years he and Donald queued for dole money together and would then go to Lord's to watch the cricket. Peter made his first - and uncredited - film appearance in the 1959 version of The Thirty Nine Steps, where he played a policeman, soon followed by a similar, this time speaking, role in 1960's Village Of The Damned. By that stage he was already a veteran of six years of small TV roles, beginning in 1954 with an episode of the BBC's drama strand Stage To Stage. A critic once said that Vaughan could 'convey menace reading a weather forecast' and he used this to good effect in a string of film and TV characters. 'In terms of the parts I played, I think my face had more to do with it. Clearly I wasn't ever going to play romantic leads.' In the 1964 British crime movie Smokescreen, he finally topped the cast list and came to the notice of the critics, in his role as an insurance investigator. In the same year he made his London stage breakthrough, playing Ed in Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr Sloane at Wyndham's Theatre. He recalled Orton as 'a complete one-off. If I asked him about a line, he'd tell me it meant whatever I wanted it to mean.' Noticeably shady movie roles came playing Tallulah Bankhead's seedy handyman who meets a horrible end in the Gothic horror Fanatic (1965), his villainous roles in the spy thrillers The Naked Runner (1967 opposite Frank Sinatra) and The Man Outside (1967), a German thug in A Twist Of Sand (1968) and Sergeant Walker in the minor classic The Bofors Gun (1968). 'The great thing about [Sinatra] was that you had to stand up to him very quickly,' Peter recalled. 'If you did that, he respected you, otherwise he'd walk all over you.' Peter and Billie divorced in 1966 and Vaughan later married the actress Lillias Walker whom he had met when they both appeared in the same play and who later had roles in a couple of movies with Peter, Malachi's Cove (1973) and Intimate Reflections (1974). During the 1970s he became a regular face on British TV. He excelled as Mister Paxton in the 1972 BBC adaptation of the MR James ghost story A Warning To The Curious. Two years later, he played the menacing criminal mastermind, Genial Harry Grout, in the BBC sitcom Porridge. It was a measure of the strength of his performance that many people assume he actually appeared in far more than the three episodes in which the character featured. 'I still get people saying: "Let you out, have they, Grouty?"' Vaughan told an interviewer earlier this year. 'I was in just three episodes and, of course, the feature film, so I have to thank the writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais for the fact I'm one of the characters people always remember when they talk about Porridge because Grouty is so prominent – even though I'm not there. Everybody's frightened to death of him, so they talked about him a lot.' Dick Clement told BBC Radio that Peter 'made the character of Grouty his own. He had a wonderful quality of being menacing [and] at the same time, funny, not an easy thing to pull off. He was a real adversary for Fletcher, someone you knew you wouldn't mess around with. If you are still working in your nineties, which he was, you can only celebrate what was a fantastic life and be glad of it,' he added. 'I think he was a consummate actor and I feel very privileged to have worked with him.' Later Peter played the authoritarian father of Robert Lindsay's girlfriend, Shirley, in the first two series of another classic BBC comedy, Citizen Smith.
In 1980 Peter was magnetic as Billy Fox, the head of the titular gangland family in Thames Television's drama series, Fox. And, he played the part of Denethor in the BBC's much-acclaimed radio adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings in 1981. The director, Terry Gilliam, was so taken with Vaughan's performances that he cast him as the ogre in Time Bandits and later as Helpmann in Brazil. Peter was a frequent figure in many costume dramas including BBC adaptations of Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend. The cinema role for which he probably received most acclaim was as William Stevens in the 1993 adaptation of The Remains Of The Day. The old butler's attention to detail perfectly summed up Vaughan's own approach to his craft. His meticulous preparation for his roles became famous. When cast in Peter Flannery's BBC drama Our Friends In The North, as Christopher Eccleston's proud trade unionist father Felix Hutchison who eventually develops dementia, Peter reportedly spent many hours in a home for people with Alzheimer's. 'One wants to be real above all things,' he later said. His performance won him a deserved BAFTA nomination. 'As Felix, over the course of four decades, I was able to go from a hard nut right the way through the various stages of that illness and it was really the first time it had been brought seriously to notice,' he said. 'It was a great privilege to play that part, it blazed the trail.' Eccleston said that he had learned more from Peter than anyone else in his entire career. He told BBC Radio 4's Front Row that Peter was 'wonderful to work with. When he was first introduced to me, the first thing he said to me was, "Hmm, I don't like the look of you." And I said, "No, I don't like the look of you." And me and Peter were off from then. Peter was gladiatorial as an actor. You've got to remember that you had Daniel Craig, Gina McKee, Mark Strong and myself all at the beginning of our careers, all very opinionated, all very energised, but there was no more intense actor on that set than Peter Vaughan.' Eccleston added that the actor's subtlety made him stand out: 'Little things, like obsessive gestures like rubbing the table.' As Peter entered his eighth decade, the roles kept coming. He appeared in a number of films in the first decade of the new century including Death At A Funeral in 2007. At the age of ninety, he portrayed the sympathetic Maester Aemon of The Night's Watch in Game Of Thrones. His character was blind, an affliction which mirrored Peter's own failing sight. 'People talk about Grouty but, good heavens, the fan mail I get from all over the world because of Game Of Thrones is enormous,' Peter told the Sunday Post. 'I've been so lucky with parts,' he told BBC Surrey recently in one of his last interviews in November. 'They talk about actors resting. The only time I have ever rested in my seventy seven years as an actor has been when I've wanted to. Lucky, lucky, lucky.' His co-star John Bradley said: 'His enthusiasm, passion and kindness were matched only by the power and precision of his performances. He could terrify and enchant in equal measure. He taught me so much but only ever by example and it was an honour to be his colleague.' Another of the Game Of Thrones cast, Owen Teale, told ITV News: 'Peter was a very inspiring character to me, I think to anybody. He was a gentle giant, he really was. And as I speak about him I miss him very much. And the memories I have I cherish.'
'I have always approached every part I have done as if it will be my last,' Peter once said, 'and that it's the one I will be judged by.' Peter's CV also included appearances films like Inside Story, The Court Martian Of Major Keller, The Devil's Agent, The Punch & Judy Man, The Victors, Rotten To The Core, Hammerhead, Straw Dogs, Savage Messiah, The MacKintosh Man, Zulu Dawn, The French Lieutenant's WomanThe Razor's Edge, Face, The Life & Death Of Peter Sellers and Is Anybody There? And, on TV, in series as diverse as Tales From Soho, Time & The Conways, The Adventures Of Ben Gunn, Interpol Calling, Knight Errant Limited, Deadline Midnight, Three Live Wires, A Chance Of Thunder, the BBC's 1962 adaptation of Oliver Twist (as Bill Sykes), No Hiding Place, Hancock, Dimensions Of Fear, Rudolph Cartier's Stalingrad, Crane, The Saint, Knock On Any Door, Dixon Of Dock Green, Coronation Street. Quick Before They Catch Us, Our Man At St Mark's, Public Eye, Adam Adamant Lives!, Armchair Theatre, Haunted, Man In A Suitcase, Treasure Island (as Long John Silver), The Gold Robbers, Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased), Strange Report, The Wednesday Play, The Persuaders!, Thirty Minute Theatre, The Protectors, Fall Of Eagles, The Pallisers, The Sweeney, The Doombolt Chase, The Morecambe & Wise Show, The Crucible, Shelley, C.A.T.S Eyes, Sins, When We Are Married, Codename: Kyril, Chancer, Lovejoy, Nightingales, Dandelion Dead, Murder Most Horrid, Fatherland, The Choir, The Moonstone, The Tenth Kingdom, In Deep, Heartbeat, Casualty, Lark Rise To Candleford and Doc Martin. Peter is survived by his second wife, Lillias, their son David and twin step-daughters (including the actress Victoria Burton, the wife of Gregor Fisher).
A red fez hat worn by Tommy Cooper during his comedy routines is to go on display following an appeal by the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Knightsbridge museum purchased the late comic's archive and 'gag file' earlier this year, but had been unable to get his famous hat. But, a former advertising executive came to the rescue donating a fez he was given by Tommy just days before he died. It will be on display at the museum from 6 December. According to legend, Tommy began wearing a fez when he lost his army-issue helmet while performing in Cairo during World War Two. The V&A's hat was given to Hans Van Rijs in 1984 while he was working on a Dutch Bassett's Winegums advertisement which featured the comedian. 'He gave me his fez to take back home with me, so that the special effects team could begin animating it,' Van Rijs said. However, he added the the advert was never made as '[Tommy] died a few days after we met.' The fez is looking a little worn with most of the tassel missing because Van Rijs cat 'liked to play with it,' according to the museum. Simon Sladen, senior curator of modern and contemporary performance at the V&A, said that the hat and archive will 'give visitors a fascinating insight into one the best-loved entertainers of the Twentieth Century."'Tommy Cooper died in April 1984 after collapsing during a live TV broadcast at Her Majesty's Theatre in London.
A statue of David Bowie will go up in the town where he first performed as Ziggy Stardust following the success of a crowdfunding campaign. More than six hundred and fifty people pledged sums totalling more than the one hundred thousand knicker goal, nineteen hours before the deadline. The statue will be put up in Aylesbury, where Bowie unveiled his Ziggy character. Campaigner David Stopps said that it was 'an exciting moment' and raising the cash means 'the statue will now happen.' Stopps said: 'We are very grateful to everybody. It's been a Biblical forty days. The bottom line now is that the statue will happen.' About thirty per cent of the pledges were from outside the UK. Adele's record company and 1980s musician, Howard Jones were among six donators giving six thousand pounds. Bowie's booking agent, John Giddings born in nearby Hertfordshire pledged five grand. Bowie performed as Ziggy during gigs at the town's Friars music venue in the early 1970s. Bowie also played a gig at the club some months earlier in September 1971 where he gave the world debut of many of the songs on Hunky Dory. The statue will be sited under arches in the Market Square which Bowie referenced in 'Five Years', the opening song of The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars. Sculptor Andrew Sinclair is using the mask taken from Bowie's face during the filming of The Man Who Fell To Earth to create the likeness. Speakers above the statue will play a random Bowie song every hour on the hour. Which, one imagines, for those living within earshot will get very old very quickly. Organisers still have to raise a further fifty grand which they say is 'easily possible' through grants and direct donations.
More money was spent on vinyl than downloaded albums last week, for the first time. Vinyl sales made the record industry £2.4m, while downloads took in £2.1m, the Entertainment Retailers Association said. It marks a big shift in music consumption. In the same week last year, vinyl LPs made £1.2m while digital ones made £4.4m. Downloads have been in sharp decline as consumers switch to streaming services. The ERA has suggested the surge in vinyl sales could be attributed to the popularity of vinyl as a Christmas gift and the growing number of retailers - including supermarkets such as Sainsbury's and Tesco - which now stock vinyl. 'This is yet further evidence of the ability of music fans to surprise us all,' said ERA chief Kim Bayley. 'It's not so long ago that the digital download was meant to be the future. Few would have predicted that an album format, first invented in 1948 and based on stamping a groove into a piece of plastic, would now be outselling it in 2016.' However, it is worth noting that vinyl LPs are priced much higher than downloads. Last week's biggest-selling vinyl was Kate Bush's triple-disc live Before The Dawn, which retails at fifty two knicker. A download of the same recording is available for twelve notes. All of which means that downloads are still the more popular product. According to the ERA, one hundred and twenty thousand vinyl LPs were sold last week, compared with two hundred and ninety five thousand digital ones. Nonetheless, the 'vinyl revival' has been one of the most surprising success stories of the digital music era. The format has now shown eight consecutive years of growth since facing near extinction in 2007, although it still represents less than two per cent of the overall music market. Earlier this year, a BBC/ICM poll found that people who listened to music on streaming services were more likely to buy vinyl - often as a goodwill gesture to an artist they loved. But forty eight per cent of those surveyed said they did not play the vinyl they bought - while seven per cent did not even own a turntable.
Poland's Supreme Court has rejected a request by the country's Justice Minister to have film-maker Roman Polanski extradited to the US. Oscar winner Polanski is wanted in the US over a four decades-old case involving sex with a minor. A Polish district court rejected a US extradition request last year. But Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro revived the case in May, appealing to the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court ruling. He said that he wanted to 'avoid double standards' and that nobody should be 'above the law.' Polanski grew up in Poland and, although he now has homes in France and Switzerland, he visits his homeland often. The case has led him to cancel plans to film in Poland. Polanski fled California ahead of sentencing in 1978 after admitting having sex with a girl aged thirteen. His victim, Samantha Geimer, described the ordeal of giving testimony against Polanski, in an interview for the BBC's Hardtalk programme in 2013. Swiss authorities turned down a US extradition warrant in 2010, after placing Polanski under house arrest for nine months, while extradition from France is a notoriously cumbersome process.
Bernardo Bertolucci has attributed a row over how an actress was treated while filming Last Tango In Paris to 'a ridiculous misunderstanding.' Outrage had flared on Twitter - if nowhere that actually matters - after a video of the director speaking in 2013 re-emerged. In it, he appeared to admit that he did not fully prepare Maria Schneider before shooting the infamous 'butter scene' because he wanted her to feel 'humiliation.' He has now insisted that she did know about the scene in advance and that her alleged 'rape' by Marlon Brando's character, Paul was simulated. The scene from Bertolucci's 1972 film sees Brando's character use butter as a lubricant while forcing himself upon Schneider's Jeanne from behind. In a 2007 interview, Schneider said that she had felt 'humiliated' and 'a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci.' The actress, who died in 2011, blamed the film, the reaction to it and her instant fame for her subsequent drug abuse and suicide attempts. In the 2013 video which has reignited the controversy, Bertolucci said that he and Brando came up with the idea of using butter on the morning the scene was shot. He said that he had been 'in a way horrible to Maria because I didn't tell her what was going on, because I wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress.' The video shows him admitting he felt 'guilty' but that he did 'not regret' how he went about filming the scene. Schneider 'hated me for her whole life' as a result, he continued. In a statement on Monday, the seventy six-year-old director said that he wanted 'for the very last time to clear up a ridiculous misunderstanding. We wanted her spontaneous reaction to this improper use [of the butter],' he said. 'The misunderstanding arises from this. People thought, and think, that Maria was not informed of the violence she was to suffer. False! Maria knew everything because she had read the script, in which it was all described. The only new thing was the idea of the butter. It was this, I learned many years later, that upset Maria and not the violence that was in the scene and was envisaged in the script of the film.' In her 2007 interview, Schneider claimed the scene in question 'wasn't in the original script. The truth is it was Marlon who came up with the idea," she told the Daily Scum Mail. 'They only told me about it before we had to film the scene and I was so angry. I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can't force someone to do something that isn't in the script, but at the time, I didn't know that. Marlon said to me: "Maria, don't worry, it's just a movie," but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn't real, I was crying real tears.' Last Tango In Paris was banned in Italy and court cases sought its censorship in several other countries, including the UK and US.
James Murdoch The Small was 'personally involved' in authorising the deletion of e-mails at News International in early 2010 when the phone-hacking scandal was taking off, it has been alleged in the high court. Acting on behalf of seventeen people who are extremely suing the publisher of the disgraced and disgraceful Scum of the World and the Sun over alleged phone-hacking, David Sherborne claimed on Monday there were documents, e-mails and meeting agendas which 'showed' senior executives including Murdoch The Small and well-known Crystal Tipps lookalike Rebekah Brooks 'pursued an e-mail deletion policy' that 'removed e-mails that could be unhelpful in future litigation in which News International could be a defendant.' E-mail deletion, which News International has always maintained was 'part of legitimate housekeeping,' was 'on the agenda of and/or discussed and approved by' Murdoch The Small 'on at least six occasions between January and April 2010,' according to written arguments submitted to the court by the claimants.
The policy referred to by Sherborne aimed 'to eliminate in a consistent manner across NI (subject to compliance with legal and regulatory requirements as to retention) emails that could be unhelpful in the context of future litigation in which an NI company is a defendant.' Murdoch The Small was executive chairman of News International between 2007 and 2012. He is now chairman of the UK broadcaster Sky. Well-known Crystal Tipps lookalike Brooks's involvement in ordering a general deletion of e-mails while chief executive of News International was revealed during the criminal phone-hacking trial in 2013 in which she was acquitted of all charges. Last year, she was made chief executive of News UK, the successor to News International, which owns the Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. Part of the evidence presented includes an e-mail sent in August 2010 by Andrew Hickey, who was the CIO of News International, to Jon Chapman, an in-house lawyer at the company, which references both well-known Crystal Tipps lookalike Brooks and Murdoch The Small, saying that Murdoch The Small wanted to 'draw a line' under the organisation's time in its Wapping HQ prior to 2010. 'FYI: also spoke with her [well-known Crystal Tipps lookalike Brooks] on this and fine with what we are doing but adamant on Jan 2010 and has discussed it with JRM who wants to draw a line under Wapping and pre-2010. Can you pop round to discuss implications with me,' it read. Andrew Green QC, acting for News Group Newspapers, a News UK subsidiary, said that it had previously provided a 'non-admission' concerning the e-mail deletion programme, but would be prepared to set out the position again given the extent of the allegations, in particular their relation to the Sun. Mr Justice Mann told Green that 'there should be a proper pleading ... even if it turns out to be a blanket denial' and gave them twenty one days to respond. When the Crown Prosecution Service announced in December 2015 that there would be no further criminal action on phone-hacking, it said it had considered evidence of e-mail deletion and decided that there were 'legitimate reasons for companies to have an e-mail deletion policy. In this case, there is no evidence to suggest that e-mail deletion was undertaken in order to pervert the course of justice.' The allegations about e-mail deletion were made during a case management hearing in the civil case, during which lawyers from NGN tried to 'limit the disclosure' of documents and e-mails that the claimants say show phone-hacking took place over a longer period than previously thought and was not confined to the disgraced and disgraceful Scum of the World. NGN says the extent of disclosure asked for by the claimants is 'not proportionate.' A full trial is expected to take place in the new year.