We needed somewhere to live that would have space enough for us, and the baby. So we went to see a Housing Association, who took into account that we were expecting and after a few weeks offered us a chance of a large flat in an Edwardian house on Kirkstall Road in Leeds, only a mile or so from the television studios.
Though it was freezing in the winter and expensive to heat, it was a really great place; spacious, rambling, it even had a garden.
One room, a ground floor corner room at the end of the terrace, became our bedroom. It had a turreted corner with windows all round from which could be seen a lawned park running down a broad green slope to the ruins of Kirkstall Abbey silhouetted amongst trees by the river.
We moved in, as yet unmarried, and installed ourselves in the flat. I made my studio in the bedroom the turret. When I sat at my desk in the evening with windows all around it felt like I was on wartime fire-watch duty.
We hadn’t been in there long when the phone rang. It was Roger Hancock calling from London. He explained that there’d not been much progress with Trident Television over rights to Dusty Bin but they were still trying, adding but actually he was calling about something else.
He told me he represented some people who were planning to produce an animated feature film to be distributed on the British Cinema circuit.
He said after seeing my storyboard and my other work, he’d recommended me as someone who could make the film. So, if interested, (of course I was!) would I go down to an address in Hampstead, London where one of the writers on the project lived, for an introductory meeting and suggested taking as much relevant work including my show-reel with me
I was ready and off like a shot on the train from Leeds station the next day, with Lyndas’ blessing; once again travelling the shining metal road South.
I was getting used to going down to the smoke with my portfolio. Funny, I’d never been interested about working down there where everyone seemed to gravitate, but I was being drawn there.
The area of Hampstead, where the cab dropped me off, was smart, trendy and understatedly wealthy, judging by the local shops, restaurants and the cars parked outside discreet shuttered houses.
I knew that this part of London was homeville for television and theatre-land folks, where the writers and producers lived. As Roger had been cagey about just who it was I was going to meet or what the project was in detail, I arrived at the address in trust that it might turn into something special.
I rang the bell. A voice with an accent said “Hello” from a panel in the wall. I said my name. In a few seconds the man I’d come to see, came to the door and introduced himself as Ray.
Ray Cameron, a tall fortyish handsome blonde guy with a perfect North American smile and tan, opened the door. He had a boyish mop of blonde hair, a trim physique, red and white packet of Marlboro cigarettes in his brown hand and a smokers’ cough, a classy cough though, not like Nigels’ tubercoloid classic.
Like Derek the Producer, Ray wore the kind of stereotypic uniform for light entertainment show writers, a white roll neck sweater on top of which was a mustard yellow cardigan, khakis supported by immaculate white baseball boots and always the twenty-pack of Marlboros in his hand.
I thought at first he spoke with an American accent, but he was Canadian and charming in a manner that made me feel welcome and immediately at ease.
He ushered me in to a very stylish and softly lit interior full of sofas, coffee tables and lamps; expensive looking paintings and a huge jungle of plants at the window, through which a soft green light suffused the room.
Running about and barking excitedly was an over-stuffed and neurotic spaniel, which shook its’ belly and tail at the same time. Trying to calm the dog and her toddler daughter as I entered, perched between cushions, was a stunningly blonde and beautiful woman, Ray’s wife. I think she must have come with the real-estate because she certainly suited the setting.
She nodded a brief hello to me, then swept up the tot and the dog and disappeared in a waft of expensive perfume, shouting back from the hall that she was out and off for lunch with Lulu.
It was 1979 and I’d landed in celebrity land!
After a few minutes of small talking, and a brief look at the contents of my folio which he appeared to approve of, Ray filled me in about the Project.
He asked if I’d seen, ‘The Kenny Everett Video Show.” I felt a tingle of excitement like an electric shock shoot up to my brain and ring all the bells.
Roger the agent hadn’t told me anything, only that the man I was going to see was a comedy show writer. Sure I knew the Kenny Everett Show, I said, ‘Its’ my favourite “. It was and undoubtedly the very best thing on T.V. at the time!
It was the first television vehicle built around the most uniquely talented, hugely popular former BBC Radio deejay, Kenny Everett.
Kenny was famous for his ersatz humor, inventive comic creations and anti-establishment views. He was a hero of mine, and had become a figurehead for my generation.
Even though his Saturday morning music creative extravaganza was the most popular show ever on Radio, the Beeb had given him the push, stupid buggers. I don’t think they got that it wasn’t just the music that made his show so popular; it was the whole crazy inventive weave of his mind that spilled across the programme and the sheer genius of its’ seamless construction from start to finish.
Most DJ’s on English radio at the time were about as inventive as lard, and as familiar as well used tea towels. In contrast Ken’s special form of magical invention turned each weekend show into an audio psychedelic trip. He and his programmes were originals, and now he’d managed to do the same on TV.
When he’d been dropped by Aunty Beeb for being a naughty boy, he only gained in stature and notoriety. Once out he was snapped up by Independent Commercial Television who offered him lots more room to create a risqué madcap TV show, “All done,” as he famously said on the show, “ in the best possible taste”. Which shortly after the first series had been aired, became a national catchphrase.
‘The Kenny Everett Video Show’ was as inventive as his radio show and now had the extra dimension of ‘video’ visual effects; effects which at the time had not been used as creatively as he used them on the show. But it wasn’t all effects; it was a circus of slapstick burlesque humour. Made All the more poignant and extreme, because at the time it wasn’t common knowledge that he was gay. In fact you’d come across stories of him and his nicely ordinary looking wife and their cosy cottage life in rural Sussex in your mums’ knitting magazine. That’s how his publicity people painted the other side of the life of the king of anarchy, all roses and Laura Ashley; all in the best possible taste, in real life.
It wasn’t real though. In the late seventies it still wasn’t cool to be gay in England. That hadn’t deterred Mr. Everett; if he’d been a martian wombat with bad breath with all his talent he’d still have shot to the top and changed the zeitgeist of nation regardless of species, gender or origin.
Speaking of weird and wonderful creatures; the regular cast of characters on the show, all played by him, gave plenty away about his real identity, but wonderfully, and naively, the Great British Public didn’t click.
The most fantastic and outlandish of the cast was, ‘Cupid Stunt’. A big busty short-skirted blonde wigged Californian porno megastar with a brown beard and huge plastic falsies. It was Kenny of course played loud brash blonde and dumb. Cupid was as outrageous as her reversible name. (I’ll let you work that out for yourselves).
Cupid was just one projection of the manifestations of Kenny’s alter egos as developed with his writers Ray and Barry Cryer, another original comic genius (and originally from Leeds).
Though Kenny was still in the closet when it came to his gayness, probably because his management and PR people thought it would hurt his popularity when he did “come out’ it made not a jot of difference to his popularity; if anything it made him more so.
By the time the TV show peaked, Kenny was the biggest and most arguably the most popular television star in Britain; a true household name. He was taken to the heart of the nation because he played anarchic and anti-establishment characters that didn’t fit any mold.
The British are generally conservative in nature and self-depreciating by inclination, so anarchy and brash vulgarity, served up in the best possible taste, went down well! So I sat there wondering what the connection was with the show, did they want me to create the titles for a new project, or maybe title for the next television series, either would be a blast?
After the opening chitchat where Ray didn’t give too much more away, he asked again to see all the contents of my portfolio. He approved. After that test had been passed it was down to business; he outlined the project.
He and others connected with the series, he said, planned to make a 30-minute animated cartoon based on one of the characters in the T.V. show ‘Captain Kremmen Space Captain and Super Hero’. ‘Kremmen’ was Ken’s super hero alter-ego who of course had to have a fabulous glamorous side kick, the blonde, beautiful, scantily clad, ‘Carla’.
The film was to be released as the ‘B’ film with Alan Carr’s, ‘Can’t Stop the Music’ starring the ‘The Village People’. The International group that hailed from the East Village, New York who’d had such mega hits as, ‘In the Navy’ and ‘YMCA’.
And because they were so big, there’d been a lot of publicity about their film, ‘Can’t Stop the Music’ and an awful lot of media hype. Trouble was, according to the buzz, it was a load of absolute crapola.
The films’ producers knew it and expected the film to bomb big time; for no matter how huge the band were; watching ninety minutes of badly acted crap, was going to take the fun right out of singing along with ‘YMCA’!
To survive opening night, ‘Can’t stop the Music,’ which Ray said would be re-titled, ‘Please Stop the Projector’, was going to need all the help it could get.
The films’ distributors had already planned for National release on the same night; an old trick apparently so they’d get the biggest and most likely only audience on the first screening at hundreds of cinemas across the country.
By doing that, the word about how lousy it was wouldn’t have the chance to get out before the producers had the chance to recoup some of its’ costs at the box office, even if it was for one night only.
But that wouldn’t be enough; they were certain that people would walk out, not after, but during the film it was so bad! So they thought they ought to add to the entertainment value with a strong ‘B’ film to support it; as a kind of warm up act. It would have to have a popular subject and a strong and well-known name, hence Captain Kremmen and Kenny Everett. “Kremmen the Movie,” Ray said, would be “The B film that doesn’t need a feature”, a sub-title that would say it all.
And that’s where I came in, he said, lighting up another Marlboro and offering one to me; I was there because they needed someone to make it.
The penny dropped and so did half of my digestive biscuit into my cup of tea. But before trying to retrieve it I asked, ‘Kremmen’ appears in the Kenny Everett Video Show as an animated cartoon. So why not get the people who make it for the show to do the cinema version?
The obvious reason to go with the obvious question was that it would cost too much; he hedged around that. Ray also obviously wanted some little green upstart with a modicum of talent to do it on the cheap, Voila-moi!
The company that produced it for TV was a well-established animation company based also up North in Manchester. Ray didn’t say what they’d want to make the film but it would have been a pile of cash no doubt, and most likely they’d also want tons of points (royalties). Rather, he said, they were too busy and wouldn’t be able to meet the deadline.
I asked when the deadline was?
“Six months.” He said.
Six months! For a thirty-minute feature animation? It wasn’t a flick book Ray.
“And after that how far away is the release date”? I nervously asked, bearing in mind that I had neither a production company, nor a team of animators waiting in the wings. In reality all I had back home in my ‘studio’ was a second hand-vacuum, a box of hand down baby toys and clothes and a pile or ironing.
Producing 30 minutes of animation for the cinema screen was a big job.
“Release date, six months.” He said again. Coughing.
My internal private voices started up as I tried to look un-phased, but they were already shouting at each other and me…
“Oh no Sunderland not again.” Said the cautious one.
“Not what again?” Said the other voice.
“Screwing yourself, pretending this is something you can pull off.”
“Well I don’t see why not, it’s just a matter of …”
“Oh god I can’t face it…” said the voice darkly. Then there was the sound of a gun going off and the voice went quiet.
“with a big confident smile patting me on the back and passing the chocolate digestives (obviously a bribe that).
Ray was a chap it was difficult to say no to, a man who sold new ideas for original shows to hard-nosed TV executives. Little Johnnie Green from Yorkshire was going to be a push over, he knew it, worse yet I knew it too.
“And what sort of budget have you got then?” I asked nervously, embarrassed as always to even mention money.
The budget was much less than generous, it probably wouldn’t have kept him in cigarettes for a year. Trouble was, I knew it could be done for that but on very slim margins and very little profit for an awful lot of hard work. Small wonder the TV animators hadn’t been interested, it wasn’t worth their while.
Then the voice (the one that hadn’t shot himself) spoke up again,
“Come on John what a trip it would be, it’s the Cinema boy, the bloody cinema!”
(To be continued)
Tea, digestives and persuasion……..