Tag Archives: Sherlock Holmes

Peter Cushing used to live in Whitstable

download (3)So goes the song by The Jellybottys, and that’s exactly where he lived – when not hammering stakes into vampires, travelling through time and space, journeying to the centre of the earth or ensuring a certain Death Star was fully operational.

Hammer and all round film and horror buff, Alex Norman, stumbles across the village that never forgot Peter Cushing.

Who knew that a day trip to the south east coast could end up as a walk in the footsteps of a celebrated legendary British actor?

Located on the north coast of Kent in south-east England, Whitstable has a population of roughly 32,000 and is famous for its oysters and historical landmarks such as the castle and Black Mill.

Its coast is lined with a mixture of shingle and sandy beaches and the scorching hot day sees many sunbathers, swimmers and water sports enthusiasts taking advantage. A jet ski has just arrived and is being carefully released into the water.

If you look out to sea, off the coast, you can see a windfarm consisting of 30 wind turbines which power 70,000 households and even further out, roughly nine miles, you can make out small black forms of the Maunsell Sea FortMaunsell sea-fort, armed towers built during the Second World War to help defend UK shores. A close-up photo of them is being sold in the marina market and, to me, they resemble the AT-AT combat walkers first seen The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

download (2)Little was I to know that it was the home of Grand Moff Tarkin, and no doubt his slippers. As we walk along the seafront promenade past the Neptune Pub where Peter O’Toole filmed scenes for Venus (2006), for which he received an Academy Award nomination, and past the stylish holiday cottages and terraced townhouses, we find ourselves on a pathway called Cushing’s Walk, a highly sought-after stretch of real estate offering perfect sea views with the beach literally on the doorstep.

What’s this we see? One of the houses has an English Heritage blue plaque and a tingle of excitement ripples through me – who could have lived here? As I move closer and my eyes refocus, I see that it reads:

PETER CUSHING O.B.E.
1913-1994
ACTOR
lived here
1959-1994

‘Cushing’s Walk’ is named after THE Peter Cushing, star of Hammer Horror, Sherlock Holmes, Dr Who and, of course, Star Wars.

My tenuous Star Wars analogy now seems quite fitting. He only appeared in the original 1977 classic but was somewhat controversially resurrected For the 2016 prequel, Rogue One.

homeCushing first visited Whitstable a long time ago…in the 1940s, and in 1958, bought this very house, initially for weekend use, and then as a retirement home, until his death in 1994. Cushing and his wife, Helen, loved Whitstable and the townspeople clearly took to them.

Cushing is probably best known his prolific work during the 50s, 60s and 70s in the Hammer horror films, alongside good friend (or should that be fiend?) Christopher Lee, particularly his portrayals of Baron Victor Frankenstein and Professor Van Helsing.

He also played Sherlock Holmes many times, originally in Hammer’s The Hound of the Baskerville’s (1959). This was followed by 16 episodes of the BBC series of which only six episodes have survived.

Cushing even played Dr Who in two films (Dr. Who and the Daleks – alongside Roy Castle – and Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. – this time with Bernard Cribbins) based on the BBC science-fiction TV series Doctor Who, although the films are not considered part of the show’s official canon. And he’d end his film career dabbling with time travel in his final screen performance in Biggles (1986).

The plan for the rest of the day was decided – to find out as much about Cushing and his time here in Whitstable before we head back home to the opposite side of the Estuary.

Museum

The Whitstable Museum (quite rightly) has a section dedicated to the actor and although it’s a little tired and features a skew-whiff portrait of Cushing as Sherlock, there’s no doubting the high regard Whitstable has for this man. The remains of a half-smoked cigarette sits in a glass cabinet, supposedly Cushing’s final smoke – apparently he would wear a white smoking glove so he didn’t stain his fingers.

A volunteer at the museum was genuinely delighted that we were so interested in Cushing, having gotten so used to the younger generation’s complete lack of knowledge as to who he was! She tells us she used to go swimming at the local pool and would often see Cushing doing his laps. She also said that Cushing was a very quiet and gentle man who fitted right in with the locals, no ego or pretence. She then mentions the pub across the road, a must-see for fans of the great man.

The pub

pub3A black plaque out front says the building is the former Oxford cinema which first opened its doors on 27 July 1936. It was built around the Oxford Picture Hall, which itself, opened in 1912 in what had been the Oxford ‘concert and music hall’.

J.D. Wetherspoon took over the building in 2011 and transformed it into an art deco palace whilst retaining the essence of the original incarnation. The foyer is wonderfully preserved and its centrepiece is an original cinema projector. The walls are adorned with film posters and film cans of many of Cushing’s films such as Dracula, The Hound of the Baskervilles as well as other British favourites such as Carry on Sergeant, Hitchcock’s Stage Fright and Carry on Cruising.

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The main drinking hall is majestically presided over at the bar end by a huge black and white print of Cushing and Robert Urquhart in Hammer’s 1957 production of The Curse of Frankenstein. Some of Cushing’s original paintings also grace the walls, celebrating another of his talents.

Antique shop

Geoff Lauren antiquesWe were hoping to meet some local elders who may have met the great man and it was then that we spotted, on Harbour Street, the quirky yet enticing Geoff Laurens Antiques. Inside there’s barely room to swing a cat (perhaps one from The Uncanny) and Mr Laurens himself sits in his favourite chair deep inside his store and greets us with a warm welcome.

Geoff-LaurensGeoff has been trading in Whitstable since 1970, the same year as Scream and Scream Again, and whereas others antique stores have come and gone, Geoff continues do business.  If anyone crossed paths with Cushing, then surely it was Geoff? So I asked him and was pleased when Geoff said: “Oh yes, of course. He used to come in here all the time.  On some days when it rained, I would drive him back home. You know, just up the street is his favourite tea rooms.”

Tea room

Tudor Tea RoomsIndeed, we pop into the Tudor Tea Rooms and Cushing’s favourite table now features a touching tribute alongside a photo of him in his later years.  The message reads: ‘In loving memory of our dear Peter Cushing. A sadly missed family friend’. The shop was closing up for the day so we didn’t have time for a cuppa.

We decided to finish our tour by going back to Cushing’s Walk on the seafront promenade.  With the sun sizzling, the Neptune Pub beer garden heaving and the oyster bars packed – it was clear to see why Cushing decided to retire in this town as opposed to his previous address in London. It has a real timeless feel about it, just like the man and his movies. So it is fitting that he is remembered so vividly and prominently, almost 20 years since he died.

Tudor Tea Rooms1They don’t make actors like Peter Cushing anymore, so it is great to see Whitstable continue to honour its adopted son, an acting legend. But then actors like Peter Cushing never really die…

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The magnificent Blake’s 7: Robin Hood in space

With the death of Blake’s 7 actor Gareth Thomas it’s time to strap on your transporter bracelets to The Liberator and THAT ending for ‘Robin Hood in space’.

Such was the basic premise of Blake’s 7 back in 1978, and that idea was pitch perfect for one of the most beloved TV series of the last 40 years. Always seen as something of Doctor Who’s younger sibling, it springing from the mind of Who-alumnus, Terry Nation, for many it was never held in as high regard or as beloved. But, for me, I probably loved it even more than the fellow in the blue box.

You can see the similarities to Sherwood’s finest with its original character set-up, with Gareth Thomas headlining as Roj Blake, who leads a rebellion against a tyrannical regime (hey, even in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Norman Soldiers were likened to Nazis). More ‘Marauding’ than ‘Merry Men’ his reluctant heroic crew, perhaps sharing as much with the likes of The Dirty Dozen and The Magnificent Seven as much as with those from the trees of Nottingham.

We are then introduced to corrupt computer genius, Avon, (Paul Darrow), essentially Will Scarlett, a man who you wouldn’t trust as far as you could throw him, even if he was classed as your friend, but you would far rather he be your friend than your enemy. Avon quickly become the show’s favourite, with his sardonic wit and no nonsense behaviour, he had the same appeal as the likes of Han Solo.

Master thief, Vila, steps up as your Much the Millers Son, as he is essentially the light-hearted comedian who is something of a coward. Avon and Vila were the perfect foils for one another and have the zingiest dialogue this side of the galaxy that is still as crisp and clever to this day

Gan, is clearly the Little John of proceedings with his mighty frame and heart, but I’m not quite sure how a smart arse computer, Zen, fits into it all Merry Man wise, um, Friar Tuck…well he is at least the voice of reason and calm. The rest of the original crew were made up of Jenna, a smuggler, and Cally, a telepath, and these feisty, gung-ho women were clearly reminiscent, in their fighting spirit, of Maid Marian. After all, you have to remember that this was the late 70s and that women did as much of the rescuing as well as the being rescued.

The ship, The Liberator, a wondrous design whose Corgi model once bestowed my birthday cake as a child, which was a brilliant backward-looking design with its (Lincoln) green bubble at its rear, so my hats off to you Matt Irvine for a ship that even outclasses the Millennium Falcon for being so ugly and impractical – Einstein would have a fit on the Physics front – that it is a thing of beauty.

If Blake and his crew represent Robin Hood and his Merry Men, then the Federation forces, personified in the obsessive, psychopathic Space Commander Travis, complete with eye patch, and his superior, the ruthless Supreme Commander, Servalan, represent Sir Guy of Gisbourne and the Sheriff of Nottingham, respectively. You only have to look at the mid 80s rebirth of Robin of Sherwood on ITV, and latterly, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, to see how similar the working relationship between Servalan and Travis was to that of the Sheriff and his lapdog.

The show was quite revolutionary in terms of structure – the arcing plot is ahead of its time, something seen as commonplace in the likes of the Battlestar Galactica reboot – and characterisation. It also features a surprisingly cynical world view with a healthy dash of dystopia and dash of moral ambiguity, this is no Star Wars black and white – which premiered in the UK the same year the show was launched – instead there are massive grey areas in the ensemble cast, like we see in everything from 24 to Lost and The Walking Dead, people who aren’t just the well-rounded, good-looking good guys of programmes like, say the original Star Trek.

It may have had its peak and troughs throughout its four-year series, not to mention cast changes galore and Blake jumping ship come the end of series two, but it had a fantastic concept, multiple major character deaths and perhaps the finest ending of any TV show past, present or future, an ending from which Planet of the Apes writers would find hard to get out of, an ending that gave my chin carpet burns from the force it struck the floor, an ending that had the balls to kill off the entire remaining cast and still have Avon going out (or did he?) in the coolest TV moment of my life.

Not bad, essentially being a kids tea time programme and taking in political intrigue and terrorism (remember the IRA were still out in force) and harrowing deaths of beloved characters. The sets may have wobbled and it was probably filmed in one too many quarries, but hey that is BBC budgets at that time for you, but the writing still holds true and is pretty blistering stuff most of the time, clearly helped in part with many of the main actors being RSC trained.

Thomas came back for that last episode having left after series two and he claimed never to have watched an episode. That’s a shame and a real loss, despite its somewhat dodgy sets and special effects it had some great Orwellian dystopia which meant that it was well-ahead of its time, especially in that time slot. And, story wise it still really shines today and remains relevant with terror and political intrigue riding high in the headlines and a major staple of TV drama, the rebooted ‘gritty’ Battlestar Galactica was of course dubbed ‘The West Wing in space’.

And these unjust times of political unrest and times of terror Blake et al  would fit in perfectly. Stories about anti-government dissidents and corrupt, totalitarian governments never seem to go out of fashion (it’s no coincidence that the series villain was a woman – just as Thatcher came into power), and surely that’s doubly true of this era of terrorism.

Crucially, it had drama and conflict in spades, and most of this came from within the crew, especially between Blake and Avon or Avon and Vila, which was full of crisp, foil-bag fresh dialogue that even JJ Abrams or Joss Whedon would be proud to have scribed today.

Although it has been resurrected as an audio drama, getting a new lease of life in a series of audio adventures which has attracted a whole host of talent from Bond and genre fave, Colin Salmon as Kerr Avon and guest stars from Ashes to Ashes’ Keeley Hawes and new Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch.

Like the Who audio adventures it has also lured back cast members from the original series, Michael Keating and Jan Chappell, all of which shows there is still plenty of talent and interest in the project.

It keeps threatening to return to screens with aborted attempts from Sky and the Syfy Channel in recent years. With the return of Star Wars to the big screen and another Star Trek series in the offing, as well as on the big screen, we are in the same alignment as when Blake’s 7 first materialised on our screens.

And after all in this world niche audiences for The Walking Dead and original dramas produced for the likes of Amazon, with The Man in the High Castle, and Netflix, with House of Cards, or Sky Atlantic with Fortitude, then there is nothing to stop the return of The Liberator and its crew.

Who knows, perhaps the real life death of Roj Blake, from heart failure and not shot by Avon, could be the right catalyst for his rebirth. Roj Blake is dead, long live Roj Blake?

As Zen may have stated: “Probability of reboot, 80%.”