Sunday, September 05, 2021

Colin Blunstone: Caroline Goodbye

Talking Pictures TV is always discussed by the press in terms of nostalgia, but the old British films it specialises in are not as tame and twee as we are told.

Matthew Sweet once wrote:

Observe, say, 1950s Britain through its top-of-the-bill films and it emerges as a land populated by pipe-smoking, twentysomething men who drive vintage Bentleys, usually with Muriel Pavlow in the back. 

Explore it from the bottom of the bill and you'll encounter something different: tracts of featureless industrial estates, a world in which Wolseley police cars clatter under railway bridges in Croydon and mid-price actors occupy frowsty suburban drags. 

It is threadbare, unspectacular territory, where compromised people spend their time committing adultery and double-crossing each other, often while drinking pre-mixed American cocktails.

And what strikes me about those top-of-the-bill films is how vividly the villains are painted. Dirk Bogarde in The Blue Lamp, for instance, remains sexy and dangerous more than 70 years on.

The good young character he is contrasted with, a trainee constable played by Jimmy Hanley, appears utterly insipid, but then I suspect he did when the film was released.

Other villains from this era to seek out are Peter Sellers (playing it utterly straight and with a Liverpool accent) in Never Let Go (1960) and Ronald Ward in Ealing's racing drama The Rainbow Jacket (1954):

"There's a certain gentleman I know - using the term in its widest sense - who wouldn't be at all pleased if you were to win the Leger on Fair Noon."

Talking Pictures TV's latest enterprise is Friday evening's Cellar Club, a slot for British cult cinema. It's introduced by Caroline Munro, singer, model, Bond girl and star of many such films.

She was also the inspiration for this week's music video. Colin Blunstone, the lead singer of The Zombies, explains:
When I wrote Caroline Goodbye, it was about my girlfriend, the Bond girl Caroline Munro.  I didn’t want everyone to know who it was about, so I tried to find another name, but nothing fitted. 
I admitted defeat and thought that only my close friends would know it was Caroline. However, a journalist found out and I ended up with a two-page spread in the Daily Express, so the secret was out. 


Phil Beesley said...

On vehicles of yesteryear...

James Bond drove a 4 1/2 litre "blower" Bentley in several novels. It would have been an incredibly expensive car to run, with spare parts hard to find. The model fits Bond's image perfectly -- expensive, exclusive, unsubtle. Aston Martin were early to appreciate the importance of product placement in films.

New British cars were difficult to buy on the domestic market; the most appealing sports cars from Triumph, Jaguar and MG were exported for foreign exchange revenue, many of them returning to the UK in the 1980s and 1990s to be converted to right hand drive. For a film director (or real life well heeled young man) looking for a sports car in the 1950s, a pre-war MG or Bentley was a more available but less reliable alternative.

The omnipresence of Wolseley police cars, especially in modern historical dramas, is misleading. Many police forces would have bought from local firms -- Austins and Rovers in Birmingham, Rileys and Standards in Coventry -- but the Met picked Wolseley for some reason in the 1930s. Ditto for fire tenders, with Leyland dominating in the north west and Dennis in the south east.

I'd love to know how Ealing Studios located the Packard Super Eight and Studebaker Champion for The Ladykillers.

Frank Little said...

There were many American limousines about just after WWII, presumably brought over by US officers and then sold here at a premium. I recall also Chevrolets and "million dollar grin" Buicks as well as the distinctive Packard.

As to police cars, I dimly recall a mid-century whodunnit in which a chief constable was ferried about in a Crossley, a very rare beast. Presumably Albion supplied fire tenders to Scottish authorities.