Liz Fraser – And Other Characters. Fenella Fielding – Do You Mind If I smoke?

Two much loved film stars recently died within five days of each other, the sad news slightly ameliorated by their both living to a decent age and leaving a considerable body of work – including these memoirs.

liz fraser and

Liz Fraser grew up near the New Kent Road ‘over the shop’, was evacuated during the war, having to wait in line to be chosen from prospective foster parents.  

Winston Churchill had the estate next door. She met him several times, even sitting on his knee. She understates the loss of her father when she was eleven but it’s deeply moving nevertheless.
After stage school she was soon working in live television and remained busy thereafter.
She summed her long career in a charming two page poem, included here,  which she performed at her Comedy Plaque tribute lunch. 

For someone who was universally loved and admired, also a shrewd investor, collector of high performance cars and an expert bridge player – nobody’s fool or victim – Liz didn’t have much luck with husbands. The first was a less successful actor, conman and thief who stole from her among other people. The second, a busy light entertainment director, was an alcoholic philanderer who died aged 41.

There’s no trace of self pity anywhere in this wryly amusing book. She can see the funny side of one promising love affair starting during a man’s brief period of abstinence from his usual routine: drink, drugs, despondency.

 

She was thrilled to have a night out with Judy Garland and witness her exasperated foul-mouthed reaction to the band playing ‘Over The Rainbow’ as she arrived at a club. She’d heard it a few too many times by then. 

 

Liz was justifiably proud of her serious roles in Live Now Pay Later, Up The Junction, and a Miss Marple episode, Nemesis, ‘what they call a showy role’, (It lasts around five minutes twenty minutes into the second hour). A grieving mother, slightly drunk, real tears, first take, very good indeed. One of her neighbours said, ‘I didn’t know you could act.’

 

I loved her revenge on Peter Sellers whose seduction involved exposing himself. ‘Well you can put that away.’ He’d invited her round for a gourmet meal cooked by his personal chef. When he realised he wasn’t going to get his way he asked her to leave. As she loved good food she insisted on staying and finishing all of the courses.

Liz Fraser

She was told before working for the Samaritans that she would receive heavy breathing calls from sex pests, which  thinned out some refined ladies.  Liz used to tell them she was wearing red knickers.
She worked there for thirteen years, also for the Lord’s Taverners and various animal charities, helping out Joan Sims when she was in difficulties due to the exceptionally parsimonious producer Peter Rogers, (also, as Liz points out, because she was advised to sell her house, which would have later been worth millions, then there was her love of champagne and taxis. Feel a bit mean now, though not as mean as Peter Rogers. The payment for a Carry On film started and remained ever after at £5000. Residuals would have enabled the good life and a secure old age.)

Liz Fraser ddd

Her favourite film was Double Bunk with Sid James though she has fond memories of her breakthrough in I’m All Right Jack, which had a stellar cast,   even the extras in the card game were skilled actors. 

Both books help hunting out performances you may have missed. I never liked The Professionals or the revamped Minder but Liz stands out in both productions, her usual earthy sensuality and infectious humour enhanced by age. 

I’m even going to attempt a whole episode of Midsomer Murders soon, (rather than the usual ten seconds while scrabbling for the remote.) Series 20 episode 5 contains her final performance. (Fenella Fielding is listed on IMDB in Mother, in thirteen episodes of a series of a children’s show coming in 2019.) 

Although always happy to be a character actor, which gave her a longer career than some stars, Liz  wanted to expand her range with avant garde productions in the 60s including Meals on Wheels  by Charles Wood.
Director John Osborne was distant during rehearsals, his only advice was taking them to see Ken Dodd and saying, ‘I want you to do it like that.’ 

Unfortunately nobody understood the text, on or off stage, there were many walkouts and several nights of slow handclapping. Eventually they were reduced to giving out free tickets. Some servicemen came and started laughing at a line which had been hitherto baffling: ‘clap hands if it comes out green’, whereupon the actors clapped. The soldiers understood that a venereal disease, the clap, would turn sperm green. 

A theatre person came backstage to compliment her. ‘But people were walking out’. ‘Yes. But their backs were electric!’

Liz F

In another ‘difficult’ play Kenneth Griffiths tried to destroy the performances of his female co stars, even goosestepping around them as they tried to deliver their lines. The director knew it was wrong but refused to intervene. On the last night they soaked Griffiths with water and tripped him up.

Liz Fraser carry on regardlessT

This is a lovely, well produced book, plenty of good photos, a comprehensive index and a list of her work at the back. The only possible criticism, perhaps not terribly crucial, is that she thinks she is playing a cello in the music student comedy Raising the Wind. She actually plays violin and also jazz double bass, in a scene which swings in more than one sense. That last  sentence is a little sleazy but you can hardly ignore that both of these legendary women intentionally captivated generations of men. For many of us they are lifelong crushes. 

 

§Lz raising the wind

 Fenella Fielding also sought new challenges throughout her long career. Her acclaimed theatre work is vast and various and in her late eighties she dazzled critics with Hecuba’s lament from Euripidies’ The Trojan Woman. 

 

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She grew up in Hackney.  Her breakthrough was Valmouth after which she played the title roles of Hedda Gabler and Colette.
Her cd of TS Elliot’s Four Quartets even enabled me to get through it for the first time. Stunning.  

 

The Dry Salvages https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rABqTI5TzOY&frags=pl%2Cwn

She performed in several musicals and even did an intriguing slow, sensual version of New Order’s Blue Monday, one of sixteen recent songs, also for the innovative and daring Savoy Books. Who deserve some support.   

https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://www.savoy.abel.co.uk/HTML/fourquartets.html&ved=2ahUKEwit_Kiyg93dAhUpCsAKHYDdDmoQFjAKegQIAxAB&usg=AOvVaw3TjKrJifIylZNnoXqYrK6l

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Savoy-Sessions-Fenella-Fielding/dp/B00894AL62

 fenella cccc

There’s not a lot of detail about her private life although she mentions having simultaneous love affairs with two people for twenty years (though this worldly sophisticate claims to have not noticed some of the double entendres in Carry On Screaming).

A genuine bohemian, her milieu encompassed sex workers, gangsters and the abyss: Soho with Jeffrey Bernard. They didn’t really deserve this smart, stylish beauty, the strawberry-nosed alcoholics at the Colony Rooms, some of whom were camp misogynists fond of screeching the word ‘C*nt’. The Colony’s Muriel Belcher is here described as a ‘tough, beaky manageress’.  Francis Bacon liked her a lot. Well, who wouldn’t?
Kenneth Williams didn’t, continually trying to upstage her, stealing her lines if she improvised something good, doing anything he could to ruin her performance throughout the run of Pieces of Eight, a two hander written by Peter Cook.
There were problems even before he misunderstood her improvised line: ‘Last one off the stage is a sissy’, taking it as her outing him. He then waged a lengthy poisonous campaign against her. Fenella points out it’s just possible the audience would have known he was a homosexual, particularly as he often referred to it himself. Then again my grandmother’s generation sometimes said of people like Liberace: ‘They say he’ll never marry’ – one prophecy which came true.

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Kenneth Williams had forgotten his initial animus by Carry On Screaming. Fenella doesn’t bear a grudge about anyone incidentally. Liz Fraser occasionally has a mildly waspish remark for people who have behaved badly but is essentially good natured. Fenella’s disposition seems to have been as sunny as her voice was velvetty. Perhaps both of them being successful at something they had always wanted to do obviated the need to tear other people apart. Maybe some people would rather just be nice. Fenella quotes Ned Sherrin’s ‘the end of deference’ in her chapter on the sixties but also asks why did some shop assistants need to be so rude? According to her, Mary Quant had no idea why her clothes weren’t selling. It was because her staff despised the customers. Things rapidly improved when she sacked them and got some helpful middle aged people.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vksTUWDXGJo&frags=pl%2Cwn

contains Carry On clips.

She wasn’t much of a drinker, liked cannabis but didn’t over indulge and her one brush with cocaine was when someone painted it on her throat to help her voice. It made her extremely ‘vivacious’, apparently great fun for those nearby.

 

Fenella turned down Carry on Cleopatra for a short love affair with an American boy. Now she wishes she’d done the film.

 fenalla x

How many people remain a style icon for most of their adult life? Dusty Springfield said her eyelashes were a tribute to Fenella’s, whose own pop single, Big Bad Mouse has a touch of Kurt Weill’s Alabama Song.  (Sounds like George Chisolm on trombone. I know people are dying to know who took a four bar break on a 1960s novelty record. Well, he was world class as were Fenella Fielding and Liz Fraser.)  She later sang at Jarvis Cocker’s Meltdown, ‘somewhere between Grace Jones and Pete Doherty.’ 

fenella cat

 

 

Fenella did Celebrity Squares with Groucho Marx and saw people trying to impress him by imitating his work. ‘thinking he would be amused. However, a) they didn’t know the material b) they couldn’t do it. c) He didn’t give a fuck.’ 

 

Her brother being a Conservative luminary meant she met Margaret Thatcher who responded to Fenella complimenting her dress sense by telling her four year old niece some tips on where to stand so her broach caught the light. Fenella didn’t like her politics but recognised a formidable presence.
Best known now for the perennially popular Carry On Screaming she was slightly miffed that a third of her fan mail came from being the voice in The Prisoner, although she’s grateful for these performances that remain popular for decades. including her voice work in Dougal and the Blue Cat, revered by
Mark Kermode. His fine tribute.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gk_1qs82R7U 


Both stars excelled in the Avengers, Liz in The Girl From Auntie, Fenella in The Charmers, both easy to find on DailyMotion.com. 

 

Fenella’s book has good photos, diary entries at the back and an introduction by her collaborator Simon McKay, a psychotherapist she met at her pilates class.  

So many great stories throughout both books, which will  please anyone who has ever admired these legendary women. They’re both essential purchases.

Liz Fraser’s Guardian obituary concluded with this cute anecdote which would also apply to Fenella Fielding.
‘Put up in a local hotel by the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society the night before the event, Liz was asked by the receptionist what her profession was. With a twinkle in her eye, she answered: “Film star, dear!”’

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQ3gZ3fARIA

 

Lovely review of Dread – The Art of Serial Killing

Dread. published 2015. ‘Recalled to life’ new edition 2018.  And still the slowest ever bandwagon rumbles on. Patient. Relentless. Remorseless. Global hegemony – any day now.
Cue Aidan Thorn

 

Dark, funny and brilliant

It really is a shame that traditional publishers lack any bravely, because in a braver marketplace Mark Ramsden would be a major writing star. Thankfully Fahrenheit Press are here to pick up the mantle for the industry.

Dread is dark, funny, poetic, beautiful, ugly, gripping, weird, intriguing and ultimately brilliant. This is the book the likes of Chuck Palahniuk and Brett Easton Ellis wish they could write. We’re in the head of a serial killer for much of this book and it’s delightful. Inside Mr Madden’s drug, lust and grief fuelled head we are so far removed from the mainstream we might as well be on another plan at yet the modern cultural (that Madden despises) references are so we’ll observed we are acutely aware that this is the mind of a man warped by life. His relationship with Zero, a captive who is equally twisted, elevates the story to another level. Is it Stockholm syndrome or is she justas twisted as Madden, who knows, or cares, these two brilliant characters keep the pages turning as the gore, sex and violence flow. Outstanding

Thanks Aidan! Mr Thorn is the widely acclaimed author of the excellent When The Music’s Over and much more. He even has a proper, grown up, supercool dayjob. Check him out. @AidanDFThorn

https://fahrenheit-press.myshopify.com/products/mark-ramsden-dread-the-art-of-serial-killing-paperback   £1.69 e book, kindle etc £4.95 pbk

ps Mistress Murder…’Bridget Jones meets 120 Days of Sodom.’ Rude Rom Com – with extreme jeopardy
Mark Ramsden : Mistress Murder (eBook – Kindle Version)