Archive for the ‘jane birkin’ Tag

Looking down on Stars of Brighton by the gutter

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

― Oscar Wilde, ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’

 

“…he happened to have a first-class ticket for Worthing in his pocket at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex. It is a seaside resort.”

― Oscar Wilde, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’

East of Worthing, east of Hove, at the eastern end of Brighton, just below Kemptown, sits Brighton Marina (site of ArkAngel Productions’ regional office). It was built from 1971 to 1978 and opened in 1979 with the age of Thatcherism. Rumour had it that it was some kind of scam to secure European (EEC) money.  In 1985 it was taken over by Brent Walker, nicknamed ‘Bent Walker’, a property and leisure business run by the former boxer and Soho gangster George Walker. Earlier in his career he was jailed for stealing nylon stockings in Victoria Docks, London.  

Among the shops Walker established in the Marina is a rather incongruous Walk of Fame, a set of stars built into the pavement Hollywood-style. I’ve walked over them often over the years, frequently asking myself the question what have they got to do with Brighton? Like Kevin Rowland of Dexy’s Midnight Runners – he’s a Brummy as far as I know (Wolverhampton?), of Irish descent (Co. Mayo) and he has lived in London a fair bit, but what’s Brighton got to do with him?

Young soul rebel in 1980 (front left)

Whilst tramping over them during the summer I decided to use the stars as the basis of an occasional series on Simple Pleasures Part 4, of which this is the introduction.

So Brighton Marina’s Walk of Fame is the first such one in the UK. It was the brainchild of David Courtney, a Brighton-born songwriter/music producer who had an internationally successful partnership with Leo Sayer in the 70s which brought him to L.A., spiritual home of Walks of Fame. That prompted him to bring the concept back to his home town and to the Marina his uncle, Henry Cohen, helped conceive and realise.

So the first star in this series, given the business of ArkAngel Productions, will be Ray Brooks.

Ray Brooks is the voice of Mr Benn, the sober suited businessman from Festive Road who made regular visits on the sly to a certain dressing up shop. There The Shopkeeper offered him outfits to try on and when he went into the changing room there his magical adventures began. From knight in armour to cowboy, he lived a more colourful, adventurous life for a brief while until the Shopkeeper fetched him back to the changing room. The character was conceived by David McKee originally for children’s books but became the star of a much-loved BBC animated series in 1971/72 (the year the Marina was born).

I worked with Ray Brooks only once – he did the voice-over for a film I directed for Barnardos about whistleblowing, ‘Sounding the Alarm‘. 

His Brighton connection is simple: he was born there just before the Second World War. His career as an actor started in ‘Coronation Street’ in the early 60s. A breakthrough came in 1965 when he joined Michael Crawford and Rita Tushingham in Richard Lester’s comedy ‘The Knack …and how to get it’ which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes that year. 

Interlude: Coincidence No. 266

That’s the second time ‘The Knack’ has come up in the last couple of days. Someone in my circle posted a picture of the LP sleeve of the soundtrack by John Barry because they’d dusted it off and were giving it a Lockdown2 listen.

The following year Ray appeared in the landmark ‘Cathy Come Home’. Throughout the 60s he got parts in cult classics from ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Danger Man’ through to ‘Dr Who’. 

He was the voice of the storyteller in ‘Jackanory’ throughout the 70s. At the turn of the millennium he starred in ‘Two Thousand Acres of Sky’ with Paul Kaye and did a spell in ‘Eastenders’ in the mid-noughties. 

He lives in London but still goes to Brighton to write. He clearly remains attached to the place as his final blog post (17th March 2019) ends with a reference to it as the place he’d go to get rid of his ego:

But what could I expect.? The old ego was popping up again. I’ll put it into a box and chuck [it] off the Brighton Pier I’m sure David Attenborough  wouldn’t complain ‘cos fish with egos wouldn’t eat plastic bags any more they’d be too full of themselves.

Jane Birkin (uncredited) & Ray Brooks in ‘The Knack …and How To Get It ‘ (1965)

Jane Birkin was married to John Barry, composer on ‘The Knack …and How To Get It ‘ before moving on to hook up with Serge Gainsbourg at the end of the decade. This is a CD cover my old friend Marcelino Truong drew and designed for Gainsbourg. Marcelino has stayed at ArkAngel South-East in Brighton Marina.

Gainsbourg ‎– Mon Légionnaire (1988) by Marcelino Truong
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