Archive for the ‘Oscar Wilde’ 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

Lost Postcards No.2

old postcard berlin henry ainley

The second recently re-found old postcard from my small, random collection

old postcard berlin henry ainley

This one cost me a massive 20p (pencilled on the back). I think I bought it because it reminded me of Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde.

Aubrey Beardsley (1872 – 1898) by Frederick H. Evans (c.1894)

Aubrey Beardsley (1872 – 1898) by Frederick H. Evans (c.1894)

The postcard was “Manufactured in Berlin”. Oddly it specifies “For Inland use only” – as it’s written in English I assume it means in Britain not Germany.

The sitter is quite androgynous as you can see.

Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas (1870–1945) is best known as Oscar Wilde’s lover, and is often blamed for his downfall.

Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas (1870–1945) is best known as Oscar Wilde’s lover, and is often blamed for his downfall.

The name ‘Henry Ainley’ is printed at the bottom.

It turns out Henry Hinchliffe Ainley died the same year as Bosie. His dates are 21st August 1879 – 31st October 1945. He was an English actor of stage and screen, specialising in Shakespeare.

He was born in Leeds and brought up in Morley by father Richard, a cloth finisher, and mother Ada. He moved to London to pursue his career in acting. He made his professional stage debut as a messenger in Macbeth with F.R. Benson’s company.  Later he joined Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s company. He first came to prominence in 1902 as Paolo in Paolo and Francesca.

He played Gloucester in Henry V at the Lyceum in London. Ainley returned to Leeds to appear at the Grand Theatre. Later roles included Oliver Cromwell, Mark Antony in Julius Caesar and the lead in Macbeth. In 1912 he portrayed Malvolio and then Leontes under the direction of Harley Granville-Barker. He played Hamlet several times, including a 1930 production which was selected for a Royal Command Performance.

John Gielgud thought highly of Ainley and had a long-standing ambition to perform with him which he eventually fulfilled when he played Iago to Ainley’s Othello in a 1932 BBC Radio broadcast. Gielgud however described Ainley’s Prospero as “disastrous”, recalling it in 1996 (in The Sunday Times).

Ainley played Shakespeare on screen in Henry VIII (1911) and As You Like It (1936), the latter alongside his son Richard and Laurence Olivier.

Among the other roles Ainley played were: Robert Waring in The Shulamite (The Savoy Theatre, London, 1906.); Joseph Quinney in Quinneys (on stage in 1915 and on film in 1919); in A. A. Milne’s The Dover Road opposite Athene Seyler (1922); the Bishop of Chelsea in Bernard Shaw’s Getting Married (The Haymarket Theatre);  James Fraser in St. John Ervine’s The First Mrs. Fraser (1929 on stage, 1932 on film); and he starred in James Elroy Flecker’s Hassan (on stage and on radio). He was an early example of stage-screen crossover.

His films include:
She Stoops to Conquer (1914)
Sweet Lavender (1915)
Sowing the Wind (1916)
The Marriage of William Ashe (1916)
The Manxman (1917) – not to be confused with the second silent adaptation, directed by Hitchcock twelve years alter (1929)
Build Thy House (1920)
The Prince and the Beggarmaid (1921)
The Royal Oak (1923)
The First Mrs. Fraser (1932)

In 1921 Ainley became a member of the council of RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) and was its president from 1931 to 1933.

Ainley led his own own theatre company. In 1932 he helped save the debt-laden Sadler’s Wells theatre. Ainley thought Sadler’s Wells regular Samuel Phelps the “greatest actor of all” and Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson “the greatest of Hamlets”.

Ainley was married three times – to Susanne Sheldon, Elaine Fearon and novelist Bettina Riddle (aka Baroness von Hutten zum Stolzenberg). He had several children, including actors Henry T. Ainley, Richard Ainley and Anthony Ainley, as well as non-thesps Sam and Timothy Ainley. Another off-spring was Henrietta Riddle, who was briefly engaged to journalist Alistair Cooke in 1932.

15 letters in the possession of Olivier’s widow, Joan Plowright, suggest that Ainley may have had a sexual relationship with Dear, Dear Larry in the late 30s. The letters suggest that Ainley was infatuated with Olivier.

Ainley died in London and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. I’ll go visit next time I’m over that way.

henry ainley as romeo in romeo and juliet

As Romeo in ‘Romeo and Juliet’

The photo in my postcard seems to have been taken by Lizzie Caswall-Smith.

henry ainley Photo by Lizzie Caswall-Smith

Lizzie Caswall-Smith (1870-1958) (possibly without hyphen) is pretty interesting in her own right. She was a British photographer who specialised in society and celebrity studio portraits. These were often used for postcards.

Caswall-Smith was associated with the women’s suffrage movement and photographed many suffragettes including Christabel Pankhurst, Flora Drummond and Millicent Fawcett. The other actors she photographed included Camille Clifford, Sydney Valentine, Billie Burke and Maude Fealy. She photographed Florence Nightingale in 1910 (which fetched £5,500 (Nov 2008)). On the back of that particular photograph she had jotted in pencil: “Florence Nightingale taken just before she died, House nr Park Lane (London). The only photograph I ever took out of studio – I shall never forget the experience.”

Caswall-Smith operated the Gainsborough Studio at 309 Oxford Street from 1907 until 1920 when she moved to 90 Great Russell Street. She stayed at that address until her retirement in 1930 (aged 60). She exhibited at the Royal Photographic Society in 1902 and 1913. Her portraits of Peter Llewelyn Davies and J. M. Barrie are in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London.

 

 

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