Cloris Leachman as Young Frankenstein’s housekeeper: Frau Blücher’s name itself struck a note of terror
❚ EVERY MEL BROOKS FAN knows the face of Cloris Leachman from her outrageous characters, the Transylvanian housekeeper Frau Blücher and dominatrix nurse Charlotte Diesel, so vividly associated with the director’s wild film parodies Young Frankenstein and High Anxiety in the mid-Seventies. Mere mention of stern Frau Blücher’s name caused whinnying horses to rear in fear, and only slowly does Dr “Fronkensteen” Junior work out who she is. “So you and Victor were. . . ?” he asks. “Yes, yes,” she replies. “He vas my… boyfriend.” Later in the Hitchcockian spoof set in an Institute for the Very, Very Nervous, the demented psycho who pronounced her name “Nursh Deezhel” did finally admit: “Perhaps I’ve been a bit too harsh.”
“Cloris’s genius is that she never plays comedy for laughs. She’s deadly serious” – director Mel Brooks
Leachman the actress died this week aged 94 and her dazzling career also embraced an Oscar-winning supporting role in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, numerous TV residencies from Lassie and The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off Phyllis to The Beverly Hillbillies, plus cameos in so many TV hits that between 1972 and 2011 she was nominated for 22 Primetime Emmys and won eight. Her twilight years saw her portraying off-beat grandmothers in television and film and competing with celebrities less than half her age on Dancing With the Stars.
Cloris Leachman as the very strict Nurse Diesel in High Anxiety: viewed with Hitchcockian inspiration from beneath a glass coffee table
Koko nightclub ablaze last night: 60 firefighters extinguished the flames within five hours
◼ TWICE IN 40 YEARS Camden Town’s most renowned theatre has been set ablaze. Last night the 119-year-old former Royal Camden Theatre, currently known as the nightclub Koko, burst into flames at about 9pm during the course of renovation work. Video footage showed giant flames devouring its historic copper dome. London Fire Brigade reported 30% of the roof to be alight and despatched eight fire engines and 60 firefighters to tackle the inferno.
The venue was also damaged by fire during its last gasp as the post-punk Music Machine, soon after a Theatre of Hate gig in December 1980. Subsequent restoration saw it reopen in 1982 renamed the Camden Palace as Steve Strange and Rusty Egan made this the flagship for their New Romantic movement when they took it mainstream. Madonna played her first London date there by Rusty’s invitation.
Click any pic below to enlarge all in a slideshow
Koko’s gloriously baroque interior: an intimate space for live music
The Royal Camden Theatre in 1901: crowned by eight statues of classical figures around the dome
Madonna at Koko in 2005: revisiting the stage where she made her London debut. (Photo: Getty)
The rave scene saw Camden Palace through its second decade until it closed in 2004. Koko emerged after major refurbishment of its richly ornate interior by new owners who established a cool reputation for live music and with clubbing capacity for 1,500 people. However during further refurbishment in September 2018 surveyors deemed the building unsafe so the venue was forced to close.
Theatre historian Matthew Lloyd reports: “As of 2017 the theatre was to undergo a full restoration, including the replacement of the cupola on the roof. The Hope and Anchor at the back of the theatre was projected to become a boutique hotel at the same time, and would be a part of the whole complex, including a restaurant on the roof.” This £40-million state-of-the-art redevelopment was scheduled to finish in April this year but the latest fire is likely to impose a delay.
Opened in 1900 by the celebrated actress Ellen Terry, the theatre has enjoyed a dozen or so reincarnations as playhouse, music-hall and until 1940 as the Hippodrome and Gaumont cinemas. In 1945 the BBC revived the Camden Theatre name as its studio for recording variety shows and most famously The Goon Show (1951-60), starring Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers. Their Last Goon Show of All was recorded for radio and television at the studio in 1972, the year the building was awarded a Grade II listing. It had lain empty for several years and faced demolition, so the listing at least postponed that fate. English Heritage drew attention to the original architecture by W.G.R. Sprague, celebrated for his many West End theatres: a pillared façade “in baroque pastiche style”, and cantilevered dress circle and balcony with plaster work by Waring & Gillow in a mixture of baroque and rococo ornament.
Let’s hope Koko’s owners can wave a wand to revive the lustre of this iconic play-place.
➢ Another iconic building wrecked by fire during renovations – Richard Morrison in The Times’s arts column writes on 10 Jan 2020: “ It’s striking how often historic buildings go up in smoke when there is renovation work happening, as there was at Koko… Recent examples are the 2018 fire that ripped through Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s superb Glasgow School of Art building as a £36-million restoration was being completed after a fire in 2014. Incredulous MSPs of all parties asked a series of questions that mostly cannot be answered… And the fire that devastated Note-Dame in Paris… rebuilding doesn’t appear to be going smoothly either… ”/ Continued online
Steve Strange in 1982: invariably being filmed at Camden Palace
Click to enlarge: cinemascopic stage for Lazarus in New York with Michael C. Hall (left), Cristin Milioti and Michael Esper. (Photo Jan Versweyveld)
◼ WHOEVER GULLED DAVID BOWIE into endorsing the inconsequential and tedious off-Broadway production of Lazarus which opened in London this week can never be forgiven. It is a disgrace on two levels: there’s not an ounce of theatre to this live “play” in which Bowie’s songs are the sole source of inspiration. And the theatre’s sightlines are atrocious.
The only merit in the entire performance comes from the live musicians. The actors have forgotten any training they had, merely meandering around the stage, sitting or lying on it, semaphoring superficially; the script, “a new story” written by Enda Walsh with Bowie, hasn’t the first idea about how to deliver their characters; and the plot moves no further than it was left in the book by Walter Tevis and the cult film on which Lazarus bases its existence, The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), directed brilliantly by Nicolas Roeg and starring Bowie. In this musical claiming to be a “sequel”, after two mind-numbing hours nothing has been advanced for the immortal Earth-bound alien Thomas Newton who lives on gin and television.
Michael C Hall as Newton on the London stage
It creaks like a period piece of sci-fi by ignoring the major technologies that have transformed fiction no less than real-life during the past 40 years: the personal computer, the genome, the internet, artificial intelligence. This year’s TV drama The Night Manager, as an updating of John Le Carre’s 1993 novel, was infinitely more electrifying about the nowness of progress.
Nostalgia does find its place in the best new number Bowie wrote for Lazarus, Where Are We Now?, a deeply affecting tour of the melancholy old postwar Berlin which anybody who visited before the fall of the wall will never forget. Alas, here a culture gap yawns between the imaginative compass of music and the human efforts live onstage which all musical theatre must reconcile. Lazarus is a rock-world concept, bereft of dramatic chemistry, that relies on projected light to evoke the visual kaleidoscope of music videos, from which The Message is whatever key image the PR machine decides to promote. Theatre, it ain’t.
Worse, the biggest insult of all are the ticket prices in the 900-seat temporary installation calling itself the King’s Cross Theatre and being charged by Robert Fox and Jones/Tintoretto Entertainment. Quite apart from the external soundtrack from traffic and aircraft and railway activity, whoever designed this space and its sightlines has never sat in a theatre before.
From our so-called “TOP PRICE” * £65 tickets, situated about two-thirds of the way back, we never had a view of more than the top half of the wide cinemascopic stage. The angle of the raked auditorium was entirely to blame for placing at least six heads directly in front of each paying customer, and everybody else within range spent the duration bobbing their heads and weaving sideways to catch a glimpse of the stage and its often inanimate actors. The bigger disgrace is that other customers had been charged at “Premium” price levels from £160 downwards.
Frankly, I am convinced Bowie is turning in his grave at this presentation of his music.
* Surely a trades mis-description when there are THREE “Premium” price tiers above the so-called “Top Price”!
➢ Michael Billington, the Guardian: “an exploration of the existential angst that pervades Bowie’s music: this is the story of a man never wholly at ease in himself or his surroundings. I found myself more impressed by the visual sophistication than emotionally engaged by the story.”
Pristine footage: The Beatles play Shea Stadium in August 1965. (Image: SubaFilms)
◼ LAST NIGHT AT A LONDON CINEMA I saw the most exciting live pop concert since the same band played live in the Swinging Sixties. Ron Howard’s new Beatles documentary, Eight Days A Week about the touring years 1963-66, is a sensational feast of long-lost performance footage that confronts us with the Fab Four’s raw onstage energy and pounding tempo – the audio as gorgeously restored as the images. This two-hour celebration of Beatle genius goes behind the clichés of hysteria to give us Access All Areas. It delivers one revelation after another, from Paul’s “Oh-my-God” moment when Ringo joined the band, to the jaw-dropping recording of a top-ten single in 90 minutes of studio time, to their 1964 triumph for civil rights when the band refused to tour in the US until audience segregation was abandoned at their venues.
New interviews from Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney keep dropping gems of insight about this the most commercially successful group in pop history, while vintage footage does as much justice to lippy John Lennon and “quiet” George Harrison who are no longer with us.
Throughout this joyous moptops-into-men odyssey we’re wide-eyed at the sheer cheek of these multimedia superstars, aged between 19 and 22, who created their own interview style by pinging back witty ad-libs to questions from the world’s media. The downside was mass hysteria from teenaged babyboom fans laying siege to hotels and airports where they repeatedly overwhelmed police and security on an often scarifying scale.
Beatle albums sat at No 1 in the charts for 20 to 30 weeks at a time – more No 1 albums than any other musical act. Their 20 No 1 hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart remain unchallenged.
Ron Howard with Paul and Ringo this week: “I love this photo that was taken yesterday at Abbey Road Studios in historic Studio 2 while we were promoting The Beatles: Eight Days a Week”
Everything The Beatles did was without precedent. Among their innovations they launched arena rock and at Shea Stadium Howard’s doc ensures that we hear George’s guitar chords above the screaming audience of 55,000 fans. As a shock reminder of Sixties technology, Vox had built three new amps for the Beatles, each souped up to 100 watts (!!!) specially for touring America, their output being relayed via microphones to feed the stadium’s tinny loudspeaker system!!!
It is a breath-taking source of inspiration to know that during The Beatles’ far from meteoric early years, this Liverpudlian band of brothers had played at least 456 live gigs before signing their recording contract with EMI. Yes, 456 !!! With that amount of practice, it should be no surprise to find that their legacy amounts to 237 original compositions – songs which most people on the planet can hum, while the most radical among them personify the Sixties counterculture. As the best-selling band in history, the Fabs revolutionised all of music for ever.
Howard’s previous reality epics include the wonderful Apollo 13 and the gripping joust, Frost/Nixon. This week he told The Guardian: “I began to think of the Beatles story as like Das Boot: they’re in it together, they have each other, they know what their objective is, but, y’know, it’s a dangerous world out there.”
WHAT THE PRESS ARE SAYING
➢ Ron Howard trashes the idea that there’s nothing new to say about the Beatles – The Guardian: “ This is about the Beatles as live phenomenon, and the fact that their music was all the more remarkable because it had to be heard above the scream – that ambient sound of sex, excitement and modernity, mixed in with a thin chirrup of press envy. The scream was an important part of it. . . an almost unbroken four-year, semi-improvised multimedia performance for which there was no pre-existing template – not simply the music but the giant public spectacle and public scrutiny. ”
➢ 10 Things we learned from Eight Days a Week
– Rolling Stone: “ In February 1964, the band and their entourage occupied nearly the entire 12th floor of the Plaza NYC, including the 10-room presidential suite. But despite the space, the four friends retired to smaller quarters. “The four of us ended up in the bathroom just to get a break from the incredible pressure,” Starr says. ”
➢ “We were force-grown, like rhubarb,” says John Lennon
– Daily Telegraph: “ The film shrewdly draws a line between the Beatles’ mischievous sense of humour and their long-time producer George Martin’s earlier life recording alternative comedy. Martin had worked with the Goons, an enormous influence on the band’s growing lyrical eccentricity in that period, as well as their off-the-cuff ribbing of strait-laced reporters. ”
A humanoid alien comes to Earth with a mission… What a spooky coincidence that David Bowie played the alien Thomas Jerome Newton in the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth
Today’s Times: the masks and the man behind them
◼ ALL 10 BRITISH NATIONAL NEWSPAPERS filled their front pages today with the death of David Bowie at 69 – and so did scores of newspapers overseas. The last pop star whose death justified such deification was Jacko in 2009; and the last British pop star to do likewise was John Lennon, in 1980. The Times of London dedicated 18 pages including an outer broadsheet wrapper to honouring Bowie, plus an editorial comment as blessing. The Guardian topped that with 20 pages, plus the most enlightened editorial comment of them all. Not only did this misfit megastar and cultural icon radiate consummate flair as a performer but he displayed “an instinctive affinity with his times”. He had a “way with the zeitgeist”.
All media, notably social media, captured the dominant sentiment of generations of fans suddenly plunged into mourning. Again and again they claimed: He changed my life. . . He taught me how to be myself. . . David was my inspiration. . . David was my tutor. And most could quote their own favourite song lyric expressing their faith: Oh no, love – you’re not alone. . . Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it. . . It’s only for ever, not long at all. . . All you’ve got to do is win. . . We can be heroes just for one day.
Blanket coverage: Bowie on all UK front pages… Image updated 14 Jan to include news magazines
➢ Choose “View full site” – then in the blue bar atop your mobile page, click the three horizontal lines linking to many blue themed pages with background articles.
MORE INTERESTING THAN MOST PEOPLE’S FANTASIES — THE SWINGING EIGHTIES 1978-1984
They didn’t call themselves New Romantics, or the Blitz Kids – but other people did.
“I’d find people at the Blitz who were possible only in my imagination. But they were real” — Stephen Jones, hatmaker, 1983. (Illustration courtesy Iain R Webb, 1983)
“The truth about those Blitz club people was more interesting than most people’s fantasies” — Steve Dagger, pop group manager, 1983
“See David Johnson’s fabulously detailed website Shapers of the 80s to which I am hugely indebted” – Political historian Dominic Sandbrook, in his book Who Dares Wins, 2019
“The (velvet) goldmine that is Shapers of the 80s” – Verdict of Chris O’Leary, respected author and blogger who analyses Bowie song by song at Pushing Ahead of the Dame
“The rather brilliant Shapers of the 80s website” – Dylan Jones in his Sweet Dreams paperback, 2021
A UNIQUE HISTORY
➢ WELCOME to the Swinging 80s ➢ THE BLOG POSTS on this front page report topical updates ➢ ROLL OVER THE MENU at page top to go deeper into the past ➢ FOR NEWS & MONTH BY MONTH SEARCH scroll down this sidebar
❏ Header artwork by Kat Starchild shows Blitz Kids Darla Jane Gilroy, Elise Brazier, Judi Frankland and Steve Strange, with David Bowie at centre in his 1980 video for Ashes to Ashes
VINCENT ON AIR 2022
✱ Deejay legend Robbie Vincent returned to JazzFM on Sundays 1-3pm in 2021… Catch Robbie’s JazzFM August Bank Holiday 2020 session thanks to AhhhhhSoul with four hours of “nothing but essential rhythms of soul, jazz and funk”.
SEARCH our 800 posts or ZOOM DOWN TO THE ARCHIVE INDEX
UNTOLD BLITZ STORIES
✱ If you thought there was no more to know about the birth of Blitz culture in 1980 then get your hands on a sensational book by an obsessive music fan called David Barrat. It is gripping, original and epic – a spooky tale of coincidence and parallel lives as mind-tingling as a Sherlock Holmes yarn. Titled both New Romantics Who Never Were and The Untold Story of Spandau Ballet! Sample this initial taster here at Shapers of the 80s
CHEWING THE FAT
✱ Jawing at Soho Radio on the 80s clubland revolution (from 32 mins) and on art (@55 mins) is probably the most influential shaper of the 80s, former Wag-club director Chris Sullivan (pictured) with editor of this website David Johnson
LANDMARK FAREWELLS. . . HIT THE INDEX TAB UP TOP FOR EVERYTHING ELSE
We respect copyright, and are happy to give credit to a photographer’s work and try to seek permission first. If you own images published here and wish them to be removed, simply ask.
Reblogging is theft, so whenever you recycle any picture for your own use, please credit the photographer or artist (living or dead), and seek permission to reproduce it. Their livelihoods (and those of their families) often depend on fair dealing