Thursday, 18 April 2013

Absolute Beginners: How Kenneth Williams Turned Me On To Jazz

Talbot 'Tolly' Rothwell tried to sell me the concept of jazz. I was not buying. Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk. Charles Mingus and Miles Davis may have had talents that struck us like a lighting bolt in our later years, but as a callow youth of fourteen, I was all for dodging what I deemed the unlistenable bullet.

Davis' ‘Kind Of Blue would often sneak snake-like out of Tolly's study. Plus, the Carry On scriptwriter had an ally.

Kenneth Williams was not up on the names and styles from the world of jazz, but he knew what he liked, and he liked a bit of Mingus.

It would take Colin MacInnes’ book ‘Absolute Beginners’ to educate, inform and take me into the bosom of modern jazz. MacInnes' fictional world was one of youth, and of creative and personal ambition

Kenneth Williams liked it for different reasons. Jazz was unpredictable. At its best it gave the impression of having no set form or agenda. It could veer off at the least expected moment and take on new forms from old.

Kenneth Williams was the living embodiment of jazz. I liked Kenny, and, even at fourteen I should have trusted his judgement.

But Tolly was old school and proud. Even though Mingus and Davis were hip with the city kids, he played them purely for their soothing qualities .. and at a volume you’d have to strain to hear.

His Davis of preference was the artist’s early more mellow and subdued style of jazz which would retain the complexities of bebop yet would also convey a more vocal and expressive mood. This came to be known as ‘Cool Jazz’.

Kenneth Williams’ would favour Mingus for his fearsome temperament, which earned him the nickname ‘The Angry Man of Jazz’. 

His refusal to compromise his musical integrity led to many on-stage eruptions, exhortations to musicians, and dismissals. Kenneth approved of a bit of boat rocking.

But now I get it. The Carry On duo of Tolly Rothwell and Kenneth Williams still have an influence on my listening habits. I bit the bullet and did a bit of self healing to the sounds that can still nourish the soul and inform the mind.

A Write Carry On

The Untold Story Of A Man In The Shadows

By Mike Cobley

Wholepoint Publications

Available now via iTunes

Monday, 4 March 2013

A Write Carry On: Titbits, Insights & Untold Tales!

How did A Write Carry On come to be? The idea for the book first appeared light bulb like in 2002. I'd recently taken a walk from the Devil’s Dyke in Brighton down to Fulking, the one-time home of Carry On scriptwriter, Talbot 'Tolly' Rothwell.

The village had changed little. Many of the memories of my formative years spent with Tolly came flooding back.

I sat on the very hill that overlooked his driveway, the one I’d been perched on when many of the Carry On regulars emerged from Tolly’s house after a long afternoon of laughs and booze.

What I witnessed (included in A Write Carry On) gave a unique insight into the actors.

From there I wandered down to the village pub, The Shepherd and Dog. I took a seat by the stream and could almost hear the chatter and laughter coming from the main bar as Tolly – as he had so many times – talked cricket, women and wickedly tall tales.

I’d also been reading up on the Carry Ons and was saddened by the lack of column inches given to Tolly. He had been so central to the series’ success. His double entendres and saucy seaside humour had given the series both its working class popularity and credibility.

Plus, when he did get a mention, it seemed to be the same few paragraphs repeated ad infinitum. I was sitting on a book worth of untold tales, ones that rightly painted a picture of Tolly as a talented, much loved and professionally respected treasure.

Here’s an insight into a few tales contained within the pages of A Write Carry On:

The Right-Wing 'Carry On' That Shed The Most Pounds

A little bit of politics in a mainstream comedy film can stem the flow of cash at the Box Office. Take ‘Carry On At Your Convenience’; the twenty-second film in the series.

With ‘Convenience’ a lot of audience goodwill went out the window. In a time of bitter industrial disputes, scriptwriter Talbot ‘Tolly’ Rothwell explored the political themes of the trade union movement.

The script had a noticeable right-wing slant; both mocking and sending-up the unions of the day. In doing so, Tolly alienated the traditional working-class audience of the series.

The Dark Side Of The 'Carry On' Funny Man: Tolly's time in the Palestine Police Force.

Tolly then smiled as he recalled that it hadn’t taken long for him to ingratiate himself into the very separate communities of the stallholders and shopkeepers from the city’s Moslem, Jewish and Christian Quarters. He said his natural way of being courteous and respectful had made him feel welcomed and seemingly above suspicion.

But one thing he didn’t’ take to was the chilly climate of the uplands of Jerusalem. He much preferred the more dependable summer and autumn seasons to be enjoyed in Tel Aviv.

Whilst on routine company patrols and manoeuvres Tolly recalled how he was a witness to the inner-workings and social-struggles of local families. Some mothers were raising as many as eight or nine children on an income of what Tolly classed as a pittance.

This Is Your Life: Coming Out From Behind The Sofa With Kenneth Williams

At Tolly’s that winter’s evening, it was Kenneth Williams who was able to chop his producer down to my size. Of all the Carry On regulars who were there to raise a glass to Tolly’s success, it seemed that it was Kenneth alone who had the strength of personality to strip Peter Rogers of his apparent air of superiority.

Kenneth would not back down on any topic raised by his employer. As Rogers spouted forth on all manner of topics, Kenneth would respond with a witty anecdote that would show he knew more about the topic than its instigator.

I gradually uncurled from the back of the sofa and was soon joining in the chorus of hilarity being raised from the battle of two such great minds. Rogers was soon crying with laughter, and Kenneth had his nose raised as he drew in the air of victory. 

A Write Carry On

The Untold Story Of A Man In The Shadows

By Mike Cobley

Wholepoint Publications

Available now via iTunes

Saturday, 23 February 2013

War Of The Carry Ons: Kenneth Williams vs Sid James

Sid James was wandering the perimeter of the small paddock that sat at the rear of Talbot 'Tolly' Rothwell's house. Tolly was, at the time, deep into his stint of being screenwriter to twenty-two of the iconic Carry On films series.

Sid was alone and looking somewhat haggard as I slipped out into the midday summer's sun and sat on a small bench at the side of the paddock.

He was dressed in khaki coloured slacks and an open lose fitting untucked check shirt. His sandals, like much of what he was wearing, looked very much on their last legs.

For at least ten minutes Sid kept his distance and remained deep in thought. From inside Tolly's house the sound of Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor holding court was clearly one of the reasons Sid was braving the direct intensity of the sun's rays. Kenny Williams wasn’t his cup of tea – that was common knowledge.

Later we were joined by Tolly. He patted me on the head and smiled and then ambled over to Sid and gave the actor a hearty pat on the back.

‘All right, old chap?’

‘That bloody Williams is getting on my tits, Tolly. I know I shouldn’t rise to it, but the way he looks down his nose at me and talks over the end of my sentences, drives me mad.’

‘He means well, Sid. Anyway, food's up and we are all about to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Jim (Dale). Join us, come on.’

With that Sid wandered over, grabbed me by the arm and said: ‘If I ain’t getting out of this neither are you.’ We entered the house, painted on our smiles, opened our mouths and sang ‘happy birthday’ to a rather squiffy looking Jim Dale.

To read more on Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Sid James, Barbara Windsor and the rest of the Carry On cast and crew .. buy a copy of A Write Carry On .. Just CLICK HERE

A Write Carry On

The Untold Story Of A Man In The Shadows

By Mike Cobley

Wholepoint Publications

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Carry On School Of Modern Day Comedy

It's still possible to identify the Carry On influence in modern mainstream British comedy.

From the pseudo working men's clubs insights of Peter Kay, to the knowing tickle-yer-granny's funny bone 'off-the-cuff' sitcom sauciness of Mrs Brown's Boys .. the double entendre and innuendo laced humour of the Carry Ons are alive and well and on a DVD shelf near you.

Julian Clary, who features in the forthcoming ebook, Intimate Insights (Wholepoint Publications), starred in the ill-received Carry On Columbus, and, for his sins, found himself in a recent run of Celebrity Big Brother.

But ringing through the heart of Julian’s comedy persona are the infectious vowels and delivery of Kenneth Williams.

Even as far back as his days as The Joan Collins Fan Club, his modus operandi was to shock through use of his vocabulary .. a technique so expertly mastered by Williams.

Williams would also use song as part of his intellectual arsenal. Releasing two albums under his own name, Kenneth Williams on Pleasure Bent and The World of Kenneth Williams; he has been cited as a great influence on Tim Minchin.

Minchin is an Australian-British comedian, actor, and musician who describes his act as a ‘funny cabaret show’ and sees himself primarily as a musician and songwriter as opposed to a comedian.

His songs, he says: "just happen to be funny."  His reasoning for combining the disciplines of music and comedy was revealed in one interview when he said:

"I'm a good musician for a comedian and I'm a good comedian for a musician but if I had to do any of them in isolation I dunno."
Minchin’s self doubts over giving his talents to just one comedy genre are much like those of Williams.

The Carry On regular wanted most of all to be taken seriously, but is best remembered for his slapstick appearances in the long running comedy film series.

From the stadium-filling mainstream comedy of Michael McIntyre, to the sardonic observational comedy of Dylan Moran, we have the likes of Sid James, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Barbara Windsor et al to thank for coming up with the ideas first!

Available now at Amazon - iBookstore - Kobo

A Write Carry On - The Untold Story Of A Man In The Shadows
by Mike Cobley

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Kenneth Williams: Amateur Hour With A True Professional

Watching an actor learn his lines is tantamount to watching paint dry. Even when said actor is Kenneth Williams and said lines will only be witnessed by the lucky few who squeeze into an unremarkable village hall.

It was a few days shy of Christmas and Kenneth had arrived at Talbot ‘Tolly’ Rothwell's (Carry On scriptwriter), house with just three hours to learn his lines, rehearse his scenes and partake in a dress rehearsal.

So, with time short .. Kenneth did none of the above three. Instead he put on a show there and then, to an audience of just three.

Tolly, my dad and myself sat enraptured, though a little intimidated, as Kenneth delivered uncensored anecdotes on the behind the scenes going-ons of his fellow Carry On stars.

The air was blue, Tolly and my dad were blushing and fidgeting awkwardly in their chairs .. while I was in seventh heaven. Kenneth noted my youthful abandon and delivered many of his cutting/killer punchlines down his long nose and directly to my lugholes.

With an hour till showtime he tired of us and was whisked away to the local village hall. By all accounts, he adlibbed the local amateur dramatic society off of the stage, endeared himself to few of those in attendance, and loved every minute of the unforgettable and outrageous scene had he created.

My dad dined-out on the story for years to come. As time passed he somewhat elevated his part in that night’s proceedings. He really should have known better. There was only one performer that night, and he played a blinder!  

To read more on Kenneth Williams and the rest of the Carry On cast and crew .. buy a copy of A Write Carry On .. Just CLICK HERE

A Write Carry On

The Untold Story Of A Man In The Shadows

By Mike Cobley

Wholepoint Publications

Thursday, 7 February 2013

A Write Carry On - A Screenwriting Bestseller

Available now at Amazon - iBookstore - Kobo

A Write Carry On - The Untold Story Of A Man In The Shadows
by Mike Cobley
Imagine growing up with the Carry Ons. Getting to hobnob on a regular basis with the likes of Sid James, Barbara Windsor, Frankie Howerd, Charles Hawtrey, Jim Dale and Kenneth Williams. Well, I was that lucky guy. The catalyst for my meetings with the cream of saucy British comedy was Talbot‘Tolly’ Rothwell.

Tolly wrote the scripts for twenty-two of the big-screen Carry Ons, and was a close family friend for all of those glorious mega-grossing box office years.
A Write Carry On catalogues not only his eleven years with the Carry Ons, but also Tolly’s time as a Second World War captive at the notorious POW camp, Stalag Luft III (best known for two famous prisoner escapes that took place there by tunnelling, which were depicted in the films The Great Escape (1963) and The Wooden Horse (1950), and the books by former prisoners Paul Brickhill and Eric Williams from which these films were adapted).

Along the way you will get a behind-the-scenes peek at the lives and personalities of all the major Carry On stars. There were a lot of laughs but also a few tears. Oh, and the odd illicit affair too!

I really enjoyed reading about the real people that i only knew from the carry on films.
It was so interesting finding out about the man behind the scripts, a true genius.
Funny, sad and informative from an unusual perspective.
Would recommend this to all.
(Verified Amazon Buyer Review)

‘The spine of the book lists his name. The title looks familiar. Even the dust jacket speaks of ideas that had once come so easily to him. But here, in this now unfamiliar room, his past belongs to another and the present holds few clues to his self. Fear takes a grip.’ ('A Write Carry On')

This was the moment when one of the great unsung heroes of British comedy writing knew the game was up. Having been responsible for a rollercoaster half-decade of screenwriting twenty Carry On films, as well as Up Pompeii and The Crazy Gang, Talbot ’Tolly’ Rothwell could no longer recognise the keys on his typewriter. His past had caught up with him.
Talbot went on to receive an OBE - yet still managed to be 'A Man In The Shadows’.
Featuring the likes of Kenneth Williams, Sid James, Frankie Howerd, Hattie Jacques et al, this gripping tale takes the reader deep into the complex characters who have, even after their passing, become a mainstay of British comedy.
‘A Write Carry On’ also take the reader behind enemy lines during the Second World War, when Talbot was incarcerated in the notorious Stalag Luft III. There he teamed up with Peter Butterworth to produce camp concerts which aided tunnelling escape efforts.

"Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!" - Kenneth Williams (Julius Caesar) Carry On Cleo (1964)


Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A Man In The Shadows Remembered

I remember him well. Those whisky tones and with a smile to illuminate even the darkest room.

Rolling summer green. Shades of the boy and a glimpse into the soul of a loving man.

Where I can escape to. Slip into his stream and journey beyond everyday demands.

Where I can hear his laughter. Of his presence so engaging so omnipresent and serene.

There he is still out walking. Over the hills and on through valleys. A spirit born to guide. A feature carved into chalk and a memory to survive.

Rolling summer green. Colours of the joy and a soul enlightened by a man in the shadows who left an indelible mark.

A place I can escape too. Slip into his stream and journey beyond everyday demands.
Where I can hear his laughter. Of his presence so engaging so omnipresent and serene.

Available now at Amazon - iBookstore - Kobo

A Write Carry On - The Untold Story Of A Man In The Shadows
by Mike Cobley