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ROYAL SCANDALS – We Can’t Get Enough of Them.

The Meghan Markle/Oprah Winfrey bombshell interview, with allegations of racist attitudes in Buckingham Palace, was a perfect storm of feminist and Black Lives Matter issues guaranteed to produce a media feeding frenzy, largely along tribal lines.. The situation was not unpredictable. British comedian John Oliver could see it coming when he appeared on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” in 2018 just months before the royal wedding.

“I don’t think you need to have just seen the pilot episode of ‘The Crown’ to get a basic sense of, she might be marrying into a family that could cause her some emotional complications. They’re an emotionally stunted group of fundamentally flawed people doing a very silly, pseudo job. That’s what she’s marrying into. So I hope she likes it. It’s going to be weird for her.”

So spoke an anti-Royalist, whose irreverent lampooning of the privileged and powerful is always fun to watch. Personally, I’m not an anti-Royalist. The Monarchy represents a thousand years of British History, and as such is a useful institution in governance, providing a titular head of state without any power to interfere in politics. Occasional behind the scenes influence maybe, but no effective power.

Constitutional monarchy provides a symbol of the country’s traditions, image, and values around which the citizens of different political persuasions can unify for the good of the nation. In my view, the Royal Family has great benefit for the UK, substantially in excess of its cost. They are an essential component in British tourism.

In this clip @ 3 minutes 30, you can see both sides of the debate on the economic value of the monarchy.

The Royals make easy targets for cancel culture enthusiasts angered by centuries of colonialism and inequality promoted by the British class system. But I see the Queen’s extended family more as deer caught in the headlights of rapid social change. They are human and therefore fallible, like the rest of us. Their essential humanity is well depicted in the Netflix series The Crown, albeit in the style of historical drama rather than documentary.

The Crown Poster

Critics complain of its inaccuracies, political point scoring, and oversimplification, but on balance, having grown up in England and observed British life ever since, I find each season of The Crown is a compellingly believable portrait of a long standing yet vanishing institution; a Monarchy, struggling to adapt to the post World War Two world. The motivations of all the players are delivered in shorthand. But it’s great shorthand, full of wit and insight, broadly truthful and lavishly staged, with stellar performances from all the cast. This recap of the first seasons will give you a sense of the institution into which the Royal Family were born, one which they were indoctrinated from birth to support as a God-given duty.

This recap summarizes subsequent episodes to date. We’ll have to wait till 2022 to see how the events leading up to Princess Diana’s death and the subsequent fallout are depicted.

When Rupert Murdoch arrived on the British media scene, he saw how anti-Royalist sentiments could be harnessed to provide a cash cow for a public hungry for grievance issues. Born to wealth, profit was his motivation not social change. Racism, sexism, hyper nationalism were all useful buttons to press in Murdoch’s global quest for political power and influence. When Diana Spencer was chosen by Prince Charles, to be a compliant Royal wife, the opportunity for the Murdock press to build her up then tear her down was irresistible.

The moment she bucked the rigid control of the Buckingham Palace bureaucracy, the Murdoch media were there to pounce on every perceived infraction of protocol leaked by the Palace. Princess Diana died in a high-speed car chase caused by tabloid jackals hungry for the big bucks that a revealing snapshot would earn. Without conscience they swarmed around her dying body for that purpose. Will a future episode of The Crown re-enact that scene? It should. Of course Murdoch is not solely to blame for the toxification of news media. We, its customers, share the guilt, with our appetite for celebrity culture and envy-driven schadenfreude.

So, to return to the Oprah interview, it is no wonder that Diana’s son Prince Harry, robbed of his mother at age 12, would want to protect the woman he loved from the same fate. Certainly Harry and Meghan broke ranks when they went public, they bit the hand that fed them, they caused a sacred British institution embarrassment, with suggestion of endemic racism in British society. But clearly the Palace hierarchy, unwilling to modernize, and in thrall to the UK tabloid media, failed to see teachable moments in either the Wallis Simpson saga or Princess Diana’s mental health issues. They badly mishandled the smooth entry of another independently minded American divorcee into the complications of royal duties. I applaud the Sussexes for their painful candor.
Lord Louis Mountbatten

My personal connection to Royal circles has been only tangential. First I was asleep in a cot when my mother poured a couple of gin and tonics for Lord Louis Mountbatten when he visited my father’s RAF base. He was apparently a charismatic personality and enjoyed a drink. Pity I missed such an historic figure.

Lord Brabourne

My wife and I met Mountbatten’s son-in-law John Knatchbull, 7th Baron Brabourne, CBE, professionally known as John Brabourne, a twice Oscar-nominated producer, at an Australia film industry function in Sydney. We chatted about a movie he produced HMS DEFIANT/DAMN THE DEFIANT(US) a ripping yarn of Napoleonic warfare, which broke new ground in its day for a vivid flogging and gutsy boarding party combat. A couple of months later, John Brabourne survived the IRA bombing of a motorboat that killed his father in law, Lord Mountbatten, his mother, one of his sons and a crew member.

On the 9th of April 1951 my father Wing Commander Eric Trenchard-Smith attended a Royal Air Force Ball in Malta given in honor of the visiting Princess Elizabeth, who would become Queen the following February upon the death of her father, King George VI. All twelve attending officers were given one dance each with the Princess. In my father’s case, it was a foxtrot. He told me in his final years that the Princess was amply endowed and that he was glad to have the length of arm sufficient to avoid the risk of contact with the royal bosoms. My father had a wry sense of humor. He also recounted that the future Queen was charming and seemed genuinely interested in him, his Australian background, what RAF life was like, what his wartime experience had been. Princess Elizabeth herself had served in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial service as a mechanic and truck driver during the war, and her new husband Prince Philip was a Navy man.

RAF Pilot Eric Trenchard-Smith dancing with Princess Elizabeth

After the dance, Princess Elizabeth sat down with my father, and ordered a glass of Orangeade. When the waiter put the glass down, he spilled a little. My father had been taught always to carry a spare clean handkerchief to a social gathering. He was able immediately to pull it out and mop up the little puddle, softening the embarrassment of the waiter and getting a smile from the Princess. (You may be certain that if you have any social encounter with me, I will come equipped for spillage.) The future Queen continued to ask questions till it was time to dance and converse with the next officer. His good impression of the future Queen has no doubt transferred to me.

In Australia in the mid 1990’s I once chatted with a group in a cafe for five minutes without realizing one of them was Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. She was then separated from Prince Andrew and on a promotional tour in Australia. I had stopped by to say hi to actor Shane Briant who introduced his three friends by name, the last being a redheaded lady in the corner he called Sarah. Lighting in the Avalon Cafe that winter was not up to scratch – that’s my excuse. I focused on Shane, not his guests, and thanked him, a Hammer Film veteran for taking a small role in my low budget supernatural horror thriller Out of the Body back in 1987. He had never seen it. I hoped I would be able to give him a decent role one day in the future.

The redhead spoke.
“If you don’t give him a decent role I certainly won’t help promote your movie’s opening.”
“Oh dear. ” I said, still unaccountably unaware of the context.
“I’m Sarah Ferguson” she said, extending her hand.
“Oh, forgive me for not recognizing you, silly me” I said. The focus of the table then returned to her. We chatted briefly, before extricating myself without further embarrassment.

Princess Alexandra and husband Angus Ogilvy

Flash back to March, 1967. The News Department of Channel Ten Sydney occasionally sent me out as a cameraman/field reporter when they were shorthanded. Once I was sent to Canberra, the nation’s capital, to cover Princess Alexandra of Kent, cousin to Queen Elizabeth, planting a tree at Government House. The shrub was already loosely positioned in the ground. All the Princess had to do was heap a last shovelful of dirt onto it for the photo op. I joined the gathered camera crews and photographers, equipped with a clockwork wind Bell & Howell. While we waited for Princess Alexandra to arrive, I took some scene-setting shots, and forgot Rule One of cameras powered by clockwork: rewind after every shot.

So, just as the Princess scooped earth onto her shovel, the camera cut out. I rewound frantically, but by the time I was ready to roll again, the Princess had deposited the requisite shovelful of earth at the foot of the shrub and was smiling at the gathered media. Applause all round. Oh God, I’ve missed the money shot! So without hesitation I asked: “Excuse me, Ma’am, my camera jammed, would you mind doing that again?” Sharp intake of breath issued from British embassy officials who were aghast at this lapse of protocol. But the Princess graciously obliged. Later at the press reception, I was able to thank her. She and her husband Angus Ogilvy, relaxed and friendly, asked me questions about Australia from a young ex-pat’s perspective, before a royal equerry steered them away to more important guests.

As mentioned, I’ve always had sympathy for the Royal Family. They symbolize British heritage and make an important contribution to tourism. Lifelong representation of an historic institution is a difficult job, made all the harder by a coprophagic tabloid media. Being on duty, under the microscope, all day, every day, for life, is a taxing job, which the Netflix series The Crown makes clear. The royal diadem is really an iron vise.

The success of The Crown has sparked a number of high quality depictions of major British political scandals. I enjoyed the latest account of the Profumo Affair.in the BBC/Netflix production The Trial Of Christine Keeler:

You’ll get another perspective on the Keeler / Profumo Affair in this documentary.

Politicians behaving badly – both jaw-dropping sagas.

For more of my views on popular entertainment and British history check out my book Adventures in the B Movie Trade.

Dennis Pratt’s Vintage Radio

Meet my friend, actor, screenwriter, and author Dennis Pratt. We have been writing partners on multiple projects since 1993, including Leprechaun 3, Leprechaun 4 in Space, Britannic, In Her Line Of Fire, Omega Code 2, The Cabin, and Drive Hard. He brings an actor’s insight to the characters he writes. He will make occasional contributions to this website.

Actor, screenwriter and author Dennis Pratt

Greetings, Earthlings! Before there was Netflix, before there was HBO, before there was cable, and before there was television – there was the wonder of… Radio!
Radio cast rehearsingVoices from distant places piped into the homes of people who used their imaginations to create their own version of the characters who spoke to them from afar. The radio stations used RCA 44BX microphones, which had two live faces and two dead ones. Thus actors could face each other and react. An actor could give the effect of leaving the room by simply moving his head toward the dead face of the microphone. The scripts were paper-clipped together, to minimize unwanted sounds. Actors would drop finished pages to the carpeted floor after use.

There were mysteries like “The Shadow,” wherein Lamont Cranston, man about town, solved mysteries using his ability to “cloud men’s minds” and make himself invisible.

The Shadow poster

The Shadow poster

The premise was, by today’s standards, impossible to believe, but in the 1930s and 40s, an age of comparative innocence, people accepted the improbable. Orson Welles starred in several of these half hour episodes in order to finance his Mercury Theatre company.

Orson Welles acting for radio with hand raised in front of microphone

Welles never rehearsed. He would be rushed by ambulance, siren wailing, from a Broadway theatre where he was rehearsing his next production, to a radio studio where he would arrive just before air time.
His distinctive, cultured voice would bring the character of Lamont Cranston to life for thousands of people who would hang on his every word as the story unfolded.

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men …the Shadow knows.”

Old time radio to me is a connection to my childhood when we used to sit around the kitchen table, listening to shows like “Gangbusters” and “Gunsmoke,” while we ate popcorn and talked about what was happening in Dodge City, or the backstreets of New York, or Chicago.

We were small town people taking a journey through radio to places we might otherwise never see or experience. It was like having the actors we saw on a movie screen coming to our home and speaking directly to us.

And there was always a mail-in offer from sponsors. If you mailed them a certain number of cereal box tops, you might receive a decoder ring, or a membership in a secret crime fighting society. I remember as a four year old, putting a shredded wheat box top into our mail box, without an envelope, or a stamp, hoping I would receive an autographed photo of Hopalong Cassidy, and through some miracle it arrived two weeks later! No idea if it was the postman or my parents who made it happen, but it was such a thrill to get something like that in the mail! “Hoppy” was my friend forever!

Hoppalong Cassidy advertisement for a radio priced $16.95
Hopalong Cassidy advertement for a bicycle

Radio was a major advertising medium.

Stars of the silver screen were lured to radio with exorbitant salaries that helped pay for the mansions and the Duesenbergs that personified Hollywood royalty. Ed Wynn who never really wanted to go into radio was asked what it would take to get him on the air. He replied “$5000 a week” and was handed a pen and contract.
Actor Ed Wynn
In 1946 Bing Crosby was paid $8,000 a week for his show on the ABC Radio network, the equivalent of over $100,000 a week in today’s money.

Bing Crosby radio show poster
Bing Crosby in a tobacco advertisement
Quite a few stars endorsed tobacco in those days.

Unfortunately, a high salary like Crosby’s resulted in the supporting players receiving much less. Most of the actors surrounding the star would get something like $40 a week, which, in those days, was still a livable wage. Tax rates for those earning more than $70,000 a year as individuals were high, rising to 91%. But, by producing and selling their own shows, some stars were able to get a 25% tax rate.1

The extraordinarily popular George Burns and Gracie Allen were getting $9,000 a week.
George Burns and Gracie Allen
Audiences fell in love with the scatterbrained Gracie and sympathized with the ever patient George Burns as he tried to unravel the confusion that surrounded Gracie wherever she went.

I hope these extracts encourage you to explore the world of old radio online or CD. They are a great window into a bygone era.


I’m going to be involved in the publication of a series of Film Noir novels based on some Dennis Pratt’s screenplays. His stories are unpredictable, full of poetic imagery, leavened with irony. To give you a sense of that, here’s the blurb from his last novel ANGEL UNKNOWN:

“The dead and the living come together in this hard-edged story of faith and redemption. A mentally challenged boy experiences the supernatural when he braves countless dangers to take his critically ill sister on a 2,000 mile odyssey to reach Hollywood where they hope to find Dr. Ned, a television character whom the boy believes is the only man alive able to save his sister. These two children will need all of their spiritual strength because waiting for them at the end of their journey is a pink-cheeked, baby-faced serial killer looking for his next victim.”

Book cover of Dennis Pratt's Angel Unknown


1. Source: https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-nocera-tax-avoidance-20190129-story.html

Pimpin’ Pee Wee and the Case of the Missing Member – NSFW

Here’s a story about one of my very non-PC guilty pleasure movies. (Not safe for work!)

PROPS CREW don’t get enough respect, I’ve always thought. The right prop enhances the credibility of an actor’s performance. In emergencies property masters have to improvise. On the reboot of the PORKY’S franchise, subsequently titled “Pimpin’ Pee Wee”, I experienced what a director dreads on a tight schedule: the theft of a vital prop just before the scene is to be shot.

You see, the character known as Meat was having trouble getting laid because the sheer size of his member frightened prospective candidates. A porn star comes to the rescue in his pay-off scene, which I thought would be a bit blah without a sight gag. I had set up an Austin Powers-style hide-the-penis gag in a dimly lit room. Meat’s enormous erection would be seen rising from his reclining body as a backlit silhouette, accompanied by Zarathustra-like chords evoking Kubrick’s 2001. Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom etc.

Film crew places artificial penis on pedestal for shadow effect.

The aroused member was a beautifully sculpted stone phallus, acquired from a Hollywood sex toy shop, mounted on a rod secured to a C-stand. From the camera’s point of view, the shadow of Biggus Dickus was positioned to align perfectly with the silhouetted outline of Meat’s loins. On cue, the rod would be slowly elevated from horizontal to vertical. We had it all set up, ready to go after lunch. That’s when Murphy’s Law kicked in.

During the lunch break, someone, perhaps an extra, walked off with our distinguished phallus. It being mid-December, perhaps he saw it as an ideal Christmas gift for that special someone, but for us, it was the centerpiece of a key scene. The nearest sex shop was an hour away in traffic. We were cock-blocked in Canyon Country.

Luckily, we had Mike, a resourceful props man in the hot seat. With the clock ticking, Mike rapidly sculpted a replacement for the missing member, matching the necessary dimensions with gaffer tape! He got us shooting within twenty minutes and the shadow of Meat’s mighty member rose in perfect alignment.

The set of Pimpin' Pee Wee with penis shadow effect

Props departments rarely get enough recognition for what they contribute to the texture of a film. Hail Prop Master Mike! Appropriately, I added the following reassurance to the end titles:

No dildos were harmed in the making of this motion picture…

There’s more about all the fun you can have behind the camera in ADVENTURES IN THE B MOVIE TRADE.

Writing is Re-writing… Persistence Wins!

I have writing credits on 14 movies, and have written many screenplays that never made it to production. One of them was a paranormal action/adventure entitled “The Executioner’s Daughter.” Between 2004 and 2009 it was optioned twice for good money, but we could never get a female star with the required level of wattage to trigger a studio distribution deal. But the story still gnawed at my liver, so I rewrote it as a novel and published my revised version in 2018 as ALICE THROUGH THE MULTIVERSE. It was critically well received. Best selling author Richard Christian Matheson wrote: “A brilliant and thrilling novel. Order it today and let it take you away…”

Here’s the trailer that my friends at BFX Imageworks made:

Here are some extracts from Amazon and Good Reads reviews:

"I flew through this book in two days because I couldn’t stop reading it. It was fast paced, clever and constantly engaging. A rollicking good read."

"Alice Through The Multiverse is a thrilling, high octane page turner that never lets up. It weaves elements of time travel, romance, history, espionage, action, and international intrigue into a unique story with vibrant characters."

"The writing style was fresh, cinematic, and the book reads as if you’re watching a movie unfold on the pages in front of you. Highly recommended."

"WHAT A FABULOUS ENDING!"

(Yes, actual caps!)

"This is a slam bang, non-stop thriller that never lets up."

"ALICE THROUGH THE MULTIVERSE is a time-shifting delight that is rich in historical detail, populated by compelling and engaging characters, and filled with rousing action and provocative ideas. The book is both smart and accessible, a narrative with the strong structure of a classic that nevertheless contains the wild twists and turns only a maverick artist can provide."

"ALICE THROUGH THE MULTIVERSE has the same kooky energy of a ‘Destroyer’ novel. Would make for a poppin’ mini-series."

"The story is gripping and mesmerizing, rich in sensory detail and emotions."

"The characters are engaging and relatable. The prose is expert, with highly developed description and detail and a distinct sense of setting and emotion investment as you engage with the action of the novel. This is one of the most engrossing, fast paced and entertaining novels I have read in a long time. You’ll love it. It’s a great read."

Promotional illustrations for Alice book with woman's face, axe and gun.

Here is the full text of a review from someone experienced in the genre:

"I’m a big fan of time travel on the page and on screen, though in many cases the complexities and paradoxes of the notion can overwhelm a story to such an extent that any entertainment value is ultimately undermined (I’m looking at you, Terminator: Genisys.) In the case of Alice Through The Multiverse, however, the story and characters are – and remain – the focus throughout, whilst big questions are raised for the characters (and readers) to ponder.

Happily, the characters – both historical and contemporary – are well-rounded, and their decisions and actions never feel incompatible with what we have come to know about them. In the case of modern characters, this isn’t such a tough task. With historical characters, however, there are a plethora of potential issues that might arise to drag a reader out of the story – language, psychology, behaviour, belief, etc. The choice of the author to at least partly build his story around a medieval English peasant girl (the Alice of the title) is therefore a brave one. So, has he succeeded? In a word, yes. I cannot think of a single false beat when it comes to Alice, meaning that I whizzed through the thriller elements of the novel without losing my emotional involvement. As for the central mystery, I did think I’d solved it within the first 10 pages… but I ended up being wrong. (Not to stick the boot in, but the big Terminator: Genisys twist was ruined in the trailer… so Alice beats Arnold once again.)

If you’re looking for a thriller with heart – with mystery elements (and even theological considerations) thrown in – this will be a hugely worthwhile read. I’m looking forward to a sequel…"

The reviews are gratifying. More important than revenue, to this author at least, is that his words are read, that his ideas are shared, his imagination explored. It’s why we write. My advice to screenplay writers, if your script does not gain traction, turn it into fast paced prose. Persistence wins!

You can find Alice Through the Multiverse on Amazon.

Cinema Miniatures: A Matter of Perspective

The visual effects shot – an optical illusion sufficiently persuasive for the audience to suspend disbelief – has always fascinated me. Nowadays VFX are the domain of the computer. But it was not always so. Effects used to be done in camera. Here’s a simple illusion, snapped while walking past my neighbor’s field.

Photograph of fence and field illustrating forced perspective where tree appears to be sprouting from fence..

Momentarily it looks like the tree is sprouting from the fence. But then you realize it’s the effect of forced perspective. As a kid I was drawn to films with lots of magical eye candy so George Pal and Ray Harryhausen movies became early favorites.

The War of the Worlds (1953) Poster
Jason and the Argonauts and Mysterious Island posters

“How did they do that giant castle/volcano/tornado/earthquake/parting of the Red Sea shot?” I wondered, as the credits rolled on each new VFX-enhanced movie. Miniatures played a big part. My first introduction to a miniature was in 1963, when the school Film Circle visited the set of Becket starring Richard Burton, as the 12th Century King Henry the Second, and Peter O’Toole as Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury whose murder the king unintentionally ordered with the words ” Will nobody rid me of this meddlesome Priest!”

Poster for Becket film

Elizabeth Taylor, recently married to Burton, arrived on the set during the lunch break with a small entourage. We spotty-faced teenagers gazed at the icon with awe. She smiled acknowledgment, but her face really lit up at the sight of her husband returning from lunch with his co-star Peter O’Toole. Burton clearly saw her but walked right past her without acknowledgment. The Cut Direct. What was that about? I saw her smile change to a jab of hurt. Hmm, stars have human foibles too.

Interior of Canterbury cathedral in Becket

We were given a tour of the enormous sets. Shepperton Studios Stage H barely contained an actual size replica of the inside of Canterbury Cathedral, the largest set that had yet been built in Europe. This was the work of our host, the film’s production designer John Bryan, whom I had met the previous year at the location shoot of Tamahine at Wellington College, my school. He took pleasure in showing us an early Hollywood device still in use for making a large set even bigger at minimal expense: the perspective miniature. He had commissioned a miniature of the half of the cathedral dome over the altar that was visible from inside the front entrance. This miniature was semicircular, three feet in diameter, and painted in fine detail. The dome was then suspended from wires above the camera and lowered into a wide angle shot of the cathedral, so that it sat in perfect alignment with the top edge of the set.

Exterior of Canterbury Cathedral in Becket

A split diopter lens on the camera then balanced the focus between the foreground miniature and the deep background beyond. Bryan explained that same effect could also be achieved by a matte painting of the dome on a sheet of glass positioned in front of the camera in the same alignment with the walls beyond.
Here is a screen capture from another scene in Becket using the same technique.

Giant bell in foreground of Becket crowd scene

A reduced size replica of the swinging bell is mounted in a reduced size version of the belfry, set up in front of the camera on a high platform, viewing down at the King’s arrival. A full sized bell tower would have been cost prohibitive.

The silent era pioneered the use of hanging miniatures.

A three image diagram of how a foreground miniature works.

Here a quite substantial miniature has just been positioned to add floors and a tower to the buildings beyond.

Silent film hanging miniatures being set up

Silent film miniatures in intermediate stage of setup.

Fully set up silent film miniatures with crowd in front.

The set for the 1925 Ben Hur’s chariot race was only one side of the arena, where all the action was shot. The race around the other identical side of the arena was achieved by simply flopping the negative. Left to right speeding chariots then hurtled right to left, matching the correct screen direction once chariots had rounded the corner.

Hanging miniatures for the chariot race in Ben Hur (1925)

Careful examination will reveal that above the wall surrounding the stadium and the first rows of bleachers, there hangs a miniature with moving ‘puppet’ people that can rise and fall with the human extras. The main reason for using a miniature in this way is that, unlike a painting, the light on the built set will always be the same as that on the miniature making it possible to shoot in a variety of different ‘lights’ during the day. I have such respect for the early pioneers of the art of Visual Effects.

If I’ve whetted your appetite for more factoids about old style cinema magic, here is an extensive website to peruse: MAGICIANS OF THE MINIATURE – Matte Shot.

There are more stories of the magic of movies in my book Adventures in the B Movie Trade.

Musings on Netflix’s “The Crown” and Winston Churchill

I have enjoyed all 4 seasons so far of the Netflix historical drama series The Crown. Great writing, performances and style give us a fascinating insight into the competing personalities of the British Royal Family and the Palace hierarchy for the last hundred years. I was 6 when Elizabeth Windsor was crowned Queen of England and later watched her motorcade cruise down Odiham High street in Hampshire.

Odiham High street in Hampshire

Among the many fascinating portrayals of the political figures of the Queen’s reign is John Lithgow’s take on Prime Minister Winston Churchill. There were those in my parents’ circle who were part of Churchill’s social circle. My mother passed on this possibly apocryphal tale which I have written as a scene:

EXTERIOR BUCKINGHAM PALACE NIGHT

February 4 1954. A light dusting of snow blown by a strong wind swirls around a line of limousines, Rolls, and Bentleys, as they pass through the Palace gates. Supervising policemen and Household Cavalry Guards shiver in their uniforms.

John Lithgow as Churchill at a royal procession

INTERIOR PALACE HALLWAY NIGHT

A state dinner is scheduled to commence in 2 minutes. The Prime Minister’s chief Aide looks at his watch. Before the Queen can enter the banquet hall, all guests must be seated. Particularly the guest of honor, the Prime Minister.

The Aide stares at a door on which a sign in Gothic lettering reads: “Gentlemen’s Convenience.” As if in response to his anxiety, the door opens and 80 year old Sir Winston Churchill emerges, still sharp as a tack and looking forward to a grand evening.

The Aide, being a highly paid civil servant, trained in matters of etiquette and decorum in the pre-zipper era, sees that the Prime Minister has neglected to button up his fly. This will certainly be noticed when he stands to make the keynote address in front of the Queen. Amongst the British upper classes of the time there was a euphemistic code for warning a fellow against this potential social embarrassment.

AIDESir, you’ve…dropped sixpence.

Churchill glances down and observes his error and responded in classic Churchillian cadence.

CHURCHILLDon’t worry. An old bird does not fall
out of its nest.

Lithgow as Churchill and the real Churchill side by side

Winston Churchill’s life and accomplishment have for some time been undergoing historical re-evaluation. He inspired England to fight on against fascism. He also made many mistakes, political, military, and moral. Dresden, and Iraq for instance. But he was a complex man, with a progressive streak within his hidebound conservatism. Stephen Fry the British writer and actor told this version of a story that if nothing else reflects Churchill’s sense of humor:

INTERIOR CHURCHILL’S BEDROOM MORNING

Sir Winston rarely sleeps more than 3 hours at a time, so he is already up sitting at his credenza and going through Cabinet papers, when a knock on the door announces the arrival of his regular morning tea, toast, and a copy of The Times.

A servant enters, deposits a tray, and leaves. Accompanying him is the Aide who was his escort the previous night. He has Sir Winston’s Times in his hand which he places on the tray. In those social circles it was impolite for one man to touch another man’s Times before he did.

CHURCHILLSomething of interest in today’s paper?

AIDENothing of note, Sir. But the afternoon tabloids
and certainly next Sunday’s News Of The World
will be running a story that is of concern.

CHURCHILLNot another war profiteer exposé, I trust.

AIDENo. I’m afraid last night one of our Defense
Under Secretaries was caught in Regents Park
with a young Guardsman. The Guardsman got
away, but the Under Secretary was arrested
and charged with gross indecency.

This could become a media football, given the rabid homophobia of the Lord Chief Justice Rayner Goddard, the recent arrest of renowned stage actor John Gielgud on October 21 1953 in a public toilet.

Edmund O'Brien and John Gielgud in Julius Caesar

Here is Gielgud (right) that year, playing Cassius to Edmond O’Brien’s Casca in Julius Caesar. The feeding frenzy in tabloid media caused his Knighthood, weeks away, to be postponed for years. America revoked his visa. Lord Montague of Beaulieu had recently been jailed for 12 months on lesser offenses. Embarrassment to the government was a news cycle away.

Daily Mirror newspaper cover with headline about Lord Montague

CHURCHILLWhen was this?

AIDE2.15 AM.

CHURCHILLIn Regent’s Park?

AIDEUnder a tree, Sir.

CHURCHILL It was rather cold, I thought…last night.

AIDE Coldest February day on record
according to The Times, sir.

Churchill muses for a moment.

CHURCHILLMakes you proud to be British…

I had written these stories in my first draft of ADVENTURES IN THE B MOVIE TRADE, but as it neared 600 pages, I felt that some social history sidebars that were not specifically film related would have to be saved for another day. As I binged on The Crown I remembered my mother’s stories. You’ll find more about the England of the 1950s in the book.

Once Again I’m a Film Festival Juror

Probably no one looks forward to being on a Jury… except if it is a Film Festival Jury. The 15th Cyprus International Film Festival invited me to join their Jury panel, and conduct my duties remotely from Oregon. The Festival takes place live at the K-Cineplex, Nicosia Prime, Cyprus, from November 15 tο November 22, showing a combination of 126 short and feature films competing in several categories from five continents.  Film fans around the world may also purchase one pass for the entire CYIFF 2020 online festival. That’s a rich bingeworthy feast for Cinephiles seeking stories from diverse cultures.

I have started viewing and am impressed with the quality of the line-up. More to say when the votes are tallied and winners announced. On November 19th at 10 am Portland Oregon time, I will be the focus of a live webinar on “Ozploitation genre and the current Australian Film Industry – the ‘other’ genres.” It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Jim Hemphill Recommends “Frog Dreaming/The Quest” and “Adventures in the B Movie Trade”

Filmmaker and film historian Jim Hemphill recently published this in-depth discussion of my award-winning family adventure, Frog Dreaming, aka The Quest, The Go Kids, The Spirit Chaser, or (in France) Le Secret Du Lac.

He also describes my new book Adventures in the B Movie Trade as “one of the best books ever written by a motion picture director.”

FilmInk Book Review

Check out this review of my latest book, Adventures in the B Movie Trade, by John Harrison of FilmInk, “Australia’s leading and most trusted source when it comes to all things movies and the screen industry.”

Excerpt:

“While Adventures in the B Movie Trade provides plenty of historical production and behind-the-scenes information, the minutiae of which fans of the filmmaker will love diving into, the book also serves as an endearing testament to Trenchard-Smith’s clear and genuine love of cinema itself, an affection that hasn’t weakened at all over the years. In this regard, it provides a treasure trove of moments that film buffs will devour.”