Only a click away

27 Oct

 

Since Monday 28th is the last day for the free giveaway for my book ROCK’N’ROLL SUICIDE, I thought I’d put the first chapter here, in case anyone would like to click. It’s the first Jack Lockwood mystery I wrote, the one before DOPPELGANGER.  There’s plenty of action, but chiefly it’s a mystery

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Chapter One

Maggi O’Kane was beautiful, talented and dead. In the 1970s her high-octane rock performances were toe-tappingly gritty, with primeval thumping riffs that could tear you apart. Yet, astonishingly, she was also a musical virtuoso, writing and performing some of the most sensitive and soulful ballads I’ve ever heard. But on the 20th of November 1980 she murdered her band and killed herself, and her violent end, I later discovered, was inextricably linked to that of John Lennon, gunned down in New York just twelve days previously.

What made her do it? Nobody knows. But I was determined to find out.

It was why I’d pitched up at The Mansh in the drizzly twilight of that November day in 2008, dragging my sleeping gear from the car along with my meagre carrier bags of provisions. Gillingham Hall, to use the building’s official title, was the large dilapidated mansion where, almost 30 years ago, four people had lost their lives, apparently following a week-long binge of drinking and drug taking. They were Alistair Norbury, lead guitar and Maggi’s partner and father of her child, bad-boy bass player Ben Frensham, Duncan Macrae on drums, and finally lead singer and all-round attention-magnet Maggi.

Tragically, her killing spree was what Maggi was mainly remembered for – to most people her wonderful music was an afterthought, underrated and forgotten, tainted as it was by her final rampage. I’d listened for hours to her rock chants and gentle melodies, read everything I could find about her and watched the few videos that survived, and I had a large poster of her face pinned up on the wall above my desk. I suppose you could say I was becoming obsessed with her. They had warned me at the hospital about avoiding obsessions, apparently it’s one of the warning signs, an indication that an ex-psychiatric patient might spiral back into a breakdown. But I had a lid on it, I told myself. It was work.

That day in 1980 had been, according to what I’d read, unseasonably sunny, but cold. I tried and tried to picture the scene at The Mansh: musicians cranky, warming themselves beside the roaring log fires, cars and vans in the drive, sexual rivalries and fierce arguments, even fights. I’d heard rumours that, amongst others, the Rolling Stones and their friend, the arcane Teutonic beauty Anita Pallenberg, had been regular guests, but dates and times were hard to establish. There were also suggestions of black magic séances, drug taking and the most astounding sexual couplings imaginable. But nothing you could pin down, no actual facts.

Standing in the weed-infested circular front drive I surveyed the faded beauty of this Georgian monstrosity: a large sprawling pile that was at the beginning of its end. Holes in the roof, nasty yellow plywood lozenges over the windows, and plants sprouting from the lower brickwork. A couple of tenners dropped into the sweaty palm of Alf Morris, surely Bath Council Parks Department’s most disconsolate employee, had earnt me keys for the main gates and the front door, and his urgent imprecation: “For Gawd’s sake don’t do any damage, lock up after yourself and get these buggers back to me by Monday afore anyone notices.”

My grand idea to come to the place first took root when I’d read about the goings on: the orgies, the drug taking, the cream of musical talent of the seventies who used the place like a second home. Apparently Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Peter Gabriel and plenty of others were supposed to have jammed around, got high, and made music in the rooms of the grand building, but nothing had been confirmed.

I thought once again about the opening words of the final chapter of my forthcoming book, Crash and Burn – rock stars who died too young:

On the sunny winter’s morning of 20 December 1980 Maggi O’Kane assembled her partner and the remaining two members of her band together in the rehearsal room of ‘The Mansh’ and shot them all, using the assault rifle she’d produced from the plush leather box that usually contained her custom-built Gretsch guitar. Then she took her father’s old army pistol, inserted its barrel into her mouth and pulled the trigger, leaving the brains that forged the hits Crazy Without You and Hard Times in Seattle plastered across the wall behind her.

No one knows what caused Maggi’s crazy aberration. In fact everyone said that she was a kind, well balanced person, whose zest for life and sheer human warmth attracted inevitable comparisons with Lulu, whose career in so many ways mirrored her own, albeit that Maggi’s style was much more raunchy hardcore rock. Everyone liked her, she was successful, she had a partner and a young child; in fact she had everything to live for.

So why did she do it?

To find some reasons I had to delve a little deeper into the distant past to establish just what was going in her life in those seemingly happy-go-lucky days before it happened…

The trouble was, ‘delving a little deeper’ was proving much harder than I’d imagined.

Elucidating facts about the circumstances of the events seemed virtually impossible. All the witnesses to the 28-year-old occurrence were also apparently victims, and those who had known them were hard to trace. The only things I had to draw on were newspaper and police reports of the time, which stuck to the bare facts, and I was desperate to dig up some new angle, some new take on those terrible events. Maybe it was arrogance that drove me, perhaps I was vain enough to think that psychologist and fledgling writer Dr Jack Lockwood had to blaze a literary trail with his first epic, and that trawling over old ground and regurgitating other people’s accounts wasn’t good enough for me. Arrogance or stubbornness, I’m not sure which. Maybe both.

But it was more than that. When I looked at Maggi’s face, with her long mane of dark hair and large expressive eyes, she seemed to be crying out to me “I didn’t do it! I swear I didn’t do it!”. But believing that she couldn’t have done such a monstrous thing was flying in the face of the facts, and I knew from bitter past experience that facts can’t always be your friends.

I’d wandered past the mansion, down a path and into Gillingham Woods more out of curiosity than anything, lured by the denseness of the branches, the darkness that closed in on you the moment you entered, reminding me of childhood fairy stories about witches and wolves. I walked to clear my head, to remind myself I was no longer under psychiatric supervision and was free to go wherever I wanted. And I went on walking until my legs ached, it had started raining and I’d scratched my cheek on some overhanging branches. As I peered through a gap in the trees I could just make out the mansion in the distance, realising that all this land was once part of the huge Gillingham Park Estate that had encompassed a number of farms and cottages as well as the big house, Gillingham Hall, re-christened The Mansh by Maggi, who had bought it way back in 1969.

As the rain trickled down between my collar and my neck and I stumbled through the undergrowth back to the house, I thought about Maggi. She’d been one of the true pioneers, one of the very few woman rock stars in the days when male rockers were the norm, as indeed they still are now. She was perhaps one of the first exponents of ‘girl power’ before the phrase had been in use, not that Maggi’s phenomenal personality and zest for life could ever be packaged into any kind of cliché. In my opinion she had been a musical genius, and it seemed she was contented with her success. She partied hard and lived life to excess, but what was unusual about that? Crucially, the conventional explanation of an excess of drink and drugs was something that would surely inhibit rather than encourage the ghastly scenario that had occurred. What’s more, despite today’s girl gangs in inner cities, it’s still relatively rare for a woman to commit crimes of violence, even rarer for a female to use firearms. Yet the facts were incontrovertible. It had happened. Everyone said so.

The brief for Crash and Burn was to assess circumstances and reasons for a number of rock stars’ untimely deaths from the 60s to the 90s, utilising my knowledge and experience gained as a Behavioural Investigative Adviser, a role I was temporarily ‘resting’ from. And guess what? Against all the odds I actually did manage to find that new angle that nobody else knew about, but, just like the curse of the monkey’s paw, I wish now that I hadn’t. Maggi’s death, I discovered, was linked with that of John Lennon, though to my knowledge the pair never met. Much later I discovered that both in their way were victims, but finding the link proved to be one of the hardest projects I’ve ever faced.

I’d spent three years working as a Behavioural Investigative Adviser with police forces around the country on high profile murder cases, achieving a modicum of success. I’d endured the opprobrium of plenty of officers, shrugged off my jeering nickname ‘Crackerjack’ (a reference to Robbie Coltrane’s British TV profiler series Cracker), all the while doing my job, which was to be a supportive part of the investigating team. Criminal profiling was the old fashioned term, perhaps replaced by the more punchy acronym BIA because in the early days profilers had made embarrassing and appalling mistakes. But almost two years ago, just when the profession was beginning to garner some professional credibility and I’d begun to forge a decent career, I’d made some serious misjudgements about a case, leading to horrendous consequences. I’d ended up in a psychiatric hospital as a result of a brush with death at the hands of Edward Van Meer, who’d held me captive for two days and had been within a whisker of completing his plan to kill me after hours of torture. Until I could convince the powers-that-be to renew my ‘ACPO Approved’ status – ACPO meaning the Association of Chief Police Officers – no police force in the country would employ me, so until that day arrived I had to earn money some other way.

It had been serendipity that my friend Ken Taylor happened to be an editor at Figaro Publications, a publishing house that specialised in celebrity biographies and true crime. It’s an odd thing the way when you’re in trouble, friends who you haven’t seen for years pop up and help you, yet people whom you considered to be close allies suddenly can’t find the time for your company. So it had been with Ken, whom I hadn’t seen since my schooldays. Since the parting of our ways, when he went to university and I became a jobbing builder, our lives had taken totally different directions. But when he’d read about my troubles in The Alleynian, Dulwich College’s old boys’ school magazine, Ken had got back in touch, and, ever since then, he’d been my rock. Ken had not only commissioned the book, but had actually suggested the idea to me in the first place. Working with lovable Ken, who had a penchant for showing you pictures of his twins, Hazel and Anthony, and an ever-ready laugh that made his multiple chins quiver like jelly, had been a delight, in stark contrast to my relationship with my current editor at Figaro, Giles Mander. Ken knew that after my year of troubles, what I needed was to get my teeth into a project.

Ken had suggested I visit the place where the massacre had occurred. Yes, I thought, why not? Maybe I’d be able to choreograph Maggi’s actions in that same room where it had happened, or, if I was exceptionally lucky, perhaps there might even be something left behind, some tiny clue that no one had noticed?

You’d never think that this mansion, with its now abandoned swimming pool and extensive grounds, was allegedly where George Harrison had jammed for weeks with friends in the seventies, or where Maggi O’Kane’s group ‘Border Crossing’ wrote and recorded their eponymous iconic album. Between 1970 and 1980 The Mansh was used for recording no less than 200 top-selling vinyl albums. In those days it had been grand and beautiful.

 I managed to get the front door lock to undo, and swung the creaking paint-cracked timber backwards into the cave-like interior. Inside there was only darkness and cobwebs, a chink of the dirty dregs of daylight blinking at the edge of the boarded window on the landing. The promise of a raft of scintillating rock-star memories tingling through the ether was what I’d been hoping for, but all I got was a vast yawning maw of emptiness and the all pervading aroma of rot and fusty damp.

I pondered on my completed chapters. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones had been found dead in his swimming pool in strange circumstances, whereas Keith Moon, of The Who, had deliberately driven his Rolls Royce into one, and years later taken too many pills, either deliberately or in error. The great Jimi Hendrix had died of an accidental drugs overdose, while Kurt Cobain had committed suicide with a shotgun. Talented, brilliant and tragic Nick Drake, described once as one of the most talented songwriters of the decade, had overdosed on amitriptyline. They were universally celebrated musicians, some of them with the status of sex gods, all of them famous, even 40 years on. Research had taken me to California and the Caribbean as well as all over Europe, including Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, where Jim Morrison of The Doors was buried not far from the grave of Oscar Wilde and that of Edith Piaf, which struck me as particularly apposite for such a trio of creative people. And John Lennon had been gunned down by Mark David Chapman in front of witnesses. But, surprisingly, it was the death of one of the least famous of my subjects, Maggi O’Kane, that the book was to hinge upon, and at the time I had no idea that my investigations were going to spring alive a new conspiracy theory surrounding John Lennon’s murder, as well as a fresh wave of deaths, almost including my own.

The usual assumption, of course, was that Maggi was off her head on coke, speed, alcohol, heroin or all four. True, people act strangely when under those influences, but they don’t usually act out of character to that extent. From what I’d gleaned from the police papers about the incident, Maggi O’Kane appeared to be the kind of killer who’d snapped into homicidal madness all at once, in contrast to the more usual mass murderers who effectively ‘slow burn’ over a considerable period, nursing grievances galore and leaking aggression, giving those around them a period of warning. There was no reason to suppose she was capable of such a monstrous killing spree, yet the police enquiry was in no doubt of her guilt. Where had she got the weapons and ammunition from? If she was a spur-of-the-moment type of killer, then surely obtaining the killing tools in advance was out of character?

Another reason for coming here, to The Mansh, was an attempt to get close to the atmosphere of those far off 1970s days I’d read about. Tomorrow I planned to make sketches, take some photographs, try and get a grip on the layout of the rooms, find out where the studios had been, take a look at what was left of the swimming pool, reputed to be the scene of sexual acrobatics of the most amazing kind.

However, looking at the building now, with the dirty drizzle spattering through the gap-tiled roof, a patch of rot chewing up the floor and plaster hanging off the vast hall wall, it seemed a long way from those crazy madcap days of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. After the massacre, Gillingham Hall had been empty for a long time, no prospective owner wanting to have anything to do with the scene of such a horrific event. Then a religious group brought it as a commune, but after a short time, as if infected by The Mansh’s curse, the commune went bankrupt and vacated the place, then no one would buy it. As a listed building the requisite repairs would have been prohibitively expensive, and, for the same reason, no one was allowed to pull it down. It had finally been compulsorily purchased by the council, their initial idea being to convert it to an old people’s home; however the finances were not forthcoming. And with no electrics, sewage or mains water, Gillingham Hall was not an attractive prospect for squatters.

And of course there’d been the crazies too. The devil-worshipping group who broke in one night and held a black mass, the kids who went there as a dare and swore they saw the ghosts. In 1730 it had been built as the central heart of a number of surrounding farms. When the last of the owning family died in 1939, it remained unsold and fell into disrepair until Maggi bought it in 1969 and refurbished it, enthusing it with rock-star glamour, establishing one of the few independent recording studios in England at the time. However The Mansh had never been run on commercial lines, the musicians who worked there with Maggi were her friends and colleagues, it was her personal fiefdom. That’s what made the massacre all the harder to understand.

A couple of hours later I was trying to get warm in my sleeping bag, listening to the drumming of a particularly savage downpour of rain on the plywood windows, wondering if my car would be stuck in a muddy quagmire in the morning. I’d climbed the elaborate sweeping staircase and found this, the largest room at the front, which appeared to be the most amenable, known I guessed, as the one described as the ‘orgy room’.

There were high ceilings with elaborate carvings, a hole in the wall where there’d obviously been a huge fireplace and boarded-up windows. A stink of damp and mould and woodrot. Mouse droppings and spiders’ webs. About as erotic as an ear infection.

Eventually I managed to fall asleep, and began to dream about the holiday.

Ken Taylor and I had gone to Cornwall as rehabilitation after my ghastly experiences in St Michael’s psychiatric hospital. Ken had suggested the fishing break in Mousehole (pronounces Mowsell, as the locals informed me) as relaxing therapy, and his wife hadn’t objected to being left with their twins. Ken and I had reminisced about old times and relaxed in a way we hadn’t done since school. Bearded swarthy Nikki Prowse had owned the fishing launch MARY KENNY, and become a friend of ours, and he’d taken us out and lent us rods, shared his tales of his Cornish ancestors who were cutthroats and smugglers, while the sun beat down on the foaming waves and we waited in vain for the fish to bite.

But I wasn’t dreaming about Nikki, or even Ken. I was dreaming about Nikki’s sister Miranda, whom I’d got to know well one afternoon while Ken was away touring the ruins of an ancient church. Tall blonde Miranda’s shy smile had captivated me from the moment I’d first met her, and now I was dreaming that she actually had turned up on our final day as she’d promised. We’d seen each other for three evenings running, and yet, on that final day, she stood me up without a word. Now, in my dream, she was running towards me from a distance, shouting, but I couldn’t hear her words. I couldn’t make out why she was so upset, why she appeared to be weeping and imploring me to listen, or what exactly she was trying to tell me so earnestly.

I woke up in a sweat, re-living my disappointment when she hadn’t appeared on our final day, as she’d promised. It was only afterwards that things made sense, when Nikki told me about the married man she’d been seeing, how she’d been talking about going away with him, and that, of course, had explained her sudden departure, at the same time as that of the boyfriend, who’d simultaneously abandoned his wife and family. Although I’d been divorced a year, my marriage had effectively ended two years before that, and ever since I’d been looking for a serious girlfriend. I’d planned to ask Miranda if I could see her on a regular basis, and I’d hoped she might agree, but it wasn’t to be. Her betrayal was another setback to my delicate mental state, another disappointment I had to face. But as always at that time, it was Ken who had dragged me out of my depression. That was when we’d cooked up the idea of Crash and Burn, on the long drive back to London, while Ken kept moaning about the beloved St Christopher’s medal that had belonged to his grandfather that he’d lost: we worked out that he must have dropped it into the sea on our last fishing trip. Ken’s loss of the family heirloom apart, the prospect of interesting paid work had snapped me out of my gloom on our journey back to London, given me something to look forward to.

My next dream was much more disconcerting. I was here, in this house, and I was observing those 1980 events. Seeing Maggi O’Kane emerge from somewhere at the back of the hallway with the guitar case, place it on the floor, take out the assault weapon, lift it and fire. Chaos was everywhere: screaming and shouting, people tumbling down as they died. But thankfully my dream ended before Maggi had committed her final act, her suicide.

The crashing noise woke me up. Footsteps, outside on the stairs.

* * * *

Lying there, heartbeat cranked up high. Darkness. Apart from the splinter of moonlight that cast a ragged splinter of light along the ruined ceiling.

Muzzy headed, I leapt out of bed and ran to the doorway. In time to see the moonlight illuminating the man running downstairs.

Yes, I tell you, I did see him!

The short man in the smart suit I’d seen so many times before.

This time, I resolved to catch him, if only to prove that he wasn’t a figment of my imagination.

I ran downstairs, keeping him in sight, watched him stumble at the bottom of the treads, then career towards the front door and pull it open. I tripped and fell down the last few stairs, spread-eagling in the hallway. Scrambled up from my hands and knees. But by the time I’d tumbled out of the front door I just managed to see his figure vanishing into the distance, melting into the landscape, swallowed up by the pouring rain. Barefooted, I stood outside, staring after him, mud oozing between my toes.

For all the world, it had looked like Edward Van Meer, the man I knew was behind bars. My brush with death at Van Meer’s hands was what had caused my breakdown in the first place, and, since I was now seeing him everywhere, it seemed as if I hadn’t recovered yet. Yet I wasn’t acting abnormally in any other way, so, I reasoned, there had to be some rational explanation for the man’s appearance. Of course Van Meer hated me for what had happened, and he’d told me, in one long rambling letter smuggled out of Broadmoor, that he longed to see me dead. But he was in prison, not here on the outskirts of Bath.

So was I heading for another breakdown?

I came back into the large hallway, pondering on the dream that I’d been so abruptly woken from.

Something in the dream was nagging at me. Some detail that the recreation of the scene I’d pictured so many times had inspired me to think of in a different way, the brain’s computer shuffling the facts and images, rearranging them in another semblance of order, perhaps a more logical one. Then I remembered.

A door.

That was it.

In all the reports about the accident that no one alive had actually witnessed, the professionals’ assumption was that Maggi had appeared from the door to the cellar with her guitar case containing the weapon, then stooped down to open it, beside that same cellar door, and then shot everyone from there.

However the only door that corresponded to what I’d imagined to be the cellar door I’d seen when I came in, was securely shut and locked when I’d tried it. Was there something beyond there that was worth looking at?

Sleep was impossible now, so I went back upstairs and picked up the powerful torch, pulled on jeans and a tee shirt and my trainers, and returned to the main hallway. Here there was more moonlight coming through the chinks in the plywood blocking the windows, and I went over to the locked door. I tried it again, but it was firmly shut. So I went outside to my Volvo estate car and took a crowbar and club hammer from the boot, returning to attack the locked door.

Hammering the chisel end of the crowbar into the gap, I exerted some leverage and after a while the old timber splintered and gave way. It swung backwards on its rusty hinges with a groan. I shone the torch ahead. A couple of feet in from the doorstep I could see some steps leading down. I moved forwards and began to descend, my yellow cone of torchlight shimmering around the walls.

The last thing I remember was feeling the blow to the back of my head.

I must have been out cold for some time. The throbbing pain made my vision blur. Someone had obviously crept up behind and slugged me with a heavy object, and I’d fallen down to the bottom of this shaft. Who could have done it? Who even knew that I was here? Clearly the man I’d chased earlier on had returned.

Shifting carefully, checking arm and leg movements, to my relief I appeared to be uninjured. The torch was unbroken, but its pathetic yellow glimmer told me its batteries were nearly flat. I was surrounded by the cheesy smell of damp stone, and soggy soil was under my fingertips – it looked as if the soft landing had saved me from injury. As I felt around with my fingers, I wondered how hard it was going to be to climb back to freedom. I stopped when my hand encountered something hard: a ledge of stone. And on its surface, to my surprise, there was something cold and metallic. I picked it up.

A camera. An old camera, the sort in use in the 70s, decades before the advent of digital photography. Shining the torch in the general area there was also a small black book. When I picked it up it appeared to be an old pocket diary. I could just make out the date 1980 in gold on the cover. Excitedly, I opened it up and there, sure enough, a few pages in were dates and handwriting, still legible after all these years. Unfortunately it was in a language I couldn’t understand, possibly German. Shining the torch around, I couldn’t see anything else. Whose diary could it be, I wondered? Despite my throbbing head, I felt the stirrings of excitement as I put the diary in my pocket and picked up the camera, then aimed the feeble torch beam towards the stairs.

* * * *

The camera had the name Kodak on its casing and through the small round red porthole it looked as if there was a number, indicating that there was a film still inside it. It reminded me of one of the earliest memories of my father with a similar clunky old camera, squatting on the beach to take a family photo when I was five. What were the chances that the film it contained had any images that could be developed? I had no idea. Image

The following morning Bath, with its warm honey-coloured buildings, welcomed me like an old friend, and after finding a parking space, I had my sandwich breakfast sitting on a bench near the Pulteney bridge. The river foamed and swirled like Niagara as it tumbled over the three white waterfalls of Pulteney Weir, the fantastic curving steps spanning its massive width, while sunlight flashed alive the windows of the shops on the bridge, on top of the Pulteney’s three golden stone arches. Above the grey rooftops I could just make out the spire of a church.

I took out my wallet and looked at the photo I still kept of me and my ex-wife Sarah, just before our wedding day. Was I good looking? Difficult to say. Blond hair that has a tendency to fall across my forehead, the break in my nose hardly noticeable, the scar on my chin a reminder of my bare-knuckle boxing days, and stubble that doesn’t meet a razor as often as it should. It wasn’t likely that Hollywood producers would come knocking on my door, but an ex girlfriend had once called me handsome, just before she’d taken back the complement on discovering I’d been going out with her friend.

The diary had a name Geertrud Altmeier in the front of it, and the name was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t remember where from. At the back of the little book there were some lyrics to what seemed to be a song, or perhaps a poem, though the German language was impenetrable to me. I leafed through it again, and found some English names I recognised: John Lennon, 8 December, followed by some words that I memorised, intending to get them translated as a priority: er wurde nicht von einem verwirrten Einzeltäter erschossen. Die Umstände von John Lennons Ermordung waren viel komplizierter. Roughly translated I later discovered this meant: he wasn’t killed by the lone assassin – it was more complicated than that.

I finished my coffee and packed the diary away to study in detail later on.

I found ‘Woodley Cameras’ in a side street, between a chemists’ and a newsagent. Tony Woodley, the proprietor, appeared to be a personable sixtyish character, who wore a loose-fitting cream pullover that almost hung to his knees, and had a shock of wild frizzy grey hair, protruding front teeth and milk-bottle-lens spectacles. Tony assured me there was a good chance that the film inside the camera could be developed with success, despite its antiquity. “Wow an Old Kodak!” were his words, and he was so enthusiastic to see the museum-piece that he cheerfully gave me a lesson on the correct way to remove a spool of film from such a picture taker. “Take it slowly, never open the back till it’s fully wound in. There you go – right on the end of the reel! There’s a fair chance we can get some good shots from this – it all depends on how it’s been stored. A cellar sounds hopeful: cold conditions preserve the chemicals best.”

When I remarked on the posters of Marc Bolan and T-Rex as well as of a 1968 concert of the Rolling Stones, my new friend enthused about his fascination for the music of his youth. I told him about Crash and Burn, and he listened with rapt attention, telling me of his brief career as bass player with the Mansion House Plumbers, a 1960s group I pretended to have heard of. He even peered at the diary and carried it into a back room in search of a German-English dictionary. My interrupted sleep and the stress of the past days was catching up with me, so I was somewhat relieved when Tony was called away to a phone call, assuring me that he’d send the film away to a specialist film lab, and if there were any images on it to be developed there was every chance that they could be produced, even after all this time.

* * * *

A week later I was at home in Brookham, a sleepy village just off the A290, between Whitstable and Canterbury in Kent. Brookham has a 14th-century church, The Lion’s Head pub – great for a relaxing pint in front of a roaring log fire, and Annie Kilbride’s grocery-cum-supermarket that always has that cosy soggy-cardboard smell that reminds me of seedy shops on holiday campsites.

I’d bought The Gate House several years ago as a ‘project’, and at the time it had seemed a good idea. I’d imagined rebuilding the collapsed sections of the roof, and the tumbling-down rear wall at weekends, and once it was watertight starting to modernise the interior. I’d even started building an extension at the back, but hadn’t got beyond constructing the foundations and the hardcore base for the floor. But after the first year, when I’d also managed to do the main weatherproofing jobs, work had got busy and weekend breaks were a luxury I couldn’t afford. A century ago my house had been the small welcoming post for Adelaide Grange further back along the hill, the large estate that had been in existence since the middle ages. But the old house had been demolished to make way for blocks of luxury flats, the upmarket estate unimaginatively christened Adelaide Heights.

The kitchen/breakfast room at the rear was my favourite room, affording as it did a view out across the entire Glossop Valley, which stretched out far below, reminding me just how high up Brookham was compared to the rest of this part of Kent. When the post arrived I’d been tinkering with my manuscript, but was delighted to see the envelope with the name Tony Woodley Photography on the front. I’d arranged with someone at Canterbury University to translate the diary, but they were busy for a few days, so I’d arranged to take it in then.

I opened the wallet and pulled out the prints, laying them out on the table. Most of them were shots of Border Crossing, Maggi O’Kane’s band, doing stage performances, or of individuals within the group playing their instruments, relaxing, sleeping or smoking wakky baccy. Then I recognised a couple as exterior street scenes. The large old gothic building looked remarkably like the ones I’d seen in books of ‘The Dakota’, the New York apartment block where John Lennon and Yoko Ono lived, outside which the former Beatle had been gunned down. I looked closer. In the distance there was the outline of what might have been Yoko Ono, a back view, quite a way away, and nearer to the camera was what looked like John Lennon’s back, his head turned to profile slightly, allowing a view of the trademark granny glasses and Lennon hairdo. In the foreground was a crouching man, who was fumbling inside his jacket pocket.

Could it be a hitherto undiscovered photo just prior to John Lennon’s assassination? I would need to get it appraised by an expert. Further down the pile were some more pictures of Border Crossing.

It was in the final ones in the reel, the last three, that the real surprise came.

They were horror stories. Two men were standing in the corner, one of them firing an assault rifle, and his targets were dead and dying. Maggi O’Kane herself wasn’t in any of the shots.

The two men wore combat jackets, had short hair, and were clearly not friends or associates of Maggi O’Kane.

They were obviously contract killers, brought in to kill everyone and make it look as if it had been Maggi’s work.


For the rest, just click here

Two new books not to miss

16 Sep

Two very good friends have both published new books this month, so I’m just putting the details here for anyone who likes a good read.

First is the prollific Maria Savva, whose new trio of short stories is not to be missed.

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Book description:

A trio of short stories.

Memories from the past can haunt the present.

1. Never To Be Told – Tom and Amber are on a romantic date… but the past is always present.

2. The Bride – In this paranormal short, Olivia makes a chilling discovery.

3. What The Girl Heard – Victoria revisits a place that holds a dark reminder of an incident from her childhood. She had vowed she would never return.

Author Bio:

Maria is a writer of short stories and novels. She has always been a storyteller, and an avid reader, and is now having a lot of fun in her adventure with the creative art of writing. She has published 5 novels, including a psychological thriller, a family saga, and a fantasy/paranormal/time travel book. She also has 5 collections of short stories, the latest “3” has been described as an “Innovative showcase” of her short stories. If you like stories that will take you deep inside the characters’ hearts and minds, and you like twists in the tale, you will probably want to try these stories.

As well as writing, Maria is a lawyer (not currently practising law). During her career, she worked in family law, criminal law, immigration, residential property law, and wills & probate, among other things. Many of her stories are inspired from her own experiences and the experiences of those she knows or has known. Chances are, if you get to know this author it won’t be long before you are changed forever into a fictional character and appear in one of her books. If she likes you, you may become a romantic hero/heroine; if she doesn’t… well, she writes a good thriller I hear.

Maria currently divides her time between working as an administrator in a university, and writing/reading/editing/blogging. She maintains the BestsellerBound Recommends blog helping to promote fellow indie authors. She’s also a music blogger for UK Arts Directory where she helps promote independent musicians.

Connect:

Official website: http:www.mariasavva.com

Goodreads Blog: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1418272.Maria_Savva/blog

BestsellerBound Recommends: http://quietfurybooks.com/bestsellerboundrecommends/

UK Arts Directory Blog: http://ukartsdirectory.com/category/blog/maria-savva/

Twitter: http://Twitter.com/Maria_Savva

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Author-Maria-Savva/171466979781

 

Buy links:

“3” is Currently available in Kindle format (Can be read on a Mac, PC, iPad, Smartphone etc., with the free downloadable apps from Amazon). Look out for the paperback coming soon.

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/3-ebook/dp/B00EUM59XM/

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/3-ebook/dp/B00EUM59XM/

Amazon FR: http://www.amazon.fr/3-ebook/dp/B00EUM59XM/

Amazon ES: http://www.amazon.es/3-ebook/dp/B00EUM59XM/

Amazon CA: http://www.amazon.ca/3-ebook/dp/B00EUM59XM/

Amazon BR: http://www.amazon.com.br/3-ebook/dp/B00EUM59XM/

Amazon IT: http://www.amazon.it/3-ebook/dp/B00EUM59XM/

Amazon JP: http://www.amazon.co.jp/3-ebook/dp/B00EUM59XM/

Book Trailer:

http://youtu.be/ezKxjPs-FIU

The second is the equally prolific Terry Tyler, and her new book What it takes is storming up the lists

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A tale of three sisters…

Karen Kavanagh has spent her life feeling like the runt of the family.

Her two elder sisters, domestic goddess Ava and salon owner Saskia, are mini versions of their mother, a gorgeous Danish beauty. Karen has inherited her father’s droopy, dull brown hair and long nose – pitted against two Scandinavian sauna babes, she feels like Cinderella in reverse.

Danny Alvarez doesn’t see her like that. He thinks she’s wonderful.
Lots of women want Danny, but Danny just wants Karen.
He pursues her with the devotion of a stalker – but she pushes him away. Then she realises what she’s done…

Set in Norfolk, Terry Tyler’s sixth novel, “What It Takes”, is a story of insecurity, jealousy, sibling rivalry, love and loss, and the games people play in the search for love – because if you love someone with all your heart you’ll do what it takes to make them yours…

And here are links for buying What it Takes, and Terry’s page:

amazon.co.uk/What-It-Takes-

amazon.com/What-It-Takes-

amazon.co.uk/Terry-Tyler/e/…

 

 

I did it his way

26 Aug

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His way? All will be explained. . .

There’s nothing worse than people boasting about how brilliant their book promotion went but, in a spirit of trying to give hope to all those out there, like me, who are doing our best to sell our books in a tough market, this is an encouraging story – if it helped me, it can help you too.

I’ve published two books now and in middle of writing a third, plus I do another blog about the hero of my mystery series Jack Lockwood (http://jacklockwood.wordpress.com) Tip one for blogs (learnt the hard way): I’ve been doing these stories for quite a time, but I’ve discovered that the shorter they are the better.  No one wants to wade through long blogs.   Make it fun.  Make it unexpected. Make it short.

Thanks to reading David Perlmutter’s book MY WAY viewBook.at/MyWay , I decided to do a free 5 day promotion for my second book DOPELLGANGER, under the KDP scheme, who let you do a free promotion every few months.  David has had well deserved success with his excellent, highly readable  book WRONG PLACE WRONG TIME viewBook.at/WrongPlaceWron, and he knows a lot about book promotion, and he’s sharing his tips in MY WAY.  It’s packed with useful, helpful tips, some of which I knew, many I didn’t.  David’s book isn’t expensive, and it gives good straightforward common sense practical ideas that he’s leant the hard way. It doesn’t promise the moon, it simply tries to give you some help and some answers.

I thought what’s the point of a free promotion?  The point is, with any luck you might get good reviews (you might get bad ones too, but that’s always a risk).  And it’s nice to think of you r book being seen by many people, even if they never actually read it (I think some never even read it, or maybe just glance at the cover and forget about it).

But here’s the thing. The thing that I never expected.  AFTERSALES.  For some crazy reason, after the free promo ended I unexpectedly got lots and lots of sales in the first few days, and I’m still getting them.  Rather like kick starting a motor bike which takes a long time to catch, I have the feeling that the motor has actually started.  One, really sweet girl tweeted to say she’d started reading DOPELLGANGER at 8 o’clock the previous night and couldn’t stop till 4am, because she wanted  to know what happened.  She wrote a review, and another nice lady has done a fine review too within days.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet many kind people on twitter who, simply because they’re good and generous, have given me barrowloads of free advice about all kinds of things.  I’ve done my best to use it, and pay back wherever I can, even if it’s only in RTs and helping in a minor way with their promotions.

GIVING AWAY YOUR WORK.  The arguments against: You’ve spent hours and years on your book.  It’s your baby and it’s precious to you. If you don’t value your work yourself, no one else will, you’ll be underselling yourself. These are all the reasonable cogent arguments for refusing to charge nothing.

But here’s the reality.  Nobody cares about how long you took to write your book, or the effort it took you.  Everyone in the book-reading world is as busy as you are, fitting in reading with family life, work, hobbies, worrying about making ends meet etc.  They can read whatever they like at the touch of a button.  Whatever bores them gets put aside.  Whatever revolts them will be dropped.  Book readers want to pass their valuable time making friends with nice characters, being captivated by a puzzling idea, entering a mysterious world that’s exciting, entering a romance, having a laugh, getting turned on by erotica, lots of things, everything under the sun, in fact.  A writer once gave me some good advice: whatever your subject is, horror, crime, erotica, humour,  chick lit, sci fi, etc, make sure you give them a hit of what they want on every page.

The facts?  Unless you charge a lot for your book the difference between charging the price of a cup of coffee for your book or giving it away free means nothing.  What matters is the chance of putting your work in front of a new person, who wouldn’t otherwise have found you.

So if you are hesitating about a free promo, why not give it a go?  There’s really nothing to lose, and possibly plenty to gain. I charge 99c (77p) for my books, so unless I sell a great many, the money is notional anyway, my eventual aim is to try and establish my books and get some kind of a foothold, even eventually secure a publishing deal (although as we all know that’s a chance in a million).

I did it his way.

And I didn’t regret it.

http://amzn.to/16D3fwX

Giving it away

12 Aug

For the past few blogs I’ve been writing about general matters so as not to bore people by banging on about my own writing activities. I’m making an exception this time, purely because I’m doing a giveaway on the KDP scheme, and my book DOPPELGANGER will be free to download from the 15th August to 19th August.  All I want is for lots of people to read my books, and get it out there.

Anyway, in case you like fast moving adventure stories with plenty of twists, here’s the first part of DOPPELGANGER, the second Jack Lockwood mystery, that’s on free giveaway right now:

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Chapter 1

WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME

Abandon the book Jack, or we’ll kill you. This is your final warning.

Sean Michael Boyd’s gravel-voiced telephone threats still rang in my ears as I drove through the rainy October darkness of the road through Healey’s Wood. Healey’s looming overhead branches always engendered a cave-like sense of gloom and, as if this latest threat to my life wasn’t stressful enough, too many late nights and tight deadlines were making my eyelids feel like lead.

So when the woman dashed out in front of my car I couldn’t stop in time. Just felt a jarring thump and I jerked forward as the figure was flung from the bonnet, landing a yard in front of my steaming front tyres. All I could see in my headlight beams was a heap of crumpled clothing in the road, with an outflung hand and twitching fingers, pointing skywards.

Adrenalin pumping, I opened the door, breathing vaporised tyre and soggy woodland. The figure was moving, thank goodness. At least it looked as if she was still alive.

Reaching across to grab my mobile and switch on the hazard lights, I dialled 999 as I ran around the front of the car.

“Ambulance. Yes. And police,” I shouted as I knelt down beside the victim, registering her pain-wracked face, the frantic effort to survive burning in her eyes. The renewed burst of driving rain penetrated my shirt in seconds. “It’s Waldegrave Road, just at the start of Healey’s Wood at Crenham, just off the A2 in the direction of Canterbury. I passed a pub called the Saracen’s Head about half a mile back.”

“Got that, caller, someone’s on their way now.”

The operator’s faraway voice sounded so cool, so unbelievably calm.

“Look, just get here, please, she’s badly hurt!”

“Can you tell me what her injuries are?”

“No. I can’t see. I’m crouched down in the middle of the road, sheltered from oncoming vehicles by my own car! Please, just get here as soon as you can!”

“And what’s your name please, caller?”

I dropped the phone and reached for the woman’s fingers. I squeezed gently, realising that since her eyes were barely open, she’d have no idea what was happening. She’d just be aware of the rhythmic drumbeat of raindrops, water soaking her skin, and the shoe-half-off-foot that was completely submerged in the roadside puddle. I had to move her, but was it safe?

“Hang on, you’re okay, ambulance is on its way,” I tried to reassure her. “Just lie still.”

The woman – she appeared to be in her twenties – looked dazed, and there was blood matting her hair, a growing pool that was spreading, the rivulets of crimson merging with the lakes of rain. Had I knocked her backwards so she’d fallen and cracked the back of her head? At least it looked as if she could move her arms and legs. I clung to the knowledge that I hadn’t been speeding, and had almost been able to stop. But if I hadn’t been so dog-tired, could I have halted the car in time?

The light coloured jacket of her trouser suit was torn and stained with mud, the top ripped open at the front. Her chest rose and fell, her breath was heaving ugly gasps.

“Don’t let him get me!” she rasped, trying to struggle off the ground. “Please don’t let him–”

“Don’t worry, you’re safe, please, just try to take it easy. Help is on the way–”

“Where is he?” She tried to move her head, eyes alive with terror.

“He’s long gone, you’re okay, I promise. It’s over now, and you’re safe, just try to lie still.”

I stopped talking when I realised she’d stopped breathing.

Frantically, I racked my brains to remember the first aid course I’d done twenty years ago.

Airway.

I laid her flat, tilted her head upwards and opened her mouth. Kneeling astride her I bent down and closed my lips over hers, pinched the victim’s nose and breathed hard into her lungs, hoping something might happen.

It didn’t.

Chest compressions?

Memories flooded back of a rubber dummy and a lot of badinage while the first aid instructor tried to tell us what to do, the dummy jerking alarmingly as its chest was depressed by our incompetent fingers. I leaned over the woman’s chest, heel of one hand between the cups of her bra, backed up by the other, fingers interlinked, and pressed hard five times, praying for something to happen.

Nothing.

Mouth-to-mouth once more. I almost choked, practically gagging as I couldn’t avoid swallowing my own blood, reminding me of my injury from earlier in the evening. As I took my lips away to breathe for the fourth time, the woman gave a gulp and a momentary jerk. An indrawn breath. A choking sound.

And all at once I could hear sirens behind us, then slamming doors, running feet.

I made way for the paramedics and watched as they fastened a mask over her face, then fitted a spinal collar, applying a dressing to the back of her head, attaching needles to her wrists, radios alive with chatter, muttering medical gobbledygook to each other. I was vaguely aware of a police car behind them. Hardly realising what I was doing, I automatically scooped up my phone from the ground and put it in my pocket. In between the medics’ frantic ministrations they asked me if I knew her name but I just shook my head, and mumbled that she’d stopped breathing just now and I’d administered CPR.

The police car’s occupants strode slowly across to where I was shivering on my knees. “So what’s happened here?” the nearest one asked me. Image

There was a lull in the rain at last.

The policeman stared at me.

“She stumbled out in the middle of the road. I couldn’t stop in time…”

“You’re saying that you’re responsible for her injuries?”

“She must have been hurt already.” I dragged myself to my feet, aching with the effort. “Her head was bleeding. She said she’d been attacked. I think she must have been running away from someone.”

“But you ran her over?”

“I couldn’t help it.”

The copper was frowning at me with controlled menace as he took note of my dishevelled appearance, the scruffy jeans and split-lipped face.

“Know the victim, do you?”

“Never seen her before.”

“Sure about that?”

Of course I’m sure.”

“When we arrived you were kneeling on top of her. Just what you were doing?”

“Giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. And once she came round, I was trying to reassure her.”

“And you’ve got no idea who she is?”

As I shook my head, I tried to see things from their point of view. Dangerous looking character who’s been leaning across a helpless female who’s obviously been seriously injured. I glanced across to where the paramedics were strapping the woman to a stretcher and wheeling her towards the ambulance. “Look, mate,” I appealed to the officer. “I swear I’ve never seen her before, and there was nothing I could do to stop my car in time. I wasn’t even speeding. When I hit her it was a gentle kind of bump, you know? Not a full-on crack, like as if I’d done real damage. At least I hope…”

The ambulance was pulling away. I thought back to the gang of Canterbury University students who’d been attacking the man huddled in blankets on the pavement, a poor old guy who’d been minding his own business, hunched up miserably under the stone canopy of the Westgate, a medieval gatehouse in the city walls. I’d intervened, pulling the biggest man away, but before I could retaliate he’d thumped his fist into my face, mashing my lip, while the second youth had punched me in the stomach. Deprived of their easy prey, the trio moved on, leaving me staggering against the ancient stone structure, with an injured mouth, an aching gut and the stares of the bemused rough-sleeper, who was barely aware what had been going on.

My thoughts came back to the present as the other policeman approached, having been examining my car. “Do you have any objections to taking a breathalyzer test, sir?” he asked politely, holding up a rectangular box.

“N-not at all.”

But right now shock was kicking in big time, making me behave erratically. I was unsteady on my feet. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking. Light-headedness made me stutter.

And breathing into the breathalyzer wasn’t easy. I tried three times, but the stress of rushing around trying to help the victim meant I was still puffed out, couldn’t breathe deeply enough to be able to give them a good enough sample.

“Would you mind accompanying us to the station, please sir?” asked the nearest officer, all narrowed eyes and exaggerated politeness.

“What about my car?”

“No one’s moving that until we get a team down here to measure tyre marks and make a proper assessment of the situation.”

I frowned and shook my head. “Look, please believe me, I don’t drink and drive, ever!”

“What’s your name, sir?”

“Lockwood. Jack Lockwood.”

“Any identification?”

“Driving licence is at home, but there’s something in my car.”

I went back to my Land Rover Discovery and climbed inside, with the second policeman standing guard, presumably in case I made a run for it. On the back seat I found the parcel, out of which I extracted a copy of my latest book Diary of a Killer from the batch of author copies that had arrived from the publishers that morning.

As I got into the back of the police car I handed it over to the one who was in the driver’s seat, talking into the car’s radio. He stared at the author picture at the back of the book, then at me, and made no comment. The photo was instantly recognisable, albeit touched up a bit, thanks to a bit of nifty Photoshop tweaking. Blond hair, the break in my nose hardly noticeable, small scar on the chin, self-conscious smile. A female reviewer had once referred to me as having ‘rugged good looks’, but I think she was being generous.

The policeman’s colleague returned and climbed in beside him, slamming the door and scattering droplets. I noticed the beads of water on the newcomer’s sandy eyebrows. Then he found a notebook and pen, leaning across the front seat to talk to me. “Right then Mr Lockwood, perhaps you’d like to tell us what happened here?”

“I was driving along and she suddenly ran out right in front of me. I braked to a stop, thought I felt the front of the car hit her. Then I called the emergency services.”

I could see they didn’t believe a word of it.

“You say she looked as if she’d been attacked. How badly was she hurt?”

“Looked serious to me.” Images were flooding back. “There was blood in her hair, as if she’d been hit with something.”

“But you knocked her down?”

“I couldn’t help it.”

“Was she able to say anything?”

“Yes,” I suddenly remembered with relief. “Yes! she said  something like ‘Don’t let him get me’. She was afraid of someone.”

“Did you see anyone else?”

“No.”

“Her words were, Don’t let him get me?

“Right.”

Here’s the link to get it free after 15 August for 5 days: Doppelganger 

One extreme to the other

2 Aug

In the news is the terrible business of the poor little boy who was effectively killed by his mother and her partner.  A ghastly dreadful tragedy and everyone is scurrying around, trying to apportion blame, as they should, for the signs that those in authority should have acted upon.

Yet to me it doesn’t seem so very long ago that in Cleveland there were two hospital paediatricians who came to the absurd conclusion that literally hundreds of children within a small geographical area were being sexually abused by their own fathers.  Social services acted like Nazi stormtroopers.  Within hours they swooped on families, summarily took children into care and put the fathers in jail without even any kind of enquiry at all.  This caused many many marriages to break up, in some cases suicide of the fathers so accused and an unprecedented inquiry into why so many fathers were apparently sexually abusing their own children, all within one relatively small community.

The answer?  The doctors were judging that marks around the children’s anuses denoted sexual abuse.  Shortly afterwards, when sanity returned to the situation, other medical experts attested that these ‘marks of sexual abuse’ were equally likely to be caused by constipation, and various other natural causes and were not indicative of sexual abuse at all.

So a few years ago there were a couple of doctors who favoured their own flawed judgement over common sense.  Yet those misguided doctors had the power to have children taken into care and arrest fathers without any substantial evidence at all, within hours.

And yet nowadays it seems that a child can be beaten, starved and abused for years and if people in authority notice they don’t seem to be able to do anything about it.  A child is obviously starving, yet social workers don’t take the child into care.  Recently a child (who subsequently died of neglect and abuse) had a broken back and the hospital doctor didn’t even pick up on it.

Where is the logic in these two ridiculous extremes?  What has happened?

Where is the reasonable, sensible middle course, where children and families are protected by the laws of common decency, fair mindedness and logic?

Update – Gone but not Forgotten

29 Jul

After last week’s blog, so many people suggested others to include, I’ve rounded a few of them up.  Here they are, and remember, these are just a drop in the ocean of talent that’s now Gone, but not forgotten.

LEONARD ROSSITER Image

The lively, fast-talking fidgety master of comedy, most well known for Reggie Perrin and Rising Damp, but also for spilling glasses of wine across Joan Collins’s lap in adverts, and I believe he had a long lively acting career long before those roles, and after.  His face, voice and mannerisms were tailor-made for comedy.  He was a perfectionist, always striving for the best, and he certainly achieved it.

LES DAWSON

ImageOne of my all-time favourite comedians, I’ll never forget his ‘gurning’ and bizarre monologues.  He was incidentally an extraordinarily clever man who wrote extensively on abstruse subjects.

ANGHARAD REES, LADY McALPINE CBE

Ang ReesLovely, elfin featured and one of the parts she’s most well known for ‘Demelza’ in the old TV Poldark series.  Full of charisma and charm in the many many parts she played to perfection.

KENNETH WILLIAMS

ImageFunny voices, funny faces, and manic zany acting style, he was the leading light in all the ‘Carry On’ films.  He was camp before it became fashionable, was the voice of ‘Rambling Sid Rumpole’ and so many others on the ground-breaking radio show Round the Horne. Who could forget his amazing nose, or his inquisitive expressions, or his genuine mateyness?

ERIC MORECAMBE

EricThe joker half of Morecambe and Wise, Wise always played stooge to Eric’s devilry.  Famous for his ‘spectacle waggle’ and his off the cuff asides, and the way famous celebrities were cut down to size – but always in a humorous way.

DAVID NIVEN

ImageThe rakish devil-may-care charmer who cut a dash in whatever film he was in.  His memoirs make very interesting reading, he was a war hero, and loved the service life.  Friends with all the famous stars of his day, Marlon Brando, Errol Flynn and others he personifies an era of handsome English film stars who were real-life heroes.

JAMES MASON

ImageThe original ‘smooth operator’, handsome James Mason always played the supremely clever kind of man, perhaps a mysterious character, often a villain.  With his perfect manners and cut-glass accent he never failed to impress.

RONNIE BARKER

ImageBest remembered as one of the ‘Two Ronnies’, he also played a host of comedy parts, most notably as the mean shopkeeper in Open all Hours, and the old lag Fletch in Porridge.  He was also an accomplished scriptwriter, and his skill at anything to do with comedy is legendary.

JAMES GANDOLFINI

ImageCannot say much about this great actor, as I never followed his career.  But I’m sure others know what a fine actor he was, and how tragic that he died at only 50.  What a loss.

PETER COOK

ImageHe was definitely a ‘one off’, and his 60s shows with Dudley More were wildly popular.

HATTIE JACQUES

ImageWonderful masterful Hattie Jacques took parts of the large female who was always trying to hook a man, and she always struck the perfect note of liveliness, comedy timing and confidence.  Married to the great John le Mesurier, she was in fact an extremely attractive woman, with a wealth of admirers.  Lively, warm hearted and with a lovely kind face and beautiful smile, she’s the kind of comedy actress with personality that the world will never forget.

Gone but not forgotten

22 Jul

The older I get the more people who I’m familiar with from TV and films seem to be dying. The only good thing is that film and TV actors, comedians and famous musicians are actually never going to be forgotten because their films have made them immortal.  I’ve mentioned below just a few of my favourite people, whom I only ever knew from TV, but yet, somehow, felt a kind of bond with because of the pleasure they gave me and so many others.  This is just a tiny fraction of the hundreds and thousands of talented folk who deserve an accolade, so why not tell me some of your favourites?

MEL SMITH

ImagePoor old Mel Smith died just yesterday at only 60.  I only remember him as the hugely funny part of the comedy duo in Alas Smith and Jones, where he played a normally confrontational gruff foil to Griff Rhys Jones’s more sensitive soul.  But I heard since his death he was also in Not the Nine of Clock News, and scores of other comedies, and that he was widely respected and loved by those who knew him.

JOHN LE MESURIER

ImageWith his perpetually concerned slightly mystified expression, to my mind John Le Mesurier was one of the most interesting lovable actors of his generation.  Suave, charming, funny, he was the archetypal English gentleman, who shared his charm with everyone.  He played comedy mostly, but he was a master of understatement and control in absolutely everything.  Famous in later life for playing Sergeant Wilson in Dad’s Army, he also played family solicitors, doctors, high court judges, all kinds of parts, the unifying factor in all of them being innate breeding, kindness and faultless good manners.  He displayed more charm in the arching of an eyebrow than in most people’s panoply of full-on smiles.

ERIC SYKES

ImageDear old Eric Sykes had a chequered career before he went into show business. He was born and brought up in a tough northern town and worked in a a timber yard until he joined the army, where he got his first breaks in show business.  In fact Eric Sykes was initially a script writer, and went on to write very clever and inspired comedy scripts throughout his life: his madcap brand of comedy acting came later, and perhaps his skills at creating comedy from the page were what augmented his masterful performances.

TONY HANCOCK

ImageLike so many comedians, Tony Hancock suffered badly from depression.  His suicide was thought to have arisen because the new type of comedy he was experimenting with wasn’t working, and people wanted him to go back to his tried and tested act, which he’d lost interest in.  By all accounts a man who was a good friend to all, and coincidentally, John Le Mesurier happened to be one of his closest friends.

JILL DANDO

ImageHer death was a terrible, unsolved mystery.  She was shot at point-black range on the doorstep to her house, and the murderer has never been found.  Rumours of political motives, revenge for remarks she may have made on Crimewatch all appeared to come to nothing.  A beautiful, talented, highly intelligent, kind, charming and interesting woman whose career had just begun to branch out in all kinds of different directions died for no apparent reason.  It is desperately sad.

ALAN COREN

ImageA lively, brilliant, incredibly witty journalist and author, whose column in the The Times always kept me amused.  His talented offspring are in the public eye in the media, and I’m sure he’d be intensely proud of them.  I’ll never forget the column he once wrote, where he was incensed at his neighbours builders, who turned up to work each day and did nothing but sunbathe on the roof.  As he was about to phone his neighbour, one of the builders saw him looking down and waved.  He hung up the phone, unable to betray his new friend.  An interesting, warm hearted, intensely charming man who could always inspire a smile.  A man who didn’t just seem like a nice chap, but who really was a nice chap.

KENNETH MORE

Ken MoreIn my opinion, one of the most admirable English actors there’s ever been.  He always brought his special brand of charm to whatever part he played, whether it was captain of the doomed Titanic, or drunken carouser Dr Gaston Grimsdyke in the old Doctor in the House comedies of the 60s.  Kenneth More always managed to transmit his tremendous happiness and zest for life, he was somehow cheerful deep inside.

TERENCE ALEXANDER

ImageMost people will remember him as Charlie Hungerford, the loud-mouthed northern go-getter in the TV series Bergerac.  But because my mother knew him when he was starting out, our family always followed his career, which was long and successful before his final major role: when he was younger he was remarkably handsome, tailor-made for dashing heros, and he had a brilliant touch with all kinds of comedy, both on stage and TV.

ELIZABETH  TAYLOR

ImageWho could ever forget the astonishingly beautiful Elizabeth Taylor, who was actually born in England, but spent most of her life in America.  She was a fiery forceful actress with an amazing presence.  I heard that she was also personally very kind.  Her work with AIDS victims is well documented.  But I also heard that when she was at the height of her fame, holidaying in Wales, her car had a crash with another vehicle (not her fault) and she insisted on going with the other driver, who was slightly hurt to hospital, and staying with her, making sure she was okay.  Not something she had any reason to do, other than because she was a nice person.

Famous personalities, who, thankfully are never going to be forgotten.  Who would you like to give a mention to?

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