Camera: Mamiya 645 Pro TL
Film: Ilford FP4
Process: Semi-stand developed in Rodinal 1+99 60 minutes
It’s well known in these parts that hanging round cemeteries is one of my guilty pleasures. Unsurprisingly I have many more, most of which I’ll keep to myself if you don’t mind, thanks for asking anyway. But there is one other I’m prepared to admit to: old British horror movies. For me, the golden era is the 1950s to the mid-seventies, and I’m particularly fond of the classic Hammer and Amicus pictures.
Way back in the seventies when I was a kid we were lucky enough to have a second TV, an old beat up black and white portable that a family friend had given us. It didn’t have any buttons for the channels, just a dial that you had to twist to tune in to one of three stations – that’s all we had in the UK back in those days. Most of the time this TV lived in the kitchen where it kept my mum company whilst she cooked, but on the weekends I was allowed to take it up to my room on the condition it was lights out and TV off by ten. Dear Mum, in the unlikely event you ever read this, I’m sorry. I’m a bad son. Yes, the lights did go out at ten, but the TV stayed on, and it was round about midnight on Friday and Saturday evenings that these films were shown. I’m sure my parents would have been horrified if they had known what I was watching. They’d have worried that I’d scare myself witless. As it turned out, I scared myself witless. Nowadays many of these old pictures come across as camp and creaky, but I still love them.
I was probably around ten when I first saw Theatre Of Blood (1973), a wickedly black comic picture starring Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, and a host of fine British character actors. Price plays Edward Lionheart, a failed Shakespearean actor whose performances are savaged by the critics and thus is driven to drown himself in the Thames. Unbeknownst to all he survives and proceeds to exact a bloody revenge on all of them. Those critics who gave him poor notices become the victims of a series of inventive and gory murders imitating Shakespearean death scenes. Price hams it up big time in a number of different guises, not least his insanely memorable portrayal of a camp hairdresser with an afro. If this film was made today, that haircut would have it’s own Twitter account. Oh, and did I mention Diana Rigg was in it?
One thing that’s quite unusual for the time is that (as far as I can tell) every scene is shot on location, in and around London. There are no studio sets at all. And it was whilst watching it again recently that I realised that one of the scenes is shot in Kensal Green Cemetery, a huge gothic style graveyard in West London. So, a classic horror movie filmed in a local graveyard – was there really any chance that I wouldn’t pay a visit with a camera? Seriously?
Mamiya 645 Pro TL with 45mm Sekor C lens / Ilford FP4 / Developed in Rodinal 1+99 for 60 minutes
In the movie, Lionheart’s daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg) is seen tending his memorial in the mausoleum’s portico. In reality this statue is actually a monument to sculptor Robert William Sievier, but in the movie the face is cunningly disguised to resemble Vincent Price.
Four other movies that kept me awake as a kid:
The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Christopher Lee plays against type as the good guy in Hammer’s adaption of Dennis Wheatley’s 1934 occult novel. Contains all the elements that Wheatley is famous for. Devil Worship? Check. Sacrificing animals? Check. British superiority and casual racism? Check. I actually own an original publicity photograph of Lee and fellow actors in the scene where they spend the night in the chalk circle whilst Satan’s legions are mustered against them. If I could have my time over again, that would be my ideal job – an on-set photographer.
Horror Express (1972)
Bonkers Anglo-Spanish production redeemed by Christpoher Lee and Peter Cushing. A monster from another world is loose aboard the Trans-Siberian Express, sucking out the brains of some dodgy 1970s actors and taking over their bodies. Telly Savalas turns up half way through for no reason other than to chew up the scenery. Best quote:
Policeman:The two of you together. That’s fine. But what if one of you is the monster?
Peter Cushing: Monster? We’re British, you know.
The House that Dripped Blood (1971)
Actually it didn’t. Not a single drop of it in fact. Director Peter Duffell wanted to call the film the more appropriate and refined ‘Death and the Maiden’, but producer and head of Amicus Studios, Milton Subotsky, wanted something more dramatic. This is one of those of Portmanteau horror films – several separate stories connected by a single theme or a location – that were popular ever since 1945’s Dead of Night. In this case, the four stories are linked together by a creaky old house. Beautiful Queen of Horror Ingrid Pitt turns up in one of the segments and takes a bite or two out of a pre-Doctor Who Jon Pertwee. When I was a kid, Ingrid Pitt playing a seductive vampire gave me a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I didn’t know quite what it meant.
From Beyond The Grave (1974)
Another Amicus Portmanteau flick, this time the linking device is Peter Cushing’s seemingly doddery old antique shop proprietor. Think you can put one over on him? Think again. My parents couldn’t understand why the electricity bill went up for the following year after I’d seen this film, but it was that long before I could sleep with the light off. Bits of this still give me the willies even to this day.
Richard’s Bicycle Book was my bible when I was a teenager. This was a time before cyclists flew round the streets in soulless tinted-goggled packs. As the cover says, this is a manual primarily of enjoyment. There was no need for state of the art gear or comical, overpriced clothing. You just pulled on a pair of jeans and a chunky jumper, and off you’d go. When you felt like it you could stop for a pint or a roll-up 1. Riding a bike was Richard’s way of combating disaffection with modern life and the alienating effects of cars. “Now look at what happens to you on a bicycle,” he wrote. “It’s immediate and direct. You pedal. You make decisions. You experience the tang of the air and the surge of power as you bite into the road. You’re vitalised. As you hum along, you fully and gloriously experience the day, the sunshine, the clouds, the breezes. You’re alive!” I do sometimes feel that these days the only thing the typical street cyclist experiences is the lycra-clad buttocks of the dude in front of him. But each to their own.
In the summer of 1983 I was 16 and preparing to sit my ‘O’ Levels. Back then there was much talk about the unfairness of five years of work being measured on a single three hour exam, and the Board decided to include additional forms of assessment. For me and my English Language exam, that meant having to give a presentation on a subject of choice to my classmates. I was an idealistic hippie back then, and as my friend Suzie often tells me, I still am. Inspired by Richard and his ecological ideas, my talk was about the building of extensive cycle paths and the banning of cars from city centres, with free bikes available for anyone to borrow.
Fast forward 30 years or so and things haven’t worked out quite how I’d hoped. To be fair though, if you’d asked me in 1983 how I honestly thought we’d be getting round in 2016, I would have said personal jet packs. Nevertheless, there has been quite a bit of progress. In 1984 the Bristol and Bath Railway Path was opened. This is a 15 mile cycle path on a disused railway, and was the first part of what was to become the National Cycle Network. The NCN now comprises around 15000 miles of signed cycle routes. Not a great deal of this is on dedicated cycleways, but the aspiration has been to minimise contact with motor traffic through the use of pedestrian routes, disused railways, minor roads, canal towpaths and traffic-calmed routes in towns and cities. All the routes should be suitable for an unsupervised 12 year old.
As it happens NCN 4 runs right by my front door. A couple of miles down the road road it meets up with the Thames Path, a national trail that runs alongside the Thames, much of which can be cycled. These photos are from a few weeks back and my first cycle ride along it this summer.
A few miles from my house along the Thames Path the tow path peters out. Enter the Shepperton Ferry. There’s been a ferry across the Thames from Shepperton for around 500 years, even being famously mentioned in the 1897 HG Wells novel War of the Worlds. These days it’s operated by this small skiff and crossings are every 15 minutes.
When I got to Hampton Court I took a short detour from the river over to Bushy Park, which I thought would be a good spot to eat my sandwiches. And I ran right in to what turned out to be the annual Chestnut Parade. I’ve still no idea what it’s in aid of, but nevertheless it was very enjoyable.
On the way back, for variety I headed home along the road rather than the tow path. This was nowhere near so interesting, but it did give me the chance to look around St Mary’s Church in Sunbury.
1. [Thinking about it, I’m not entirely sure that’s in the book. It might have just been me.]↩
When I previously visited Brookwood Cemetery, I bumped in to an old guy who, like me, was wandering around the graves. We chatted for a while, and he told me that many years before he’d come across the gravestone of novelist Dennis Wheatley, but had never been able to find it since. I was skeptical. Before leaving home I’d scanned the cemetery website and seen no mention of him on the list of famous residents. I assumed the chap was mistaken, and besides, you do meet some strange people hanging about in graveyards. Which is probably exactly what he went home and told his wife 1 .
As with so many things, I was of course wrong. Back home, a small amount of searching revealed that whilst he was cremated in Putney, his ashes are indeed buried in Brookwood. But what struck me was how little interest there appears to be in this. Wheatley was one of the world’s best-selling writers from the 1930s through to the 1960s, and his Gregory Sallust espionage and adventure books are reputed to have been the inspiration for Ian Flemming’s James Bond. Several of his occult novels were made in to movies, including Hammer’s incredibly successful 1968 production of The Devil Rides Out.
The truth is that even when I was enjoying his books as a kid in the late 1970s, they were already rather dated. Wheatley’s characters inhabit a world of cravats and worcester suits, pink gins and martinis, and leather armchairs in wood-paneled gentlemen’s clubs. His villains are villainous simply by nature of being working class or (heaven forbid) being one of those Johnny Foreigner types. None of this mattered to me as a child of course. I doubt I even noticed. And even today I’m still able to enjoy his books with the knowledge that he was a product of his time. Context is everything. I was quite pleased to see recently that after years of being out of print, many of his books have now been reissued.
Of course, all of this was a good reason to go back and make another visit. Because hanging round graveyards is something I really need to find an excuse for.
1. [Following recent legislation, other gender combinations of spouses are now available. This is A Good Thing.]?
Memorial of Dennis Wheatley with my 1965 copy of To The Devil A Daughter (1953)
And again. This time remembering to switch off the double exposure lever on the Mamiya.
Deliberate double exposure this time. The Mamiya has a little lever that when pushed up, disengages the wind on mechanism. When you crank the film advance it cocks the shutter but doesn’t move on the film, allowing as many multiple exposures as you like.