I'll have you, Collings...
Sometimes your eyes are stained and plagued with just that bit too much Facebook or DVD or video or TV or Xbox or porn or whichever demon square you’re habitually drawn to. Enough rarely is enough, in this instance. William Burroughs foresaw this kind of addiction whilst writing ‘Naked Lunch’. Prescient, in every sense, he understood (from his own unabashed experiences with various heavy drugs and sexual quirks) that addiction on all levels, and in a myriad of forms, would come to define the 20th century. Inevitable then, given the fact the past 11 years have passed without (cultural) trace, it’d spill into this century to.
But then comes that rare instance, when you’ve seen so much that you think – genuinely think, and maybe believe – that you’ve seen something that you haven’t. Enter Cliff Twemlow: The Mancunian; The Tuxedo Warrior; or Peter Reno (as he was once known).
This fella has been on my mind for a long time, though I haven’t seen anything he’s actually done in it’s entirety; so I guess I’m judging him on a new level of imagined experience. That’s the beauty of writing things like this, for nowt, or thereabouts. You’re not beholden to an agenda. Let rip. Go off on that tangent. Maybe this is the way it always should have been.
Cliff: the Tuxedo Warrior (a nickname he gave himself) has been lurking in my head for some time, for an inordinate length of time - since I was a kid in fact. And he still lurks there, hanging on in: an invisible witness to the person I’ve become.
This fella has been on my mind for a long time, though I haven’t seen anything he’s actually done in it’s entirety; so I guess I’m judging him on a new level of imagined experience.
Having all but finished a feature film (Nocturnes) that has taken me two and a bit (long) years to write and direct, I feel the strong, selfish urge to pass him on, in much the same way a malignant virus or the black spot was passed on by Blind Pew in ‘Treasure Island’: surreptitiously, and with questionable haste. He gets to you like that, Twemlow. Don’t let him set in.
He was on my mind at the start of the film for a number of reasons: namely that he wrote and starred in one of the first films to be shot on video – GBH (no relation whatsoever to the Alan Bleasdale TV series that later followed, aside from the title). And shot mainly in Manchester - using some of the same locations we did: namely Heaton Park in Prestwich.
The original VHS copy of GBH came emblazoned with the dubious, and some would (rightly) say, misleading blurb: ‘More brutal than (and in larger typeface) THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY’. Things haven’t changed all that much in terms of cynical advertising; but the public is that little bit more savvy nowadays; things aren’t quite as gung-ho, or relaxed. You can’t kid them that blatantly. You can’t afford to. But they knew what they were doing when they slapped that reference to ‘Long Good Friday’ on the cover. They knew the false path they were paving.
As VHS hounds in our house, my dad came home with GBH one night, all excited (in that vaguely idiosyncratic way that you know something must be amiss here), proclaiming it to be not ‘More brutal than...’ the Bob Hoskins crime masterpiece, with that unforgettably ambiguous last shot that some would have loved to have seen the what-after; but the actual sequel to ‘Long Good Friday’. The actual sequel: what a sell.
As VHS hounds in our house, my dad came home with GBH one night, all excited (in that vaguely idiosyncratic way that you know something must be amiss here)
Me and my sister were duly pointed up the dancers, to bed, to leave my mum, dad and two brother’s gawping at the goggle box; gawping at Cliff Twemlow; for the very first time. The disappointment must have been quite eerie, quite horrific. As if they’d all taken part in some rare form of English voodoo; or some Charles Manson-like mind voyage.
Twemlow’s GBH bears no relation to Long Good Friday. Twemlow’s GBH encircles the pysche like lively midges in odd corners. Take a look yourself. Read the YouTube comment from buldic, 4 months ago: ‘Had a video shop in the eighties, used to rent this out to people, loved waiting for their comments when they returned it, local gypsies used to come and rent it all the time! (What a last line).
Which brings me back to the film I’ve spent all this time on. Throughout the whole shoot, Twemlow would creep in; where it should have been inspired thoughts of David Lynch or Werner Herzog, Twemlow’s (one time Peter Stringfellow doorman) super-hero frame walked into shot. Twemlow: Kwik Save’s answer to James Bond. No escaping the man. A plague-like presence.
I’ve never actually seen past that You Tube Part 1 clip of GBH. But I feel as if I’ve seen more than enough anyway, having lived with the idea of him, on and off, over the years. In short, and in truth, the last thing I want is to be remembered as the new Cliff Twemlow; but you never know in Manchester. They revisit things with a skew-whiff passion that is both admirable but also sometimes woefully misguided.
Twemlow: Kwik Save’s answer to James Bond. No escaping the man. A plague-like presence.
C.P Lee and Andy Willis, for instance, wrote a book about Twemlow, published in 2009, entitled ‘The Lost World of Cliff Twemlow: The King of Exploitation Movies’. Now I’ve not actually read this. I will never read this in fact. So I’m guessing here; but something tells me that subtitle isn’t ironic, that there’s a kernel of genuine passion in labelling this ham-fisted enthusiast: ‘The King...’ I hope not, because that would be daft, awkward revisionism for the obscure sake of it.
Also, Twemlow himself is a fascinating subject, but he is by no means a King of anything. He passed away in 1993, but before that, he was an ex-bouncer, ferryman, horror - novel writer, songwriter (under the Steve Coogan-esque name: Peter Reno), with far-fetched energy, drive and determination; forever picking himself up, and embarking upon (mostly barmy) projects.
He released a record entitled ‘Live and Let Die’, but denied it was a chiseler-like cash-in on the James Bond film – Paul McCartney (ever the thrifty pedant) slammed an injuction on it; he appeared on local TV with Joan Collins, in an attempt to get funding for a film version of his book, ‘The Pike’; and strangest/best of all, another TV appearance; where he claimed he was going to catch the Loch Ness Monster - that once-popular myth who rarely gets mentioned today in our age of natural hysterics. I’ll leave the rest of Twemlow’s unique pursuits to Wikipedia. It’s worth a few minutes. Trust me.
To be fair, the many films he starred in or had a hand in, are never going to be as unforgivably bad as a mega-budget Michael Bay film, or an insipidly scripted Richard Curtis rom-com, or anything starring Colin Firth. They may look as if they’ve shot by a blind-hand, and they may well be populated by ill-prepared people showing signs of early rigor-mortis, and though they revel in dreadfully edited action scenes, Twemlow doesn’t seem to be in thrall to violence, in the same adolescent/stupid way that Nick Lowe or even Quentin Tarantino is, at times.
To be fair, the many films he starred in or had a hand in, are never going to be as unforgivably bad as a mega-budget Michael Bay film, or an insipidly scripted Richard Curtis rom-com, or anything starring Colin Firth
What little I’ve seen of his action scenes, he appears curiously underwhelmed, bored even, with the histrionics of make-believe; knowing full well the real thing can never be replicated or even alluded to. Not really. He just wanted to be that rare personality: a ‘Movie Star’, in North Manchester.
The fact that they’re shot on shoe-string budgets so thin and poxy you can virtually see them on the verge of snapping, right in front of your astonished eyes, tells you everything you need to know. As with Ed Wood’s childish foray’s, they have a certain value; not necessarily cult, but something else, something a little below cult, where the wonky and the bad are seen as some odd badge of valued outsiderdom.
In some alternative past-Manchester, I see myself not meeting Julie Christie in The Ritz, just off Oxford Road, as Billy Liar did, or sitting with Albert Finney on the shoot of Charlie Bubbles, supping ale in dimpled glasses; instead I see myself being set-on by Twemlow, having wound him up the wrong way, in some tatty pub in Ancoats. Twemlow, nullifying my night with a swift move of honed violence: in true, crude GBH fashion.
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