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#Years50

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The year 1966 – that’s nearly fifty long years of history trailing backwards to it from 2016. For those who have some kind of origins rooted in 1966, the present year would have diverse meanings and values. 2016 would mark the 50th wedding anniversary for some couples; while for few others, it would be the golden jubilee year of their company’s establishment, or to many, it could be a rite of passage into 50 – the latter being the case of a friend who invited us to his milestone birthday bash few months ago.

02When that occasion arrived, it turned out to be a lovely time for us to relax and spent some time together with likeminded people – lots of good talk, good food, good drinks, good fun and a speech by the host. The truth is that, on occasions like this, we often swipe our past at the gate and it opens. Then we get back in and out comes thoughts constantly recurring to our friends and events of our early life – in the context of the present occasion, it was how it had all started for our friend in the summer of half a century ago and came up to the time he dipped his toes in the big 5-0, the youth of senior age.

We are the sum of the experiences in our lives. Looking back on his journey from the distance of fifty years, our friend went through a recap of his ups and downs, gains and losses, drawing cameos of his life. Unlike this occasion, I had been to parties where, like an overwound toy that would not stop until its winding is completely unfurled, the host went on and on with narration about himself to make too big a meal of it.

03In the end, the summary of our friend’s reminisce sketched the figure of a man with the good sense to confine his ambition to the safer and less contentious way of living – adhering to his belief that all things would come into being, blossom and ripen at the appointed time.

The party had gone with a swing. Back home that same night I had settled in the comfort of our living room while the music of Giacomo Puccini let loose its energy and passion from the music player. With our life-long fascination for the creative genius of Giuseppe Verdi and Puccini, no wonder our hearts lingers in nineteenth-century Italy for good musical experience.

With the happenings of the day still fresh in mind, my attention had wandered to my IPad to google the events of 1966. In history’s roll, 1966 was a conspicuous year. However politically neutral I could be, I could note that, drawing a contrast to the outcome of the present local election, 50 years ago there were celebratory moments for some when on January 24, 1966, Indira Gandhi made her debut entry as the Prime Minister of India owing to the untimely death of the incumbent Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkant in Soviet Central Asia on January 11, 1966. Customarily, Mrs. Gandhi’s intellectual-looking face had then dominated the covers of many Indian and some foreign publications. The 5ft. 2in. petite 48 year-old with Nehru elegance and style had certainly reached high places for someone who had once said, “At the age of four, my favourite game was to stand on a table and make thundering political speeches to the servants.”

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05Another popular face of that year was of the international fashion icon Twiggy (Lesley Lawson, née Hornby). At just seventeen years old, having been voted British Woman of The Year, she was named the Face of ’66 by the Daily Express. In time, her androgynous look splashed across not only on glossy publications, but also on display boards, garments, etc.

Concurrently, British bands like The Beatles dominated the world of popular music while England, beating West Germany 4-2 after extra time at Wembley Stadium in London on 30 July 1966, took home the 1966 FIFA World Cup.

Citing the flash trends of that fab year, if vinyl was the most “in” fabric worn by the young go-go set in Paris, in Britain, besides zippy Mini cars, hemlines of the trendy Mini Skirts progressively climbed upward to the level where some designs had the hem exposing more acreage of leggy delights as popularity for minis grew amongst those who like a mini to be a mini, successfully pushing the squabbles over longhair out of the headlines. At the same time, in the United States, a mandatory health warning appeared on the face of all packaging of cigarettes: “Caution : Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous To Your Health”.

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I would not miss out on the disasters that occurred later during that year. Before dawn on November 4, 1966, whipped by gale winds and rainstorms, disaster struck Florence (Firenze), Italy, the city for art lovers and one of our favourite haunts for many years. The rising muddy water of River Arno overflowed into the city flooding it to a maximum depth of 20ft, killing many, leaving thousands homeless and damaging not less than 14,000 works of fine art masterpieces and countless historic books, manuscripts and antiques housed at various locations in bella Firenze. At Galleria dell’Accademia, the “David” of Michelangelo tilted on its pedestal owing to buckling of the wet floor.

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Just to think of the green and white marble Il Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore), Giotto’s belltower (Campanile) and the Baptistery of San Giovanni in the Piazza del Duomo, the Cappelle Medicee e Chiesa di San Lorenzo, the Bargello (Palazzo del Bargello), the piazza and cloisters at Santa Croce, the Piazza della Signoria, the Galleria degli Uffizi, Palazzo Vecchio – all standing waist deep in soiled water with flotsam, oil drums, roofbeams, toys, trees from the diluvio….had brought sadness to our minds whenever we are there.

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A similar catastrophe had struck Venice on the same day as La Serenissima flooded as the level of the lagoon rose about 6ft 5in above its normal level.

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As Florence gradually came out of isolation and, light, food, and water reinstated with the calm and courage of the Tuscan people and other relief workers, a cause for further joy also came about in England ten days later. On Monday, November 14th, Prince Charles, still a school boy, officially came of age on his 18th birthday.

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This enabled him to apply for a driver’s license, or to drink legally in a pub and to draw an income considerably larger than his classmates or teachers. But more importantly, it was the age at which the Prince of Wales, next in line for the British throne, became eligible to assume the throne and rule without a regent. The first joyful cheer to that rang out fifty years ago.

Until next time. Jo

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 (©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

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Dracula, Prince of Darkness (StarChoice: 25)

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The sun is down, darkness covers the land – and Dracula lives!”

January 9th, 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the initial release (UK) of Hammer Films’ Dracula, Prince of Darkness”, the second instalment in their colourful Dracula series with Christopher Lee in the title role.

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Produced by Anthony Nelson Keys (1911 – 1985) at an estimated budget of £100,000 (according to imdb)(1) and presented by Seven Arts and Hammer Films, the story centers around two couples finding shelter in the night in a dark and mysterious castle situated in the forest outside the village of Carlsbad. They had been traveling through the Carpathian Mountains of central Europe for climbings and sightseeings, and were forced out of their hired horse-carriage at the crossroads of a mountain track by their coach driver terrified at the approach of the sunset.

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Taken to the castle by a mysterious driverless coach and having arrived at the very plaace which was the subject of a cautionary advice of a Father Sandor for them to stay away from it, they were surprised at the hospitality extended to them by the sinister Klove, the manservant of the lord of the castle, Count Dracula, who apologised for the absence of his master since he was dead for the past ten years. A crackling fire burns in the grate, dinner table set for four created the impression that they were expected. Indeed Klove’s master had left instructions that the castle should always be ready to receive guests… The couples drank a toast to the master of the castle: “To Count Dracula!”.  

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As if he was convinced that the new arrivals would spend the night in the castle, the mysterious Klove had already prepared their rooms, had their luggage secretly brought in from the carriage and placed neatly at the foot of the beds before he had gone to greet them. Once the couples had retired to their respective rooms following their dinner, sometime soon in the dead of night, the occasion appeared auspicious to Klove to set out to implement his plan. Many years ago, he had faithfully collected the clothes, signet ring, dust, etc, of Dracula after his master’s body had disintegrated into a pile of human dust. The set of scenes that would unfurl during that night in the underground vault depicted the resurrection of Dracula – by intermixing Dracula’s bodily grey ash with the blood flowing from the corpse of Alan Kent suspended on a rope above the sarcophagus. And therein, blood fired the ashes and Dracula, the Lord of the Darkness, fully restored, rose to go about his single-minded pursuit of blood and ghastly deeds!

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When Welsh scriptwriter Jimmy Sangster was assigned to re-write the old script (The Revenge of Dracula), by prolific screenwriter Anthony Hinds, based on characters created by novelist Bram Stoker, none of them had known that the incongruity of the final product would allow them to attach only their noms de plume, to it, viz., John Sansom and John Elder respectively. In his late thirties, Sangster kept abreast of the pulse of Hammer’s target audiences. He would spend four decades at Hammer, in the capacity of production manager, scriptwriter, producer and director.

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Sangster was then known for brilliant ideas and sudden shocks which, as a rule, he sprinkled into the storylines of scripts; often linking the ideas to traditions related to vampires however minor they are – as, in “Dracula, Prince of Darkness”, when Charles and Diana escape from Dracula’s castle, he leaves Diana near a hut at the crossroads before returning to the castle. It was deemed that she would be safer there from vampires. I would have imagined such a scene is in tune with the European tradition that if a suspected vampire if killed or buried at a crossroads, he will be unable to rise again.

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As for the resurrection of the Count for this sequel, a convincing method was drawn up to use blood as the ingredient since the Count was destroyed into a pile of dust in Hammer’s “Dracula” (1958, U.S. title: Horror of Dracula), the first Dracula film in colour with thrilling visual treats of vampire violence, blood and sexuality. This method of resurrection with blood would be repeatedly used by Hammer to revive the Count in their subsequent Dracula films.

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Christopher Lee as the pale-looking Count Dracula topping gray streaked hair with a widow’s peak and eyebrows that join across, appears around 46 minutes (based on DVD edition of 86 minutes. Theatrical duration is 90 minutes.) into “Dracula, Prince of Darkness” (DPOD), clad in his long black cloak (now lined with blood-red lining), at times, with red contact lenses that covered the whole ball of the eyes, except for the cornea and iris, and of course, with the trademark pair of canine fangs intact (“long, but not too long, sharp but not sabre-toothed”, as a writer wrote). The Count’s character traits of commanding manner, fit constitution, cold austerity, penetrating eyes, icy sadism, tremendous ferocity, fiendish snarls and charismatic sex appeal are all there but short of dialogue to which Jimmy Sangster later claimed that the script was written without any lines for the Count. Alternate opinions to the contrary exists, including Lee’s own assertion in an autobiography that he did not use the dialogue as it was impossible for anybody to write convincing lines for him. Lee is reputed to have read Stoker’s “Dracula” many times over and over and, given the opportunity, always ventured to provide his personal view of its interpretation. There is another reference in a book which relates that when Lee finally consented to star as Dracula in 1965 he had become an expensive commodity and his services were being charged on a daily basis which resulted in his scenes being brief and without dialogue. Anyhow, short of dialogue, Dracula hissed and snarled and menaced in the movie, emphasising the vampiristic elements of Dracula.

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For Hammer, Lee’s mere appearance as the good-looking Count Dracula was enough to click the box-office and create fans for Hammer which had increased ever since the 6’ 5” Lee first appeared as a silhouette before he came out of the shadows and glided down the long baronial stairs of his castle and introduced himself as “Count Dracula” in Hammer’s “Dracula” (HOD).

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Following Lee’s marriage to the Danish model and painter Birgit (Gitte) Kroencke in 1961, the couple had moved to Switzerland. Hammer was happy to see Lee move back to England in 1965, and agree to appear in “DPOD” since afraid of being typecast as the Count, he had refrained from starring as Dracula for nearly seven years, venturing into other films, which had pushed Hammer to bring out different vampires as antagonists, viz., blonde-haired Baron Meinster (David Peel) in “Brides of Dracula” (1960) (2) and Doctor Ravna (Noel Willman) in “Kiss of the Vampire” (1963) while retaining Dracula for enactment by Christopher Lee whenever he is ready. Although Lee went on to become admired as an actor of vast experience and wide-ranging acting talents, like Sean Connery got docketed to James Bond, Lee’s career was always popularly tagged with the “old toothy”, and had gained him great financial success and international stardom.

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Barbara Shelly, the auburn-haired English beauty with her bewitching brown eyes, makes a very exciting vampire in “DPOD”, her initial style of attire of the Victorian wife Helen giving way for a seductive outfit when, in the dark of the night, the process of her initiation into the realm of vampires gets underway. Director Terence Fisher had rightly divulged Shelly’s capacity to aptly showcase the mannerisms of the spitfire vampire she had turned into, quite contrasting to her initial portrayal of the shrewish wife who seemed strangely fearful of something bad she had sensed present in the castle in which they had taken shelter.

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Lovely blonde Suzan Farmer appears as Diana Kent, the brave wife of Charles, notable for her liveliness and attitude to take things as they come. It was Diana who had the presence of mind to initially grab the gun and shoot at Dracula on the frozen moat which led to the discovery that running water is a deterrent for him – a realization that would add to an earlier instance when she accidently discovered that the crucifix on the chain around her neck could stop the evil although, at a later scene, under the demonic influence of Dracula, she would submissively take the crucifix off her neck and stand unprotected before Dracula ready to oblige to his demand to taste the blood flowing from his chest.

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Peter Cushing, who first appeared in the title role of Hammer’s “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957), shot to international stardom as the indomitable vampire-killer Dr. (Prof.) Abraham Van Helsing in “Dracula”, a role which represented the force of goodness, making him an integral part of the Dracula cycle and a perfectly matched team with Christopher Lee. I have read somewhere that it was Cushing’s idea to make Van Helsing run along the refectory table and hold Dracula back with the glare from two metal candlesticks used for a cross until the Count desiccated into a heap of dust in the closing scenes of “Dracula”. According to one of Peter Cushing’s memoirs, when Anthony Hinds found that Cushing could not appear in “DPOD” due to contractual commitments, Hinds had obtained his consent to use the ending scenes of “Dracula” as opening scenes of “DPOD” for which Cushing was subsequently remunerated by Hammer Films.

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DPOD” featured a new adversary for Dracula, Father Sandor (Andrew Keir), the Abbot of Kleinberg who, on his way to Kleinberg, accidently meets the four English travellers at the wayside inn and warns them to avoid travel to Carlsbad or stay clear of the nearby castle which the couples disregarded opting to keep up with their schedule only to meet with dire consequences. British TV actor Philip Latham, who had earlier appeared in Hammer’s 1964 films “The Devil-Ship Pirates” and “The Secret of Blood Island”, comes across very effectively as Klove, the quiet and sinister manservant of Count Dracula – soberly clad in black, devoid of gesticulations – a tool of the forces of evil.

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b16 Terry-FisherAustralian born British television heart-throb Charles Tingwell (Alan Kent), and television star Francis Matthews (Charles Kent) appear as brothers and husbands of the visiting English ladies. The cast also includes: Thorley Walters (monastery calligrapher Ludwig), Walter Brown (Brother Mark), George Woodbridge (Landlord), Jack Lambert (Brother Peter), Philip Ray (Priest), Joyce Hemson (Mother), John Maxim (Coach Driver), etc.

DPOD” tenders some excellent visual treats under the directional chores of Terence “Terry” Fisher (1904 – 1980). Starting as a clapper boy in the film industry at the age of 28, his first directorial assignment was “The Last Page” (aka. Man Bait, 1952, based on a 1946 play by James Hadley Chase) from where he rose up to become one of the best known directors to work for Hammer and one of the virtuosos behind the success of their films like “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957), “Dracula” (1958), “The Revenge of Frankenstein” (1958), “The Mummy” (1959), “The Phantom of the Opera” (1962), etc.

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Consistent with Hammer’s reputation of using the major chunk of a film’s scanty budget on its production design, sets, models, costumes, photography, editing for stunning visual impact, “DPOD” has impressive sets and lavish-looking production values. It was from the brilliant talent of Bernard Robinson, the Set Designer for Hammer’s first two Dracula films that earned Hammer their signature looks for stunning backdrops and sets of the Dracula movies. Although in this official sequel, the story of “DPOD” takes place ten years after the end of the first movie and supposedly happens in the same castle of “Dracula“, Robinson’s ingenuity shows through in the difference of the interiors and exterior of the sets of Castle Dracula, everything dusted and polished. The coffins used for Dracula and Diana in the film have gold covered hinges to contradict with the old custom of Transylvanian coffin-makers using silver nails as a protection against vampires.

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Entirely shot in Technicolor  from April 26 through June 4, 1965 at Bray Studios, Down Place, Oakley Green (Berkshire); and on locations at Black Park in Slough, Iver Heath (Buckinghamshire); and St Michael’s Church, Bray, Berkshire, England, the crew consists of: James Bernard (Music), Michael Reed (Director of photography), Chris Barnes (Film Editing), Don Mingaye (Art Direction), Roy Ashton (Makeup), Frieda Steiger (Hair stylist), Rosemary Burrows (Wardrobe), Bowie Films Ltd (Special effects), among others.

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The special effects team of Les Bowie did not have to deal with “Kensington Gore”, the fake theatrical blood (stage blood) manufactured in England, since both the final scenes of “Dracula” and “DPOD” are devoid of blood,  though there is massive amount of fake blood shown during the resurrection of Dracula in “DPOD

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According to a magazine, for the complex shooting of scenes depicting the final destruction of Dracula, Bowie’s team had tried many techniques to get the scene right: they tried real blocks of ice in a swimming pool for few close shots; wax moulds at another time as it floats on the water; and for the final shots, a circular section of plaster mounted on pivots. At the same time, Christopher Lee has written in a book that he slid down a piece of wood on a hinge, painted white to look like ice.

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Part of the many trivia is about an incident while shooting the last scenes when one of the contact lenses of Lee fell onto the salt-covered wooden board (made to look as block of ice) which was retrieved and re-fixed to his eye without properly cleaning off the salt causing acute agony to Lee. An unfortunate incident would have intervened the production and turn fatal for Eddie Powell, Lee’s stunt double and husband of wardrobe mistress Rosemary Burrows, when he was trapped in the freezing waters of the castle moat during enactment of the scene when Dracula finally sank through the layer of ice into the water, but was rescued in time from drowning. However, as the story goes, Dracula will lay trapped in that icy grave until Hammer decided to allow him to be resurrected in 1968 in “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave”, ironically, with the blood of a wounded priest.

Besides “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave”, Hammer Films’ Dracula series continued featuring Christopher Lee in the role of the Count in “Taste the Blood of Dracula” (1970), “Scars of Dracula” (1970), “Dracula A.D. 1972” (1972), and finally in “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” (1973).

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It is undisputed that so many old manor houses in England have their ghost story. The legends of vampires (Vukodlak for Serbians/Murony to Wallachians) have always been there and will survive and flourish on print and visual entertainment in future also. As the viewers, we enjoy the choice to discern whether they are good, bad or indifferent for us – or for horrorsceptics to reassert their sense of rational control. When Hammer Films were first shown, they were sometimes reckoned as objects of derision and censure in some quarters. Now they are treated as classics of their kind. Since 2012, starting with “Dracula Prince of Darkness”, Hammer’s classic library of films are being restored/re-mastered into HD for Blu-ray and future media formats under the restoration project initiated by StudioCanal in coordination with major studios.

I have enjoyed some of those movies on several occasions, including “Dracula, Prince of Darkness” – and although sadly Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are no more, I would imagine many would have gladly watched another Hammer movie in which Lee reprised the role of Dracula in the period and Gothic ambiance of Stoker’s novel. No doubt, Hammer Films, at its finest, were truly distinctive.  Jo

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Notes:

  1. The budget is projected as £220,000 by BFI screenonline.
  2. For more on “Brides of Dracula”, please refer to my reviews of May 10 & 14, 2013
  3. Dracula, Prince of Darkness” was initially released as double bill with Hammer’s “The Plague of the Zombies
  4. Books, DVD/Blu-ray of the books/movies referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  5. DVD sleeves credits: Wikipedia, amazon.co.uk, and from my private collection.
  6. This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to the movie reviewed above. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.
  7. This is in memory of director Terence Fisher who was born on 23rd of February. May his soul rest in peace.

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Hammer – H as in Horror

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British actor Christopher Lee is no more, but the nocturnal Transylvanian character he immortalised in Hammer Films’ Dracula series is very much alive and baring fangs at the discerning viewers. For centuries, folklores of blood-drinking vampires and other supernatural characters were tales of enduring fascination, dark passion, belief and fear.

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For most people, the name Transylvania conjures up haunted castles and vampires; and maintain some understanding about the characteristics of a vampire: that the vampire’s power ceases at the coming of the day; that they feed on human blood and their bite could transform the victim into a new vampire, that the objects for protection against them is a Christian cross, garlic, running water, etc.

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Such tales of uncanny, having echoed throughout Europe down centuries, may have now died down, their existence judged improbable in the modern view. Yet, what is the truth behind the legends of the undead? Are they alive and immortal only as products of fertile imaginations, dreams and fantasies? Anyhow, potential immortality is considered a salient feature of the vampire.

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b6The evil title character of the gothic horror novel, “Dracula” (published in June 1897) written by Irish writer Bram (Abraham) Stoker (Nov 8, 1847 – Apr 20, 1912) has been linked to Vlad Ţepeş (Vlad Tsepesh/Vlad Dracul/Vlad the Impaler, 1431 – 1476) (1), a flesh-and-blood prince who launched the Romanian resistance against Ottoman expansion in the 15th century.

Of the qualities attributed to Prince Vlad are his practice of impaling enemies on stakes in that age of brutality; his heroism in defending his country against the Ottoman invasion, but nowhere there is evidence proving him as a vampire.

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The review that would follow this frontrunner post is just my humble tribute to a movie from the very-British Hammer Films, a trailblazer for the genres of horror and suspense during the 1950s and ’60s.

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Most of the films of Hammer had triggered the adrenalin of millions of audiences across the world with their quality entertainment primarily produced at a splendid private residence called Down Place, in Bray, Berkshire, England where, it is claimed, there existed a resident ghost known as “The Blue Lady”. Charming!

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Hammer had all the ingredients in place to reincarnate the monster of Frankenstein, Count Dracula, Baron Meinster, Countess Dracula …. – mostly 85-minutes spine-chilling storylines of hauntings, spirits, exorcisms, poltergeists, banshees, consistent with the rules of folklore and legends, oral or written, prolific to Ireland, Scotland, Eastern Europe, India, etc.

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However true they are, I do not have any personal experiences to believe or disbelieve those beyond the grave incarnations. But while watching a Hammer horror movie, when I see a door open without a human hand on the knob, or hear the light or heavy sound of footsteps in the corridor when no one is supposed to be there, or see the face of someone who had been buried the other day calling through the open window in the dead of the night, I guess I like to have a sense of fearlessness. One thing is certain, I doubt I would ever want to run into any one of those undead creatures, especially Count Dracula, “the most evil and terrible creature who ever set his seal on civilisation.”

(Review in my next post)   Jo

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Notes:

  1. For more on the origins of Vlad Ţepeş: Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times by Radu R. Florescu & Raymond T. McNally
  2. Books, DVD/Blu-ray of the books/movies referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  3. DVD sleeves credits: Wikipedia, amazon.co.uk, and from my private collection.
  4. This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to Hammer Films. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

CHRISTOPHER LEE – A TITAN OF CINEMA

Is Count Dracula one of your favourite book/screen personalities? Well, the 6 feet 4 inches veteran British actor/musician/Opera singer/author Christopher Lee will not be reincarnating in the form of Count Dracula anymore. Lee of horror characters such as  Kharis the high priest/Mummy (The Mummy, 1959), Count Dracula, Dr. Fu Manchu, Rasputin the Mad Monk, Lord Summerisle (The Wicker Man, 1973), sadly died on Sunday 7th June at Chelsea and Westminster hospital in London, after suffering heart and respiratory problems. Chris-3

Lee, who belonged to the Carandini family, one of the oldest families in Italy dating back to the first century AD and to Emperor Charlemagne, was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s tallest leading actor amongst Clint Eastwood and others. He was also a step-cousin of the late Ian Fleming, author of James Bond novels. According to reports, Fleming had recommended Lee for the role of Bond’s nemesis in Dr. No (1962) but the role went to Joseph Wiseman. Finally, Bond in the form of Roger Moore faced him in the role of the three-nippled, million-dollars-a-hit assassin Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).

From early on, Lee’s flair for acting was evident when he appeared as the evil Rumpelstiltskin at Miss Fisher’s Academy in Wengen, Switzerland. In spite of his five-year stint in the Royal Air Force and Intelligence during World War II he was rejected for a role in the war-movie The Longest Day (1962) on the grounds that he didn’t command the look of a military personal. Chris-4 After his retirement from the RAF by the end of the war, taking heed from the suggestion of his cousin Count Nicolò Carandini, he obtained a seven-year contract with Rank Organisation in 1946. Lee debuted in the psychological drama Corridor of Mirrors (1948), the first film directed by Terence Young. In the following decade, despite that he was remonstrated for being too tall, dominating the frame, he appeared in many films. Chris-1

Christopher Lee as Count Dracula in Horror of Dracula

Then came his Hammer years. At the age of 35, Jimmy Carreras’ Hammer Film Productions cast him in the role of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s creature in The Curse of Frankenstein (Dir. Terence Fisher, 1957). This successful role earned him the mantle of Bram Stoker’s Transylvanian bloodsucker Count Dracula in Dracula (aka. Horror of Dracula, 1957). Under the master direction of British film director Terence Fisher, Lee portrayed the fanged Count as the most attractive and virile of all screen vampires. How can one forget that striking first entrance of Lee’s Count Dracula at the doorway and his descent down the stairs? Lee would go on to feature the stature and presence of Count Dracula in further eight movies including Dracula Prince of Darkness (Dir. Terence Fisher, 1965), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (Dir. Freddie Francis, 1968), El Conde Drácula (Dir. Jesús Franco, 1970), The Satanic Rites of Dracula (aka. Count Dracula and his Vampire Bride, Dir. Alan Gibson, 1974), etc. Chris-6 With British studio Hammer specialized in the production of screen horror, Lee’s name was for many years synonymous with the best in horror films. He was part of the four iconic horror film stars: Vincent Price, John Carradine, Peter Cushing and they acted together in House of the Long Shadows (Dir. Peter Walker, 1983).  While Vincent Price shared his birthday with Christopher Frank Carandini Lee (born on 27th May 1922 in the upmarket Belgravia area of London), Peter Cushing was born a day earlier on 26 May. Although Lee set up his own production company, Charlemagne Productions Ltd, he diverged from his horror image to mainstream film roles. Nevertheless, it is an unwritten fact that, just as Sean Connery will be indelibly associated with James Bond, the image of Count Dracula will always be correlated to Christopher Lee. Chris-7 Fluent in a variety of languages, the English-born actor Lee was appointed a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II (15-Jun-2001 Queen’s Birthday Honours) and Knight of the British Empire 2009. He is also a Commander Brother of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. In 2002, Lee was awarded the prestigious World Award for Lifetime Achievement in Vienna, etc. Lee was also presented with the Academy Fellowship at the BAFTAs in February 2011. Chris-2

Lee as Count Dracula in Horror of Dracula

Sir Christopher launched his singing career in the 1990s, with an album of Broadway tunes. During his illustrious career, the veteran actor appeared in over 250 films, some of them the most iconic of our times. Watching the innumerable films of Christopher Lee in my collection was always joyful for me – especially those of 1950s to mid-70s. Chris-8   Endings are usually sad and we will miss Sir Christopher Lee. Nevertheless, there always will be the comfort in knowing that I can sit with a couple of soft pillows and a glass of red wine and watch the legendary actor come alive through one of his movies, his deeply melodic basso voice booming.

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NB: The DVDs of the above movies and music albums of Sir Christopher Lee are available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc.

(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

KNOCK ON BANGKOK’S DOOR

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I am in no way interested in immortality,  But only in the taste of tea.”

 – Lú Tung (790-835), Tang Dynasty poet

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(Above: The first tea garden in Ootacamund (Udhagamandalam/Ooty), South India, was planted in 1863)

Everybody knows something about Tea. With its distinct flavour and aroma, it is arguably world’s best-loved refreshment. Tea had reached the West from China where it was consumed for more than four thousand years. Last December, just in time when the old year was wrapping up and launching into the Year of the Horse, dressed in the best British heritage and its colonial history, the fragrant cup of green gold finally came knocking on the door of Bangkok.

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Harrods, the globally renowned British Department Store synonymous with quality, luxury and an array of merchandise and with a history that spans over 160 years, has opened their first “Harrods Tea Room” in Bangkok where the equilibrium of “coffee culture” is rapidly tilting to “tea culture” – an aspiring lifestyle.

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A Thai newspaper recently wrote: “Coffee is Out; Tea is In” – a trend that is also catching up in large cities here in India where tea shops are common features in villages. As Carina, who favours coffee, recently quipped, “The moment ‘you’ shifted from Coffee to Tea back in 2008, I knew this is bound to happen!

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Reportedly a project between Harrods and the CEO of LME Co., Ltd (distributor of ready-to-wear fashion brands) in partnership with Thai-MC (Mitsubishi Corporation Japan), Harrods Tea Room is located at Siam Paragon, a trendy luxury shopping mall in the centre of Bangkok.

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There, in Harrods traditional ambiance, we can enjoy not only tea, clipped from plantations in Sri Lanka (earlier Ceylon), India and Kenya (all former British colonies), but a variety of British delicacies.

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Harrods is no stranger to trade in tea. Indeed, the humble beginnings of Harrods is linked to tea since Charles Henry Harrod (1799–1885) moved to Knightsbridge, London in 1849 as a small tea merchant– at a time when tea could be afforded only by the wealthy due to its high price.

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Being one of the English tea traders was advantageous since they had unrivalled access to tea from India and Ceylon due to the involvement of the British East India Company. Tea was also sold as medicine to cure cold, fever, giddiness, headache, stomach-ache, pain in the joints, cleansing the kidneys, for clear eye-sight, to strengthen the memory, to prevent sleepiness, etc.

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Harrods Tea Room has a rather conspicuous statement of no pretences to anything but luxury. You could feel a palpable air of optimism as you walk into it. In addition to the tables set outdoors, the main split-level dining area of about 280 Square metres offers a seating capacity of approximately 80 plus guests.

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Brightly lit, the whole area has the colour-scheme of Harrods green and cream. Clean and convivial, the high ceiling, marble floor, ceiling-to-floor windows, furniture and interior decor characterise a classical British elegant theme, even though some extra unique elements have been added to bring newness.

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Each dining table is set in definite Harrods style with their insignia inscribed on the tableware.

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All of these are calibrated to inspire an authentic Harrods look and feel that would ensure that the clients feel they are at Harrods Knightsbridge Store in London.

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In spite of the present political adversity, Thailand has retained its position as a giant amongst tourist destinations where echo-tourism is encouraged in the right manner. Getting into figures, the revenue from tourist visitation adds up to more than 10 percent of its gross domestic product.

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Located at the centre of Asia, the first European presence in Ayutthaya/Siam came with the arrival of Portuguese in 1511, followed by the Dutch (1605), the British (1612), the Danes (1621) and the French (1662).

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18To this day, Thailand remains a place so welcoming to outsiders. As fond as we are of this lovely country, there are many in romance with Thailand’s culture, traditions, warm weather, interesting sights and places, towns and villages, flora and fauna, stunning beaches and islands, affordable cost of living, business opportunities, good eateries, dynamic nightlife, and most importantly, the pace of life and charm of the people, which entice many to seek a fresh start there.

The Tea Room emphasises the four core elements in equal balance: the cuisine, the wine, the service, and the total ambience.

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The few times we had been to this Harrods Tea Room, we had enjoyed delicious dishes (Harrods Heritage hand-wrapped Beef Wellington, Roast Beef with Yorkshire pudding, etc.) personally prepared and impressively set up for both visual and consumption perspectives by Chef Nicolas Bourel. People eat with their eyes first. Bon appetit.

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21Good cooking starts with the best ingredients. When the heat is on in Harrods’ new kitchen, a succession of British gourmet favourites like Bangers and Mash, Blue Water River Prawn Thermidor, Homemade Shepherd’s Pie, Truffle-poached eggs Benedict with Scottish Smoked Salmon, Fish & Chips (reputed to be the traditional meal of England and the first English take-home dish), Spicy Crab Cakes, Salads, etc., and for the Continental spin, Quiche Lorraine, pasta and risotto, are cooked.

Besides the choice of wine and traditional appetizers, the bold and beautiful Menu offers an extensive range of food which also forms part of their Take-away service.

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The quintessential British Afternoon Tea, a staple in British culture, is regarded as a Pick-me-up. It offers a choice of premium teas from Harrods tea gardens; gourmet coffees with a cloud of milk and chic café sweets and pastries.  We were served special treats of freshly cut finger sandwiches, home-Baked English scones and fine tea pastries.

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Open for all-day dining on every day, swift, efficient and genuinely friendly members of staff greet each customer with much enthusiasm – and most importantly, with smile, the Thai national charm and reality.

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Professionally trained and neatly attired in crisp black and white with ‘Boater’ (hat), they display ‘timeless, sophisticated elegance”, not flamboyance. The energy and grace of these floor attendants is complemented by the optimism and enthusiasm of Ms. Rapeeporn Onsuratoom, the Tea Room Manager.

27aGood staff is the backbone of any successful restaurant and it is amazing what you can achieve if you do not care who gets the credit.

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Closer to the Tea Room is Harrods Boutique displaying a variety of their souvenirs such as bags, cute bears, soft toys, hampers, cookies, chocolates, coffees, teas, etc. Large size dressed teddy bears adorned the Harrods-wing at strategic locations.

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Food is a vast bridge across cultures. Think for a moment about fine dining in Bangkok. It is a world-class city where you can find trendy restaurants with Michelin-starred chefs to street eateries, teeming with diners at any given time of the day.

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According to an expatriate Chef, “Bangkok is now the food centre of Southeast Asia.” Bangkok Thais are aware of their cosmopolitan city’s delightful array of eateries offering culinary options of various countries.

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Speciality restaurants, Coffee houses, Irish pubs, Bistros, Bars abound in the contemporary food culture.

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The globalisation has increased the number of entrants into the domestic market, exerting a strong influence on expectations and options of the customers. They know which eateries hold their faith by keeping the same standards, quality and consistency.

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They are aware of the various global brands, including KFC, McDonald’s, Mister Donut, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Auntie Anne’s, Swensen’s, etc – they are all there and more are entering the increasingly competitive environment of Thai foodie market.

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Like Donq Bakery, the 100-plus year old bakery chain of Japan that opened its first branch in Bangkok at Central World Plaza and the Japanese Restaurant “Tenya” (Tempura Tendon Tenya), more foreign foodservice outlets are establishing their brand-name franchise options.

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No wonder, plans are in progress to open further Harrods outlets there. Complementing these outlets would be Harrods’ Café in Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and “Harrods: The Plantation Rooms” in Ginza Mitsukoshi, Tokyo (Japan).

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The constant queue of clienteles which includes many farangs (Westerners) waiting to savour the Harrods experience affords a clear-eyed perspective about the success of this flagship Tea Room on the Ground Floor (G32) of Siam Paragon.

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It also validates the fact that the City of Angels is an ideal choice for Harrods’ winner business plan to create value and gain competitive advantage in the global market.

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Then again, with all those food lovers coming in, expect the room to erupt into frenzied activity.

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Nothing can substitute experience. When you think of the personalities and principles behind this restaurant, none is short of expectation for a little taste of good living that could possibly become part of all the good times that deserve to be remembered. Enjoy every day.  Jo.

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(© Photos: Carina-Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)

Viva Britannia – 3: Leicester Square, Londres

Happiness is where we find it. When you travel abroad to different cities, you look for attractions which are unique to that place, part of what provides character to it. During our days in London, life moves pretty quick. You would miss it if you don’t stop and look around once in a while. The way forward is to think things through, endeavour to search and seek – measure and weigh those missing links such as, a series of right things that was not yet done; the places that we have failed to visit ….. so many worlds and everything in between. Open Sesame! The most glorious fact in my experience is that the right links which belong in our cycle of life will eventually come to us and stay.

 

Of all the places of interest we have visited in London, the global city of finance, one Public Square had evaded our attention –a missing link. Then one day, after a late breakfast at The Old Swan Restaurant in Kensington Church Street, Notting Hill, it rolled out exactly as it needs to – we went to a cinema house in that picturesque and historic place – Leicester Square, our missing element.

Located in The West End within the City of Westminster, Leicester Square, part of which was once known as Leicester Field, is adorned with a small English garden, surrounded by Victorian-style black railings, and festooned with mature trees, plants and full length statues of William Shakespeare (situated in the central concourse) symbolizing the Square’s connection with the theatre, and of the comic actor Sir Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin (1889-1977) with his trademark bowler hat and walking stick touching a rose pinned to the lapel of his coat.

The garden also hosts four marble busts on granite plinths of artist William Hogarth (1697-1764) by J. Denham; scientist Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) by Calder Marshall; portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts) by H. Weekes and Scottish Scientist John Hunter (1728-1793the father of scientific surgery) by T. Woolner. The inscription on the white marble pedestal of the “Stratford” statue of the Bard and Fountain by G. Fontana rightly proclaims “This enclosure was purchased, laid out and decorated as a garden by Albert Grant Esq. M.P. and conveyed by him on the 2nd July 1874 to the Metropolitan Board of Works to be preserved for ever for the free use and enjoyment of the public.”

North from Trafalgar Square and east of Piccadilly Circus, the Square, which can be accessed on foot in less than five minutes from Leicester Square Tube Station, is named after English diplomat Robert Sidney (1595-1677), 2nd Earl of Leicester (Fourth Creation) who, in 1630 had the mental alacrity to acquire four acres of land in St. Martin’s Field and built Leicester House (demolished in c. 1791-2) on the site of the Swiss Centre. Though the Earl was busy serving as ambassador in Denmark and later in France from 1632 to 1641, he agreed with the Privy Council of King Charles I to provide St. Martin’s parishioners with a tree planted public area around which grand houses eventually sprouted up.

When this public garden, the launching point that set off the Square on its long path to popularity, fell into poor repair, it was purchased by Baron Albert Grant (born Abraham Gottheimer – 1831-1899) and the deeds were gifted to the Metropolitan Board of Works on July 2, 1874.

Grant commissioned architect James Knowles (who designed the Aldworth house of poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson) to lay out the garden and provision to position the statue of the Bard. The Square has had other plusses and minuses. During the Edwardian era when many areas in London became famous as places of public entertainment as theatre and musical hall culture blossomed, Leicester Square, which was long renowned as haunts of prostitutes and Turkish baths, also became prominent for its show-business institutions. The Alhambra was then the most popular music hall there, catering to the lower classes with acts ranging from singing to magic. The downfall of the already loss-making music halls came with the increasing popularity of radio and cinema.

 

Nick named Theatre Land, the Square’s movie houses Vue Cinema, Empire (also house “The Casino at the Empire”) and Odeon Leicester Square with its looming tower, regularly hosts red-carpet European premieres of movies (limited to the invitees or ticket winners of competitions). These cinema houses offer large variety of movie options including impressive facilities (fitted with Infra Red Hearing Systems compatible with most hearing aids) that reflects in the ticket prices, though there are half-price ticket booths, too. Here you may catch a glimpse of the famous and glamorous stars to the like of Brad Pitt, Kristen Stewart, Leonardo diCaprio, Bérénice Marlohe, Katherine Heigl, Daniel Craig….. treading the red carpet as they promote their movies and often indulge in posing for photographs or sign autographs.

 

 

An added attraction is that the pavement around the Square is embedded with bronze hand-casts of prominent screen actors, studio emblems, etc made as part of the celebrations during British Film Year 1985, etc. Leicester Square has provided us with many wonderful opportunities to enjoy movies and also, owing to my wife’s fondness for steaks, we could drop in at the Angus Steak House in the Square, as well – “Ok, I will have what she has.”

 

The restaurants and pubs dotted around the Square offer many options to suit all tastes and budgets for “eating out”. There is Chiquito (Mexican) Restaurant, TGI Friday’s, “Bella Italia” serving Italian cuisine and fast-food joints like McDonalds and Burger King.

For enthusiasts of Gelato there is Häagen-Dazs, and also “Rendezvous”, a popular spot offering a super range of Gelato, Sorbets and Yogurt in exciting flavours inspired by Italy. Not far away is another landmark, The Radisson Blu Edwardian Hampshire Hotel. Many souvenir shops thrive through sales around the vicinity and you can watch the world sail past or the street painters at their work earning the admiration and possible sale from a passerby. During the night, the Square becomes a hubble bubble of lights and activity.

London, whose histories focus on a legion of monuments, public centers, roads and squares, the essence of the city’s soul, has always been in a state of transformation, though there is a shortage of space. On the strength of the London 2012 Olympic Games and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations – occasions for grand manifestation of patriotic fervor when throngs of extra tourists were expected to enjoy the dynamo of enthusiasm and energy of the West End, this green jewel in the center of London also underwent a massive 18-month renovation project initiated by the City of Westminster which commenced in December 2010 at a cost of £15.5 million.

 

Back in 2008, the Swiss Glockenspiel, (an astronomical clock and a procession of 23 farmers herding their cows to Alpine pasture, installed in the Square in 1985 as a gift to the City of Westminster on its 400th anniversary by Switzerland and Liechtenstein as a token of centuries of friendship), was demolished to redevelop the land where the Swiss centre was situated. Redesigned by Swiss artists and rebuilt by clockmaker Smith of Derby with the combination of traditional elements and new wireless technology, the musical clock with new music was reinstalled on November 28, 2011 on a 10m (32 ft) high free-standing steel structure sponsored by the Swiss Tourism Office featuring 11 moving wooden figures representing traditional farmers forming part of a rotating Swiss Alpine backdrop beneath 27 bells. (Read the book “’A Curios Colony’: Leicester Square and the Swiss” by Peter Barber which portrays the deep-rooted connections between the Swiss émigrés and the area around the Square.)

 

On May 23, 2012, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, his eyes probably set on No: 10, re-launched the Square/garden terming it “an urban oasis” in a lively ceremony inside a make-shift stage, just in time for the May 31st premiere of Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” starring Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron.

 

 

As we look through the handprints of the actors on the pavement, a medium through which people could experience a bit of movie history, certainly we will find many missing names of stars including that of Daniel Craig. It occurred to me that, with the year 2012 commemorating the London Olympic Games, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Eon Productions’ 50 years of James Bond celebrations and release of the 23rd Bond series at cinemas in the Square, with the best will in the world, it would be a grand gesture to endorse the hand-prints of Daniel Craig to cut a dash with the other A-List celebrities on the pavement which would provide a new feature of fame to the intimacy of this beautiful Square. Perhaps some can live without Craig’s handprint, but there are also some who don’t want to…. Maybe the point is that it was always so.

 

 

The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses,” wrote Hanna Rion ver Beck (1875-1924). Promoted as “Your Square, Your Choice!” the revamped Square has a water feature that jets recycled water two meters high into the air. Perhaps influenced by minimalism, the aide-mémoire busts of Hogarth, Newton, Reynolds and Hunter that have stood at the four corners of the Square were removed during the renovation as they were “fairly weather-beaten and fragile” may be reinstated or housed in museums or libraries. Nothing is more real than nothing. However, it’s comforting to learn that the removed bronze statue of Chaplin which consecrates the Square to cinema and theatre will be returned, cleaned and repaired. As the Square entered its new phase, a friend is enthusiastic about the outcome of the renovation observes that the levels of popular fascination for the gated Square is in “good form”, both relatively and absolutely.

 

In the stylish and coherent new look designed by architects Burns & Nice, the Square is bordered by polished stainless steel railings and hedge plants (for colour and form all year round), and, the pathways to demarcate the spaces within the re-landscaped gardens, adorned with the natural flair of trees and ornamental plants, are ingeniously paved with granite blocks. It is also surrounded by a white (to reflects light and colour) granite ribbon seating arrangement (with special coating to deter chewing gum) which runs undulating around the Square where you can sit and get revitalized –think happy thoughts, cajole stressed spirits. This ribbon seating could be ideal for drunks to rest their feet and nurse their stupor (inexpensive and pragmatic) considering that, according to a book, the British allegedly drink more than any other people in the Western world unless they are Keralites who soak in it.

 

If you note your diary for a visit to Leicester Square for its restaurants or bars or casino or for diverse entertainments, be sure to mark the garden for relaxation or for a meander on the lawns. No, the Seed Fairy doesn’t live in it. It’s just a special English garden, simple but vibrant – that merits a visit. Ciao, Jo

(PS. Photos of Italian food/ice cream for representation purpose only)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Photos: © JS-CS/Manningtree Archive)