Described in the Chicago Tribune as "A classic the whole family can watch: big entertainment, big production values, a lot of interesting moral story lines to deal with,” this version of ‘Frankenstein’ was based more closely on the original version of Mary Shelley’s classic horror story than previous efforts, and was said to have had a budget of about $4.5 million – high for a typical network movie at time.

Michael Gothard was cast as the Bosun of a ship trapped in Arctic ice. He and the rest of the crew are out walking on the ice, presumably hunting for food, when they see two combatants on sleds, chasing each other across the frozen waste.

Dr Victor Frankenstein is thrown from his sled and taken on board, where he tells the tale of how he created the monster which now pursues him, to the ship’s Captain.

Michael’s character, the Bosun, is the Captain’s right hand man, on whom the Captain relies for information, and to keep his motley crew in line.

Astonishingly, the scenes of ice and snow in which Michael features were filmed at Pinewood Studios.

Near the end of the Pinewood shoot, Patrick Bergin, who played Dr Frankenstein, sustained a broken arm when falling from a sled, and filming of his last scenes was delayed.

Director, David Wickes, had made use of Michael Gothard’s talents before, on 'Jack the Ripper.’

In correspondence, David Wickes says:

"Frankenstein was largely shot in Poland. It was the first mainstream movie to be shot there after the Iron Curtain came down . . . a wild place in those days. Ted Turner must have thought I was bonkers.

Anyway, before I cast each actor, I warned them about the problems — bad roads, worse food, you name it. (Ask Stephen Spielberg who followed us in with Schindler’s List !)

Most of the actors and crew just gulped and blinked — but Michael was different. He listened to all my warnings, then he smiled his famous smile and said 'Great ! Can’t wait !'

... Michael had a screen presence unlike that of any other actor with whom I have worked. He could frighten an audience with a glance. His soft, husky voice was electrifying and he knew how to use it to maximum effect.

Each time I welcomed Michael to the set, I knew that we were about to get something special in the can. There are very few actors in that category."

The stunt arranger on ‘Frankenstein’, Peter Brayham, would also have been well known to Michael, from ‘Arthur of the Britons’, ‘Stopover’, and 'Jack the Ripper.’

‘Frankenstein’ received good reviews, but was not released in the UK until 29 December 1992 – nearly a month after Michael’s death.
When released in the US in June 1993, it gained the highest ever audience ratings for TNT in the USA (72% cable audience share) and received 3 ACE nominations and 1 ACE Award.

More details on ‘Frankenstein’ from David Wickes Productions

Frankenstein is now available on DVD from WB Shop

IMDB entry
Jack the Ripper was a two-part TV dramatisation of the investigation of the infamous murders of London prostitutes. According to Television Heaven, the original transmission of the opening episode was among the top ten ratings for that week, being watched by 14.1 million viewers.

Four different endings were originally filmed, to keep the conclusion of the investigation a secret, until the show was broadcast.

The two one-and-a half-hour episodes were shown on 11 and 18 October 1988.

Michael Gothard played George Lusk, leader of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. In the film, Lusk is portrayed as a political rabble-rouser and Marxist revolutionary, and is one of the suspects.

In real life, the activities of Lusk’s organisation mainly consisted of putting up posters and offering reward money.

Casting

In correspondence, the Director, David Wickes says:


"On Ripper, I wrote Michael’s character George Lusk as a 19th century Marxist. One of Lusk’s lines (to Michael Caine) was 'You can’t even protect ordinary working people'.

Most actors would have used a sneering tone and left it at that. Not Michael Gothard. He took me aside on the set and said he wanted to speak the line as if it were something his character had repeated hundreds of times — a mantra for meetings and speeches ... 'ord’ry workin’ peep-ul!'

Brilliant. In one second, we knew that Lusk was a professional activist, a man of slogans and sayings instead of original thoughts. 'Great,' I said, 'Do it'.

Now, that’s what I call an actor.

... Michael had a screen presence unlike that of any other actor with whom I have worked. He could frighten an audience with a glance. His soft, husky voice was electrifying and he knew how to use it to maximum effect.

Each time I welcomed Michael to the set, I knew that we were about to get something special in the can. There are very few actors in that category."

More details on Jack the Ripper from David Wickes Productions

Per Digital Fix: “Though they had originally started to film on video with a different cast (with Barry Foster in the lead), a vast sum of money was put up by CBS on the condition they made it into a much bigger production with US recognisable stars in it thus the inclusion of Michael Caine, Jane Seymour and Lewis Collins ...”

Per IMDB: “Michael Caine was persuaded to return to TV for the first time in nearly 20 years because of David Wickes's powerful script. Caine later described Wickes as "the nicest, fastest Director I've worked for, and the master of filming Victorian London."’

This was the second film in which Michael Gothard had worked opposite Michael Caine, the first being “The Last Valley” in 1971.

In 1979 he had worked with Lewis Collins on an episode of “The Professionals”: “Stopover.”

More recently, in 1982, he had worked with Lysette Anthony, who had played Rowena, his unwilling betrothed, in Ivanhoe.

The stunt arranger on ‘Jack the Ripper’, Peter Brayham would also have been well known to Michael, from “Stopover” and “Arthur of the Britons.”

Cast photo

Jack the Ripper cast

IMDB entry
This quotation is kindly offered by Michael Gothard's former girlfriend N.B., from a letter he wrote to her on 23 March 1988.

Michael Gothard had worked with Michael Caine on "The Last Valley" in 1971; when Gothard wrote this letter, he had recently been reunited with Caine, to work on David Wickes' film, "Jack the Ripper."

"My reunion with M. Caine, after more years than both of us care to remember, went affably and smoothly, although the nervous director went an intense shade of pale when he tried to introduce us, and neither of us proffered our hands, and I said "we're old enemies."

You could have heard the proverbial pin crash to the floor for a couple of seconds in that studio, until Caine, ever the diplomat, said "we're always enemies in films."

Return of director to normal life, realising that he had not made the worst career move of his life in casting me. In fact, Caine and me had made our salutations a few minutes before."

Caine and Gothard in "The Last Valley" Caine and Gothard in "Jack the Ripper")

In "The Last Valley", Gothard had played Hansen, a mercenary, who rebels against his leader The Captain, played by Caine. In "Jack the Ripper", Gothard was to play political agitator George Lusk, who is a thorn in the side of Caine's Chief Inspector Abberline, and is also one of the suspects for the Ripper murders.
Angharad 24 was lucky enough to hear from Xavier, a friend of Michael’s, who got to know him pretty well during the late eighties.

Xavier and the others in his group – all now professional musicians – were about 20 years younger than Michael. Michael was very happy to find a younger generation so interested in jazz and blues, and they became friends. He seemed to enjoy the company of younger people, and they enjoyed his.

Michael was a really very nice bloke, who was generous and open most of the time. He was not at all egotistical; rather Xavier thought him self-effacing, and burdened by self-doubt, which probably had a detrimental effect on his career.

When they first met, Xavier had never heard of him, and was only told that he had been in films such as “For Your Eyes Only” and “The Devils” by the others. Michael never spoke much about his films, and didn’t name-drop, though he had acted with some of the best-known actors of the century. He did express frustration at being offered ‘hit-man’ roles, and hoped he would be given a chance to get out of them, but said, ‘nobody wanted me.’

Xavier felt sure that playing a part well meant more to Michael than money or fame.

He loved music and just wanted to learn more. He played saxophone and drums well, but even in music, Mike would have moments where he would say “Oh, I’m no good at this.” Xavier thought he was self-taught, because he would ask for help with reading difficult music.

The whole group loved “Some Like it Hot”, and Michael thought that Marilyn Monroe was a great actress.

He had around three different girlfriends in the years 1989 – 92. He said he wouldn’t have minded marriage but did not want children. Unfortunately, most of the girls he’d been with had wanted them. He liked children, but had no ‘paternal feelings.’

Once, a young female punk walked into the bar where they were meeting, and drank out of a bottle. Michael asked why women thought they had to dress up and behave like men to get liberated, and said these young women didn’t know they were born! His grandmother and mother had lived very hard lives, but they came through it and bettered themselves while retaining their femininity. “My mother always made sure that she dressed nicely and kept her appearance and femininity throughout” (or words to that effect). Nevertheless, Xavier thought Michael was definitely in favour of equality.

Michael had a fierce hatred of Thatcher. He was a champion of the working classes, and Xavier thinks he would have voted Labour.

Xavier and the others knew of Michael’s depression. He told them he could go for weeks on end just not wanting to join the rest of the world, and that at one time he’d had to drop out of a project in the early stages, because he just couldn’t force himself to go to the studio. He also said that making and listening to music soothed him.

Xavier was out of the country and hadn’t seen Michael for about a year when he heard of his death. The whole group were very upset.
The following piece was added to ‘Wikipedia talk’ on 17 November 2011 at 13:53 by someone calling themselves The Runewriter - evidently a Swedish person, sex unknown.

A lot of what they say about Michael is accurate, and not widely known, so The Runewriter had clearly met him, and got to know him. Michael’s former girlfriend N.B. thinks the person might be a Swedish woman called Kerstin, who was living at Michael’s house in Shirlock Road in 1984.

However, some of what The Runewriter says cannot be confirmed.

“In the spring of 1984, Michael Gothard came to Stockholm to stage a minor role in a film called ‘Starman’, where he was originally cast for the title role. However, due to some intrigues, he was replaced by Jeff Bridges.

In the film you can see that the mechanical dolls, supposed to show the Starman taking the shape of a human being, are based on Michael Gothard’s traits. He would have been perfect to embody this alienated personality trying to survive by adapting to the life on earth.

Instead he was to stage a researcher in wheelchair. Anyway the film a year later was promoted with Michael Gothard’s name in capital letters, as if he still was playing one of the leading characters.1

So he had a lot of hours off in Stockholm and went to a performance of ‘King Lear’ staged by Ingmar Bergman at the Dramatic Theatre.2

Michael Gothard was an intellectual man who knew his Shakespeare by heart, and probably he was the only one in the film team who bothered to attend a theatre performance in Swedish. I happened to sit behind him and got the whole story about ‘Starman’, and it really astonished me.

I visited Michael Gothard in London, and learned to know him as a warm, intelligent and humorous character that made original remarks and comments about things going on.

I will never forget what he said about the centre of Stockholm, that used to be a place with old houses – among them palaces from the 17th and 18th centuries. When Michel saw the brutal city renewal from the 70s he would go: "I didn't think Sweden was in the war!" I had to inform him that the stupid Swedes had destroyed their city.

Talking about war, Michael told me he had suffered through the Blitz as many other Londoners, but during those – also to grown-ups scaringly dark years – he was parted from his parents.

Michael Gothard, although working for the commercial film industry, was a culturally critical person, he was a member of the peace movement, he was against nuclear power and politically leftist.

A film he recommended to me from those times was ‘My Dinner with Andre’, not interesting for its camerawork, but for its way of explaining the social situations of actors.

He told me that he in the beginning of his career had been offered a job at RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), and I asked why he hadn't tried this, and I must say I never really understood his answer; it was something about not repeating yourself.
But I thought film actors had to repeat the scenes all the time ...

Before Michael Gothard chose to work with his language as an actor, he had also volunteered as journalist at local papers.3

He was a witty and funny letter writer.

Michael Gothard was a multi-talented person, he played the saxophone, he was also sketching what I remember as abstract pictures, and he closely followed his times, describing himself as a news addict.

Coming from a country famous for its suicides, I also want to add, that of course the cause of death throws its shadow on a person’s life, but it doesn't mean that the life itself was a very dark one. At least Michael and I had a lot of fun together, and I wish our friendship had lasted longer.

What also bothers me are some stories about the less serious parts of the film industry Michael told me. He said actors could sometimes get killed and their death then masked as a suicide or an accident, so they wouldn't have to pay the actor.

Anyway, if he took his life it wasn't an action against us that loved him, it was due to very sad and tragic circumstances. Depression is a disease with as big a risk of death as some severe forms of cancer, and it has to be treated by specialists, sometimes even in hospital. What a tragedy that there was no one there to take him by the hand and lead him to the hospital.”

~~

1 While the mechanical bodies could be said to look like Michael, there is no sign of him in the film. Either his role was cut completely, or there has been a misunderstanding or misremembering by The Runewriter. I can find no trace of Michael Gothard’s name on the Swedish poster for “Starman.”

However, Michael was said to have been in the frame for two other roles in “Lifeforce”: those of the hero, Col. Tom Carlsen (eventually played by Steve Railsback) and Col. Colin Caine (eventually played by Peter Firth) before he was eventually cast as Dr. Bukovsky.

As they posted this many years later, it seems possible that The Runewriter's memory is a little unreliable, and that he or she has got these two films mixed up.

Neither of the two productions were filmed in Sweden, so presumably Michael had gone there during a break in, or at the end of, the filming of his scenes in "Lifeforce."

2 The Ingmar Bergman production of King Lear mentioned by The Runewriter was first performed on 9 March 1984.

3 Childhood friend Baz encountered Michael working as a trainee reporter for the Kensington Post in 1961.
Marvel Super Special Magazine: For Your Eyes Only on-set report, including an interview with Michael Gothard.

This came out in 1981.

[Contessa Lisl’s] killer in For Your Eyes Only is a cold-eyed assassin called Emile Locque. Played by Michael Gothard, Loque is the film's equivalent of such past villainous henchmen as Red Grant in From Russia With Love and Mr. Wint in Diamonds Are Forever. Gothard is no stranger to cinematic evil – during his career he's played a vampire (in Scream and Scream Again), helped to burn Oliver Reed alive in The Devils and stabbed Simon Ward to death in The Four Musketeers. But he's suffered a lot of on-screen retribution himself.

"I've been killed in so many different ways on both the large and small screens," he said wryly. "I've been hanged, stabbed, strangled, shot, immersed in an acid bath,
crashed on a motorcycle, killed by a 10-year-old boy by a vicious blow to the spine, drowned and – on one memorable occasion – stabbed and drowned simultaneously.

It's quite a challenge to try and make an impact with a character as restrained and quiet as Locque. I had to act in a sort of straitjacket but I certainly did my best to make him into a menacing and evil presence. Audiences usually remember the Bond villains, and their henchmen, so I'm hoping I won't be an exception."

Speculation:
Some of these on-screen deaths are ones we know about:
As John, he was hanged in Michael Kolhlhaas.
As Kodai, he was shot in Stopover.
As Keith, he was immersed in an acid bath in Scream and Scream Again.
As Terry, he crashed on a motorcycle in Up the Junction.
As Hansen, he was killed (or at least maimed, which resulted in his being killed) by a 10-year-old boy by a vicious blow to the spine in The Last Valley.

That leaves four deaths "stabbed, strangled, drowned and stabbed and drowned simultaneously" unaccounted for.

If, as Michael says, these deaths were on film or TV, they must presumably each have occurred in one of five productions:
- the Armchair Theatre play - The Story-teller - in which he played Brian
- the episode of Menace – Nine Bean Rows - in which he played Pip
- the episode of Fraud Squad – Run for your Money - in which he played Jacky Joyce
- the Thirty Minute Theatre play – The Excavation - in which he played Grady
- the TV series - The Further Adventures of the Musketeers - in which he played Mordaunt.

We don't yet know which death belonged to which character.
During 1973, having been noticed by the Director Richard Lester, Michael Gothard was cast in the minor role of Puritan, John Felton in a “project” produced by Ilya and Alexander Salkind, “The Three Musketeers.”

The enterprise was to prove controversial, because enough footage was shot to make two films, “The Four Musketeers” being the second one. It seems that the Salkinds always intended to make two films for the price of one, because they used the word “project” in the actors’ contracts, rather than “film.” They were nevertheless sued by some of the actors, and had to pay them more money, though not as much as if they had originally contracted them for two films.

This resulted in the “Salkind Clause” being included in all Screen Actors Guild contracts, stipulating how many films are being made.

Speculation: this may have been the incident which made Michael Gothard an active union supporter, as witnessed by the appearance of his name in “The Stage” among other Equity members supporting their union’s actions in the 1980s, when under attack by Margaret Thatcher’s government.

In September/October 1973, during filming, at Estudios Cinematografica Roma S.A., the film centre outside Madrid, Michael was interviewed by Jerry Bauer for “Petticoat” magazine.

“The Three Musketeers and I seem to have an affinity for each other. In this film version I portray Felton, the lover of Madame de Winter – Faye Dunaway but on television, I was Madame de Winter’s son in yet another dramatisation. Presumably, I was chosen by Richard Lester for this role because he’d seen me as the inquisitioner in The Devils. Both characters are repressed, violent and mad.”

Full "Petticoat" interview

Michael only appears briefly in the first film, 'The Thee Musketeers', in attendance to the Duke of Buckingham (Simon Ward), whom he kills in the 'The Four Musketeers', having been deceived by Milady de Winter (Faye Dunaway).

Joss Ackland, who had appeared as D'Artagnan in the 1967 TV series, "The Further Adventures of The Musketeers", in which Michael Gothard played Mordaunt, appears as D'Artagnan's father in "The Three Musketeers."

Reviews

Black Hole


The director of photography is David Watkin who'd filmed The Devils two years earlier. I think Ken Russell's approach informed the look, approach and even casting of the two musketeers films, which re-use Oliver Reed and Michael Gothard (also the vampire villain in Scream and Scream Again).

Full review


AV Forums review

The Movie Scene review

IMDB entry

.
Interviewed by Clare Spark, in February 1973, Don Levy stated:

“It’s not necessary for the actors to know what they’re doing. What they’ve gotta know, is – what they are. In fact, that’s all I require of them."

The audition process for ‘Herostratus’, described in the BFI booklet as "intense", was perhaps designed to find out whether the actors who auditioned (including, per. Amnon Buchbinder, John Hurt as well as Michael Gothard) possessed what Don Levy considered that essential knowledge.

Evidently, Michael Gothard did, because he was chosen to play the lead role, Max.

In “Sight and Sound”, summer 1965, an unnamed reporter says that “Levy spent a good deal of his time testing artists: having decided that this was to be a film developed entirely by improvisation around a firm narrative, he wanted a particularly malleable and intense type of player. After the extensive improvised auditions, he settled on Michael Gothard, then a drama student, for the lead …"

As to why a young actor would put himself through a tortuous audition for a reportedly unpaid role – per Philip Ward: "This is Art, with a capital ‘A’, which may explain why, challenging as the film’s contents were, actors were keen to get on board. When the British film industry was turning out generic pap like the Carry On series, the prospect of a home-grown arthouse movie must have been enticing …"

It is easy to see how, having been cast in his first prestigious film role, Gothard could have been temporarily mesmerised by Levy, and regarded him as some kind of mentor: possibly letting himself be put through experiences and processes that were more demanding and revealing than he might have liked, or otherwise have tolerated.

In “Sight and Sound”, Levy says: “The film has several long takes up to four minutes. Some people are afraid of these, but I feel I need them here as the actors require space to reveal their deepest states of intensity ..."

Richard Whitehall, in 1972, spoke of: “Long takes, through which the actors improvise brilliantly … as Levy explores the ramifications and resonances of his theme: the revolt of a young failed poet against the horrors and corruption of society, and the means he takes to make his protest known."

According to Philip Ward: “… the filming, which extended from summer 1964 to spring 1965, took a huge toll on those involved as Levy, by his own admission, drove his cast to confront unwelcome truths about themselves.

Gabriella Licudi, the lead actress, suffered a breakdown during filming and retired from the business not long after … The resulting film gives a vivid idea of what it would be like to crack up mentally. Gothard’s derangement is expressed both as outward violence – in one frightening early scene he trashes his rundown bedsit to the sound of loud choral music – and in inner turmoil ...”

Drewe Shimon also mentions mental problems allegedly suffered, this time by Gothard himself:

"As the actor – Michael Gothard in his first major role - embarks upon this odyssey of wanton destruction, we are dragged into his psychosis in a way we wouldn’t have imagined when, five minutes earlier, proceedings commenced in an admittedly abstract but comparatively restrained manner. ... Gothard’s performance … is a revelation, a spitting, snarling yet suave diatribe on legs, and proof of what a performer can achieve when stretched to his outer limits (Levy would later admit Michael had at least “two breakdowns” during filming)."

The source reference for these supposed breakdowns among the cast have so far not been found, but Levy himself said that Michael Gothard had “been going through these incredible convolutions …”

In “Sight and Sound”, Levy says: “Details of characterisations and dialogue were all developed during a very complicated process of improvisation and recall, designed to produce through various psychological methods a peculiar emotional state whereby the acting became behaviour. The improvisation was not based on their own characters … but was used as a technique for freeing and distorting action and reaction and enveloping the characters of the play.”

In other interviews from the BFI library, Don Levy seems to have no shame in describing his treatment of the actors, which is at best unreasonable, and at worst, downright cruel.

Of Gabriella Licudi, he says: “In the final scene I had to get something very difficult out of Gabriella – difficult because she didn't want to give it, to admit to this in herself. I stood and shouted at her (that's my voice you hear on the film right at the end) until eventually she broke down.

She kept switching from herself to Clio and back again – she couldn't separate her own guilt as an individual from that in the part she was playing.

The camera crews had to stand and watch this in silence for an hour and a half. They were horrified, and argued fiercely about the morality of it. But I got the response I needed.”

In “Sight and Sound”, Levy says that sometimes the actors appeared to be in a state akin to hypnosis, during which they were able to operate by drawing directly on the subconscious. In connection with one scene ... where the girl, posed in the corner of the screen against a white wall, goes into a long hysterical outburst, he commented: “The actress was not informed of the end result required. The scene was gradually built up by a violent actress-character conflict during the recall and preparation which took about two hours. When it finally occurred, two members of the unit were not able to watch and one was unable to work.”

One can only imagine what effect watching this treatment of Gabriella Licudi might have had on her co-star, but Michael Gothard wasn’t spared either. Levy says: “Everything was shot on location and they didn't have to pretend it was cold or raining or dangerous. Mike Gothard, the leading actor, can't stand heights. But we had him standing on the edge of the roof of an 18-storey block, with no safety devices and in a howling gale. He was terrified, but he did it.”

And in another interview:

“At one point in the film Max has to stand on the edge of a high building in a howling wind. The actor who plays the part, Michael Gothard, is terrified of height – but I made him do it. Most scenes really happened like this. The love scene is an act of love.”

Even if the talk of mental breakdowns is exaggerated, Levy very obviously relished the feeling of superiority and power over his actors, and had little care for the possible consequences of what he put them through.

One might suspect that, in making this experimental film, Levy was not only experimenting with techniques, and with his audience, but on the actors: seeing how far he could push them, while dispassionately filming the results, just like any scientist observing his "experimental models" – rats in a maze.

Philip Ward describes Levy as “one of a rare breed of artist-scientist … he made educational documentaries on scientific subjects for the Nuffield Foundation …”

Drewe Shimon observed: “Indeed, it seems he [Don Levy] only gave ‘Herostratus’ what linear narrative it has to ‘throw people a thread.’ This attitude demonstrates not only a contempt for cinema audiences (and a feeling of intellectual superiority to them), but cinema itself, and possibly even humanity in general ...”

Levy was, however, an admirer of the poet Rupert Brooke, whom he – somewhat presumptuously – credits as an “assistant” on an earlier film, ‘Ten Thousand Talents.’ Brooke was: "A young Apollo, golden-haired …” (Frances Cornford), who was beset by mental anguish, and travelled around Europe trying to find himself: a narrative which might also have fitted Michael Gothard in his early years.

Angharad24 has speculated that Don Levy saw this similarity, and picked Michael for the role of Max because of it.

~~

Following his work on ‘Herostratus’, Michael was unemployed for 18 months, a time which he described as "too depressing to think about." Per a 1973 TV Times article, “It was this taste of unemployment that determined his practical attitude to his profession.”

Whether or not Michael Gothard and Don Levy kept in touch, Levy clearly continued to follow Gothard’s career.

In his 1973 interview, he said: “The lead actor, for a year or so, held out, waiting for a role – really good work – finally said … recognised, to himself, at least, that a … there wasn’t any such thing as good work, and so he just accepted everything that came along. Really. He’s played in ‘The Devils’ of Ken Russell. He’s played in ‘Scream and Scream Again.’ So he’s just a … working actor, but he does this with incredible reluctance.”

It’s hard to tell whether Levy regarded ‘The Devils' and 'Scream and Scream Again’ as extreme examples of good and bad work, or whether he considered both equally unworthy; neither does he suggest what, in the supposed absence of “good work”, he expected Michael to do for the rest of his career.

Michael Gothard appears to have been aware of Don Levy’s opinion. Things he said in the second of only three interviews he is known to have given, (this one in October 1973), could be seen as a rebuttal of Levy’s criticisms:

“In order to survive, you must compromise. If not, how can your ideals remain on a high level? I don’t like the glorification of violence and materialism, but I realise that I cannot just sit at home waiting to do a righteous, moral film. It may never come along.”

He also said: “You see, my work is an extrovert thing, performing publicly – but I approach it in an introvert manner. I’m quite happy to show myself as the character I’m portraying but I’m not at all interested in doing it as a direct revelation of myself.”

This is the exact opposite, in terms of performance, to what Don Levy sought to extract from him, and from Gabriella Licudi, in ‘Herostratus’; Michael is clearly rejecting Levy’s approach. He must have recognised that, while ‘Herostratus’ was a big break for him, Don Levy was not the most helpful director he could have worked with.

Michael Gothard with Don Levy with Gabriella Licudi

Image from the BFI booklet, showing Gabriella Licudi, Michael Gothard and Don Levy. Gabriella appears to be wiping away a tear.

Articles referred to:
Review by Philip Ward

Review by Darius Shimon

TV Times interview, 8 February 1973

"Petticoat” interview, 6 October 1973

Sight and Sound 1965, on location:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Clare Spark’s interview with Don Levy, in February 1973 can be heard on the British Film Institute DVD of ‘Herostratus.’

Interviews found in the BFI Archive.
You may recognise him as a screen and television star. But Jerry Bauer talks to the real Michael Gothard.

The Three Musketeers, the film Michael Gothard is making, is set in Estudios Roma, the film centre outside Madrid. The temperature is close to a hundred, although one tried not to think about it.

“The Three Musketeers and I seem to have an affinity for each other. In this film version I portray Felton, the lover of Madame de Winter – Faye Dunaway but on television, I was Madame de Winter’s son in yet another dramatisation. Presumably, I was chosen by Richard Lester for this role because he’d seen me as the inquisitioner in The Devils. Both characters are repressed, violent and mad.”
Read more... )
Michael was very anti-nuclear arms: really quite passionate about it. It must have been early in 1973, when I was 15, that we had a talk at school about nuclear weapons. I chatted about it at home, and Michael immediately said: 'We have to disarm.'

He and my father had quite a debate about it. I thought I agreed with my father's argument.

Michael did not say anything, but the next time he visited he had the book of poems. He told me he wanted to read me one, sat me down, and read this poem by Peter Porter.

'Your Attention Please'

Your Attention Please
The Polar DEW has just warned that
A nuclear rocket strike of
At least one thousand megatons
Has been launched by the enemy
Directly at our major cities.
This announcement will take
Two and a quarter minutes to make,
You therefore have a further
Eight and a quarter minutes
To comply with the shelter
Requirements published in the Civil
Defence Code - section Atomic Attack.
A specially shortened Mass
Will be broadcast at the end
Of this announcement -
Protestant and Jewish services
Will begin simultaneously -
Select your wavelength immediately
According to instructions
In the Defence Code. Do not
Take well-loved pets (including birds)
Into your shelter - they will consume
Fresh air. Leave the old and bed-
ridden, you can do nothing for them.
Remember to press the sealing
Switch when everyone is in
The shelter. Set the radiation
Aerial, turn on the Geiger barometer.
Turn off your Television now.
Turn off your radio immediately
The Services end. At the same time
Secure explosion plugs in the ears
Of each member of your family. Take
Down your plasma flasks. Give your children
The pills marked one and two
In the C.D green container, then put
Them to bed. Do not break
The inside airlock seals until
The radiation All Clear shows
(Watch for the cuckoo in your
perspex panel), or your District
Touring Doctor rings your bell.
If before this, your air becomes
Exhausted or if any of your family
In critically injured, administer
The capsules marked 'Valley Forge'
(Red Pocket in No. 1 Survival Kit)
For painless death. (Catholics
Will have been instructed by their priests
What to do in this eventuality).
This announcement is ending. Our President
Has already given orders for
Massive retaliation - it will be
Decisive. Some of us may die.
Remember, statistically
It is not likely to be you.
All flags are flying fully dressed
On Government buildings - the sun is shining.
Death is the least we have to fear.
We are all in the hands of God,
Whatever happens happens by His Will.
Now go quickly to your shelters.


He didn't read it as himself; he really WAS that announcer. It was terrifying. I was crying by halfway through, and at the end he just looked at me.

I remember saying something like, 'But what if that happens and we are not all together?' He then said something like: 'That's why we must disarm.'

I was freaked by it. He knew he had badly frightened me with that poem; that was his intention. He gave me a hug and said something like: 'I've upset and frightened you.'

I said he had.

He then said: 'Think on Little Sister, think on.' That was typical of him. Michael had very powerful ways of putting his view across. He would never back down on the message. I'm still affected by that poem today. At the time I was terrified. The thought of nuclear war after that haunted my dreams.

Yet his message had the opposite effect. Ironically that poem made me MORE pro the nuclear deterrent.

I remember having another lively discussion with him about it in the late 1980s. He respected the views of others, and usually managed an intelligent and show-stopping counter-argument. On this occasion, with remarkable prescience, he said something like: 'But what about if some crackpot gets hold of one?' I could not argue with that!

~~

Contributed by A.S., the daughter of one of Michael's close friends.
THE EX-BEATNIK WHO PLAYS KAI

MICHAEL GOTHARD was among the first of the "underground" heroes to emerge into the mainstream of the acting profession.

In Arthur of the Britons (Wednesday) he plays the Saxon, Kai, brought up in the Celtic community. Generally, he is associated with more sinister, misfit roles, for example his part as a killer in Scream and Scream Again, and the psychopathic priest-inquisitor in another film, Ken Russell's The Devils.

Gothard, single and in his early 30's, has a broad, massively square face and a deep, hard voice which seems un-English, though he comes from North London. Contrasting with his appearance are his small, rectangular metal-rimmed glasses, perched low on his nose in the style of the docile shoemaker in Pinocchio cartoons.
Read more... )
Michael had amazing taste in literature and poetry. He was a prolific reader. He told me to read anything and everything, as long as it was well written, and he loved second-hand books, and trawling second-hand book shops. I used to enjoy going with him. He frequently wrote useful notes and comments in books, which I used to refer to as “scribble”!

He had a lovely copy of “Wuthering Heights”, and the most beautiful book: “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” by Edward Fitzgerald.

He wore spectacles for reading; I think the octagonal ones he wore in the Bond film were his, or modelled on them. I have really powerful memories of him looking over his reading specs at me to answer a question; the way he looked over his specs (and book or paper) was so characteristic. He never varied it! He had bookmarks everywhere. Woe betide anyone who folded over a book page!

Two of Michael’s favourite books were, “War of the Worlds” by HG Wells, and “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck. He told me “Of Mice and Men” was one of the greatest books ever written, and read it to me when I was ten or eleven. I learned from Michael that when you read to older children, you shouldn’t be afraid of adult books. “A definitive read” – I can hear him say it!

Something else he read to me when I was ten or eleven was the “Eagle of the Ninth” trilogy by Rosemary Sutcliffe.

I don't think he would have been a fan of the "Harry Potter" books, but he would have approved of the way they encouraged children to read.

I found a very old edition of “Idylls of the King” by Tennyson. Michael passed it on to me when I was boarding school, studying “Morte D'Arthur” by Sir Thomas Mallory. It has some notes, including a reference to Kai being missing! The reference to Kai is highly unusual. Maybe I said something about wretched Mallory being boring, and Kai would have brightened it up a bit.

He would have gone through the notes with me. The chapter “Vivien” has the most comments. It must have mirrored something I was studying in “Morte D’Arthur”, and he suggests that I compare it with Homer as well. From the notes, we clearly discussed the sensuality of the imagery as Vivien seduces Merlin, who I thought was a bit gullible for a wizard!

He read “Interview with the Vampire” by Anne Rice, shortly after it was published, and gave it to me to read.

He was a great admirer of the 17th century poet, John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, who wrote astonishing love poetry. Michael always said he was a great unrecognised poet of his age. A fair amount of his poems are very graphic, but ironically Michael did not ban me from reading them, but encouraged it, because he was such an amazing poet; we tended to read them together, so maybe we read “suitable” ones. One of Michael’s favourite poems by Wilmot was “Love and Life” (1677).

Love and Life

All my past life is mine no more,
The flying hours are gone,
Like transitory dreams giv'n o'er,
Whose images are kept in store
By memory alone.

The time that is to come is not;
How can it then be mine?
The present moment's all my lot;
And that, as fast as it is got,
Phyllis, is only thine.

Then talk not of inconstancy,
False hearts, and broken vows;
If I, by miracle, can be
This live-long minute true to thee,
'Tis all that Heav'n allows.


It’s not a long poem, but it's beautiful. I know it's one of his favourites as he has marked it in the book. I think what resonated with him about the poem was the transitory nature of life. What we have is gone so fast, what's to come is in the future.

“Quality stuff, quality stuff” was Michael. Don't read or watch rubbish!

I don't think many people realised quite how bright Michael was. He chose what he (and I) read very carefully. Though he read sociology and psychology, he did not push it onto me, but encouraged me in the areas I showed interest and talent: literature and Classics. He really influenced and shaped my literary education and choices.

He was also an admirer of Cicero's writings. A self-made man, Cicero literally climbed the “Cursus Honorum” (political ladder) to become Consul. Cicero did not come from one of the old aristocratic Roman families so this was an amazing achievement. One of his favourites from Cicero is: “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”

He introduced me to Homer when I was very young: certainly no older than 13. He loved imagery, and the way similes, metaphors and epithets could conjure up amazing images in the mind, and felt that Homer was the “Father of literature.”

He should have been a Classicist, though ironically he had not read "The Aeneid" until I introduced him to it while I was at university.

A poem I remember reading with Michael is “Five Ways to Kill a Man” by Edwin Brock.

Five Ways to Kill a Man

There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man.
You can make him carry a plank of wood
to the top of a hill and nail him to it.
To do this properly you require a crowd of people
wearing sandals, a cock that crows, a cloak
to dissect, a sponge, some vinegar and one
man to hammer the nails home.
Or you can take a length of steel,
shaped and chased in a traditional way,
and attempt to pierce the metal cage he wears.
But for this you need white horses,
English trees, men with bows and arrows,
at least two flags, a prince, and a
castle to hold your banquet in.
Dispensing with nobility, you may, if the wind
allows, blow gas at him. But then you need
a mile of mud sliced through with ditches,
not to mention black boots, bomb craters,
more mud, a plague of rats, a dozen songs
and some round hats made of steel.
In an age of aeroplanes, you may fly
miles above your victim and dispose of him by
pressing one small switch. All you then
require is an ocean to separate you, two
systems of government, a nation's scientists,
several factories, a psychopath and
land that no-one needs for several years.
These are, as I began, cumbersome ways to kill a man.
Simpler, direct, and much more neat is to see
that he is living somewhere in the middle
of the twentieth century, and leave him there.


We read it together, and Michael made notes in the margin. It's a powerful poem, and again it shows the strength of Michael’s convictions on war and nuclear arms. It did not affect me in the way that “Your Attention Please” by Peter Porter did, but it still made me think. We discussed all the verses. I don't remember everything, but I always recall how serious our reading sessions were. No, serious is the wrong word, as they were fun, but I really “studied” what we read.

In our discussion about the poem that we talked about atheism. I told Michael I didn’t believe in anything. While he agreed with me, he stressed that choices must be informed, and he expected me to go away and come back to him with reasons for my decision.

I can see him so clearly leaning forward in his chair, arms on knees as we read. Sometimes he would have to juggle Alf the dachshund on his lap at the same time!

He would have been wonderful at recording audio books.

~~

Contributed by A.S., the daughter of one of Michael’s close friends.
“The Further Adventures of the Musketeers” was a BBC drama series, based on Alexander Dumas' "Twenty Years After."

The sixteen episodes were broadcast on BBC1, at 5:25 pm on Sundays.

Michael Gothard appeared in ten of the sixteen episodes.

He plays Mordaunt, formerly John Francis de Winter, the vengeful son of the executed enemy of the Musketeers, Milady de Winter.

Episodes in which Michael appeared, with the introductory quotation from the Radio Times:

3. Conspiracy (4 June 1967)
“I see a man, a Royal Prince, defying bolts, bars, and fortress walls. I see him free … two days from now. At seven o’clock.”

4. Conflict (11 June 1967)
“The King’s name is no password here. To the sword, sir!”

5. Peril (18 June 1967)
“There is only one man in France I would trust with these secrets. You must destroy these papers … or die.”

6. Abduction (25 June 1967)
“People like us, madam, must not trust even our own two hands.”

7. The Boy King (2 July 1967)
“Monsieur D’Artagnan, you are under arrest. The King has vanished.”

9. Escape (16 July 1967)
“Your Majesty, I promise that anyone who has the audacity to touch you will die.”

10. The Oath (23 July 1967)
“You cannot live without me, my love. I am your star, your protector, your husband. We will make this true before God.”

11. The Trial (30 July 1967)
“Never doubt me again, Athos. I vow to take upon myself all that concerns the delivery of the King.”

12. The Scaffold (6 August 1967)
“We are about to separate before the most desperate adventure of our lives – the most glorious! We shall not fail.”

13. Treachery (13 August 1967)
“Athos, you are becoming imbecile. Do you realise our situation? It is kill or be killed.”

Brian Blessed's memories

This was the first of three productions on which Michael Gothard worked with Brian Blessed, who played Porthos in "The Further Adventures of the Musketeers." (The other productions were "The Last Valley", and "Arthur of the Britons.")

I met Brian in 2011, and showed Brian some pictures of fans dedicating a tree to Michael. Brian didn’t even know Michael had died. I told him he’d killed himself in 1992. He became serious, and said that he was sorry. It was hardly surprising he missed the news, given how little coverage it got at the time.

He said that Michael was depressed when he knew him. Michael used to say, “Oh, Brian, I don’t know if I’ll make it as an actor. No one seems to like me,1” and he had a lot of bad luck – some bloke he’d paid to decorate his house left the job half-finished.

Brian mentioned working with Michael on the “Further Adventures of the Musketeers.” He said: “We killed him in the end.”

1 It was not clear to me whether Michael thought no one seemed to like him professionally, or personally, though the former seems more likely.

Series availability

Brian Blessed seemed to think that “The Further Adventures of the Musketeers”, was available on DVD but he must have been confusing it with the previous BBC series, which is.

I have made enquiries about the series.
Lisa Kerrigan at the BFI Curatorial Unit informed me that the series: "does exist on film in the BBC Archive. Due to copyright restrictions any DVD release of this title would have to be licensed or produced by the BBC as the series was a BBC production."

Joss Ackland, who appeared as D'Artagnan in this series, later played D'Artagnan's father in "The Three Musketeers," in which Michael Gothard played John Felton.

Excerpts from reviews on IMDB:

“This TV version of the Dumas novels was made during the golden age of the BBC Sunday teatime classic serial, and I still have fond memories of it forty years later. Like its predecessor, 'The Three Musketeers', the whole thing was played straight and not as a jokey camp fest like so many of the movie versions.
It is actually a very good story, and if played straight with outstanding actors as was the case in this BBC version, can make for thrilling and at times moving drama. Let's hope that the original tapes are still lodged safely in the BBC vaults and have not been wiped, since this is a true classic.”

mkb-8

~~

“This fine 1967 series is a sequel to the fine faithful BBC 1966 version of The Three Musketeers. Has most of the same cast as 1966 Three Musketeers except that Joss Ackland took over for Jeremy Brett as D'Artagnan. Michael Gothard does an excellent job as Mordaunt né John de Winter the vengeful son of Milady de Winter.

Michael Gothard always is cast as a villain or a fool in movies. Joss Akland I don't think could ever give a bad performance. Fine performances by both actors.

Faithful this version sure is.”

FromBookstoFilm

Complete reviews

IMDB entry

.
“About a year and a half passed between my first important film part in Herostratus and my next big break – Out of the Unknown – a television series.”
(From Petticoat interview 6 October 1973)

Michael Gothard as 'Kuno'

The photo is thought to have been taken in 1966 by John Timbers.
Read more... )
Award

This adaptation of 'The Machine Stops' won the first prize at the Fifth Festival Internazionale del Film di Fantascienza (International Science Fiction Film Festival) in Trieste, on 17 July 1967.

Watch The Machine Stops on Youtube.

IMDB entry

Thanks to Natchris for finding the Radio Times references.
From: TV Times: 8 February 1973

[Herostratus] brought Gothard approval from the critics, but no actual work. For 18 months - "a period too depressing to think about" - he did odd jobs and went intermittently on the dole. It was this taste of unemployment that determined his practical attitude to his profession.

"I was involved in helping to get the very first lunchtime theatre off the ground. It was a great experience but there was absolutely no money in it."


From: Petticoat interview 6 October 1973

“About a year and a half passed between my first important film part in Herostratus and my next big break – Out of the Unknown – a television series.” (He appeared in the first episode of season 2: The Machine Stops.")


In 1966 Michael appeared in the "The Spotlight" casting publication for the first time.
He does not seem to have had an agent, as interested parties were referred to the publication itself for contact information.

1966 Attwood crop

This was the photo used: taken in 1965 by Graham Attwood.
From Petticoat interview 6 October 1973:

Eventually, he returned to London [from France] and got a job shifting scenery at the New Arts Theatre. A friend of his was making an amateur movie and was auditioning actors. Mike felt that he could do better. “As a joke I read to him, and much to my surprise landed a leading role. The picture was a triangle love story, typical of the home movies being made at the time.”

That part brought him encouragement from people in the profession. He decided to go to an actor’s workshop run by an American actor, Robert O’Neal. But he could only attend evenings and weekends – he had to support himself with a full-time day job.

He became involved in making ‘shoestring’ movies.

He says he didn’t finally make up his mind to become an actor until he was twenty-one. [that would have been in 1960].

“I became an actor because I was better at that than anything. In the early days I was full of energy and into trying a number of jobs. But I soon discovered that I couldn’t escape show-biz, even if my instinct didn’t like its superficiality.”

Aileen McClintock spoke to actress Sarah Guthrie on the phone.

Along with Michael, Sarah was involved in a small fringe theatre group in the early 1960s – setting up lunchtime theatres in pubs.

She recalled a couple of the plays they had put on – mainly French ones – ‘The Rehearsal’ [presumably the one by Jean Anouilh] and something by Jean Genet.

Lunchtime Theatre got you lunch and a play for 5 shillings!

There is an interview with Sarah here, but she doesn't mention Michael by name.

She remembered that he attended drama school in the evenings, but couldn’t recall which one.

She said that Michael did not have a voice for theatre, and that, in any case, he always wanted to work in film or television.

Per The Runewriter

He told me that he in the beginning of his career had been offered a job at RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), and I asked why he hadn't tried this, and I must say I never really understood his answer; it was something about not repeating yourself.
But I thought film actors had to repeat the scenes all the time ...

Before Michael Gothard chose to work with his language as an actor, he had also volunteered as journalist at local papers. He was a witty and funny letter writer.

Sean McCormick’s Uncle Dan, who evidently lost touch with Michael for a time, after sharing a place in Paris, suggested:

“You might also ask your friend if they have run across two blokes: Tony Chappa [Greek] (guitar) or Bob White [Anglo-Indian] (photographer) in London. ... They were Brit pals from Paris days who led me to M. a year or two later, when he was studying theatre but had not yet landed a film ... He was living in an obscure garret/loft somewhere in the city.”

I have not been able to make contact with Tony Chappa or Bob White as yet.
At the Beat Hotel

In the book, ‘The Beat Hotel’, written by Barry Miles, there is just about one line about me ... 'In the attic there was a man who never spoke to anyone for two years.' That is how Allen Ginsberg saw me.

I have no idea what room Mike was living in, in the Beat Hotel, which is strange, but then I led my own bizarre lifestyle and I could have well been working only at night, wandering the streets of Paris documenting tiny cafes, etc. I did not know Dan Bush, [Michael's friend and room-mate] although I do know that there was an American in the hotel called Dan.
Read more... )

In London

I ran into a friend of Mike’s in Paris, who told me about a tiny cafe Mike had bought in a seedy part of London which was very rough, and would I like to visit Mike in London ...

Mike had explained to me that the cafe barely made a living, because the only people that came in there were a rough crowd of young delinquents, engaged in all sorts of nasty activities, such as collecting protection money from small shopkeepers, small robberies, muggings and the like ... Naive as I was, I thought that that would be a wonderful opportunity to take pictures of these characters.
Read more... )

On acting

Mike was a man of few words, and was often quite tense and depressed. His early films seemed to express his moods. He always seemed to be himself in any movie or TV show that I ever saw.

‘La vallée’

In a recent film [‘La vallée’, released in July 1972 in France] which I was a bit puzzled over, and wanted him to explain, he was more or less playing himself, a man of VERY few words. He was leading a small band of hippies on a trek in a tropical landscape situation in search of something or other which I couldn't quite understand.

Mike explained this as, 'we were asking questions, seeking answers, and only found more questions'. Which I thought summed up the movie to me.

Harold’s wife Claire, on the pronunciation of Michael’s surname

From you and [belsizepark] we learned that his surname was Gothard and not Goddard, so Harold must have remembered Michael's name as the more usual (at least in the UK, I think) surname of Goddard.

.
In the BFI notes with Herostratus, Michael is described as “a directionless state-school leaver.”

From TV Times: 8 February 1973:

"I left school when I was 17 or 18 with little idea of what I wanted to do. I think this would be true of most people if left to their own devices. Most of us are channeled into various functions, for better or for worse.

This is how things are constructed, but you always get the odd one who slips through, who doesn't fit too well. I mean, people either find something they like doing or they end up gangsters or just plain bums. It comes down to that, doesn't it?"
Read more... )
We do not yet know when Michael's parents split up, but we do know that the marriage had been dissolved by 1961, when his mother re-married.

Divorce was not very common in those days. There may have been conflict in Michael's upbringing - a possible factor in his later depression.

Also, per the electoral roll, a man named Jack Walker was living at 1 Gloucester Court with Irene, Michael's mother, from 1952 to 1958. Jack was presumably her new partner - and an unofficial step-father for Michael - rather than a lodger, as according to Ritva's account there was a man around whom she presumed was Michael's father.

Perhaps conflict with Jack Walker was one of the reasons Michael left home so young.

Michael never appears on the electoral roll for 1 Gloucester Court, so he must have left home before he was old enough to vote, at 18. His mother still lived there alone until her re-marriage in 1961.

Aileen McClintock communicated with Marcella Crisan, a librarian fan of Michael's, who had met and interviewed him on a number of occasions in order to write a thesis on his life. However, Marcella and destroyed all her notes, on being diagnosed with terminal cancer. She remembered that Michael said he was brought up by his mother, as a single parent. If Jack Walker was in a relationship with Michael's mother through Michael's teenage years, perhaps that tells us all we need to know about how Michael viewed Mr Walker.

Marcella also recalled that Michael had suffered a nervous breakdown while a teenager. However, it seems unlikely that a mentally fragile teenager could have survived travelling around Europe, alone, as Michael did after leaving school. She may have got her times mixed up.

From TV Times: 8 February 1973

For most of his teens he was in fact an outsider. He was a "beatnik", one of those lost-looking souls who wandered around in the early Sixties - before the Beatles and Rolling Stones brought long hair to the middle-classes. [His teenage years would actually have been the Fifties]

"I left school when I was 17 or 18 with little idea of what I wanted to do. I think this would be true of most people if left to their own devices. Most of us are channeled into various functions, for better or for worse.

"This is how things are constructed, but you always get the odd one who slips through, who doesn't fit too well. I mean, people either find something they like doing or they end up gangsters or just plain bums. It comes down to that, doesn't it?"
I was lucky enough to contact Baz, who was friends with Michael from the age of nine. Here are some of his recollections.

"As a friend in days of yore I would like to put the record straight, so that any definitive publication about his life and times is as close to the truth as I can help assist.

I knew Michael – despite other correspondents talking of Mick and Mike I was never allowed to – sat next Gothard (popularly muddled as Goddard) at school, and spent many happy hours on holiday and getting up to kids' pranks with him.

I cannot recall how we met, but Michael materialized in my life around 1948/49, and I was a frequent visitor to his home. My mother had an extensive catering business for many years in the Hendon area and may have known Mrs G. from those days. They were quite matey as I recall, and met on many occasions. By the age of about 10, I knew Mrs G. had left her husband; she had told my mother all about her broken marriage, and obviously I was party to this story.

Although at my young age it was all a bit meaningless to me, I was not too young to know that Uncle Jack, who visited Mrs. Gothard at her small flat in Gloucester Avenue, was close to Mrs Gothard. He was a really nice bloke and took us fishing sometimes to St. Neots on the Cambridge/Bedfordshire border. He had been a participant in the Isle of Man TT races, and I think Michael thought he was some sort of wonder man with the motorbike racing stories.

I do not think the grandparents in Wales had much contact, if any, with Michael's mum. He never mentioned them once to me or my gran, whom he met many times at my house. That would surely have been an opportunity for him to say "I have a gran in Wales" – but never a word.

Gone fishing

The pair of us aged about 11 or 12 would go fishing in the lakes at Rickmansworth, sometimes accompanied by our mums. It was on one of these little forays that I discovered Michael had disastrously poor eyesight.

Sitting next to him in classes we jointly attended at school, I had noticed his writing was minute, and executed with his nose almost touching the page. While witnessing this odd activity it never dawned on me his eyes were bad. You will understand that having to scribe boring notes and essays at school was such a chore in those days there was not headroom for extra-curricular analysis.

But fishing was a different matter all together. We watched each other like hawks. Of course I did not know Michael had a problem. We were tiddler-snatching, and that requires fast responses and dexterity. Our mothers, in the tiny row boat with us, were no doubt bored to tears. Maybe an hour had past during which time I had caught between 20 and 30 tiny little roach and rudd. Michael had only landed two or three.

My mum suggested we swap sides in the boat as it appeared all the fish were on my beat. Reluctantly – but ‘OK then’ following a glare from mum – we changed over.

Time flew by, and more fish came my way, but none from my earlier prime spot went to Michael's lure. After a bit I docked my rod and asked Michael if I could help.

First I checked his hook and bait, and, satisfied it was appropriate, let him get on with things as I watched. He ignored bite after bite, and eventually raised his rod from the water to say: ‘I think my bait has come off ...’

The truth was the bites were very fast and delicate, and sadly Michael could not see what was happening. It was never mentioned on that trip that he should have gone to Specsavers!!!

He struggled for a long time afterwards at school, maybe because he felt wearing glasses detracted from his natural good looks.

Kensington Post

In 1961, at the time of his mother’s re-marriage, he was working as a trainee reporter on a local paper in Kensington, the Kensington Post. I know this to be the case because I had occasion to talk to him there. He did not work on the paper for long as it was obviously not his metier.

National Service

The paper was part of a large group, abiding by all the employment regulations. One of these would be to question young men if they had been called-up to serve in the forces, to establish there would be no career breaks if the answer were ‘yes.’ Michael was close to my age, and I was called-up, with thousands following me before the draft was ended.

The call-up in those days required draftees to have – if not 20-20 vision – good eyesight, that may have to be aided by glasses under certain circumstances: reading and sighting firearms. It is my firm belief Michael did not go to Paris to dodge the draft. I suggest he failed the medical through poor eyesight.

Government officers kept a very close eye on employment details and absentees from military service. Very few slipped through the net. The Head Office of the group Michael was employed by was in Loughton, East London now (Essex, then), and the Parliamentary constituency of one Winston Churchill. I doubt any Civil Servant would wish to embarrass Churchill with a draft dodger under his nose.

I trust this may satisfy you that Michael was not a draft dodger - just a little vain about the glasses. Funny really, how a pair of goggles later became quite iconic on Michael."

Many thanks to Baz for these insights.

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