BFI release three more additions to their wonderful Flipside catalogue of obscure, long forgotten cult British films. This month it's a distinctly Sixties flavour to the releases, including The Pleasure Girls (1965), The Party's Over (1963) and the long-awaited Blu Ray release of Privilege (1967). The first two films are presented in the new BFI Dual Format editions - DVD and Blu Ray versions in the same pack.
First up is The Pleasure Girls. This was a Compton-Tekli release from our old friends Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger. Tenser, a former publicity manager and independent distributor for European films, claimed to have coined the 'sex kitten' label when he brought Brigitte Bardot to London. He teamed up with strip-club owner Michael Klinger in 1960, forming Compton Cameo Films to distribute imported horror and sex films. They went into production with Naked as Nature Intended (1961), directed by Harrison Marks, and followed that success up with Gerry O'Hara's That Kind of Girl (1963) an exploitation film about promiscuity and STDs that transcended its ignoble origins. Klinger also persuaded Tenser to support the production of Polanksi's Repulsion in 1965 and Cul-de-sac in 1966. By 1967, the partners had split and Tenser went on to form his company, Tigon.
Much as they had done with That Kind Of Girl the producers certainly eyed the exploitation circuit as the market for The Pleasure Girls. Director Gerry O'Hara had tried to get his spec script The Time And The Place started with producer Raymond Stross (he produced The Leather Boys) and his original story was inspired by the Mandy Rice Davies and Profumo scandals as well his own social connections with infamous slum landlord Peter Rachman. With agreement from Tenser and Klinger to back the script, it seems Clive Donner originally directed the majority of the film and walked out after Tenser and Klinger complained about the lack of sex and nudity and insisted on the insertion of a now lost orgy scene. O'Hara stepped in to add what actress Anneke Wills describes as 'titillating bits' to the partially finished film and the title was changed to The Pleasure Girls.
The finished product, in a similar fashion to That Kind Of Girl, actually transcends the exploitation marketing it was lumbered with and provides a very progressive story, for the times, of a group of female flatmates where each of them embarks on a personal journey within the 'Swinging Sixties' milieu of London. Sally (a stand out performance from Francesca Annis) is an aspiring model and moves from her country home to London to share a flat with Dee (Suzannah Leigh), Marion (Rosemary Nichols), Angela (Anneke Wills) in a larger house with their neighbours Cobber (Colleen Fitzpatrick) and Paddy (Tony Tanner). Sally gets involved with a young photographer Keith Dexter (a very gorgeous and young Ian McShane), Marion is already seeing Prinny (Mark Eden), a predatory compulsive gambler, and Dee is having an affair with a married, exploitative slum landlord Nikko (an early English language role for Klaus Kinski).
The film explores the sexual mores of the times but isn't an average, formulaic sexploitation film in the sense that none of the women have characters or can think for themselves. Neither is it just a simple warning to young women who would have been thinking of moving to London to better themselves only to find casual sex and violence on the menu. There is a sense of expose about the kind of lives young girls were supposedly leading in these situations, which I suspect connects to O'Hara's desire to include the Mandy Rice Davies story in the script (which the censor apparently objected to anyway).
Yet, beneath that is, as Professor Sue Harper explains in her notes that accompany the release, an exploration of female independence emerging from a crisis of male power. The patriarchal figures in the film are subordinated by the women whom they have been involved with. Therefore, the sexual aggression channeled by Prinny and Keith is tempered by both Sally and Marion. With Sally, much as she loves Keith, it is more important to her to make a success out of her career and losing her virginity has absolutely nothing to do with it. She makes Keith curb his craving for sex. Marion is cruelly treated by Prinny and he forcibly gets her to pawn an heirloom in order to pay for an abortion but loses the money in an illegal card game. When she discovers this, she triumphantly elbows him and decides to bring up the baby alone. Finally, Dee discovers that Nikko has been putting so much pressure on his tenants to pay their rent that they've retaliated by sending a gang of men to assault him. She doesn't look too impressed when she passes his wife in a corridor whilst visiting him in hospital.
What's most impressive is the way the social interaction between the girls is captured. Shot in a very cramped Kensington location, the director use this to his advantage, with a hand held, verite shooting and editing style that generates some very naturalistic performances from the three main characters as well as some very appealing performances from Anneke Wills and Tony Tanner. Equally important is the way the film treats Tanner's warm and supportive gay character, Paddy. The depiction of gay men in the film is non-judgmental, non-stereotypical and although it wasn't allowed to go further than a discreet shot of Paddy and his lover Ivor through an open door, it's quite clear what their relationship is and it's treated perfectly normally. In a key scene, Paddy rushes to reassure Sally, who has seen them together, with a brief confessional about how when he realised he was gay that 'all the pieces fell into place' for him. In fact, Paddy and Ivor seem to be the most well adjusted couple in the film.
There is also a wonderful sense of place in the film, capturing a London just at the start of the cultural explosion that marked its contribution to the design, fashion, architecture and music of the 1960s. It's a London that isn't alienating but is instead one of mobility, friendships acquired through mutual hardships and various social engagements. Alienation is there, perhaps summarised in Angela's frustrations in the lack of dates she has with men, but the overriding sense is one of possibilities, especially those that don't rely on men to bring them to fruition.
The only jarring problem is with the theme song that tries its best lyrically to promise what the title of the film is offering but fails because the film simply isn't about women leaping from bed to bed and screwing their way across London. It's a brash addition to quite a subtle depiction of women's lives, despite some slightly overplayed melodramatic touches and thriller elements, in a London that was on the brink of offering all manner of freedoms from the austerity of the 1950s for both men and women.
The high definition transfer is lovely, crisp and clean with only some minor flecks of dirt, displaying terrific contrast and sharpness in the evocative black and white cinematography. The mono sound is clear and more than acceptable.
• Feature presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition
• Alternative complete export cut (Blu-ray only, 86 mins)
• Export version scenes (DVD only, 13 mins)
• Original theatrical trailer
• The Rocking Horse (James Scott, 1962, 25 mins): an atmospheric short about a romantic encounter between a teddy boy and an artist, shot on location in London’s West End
• The Meeting (Mamoun Hassan, 1964, 10 mins): a young woman’s unconventional brief encounter with a mysterious lover
• Illustrated booklet featuring contributions by Gerry O’Hara, Professor Sue Harper, and Mamoun Hassan
I had the great pleasure of talking to Anneke, who played Angela in The Pleasure Girls, on 16th May 2010 and we talked briefly about the film, her books and her time in Doctor Who. Read the full reviews of Anneke's two volumes of autobiography
FC: Let's talk about The Pleasure Girls. You mention in Self Portrait that 1966 was one of your busiest years career wise so how did you get involved in The Pleasure Girls and who cast you as Angela?
AW: It had an interesting history, this film. It started off life as a Clive Donner directed film. And I had worked with him on Some People (1962 with Kenneth More, Angela Douglas and Ray Brooks). He was lovely because he would always have his favourite people back. So I didn't even have to go for an audition. My agent called and said Clive Donner's got a part for you in his new film.
FC: You filmed in a very cramped Kensington flat didn't you?
AW: Yes, we did it all in the house which is the way that Clive used to like to work. In the same way that he did Some People. And we all went off to Bristol for three weeks rehearsal.
FC: That would be almost unheard of today, never mind in 1965.
AW: Yes, unheard of for filming. But that was the way he liked to work. He had done The Caretaker with Alan Bates and they did it all on location in this little place. So once again, he was working in his inimitable way.
AW: We got the great big house and we were this wonderful team with Mark Eden and Ian McShane. So we worked away for three nearly four weeks. Then the first cut was sent off to the producers and they had a fit and back they came, 'Oh, no good. It's not titillating enough!' So then there great arguments going on. Then at one point Gerry O'Hara was going to take over. He'd written the original script and it was called A Time And A Place.
FC: Yes, it was marketed as an exploitation film.
AW: Yes, they were going to sell it on that. It went on as an X rated movie on the sleaze circuit. We were all a bit let down and we never went to the premiere. In a way we were all slightly ashamed of it.
AW: Oh, I would say three quarters was Clive. The finished thing was Clive's and then Gerry just grafted on his necessary bits of people in bed.
FC: Yes. The producers said they wanted dialogue scenes that would ordinarily play out in a telephone box to be played in bedrooms
AW: They did their best. With me, I actually looked like my daughter looked when she was 19. I was so innocent! (Laughs)
FC: What was working with Gerry like?
AW: Well, he came along and said, 'Well I don't know what we're going to do with Anneke. We'll have to film her from behind.' (Laughs) That's because I had this little Twiggy body. Clive was beside himself with rage and so he walked off the set. And so we all kind of continued and Gerry O'Hara sort of grafted on a few sort of titillating extras and changed the title to The Pleasure Girls with the song and everything. But you know we were professionals and we got on with it. It was difficult but it was only the last week of shooting, really. And then we all just shrugged our shoulders and knew that this little movie would go off into the Soho sleaze circuit. Clive had gone off and was working on What's New Pussycat?
FC: It's an interesting film in that it transcends its exploitation marketing by showing the lead women characters becoming more emancipated and independent. Was that the sense you got from it whilst you were making it?
AW: Yes. The blokes in the film are all kind of dodgy characters, aren't they?
FC: Certainly the Mark Eden and Klaus Kinski characters are.
AW: And the women are not victims. This was basically what Clive was trying to do. A film about young people trying to find love and meaning in their lives.
FC: Do you think reaching for that idea epitomised some aspects of the 1960s?
AW: One can't divorce the thing from the time that it was being made, when we were making it. We still had the censors. These days you can't image there would be this very heavy censorship. At one point, much earlier on, I was doing a telly play with Alan Bates and the unmarried girl gets pregnant and the censors pulled it. The reason was that the girl was not contrite enough about her condition!
FC: I remember you writing about that in Self Portrait.
AW: Can you image that nowadays? It would be laughed out of court! You have to see it as part of the times. So you have the Rosemary Nichols character saying 'I'm going to have the baby!' That was a very strong thing to do.
FC: I really liked the way that the Francesca Annis character puts her career before anything else too. That's a strong intention for a woman to have at that time.
AW: Oh, yes. Absolutely.
AW: I think I worked with Francesca Annis before. Or where we at school together? I have a feeling we were first at school together. I certainly knew her. That whole thing in the film where I take her off to Bazaar (Mary Quant's shop on the King's Road that opened in 1955) and we're standing outside Bazaar, well that was all me! 'I know where I'll take her!' you know, so that was all very friendly. And Julian Holloway (credited as 'hanger-on') I'd done a telly with. Winning Widows (ATV comedy with Peggy Mount, 13 episodes in 1961), I think it was called. A little series together, him and me as the love interest. So it was nice to hook up with him again. And then working with Clive who I'd done another film with, Nothing But The Best. I'd done three movies with him.
FC: Looking at it now, what comes across with The Pleasure Girls is that although there is melodrama in there, the performances, particularly in the scenes in the flat, are very naturalistic. There's a French New Wave influence in the way it was shot and edited.
AW: This was Clive, you see. Exactly what he was trying to do. He liked the characters and a lot of my lines I ad-libbed and I put in my own little things because he liked you to do that. If he trusted you then he felt that if you'd got into the character so much then what you had to say was going to be worth it.
FC: The sense I get watching the film and having read your two books is that the generation you were part of were hungry for some form of enlightenment or independence and the 1960s offered the chance to pursue that.
AW: Then of course, you know, when you see my little character leaning out of the window shouting, 'Oh, hello milkman. Can you give us another pint of milk.' Can you image that happening nowadays? It was London in a time when in a way it was more like a sort of village. You could actually drive to Peter Jones and park outside! (Laughs) It's interesting to look back because all that has gone of course. All gone. For me, quite disturbing to watch it again after all these years because I look at me and think goodness, you had no idea that this massive great tragedy was around the corner. I'm sort of innocently bumbling around. And then, oh, the dancing! I sat and watched it with Wendy Cook, and there's this self conscious twitching in the party scenes. Wendy was growling and saying, 'Oh, they should have got you dancing. You were down in the Establishment club teaching us all the Twist!' (Laughs)
AW: Yes, I was. This was what was happening at the time. London was this extraordinary place where all these amazingly wonderful creative and brilliant people gathered together in the same sort of places. So it was a very…unique time. It was unique in the country in as much as the music, the power of music and so forth, and London in particular was were it was focused. The Establishment was the hub of all these astounding people coming together every night. That had an energy that will never be repeated.
FC: It's unlikely it'll happen again in quite the same way.
AW: And looking back I feel so grateful that I was able to be there, really.
FC: It's certainly something you communicate in the first volume of the autobiography, Self Portrait. You were part of that generation.
AW: Oh, yes! We were going to do it differently! And what an extraordinary thing to have Peter Cook, this young undergraduate, on stage taking off the Prime Minister and there's Harold MacMillan sat in the front row. In those days it was an absolutely outrageous cheek! That's what we felt. We felt like we were going to get the power. And now of course we've got a resurgence and revival of that wonderful musical Hair. At that time in 1968 no sooner had we trashed the Lord Chamberlain and got rid of the censorship the very next night Hair opened. And there you have naked people leaping around on the stage! D'you know? I've got life! Masturbation can be fun! You know. (Laughs). We just thought, y'know, we are changing the world.
FC: All part of your rebellious nature. You mention the cast getting a bit rebellious about Clive Donner leaving the film and you were also dismissed from RADA too, weren't you?
AW: A wild child! But it's interesting because actually we did change the world! People who simply accept the status quo nowadays have no idea that it was us way back in the 60s that started carving the thing up.
FC: What was also very bold was the fact that you were doing this whilst also trying to raise two kids at a young age.
AW: Well, it was a necessity. We needed my salary as well. That's the thing about actors. The famine and the feasting. You get a job and it's so lovely, you've got the money and you throw it around and then you've got six weeks out of work and nothing. There was no question. Five weeks after my daughter was born I was back at work, doing an episode of No Hiding Place. I was getting amazing work at this time, I was doing lots of Plays Of The Week and Thirty Minute Theatre.
AW: It had been mulling around in my consciousness for quite a few years and it just needed the impetus for someone to come and say look I'll do all the spade work and you do all the writing and for a whole room full of Doctor Who fans to say, yes, they would be interested and would want to read it. So, OK, I thought I'd make the effort. But I had been going over and over it in my head and come January 1st I started with a pencil and a lighted candle. It's a sacred space that you need if you're going to be telling the truth. I wrote it all by hand and also what I did was I stayed with this process of going back and remembering and the extraordinary thing was that as I did that there were memories of certain things that I'd completely forgotten about.
FC: It tends to happen when you start going back. Things are uncovered that you'd completely forgotten about.
AW: Yes. And very strong spirits. My mother and my grandmother very strong and being around me. Waking me up in the middle of the night telling me not to forget to tell certain stories! (Laughs) It was lovely to have this ability to live it again. I could just go with this flow and write when it was coming.
FC: Was it a process of reclaiming your sense of self? Finding a self-equanimity?
AW: Yes. Absolutely. It has been really wonderful to write it. Part of me was thinking I must remember because I might have to write it and I might forget how did it all fit in. But now that it's done I don't have to worry about it anymore. I've remembered it all. (Laughs)
FC: They're full of raw emotions and are very affecting. And you did some crazy things!
AW: Driving a totally full furniture van across the Rockies? Er…No! (Laughs) Again, you see. I needed the money! What's been lovely is being able to hone it and people like you asking me 'Well, what was it all about then?'
Listen, if its true that we're spiritual beings having a human experience, this is why we're here, we're learning about humanity. In that case, bring it on. My journey is to get as far as I can with my human potential. In that case, I've got to go through all the experiences, so if tragedy is there you've just got to experience it, you can't hide, and be there in the rawness of that.
When good times are coming you appreciate that too and experience the whole bloody lot from top to toe. Not avoiding anything and being grateful for the richness of the experiences that time has given. For most people, perhaps, getting a major role in a popular television programme would be enough but I was also going through tragedy, a difficult marriage and had the two children and that was all going on as well.
FC: The books are much more than the Doctor Who experience for you
AW: Interesting that some people thought they'd only get the first book because that's about Doctor Who and they're only interested in Doctor Who when in fact the second book has more about Doctor Who because I come back into it.
FC: That's when you found out about the filming of the Paul McGann TV Movie in Vancouver and you were dragged back into it all!
AW: (Laughs) Yes.
FC: The reaction to the books from fellow Doctor Who actors has been great
AW: How honouring to have the likes of David Tennant, Paul McGann, Colin Baker and Tom Baker say they all loved it. Tom Baker saying 'Brave book, brave woman'. They were amazed at how many extraordinary experiences I've been through. It's been amazing and the books have been 100% positive for me. It's been lovely to get reviews from people I revere. But I have to say, David Tennant! How wonderful is that.
FC: And deservedly so! Thanks for giving up some of you time to talk to me.
AW: You're very welcome.
Thanks to hammerandbeyond.blogspot.com and AnnekeWills.com for the images used in the interview section.