Chris Kelly on some of the stars he met on Clapperboard

(It was a) A weekly programme. ….
Chiefly Manchester based, but set visits, so we went to Pinewood quite a lot and various other places. We did a spin-off series called Clapperboard North West, in which we went to the places where they filmed very, very early movies, then on the Pennines, westerns they were. Very short of course! So what would happen is that Graham Murray, who was the presiding genius really, would pick the material, whatever we were going to deal with that week, and I would then go to London and write the script from notes that they’d prepared, or what was what and who was what. And then we’d record them in Granada, yes.
Graham Murray was the producer, yes. And Muriel Young was the exec. She was head of children’s programmes.

And so people were quite happy to come in and do your programme?
Yes, they were big time. Gregory Peck, Robert Altman, directors like that, Jacques Tati – Jacques Tati was a wonderful guy. He was primarily interesting because he wasn’t very interested in his movies really – he had done that. He was more interested in the camera man’s nose, or somebody he had seen on the bus, or… and he told me the wonderful story about… I said to him, “They have just released M. Hulot’s Holiday in Paris. Did you do a big publicity campaign?” He said, “No, I’ll tell you what I did. I personally stood at the door of the cinema with red tickets in one hand and blue in the other, and I handed red tickets to the people who wanted to sit in the circle and blue to those who wanted to sit in the stalls. And just before the film began, I said, “There’s been a terrible mistake, ladies and gentlemen, the people with the blue tickets should be sitting [in the circle].” And the headlines the next morning were, “Shambles in Champs-Élysées cinema.” He was just delightful. He was wry and modest, and curious, you know, curious about everything.

It must have been great to get that insight. The impression I get now is that film promotion is very much managed and controlled?
Very much so, and that’s part of the reason why the show didn’t carry on, I think. Because clips became… they were charging silly money for a show, which was their audience tomorrow. It was so short-sighted. But yes, incredible, Richard Attenborough and… anybody, really. American stars, and as I say, designers like Ken Adam, who’d done the Bonds, anybody we wanted, and they were pleased to do it. And I think they were pleased to do it because it took it seriously, really, although we didn’t wear it, we wore it fairly lightly, and it was… they wanted to know about things.

You had Fred Astaire?
Fred Astaire, yes. I walked into a room in the Savoy for the first chat with him, and in that room there was Cyd Charisse, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Donald O’Connor from Singin’ in the Rain, Johnny Weissmuller, the first Tarzan, and you thought you’d died and gone to heaven, you know? I remember I was talking to Fred Astaire, and a guy from Time Out came along, and he was wearing a kind of bib – the fashion was to wear a kind of bibby overall thing, for guys like him – and a photographer came along to take a picture of us, and pushed this guy out his way, whereupon he went to the other side of the room. And after the guy had taken the picture, Fred Astaire said, “Excuse me a moment,” and walked all the way across the room and brought the guy back to the group. And I thought that was uncommonly kind of him. I had a further trip, that was to Hollywood. I worked for the BBC World Service for eight years, writing and presenting a current affairs show, and we went to Hollywood, and I met Billy Wilder there, and Rock Hudson, and I had lunch with Walter Matthau.

Tell us about Walter Matthau.
Well, I had lunch in the Universal commissary with him and a guy who’d written the Marx Brothers movie with… George something. And Katharine Hepburn was in there.

You’re not namedropping, then.
It was like a sweet shop! And suddenly this big bloke walked in with a guy next to him who looked like a, you know, very much shorter, and this was John Wayne, and every head in the place… even though they were big stars in there, they all turned to see The Duke. Anyway, Walter Matthau, he’s got this wonderful sort of bloodhound face that makes even the most mundane remarks sound funny. And I said, “Where did you first meet Tony Curtis?” and he said, “Well, it was in a Jewish delicatessen, he was eating what he always eats in Jewish delicatessens – fried shrimp and chocolate.” Now, that’s not funny but for him, somehow it was. So that was a treat; that was wonderful. So, yes… good people, interesting people. Privilege.

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