A Galaxy of Stars
Denholm Elliot on the right, being directed by Michael Austin on the set of Killing Dad, Shepperton, 1988. Julie Waters looks on. In those days, having a camera on set was not a big deal - I took this, along with hundreds of others, on my trusty Olympus XA.
Many people will remember Denholm Elliot these days as Marcus Brody from the Raiders franchise, but I kind of grew up with him on the Telly and the cinema, just one of those awesomely accomplished character actors who always manages to put in a good turn with such effortless skill that it elevated even the most mundane of movies.
Alas, on this occasion he did not. Killing Dad was shot in Shepperton Studios with local locations plus a trip to Southend and Windsor and a few others. DOP was Gabby Berestain, and it was directed by Michael Austin. Despite a stella cast that also included Julie Walters, Richard E Grant and Anna Massey, the film did no justice at all to the book by Ana Quin it was an adaptation of, and, in the final damnation, illicited only a single sentence in Grant's voluminous published diaries.
Elliot played Walters' boozy boyfriend, and on and off set was just, well normal - no airs and graces, no ego - just turned up for work, did his thing and went home. Didn't wander off to his dressing room between setups, either, just stayed on the set, reading his paper, waiting for when he was wanted next, and happy to chat with anyone. Not as the star of silver screen that he was, but more like another crew member.
He talked very happily about his time in a POW camp during the 2nd World War and his opinion of Douglas Bader, who was endlessly trying to escape. During a prisoner transfer that he and Elliot were on, Bader just used to wander off, not very fast, as his tin legs were mildly awkward. The officer in charge used to see him go, let him get 50 yards away, then instruct a couple of guards to get him back - who then walked up to him in a bored fashion and told him to come with them. Elliot thought it all a bit of a bore - and just made it harder for the rest of them. 'Escaping is all very well, if you like that sort of thing - but not when there's no earthly chance of getting away, I mean, really'.
He also had a vast litany of bawdy limericks with which he would amuse us. The following is one I heard from him, just one part of my own limerick memory store, many of which are quite unprintable. Before we go there, it might be worth mentioning that Julie Walters was exactly as reported: A delight to work with and naturally funny.
Heard from Denholm Elliot:
There was a young man from Rangoon
Who was terribly consumed by a gloom
He didn't have the luck to be born by a fuck
But was scraped off the sheet with a spoon
Recalled 28th April 2020