As part of his ongoing “Dirk Fest”, Moviebuff (Nottingham blogger and fellow denizen of George’s bar on Broad Street) writes about The Blue Lamp – that fine old crim-flick from 1950 starring Dirk Bogarde (as the baddie), Jimmy Hanley (as the goodie), Jack Warner (as PC George “Evening all” Dixon), and… well… my dear old mother actually, then aged 9.
It happened thus. The awfully pukka Young Ladies’ Academy in central London which Mummy attended (a rather artsy establishment for its day) regularly lent its Gels out for photographic work, including catalogue modelling (catalogues had rather more cachet back then, one hastens to add) and children’s fashion shoots. She even got to model for Vogue on one occasion, and still has the clipping to prove it.
On this occasion, a group of Gels was needed to play a bunch of East End Street Urchins who, while playing on a bomb site, would stumble across the pistol which had earlier killed Jack Warner.
(Not that this would impede his character’s subsequent miraculous resurrection for the long-running TV series Dixon Of Dock Green, but no matter. Stranger things have happened on Dallas, after all.)
Since – naturally! – it Simply Wouldn’t Do to go hiring genuine East End Street Urchins (presumably because this would give them Dangerous Ideas Above Their Station), my mother’s troupe of Nice Gels from Good Homes were required to scruff up and act Common. Particularly the lucky Gel who would be given The Line, to be hollered across the bomb site to the other children:
‘Ere! Look what Queenie’s faahnd! (click to listen)
And who was that lucky Gel to be? Well, who do you think?
The day of the shoot arrived. The Gels arrived on set: smudged, tousled and raggamuffined (*) to perfection.
(*) Traditional English, not Kingston Dancehall. Pigtails and pinafore dresses, not braids and thongs.
Mummy (in her best “recital” voice):
‘Ere! Look what Queenie’s found! (click to listen)
Cut! Listen, dear: can we have you a little louder please? And do remember you’re supposed to be a Cockney Street Urchin – so could we have you a little more common?
Mummy (with all her might and main):
‘ERE! LOOK WHAT QUEENIE’S FOUND! (click to listen)
Cut! No, no, no. This timid little thing won’t do at all. Who else can we use?
And as if it wasn’t cruel enough to have it summarily snatched away at the eleventh hour, Mummy’s big role was then promptly handed over to her arch-rival in class – a competitive little madam with lung power to spare – whom she never found it in herself to forgive.
Thus it was that every so often throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, mostly on mid-week afternoons in the school holidays, we would gather round the TV set, eagerly awaiting Mummy’s mute two-second appearance in the right hand corner of the screen.
Any minute … any minute … OHLOOKTHEREYOUARETHEREYOUARE! … oh, that’s it.
Ah well, my mother would always say; cheerfully dismissive, already turning back towards the kitchen to put supper on. It’s bound to be on again in a couple of years’ time. Which it always was.
Of course, she’s got it on video now, stuffed at the back of a drawer somewhere, unplayed since the early 1990s. It’s just not the same when you can watch it whenever you want, using slow-mo and freeze-frame at will. What you gain in easy availability, you lose in the thrill of expectation, and in the fond idealisations of memory.
My Mummy the Movie Star. Although she never met him in person (at the premiere? don’t be silly: Nice Gels didn’t go to premieres), my mother maintained a lifelong interest in Dirk Bogarde’s career from that point onwards. Her leading man, if you will.
In any case, The Blue Lamp will always be her film to me.