I recently caught up with the film director, producer and all round lovely man Jason Figgis for a chat about his career to date as well as his love of the very best of British film and television. So Carry On Reading for a lively chat about all things Carry On, Bond and even a spot of The Professionals!
- First of all can you tell me a bit more about yourself and how you came to become a film director?
My parents have always had an interest in film and my father in particular used to collect every issue of the film magazine, Photoplay. Whenever he had finished reading the latest issue, I would get to read it and devoured every line and publicity image. Later, when I was trying unsuccessfully to study animation - I went to France with an ex-Hells Angel called Gary and missed my admissions date for college - I ended up getting accepted to the Model-Making course in the same establishment, Ballyfermot Senior College, Dublin. When I was recovering from almost severing my finger while building a model gymnasium, I heard that Murakami-Wolf Studios were hiring for a new TV series called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
I went along and secured a job in the Ink and Paint department (under the watchful eye of the 6'1" ex-model, Sophia Darlington (I know, she sounds like a Carry-On character). I left college and began work full-time. It wasn't long before I discovered that Steven Spielberg was hiring in London at his Amblimation Studios in Acton for painters and inkers on his latest production: An American Tail 2: Fievel Goes West. I went to London and got a job with this team on a contract basis. I remember on my very first day, the animator who designed Ariel in The Little Mermaid, drew me a picture of her as a souvenir. I had now realised that there was indeed a way into the film industry. Years later I moved into Live Action and directed a feature documentary on the work of Sir Simon Marsden, the acclaimed photographer. This film, The Twilight Hour, was double IFTA nominated (the Irish equivalent of the BAFTAS) and played on Discovery Civilisations for three years. I was off and running.
This was a wonderful experience. We worked in Camden in a rooftop studio and began the day by looking at rushes. Lunch time would be spent lying on the roof of the studio and getting a fantastic view of North London. Richard Williams was a warm man to work for and if you stayed late you were fed dinner and given a cab home to your door. I did a lot of overtime. I became friendly with Richard's son and we had some good times.
- Of all the films you have been involved with, which are you most proud of and why?
Every film I have made has meant something special; either because it was a steep learning curve or because it was a joyful and rewarding experience. I think the most interesting project though and where I made some fantastic friends was when I was asked to direct a feature documentary called A Maverick In London, which looked at the life and work of the KIng's Head Theatre (in Islington) artistic director and founder, Dan Crawford. We filmed interviews with some incredible talents, including Alan Rickman, Richard E. Grant and Steven Berkoff. A particular favourite interviewee for me was the wonderful Joanna Lumley. I got to walk her to her car at the other end of Upper Street and literally every head turned to look at her. A lovely and charming lady. A particular day of fun saw our small team go out on the road to visit the homes of three actors whom we had to interview. We started at Maureen Lipman's house, moved over to Prunella Scales' house and from there to Susannah York's. A fantastic day and everyone incredibly accommodating and friendly. This film played for three years on Sky Arts and is available from the National Theatre on DVD.
-Can you remember the first time you ever saw a Carry On film and which film was it?
It was definitely Carry on Screaming. I have always been obsessed with Hammer, Amicus and the BBC ghost stories for Christmas. I was thrilled that ...Screaming was equal parts terror and humour. I was blown away by it and had to seek out every Carry On film after that. From Barbara Windsor's cheeky sex appeal to Kenneth Williams' outrageous brilliance and Sid James' infectious laugh, there has always been so much to recommend these films.
I have watched every film from both periods of Carry On output and I love them all. I do have a particular fondness though for the B&W period of British film in general. There is a certain atmospheric mix of wonderfully moody cinematography and re-recorded and Foleyed sound that just creates a cocktail of audio/visual delights that is irresistible. The bawdy seaside humour of the 60's and 70's Carry Ons were equally entertaining in their own way and of course introduced us to even more Carry On beauties.
- Why do you think the Carry Ons are still so universally popular in 2016?
There is a certain nostalgia factor involved but I also feel that the quality of actor/actress that the Carry On producers employed were particularly strong and characterful. How could you possibly find such a wonderful variety of performers like those today; they simply don't exist (save for the likes of rarities that include David Walliams, Steve Pemberton and Mark Gatiss).
- I set up my blog as a tribute to the late great Joan Sims. Were you a fan of Joan and if so, what are your thoughts on her career?
Of course. How could one be a fan of Carry On and not love Joan Sims. She was a brilliant foil for lots of the shenanigans that erupted around her and handled each situation with aplomb and usually great affront. Her general appall was brilliantly rendered by her expansive talent.
- Are there any Carry On actors still around today that you would love to meet? Who would they be and why?
I met Barbara Windsor at a book signing about fifteen years ago and I told her at the time that I had loved her since I was a boy. She stood up from her desk, walked around it and took me by the hand. She looked up at me, towering over her, and giggled: "You're not a little boy anymore, are you darlin?". That was a wonderful moment and one I would love to repeat. I would love to meet her again and have a proper chat about her very varied and brilliant career. Another actress I would love to meet is the beautiful Shirley Eaton. I have always loved her from Carry On to James Bond.
- Who do you think is the ultimate unsung hero of the Carry On films? And why do you think so?
This would have to be the magnificent Charles Hawtrey. His comic timing was without peer and every melodramatic entanglement he found himself embroiled in was executed with brilliant flair and laugh out loud genius.
- As you know there are plans to relaunch the series for the 21st Century. What are your thoughts on this?
I am not sure they will be able to pull it off (excuse the Carry On double-entendre). I am really not convinced and really because of a point I made earlier; these brilliant characterful performers are thin on the ground. I would have to see proposed castings before I made up my mind. But, I am excited to see them try.
- Who is your all-time favourite Carry On actor?
- And what's your favourite Carry On film of all time?
Carry on Screaming.
- I understand you are also a big fan of the James Bond franchise. Tell me more about that!
Yes. Absolutely. The cocktail of a deeply charismatic character - embroiled in danger at every corner - and surrounded by memorable bad-guys and breathtaking beauties is a cocktail that one can't resist. Bond films have a class all of their own and every Bond has brought something to the franchise and contributed to its success. I love Daniel Craig but Sean Connery is still the ultimate Bond for me. Martine Beswick (From Russia With Love, Thunderball) agreed with me when I met her recently at the Starburst International Film Festival where my latest feature film, Don't You Recognise Me? walked away with the Best Performance award. I later had a great chat with the most prolific of Bond directors, John Glen about editing. He is 85 now and full of vigour and a complete gentleman.
Mr. Glen directed three Roger Moore outings and two Timothy Dalton films. I grew up watching Moore in the cinema and later Dalton. I think Moore's humour was part of his persona and it worked well. When Dalton erupted onto the screen, he, being a Fleming scholar, wanted to bring the written character back to life and the level of violence of these pictures came as somewhat of a shock to the movie going public - of the mid eighties - who were used to Roger Moore's more humorous approach. Brosnan brought back a mixture of humour and brutality which created a perfect opening for the "blunt weapon" that Daniel Craig portrays in the new millennium. Who will be next? Personally, I would like to see Aidan Turner or Tom Hardy take up the Walther PPK and Shaken (but not stirred) Martini.
- You've also said you love the classic television series The Professionals - why do you like that show so much?
This was my favourite show of the late 70's / early 80's. My brothers and I never missed an episode. It was the mixture of irreverence, violence, action and buddy-camaraderie between Bodie and Doyle that was irresistible. The casting was exemplary. I had the great pleasure of spending two days with Martin Shaw on the set of BBC's George Gently and found him to be incredibly witty and charming and a huge favourite among the cast and crew. Other shows that we devoured during this period was The Sweeney and, in my case, Van Der Valk (I am humming the tunes as I write).
- Finally, what projects are you working on at the moment?
I have two films releasing in the USA and Canada at Christmas; the DVD release of my Discovery Civilisations documentary The Twilight Hour and my teen vampire chiller, The Ecstasy of Isabel Mann. My feature film Urban Traffik (which looks at the world of sex trafficking) is currently with my sales agent in Los Angeles with an expected release in February 2017 and my award-winning feature film Don't You Recognise Me? is currently doing the festival circuit. I am currently in post production of a Dublin set gangster film called The Sweetest Morsel and a psychological horror film called The Paper Child (which stars Bryan Murray - of Trevor Jordache/Brookside fame and Bill Fellows of Downton Abbey and Broadchurch).
Thanks again to Jason for taking the time to answer my questions - I thoroughly enjoyed our exchanges about the very best of British film and telly! You can follow Jason on Twitter here