Friday, 6 November 2015

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to a Lancashire lad who became the renown actor and screen writer called Colin Welland

Colin, who left behind his working class roots, made his first port of call as a teacher, before achieving acclaim as an actor and script writer for stage and screen and in the process, lost touch with neither who he was nor where he came from, has died at the age of 81,

What you possibly didn't know about Colin, that he :

* was born Colin Williams, in the summer of 1934, in Leigh, Lancashire, the son of Nora, a hospital worker and Jack, a Liverpool dock crane driver and left-wing trade unionist and moved to Boaler Street, Liverpool (right), when he was 5 at the outbreak of the Second World War and where his father would have no mention in the house Prime Minister Winston Churchill after his actions as Home Secretary in 1910 and no union jack flown the celebrate Empire Day and at a young age became aware of the intense rivalry between Rugby Union, '"the Tory Party at play", my Dad called it' and Rugby League and recalled, on sunday afternoons, being 'brought up at my grandfather's knee on tales of the hypocrisy and downright vindictiveness of one against the other.'

* at the age of 7 lived through the German bombing of Liverpool, without fear, even though spending every night in May 1941, with the family in the garden Anderson shelter and recalled : "It was all a thrill to us kids. During the day, we used to have the classroom in our front room at home because we didn't get to school in this period and they would bring the classes to people's houses. Every morning we would get up to see whose house had gone" and then moved out of the city when his Father got a job assembling aeroplane parts at the American airbase near Warrington and attended the junior school in the mining village of Golborn with men who went home from the pit "all black, with little mouths and pink eyes, their helmets on the on the back of their head, their clogs on their feet."

* at the end of the War passed his 11+ exam at took his place at Newton-le-Willows Boys' Grammar School,which he later described as 'perniciously divisive' because it 'not only cleft our town in two socially but on the rugby field as well' with the 'kids who went to grammar schools', like him, 'played union; secondary modern children played league', where he excelled at sprinting and naturally, rugby, and hankered to be a league player : 'Although I wore Bleddyn Williams boots, it was the league stars who were my heroes, the speedy, side-stepping, dextrous, uncompromising athletes who strode the arenas of Wilderspool and Central Park.'

*  changed direction when he was "taught English and heard my teacher enthusing about William Wordsworth and Robert Browning and Charles Dickens and was directed by her in school plays" and realised "there was a world beyond excitement and emotion and lyricism that gave validity to my ambition" and while on holiday at Auntie Maud's in Morecambe Bay, won a penknife the 'Heysham Head Talent Contest' singing, as a boy soprano, Gunoud's 'Ave Maria' "in a beautiful rendering" and from that point on wanted to work on the stage but found his "Dad had his feet firmly on the ground. He said : "You can paint and draw. Be an art teacher first and, if you don't like that, then go on to the stage", 

* before leaving home at 18 in 1952, to undertake two years National Service in the Army of which he "hated every minute" and "found it the most abhorrent society that I'd ever had the misfortune to be placed in," had been profoundly affected by his Father's spirit of adventure, whether it was having travelled the world as a merchant seaman at the age of 16, his plans to open up a launderette where they were unknown or his invention of a flying machine which was hoisted up in the wash house at home and after being demobbed from the Army and having left school at the age of 16, followed his Father's suggestion and caught up with his qualification at Bretton Hall near Wakefield, West Yorkshire before going on to Goldsmith's College, London from where he graduated with a 'Teaching Diploma in Art and Drama' at the age of 23 in 1957.

* was appointed an Assistant Teacher at Manchester Road Secondary Modern School in Leigh, with its tough, working class intake, where he was known affectionately and almost certainly by the first years who joined with him (left) as "Ted" Williams, because of his curly headed Teddy Boy hair style and because of this was frequently used by other teaching staff to sort out any disruptive and troublesome male pupils and where he taught for the next four years.

* while teaching did no amateur theatrical work because : "They always did 'Lilac Time', 'New Moon'" but instead "did a short period as a club comic" and then, in 1961, decided to strike out : "I was twenty six. I was going to get married and I thought, 'I will lose my opportunity because responsibilities naturally follow marriage'"and got his first job at the Manchester Library Theatre where David Scathe, a merchant seaman who had been given his first break by Joan Littlewood, auditioned him : "I sang from a Gilbert and Sullivan opera and he says : "Right you're in as an Assistant Stage Manager. Seven pounds ten a week and you're playing the lead in the first play, in Harold Pinter's 'Birthday Party'" and so took the role of the boarder, 'Stanley Webber', with Warren Clarke as 'McCann' and Scathe as 'Goldberg' and joined Equity as Colin 'Welland', adopting his Mother's maiden name, there already being a 'Colin Williams.'

* after a year landed the job as a BBC newsreader for 'North at Six' which lasted three weeks "not long because we decided, the producer and I, to introduce a new element into BBC News -  really use a Lancashire accent with colloquialisms. The whole of Cheshire rose in revolt and I was out" and then in 1962 "walked straight into Z Cars" as P.C.Dave Graham in the ground breaking and gritty, BBC police drama, set in the fictional town of Newtown and based on Kirkby, Merseyside, which, in his opinion, was "written by the best writers and had the best directors."

* with 85 episodes and three years of Z Cars under his belt, returned to the theatre and "did a couple of plays at the Royal Court and then went into an ill- fated musical called 'Man of Magic' about Houdini and luckily for me Ray Cooney was doing a bit a writing, doctoring on the script and he and I got on well and he, immediately after the show folded said : "How would you like to do a bit of farce ?" and I'd never done a farce and I went to Jersey and 'Boeing - Boeing' for a summer season and that was successful and I went all up and down the country for Ray" and then flew to South Africa and played in farce in Johannesburg for £140 a week, where he had pangs of conscience about playing before apartheid-segregated audiences and when questioned resorted to : “Yes, but have you ever actually been there?”

* made his first film appearance at the age of 35 in 1969 as Mr Farthing, the sympathetic school teacher in Ken Loach's 'Kes', a former occupation he shared with fellow actor and best mate Brian Glover and writer Barry Hines and won a BAFTA as 'Best Supporting Actor.' and
and in the same year, encouraged by Ken, wrote and played 'Bill' in  ITV's Sunday Night Theatre's 'Bangelstein's Boys', based on the life and obscenities of a rugby outing.

* followed up in 1970 with 'Hallelujah Handshake', a BBC' 'The Play for Today' which won him his first of four 'Best Script', 'Society of Film and Television Arts Award' and the first not to "come straight out of my own background and experience” but instead from his local area of Barnes and as a result had the critic, George Melly comment : “Welland is an important playwright and, more relevantly, an important television playwright, and they’re not so thick on the ground."

* in the same year, drew on his experience as a school teacher and wrote 'Roll On 4 O'clock' for ITVs ' Saturday Night Theatre' and also demonstrated his gift for dialogue and development of strong female characters in 'Say Goodnight to Grandma,' a tug-of-love story of a husband caught between his mother-in-law and wife, followed in 1971, by a big screen presence as the laconic detective to Richard Burton's East End of London gangster in 'Villain' and the Reverend Barney Hood (left) in Sam Peckinpah's controversial 'Straw Dogs.'

* returned to television in 1972 for 'Play for Today' and created 'Kisses at Fifty' with Bill Maynard as a coal miner who came alive in middle age after a fling with a barmaid and the following year when asked by Roy Plomley on BBC radio's 'Desert Island Discs'  : "Despite the fact that you've lived in London for nearly ten years now, most of your plays are still about North Country working people" replied : "It's simply because I find Northern people wear their hearts on their sleeves, are far more communicative, far more honest and they stimulate me far more."

* chose, as one discs, John Howarth and the Oldham Tinkers singing Harvey Kershaw's 'Peterloo' commemorating the 'Massacre' of working people agitating for political reform on St. Peter's Field, Manchester in 1819 :
"Salute once more these men of yore
Who were to conscience true
And gave their blood for t' common good
On t' fields of Peterloo"
 and when asked by Roy if his plays, apart from the setting, had anything in common ?  answered : "Yes they usually champion the individual against the system and that it's one mans effort to break through what is usually expected of an individual."

*  based the tv script of his 1973 'Jack's Point' on his experience with local 'Gilbert and Sullivan Society' when he was teaching and decided to dramatise in 'Leeds United' the 1970 dispute in which over 25,000 clothing workers, the majority of them women, went on strike across Leeds, other parts of Yorkshire and the North East and spent “six months in Leeds researching the situation, talking to the workers, the factory bosses, the union men” and then “three weeks tucked away in Ireland writing the script" and then, with the director, firmed up contracts with sweatshops and back-to-backs to the extent that “Most of Leeds was already making the film with us.”

*Z Cars' in the show's finale and the following year played the role of a Second World War child, 'Willie', who did spitfire impressions and cavorted gleefully around woods and fields crammed into a pair of boy's shorts in the company of Helen Mirren, Michael Elphick, Colin Jeavons and John Bird, all playing the roles of young children in Dennis Potter's BBC 'Play for Today', 'Blue Remembered Hills.'
 reappeared in 1978 with the other stars from the early years of '

* 1979 produced his first film script and screenplay for John Schlesinger's 'Yanks', based on his experiences as a boy in War time Britain which cast Richard Gere in one of his first starring roles as a GI Matt Dyson who falls in love with local girl, Jean Moreton, played by Lisa Eichorn and depicted the clash of cultures in an austere Yorkshire town and the following year, back on tv, appeared in the 13-episode comedy series as 'Geyser' in 'Cowboys', with David Kelly as 'Wobbly Ron' working for Roy Kinnear as Joe Jones and his building firm.

* in 1981, reached what would prove to be the high point of his career and won the award for 'Best Original Screenplay' for  at the 'Chariots of Fire', produced by David Puttnam and directed by Hugh Hudson and centred on the 1924 Olympics in Paris when sport was and made also made play of the exclusion of athletics coach, Sam Mussabini, on account of his professionalism. dominated by an English elite, personified by the smarmy, slimy Prince of Wales and focussed on the stories of two British runners, both outsiders, the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Harold Abrahams, played by Ben Cross and the Scottish Christian missionary, Eric Liddell played by Ian Charleson

* reproduced the second draft of the script using a gestetner printer which contained the memorable lines of Abrahams speaking of his immigrant father : "The old man forgot one thing. This England of his is Christian and Anglo-Saxon. And so are the corridors of power and those who stalk them, guard them with jealousy and venom" and Richard Griffiths as Head Porter after signing Harold into Caius College, Cambridge : "One thing's certain. With a name like Abrahams, he won't be in chapel choir, now will he ?" Abrahams of fellow athlete : "You Aubrey, are my most complete man. You're a brave, compassionate, kind and content man. That's your secret - contentment. I'm 24 and I've never known it. I'm forever in pursuit."

* at his1982 Academy Awards acceptance speech said :
"I'd just like to thank David Puttnam for having the wisdom to ask me to write it in the first place. Hugh Hudson for respecting me and my script, which is a very hard thing to find in our business, as you know. All the actors for getting fit enough to appear like Olympic athletes and to British television, where I learned my craft. I'd like to finish with a word of warning. You may have started something - the British are coming" and later insisted that this was what the local barflies would shout at him when he would frequent the bar close to his hotel in a small Washington State town where, at the time, he was doing research to adapt his tv play 'Kisses At 50' to an American location.

* was disappointed when his screenplay for 'Rocket' with the father and son working class lads and railway pioneers, George and Robert Stephenson, taking on the Victorian establishment failed to materialise and recalled : "I took Rocket to America immediately after Chariots of Fire had come out. "We want another Chariots of Fire," I was told. "It is another Chariots of Fire," I said. "Men against the establishment. Robert Stephenson couldn't read and write, yet he was the greatest engineer of his generation. He had the world against him, yet he fought through. It is another Chariots of Fire." But they wanted another film about runners."

* in 1982 demonstrated his rapport and popularity with a crowd at the 'Waterloo Bowls Finals', where he admitted he had started playing bowls in 1941 at the age of 7 : and continued to submit popular columns on sport to Observer and the Independent newspapers where denounced the snobbish rules imposed by golf clubs in an article entitled : 'Beware the Bores and Bigots'.

* saw his screenplay for 'Twice in a Lifetime', starring Gene Hackman and Ellen Burstyn in a blue collar drama based loosely on his earlier tv script 'Kisses at Fifty', translated into film in 1985 and two years later at the age of 53, was back on the stage at the Lyttleton Theatre as 'Pozzo' in Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot' and in 1988 played Winston as a less than great politician and less than perfect man at the Royal Shakespeare Company's version of Howard Brenton's 'The Churchill Play'

* in 1989 co-wrote the screenplay with Euzhan Palcy, 'A Dry White Season' starring Donald Sutherland and Janet Suzman and Marlon Brando , based on the André Brink novel which dealt with the cruelties imposed by apartheid in South Africa and in 1990 appeared back on tv in 'Dancin' Thru the Dark' directed by Mike Ockrent and written by Willy Russell and set in the bars and clubs of Liverpool and in 1993 a hectoring rural shopkeeper in Simon Gray's 'Femme Fatale.'

* wrote the screenplay 'War of the Buttons' in 1994 with Irish village children engaging in battles cutting the buttons, shoe-laces, belts and braces of their captured opponents and in his last performances in 1997 played Everton football manager 'Harry Catterick' in Paul Greengrass's  'The Fix' and 'Mr Barclay' in the tv mini series 'Bramwell: Loose Women' in 1998.

* reflected at the age of 76 in 2001 lamented : “Small ideas like Billy Elliot and The Full Monty, great though they are, are becoming small-budget films, when they once would have been television dramas. Whether it is because the money isn’t there or because the ideas aren’t there, we seem to have lost our confidence in thinking big.” But admitted : “It’s no good saying that we need to make films like Kes again: you can’t make Kes now, any more than people could play football in the way that Stanley Matthews once did.”

 * chose as his favourite Desert Island Disc Londonderry Air playing 'Danny Boy' :

* always considered himself to be 'A romantic socialist' who had campaigned for the Labour Party led by Neil Kinnoch in the 1980s, who has said with his passing :
'Colin was a bold and brilliant actor and writer who gave authenticity  to everything that he did and produced beauty out of the ugliness of life. He'd also want to be recalled as a fine rugby league player and a true devotee of the game'                 
* wrote as Harold Abrahams :

"And now in one hour's time I'll be out there again. I'll raise my eyes and look down that corridor four feet wide with ten lonely seconds to justify my whole existence."

* paid homage to his Dad when he said :

"It was all due to the spirit my Father had fostered in me. He shared with me his great pioneering spirit which was : never be content with the particular moment, but to want to make a mark that could be lasting and not die forgotten."

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this superb article Johnboy. A fine tribute to Colin