Sunday, April 13, 2008

The fourteenth of April

Two Mondays ago we were on the eve of April Fool’s Day. I didn’t manage to come up with a witty wheeze of my own worth posting so I waited to see what others would come up with.

Auntie’s penguins were, I decided when the day dawned and I’d fired up the computer in the office, certainly on a par with a previous year’s spaghetti harvest.

Then I had an exchange of text messages with a client who promised immediate action with regard to a payment overdue since January. His SMS seemed sincere and I don’t think Sandlands locals are big on Poissons d’Avril anyway. But the payment is still outstanding.

Then I spotted an unsolicited email. The sender name was one of those clever handles of the kind often used by spammers and I was on the verge of trashing it with all the other messages from devout and benevolent Nigerians and suppliers of blue pills and replica watches. But in the subject line was a name I recognized. We were fellow students fifty years ago and about five years ago we had a brief exchange of correspondence. But he had been able to give my address to Bob Skotak.

Now if he had claimed in that first email to be a two-time winner of an Academy Award for special effects I would have immediately smelled an April Fool’s lark. (It was only last week that Googling revealed that he had indeed collected Oscars for his work on Aliens and Terminator 2.) But the April 1st email was from Bob the film historian not from Bob the builder of cinematic fantasy.

The topic of his research for an upcoming book is an obscure film produced in 1959, in Dallas, Texas. Could I help with information, trivia perhaps, anecdotes concerning the shoot recalled forty-nine years later? After all, I’d acted in the film, had I not?

Had I?

Bloody hell! I’ll not go into detail here; Bob Skotak’s research has been comprehensive and it should properly be first set forth when his book is published. Anyway, I think acting is too pretentious a term for my brief appearance in the movie. Extras are often jokingly referred to as ‘spear-carriers’; my weapon was rather more futuristic, some kind of death-ray in all probability. But armed although I may have been, I nevertheless fell victim to a fatal stabbing, the knife held by a glamourous villainess.

Until the email from Bob arrived I had completely forgotten having been stabbed on the silver screen in that short sequence shot on April 14, 1959.

It’s hardly surprising that I should have leapt at the chance to be a movie extra. I was an active member of the drama club at university, working evenings at a local art house cinema; I was already addicted to the roar of the grease-paint, yadda, yadda.

What I had slightly forgotten is that I was also at the time a moderate science fiction buff. And that predilection, I now realize, was the result of my exposure to a quite unique publication targeting Britain’s schoolboys, Eagle, launched on… wait for it… April 14, 1950.

I was just ten years old! But at an exciting time.

It was the year of the Festival of Britain, the future was a generalized topic of speculation. Dan Dare inspired us all to be pilots of the future; and there was nothing preposterous at all about the notion of little green men. It was my father who subscribed to Eagle for me. He was, like the publisher of the comic, Rev Marcus Morris, a clergyman and also a worldly and sophisticated idealist. It was almost certainly Eagle which fostered my interest in technology and a tendency to be more interested in dreaming about tomorrow than worrying about today.

Home was near Dundee in Scotland, on the coast and very close to the mainline railway. I used to stand at trackside when the Royal Train passed, taking the King and his family to their annual holiday at Balmoral. I pretend sometimes that I waved to a boy on the train, a bit younger than myself… But what fascinated me was that the Royal Train and many others on that route were pulled by steam locomotives which had corridors through the coal tenders communicating with the coaches behind. This I knew from the wondrous cutaway drawings of Leslie Ashwell Wood which were the centrefold spreads of every issue of Eagle. Mallard, the streamlined blue engine, I acknowledged immediately as a thing of unparalleled beauty. (The model version I proudly own today is almost seventy centimetres long!)

I’m sure that Eagle was a huge influence in those years prior to puberty and the discovery of centrefolds devoted to non-technical matters. I must have imagined myself projected back into a ten-year-old’s Dan Dare adventure when, exactly nine years later to the very day, I was on guard on that science-fiction set in Dallas.

And thus the fourteenth of April is herewith observed as my own personal Reminiscence Day.

[Talk about cool technology... I an using Blooger's new tool which allows me to schedule the publication of this post at exactly one minute past midnight on 14 April.]

No comments: