The success of January’s Barbara Shelley and Linda Hayden signing seems to have spurred events organiser 10th Planet on to book more Hammer actors. Last Saturday, in a conference room at Barking’s library, I had the pleasure of meeting John Carson, who starred in three of the studio’s films: The Plague Of The Zombies (1966), Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970) and Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974).
As you can see from the pictures below, John is a man who belies his 84 years, though to see him looking so well was just one of this event’s joys. The other was hearing him speak in those instantly recognisable tones. If he’d brought along some voodoo effigies, by the end of the morning I would definitely have been working in his tin mine as a zombie slave.
Though my favourite film of John’s is The Plague Of The Zombies, when it came to getting something signed I opted for a publicity still from Taste The Blood Of Dracula, as I never could resist a staking (even if this one was merely an attempted staking). Once the autographs were out of the way, John took part in a Q&A, conducted by 10th Planet’s regular interviewer Robert Dick. Here are the highlights.
“People now sometimes don’t realise the way one had to, in those days, work in costumes that were not just uncomfortable… I remember particularly Peter Cushing, in an Asimov science-fiction film (most probably The Caves Of Steel, a now-lost TV adaptation, by Terry Nation, that aired on BBC2 in 1964), in which all the extras were dressed in these sort of rubberised suits, and it was very, very archaic.
“As we went through the actual camera day, Peter suddenly stopped. Typical Peter – a very, very considerate man. He said: ‘Stop – that man’s in trouble.’ He’d just noticed an extra at the back. I’d missed it, but he’d seen him. You don’t stop the cameras on a camera day, believe me, but Peter did. And that’s the odd thing that used to happen.”
On The Night Caller (1965) – what does he remember about the film?
“Not a lot. There are certain films which, erm… I’ve seen it – somebody was kind enough to give me the DVD of it – and I couldn’t recognise a line of dialogue. I thought, ‘they’re all my friends, all those actors’, but I didn’t recognise a thing. It was awful. It really is quite creepy. You think, ‘I did this? I said all those lines?’ And these are people I know so well, yet I don’t know a thing about it!”
“I’ve no idea how I got the part. [I remember] Martin Clunes, who was particularly great, an absolutely lovely man. It must have been one of his very early ones, and Martin may be a bit diffident about it now. I wish I could see him and encourage him, because he was outrageous, wasn’t he?
“He had so much chutzpah. To actually don that ‘drag’ costume and camp around the way he did. I thought he was wonderful. He was great fun to work with. I always feel that, when you enjoy something, something of that enjoyment, I hope, communicates to those watching.”
On his work for Hammer
“It was great fun, great fun. We’re very fortunate, I think, with British actors, because you usually come out of a theatre background or whatever. To do Hammer, in the time, you actually had to step up to the plate and do it. You couldn’t fudge it, this kind of gothic horror. It’s like I was saying about Martin [Clunes] – Martin stepped up to that ridiculous part and said, ‘Okay, I’ll have a go!’
“With Hammer, very often the stuff was quite absurd. I remember once, in Taste The Blood Of Dracula with Roy Kinnear, it was just as well that Christopher Lee wasn’t there [for that scene]. Chris would have had a fit. Roy just had us in fits. We could never get through the scene. It was terrible. Even Geoffrey Keen – and Geoffrey was a very dour guy, very dour indeed, but even he was corpsing. And Peter Sasdy, the director, said: ‘What’s so funny, boys?’ I think it’s like the old saying, any fool can do tragedy but comedy’s a serious business.
“The same thing with the horror: it’s great fun, all the time you have lots of laughs, but finally you have to actually stand up and take it seriously and do it.”