Thursday, 1 May 2014

interview: David Warbeck

I met David Warbeck a couple of time in the 1990s, when he became a regular face at conventions and in low-budget British films. He was always a delightful chap and had a feast of stories, some of them even printable. This interview was done at the Fanderson Gold convention in August 1996. The event celebrated Gerry Anderson’s fiftieth year in showbusiness and there were many guests including David, who had appeared in a couple of episodes of UFO alongside Ed Bishop. David passed away the following year at the ridiculously young age of 55.

David, you did two episodes of UFO.
"Did I? Okay. The people who interview me know more about me than I know about myself. It's absolutely true: I've been very, very lucky with having done so many films over 30 years. About 400 film sequences, can you believe? Which is about easily 300 commercials all around the world, plus about a hundred movies. So I get totally lost as to what I've done half the time. So you guys tell me what I've been doing."

Does everything blur into one another after a bit?
"Oh no. When we sit down like we're doing now, and when you get specific and remind me about specific things, the memory bank can still sort things out, but now and then I'm really genuinely surprised at things I'd completely forgotten about. As you may have read in this book that you've got here that Jason Slater put together, he bullied me into digging up files and newspapers and all that lot. And I was genuinely shocked at how much I'd done. Because I've always looked upon this as just a huge pleasure, and people mad enough to throw money at me and have a good time. I've never got over my luck! He wanted to make it the definitive one, and now that it's published I've realised there's about another half-dozen things that I'd totally forgotten about. [Jason Slater's booklet, David Warbeck: The Man and His Movies was published by FAB Press but is long out of print - MJS]

“Like I was in opera! I did Tosca, sang away in that. I'd totally forgotten that. And also some other little films I'd forgotten about. I don't mean to be blase or to be stupid, it's just that I'm very fortunate with so much work. At the moment I've got about another six films lining up. And I've written either almost fully, or certainly skeletons, about eight other scripts. I write. Three of them are theatre plays I want to get going, and one of them is about Joan Crawford. And I've got at least another three film scripts, because we're very enthusiastic to recreate Hammer horror in my house, which you've seen a picture of in that book, and call it Hell House Horror Productions or something. I've got three scripts that I've got set up on that one, and the boys that I've just been working with on a film called Pervirella, which is turning out to be a big surprise!"

I saw some of the rushes of Pervirella recently.
"Isn't it amazing? You know, I love to support and encourage, I always love doing that. It's just part of me and that's all there is to it - there's no money in the stuff. But I always find that supporting ideas, they always snowball, and it all ends up being very incestuous and everyone's got their finger up everyone's bum anyway, if I can say that!"

I was speaking with the guys from Pervirella, Josh Collins and Alex Chandon. It’s just a shame that there’s no support from official sources for independent film-makers like them.
"Do you want an exclusive? Here you go. I totally agree with what you've just said: there's no support, and blah blah blah. I was invited to Bradford by the boys two years ago when it first started, because Bradford wants to put itself on the map. And the enthusiasm up there among the Northerners is really generous and great. So off I went. And so many of my so-called professional friends in the business who I can't stand said, 'Oh, why are you doing Bradford? It's a bit out of the way.' I said 'Listen, when I was there two years ago, I met Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and so on.' And what I call the English young blood. There was no sponsorship for it etc.

“Well then, tying up with mad Trevor Barley and Paul Brown to do some film marts and some of the little film festivals, I spoke to the management of the Everyman Cinema, it was their idea. Because the Everyman, as you know, is a sort of an arthouse, and it's shocking that the Scala's gone, Electric's gone, that there is no place in bloody England to have a centre for either genre or new blood films or whatever. So I spoke to the Everyman and the short story there is we've done about 15 festivals there, the Italian and so on. And so, having just worked on Pervirella with Alex, and I'm doing another film at the moment down in Southampton, Sudden Fury, with a boy called Darren Ward. He's halfway through making his film. And another boy who was on Pervirella called Mike Hurst.

"Well, this youngster was on Pervirella. And in Pervirella I'm sort of James Bond in retirement, and a part of my team are the ninja boys who go around beating up all the baddies, and he's one of the ninjas. Wonderfully athletic, great shape, good face and all that lot. He just in quick conversation said that he'd made this film and he's got in his car and driven down to the Cannes Festival and flogged it off to... I don't know who all these people are.”

Mike Hurst’s film Project Assassin has been picked up for German distribution by Roland Emmerich, the guy who made Independence Day.
"Oh, you're kidding! Oh God, shoot me in the head! Bloody hell, you see this is where I'm a dingbat. I just stand in front of a camera and they say action; I'm clueless on all the mechanics and the politics. Anyway. So I was delighted for him, so I'd put him as a new blood, and this other boy Darren. So I thought fuck it, I haven't got time this year because I'm very tied up with so many projects at the moment. I involve myself in a lot of things privately that people don't know about. Like I support a lot of medical things. I was a founder member of the Motor Neurone Society, before David Niven died of it. We set that up in my house in London. I won't go on about all the other things. So that's the whole background that I never discuss basically. That and building projects and court cases.

“I'm under a huge court case. I'm under house arrest - for running a brothel! We all thought it was a joke as well in the beginning. But my palace - which you've seen the photograph of in this book, because it's the set of the interview - that I've been restoring for twenty years. I love building, and we're always rebuilding. Because I wanted to be a set-builder actually, that was always my ambition. Or shop windows. Because they change them every few weeks. That's why studios are great, especially Italian ones. So I'm always building and I've put this wonderful house together. It's an extraordinary house and if you come and interview me you'll see it. With its own private theatre. And the reason it's so famous, this house - I didn't know all this when I got it. I bought this burnt-out, derelict hovel and when we ripped all the rubbish off we found we had this private theatre in it. Franz Liszt used to play there. Gilbert and Sullivan regularly used to go up there and try out some of their new operas. We just got the startling news that Sir Henry Irving's read there and we think that - you know Sir Henry Irving's friend for thirty years was Bram Stoker? - we think Dracula was first read in my theatre."

Yes, there was a one-off read-through of the novel as a play.
"Well, wouldn't it be wonderful if it was in my house? That would be beyond... oh, there's so much to say. I haven't got to the exclusive part yet. I've just had an amazing writer from New York, Professor Paul Oppenheimer, who does Medieval Literature at New York University and London University, he's staying at my house. I'd not met him before. Through our daughters we got in contact. He's publishing a huge book - it's taken years to write, came out two weeks ago - called Evil, and it's about demonic influence. What makes serial killers serial killers, and then we go back through Hitler and back into the ancient world. The whole panorama of the world's cruelty and mass slaughter and Caligulas and all that lot.

“An amazingly strange book. But he's done it through the eyes of film. He's done it with literary references throughout history - obviously it only goes back a hundred years - but he's referred a lot of demonic behaviours, slaughter, mass murder through film, using examples like Ingmar Bergman's Seventh Seal or Kubrick's Clockwork Orange or the Hitler rallies. And the old classic horrors. It's a brilliant, amazing book, got very good reviews. Well, he was very enthusiastic about Bram Stoker probably having read in my theatre. So he's coming back next year to do research for us, because that would be quite an honour. So through him and through all the interest in the revival of all the old Hammer horror.

“And I rang my best mate, Herman Cohen in Hollywood, who created I was a Teenage Werewolf and ...Frankenstein, and Trog and Craze. Freddie Francis I worked with twice through all that. He told me, 'Dave, I can't believe it,' - because Herman's heading for eighty now - 'They want me to redo Teenage Frankenstein.' And my mate Roger Corman has just signed up a seven-picture deal to redo all that lot. And my Italian and my Spanish people, they're all redoing the Spanish/Italian remakes of old horror stuff. So I thought, 'Fuck it, I'll use my house, if Bram Stoker did read there' - can you imagine that as a credential thing? - ‘and call my house Hell House Horror Productions or something like that. It's a sort of a junior version of Hammer."

Next year is the centenary of the publication of Dracula.
"Oh god. This is what I mean by I've got no time for something. Anyway, the exclusive I wanted to come to was: with all the young bloods - I duck and dive and talk like Dickens: subplots, blah blah blah - is that I've got to put a festival together - I thought well, Hampstead Everyman - of the young bloods. So that for a week, tied up with the London Festival which is October/November, and have that running either twenty-minute acorns of their idea or a whole film like Mike Hurst’s or whatever.

“I went to see my agent and was chatting about other things just last Friday. I'm so blessed that my agent is Dennis Salinger of ICM. The boss of everything in the world basically, and what a sweetheart. I just rabbited on, did all the superspeech chat to him about the young blood festival. He said, 'Hold it there, boy!' He calls everyone 'boy' because he can't remember Michael Caine's name: 'Hello, boy. Got any jokes, boy?' Then he said, 'Look at that' and he held up a piece of paper he had on his desk, and it's only Puttnam, Ridley Scott, Nick Roeg: the committee to do exactly this. To do a Young Blood Festival that's going to be after the Cannes Festival, in June I think it is. Dennis, like myself - magic guy, he's not up himself like so many frigging agents are. God, they're wankers, most agents! But Dennis is just a joy and a sweetheart. He's a multi-billion-trillionaire and all that lot. But he also has got the same thing about young bloods.

“So I've got to call Mike Hurst tonight and say, 'Listen, Michael. Dennis would love to meet you, just to talk about it.' And I've got Darren and I've got the boys from Pervirella, and a couple of others. But it's to encourage the young bloods. Because as you know, there is a ton of talent in this country, a ton of it. Creative talent, performing talent, technical talent. Look at the big boys: Star Wars and the Bonds and all that lot. But I think it needs a little promotioning. And so here I am gabbling away, but I'm a great enthusiast for this sort of thing. You guys, what you do is absolutely imperative and it's not a bloody penny in the bank to you guys. But it's what they call the snowball effect. You put your stuff with enthusiasm and affection. And it's a bit like to do with my background, which is New Zealand, where you do it for the love of the thing. The love and the fun of it.

“One of the things that I detest about the so-called professional world is that there's no fun. You get that: 'Blah blah blah, would you care to stand over there?' I say, 'Well, where are the jokes? Who's got the dirty stories?' And now and again, like Pervirella. That was a joyous set to be on. They were great kids; the energy was wonderful. It was like UFO; Sylvia and Gerry when they got going. Here we are, thirty years on or something. Not only them, we've got all the Hammer revival. Barbican last Friday. We've got all the other stuff I've just mentioned. So I just find it terribly exciting."

Working on UFO, did you meet Gerry Anderson at all?
"Yes, of course. I was a total junior, out of drama school, very young. He was run off his feet in organising, so we didn't remotely become friendly or mates or anything like that. There was this period of Sylvia rushing around finding frocks and things in the back room, and Gerry rushing around making sure of this director, that director. As you must know, with filming you've got to have a troubleshooter, and that was Gerry's job, really. It was his baby, his creation, and he had to make sure that the scheduling was getting through. So we had no time really to sit down and have a chit-chat.”

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