Thursday, 26 January 2012

Mike Raven

I was idly flicking through the channels late last night and came across the 1971 Hammer Horror Lust For A Vampire on The Horror Channel.

It's the usual boobs and bloodfest from Hammer, albeit a much inferior example of their canon; indeed so bad is it that even one of its stars, Ralph Bates, decreed it 'one of the worst films ever made'! It is, however, notable for the appearance of one Mike Raven as the vampire Count Karnstein.

Mike Raven (real name Austin Churton Fairman) is something of a fascinating figure and indeed you could never accuse him of having a dull and uninteresting life having been a soldier, a ballet dancer, a photographer, a magician, an interior decorator, travel writer (Another Spain published in 1952-his first wife having been a refugee from the Civil War), a flamenco guitarist, a DJ, Radio station programme controller, TV presenter (Religious affairs such as Stars On Sunday, Songs That Matter and ATV's The Epilogue), a sheep farmer, sculptor, a proponent of both occultism and Christianity (?!) and of course, an actor (though frankly, opinions differ on this last one!)

He was born in 1924 and is perhaps most famous for being a pirate radio DJ. His cousin was the Liberal MP Oliver Smedley, founder of Radio Atlanta which broadcast from the Mi Amigo off Frinton's coastline and was later to become Radio Caroline. It was on the Atlanta that Mike made his name, but he later moved to Radio Invicta/Radio 390 which saw his second wife Mandy join him in presenting duties from an old sea fort off the Kent coast. 

His speciality was rhythm and blues and soul and he was widely regarded as a leading authority and crucial to finding such music an audience in the UK. This was especially the case when he went 'legit' and joined Radio Luxembourg and was one of the original line up when Radio 1 commenced in 1968, where he presented 'The Mike Raven Blues Show' on Sundays until late 1971, from which samplers were released onto vinyl.

His popular image was ripe for horror movies. He was a flamboyant dresser, often entirely clad in black, his assumed name of 'Raven' was synonymous with the saturnine, creepy characteristic and he made no bones about his interest in the occult. All of this combined with his Oxford and public school tones made him a sort of Christopher Lee of the airwaves, and by 1971 he was keen to imitate Lee in the film world too.

Lust For A Vampire was his first foray into the world of movies and, as I've suggested, it wasn't a very good one. He also suffered the indignity of being dubbed by that more legendary 'Man In Black', Valentine Dyall. It would appear that whilst Mike may have looked the part, Hammer didn't believe he could sound or indeed act the part.

Unperturbed, that same year he moved across to Hammer rivals Amicus to star alongside Lee himself, and Peter Cushing, in the Jekyll and Hyde inspired I, Monster and then, most famously, bagging the lead in Crucible Of Terror

Now, before anyone second guesses, no this isn't a film about the daunting experience of playing Snooker in the Sheffield Arena of the same name (I know, I know it is a bad joke) it is in fact a supremely dotty tale of a reclusive Cornish based sculptor who kills women to immortalise in his statues. 

The lead role weighed heavy on Raven's acting abilities. Whilst both of his parents had been thespians, it's fair to say it wasn't a particular talent of his own. He appears distant, his performance all jerky head movements, clipped dialogue, glazed eyes and eyebrows. And he seems all arms! Not helped by the fact that he wore a black sleeveless shirt throughout. Whilst his conversational work with a fellow cast that includes a post Likely Lads James Bolam (clearly biding his time for Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads!) isn't too bad, he fails utterly in the more grandiose acting that the Giallo-esque horror requires.

His last attempt at acting was a film he part financed himself, 1972's Disciple Of Death. I haven't seen it, but I'm told it's appalling. Given that his other movies are hardly  plaudit worthy, I shudder to think what a mess this final offering is.

And so in 1974, in a remarkable case of life imitating art, Raven reverted back to his real name and, now ensconced in Cornwall (which he fell in love with during the filming of Crucible), he became, with no prior knowledge, a sheep farmer and of all things, a sculptor! He would specialise in erotic and religious pieces and through the years earned exhibitions in Penzance, the crypt at St George's in Bloomsbury, Northampton and St Paul's Cathedral. 

'The Crucifixion Of Eve' by Austin Fairman; a suitably erotic yet religious statue

Examples of his work can be found on this website, run by one of his sons

In 1992, during the Radio 1 25th anniversary, rumours were rife that the now reclusive Raven/Farmain had died and a man impersonating him for public appearances (and their rather welcome fees no doubt) was exposed as a fraud. An appeal for information was sent out and was eventually answered by his village butcher!

Five years later and the previous rumour sadly became true; Fairman passed away in 1997 aged 72. He is buried on Bodmin Moor in a grave he had set up for himself, in a suitably apt deliciously morbid manner.

To play the man out, here's Soul Serenade by The Mike Cotton Sound, the song that was the theme to his radio show


  1. Very interesting! I can't say the name was familiar to me beforehand, which is strange seeing as he spent his last years in Cornwall. Bodmin moor is certainly a suitably spooky place to be buried right up by the haunted Jamaica Inn.

  2. You do surprise me. But yeah he moved off to Bodmin way from 72 through til his death. A genuinely creepy place, though my memory is hazy, being twenty years ago :( Methinks I'll save my pennies one day, pre book a train and book for a week in a B+B!

  3. I know, I'm still learning :P funnily enough I'm off to Bodmin this afternoon but only to visit the factory shop they have there...not very scary. Incidentally I've no idea why I said Jamaica Inn is in Bodmin it's actually nearer to Liskeard but they've still got some very eerie moors in that area. You should come to stay one day there's some fascinating history :-)

  4. I'd love to see Crucible again, and like you have never seen Disciple. I was once rather rude about his performances in a book and was taken to task about it in an online review with which I now agree. Must do a post on him to put things right!

    Fascinating informaion about him staying on in Cornwall: I had no idea. I go there every Summer and usually stop off around Bdomin and Jamaica Inn, so I'll have to do a tour of his (literal?) haunts.

  5. Well he was never going to win an Oscar let's be fair, but then not many of them were likely to either!

    Fascinating life though

  6. This has inspired me to do my own tribute to the Raven at Hammer and Beyond. Cheers!

  7. I've only just come across this fantastic blog and thought you might be interested in a televised interview he gave in 1970 on STOIC, Student Television of Imperial College. In truth, it's rather boring, but it's nice to see how he truly looked and sounded.

    John Peel said there were two types of D.J.; those who love the sound of their own voices, and those who love music. Mike Raven belonged in the latter category, and is definitely someone I really wish I had been old enough to hear.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and sharing Earhairy. I completely agree with you - and in turn, Peelie. Thanks for the kind comments too.