Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Vampires (1979)

Vampires is a really sweet Play For Today from 1979 which centres around three impressionable and imaginative Liverpool children and the effects a late night Hammer horror Dracula movie has on them.

11 year old Stu and 9 year old Davey are the brothers who, along with their best friend Dingo, watch Christopher Lee do his thing whilst their mother is out on the tiles securing a new 'uncle' for her two boys on a sea of booze and flirty charm. The following day, Stu's mind is full of Dracula and he skips school to cadge some pocket money off a previous 'uncle', chip shop owner Georgie (Hi-de-Hi's Paul Shane, possibly the most familiar face in the play) and goes to the local joke shop to but some toy fangs to scare his younger brother. But Davey has big news;  he and Dingo have seen a real life vampire down at the cemetery and the trio go off to investigate. The unwitting figure of their suspicions is played by John G Heller who appeared in the Clint Eastwood comic war film Kelly Heroes nine years earlier. 

This was Liverpudlian scriptwriter Dixie Williams sole writing credit as he tragically committed suicide the following year. His wonderfully evocative depiction of North Country children, their preoccupations and imagination is somewhat reminiscent of the writing of Barry 'Kes' Hines, so it's not surprising that one further Williams script Shooting Stars was later taken up and adapted by Hines for Channel 4 in 1990, directed by John Goldschmidt, the director of this Play For Today. Likes Hines' work, Williams doesn't shy away from the hard realities of life - the desperate desire the brother's mother has for a stable man in her life to provide for her and her two boys, their tragically prematurely deceased father who has placed them in such position, and the fatal heart attack Stu's teacher suffers in the middle of school assembly - but in the main he is more interested in the whimsical, borne of imaginations running riot, in the very real and perhaps more daunting and strange world around the boys. 

Goldschmidt delivers a very entertaining and nicely, flatly shot, constructed 50 minutes populated by the very natural talents of Peter and Paul Moran playing Stu and Davey and Tommy White as Dingo. What immediately strikes you about this casting is it's almost unheard of today; nowadays the production would cast from stage school and lose some of the realism and authenticity along the way. It's telling that neither the Morans or White appeared on TV again, whereas today I would imagine the stage school kids would use Vampires as a step towards bigger roles in a soap or a CBBC series. Indeed Goldschmidt (and TV at the time) isn't interested in professional faces, preferring to cast unknowns and inexperienced performers and give working men's club comedians like Shane and Bert Edgar (who plays the joke shop owner) key roles. In a blog entry from 2012 when Vampires received a festival screening, the director discusses the differences between making films in 1979 and making films today.

Vampires remains languishing in the vaults of the BBC, but there is a complete and good quality recording available to view on VeeHD.

To get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays please sign the petition I started here

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