Archive for Ricky Callan

Turtle Eclipse

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on May 10, 2021 by dcairns

GAMERON VS GUIRON (1969) is dumb but good-looking. Like a kaiju Matt Dillon, if you will.

The Gamera series, about the misadventures of a giant jet-propelled turtle, is to me more fun than the Godzilla films, because Gamera is (a) aimed at children more clearly than the big lizard’s romps — children tend to play prominent roles in the stories, and Gamera is “the protector of children” and (b) they are also insanely violent — the monsters bleed various brightly-hued ichors, and get their limbs pierced, lopped off, etc. Because kids love that shit.

Argh! Gamera gets throwing stars stuck in his face! Urgh, Gyaos, the vanquished enemy from a previous film in the series, accidentally lasers his own leg off! Urk! Guiron, whose head is a cleaver, hacks off the disabled monster’s head!

I haven’t looked up what Gyaos’ star vehicle is called, but I’m going to take a wild guess and suggest it might be GAMERA VS GYAOS.

Weird, fun, ineffective stuff in this film:

It intercuts the big battles on another world, witnessed by our boy heroes, with the family members left behind on earth. Mom refuses to believe her son and his friend have taken off in a flying saucer. So nothing happens in these scenes, but it happens quite slowly.

There’s a flashback to Gamera’s previous escapades. An insanely long clipshow of previous kills.

Have to give director Noriaki Yuasa credit for this lovely image

There are two lady aliens, last survivors of a dying race. They want to eat the boy-heroes’ brains, and to this end they shave one kid’s head. As the author of a children’s TV episode about a brain-eating alien (the late, much missed Ricky Callan) I couldn’t not be down with this.

The process photography budget was apparently nil, so the kids sometimes stand beside giant photographic blow-ups of the model shot they’re supposed to be inhabiting.

One of the kids is a gaijin, so there’s a kaijin and a gaijin

Watching Gamera movies is definitely a waste of time but I’m probably going to watch them all now. Because if I tried to structure my viewing based on the principle of the finite lifespan, I’d probably be too depressed or anxious to watch anything.

Great Scot

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on October 12, 2016 by dcairns


Actor Ricky Callan died yesterday in the early hours of the morning.

I directed him twice and he was in two things I wrote. Then his life, and his body, started falling apart. His marriage broke up (though his wife remained a supportive and loving friend to the end) and diabetes cost him three toes, then one leg below the knee. He kept acting during this, concentrating more on VO work as he needed more and more dialysis. He set up a recording studio in his home so he could work without leaving the house. Then his brother stole his life savings, according to Ricky’s account, published in the newspapers.

I’m haunted by the last time we saw him. Good friends had been taking him out to the Filmhouse quiz. Fiona asked what he was doing and he said he had quit acting, because he had to go to hospital three times a day for dialysis. Fiona asked about his VO work. “No. No. It’s all gone,” he said, in a matter-of-fact way.

I started seeing Ricky in every Scottish student film around 1991. First he was in the Napier college films, then we started using him at Edinburgh College of Art. There was one year he was in four or five films at the grad show. The first line I can remember him saying was in something called LEGEND OF SHAG-BEAST: “You mean he did you from behind? The bastard!” It wasn’t a funny line — it didn’t even make sense in context — but Ricky’s delivery had that explosive desperation that makes the Carry On film actors funny in spite of their material. It’s not that they act as if it were good — that would be unbearable. But perhaps they act as if they think, by some colossal effort, they might MAKE it good.

I cast Ricky as a cannibal from another dimension in THE ISLE OF VOICES in 1994. A fellow anthropophagous was Steven McNicoll, and the two got on so well I had to send my cannibals home early one day, because it was impossible to direct them: you couldn’t fit an “Action!” in edgeways. I made a note not to use both of them on the same film again. But they became firm friends, which was lovely.

Ricky liked to talk. Words flowed from him. The late Scott Ward, still missed, photographed INSIDE AN UNCLE, in which Ricky had the title part. We would drive to the shoot every day with Ricky keeping up a non-stop monologue. Scott said you might catch a look of realisation on his face each time we arrived, as he flashed on the fact that once more he had dominated the conversation, that he had BEEN the conversation. “Oh. I’ve done it again,” was how Scott put it into words. It was the one thought Ricky never put into words.

in HOPPLA! (top), writer and star Colin McLaren cast Ricky as his dad, which made no sense in age terms but was somehow perfectly believable. Dads have a larger-than-life quality, and Ricky had nothing but larger-than-life qualities.


Ricky played one of the grave-robbers in BURKE AND HARE: THE MUSICAL — book and lyrics by me, directed and composed by Stephen Murphy, another great friend. (Stephen turned Ricky into the Cowardly Lion for panto — superb casting — the role demands a voluble vaudevillian — and worked with him whenever possible.) Ricky sang my favourite line, “My life is a failure / I’m off to Austrailure.”

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In INSIDE AN UNCLE, we had Stephen applying makeup to Ricky and to child actor Jack Richardson to make them resemble one another. So both got matching grey wigs, mustaches and specs. We also got to build a prosthetic Ricky, bits of which I believe are still extant, having weathered better over the years than the real thing. For a while, Ricky delighted in leaving his own detached head lying around the house to startle the unwary. The period he spent with his face entirely covered in special effects muck, to make a cast of his face — looking like a man who has been hit by a custard pie but is very relaxed about it — was the longest I ever saw him not speaking.

Ricky starred in the episode of kids’ show Intergalactic Kitchen I scripted. Again playing a cannibal, this time from outer space, “Combining astronomy with gastronomy.” Honest, it was innocent enough on the page. With a simple but grisly make-up and a performance that redefined “gusto,” Ricky turned it into nightmare fuel for a generation.


With his huge, heavy, overhanging Toby Jones brow and bulbous lower face, Ricky not only stood out from other actors by looking more interesting, he simply had more to offer: more body, more face. You would scan his features, trying to identify the extra bit that nobody else had, only to be defeated: it was the usual selection of Mr. Potato Head parts that the rest of us have got, but on a more grandiose scale. The Creator had been generous. This size was complimented by the scale of Ricky’s performances, which were equally generous. There was no sense that he was trying to blow the other actors away. As with his car monologues, the other actors existed for Ricky mainly as an audience. (I’m struck by the number of films in which he’s isolated from other characters and enjoys his main rapport with the camera.) None of this limited what Ricky could do, it just focussed the way he did it.

Ricky could and should have had some major starring, recurring role in Scottish television comedy. He fitted beautifully into the world of Still Game, but was capable of more than a supporting role. It’s our loss. The fault was certainly not with the man himself, who had so much to give, and who gave it as often and as vigorously as he could, which was more than you could believe.

Edinburgh, 1828…

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2008 by dcairns

Thanks to actor Ricky Callan for posting this one of YeTube (the Scottish YouTube).

I really wanted the credit “book and lyrics” on this one but somehow didn’t get it. Makeup FX supremo Stephen (SLEUTH) Murphy conceived the idea for a musical about Edinburgh’s best-loved mass-murderers (they didn’t really rob graves, they found it easier to manufacture their own corpses) and I volunteered to write it with alacrity.

The first voice you hear is that of Ronnie Corbett, the little Nazi in the original CASINO ROYALE, who lives outside Edinburgh. I’m afraid we wrote a less vulgar version of the script in order to secure his services, which he gave out of the goodness of his heart. Once we’d recorded his VO we stuck all the swearing back in.

Ricky Callan plays William Hare, with Sandy Nelson (Mel Gibson’s brother in BRAVEHEART!) as William Burke. Stephen Murphy directed, handled most of the producing, oversaw the special makeup requirements, and wrote the score.

It’s all shot on location except for Burke and Hare’s rooming house, a little set built in Edinburgh College of Art’s boxy wee TV studio. And the front door of same, which is a miniature (as becomes clear when it’s destroyed — we shot the destruction in slow motion but not slow enough).

Apart from my writing services, I appear as an extra in the hanging scene (far left at 7:57, wearing a wig and pulling a funny face) and did a fair bit of editing on it. Editing dance is tough, especially when you have no coverage (not incompetence, just a limited budget) and everything must be cut to the music, and the choreography is differently timed from one shot to the next.

Another problem was a camera malfunction during the hanging scene — the sound had no firm synchronisation with the picture. So I synched (or “sunk”, as we say) the middle of each shot. As the shot starts, it’s slightly out-of-whack, but just as the audience starts to notice, it goes back into step with the image. Then it starts to drift out, but just as the audience becomes aware of it, we cut to the next shot. Genius.

That was a strange day. Pretty much the start of the shoot, the biggest scene (building a gallows outside St Giles Cathedral on Edinburgh’s High Street, with buses going by in the back of out-takes) and as we set up the news came in of the school shooting in Dunblane. Some anonymous asshole member of the public saw fit to castigate us for our bad taste in filming a death scene on this terrible day,as if we’d planned the events to coincide.

Other locations: the graveyard at the start (I thought it was important to show B&H failing as resurrectionists, even though there’s no evidence they ever tried it, but most people associate them with grave-robbing) is Greyfriar’s Churchyard, resting place of William Topaz McGonagall (the world’s worst poet) and the famous Greyfriar’s Bobby. It can also be seen right at the start of Robert Wise and Val Lewton’s THE BODY SNATCHER, in a travelogue shot swiftly followed by a studio mock-up.

The dark alleyway is Advocate’s Close, I think. While scouting all the narrow side-streets off the Royal Mile, we found the more spacious close that serves as our main street scene. It had very few modern features to hide, and was a cul-de-sac which we could completely take over.

Stephen and Mhairi, his producer, managed to get some fairly posh place to serve as Dr. Knox’s house, and a disused bar which could easily be rendered 19th century — in fact, since the modern fixtures had been stripped out, that’s basically what it was.

Morag McKinnon, director of forthcoming feature ROUNDING UP DONKEYS, cameos as Bess the prossie. As soon as she heard there was a character of that name, she wanted to play it. I seem to recall writing a series of completely foul couplets before settling on the relatively innocuous ones used. It was worth it to make people laugh. Stephen wanted to have naked corpses on slabs, to “enhance the production values,” so Morag was induced to denude. Both Stephen and I regretted it in the end, since the combination of nudity, death, and rude humour maybe touches on the uncomfortable.

Here’s one of my pal Simon Fraser’s drawings for the end creds, which deserves to be enjoyed at fuller resolution than YeTube can supply:

Simon is a successful comic book artist and illustrator of high-class lesbian pornography.

And here’s the actual death-mask of William Burke:

Whatever you think of our little playlet, (sharp-eyed observers may spot swipes from homages to Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher and Dylan Thomas’s The Doctor and the Devils) I can assure you that our version really is one of the most historically accurate accounts of the B&H affair, with only the omission of the killers’ wives, and the precise circumstances of their arrest, being somewhat at odds with exact verisimilitude.

Oh, and the singing.