Monday, June 26, 2006

Pulp Fiction in Llandudno

As far as I'm aware Llandudno is not noted for its dark criminal underbelly but it was from here that Wales' only pulp fiction publishing house once operated.

Kaner Publishing (1944-1948) was set up in Llandudno by a Romanian-born civil servant called Hyman Kaner. A wartime paper shortage had created a huge thirst for popular fiction and pulp publishers began springing up to satisfy the demand. Most of these short-lived enterprises were located in London, Glasgow or Manchester but Kaner Publishing represented a solitary Welsh outpost.

The majority of books published by the company were written by Kaner himself - sci-fi novels like People of the Twilight (1946) and The Sun Queen (1946). His collections of stories included Hot Swag (1945); Ape-Man's Offering (1946) (see pic); and Ordeal by Moonlight (1947). Kaner also published a few fantasies and westerns by pulp writer John Russell Fearn with HW Perl employed as the cover artist.

Kaner titles are quite difficult to get hold of these days but there is a story that a forgotten stash was once unearthed at an American warehouse and rapidly sold off to grateful collectors.

Little is known about Hyman Kaner himself. The mysterious Llandudno pulp fiction publisher died in 1973.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Kraftwerk in Cardiff

What was the most cult gig in Wales ever? My vote would go to Kraftwerk's appearance in Cardiff back in 1975.

The electronic quartet from Düsseldorf had just enjoyed chart success with their single Autobahn and were on a world tour promoting the album of the same name. This was the first time they'd ever performed live in Britain and Cardiff was the 4th scheduled date. The Kraftwerk that took to the stage at the Capitol Theatre on September 9th was the classic lineup of: Ralf Hütter; Florian Schneider; Karl Bartos; and Wolfgang Flür.

But that isn't what makes the Cardiff concert so culty - nor indeed is it because Kraftwerk remain one of the most influential bands of modern times. No, what makes this gig so special is that in the crowd that night were various members of the, as yet unformed, Young Marble Giants - Cardiff's very own incipient cult musical legends.

While Kraftwerk synthed their way through such songs as Mitternacht andMorgenspaziergang the youthful YMGs were busy assimilating the sparsity of the sound and absorbing the eerie atmospherics of the performance - ingredients that would help shape their own great album of 1980, Colossal Youth.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Isabel Ice - Welsh Porn Star and Alfred Jarry Fan

Wales' leading porn star, the lovely Isabel Ice, now has her own space (must be over 18) on the internet. Excellent news!

Some people might be surprised to learn that the star of Big Booty White Girls and gothic bottom-sex classic My Ass is Haunted is a big Alfred Jarry fan. Not me. I'm sure the eccentric French dwarf writer would have appreciated some of the absurdities of life in the adult entertainment industry.

Be sure to check out the blog section of Isabel's site for her take on Wales not qualifying for the World Cup; and the superiority of female seduction techniques. Those of a nervous disposition might wish to avoid the entry entitled: Dressed as a Horse and Drinking Pee.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Augustus John and The Great Beast

Augustus John and Aleister Crowley - what a pair of old reprobates. Unsurprisingly they were occasional drinking cronies in Fitzrovia. Apparently John used to enjoy a pint of bitter - an unlikely tipple for the King of Bohemia.

Anyway, Augustus John sketched the occultist several times. Crowley repayed the favour by including a disguised portrait of John in his book The Diary of a Drug Fiend (1922) (he's Owen the Welsh sculptor by the way). It's not an entirely flattering depiction - but then Crowley wasn't known as 'The Wickedest Man in the World' and 'The Great Beast' for nothing!

Augustus John completed the above portrait circa 1945, a couple of years before Crowley's death.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Who Wrote Dr Strangelove?

It is one of the most celebrated films of the Sixties but who actually wrote the screenplay for Dr Strangelove? Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern and Welsh writer Peter George (see pic) are all credited as co-writers but the truth appears to be more complicated than that.

The film is based on Peter George's novel Two Hours to Doom (1958) (American title: Red Alert) which concerns an American commander who takes it upon himself to send a fleet of B-52s to nuke the USSR. The book is a grim piece of pulp fiction which taps into contemporary fears of the nuclear arms race.

On a trip to London Kubrick read it and snapped-up the film rights for $3,000. He enlisted George's help and together they began working on the screenplay. The Welsh pulp novelist would call round to Kubrick's Kensington flat where intense writing sessions would ensue in the kitchen.

In an article for Films and Filming Kubrick credited himself with turning Strangelove into a "nightmare comedy". It was he (he insisted) who decided to ditch the thriller plot and bring in cult writer Terry Southern to help introduce a whackier satirical dimension to the screenplay.

As Southern and Kubrick re-worked the script, George (who drank milk with his whisky) lay in hospital getting treatment for ulcers. Southern (according to Southern) re-wrote large parts of the dialogue and renamed the characters. It took him 6 weeks.

After its release in 1964 Southern was given most of the credit for writing Dr Strangelove. This annoyed both Kubrick and George. George was so miffed he wrote a public letter pointing out he and Kubrick had spent 10 months putting together a script and that Southern had only been brought in to do some additional writing.

Kubrick meanwhile issued press releases and explained to interviewers that he had been working on the script for many months. Kubrick the auteur firmly believed he should be given most of the credit for the movie . What's clear is that the screenplay controversy cast a bit of a shadow over the success of Dr Strangelove.

Whether this had anything to do with Peter George's eventual suicide is difficult to say. In 1966, in the study of his Sussex home, the Welshman blew his own brains out. Alcohol problems and a continuing preoccupation with a nuclear holocaust may also have been contributory factors. At the time of his death George, who was originally from Treorchy, was working on a book called Nuclear Survivors.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Angel of Cardiff

The Angel Hotel, Cardiff, has in its time provided temporary accommodation for such legends as Bette Davies and Marlene Dietrich. It is also the place where Psycho star Anthony Perkins got nicked for importing cannabis (see below). This splendid advertisement is from 1960.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Special Delivery for Anthony Perkins

Forget the Bates Motel it was at the Angel Hotel, Cardiff, that actor Anthony Perkins suffered his worst nightmare.

Back in 1989 the cult star was in Wales filming some Patricia Highsmith stories for television. He checked into his hotel as arranged only to be arrested on the spot by local fuzz for importing drugs. Perkins had posted some home-grown cannabis to himself from Los Angeles!

How did he get caught? Well, in a mix-up worthy of a Patricia Highsmith novel the drug package was mistakenly given to another hotel guest named Perkins. This stand-up citizen handed the stash to the hotel manager who in turn phoned the drug squad.

When interviewed by police the Psycho star made a full confession, stating he'd grown the cannabis in his back garden strictly for his own use. At Cardiff Magistrates' Court he admitted illegally importing the weed (enough for 6 jazz cigarettes) and expressed his embarrassment. He was fined £200.

Outside the Court the man who once played Norman Bates told reporters: "I feel such a fool."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Rhys Hughes on your Radio

Talking of Swansea, its most talented citizen Rhys Hughes will be appearing on Radio 2's The Weekender programme this Friday (June 2) at 10pm-midnight. Apparently he will be discussing his own work as well as that of Flann O'Brien and Jack Vance. Sounds great.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Hughes' fiction it is absurdist, fantastical, surreal and often employs pastiche and parody. It is always funny. Judging from his blog he seems to be doing very well in Portugal, which can only be a good thing.

With more publications on the horizon hopefully this will be his year, and he'll get some of the recognition he deserves. Who knows, maybe even the Welsh literary establishment will wake up to the fact that they have a major talent on their doorstep. Let's hope so.

Topless Anarchists on the Gower

In 1972 Angry Brigade member Hilary Creek took refuge with her family on the Gower. She was on bail awaiting trial for her alleged part in an anarchist bombing campaign and was keen to escape hostile press attention. Fellow Angry Brigade member Anna Mendelson accompanied her on the retreat.

Creek's father was a wealthy businessman who owned an expensive bungalow on the Welsh coast. He never understood why his former school-prefect daughter had taken up with a bunch of anarchists but was glad to welcome her back into the family bosom.

As part of their bail conditions Creek and Mendelson had to make a daily trip into Swansea to report to police. They visited pubs there but always with a member of Special Branch in close attendance. It was only on the beach that they were able to relax.

During the golden summer of '72 Creek and Mendelson would regularly walk to Foxhole Bay where, like anarchist sea nymphs, they'd divest themselves of clothing and frolic in the surf. One can only imagine the intense political discussions they shared as they extracted sand from between their toes. Local youths with a keen interest in politics watched them from a safe distance.

This Welsh seaside idyll proved to be a last taste of freedom for the female Angry Brigaders. With groups like Black September and the IRA letting off bombs the last thing the British government needed was posh university-educated girls high on revolutionary theory getting in on the act. Using evidence that was a tad dubious to say the least Creek and Mendelson were given severe 10 year prison sentences.

When Creek was finally released from Holloway prison (where, amongst other people, she befriended Myra Hindley) - it was back to the Gower she went, completing a degree course at Swansea University. She now lives abroad.