Sunday, June 03, 2007

Signed W.B.

I've always had a soft spot for Wilfred Bramble - his elegant performances in the great Steptoe and Son are matched only by his iconic and extremely moving appearance in Terence Davies' majestic Death and Transfiguration, playing an aging gay Catholic facing death.
For me, also, there is the added frisson of a marked resemblance to William S. Burroughs - which is always something guaranteed to snare my attention and fire my imagination. Whenever I see a photo of the Steptoes I reimagine it as an image of Burroughs and fellow Beats putting themselves about, on and off the road. Two down-at-heel totters from Shepherd's Bush are magically transmuted into low-life adventurers in Tangiers or Mexico, or speeding along the highways of the America of their dreams.

William S. Burroughs showing Jack Kerouac the biggest load of horse he ever did see

Albert Steptoe on the lookout for junk

William S. Burroughs facing down the critics

Steptoe and Son ... purveyors of fine old tot

Burroughs explaining to a distraught Kerouac that the Naked Lunch ms will have to be retyped

There are a few beguiling points of intersection between Burroughs and Bramble - the facial congruity, the air of the dignified aging queer going gently to seed, the shabby gentility, the sense of a gay identity formed before Stonewall and Gay Lib, even the brief intersection with one Paul McCartney and The Beatles (Bramble as Macca's grandad in A Hard Day's Night (what on earth did he make of Beatlemania?), Burroughs featuring as a Sgt. Pepper's cover star and being loaned the use of a recording studio by the aforementioned Macca). Both occupied an odd and incongruous position in the "swinging Sixties". What a funny old world it is.


Anonymous Moll said...

I think people forget the acute poignancy of Bramble in Steptoe. And oh, poor Harold and his attempts to bring home a girl. Always thwarted! And not many people know of that magnificent performance in The Trilogy. Pathos and humour always go together like, well, Steptoe and Son. A joy - William and Wilfred. Huzzah to them both. And Harold type noises of exasperation to those who disagree.

7:23 PM  
Blogger doppelganger said...

I think there's something deeply sad in Steptoe, that's also in Hancock... that idea of a whole world of promise unfolding around you, that you just can't get to...
In that context, Steptoe Snr was a true monster - you'll never leave me 'Arold... oppressive and dependent in some true Hegelian Master / servant sense...
And there were so many of these extraordinary characters then - that "whole dignified aging queer going gently to seed" thing is pure Carry-On isn't it?

My clearest memory of Bramble (what a pefectly evocative name) was him trying not to cry in a TV interview the day Harry H. died...

11:15 PM  
Blogger St. Anthony said...

Oh exactly, poor Harold and his always-thwarted attempts to get out, to better himself, to get away from the monstrous old patriarch who is always hovering to ruin his plans and puncture his pretensions. Very poignant programme, that. it's a bit of a cliche now, but it really is the sitcom Beckett should have written. You just know that Harold will always be waiting.

Yes, that old-style gay is a thing of the past now - seedy/gentile old geezers, keeping up appearances ... bless them.

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