Ok then, hands up who still watches the film ‘Quadrophenia’ every time it’s on your telly. Thought so, not just me then.
Strange really having seen it so many times, but if I happen to start watching it, bosh, its job done and I’m there till the end.
So as it celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, now seems the appropriate time to give it the ‘Speakeasy’ treatment.
In 1979 news of the film swept around my council estate and secondary school very quickly. This just had to be seen.
For many around my age (Heinz Varieties next birthday) this was THE seminal film as I entered my late teens. The clothes, the music & the lifestyle it portrayed were all something to aspire to, especially if you were of the Mod persuasion, which I was beginning to dip my toe into back then.
With the band The Jam hitting it big in 1979 and then this film, it was pretty much game over for me. All these years later, I’m still serving a ‘Mod’ life sentence and unlike some of my contemporaries who gave up on good clothes and music (never really worked out how that happens?) I like to think I’ve stayed the course and distance.
And ‘Quadrophenia’ with all its faults, played a huge part in that.
The storyline was loosely based on the 1973 ‘rock opera’ that goes by the same name by the legendary band The Who. As with the music on the ‘Quadrophenia’ album, guitarist and the groups main songwriter Pete Townsend was also in the writers chair for the film, along with first time director Franc Roddam, Dave Humphries and Martin Stellman.
The production had a budget of two million pounds and was shot entirely on location in six weeks. It stars Phil Daniels as the lead character, James (Jimmy) Michael Cooper who escapes from his boring job and mundane life at home, by submerging himself in the Mod culture of 1964/5 London of sharp suits, scooters, all-nighters, Ready Steady Go, pills and the ‘girl of your dreams’, who in Jimmy’s case is ‘Steph’, played by Leslie Ash.
‘I suppose they wear wet jeans and all’
Jimmy’s bedroom walls are covered in newspaper cuttings of beach fights between mods and rockers and of photographs of The Who’s Pete Townsend.
‘There’s a party down Kitchener Road’
Daniels is of course great in the role, though I often wonder what Sex Pistol John Lydon, having screen tested for the part, would have been like in the ‘Jimmy’ role. We never found out as insurance problems put an end to that.
‘What do you mean going to be? I AM one of the faces!’
Alongside for the ride with Jimmy are his mates, ‘Dave’ ‘Chalky the Ponce’ and ‘Spider’ with Mark Wingett, Phil Davies and Gary Shail respectively taking those roles. The film follows them as they prepare for a weekender down in Brighton.
We follow them collecting their suits – ‘Rent-a-tent, innit?’ – getting their barnets trimmed and the all important stash safely gathered in.
‘Just who you lookin’ for Mister?
‘Is Ferdy in?’
‘He not here. Him gone out.’
Once in Brighton, Jimmy has a rare old time. Slung out of a club for acting up – by the way that’s Jeff Dexter, original Scene club DJ, on the decks cooking up the tunes. He also taught the ‘Ace Face’ character played by Sting to dance in that memorable scene – and he then finds himself sleeping rough among a group of rockers who are also in town.
He finally gets hold of Steph in the now famous alleyway scene, only to then find himself nicked after running into the middle of a full-scale ruck after between the warring factions throwing deck chairs at each other.
Cue newspaper headlines of ‘The Wild Ones’ and all that. Folk devils and moral panic indeed.
‘These long-haired, mentally unstable, petty little hoodlums, these sawdust Caesars who can only find courage like rats, in hunting in packs, came to Brighton with the avowed intent of interfering with the life and property of its inhabitants.’
‘I’ll pay now if you don’t mind. You haven’t got a pen have you, your honour?’
The come down when back in London after a weekend of exciting excess, hits Jimmy hard though and it is too much for him to bear. Things then begin go from bad to worse, when his old mum finds his drug stash and throws him of the family home.
‘Oh, yeah? What’s normal, then?’
He also packs in his job and is then rejected by Steph. To top that little lot off, his Lambretta, his pride and joy, is run over by a post office van.
‘You’ve killed me scooter!’
He hits the pills big time, swallowing handfuls and then hops on a train back to Brighton in the hope of reliving the weekend all over again.
‘Out of my brain on the 5:15’
Instead, he finds the ‘Ace Face’ is actually a bellboy at The Grand Hotel.
Confused and now totally disillusioned, Jimmy nicks Sting’s scooter which then ends up going off the edge of a cliff. I remember seeing the film for the first time thinking that Jimmy went in after it, but subsequent viewings revealed that the scene of Jimmy walking at the start of the film is actually Jimmy walking away from the Mod life in general.
One other interesting aspect of the film for me, includes the soundtrack, which was a healthy mixture of Who originals and classic 60s sounds like ‘Green Onions’ ‘Louie Louie’ and ‘Night Train.’
Other significant faces in the film who went on to make a decent career after, include Toyah Wilcox (Monkey) Ray Winstone (Rocker Kevin), Michael Elphick (Jimmy’s Dad) and Timothy Spall (Make a mod out of you yet, Harry, eh? I don’t think, though, they make Levis in your size)
One story from the early production meetings made me smile.
Who drummer Keith Moon stated that he wanted to co-direct the film. Franc Roddam pondered on this for a while before he replied ‘I’ve got a great idea. Why don’t you let me drum on the next Who album?’ and that was the end of that particular conversation.
Sadly Moon died as the film was underway, which threatened to end the production, but the bands manager and the films producer Bill Curbishley, managed to keep it all moving and brought it home.
Over the years, there has been talk of a sequel, one with some of the original cast attached having been announced a couple of years back. Rumours that Curbishley not being too happy with that however seemed to have slowed that down.
Watching it now you can’t help but notice there are few clunkers on screen – flared trousers, car number plates much later than 1964, and a cinema showing the film ‘Grease’ to name but a celebrated few – but still the film and its legacy endure.
It has simply become part of our heritage and that’ll do for me.
The Mumper of SE5