An Interview with Jonathan Rigby
The upcoming book Christopher Lee: The Authorised Screen History to be published by Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. in February of 2001 promises to be a special event for Christopher Lee fans the world over. The author, Jonathan Rigby has contributed articles to both Shivers and the now defunct Hammer Horror magazines. He is the author of English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema, which was published by Reynolds & Hearn earlier this year. This last book is a comprehensive study of British horror films and I heartily recommend it to all club members. In an effort to provide a little information on the upcoming book as well provide some insight into the author’s perspective and the process involved in bringing something like this together, the Official Christopher Lee Web is pleased to present this exclusive interview with Mr. Rigby for our members.
Q. Would you please share something of your background with us?
I was born in Salford, Lancashire in 1963 and studied English and American Literature at the University of Kent prior to training as an actor at the Central School of Speech and Drama.
Q. What lead you towards a career as a writer?
The notion, dear to my father in particular, that an actor should always have a second string to his bow.
Q. What were some of your first published pieces?
A 1981 interview with Andy Mackay of Roxy Music in my school magazine was probably the first.
Q. Have you always been interested in the Horror genre?
I caught tantalizing glimpses of the 1931 Frankenstein aged nine and two years later saw the Lugosi Dracula in full. About a week after that Thames TV screened Dracula Has Risen From the Grave and there was no going back.
Q. When did you start specifically writing about the horror genre?
In published form: 1994.
Q. What is it about the genre that appeals to you?
I think you'd need a whole fleet of psychoanalysts to answer that one.
Q. I gather that you have written a stage adaptation of Dracula that was produced in 1997. What can you tell us about the production?
I first presented Dracula at the Edinburgh Festival in 1985. I reworked the script several times in the early 90s and put on at least three rehearsed readings, one of which was more or less a production-without-décor. I finally passed the script on to another production company in 1997; they staged it at a Fringe theatre in Hampstead and toured it round the South East a bit. I didn't like it much, though the Van Helsing was very good indeed. I might bring the script out of retirement at some later date; it's very cinematic and very faithful to the book.
Q. Have you written other material for stage, television or theatre? Have you written any fiction?
Short answer: no.
Q. How did you come to write for the now defunct Marvel Hammer Horror magazine?
Mark Gatiss, whom UK fans will probably know as a member of the League of Gentlemen, was asked to contribute and graciously suggested they try me instead. It's all his fault, in fact.
Q. Your excellent articles on 'Early Hammer' were a regular feature in the magazine. Did your research for those articles directly lead to the writing of your book English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema?
I suppose so, yes. It was first suggested that I write the book as long ago as 1990, and I toyed with the idea for a long time before starting in earnest in 1996, having been given a lot of impetus by the magazine work for both Hammer Horror and Shivers.
Q. It is a cornerstone book of its type and I personally found it to be an excellent and informative read. How did you go about researching a book of such tremendous and all encompassing scope?
Long hours in the British Film Institute library, even longer hours in front of video screens and BFI screenings, lots of help from like-minded friends.
Q. How long was the book in preparation?
I started in May 1996, finished a first draft in September 1998, then fiddled about with it incorrigibly right up to the publication date: March 2000. It wasn't solid work for that four-year period, however -there were several theatre engagements in there too.
Q. How many of the films covered did you manage to view?
Lots. It was a great frustration that so many of the early films, pre-Hammer, appear to be lost. But in the main body of the book, and the final section, I saw pretty much all of them.
Q. Are you pleased with the overall result of the book considering its scope?
Very pleased. I got in as much material as I could and made it as accurate as possible, I hope. Reynolds and Hearn produced it beautifully, using a brilliant designer called Peri Godbold, who is also due to design the Christopher Lee book. Marcus Hearn, you'll remember, was editor of Hammer Horror in a former life and loves this stuff. He takes much more care than the average publisher, I suspect. (Editor’s note: Marcus Hearn is also co-author of The Hammer Story and is the Hearn in Reynolds & Hearn)
Q. What are your thoughts about the current state of the English Horror film industry?
What English horror film industry?
Q. Any thoughts on the recent developments with the changing of ownership of Hammer?
It would be delightful if they went into production but I think we all know they wouldn't be 'Hammer' films. Miles Malleson is dead, after all.
Q. What would you like to see happening with the 'new' Hammer?
A thorough restoration programme for the entire back catalogue. (Well, maybe not Mutiny On the Buses.) That would be a much more valuable activity than making new films, I'm afraid.
Q. What brought about the writing of your new book on Christopher Lee?
Reynolds and Hearn asked me to do it. Beyond that, I joined the fan club for a brief period in 1975/6 but was too timid to go to the conventions. So the germ of it has been around for a long time; I'm by no means just writing the book to order.
Q. Considering the sheer number of Mr. Lee's films, how did you approach such a large volume?
In the same way I approached English Gothic - a lot of research, screenings till blue in the face, lots of help.
Q. How much input did Mr. Lee have on the content and scope of your forthcoming book?
He has been invaluable; very supportive. He enjoyed English Gothic and couldn't help but notice the many endorsements in it of his own performances. He feels that, being an actor myself, I have a greater insight into what he's trying to get at when acting. I'd like to think he's right. He has corrected mistakes and given me all sorts of bits and pieces that will make it, I hope, a more interesting read. What he hasn't been is obstructive in any way. Many people would use the 'authorised' tag to their advantage, but he doesn't mind the odd bit of criticism, so long as it's constructive.
Q. Were you able to spend much time in discussion with or interviewing Mr. Lee for the book?
I've met Christopher several times and am due soon to sift through a mountain of photographs with him. On the phone, he's quite happy to answer all sorts of ridiculous questions, like 'Did you wear a beard in the Danzigers featurette The Price of Vanity?' He has an amazing memory - though, where the cut-price Danzigers are concerned, he's managed to blot most of it out, probably for the sake of his sanity!
Q. What surprised you the most about Mr. Lee when preparing this book?
His humility and very well developed sense of humour. He's not at all the grand figure people perceive him as.
Q. What did you find to be the most interesting aspect of preparing this book?
The scope of his career is so vast it's hard to pick out one particular aspect. It's interesting to have seen how funny and flexible an actor he was in the 1950s, how that was temporarily stifled by a string of rather boring roles in the 1960s, and how it's come bouncing back with a vengeance in recent years.
Q. Mr. Lee's ability as a raconteur is well known, are you able to share any particular stories or insights with our members?
Do you mind if I keep them for the book?!
Q. What is your favorite Christopher Lee film, and why?
Wow. That's very difficult to answer indeed, almost impossible. I very much like some of the Continental films he made in the early 1960s, particularly La Frusta E IL Corpo (The Whip and the Body) for Mario Bava. His Scaramanga is terrific, though the film it's contained in is less so. This is the case with a number of his films, of course.
Q. What do you think is the most underrated Christopher Lee film? Why?
It would have to be Jinnah, if only because it's having such a hard time getting seen.
Q. What is your favorite English horror film in general, and why?
Now that really is impossible. Many of the early Hammer films, plus Blood on Satan's Claw, Death Line and loads of others. The more lurid the better, really. English Gothic makes my likes and dislikes pretty plain, I think.
Q. What projects can we expect from you in the future?
Not sure just yet. Let me get the Lee book out of the way and then I'll give it some thought.
Q. Well, Jonathan, thank you very much for your time. I'm sure that the Fan Club members are all eagerly awaiting the book! I know that I am. Good luck and I hope we can look forward to more great books from you in the future.
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