Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Great Tortoise Hunt (1962) - previously unseen footage of Ian Dury

Ian Dury with syrup

During his time as a student at Walthamstow College of Art (1959-63), Ian also taught in local schools. It was at Culverhouse Secondary Modern School in South Ockendon that he met fellow teacher Gordon Law. Fuelled by a diet of jazz and poetry, Ian and Gordon would fantasise about making improvised radio shows and films. The Goons were an influence, as was Richard Lester’s The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (1959), featuring Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers.

Excerpt from The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film

In 1962 Gordon Law acquired a second-hand Bolex 8mm cine camera and suggested that Ian and his friends make a movie. Filming took place on Sundays in the garden of Ian’s home in Upminster, and in fields close to Barry White’s house in Wood End, Brentwood. The troupe consisted of Ian and his girlfriend Pat Few, Barry and Barbara White, Gordon and Ann Law, and Mike Price. At various points in the film Ian’s mimicry of silent movies legends such as Charlie Chaplin and Oliver Hardy is effortless.


Gordon Law: ‘The films we tried to make were incredibly chaotic because each person who took part had an entirely different view of what the films were about. Ian was dressed either as a gun-slinging sheriff or a New York taxi driver with a special leather flat cap. Ian was a crack shot, one-handed with an air rifle in those days. He could hit an Old Holborn tin in the garden from the attic window of Waldegrave Gardens at maybe 100 feet plus.’ 

Barry White: 'We went to Waldegrave Gardens and I remember Ian’s caravan in the garden. It was his studio cum living quarters. Reading between the lines, I think his mum realised she had produced someone who was rather special and she was extremely supportive. It didn’t surprise me when Ian became a star - the signs were there when we made the home movies.’

Ian Dury with titfer and salmon

With special thanks to Barry White, who provided me with the 1962 film on video, from which I was able to transfer it to a digital format for editing and upload. The six minute clip shown here has been edited down from the eleven minute original. Some jolly piano music has been added to enhance the viewing experience.

Postscript: Ian’s mother Peggy actually had two tortoises – Homer and Chloe. I’m not sure which of them has the cameo role in The Great Tortoise Hunt, but it is safe to assume that no animals were harmed during filming.

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