Ginger Geezer

Living with Vivian Stanshall was not like living with the Odd Family Rawlinson, it was living with every Rawlinson who ever lurched round Rawlinson End. Vivian being, of course, all of them: man, woman, spotty brat, fitful family retainer, and stuffed bulldog. Sir Henry himself was merely the most obvious. It was the sweetly sad Hubert Rawlinson who lived deeper. Hubert (... and there's 'the rub') hummed happily away to himself down at the very bottom of Vivian's Heironymous brain. Hubert was Mr. Standstill's soft center. It was Hubert who noticed when the cracks showed. It was Hubert who loved me and it was Hubert I loved. But it was Henry who got him through the day.

Thank god they all have heads of wood. I dread the day I'm understood.

Vivian never learned how to work a personal computer. He had two of them before he died, but neither were ever used - save by me when we spent a summer hammering out a film treatment on the Life & Times of his old chum, Moony (Lemmy to his Colonel Knutt) - Keith Moon. (Wonder what happened to that? Roger Daltry had wanted to make a feature film, thought Vivian the man to write it*... last we heard the thing was in the hands of Bert Lahr's son, John. Hello, John, wherever you are.) One sat on a desk he never sat at himself. The other came home in its box, there to remain in its box. Meanwhile, Vivian worked with a typewriter and reams of paper, real paper. More paper! He understood typewriters. (If I have one small regret, and I have plenty of small regrets, I regret encouraging him to exchange his wonky bright red coming-apart rather girly machine for something more substantial. Wouldn't you know that the new one was completely - sub Stanshall. He was never as happy with anything else as he was with the one he owned before I met him. Yes, I regret that.)

He also understood sticky tape and scissors. He'd peck out a page, two fingers and fast, then another, and another, then another, and all the while an oily rag on the go in his gob, and the voices, the voices! as well as the laughter even when no one was there (but of course everyone was there, all the Vivian Rawlinsons)... until there was a tumble of ash and stray bits of tobacco and manuscript paper all over the long and riotous table. (The table, like all our tables, was buried in python and tarantula tanks, odd and odder musical instruments, hats and tea cups, ashtrays, masks, Big Heads, feathers and eyeballs and rubber bands and hats, and book and books and sketch pads and bits of charcoal and half written songs, and cassette tapes, and hats. On other days, a chaos of other things.) Editing was never done with a blue pencil. Or a red pencil. Editing was done with scissors. When he'd written something he liked, or something he might grow to like, he'd cut it from the page, then sticky tape it to another bit he liked, and so forth and so on, cut & lick & stick (and how he loved ampersands, no plain 'and' for Stanshall) - and in this way the latest saga of Rawlinson End would stretch from one end of the saloon in the Searchlight to the other. (Or festooned across our bit of the good ship Thekla. Over bed and over me and out door into stateroom and across deck up onto chart table and down the other side. Or all over the Muswell Hill bedsit, up and down and all around. And - finally - in and out of the small rooms on the top floor of his last home that looked down on the neighborhood where somewhere below Dennis Neilson had cut up all those bodies... once he'd killed them for company.) Long white snakes of magic and whimsy and outrage and lament that we must then tiptoe through, hop & skip & miss... until the day came he would gather them all up, folded like salt water taffy, to take them off to Beeb.

Those were our radio days. And then came the Eel Pie days when some of the radio shows were put into a semblance of a book because Pete Townsend was an editor at a newish publishing house. I might have known once how that happened (Townsend snagging an editor's job and then snagging Vivian), but I don't know now. All that's left of that memory is that it happened. Vivian had a book deal. Vivian, who'd never 'written for the page' - all his stuff was meant to be sung or bellowed or wheezed or cajoled out into a mike, any mike - now was faced with 'real prose'. That's where I came in, as usual. Good thing we'd already done a few radio plays, messed about with poems. Together, we festooned the Searchlight with sticky prose. In less than a week, the book was like laundry in a tenement - it hung everywhere. Following the book - the movie. A movie. Knowledge really is power. If either of us had known the least thing about the making of honest-to-god actual real movie movies, it should have been, could have been, a wonderful thing. But no one knew sweet fa about making a movie, not really. And certainly not Tony Stratton-Smith, that all round soft boiled egg and head of Charisma Records which was at the time Vivian's record company. (This is the same Tony Stratton-Smith who once managed the Bonzo Dogs. Strat was the manager the band chased across a grassy field and debagged when they'd arrived at something he'd gotten them into - and found that same empty field, a largish crate type affair for a 'stage', and a single kettle flex to plug into.)

Strat wanted to make a movie of Rawlinson End and Vivian was sure making a movie of Rawlinson End would be such jolly jinks (as did I), so off we went to Strat's house - to make a movie of Rawlinson End. Loving trust, that's what it was. Strat trusted Vivian and Vivian trusted Strat... and they both trusted that Art was on their side. Which She was... but what does Art know about business?

Not knowing fuckall meant none of us could tell if anyone else knew fuckall either. Our fault, of course. Someone should have checked around. Strat should have checked. I should have checked. But no one did. Vivian and I had somehow met (or perhaps V already knew - who can remember these things?) a fellow who had directed some, I think, rather decent commercials. Just the ticket, said V. Righty-ho, said Strat. We all thought, oh yes - he'll do just fine. And right there, Rawlinson End was doomed. From this one small side step, we wound up in Vicious Circles. Oh, the picture got made - somehow. There was even a lot of Vivian in it. But it was far from 'having a lovely time, wish you were here'. And far from what it could have been, very very far. Problem was, our choice for director not only knew as little as we, the little he knew was all fast footing and hand waving, and one step ahead of the money. And we, not knowing what he didn't know, trusted him. Which is why he and Vivian ended up with a script as long as the Bible, old and new testaments, one that would have needed twice Cecil B. DeMille's budget to shoot. And why it had to be cut back so severely when someone who did know a thing or two got a look at it, that the resulting 'short' mess made absolutely no sense at all. Leading up to why our director then had to 'save the picture' by demanding that Vivian write a narrative to go over the top to explain the damn thing.

By now, we knew what the problem was, and by now it was too late. It's no wonder Vivian began behaving a bit silly on the set.

But, lo, all these years later TV GUIDE lists Henry and critiques it - not badly, either. The Beasht in the TV Guide? Boggling.

* Together Vivian and I wrote a number of things, some of which I have right here in this box, and none of which were anything but great fun. Especially a ghost story-murder mystery radio play called Look Down Where He Lay. Only the Comic Opera Stinkfoot got past our typewriters.

Lord! Rawlinson End without End."



Vivian as Hubert Rawlinson from the film version of Vivian's idiosyncratic tale of British aristocracy.


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