At the movies · Home life · Memories

Drinking with Bryan Marshall

Last Saturday evening I watched the 1977 film “The Spy Who Loved Me”, Roger Moore’s third outing as James Bond. ITV have been showing Bond movies at weekends throughout this summer. I have caught an hour or more of several of these screenings but had not watched any of them all the way through.

I was prompted to watch the whole of this one (which I had never seen before) for a number of reasons. Back in the 1970s I had seen Moore’s first two Bond films (“Live and Let Die” and “The Man with the Golden Gun”) so it made sense after all these years to watch the next one in the sequence. It was also, apparently, the last film that Elvis Presley ever saw. That seemed like a good reason to watch it too.

A third factor which led me to spend 150 minutes (including ad breaks) in front of this 43-year-old movie was to take an extended break from all the sport my son and I had been watching in the afternoon and early evening: Ronnie O’Sullivan’s Round of 16 game in the World Snooker Championships against Ding Junhui and the climax to England’s Test match against Pakistan. Chris Woakes saw England home, chasing down 277 to win after the team was reduced to 117/5.

After a long walk, down to the river, and after our dinner of shish kebabs from the place next to Turnham Green station, I was settled in for the 10pm start time of “The Spy Who Loved Me” on ITV+1. The clincher, the main reason why I committed the rest of my evening to watching the film, was the appearance early on of British actor Bryan Marshall, playing a submarine captain.

For people of my generation he is best known as Councillor Harris in “The Long Good Friday” which I saw countless times in the 1980s. I even saw it on a Good Friday (at the Richmond Odeon, in 1981), and it was one of a handful of films (along with “Eating Raoul”, “Breaking Away” and “The Warriors”) that I watched repeatedly on video.

During one of these video screenings, watching with my mum, she told me about an interview she had seen with Bryan Marshall, whom she recognized from various earlier films and TV roles. He was talking about his time as an impoverished drama student. To save money he would boil up a saucepan of water and use it three ways: to cook his egg for breakfast, to make a cup of tea, and finally for his morning shave.

I was able to confirm the truth of this story in the late 1990s when I spent a few afternoons drinking with the man himself at a couple of local pubs. He spent most of the year in Australia but returned to the UK for a few months in the spring and summer, available for work. He had “digs” (his word) in a house near Stamford Brook station, owned by a friend of his. She had had a career as an actress herself but at that time she was mostly making her living as a landlady to fellow actors passing through West London. He chose to be in this part of town because his elderly mother was in a nursing home nearby (Nazareth House in Hammersmith).

The afternoons that I spent in the company of “Marsh”, as one my friends insisted on calling him, were typical of the way I spent parts of my weekends back then, watching live football and having a few beers. The preferred venue was the Hogshead at the far end of Chiswick High Road, near the Goldhawk Road. It was the only pub in the Hogshead chain that showed live sports, and for a year or so it was as good a place to hang out as any pub I have ever visited: lots of space, decent beer, reasonably priced food and a landlord who knew how to keep his customers happy.

There were a couple of afternoons in April and May 1998, as Arsenal were progressing to the League and Cup double, when a few of us spent enough time in Bryan’s company to be involved in the same round. You know how it is. Sometimes you get chatting to people, but you’re never part of the same round of drinks. Other times you form part of the same round without any fuss or awkwardness. That’s how it was on those hazy afternoons, and again the following year, the last time I had a drink with him

By the spring of 1999, the Hogshead had a new landlord, no longer showed live sport, and was nothing special. We watched live football in the more confined surroundings of The Eclipse, further down the High Road. As I noted in this piece, the last in a series recounting my first trip to New York City, it “has been through a number of changes since then and is now called Piano. We watched part of that game [Man United’s FA Cup final win over Newcastle] with an actor we had met the previous year, the legendary Bryan Marshall …”

“Marsh” was happy that United won. He had played the role of a footballer in a mid-60s TV show called “United!” (in 51 episodes according to his IMDb page). He told us that the professional players liked the way they were portrayed in the show, and many of them used to hang out with the cast. You can picture the scene: the swinging 60s, TV stars and top footballers out on the town. He recalled a time drinking with George Best and co the night before a big game (against Chelsea, if I remember right). Best promised to score a hat-trick and single out his acting mates in the crowd afterwards, and duly did so.

Bryan Marshall died last summer, aged 81. The news passed me by at the time. I found out last December, in one of the “Those we have lost…” reviews that appears around that time of the year. I expected to see his picture during the BAFTA awards ceremony in February, but it wasn’t included in the live TV broadcast. Last Saturday, watching his brief appearances at the start and end of “The Spy Who Loved Me”, I told my son about my afternoons drinking with him, and raised my glass (a Spanish-style gin and tonic, in keeping with the exceptionally hot weather) to the man. I was glad to meet him. May he rest in peace.



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