Letter from Gavin Gaughan: "That's James Booth!"
Dear Ms. Blackwell,
Sincere congratulations on your James Booth website, and the amount of detail and appreciation that has gone into your work on a sadly under-appreciated talent. Forget all the depthless, self-promoting sites for the already overexposed, your site is just the sort of thing that the Internet was created for, and has restored my faith in Mr. Gates' little invention. I also found the email interview with Booth, and the various communications his family have made with you since his death, touching and honest.
You can live without knowing this, but a mate of mine called Kenny Buffin is from the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire; like myself, he's very much of the generation for whom ZULU was one of the key films when we were growing up, and still find time to watch it whenever it comes on telly. He has often mentioned to me how the real Harry Hook was actually from Gloucestershire, and not a Londoner as Booth's portrayal implies, although this is hardly a serious criticism. And he and I were idly chatting about this on a tube train, during a day trip to London, in early 2000. We then got off the tube at Sloane Square station (just by the Royal Court Theatre) and had just started walking up the King's Road, when an elderly chap wearing a cap and a long tweed overcoat walked past the left of us, and continued on his way into Chelsea. Kenny stopped, stared after the retreating figure for a few seconds, then turned to me and exclaimed "That's James Booth!" And to this day he's convinced it was him, I'm afraid I didn't get a look for long enough to be sure and didn't want to try to run after him, but it's not impossible that it could have been the man himself, perhaps revisiting old haunts. And if so, it was quite a coincidence, considering we'd just been discussing his most famous role.
Now, my main reason for writing concerns your "Want List". I'm sorry to say that getting hold of THEM (which was originally broadcast from 27 July to 24 August 1972, on BBC1) is impossible, as all its episodes were wiped by the BBC, and while I've yet to confirm this, I believe VESSEL OF WRATH (shown on BBC2 on 21 May 1970) only exists with the soundtrack dubbed into French, as with several other surviving episodes from the W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM series. DISTURBANCE, which was shown on ITV (to be precise, Associated-Rediffusion) on 4th June 1958, does not exist, and it's also pretty unlikely that Booth's various single plays, like THE RUFFIANS and THE GRASS HARP, have been preserved. However, do you have his guest shots on the 50's version of THE INVISIBLE MAN, and the great 70's Brit-crime series THE SWEENEY? I do have both of those, and can copy them for you if you like. There was also a nice, if slightly obvious gag in his appearance on an early 90's episode of MINDER, as a supposedly fearsome criminal called Toby Jug Johnson, being released from prison after being put away in the 70's, in the same clothes he wore then; so he came out of "the nick" wearing ridiculously wide lapels and flares. I do have a colour copy of I'M NOT FEELING MYSELF TONIGHT, but perhaps that's not worth bringing up!
There are also two minor appearances on documentaries, which I'm afraid I don't have, but which you might want to add to your list of his credits.
In 1972, the BBC2 arts series LATE NIGHT LINE-UP did an extended profile of Johnny Speight, which I saw when it was screened once at the National Film Theatre; Booth could definitely be seen in a shot of Speight talking to producer Dennis Main Wilson in a pub (possibly the BBC bar), I don't recall him saying anything himself but he was clearly amused by Speight holding forth, clearly rather a lot of drink had been consumed. Maybe this is the only existing sign of THEM. Also, the BBC's OMNIBUS slot ran a profile of Joan Littlewood in early 1994, with Richard Harris and so on among the interviewees recalling the great days of Theatre Workshop; and Booth was another, with long grey sideburns, talking about how Shelagh Delaney was really a naive young girl when she wrote A TASTE OF HONEY, and that Littlewood was the one who had imposed reality on it and made it work.
Yes, Sheldon Hall's ZULU: WITH SOME GUTS BEHIND IT is a terrific book. I particularly appreciated the quotes from Booth and his comments on fellow actors, such as Paul Daneman, who was also overlooked far too many times; wonder if, when he talked there about Daneman being too intelligent for the film business and a first-rate actor but not a star, as opposed to big stars who aren't necessarily good actors, he had a certain M. Caine in mind?.
With thanks for your work, again, and all best wishes,