First and foremost, if you’ve not checked out any of my previous Six Degrees posts, i’d urge you to do so. The basic premise of the game has been explained before but to quickly sum up, I take two actors and try to link them through film and TV appearances. It’s basically Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon, but without Kevin Bacon. Except for the times when it includes Kevin Bacon. Moving on…
When i’m not binge watching Netflix shows or working my way through my DVD library, I tend to while away my evenings playing video games with friends. Recently, I’ve been enjoying a lot of Fortnite sessions with my regular play group and during our latest multiplayer murder-fest I mentioned that I was resurrecting Six Degrees Saturdays.
One of my amigos, Alan (He’s on Twitter if you want to give him a wee follow) immediately suggested Don Cheadle to Russell Crowe. As we were running and gunning our way across the Fortnite map, I started thinking and pretty quickly, I had the answer.
Back in 2010, Don Cheadle took over from (and in my opinion, outshone) Terrence Howard in the role of James “Rhodey” Rhodes, better known to Marvel nuts like myself as War Machine. Rhodey is the lifelong friend of Tony Stark who battles evil as Iron Man, assisted by both War Machine and JARVIS, the in-suit artificial intelligence. In the Marvel cinematic universe, JARVIS is voiced by Paul Bettany, who would later go on to star as Vision. I’m geeking out a little, how damn good are the Marvel films though? Anyway, Bettany is JARVIS and he also starred in A Beautiful Mind with Russell Crowe.*
Foolishly, I made some wisecrack about Cheadle to Crowe being too easy and Alan decided he would come up with something truly diabolical to really test the bizarre vault of film and TV titbits which is my brain and so it is that i’ve spent way too much of my evening trying to connect George Formby to Sigourney Weaver.
Here’s the sum total of my knowledge regarding George Formby
1) Played a banjo
2) Wrote a song about cleaning windows and spying saucy shenanigans while doing so
3) Did some films about 70 years ago
That’s it. I know nothing about the cast of any of the films he starred in, no titles, no dates, i’ve no knowledge of any cameos he might have made in anything at all. I thought I was completely scuppered at the first stage, but I refused to give up. I carried on playing with my friends, mostly in silence. I had this vague inkling that someone from British television, an older actor, had starred in a film with Formby in the early days of their career. Some vague recollection, a faintly sparking neuron deep in the grey matter. A soap opera, perhaps? An older woman sprung to mind. I could feel a memory jumping up and down in my brain wearing tackety boots, desperate to be noticed and then suddenly…
Uproarious laughter filled the party chat as I apparently developed some kind of food related verbal tic and screamed the name of a popular pub dish at my confused friends. They had no idea that hotpot was the key to everything!
Betty Driver, queen of Coronation Street and purveyor of the legendary hotpot. I had the faintest of faint recollections that this mainstay of British television had a role in a George Formby film or television show, way back in the forties or fifties. Usually, I don’t count a link unless I can remember the actor’s name and the film or show title but I relaxed my self-imposed rules just this once as I was trying to link George bloody Formby from the distant past to the modern era and frankly by brain was creaking under the strain.
Buried deep in the darkest corner of my memory, I had a little scrap of an interview or news piece playing. It was from around the time of Betty’s death and I remembered someone mentioning that Betty got her start in showbiz at or around the same time as George Formby. It was about as vague as it gets but having nothing else to go on I ran with it and when researching for this write up, I found that Betty Driver had indeed landed her first screen role in Boots! Boots! in 1934. This was also Formby’s first major screen outing, barring one appearance in a short made OVER ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO IN 1915! Damn it Alan, you don’t get to pick the Six Degrees actors ever again.
Although i’ve never been one for watching soap operas, I think a certain amount of familiarity seeps into the brain through some sort of strange osmosis, like a tainted well poisoning the surrounding flora and fauna. That may seem a tad dramatic but I genuinely find soap opera’s depressing, as it’s usually an area containing around fifty people in which everyone is sleeping with everyone else while also trying to kill them, steal from them or both. I guess they’re not for me, is the point i’m trying to make. Either way, I had my link and with Coronation Street’s incredibly depressing theme music burning in my brain I began to flash through a list of names and faces from the shows past, stopping on one of my favourite actors and in fact favourite people of all time. Sir Ian McKellen.
If Sir McKellen announced that he was releasing a six hour DVD of him humming softly and occasionally clearing his throat, I would buy it immediately and would most likely find it to be the most relaxing and heartwarming thing i’d ever seen. I love the man entirely and am constantly thrilled by his work. The Lord of the Rings and X-Men franchises were the first things to pop into my head, given the broad scope of connective possibility offered by the assembled casts of both, but in the end I decided on something a little less obvious, but very dear to me.
From 2014 to 2016, Sir Ian McKellen starred alongside the equally brilliant Derek Jacobi in a series called Vicious, a sitcom focused on a gay couple in the twilight of their years. Sir Ian McKellen played ageing thespian, Freddie, with Derek Jacobi playing his long suffering life partner, Stuart and despite being very much in love, the pair were more often than not seen slinging acidic jabs at each other. I honestly found their bizarrely dysfunctional relationship both hilarious and heartwarming but the series drew mixed responses and ended after fourteen episodes and if anyone can find me a DVD boxset I would be eternally grateful, as this one is proving to be a real bugger to track down!
Most of the action in Vicious took place in Stuart and Freddie’s flat, in which they were visited by an ensemble cast of eccentric friends including frequently inappropriate Violet Crosby, played brilliantly by Frances De La Tour, which brings me to my next link. Potter!
De La Tour played the half-giant witch Madame Maxime in the Harry Potter films, headmistress of Beauxbatons Academy of Magic and object of Hagrid’s affection. Now we’re into the wizarding world of Potter and pals, we’ve got a whole host of potential connections available. Those films are a who’s who of fantastic actors. Gary Oldman, Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, the late and incredibly great Alan Rickman, one of my absolute favourites. I was left with too many options, to be entirely honest. I couldn’t see the metaphorical forest for the equally metaphorical trees.
Taking a deep breath, I ran through the films in order, trying to conjure up scenes in my mind. Dudley’s birthday, the storm of letters, the zoo, Hagrid’s appearance, the trip to Diagon Alley…
Got it! I really should have clicked faster. In Diagon Alley, Harry meets Mr Ollivander, played by the truly brilliant and sorely missed John Hurt. Another of my favourite actors, Hurt also turned in a truly stellar performance in Alien as the unfortunate Kane, who gets a little too close to a mysterious egg and winds up with an alien ovipositor rammed down his throat. In a scene which has been referenced and parodied countless times, poor John Hurt is explosively gutted from the inside out by the chestburster. The oddly adorable baby Xenomorph*** soon grows up and wipes out most of the crew, being ultimately bested by none other than Sigourney Weaver as Ripley.
George Formby to Betty Driver to Sir Ian McKellen to Frances De La Tour to John Hurt to Sigourney Weaver. I remain undefeated, Alan. You owe me a coke.
* Here’s a little nugget of serendipitous trivia. A couple of years ago, Russell Crowe had an uncredited role in the Brad Pitt flick, War Machine! Now I come to think of it, Brad Pitt also starred alongside Don Cheadle in the Oceans series. Whenever I start working on one of these posts, I inevitably end up in one of these weird cycles, especially when I’ve had too much caffeine and too little sleep.
** Odd little link, number two. Sir Ian McKellen starred in a film back in 1993 called Six Degrees of Separation. Y’know, like the title of this series. Weird, huh? Look, i’m writing this at two in the morning, cut me some slack.
*** Just me? OK, fine.