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Jonathan Sothcott - the man himselfTHE JONATHAN SOTHCOTT INTERVIEW
ULY 2000

In the first of our exclusive interviews, we talked to writer and film critic, Jonathan Sothcott, on Hammer, Amicus and his forthcoming Christopher Lee book.

Jonathan's name is familiar among Hammer circles. His expert opinions grace several websites and books, and his comments on the egroups [now Yahoogroups - 2005 - his appearances are less frequent] list has often stirred up a tirade amongst the more traditional elements.

For your viewing pleasure, we accompany this interview with a selection of photos of Jonathan together with some of the stars he has met.

Born in Redhill in Surrey (South-East England), he following a public school education in Lewes Old Grammar, before opting out of University "as it held no appeal".

Many of our more observant readers will have noticed Jonathan's name gracing the press release material for The Dark Side's Amicus book. Yet shortly before publication was due his name disappeared altogether. Just what did happen with regards to that particular publication?

"Allan Bryce and I did not seem to be able to agree on anything. I was given a bunch of deadlines that I met but which were then discarded. I was supposed to have cover and text approval. I got neither. It's the DarkSide's book, not mine."

Is that why you disappeared from the staff behind the DarkSide for a while?

"No - I was at a crucial stage with another project. I hope to have more stuff in there as I enjoy writing for them. After the last issue [issue 85] I got a beautiful letter from Robert Wynne-Simmons saying that my 'Blood On Satan's Claw' article was one of the best pieces of film journalism he'd ever read. As you can imagine, that meant a great deal to me. "

How much of the material published in the Amicus book was your work?

"All of the information, interviews and illustrations were supplied by me. I was paid for this. But if you're looking for a sense of author's voice, it's not mine!   "

I thought that after reading some of your other work. The book comes across as unprofessional at times, don't you think?

I don't know about unprofessional. Possibly they should have hired an outside editor.

At Bray with Evie Bricusse (Yvonne Romain) 28th July 2000Perhaps I should have been more specific. For me still, certain passages read as if they were written without the proper care they needed.

What did you make of the book; what didn't you like about it?

"Half of me loved it, the other half hated it. I was pleased with the presentation of Ray Christodoulou's piece, as he's a mate of mine. But I thought (and still think) printing in full colour was a mistake: there was a lot of great b/w stuff sacrificed. I also think that twenty quid is a lot of money for a very slim volume. But it's OK - I've certainly seen much worse books. I must point out that Allan Bryce is not a bad guy. He's a bit of a rogue, but I like his magazine. And I understand the book's doing very well, which should keep my bank manager happy."

That's probably the best thing about the book I thought. All the illustrations. Many of which horror fans won't have seen for some time.   Ray's piece looks fab. Though I'm not sure if I buy into the neccessity for a prelude and afterword piece.

"Oh I disagree - I think it's all part of the fun - getting your mates to write nice things about you! " 

But then, does today's reader really want a book full of black and white images?
Black and white image books remind many of us of the likes of Lorrimar's House of Horror from the 70's. (admittedly, low-budget poor re-productions)

" I think a good image is a good image, regardless of it being b/w or in colour. They pretty much got the balance right in 'The Hammer Story'. "

I'd heard that the book was in a limited print run, has this changed now?

"I believe they have reprinted it now." (The Amicus book is proving very popular with readers of DS, selling quickly even before it reaches the shop shelves)

Following the relative disappointment of the Studio That Dripped Blood (wasn't that a poor title to give the book? After all, Subotsky I thought, loathed the Hammer exploitation of sex and blood, and that title was used for a 1980's Hammer documentary!), you have announced your plans to produce a definitive account of Amicus, entitled the Amicus Empire. What can you tell us about that?

"The title was OK by me - I can't remember if it was my idea or Allan's. Max Rosenberg thought it was "A Smart-arse" title. Perhaps he was right. Anyway, I have so much fresh Amicus material - and input from Subotsky's family - that I think it's worth doing properly. But I have 3 or 4 genre projects on the go at the moment, so can't really contemplate another until some time next year. " (Jonathan has hinted at the end of 2001 for a possible publication).

So there is still some hope for a truely worthwhile Amicus book then?

"Sure. I'd like to do it. But to be completely honest I need some time away from Amicus! And I think the dust needs to settle after the Darkside book.  "

I muse on Subotsky's treatment in the book. Possibly an unfair and one-sided portrayal. It seems from reading it, that Subotsky was little more than a Yank hack.

" His son told me it was a bit harsh but not innacurate. Coincidentally, Max Rosenberg loves the book and ordered more copies! "

At this stage we change tack, trying to delve into some of Jonathan's other thoughts on the horror genre. I ask him how he got into the horror genre?with producer Richard Gordon ("Horror Hospital" etc)

" Do you know I honestly can't remember."

You collect a lot of horror-related material. Is this through a love of all things horror-related, or are you thinking ahead to your long-term future?

" Neither. I buy stuff for either research or to illustrate my writing. Magazines and book publishers - particularly in the film/tv area - expect you to provide your own illustrations. "

So writing then becomes a rather expensive hobby?!

" I guess that depends on how well you get paid.  "

Is that what you see yourself doing for the rest of your life, writing?

" Well if I could work out an easier way of getting a place in Monaco and spending my days lazing around on a yacht I'd take it. But until then I'm married to my keyboard!!   " 

Perhaps as an alternative to writing he could lecture under the title I once heard given him, "The Amicus Authority" !

"I've been called much worse things certainly, but I think that would be a pretty boring lecture, don't you? " 

Actually, not really. It has a lot of potential. I know of one guy doing a post-grad on Amicus so he would appreciate it at least.

Back to thinking about his research, I ask him about the most interesting person he's met along the way...

" Roger Moore, without a doubt. He is the nicest, most generous person in the film business. I also think he's a bloody good actor who has been seriously misused since he gave up Bond. He's a great guy - a very special person, and he should be knighted pronto! "

Absolutely. He's given some wonderful entertainment over the years, and is still working. He also does a lot of work with UNICEF doesn't he? (alongside a host of other celebs including former Spice Girl, Geri Halliwell, and the late Ian Dury)

" Yes he does. He does incredible stuff for UNICEF - going to these real hell holes and rolling up his sleeves and getting involved. And he does it very quietly - without making a song and dance about it. He is a brilliant storyteller - when he tells a joke you'll fall about laughing. But when he talks about what he's seen working for UNICEF it's very hard not to be affected. I get very angry when I see derisory remarks about him in the press.  "

Which you also are involved with... What do you get up to there? Surely not lecture on horror films to volunteers?

" No. I do pretty much anything I'm asked. Hearing stuff from UNICEF made me realise just how harmless those Hammer movies are. I urge anyone who doesn't know much about UNICEF to check out "

I'm not sure how aware of it you are, but you seem to have built something of a reputation for your sharp-tongue comments and dismissiveness of others. Is this part of a deliberate ploy and image or mere misunderstanding?

" No, not at all. I don't believe in hiding your feelings if you have been crossed, but on the other hand I'd never court trouble.
" My attitude to work is - very simply - that I do the job, try to get along with everybody, take the money and run! My attitude to people is that you should be nice to them on the way up - because you're going to meet them on the way down again.  "

It hasn't stopped you from having a few major fall-outs though has it?

in the company of Suzannan Leigh

Jonathan is quick to avoid any suggestion of this: " I don't know anything about that. I've had bad experiences with people - who hasn't - but this is a very bitchy profession. I don't see the point in holding grudges though. "

 Do you regret that, professionally speaking?

" I don't regret anything I've done professionally. If you did the best you could, you should always stand by your work.   "

You're not really a big Hammer fan are you?

" Depends. I think that a small percentage of Hammer films are just about the best genre movies ever made. But I can't like a movie just because it was made by Hammer. "

Hence the disdain with which you are rumoured to hold some "Hammer-heads" (Hammer-heads being those that insist everything, or nearly-everything that Hammer did was absolutely brilliant!)

" I don't hold anyone in disdain. Particularly not the breed of shark to which you presumably refer!

Just because a movie is made by Hammer doesn't mean its good, no. There have been some real nasties. I guess we have to accept that. But surely they produced more quality entertaining features than you are giving them credit for here?

" Oh yeah - but there are so many mediocre and bad Hammer films that I don't like to generalise. That's like saying 'I love all James Bond movies'. I don't. I think the last three were dreadful. But some of the Roger Moore ones are my favourite movies (I also love the Lazenby and Dalton ones).  "

[for the record, I thought Dalton the best. Followed by Moore then Connery. Lazenby's was a fine picture, and Brosnan sadly is slightly miscast. I also quite enjoyed David Niven in the role.
Hammer Head trivia: Did you know that the first Bond portrayal was by Bob Monkhouse, a film collector and star of
A Weekend With Lulu. But I digress....]

Would you rate other companies such as AMICUS higher then?

" No, not at all. Having said that, the Tigon horror movies were - to my mind - of a pretty uniformly high standard (and I include Curse of the Crimson Altar and Blood Beast Terror, both of which I think are great fun.). The only Amicus film I think is a bona fide classic would be From Beyond The Grave. "with Little Shop Of Horror's Dick Klemensen

So, just what is Jonathan's favourite Hammer ?

"Dracula. I think it's the best horror film that's ever been made. Admittedly it's slightly flawed in places, but the sheer guts and power more than make up for that."

You said that a small percentage of Hammer films were about the best in the genre. Would you like to elaborate on which ones? (His view of Hammer director Terence Fisher is bound to cause some upset)

" To my mind: Dracula, Brides of Dracula, The Mummy, Hound of the Baskervilles, Kiss of the Vampire, Cap'n Clegg, Evil of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed and Blood From The Mummy's Tomb. Though I think Fisher was a pretty flawed director blessed with good casts and scripts, I'm also an admirer of Phantom of the Opera (but it's not a horror movie), Curse of the Werewolf (Oliver Reed is one of my favourite actors) and Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (which would've been better if Val Guest had directed... Fisher just didn't understand it).  "

 And does that not suggest that you subscribe to the misconception that Hammer only produced horror? What about their other films...

" I'm a great admirer of Quatermass & The Pit. I dislike SF and that and Star Wars are just about the only examples of that genre I love. Cash On Demand is a great little movie. One Million Years B.C. is fantastic (and has a beautiful soundtrack). I'm not a great admirer of their comedies... but Man About The House is pretty good. "

Jonathan's forthcoming book, Prince of Darkness - The Cult Films of Christopher Lee' is published by Eaton Books on the 22nd of September.
It's a hefty 280 pages long, with about 400 pictures, including 24 pages in full colour. The book boasts a foreword by Roger Moore, an introduction by Linda Hayden and an afterword by Veronica Carlson.

Prince of Darkness - The Cult Films of Christopher LeeAnd yet work only began last Christmas (December 1999).

That's quite a quick turnover. Was it an easy subject to write about?

" Oh yes, very much so. I could have done it quicker, but had to juggle a lot of other projects. "

Just what made you write about Lee's films?

" I was asked if I would be interested in writing a book about British horror movies. My friend Marcus Hearn had done Hammer as well as anyone could (the excellent Hammer Story, published by Titan in 1996, co-written with Alan Barnes). David Miller was writing a (splendid) book on Peter Cushing (The Peter Cushing Companion, 2000). I'd just been involved with Amicus. So it was the logical choice! "

Well logical in that publishing rivals were doing Cushing, I suppose.

" I don't know about rivals: that was published by Marcus Hearn's company and we're mates. But to be honest there has been quite a lot of Cushing coverage recently, but not much on Christopher, aside from his splendid autobiography. "

I take it that you enjoyed working on the book with the King of Horror himself?

" Absolutely. Christopher is a really great guy. He's funny, self-deprecating and staggeringly intelligent. I know he has this reputation for being a little bit pompous, but he's not at all. He is, however, very shy and actually quite modest. Another smashing chap."

I've never understood that myself. Do you think its just a misunderstanding of his "old-school" ways?

" Not exactly - I guess he is a very impoing figure and he puts up these defence barriers out of shyness. But he's lovely.   "

Another for a knighthood then.

" Definitely. "

With dozens of people interviewed for the book, including Patrick Allen, Honor Blackman, Jane Merrow, Carol Marsh, Britt Ekland, Carorline Munro, William Franklyn, Joanna Lumley, Lorna Heilbron, Tony Hinds, Peter Sasdy and of course, Christopher Lee himself, I wondered about how he works on his books. Are they all specially intereviewed for the subject or does he resort to a stock-pile of interviews?

" A mixture of both. I have some very obscure stuff on file - like an interview with a guy called Ian FH Lloyd, who made a very obscure British horror movie called 'Face of Darkness'. Not too bad a movie, actually, but Christ knows where that would be published!  "

Perhaps we could suggest Ghoul Brittania, or even here?

Is there anything, that is, any stories etc, that you wanted into the book, that you couldn't include for space reasons etc?

" Nothing springs readily to mind. I must say that for me, the best bit of the book is the Foreword - it's a great thrill to have James Bond write something for you! Seriously though, no, I think we squeezed pretty much everything in. Obviously there are going to be some people I offend by not including their favourite movie, but I've tried to cover pretty much everything. "

Jonathan and Evie again.What else have you got in the works?

" Lots. I'm just finishing off a book called '25 Directors Who Defined The British Horror Film' for McFarland and I have a couple of other projects on the go for them. I'm writing on the second series of 'The New Professionals'. I'm writing a novel with Brian Clemens called 'The Long Road West'. I've been commissioned to pen 'The Ladies of Hammer' by Eaton Books as a follow up to the Lee volume. And stacks more.  "

What's the novel about then?

" It's funny actually, because it's a Western and I hate Westerns! But I've never written a novel and Brian has been a kind of mentor to me, so working with him is a great honour. "

As for The Ladies of Hammer, well I presume that's going to be the book full of nude starlets in glorious full colour then? (something I confess to having toyed with myself -if you'll excuse the expression).

" No, no nudity - I don't think it's necesary. The book was suggested to me by my friend Greg Turnbull (an incredibly nice guy who needs to update his website!!!) and he and Veronica Carlson have been on at me to do it for a few years. So I've agreed. It will feature about 40 ladies, with a lot of new interview material - people like Katya Wyeth, Yvonne Romain and Rita Tushingham, who haven't spoken about Hammer before. It will certainly be in full colour. I'm giving my royalties to Breast Cancer Research.   "

Thanks for your time again Jonathan, as interesting and insightful as ever. You'll talk to us again I trust?

" Of course. Thanks - it's been a pleasure. "


Jonathan's Christopher Lee book is published by Eaton Books in September 2000.

- It sold out fairly quickly. Copies can be found occasionally on ebay.

This interview was conducted with Jonathan Sothcott in late July 2000.
Article ©RJE Simpson 2000 / 2005
Thanks to Jonathan for the use of the photos which accompany this piece. All rights in these remain with him

Page first posted Sunday 6th August 2000
revised 20 Jan 2005

page first posted Sunday 6 August 2000
revised 20 January 2005
reformatted and reposted 24 August 2006

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