20th JunGet the lowdown on iconic Get Carter
This article was originally published in the Newcastle Chronicle
During the making of Get Carter, one young man found himself among real-life gangsters, as DAVID WHETSTONE learns from film-maker and writer Tony Klinger
LOTS of things have been written and said about Get Carter – widely regarded as one of the best British gangster films – but few can rival Tony Klinger’s inside knowledge.
Tony’s dad, Michael, was the producer of the film, having sent the novel Jack’s Return Home, by Ted Lewis, to director Mike Hodges, asking if would be interested in making a movie out of it.
Hodges’ direction, the masterful performance by Michael Caine in the starring role and a gloriously hard-bitten and drab North East backdrop contributed to the enduring – even escalating – appeal of Get Carter.
“I was there when we found the director and when we cast Michael Caine and I was in Newcastle for some of the filming, although I was making my own film at the same time and I was supposed to be in Glasgow,” says Tony Klinger.
A man whose own ideas and enthusiasms burst forth in an amiable torrent, he describes the making of Get Garter as “like kismet”, which is to say fate played a hand.
As an example he cites one of the earliest scenes when Jack Carter, played by Caine, is seen in London, drinking with sinister colleagues in a residence positively dripping with gangster chic.
Here Carter outlines his plan to return to Newcastle to avenge the death of his brother.
Great set, you might think, imagining the reek of whisky, cigars and other ill-gotten gains, and imagining what the walls could tell you if walls had ears.
That, reveals Tony Klinger, was no film set. Like the now demolished multi-storey car park in Gateshead, another Get Carter location, it was a slice of real life.
“I was dating an American girl in London at the time. I suppose I was about 19 or 20. She said, ‘Do you want to come back to the flat I’m staying at?’
“I went back to this flat near Lancaster Gate and it was just as you see it in the film. The girl’s uncle was a big time gangster and I knew it would be perfect for the film. We wouldn’t need to change a thing. I said, ‘My dad’s looking for a flat’.”
A deal was struck between Michael Klinger and the girl’s uncle.
As Tony remembers: “All he wanted was to have dinner with Michael Caine and a picture taken of them together.
“I think everyone takes it for granted that the scene was shot in a studio set but I can assure you it wasn’t.”
It ended in tears as far as Tony Klinger was concerned. His girlfriend’s gangster uncle, deciding he enjoyed the buzz of the movie business, offered to finance Tony’s own next film.
His first had cost £2,000. Tony and his partner, still a little green and not really knowing much about film finance, plucked a projected budget of £35,000 out of the air.
His would-be benefactor, perhaps knowing even less about film finance, was unfazed. “He said, ‘OK. Will it be less if I give you cash?’ I didn’t know what he meant so I said, ‘No, it’ll cost just the same’.
“ My dad heard about this and said, ‘Are you nuts? You’ve got to get a contract written up’.”
As an experienced film producer, Michael Klinger knew that generous backers didn’t just drop out of trees. Everything had to be done properly.
What he didn’t appreciate was that Tony’s potential backer operated in a world the fictional Jack Carter would have understood only too well.
Tony returned to the flat armed with his contract to find a fleet of expensive cars parked outside, Jags and Rollers among them, and bouncer types keeping a watchful eye on them.
Inside a gang of heavy-looking guys, with his girlfriend’s uncle in their midst, were playing cards – gambling for ownership of the posh cars.
Confronted by young Tony and his contract, the main man replied that he didn’t do business like that.
Recalls Tony: “He got so upset with us. In fact, these big guys threw us downstairs – three flights.
“You know when you get so angry and you can’t do anything about it? I wanted to hit one of them but they were twice my size.”
Tony and his friend both drove nifty little Triumph Vitesse sports cars which they’d parked downstairs.
Angry and disappointed, they jumped into their cars and prepared to roar off with a defiant flourish, but promptly reversed into each other, prompting laughter from the heavies. You might think Tony Klinger was born with the film-making equivalent of a silver spoon in his mouth but he says he stubbornly did his own thing.
He admits that some of his best moments came when helping his father on films such as Shout At The Devil, starring Lee Marvin and Roger Moore, Gold, which also starred Moore along with Ray Milland and Susannah York, and Rachel’s Man, with Rita Tushingham and Mickey Rooney.
But he turned down the chance to produce the risqueé Confessions series – including Confessions of a Window Cleaner, Pop Performer, Driving Instructor – with his father.
“I hadn’t yet discovered that in order to be free to make wonderful films, sometimes you needed to make commercial films,” he says. Tony has had a successful career as a writer, producer and director. In the 1970s he produced the rock documentary The Kids Are Alright, about The Who, and directed The Butterfly Ball, featuring Roger Glover, Twiggy and Vincent Price.
He has also made a documentary called The Man Who Got Carter, focusing on his late father’s role in the movie, which is due out later in the year to mark the 40th anniversary of Get Carter.
Another current project is a website called bCreative – log on to www.thebcreativedirectory.com – which is a free creative social networking site.
Tony says he was inspired to set up the site during the three years he spent as head of media at the University of East London, when he saw thousands of students trying to turn their talent into a means of making a living.
Tony confesses he never milked his dad for advice. “The last person you want to ask for advice is someone in your own family,” he says, while acknowledging his youthful folly.
Who, then, do you ask? Tony says bCreative is a way of putting young creative people in touch with each other and with potential mentors in disciplines including music, theatre, film, writing and comedy.
“I spent three or four years developing it, it was launched in January and it has been going very well so far,” he says.
“I have a lot of experience in writing books and making films and I confess to being a bit of a geek. But there are others like me and people can benefit from the things we know.
“I don’t think there has been anything quite like this before and it seems to be going very well.”
Check out the website. Clearly more mentors are needed, particularly in the North East where Get Carter continues to inspire and intrigue.