Simon remembers a spooky role
HANDS UP ANYONE who’s seen The Blood on Satan’s Claw?
No? Phew! It was a 1971 horror film in which I played a medieval toff (it was a bit of a stretch). They gave me a long wig that made me look like a cross between Lady Penelope and Russell Brand. The gist of the story was that our village was becoming infected by Evil. (Witchcraft was all the rage in the 1970s.) One by one cast members were found to have bits of the Devil growing about their person – a claw, a patch of matted hair, etc. Old Nick was reincarnating under our noses. We had eerie shots of crows circling, a maggoty eyeball in a field, and Patrick Wymark acting very slowly and looking moody in a cloak – his wig was obviously a cast-off from Coronation Street.
When my turn came, I was supposed to wake in the night and see my left arm covered in fur and my fingers transformed into a hideous claw; I would reach for my handy bedside dagger to hack it off. It took forever in make-up to rig my prosthetic arm and plumb in a tube for the copious blood that was going to flow. The kindly prop man said he’d heat up the blood for me: ‘We don’t want you to catch cold, do we?’
I had practised a variety of terrified grimaces in the bathroom mirror – I opted for a bit of Anthony Perkins with a dash of Dirk Bogarde, so I was ready for the big moment. Valiantly I hacked away at my infected arm – I panted, I screamed, I ground my teeth, I writhed. The lukewarm blood was squirting
The kindly prop man said he’d heat up the blood for me
everywhere. It was a bad moment for my wig to come unstuck and take on a life of its own. It was like driving a car without a steering wheel – my head went one way, the wig the other, swivelling out of sync as in The Exorcist. In the out-takes it looked as if my head were on back to front and covered in ketchup. When I had finished, the director wanted a close-up of my hand desperately reaching for the knife. This was my hand’s big chance – a tense moment alone on the screen. ‘Action!’ My fingers trembled and stretched out towards the dagger, they twitched, they clawed the air, they gave it their all. ‘And the Academy Award for Finger Work goes to…’ ‘Cut!’ the director called. He came over to me and whispered what may have to be the title of my autobiography, if ever I write one: ‘Simon, don’t overact with your fingers.’ Simon is in The Archers, and today will be attending a memorial concert for a dear friend and inspirational teacher, Nick Milner-gulland, at Ardingly College; email@example.com