HE­ROES & IN­SPI­RA­TIONS: MARK GATISS

FROM UN­SHAKE­ABLE CHILD­HOOD DREAD TO LON­DON’S ODD­EST COR­NERS, THE GREATEST LIV­ING ENGLISH­MAN SHARES SOME OF HIS FAVOURITE THINGS WITH NICK SETCH­FIELD

SFX - - Contents - Por­trait by Eivind Hansen

The Sher­lock co-cre­ator shares some of his favourite things. Hart­ley Hare snuck in there some­how. Don’t have night­mares.

Mark Gatiss is the cul­mi­na­tion of his pas­sions. Vol­cani­cally so. “Like a spot!” he laughs, rel­ish­ing the sim­ile be­fore giv­ing it a glee­ful squeeze. “Like a great big boil! all the pus has reached the burst­ing point in me!” ac­tor. Writer. stran­gler. Gatiss’s twit­ter bio omits the word en­thu­si­ast, pos­si­bly be­cause it scarcely needs stat­ing. From The League Of Gentle­men to Sher­lock, his tril­ogy of Lu­cifer Box nov­els to ac­claimed doc­u­men­taries on painter John Min­ton and the his­tory of screen hor­ror, it’s a ca­reer powered by in­fat­u­a­tions.

“i’ve been lucky enough to pur­sue my pas­sions,” he tells SFX as he chooses a mere seven of his touch­stones ahead of Christ­mas ghost tale The Dead Room, which he’s writ­ten and di­rected for BBC Four. “the chal­lenge al­ways is that you don’t fall out of love with it, be­cause it ob­vi­ously be­comes work. You have to do it when you don’t want to do it, and you don’t want to squash all the joy out of it, but i’ve not got there, thank god.

“it all leaves a fin­ger­print, doesn’t it?”

THE TIME MA­CHINE (1960)

I saw it when I was very young and it com­pletely knocked me for six. It’s amaz­ing the ex­tent to which those early things grip you. As a writer you can’t write them out, ei­ther, no mat­ter how many times you think, “Oh, I know where that’s come from!” They crop up again and again. There are so many el­e­ments of it which I can’t – and wouldn’t want to – dis­lodge from my head. The de­sign of the time ma­chine is so beau­ti­ful, it made my hair stand on end. The Mor­locks ter­ri­fied me so much, es­pe­cially when he goes for­ward in time and it rots and its eye­ball falls out! But the most cru­cial thing – and this is some­thing that I keep com­ing back to – is the mag­i­cal mo­ment where he sits there, in his con­ser­va­tory, pushes the lever and the sun and the moon arc over­head, and the fash­ions in the shop across the road change… I just love that. Mag­i­cal. If you’re a Wells purist it’s ob­vi­ously a very pulpy ver­sion of a bril­liant novel that’s ac­tu­ally a dev­as­tat­ing so­cial cri­tique, but as a piece of bril­liant pop film cul­ture there’s noth­ing like it. I could watch it for the rest of my life, and I fully in­tend to, start­ing right now!

THE GHOSTS OF MOT­LEY HALL

It’s dif­fi­cult to choose a TV show be­cause there are so many things which once upon a time felt like buried trea­sure, and have now be­come much re­lated and much an­thol­o­gised, as it were. Be­cause all of chil­dren’s TV was scary in those days and now be­cause of won­der­ful things like Scarred For Life there’s no es­cape! There’s no hid­den ones any­more. But a show I re­dis­cov­ered – it must have been about eight years ago now – that was ut­terly de­light­ful, and ev­ery bit as good as I re­mem­bered, was The Ghosts Of Mot­ley Hall. I was ever so fond of that show and I bought the DVD with some trep­i­da­tion, and I was ter­ri­bly moved and de­lighted by it. Richard Car­pen­ter, who wrote it, was a gi­ant, much un­der­rated. It’s a beau­ti­fully writ­ten show. It’s ex­tremely melan­choly, like all the best things. It has a sort of Bag­puss-like melan­choly at its heart. And just a won­der­ful idea – a group of ghosts from

dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods, all played by fan­tas­tic char­ac­ter ac­tors. I was re­ally pleased that it wasn’t a show that dis­ap­pointed. In fact it was even bet­ter than I re­mem­bered.

PAVANE

It may sur­prise some peo­ple that I’ve never been a huge sci­ence fic­tion reader. I read a lot of HG Wells and a lot of Ray Brad­bury, but a lot of the big­gies, like Frank Her­bert or Asi­mov or Arthur C Clarke, I’ve never gone any­where near. It’s some­thing about the hard SF­ness of them. They’re a bit dry. And any­thing that looks like it’s part of a 19-part se­ries… oh, I sim­ply can’t be both­ered! But this book by Keith Roberts is very good. I re­mem­ber lov­ing the world-build­ing. El­iz­a­beth I is shot by an as­sas­sin, and she dies, the Ar­mada suc­ceeds and then it’s the present day – so it’s ba­si­cally the 1960s ex­cept the Span­ish won, and the Catholic world of Eng­land in the 1960s is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent world. The church has held back progress mas­sively. They don’t have cars but they have sort of car-ships with sails and stuff like that. There’s a lovely, mag­i­cal bit in that book when some­one re­mem­bers bea­cons be­ing lit across the coun­try the night the old king died, and I re­mem­ber think­ing, “But who was that king?” Be­cause in this al­ter­na­tive world, where the Span­ish in­vaded, that’s a line of kings and queens we never knew. I loved that. What a won­der­ful sen­tence. I was al­ways a big fan of counter-fac­tu­als, they thrilled me. I’ve gone off them now, largely be­cause we’re liv­ing in one. And that’s no ex­ag­ger­a­tion. I have no ap­petite for them any­more. I used to – any­thing like SS-GB or The Man In The High Cas­tle or Hand­maid’s Tale I loved. I’m ter­ri­fied now. They’re too close. It just feels like a live feed from Amer­ica.

Ru­fus Wain­wright

My favourite mod­ern mu­si­cian is Ru­fus Wain­wright, who’s a friend of mine. I took his first al­bum away on hol­i­day and I played it to death. I re­mem­ber think­ing, “I love ev­ery­thing about this, I love his voice, I love his ideas. They’re beau­ti­ful melodies but there’s an ache in them. He’s also very gor­geous!” And then I in­ter­viewed him when he came to Lon­don to pro­mote the sec­ond al­bum and we be­came friends. We were talking about writ­ing a mu­si­cal to­gether. We were in the mid­dle of the snowy Mon­treal hills in this won­der­ful log cabin, like a Rock Hud­son film, and we’d meet at break­fast time and talk about it then go away to our in­di­vid­ual huts and scrib­ble away. And I would come back with some piece of dog­gerel and Ru­fus would come back and say, “I just wrote this thing – what do you think?” And he’d just made up some heart­break­ingly beau­ti­ful song… This is what it must be like to be a ge­nius. He’s just in­sanely tal­ented.

James Ma­son

He was flaw­less. I love the fact he was from Hud­der­s­field and yet had this ex­tra­or­di­nary cut-glass voice, which we’ve all been do­ing for the rest of our lives. His greatest per­for­mance is in Salem’s Lot, which I could quote till the end of time – [un­canny Ma­son im­pres­sion] “Come to the mas­ter, holy man, your faith against his faith!” He’s just amaz­ing. And he’s got a won­der­fully un­know­able qual­ity. There’s some­thing odd about him, al­ways. Some­thing un­place­able. He was a big Hol­ly­wood star, but he doesn’t fit. You can tell. What I love, par­tic­u­larly in a fan­tasy film, is peo­ple with to­tal ded­i­ca­tion. He’s in some re­ally schlocky films but he never gives a bad per­for­mance. In

20,000 Leagues Un­der The Sea he’s play­ing Nemo for real. It’s a won­der­fully ad­mirable qual­ity. He’s a tech­ni­cally bril­liant ac­tor, too. There’s some­thing im­mac­u­late about it all. The pres­ence and the voice and grace… some­thing fe­line. You can see why he was great box of­fice. He’s an in­cred­i­bly sexy pres­ence. But then he ma­tures in that North By North­west way, be­comes that mid-’50s, steel-grey-haired, ur­bane Amer­i­can so­phis­ti­cate. He re­mains a fan­tas­ti­cally com­plex per­son­al­ity. That’s why he in­ter­ests me. You re­ally can’t pin him down and you can’t pin down his choices, ei­ther.

LON­DON

I re­ally am very loyal to Lon­don. I think it can kill you – it’s like a mon­ster, the peo­ple it spits out. But ev­ery­where else I go I think, “Well, it’s not as good, is it?” Its mad­ness is its joy, the fact it’s still so hig­gledy-pig­gledy. Peter Ack­royd wrote a fan­tas­tic book called Lon­don: The Bi­og­ra­phy and one of the most ap­peal­ing things is that it’s sep­a­rated into chapters called Sound and Light and he ab­so­lutely nails the weird­ness of it, that you can step off Shaftes­bury Av­enue into a lit­tle court­yard and go, “Where’s this?” Sud­denly all the sound has changed. It goes from be­ing very chi-chi to quite rough within one street. I think that’s won­der­ful, and there are very few places like that. It’s an in­trin­si­cally Bri­tish thing to be this sort of messy and fucked up, which I think Lon­don is. What I ab­so­lutely love do­ing is find­ing un­ex­pected bits. It’s like be­ing a tourist in your own city. It’s some­thing ev­ery­one should do. Make a con­scious de­ci­sion not to go to the places you usu­ally haunt and just go some­where else. I like get­ting off my usual rails. I did the High­gate Ceme­tery tours sev­eral times – they’re fas­ci­nat­ing. And I used to do in­fa­mous ad­dresses tours, usu­ally mur­der sites. There are more than you’d ex­pect. And there are so many cu­ri­ous places. A for­ma­tive thing from child­hood was the Spaghetti House siege. I re­mem­ber it so vividly on the news for about a week and a half in 1975. Spaghetti House is still a chain, but then I found the one the siege took place in and I was re­ally ex­cited!

1970s Dread

Ghost stories are my favourite thing, in terms of hor­ror or fan­tasy. They’re the thing I al­ways come back to. The more my tastes have gone in that di­rec­tion the more I ap­pre­ci­ate that kind of creep­ing dread. If you’re from that gen­er­a­tion where ev­ery chil­dren’s TV se­ries seemed to be su­per­nat­u­ral then it leaves a weird, in­deli­ble mark. It was ev­ery­where! Even the things which weren’t sup­posed to be seemed to be vaguely creepy and vaguely about stand­ing cir­cles. All pup­pet shows were horrible, weren’t they? Even sup­pos­edly nice ones, like Dusty Mop… and Hart­ley Hare! Look at Hart­ley Hare, for Christ’s sake! What was go­ing on? There is so much to en­joy there. There was folk hor­ror ev­ery­where. I def­i­nitely draw all that out to this day. It doesn’t leave you. In The Dead Room the in­cit­ing in­ci­dent is from the long hot sum­mer of ’76. It’s very much about in­vok­ing that at­mos­phere of what it was like to be there dur­ing the drought and ev­ery­thing that it meant to me as a 10-year-old kid, but also be­ing su­per­nat­u­ral at the same time. It’s deeply in­fused with the at­mos­phere of that time.

The Dead Room is on BBC Four this Christ­mas. The League Of Gentle­men Live Again! is out now on DVD.

grow­ing up with ghost stories leaves a weird, in­deli­ble mark

He hoped this was the cor­rect lever for pink bub­ble bath.

James Ma­son: the epit­ome of suave.

The Ghosts Of Mot­ley Hall was es­sen­tial view­ing for ’70s kids. Let’s all swoon to the voice of Ru­fus Wain­wright.

Hart­ley Hare is not mangy, he’s mis­un­der­stood.

High­gate Ceme­tery is the per­fect place for a spooky pic­nic.

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