Meeting The Who was more exciting than being in Quadrophenia
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of cult British film Quadrophenia, there’s a new documentary and the stars came together for a table read of the original script. GEORGIA HUMPHREYS talks to some of the cast about the reunion and the movie’s enduring appeal
FORTY years since Quadrophenia was released in cinemas, Phil Daniels still finds the film looms large in his daily life. The Londonborn actor, 60, played the lead role – Jimmy Cooper, a London mod
– in the cult classic.
Disillusioned by his parents and his dull job, he finds an outlet for his teenage angst by taking amphetamines, partying, riding scooters and brawling.
“It’s a strange thing to have a whole group of people who think I am Jimmy, which I’ve sort of come to terms with a bit,” admits the star, who’s had roles in crime drama Scum and animation Chicken Run, and Blur’s Parklife music video.
“There was a point in my life when I wasn’t interested at all, but now I don’t mind. That’s life – que sera. But it is a bit of a strange thing, but a nice thing, to have such a following.”
The success of Quadrophenia – which is set in 1964 and is loosely based on The Who’s 1973 rock opera of the same name – has grown and grown.
“For many years after we did the film it was quite quiet, and I think after, I don’t know, 10, 15, 20 years, it started getting a cult following,” Phil continues. “People became Mods and I think DVDs helped and things like that. It’s an interesting phenomenon.”
To celebrate the anniversary of the drama’s release, Sky Arts brought the original cast back together. Hosted by Lauren Laverne, Quadrophenia Reunited – 40 Years On involved a recording of a live table read-through with the original cast, plus a new documentary called Quadrophenia – Our Generation, which looks at the maverick film-making, the complex themes within the film and the Mod movement in general.
Plus, the original film is due for a selected cinema release this autum, so once again we will be able to follow Jimmy and his Mod friends Dave (Mark Wingett), Chalky (Philip Davis) and Spider (Gary Shail), as they travel to Brighton, where they clash with the rockers.
It’s nice to hear the cast has remained close since shooting together in the 1970s. But reuniting for this event was still emotional.
“I don’t think any of us have changed, we are still very much the same people,” confides Toyah Willcox, 61, who plays Monkey.
“But obviously time has affected us, and to watch the documentaries and the work we have done in the last 12 months, I find it profoundly moving.”
Did they have a sense at the time that the relationships they formed on set would last four decades?
“We were all very passionate, and protective,” recalls the Birmingham-born actress, who’s also a Brit Awardnominated musician, famous for songs such as I Want To Be Free.
She explains her co-stars Mark and Gary were like her “bodyguards” when they’d go and watch her gigs.
“I was a punk rocker. I was the subject of quite a lot of physical aggression... Punks always got beaten up by Teddy Boys or whatever. Even as a woman on my own...
A gang tried to throw me through a chemist window on the King’s Road, when I was about 20. It was quite interesting back then because fights did break out, but no one pulled a knife on you, no one pulled a gun on you.
“Punk threatened everyone. But what’s really interesting looking back at the film – you’ve got these riot sequences where the mods and rockers are fighting as part of their Bank Holiday enjoyment – I think that element has always been there.
“I think there was a pride back then in using your physical strength, using your fists, or being able to run quick enough to get away.”
Steph – Jimmy’s love interest in the film, who he meets in Brighton – is played by Leslie Ash.
It was the first major role for the 59-year-old, who went on to star in hit TV shows such as Men Behaving Badly and Where The Heart Is.
“I just look and think, ‘Oh my god I wish I looked like that now!”’ quips the star, who was born in Henleyon-Thames, when asked how she’s found watching the film back.
“But obviously 40 years later it’s a full-time job trying to live up to that sort of character, that look, because people love that film so much, and they come and tell me how much they loved it.
“It’s just a lovely thing, to be able to say, ‘Yeah I was in that film, and I look great’. Everyone looks fantastic.”
Leslie agrees that Steph was a groundbreaking character in terms of the way women are portrayed on screen.
“It’s funny, I was just saying to Phil, at the time it was a fantastic job to get – I was modelling so all I was focused on was I wanted to look good. And I loved the whole fact that it was improvisation, working with Franc (Roddam, director) and it didn’t seem like work. Every day you looked so forward to getting into work and working with these guys.
“But I’m finding that out afterwards, that it was actually so groundbreaking... Women were being stronger and out there and they could go out, they weren’t tied to the kitchen. The whole world was opening up for women.”
As Quadrophenia’s plot develops, we see what are perhaps perceived as traditional roles in a relationship reversed; Steph is the more sexual of the two, while Jimmy is more emotional.
Says Leslie: “I suppose it always went on but it wasn’t seen, and I think the whole thing in the 60s was that it just came out – women could be promiscuous just like a man. Although they probably got called names for it.”
It’s impossible to talk about Quadrophenia, which also stars Sting as a mod leader, and not mention the soundtrack.
When Phil is asked about how he related to the themes in the film, it’s clear that the music was a huge part of his experience on set.
“We just sort of put the parkas on and the gear and got on our scooters and did the scenes that were in front of us,” he says. “And because it was The Who’s music, it was really quite exciting. I think we were all at that age that meeting The Who was more exciting than being in the film!”
Phil Daniels in the new doc
Phil Daniels in new documentary Quadrophenia – Our Generation, left, and above with Pete Townshend of The Who during the recording of the film in 1978 Scooters in Brighton during filming of Quadrophenia The Who lead singer Roger Daltrey during filming of Quadrophenia in Brighton in October 1978 ■ Quadrophenia’s 40th anniversary celebration is available on Sky Arts catch-up. The original film will also be screened in select cinemas this autumn.