Errol Flynn

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Errol Flynn Pencil Portrait
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Last update 6/8/15

The Last of Robin Hood, is a 2013 film biopic about actor Errol Flynn’s relationship with Beverly Aadland in the late 50’s.

A decade and a half earlier, Flynn’s career as a matinee idol and swashbuckling film star had dimmed thanks to scandalous reports of alcoholism, womanizing, and the alleged sexual assault of two underage girls.

By his own autobiographical admission, his wicked, wicked ways continued unabated, and when he died in 1959, he reportedly passed away in the arms of his teenage girlfriend, the aforementioned Miss Aadland, a former chorus girl whom the actor had allegedly begun dating when she was only 15. You’ve got to laugh – old Errol viewed recidivism less as a character flaw, and more as a religious calling……….

I recently acquired a double disc DVD remastered edition of The adventures of Robin Hood.” I did so for a host of reasons (1) it was incredibly priced – under £2 (2) My grandchildren will come to love it, as indeed have many successive generations since its original release in 1938. 3) The technicolour looks even more eye catching post digitisation and 4) Most importantly of all, I wanted it for its pure nostalgia value, and remembrance of times past with my late father, who was a huge movie buff. Long since missing on terrestrial television in the United kingdom, the film piqued my interest in copyright law and screening rights.

Until the mid-1960s, the film industry – especially exhibitors, as represented by the Cinematograph Exhibitors’ Association (CEA) – strongly resisted the showing of any films on television at all. The British branches of the Hollywood majors went along with this, with the result that virtually the only films available to television for nearly thirty years were B pictures from minor distributors, foreign-language films and others (mostly pre-war or at least pre-1949) made or originally released by the American and British majors, that had slipped out of their control.

In 1958 an all-industry body was set up specifically to prevent British films reaching television: the Film Industry Defence Organisation (FIDO), which over the next six years acquired ‘negative covenants’ on the TV rights of nearly 1,000 films at a cost of over £2,000,000, thereby preventing them from being shown on television for up to twenty-one years. Financial leverage was also brought to bear. Producers and distributors who dealt with TV companies were threatened with effective blacklisting and with their films, past, present and future, being boycotted by cinemas. As I was growing up, this position would radically alter.

In late 1964, the independent Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn and the American company MCA (Music Corporation of America,) – which as well as owning Universal Pictures also controlled the pre-1949 backlog of Paramount Pictures – sold packages of films to ITV and the BBC, respectively. Largely instrumental in this acquisition was Gordon Smith, who was BBC Television’s film buyer from the days when the film industry was blocking the showing of feature films on television. A brief summary of his career can be located at:

This broke the blockade: FIDO ceased to acquire TV rights to British films – though it held on to most of those it had – and the CEA conceded that films more than five years old could be sold to television without its objection. Broadcasters now had access to an estimated 9,000 films, allowing them to pick and choose freely. Unsurprisingly, having been denied recent mainstream films for so long, they tended to favour those of the 1950s and (when sufficient time had passed) the 1960s. Many films of the 1940s and, to a lesser extent, the 1930s were acquired as well, though the older films remined a less atrractive proposition for schedulers.

It is truly laughable, and – in the event of BBC housecleanings in the early 70’s, greatly lamentable – that films and television programmes shot in monochrome were considered suitable only for the dust heap. As early as 1937, the Managing Director of Paramount Film Service had written to Gerald Cock, the BBC’s first Director of Television, to state that:

“We are definitely opposed to any attempt to push old product onto the public. We claim to be a progressive firm and are making every effort possible to increase the quality and standing of our product. We retire our films from circulation after a certain age, and we see nothing whatever to be gained by going back and picking up old product after same has been retired and attempting to show same to the public again through some other method, such as television.”

These early warnings of course, reckoned without the appeal of nostalgia or the future development of a film-buff culture that television could service. The first major ratings success of BBC2 after it began broadcasting in 1964 was a season called “The Vintage Years of Hollywood,” mainly comprising films from the pre-1949 Paramount catalogue. Over the next few years a great many ‘vintage’ films were shown for the first time on television, especially but not exclusively, on BBC2. However, by the early 1970s the supply of older films considered suitable was running out, and by the end of the decade most of those shown on all three channels were reruns; the bulk of those that remained unscreened were regarded as too dated or too minor to be worth reviving. BBC2 remained the most adventurous channel in programming ‘classic’ films, along with one or two of the ITV regional companies, most notably Granada, whose scheduler was Leslie Halliwell, who made occasional experiments in programming such as recreating a typical_‘golden age’_ evening at the cinema by supporting a feature with a short film, a cartoon and a newsreel.

A major player in the television industry in the 70’s and 80’s, blessed with a vast knowledge of the film industry, Halliwell published ‘The Filmgoer’s Companion,’ in 1965 – the first one-volume encyclopaedia devoted to all aspects of the cinema – and followed it a dozen years later with his eponymously titled Film Guide, another monumental work of effort and devotion. Leslie would die at the early age of 60, and whilst subsequent editions of Halliwell’s Fim Guide would be published after his death, all lacked his incisive critiques and indiosyncratic ratings system (no film made after 1967 could achieve five stars!!!). I like opinionated people – far too much sitting on the fence these days……

Under construction

Recommended viewing

Captain Blood (1935)

The adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Dodge City (1939)

The Sea Hawk (1940)

They died with their boots on (1941)

Gentleman Jim (1942)

Objective Burma! (1945)

Recommended reading

My wicked wicked ways - (Errol Flynn) 1959

Flynn’s testament to a life of debauchery and dissipation, an autobiography published several months after his premature death in 1959.

‘Old World’ attitudes can be disturbing and even offensive to the modern reader, but the most fascinating parts of the book reveal the actor’s own deeply troubled psyche. Charming yet immature, restless, self-destructive, egotistical, Flynn was all these things, and ultimately a disatisfied human being. His failure to secure more demanding film roles, his marital break-ups, and a form of self loathing combine intoxicatingly with his charm and panache to create a riveting read. failure to appreciate the context of his times, and his story will evoke only repulsion and pity, painting him as a real-life embodiment of the Byronic hero. His anecdotes about Hollywood acquaintances are equally debauched, reminding us once again that whilst Hollywood represents the eternal flame to which such broken souls are drawn, it offers great rewards at staggering personal costs.

Perhaps close friend David Niven best summed him up when he said;

“You could always rely on Errol. You could always rely on him to let you down.”


The Errol Flynn Blog