The Clive Francis Files

A tribute to Clive Francis

The Fan's File

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I have been a fan of Clive Francis since about 1995, when my local PBS station began showing The Piglet Files.

The Piglet Files is a half-hour comedy series, a spy spoof, telling the misadventures of a bunch of inept spies working for MI5, which began in 1990 and had three series for a total of 21 episodes (the British television 'series' is equal to the American 'season').

The nominal star (and a very popular comedy star in England) is Nicholas Lyndhurst. However, he did nothing for me. (Too tall, skinny and diffident.) On the other hand, I was much captivated by Lyndhurst's co-star in the series, Clive Francis. (Shorter, compact build, very handsome (though slightly not enough hair), with a confident way of standing, perfect timing in line delivery, a unique voice, (using a 'throaty warble' on occasion, etc. etc.)

After I viewed several episodes, and liking Francis more and more, I became a true fan, and started seeking out his other works. This was hard to do, since I live in the USA and he lives and works in England. However, I was able to find a few shows.

What is fun about finding each new performance is to see not only Francis' craft, but also comparing his performances with others that have gone before. What are Clive Francis's mannerisms, and what mannerisms does he "put on" for each role?

The easiest of Francis's works to find was A Clockwork Orange. Greater love hath no woman than to watch A Clockwork Orange, in search of the two or three minutes of Francis as Joe, the lodger. Given the physiques of Francis vs McDowell, 'Joe's' rather cowardly reaction to 'Alex's' threatening moves was a bit wimpy, but Francis did it well. (On the other hand if for some incredible reason I'd ever seen A Clockwork Orange first I probably wouldn't have become a fan of Francis on the strength of it.)

If I'd seen Masada first though, I definitely would have!

Next I acquired what is probably my favorite Francis performance: Masada, in which he co-starred along with Peter O'Toole, Peter Strauss, Anthony Quayle, David Warner, and Anthony Valentine. Unfortunately, at the time I found it, it was only available in a two hour version (it was a four hour mini-series). Nevertheless, Francis did have a very prominent role, playing the majority of his scenes opposite Peter O'Toole. And this is the quintessential Clive Francis, in my opinion, the Roman hairstyle he wore fitting his handsome face quite well, nicely tanned, a diffident manner in delivering his lines but still with that self-confident, in-command stance.

Next I was able to send off for a VHS copy of Girl Stroke Boy, a movie -- a comedy, in which he plays Laurie, a boy who brings his girlfriend home to meet his parents. The only thing is, his girlfriend looks so much like a boy that his parents spend the entire evening struggling to discover if this is so, and what it means. A 70s hairstyle does nothing for Clive here, I'm afraid. It is an early example of a gay rights movie, based on a play.

They showed Inspector Clouseau on late night tv once, so I've got that on tape as well. Francis has a small part, which he does very well, but oh, the movie is so bad. Alan Arkin is no Peter Sellers, though I doubt if Peter Sellers could have saved the movie, because it's not so much bad acting as a thoroughly bad script. For Clive Francis fans there is a treat, however, because at one point he impersonates Alan Arkin as Clouseau (or rather, Alan Arkin impersonates Clive Francis impersonating him, with the appropriate mannerisms) (Same hairstyle as in Girl Stroke Boy, and again, does nothing for him!)

Then, PBS brought another 'Britcom' to the screen, May to December, with Francis in a small but fun role as the 'popsy-pursuit' expert, Miles Henty. Although they did several series, Francis was written out after the first episode of Season Two, presumably so that he could take the much larger role of Maurice Drummond in The Piglet Files.

I like Clive in his role here as Miles, small though it is. He does a great job with his screen time - and there's a nice scene in one episode of him in short sleeved shirt and shorts playing squash.

Then A & E showed a program called Anna Lee: The Cook's Tale, in which Francis plays shady MP Mark Fletcher. His is a villainous role, and he does a cracking good job of it.

I saw him in Sharpe's Company, but unfortunately he had a very small role, and considering that he portrayed a soldier he was rather wimpy.

In the Jeremy Brett/Sherlock Holmes program The Man With The Twisted Lip, he does a much better job (not to mention having a much larger role!) In the denoument scene he delivers his lines quietly and with diffidence, but he still has an air of self-confidence about him.

He was the guest star on an episode of Yes, Prime Minister called ''A Victory for Democracy.'' And again, although he spoke his lines quite quietly, they were also spoken with confidence and he stood with his usual air of command. (And he had a nice haircut!)

He has a small role in a long ago TV movie, As You Like It which stars Helen Mirren. He plays Oliver, the brother of Orlando. The program opens with him doing a bit of fencing, and then he speaks rudely to Orlando, who grabs him in a sort of hammerlock. Given the physiques of the two actors it's rather surprising that he wasn't able to twist away, but one must take into consideration the exigencies of the plot which necessitated that Orlando is incredibly strong. Why Francis wasn't given the larger role of Orlando I don't know!

The latest thing of Francis' that I have is the TV mini-series Longitude, in which he has a small role as a sea-captain. This was filmed in 2000.

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