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The Man with the Golden Gunn and Moore

By 1972, producer Gubby Melon was concerned that the James Bond format had grown tired. In a move that would prove to be disastrous for reasons he could not have possibly foreseen, he cast aside the Ian Fleming catalogue and enlisted Minor Counties umpire Seth Buckles to write a fresh and modern script.

Umpire to the Rescue

The brief was simple: accentuate all things British and include as much cricket as possible. Buckles obliged and by the end of 1973 an all star cast, led by Roger Moore, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, and newcomer Buckles, had finished filming the ill-fated The Man with the Golden Gunn and Moore.

The formula was solid enough: an evil umpire played by Buckles; his love interests - Ekland and Adams; Moore as the ultimately triumphant all English hero; and a plethora of allies, villains, MCC members, cricket gadgets, scorers, supercharged heavy rollers, exploding stumps, and sexy tea ladies.

Success seemed assured until Melon made a terrible error of judgement. In a departure from the tried and tested formula that had ensured earlier Bond films gained vital exposure in the lucrative popular music charts - recruit the recording artist with the biggest name you can afford - Melon entrusted soundtrack responsibility to a little known Scottish 'Rock and Bowl' outfit: the Long Hair Rollers (LHR).

Give a Band a Break

The band would soon enjoy three years of well deserved international success however their first foray into the mainstream would prove to be as abysmal as the sustained period of creative and personal decline that preceded their eventual demise in 1983.

photo of the Long Hair Rollers
Long Hair Rollers - Glasgow 1972. From left: Woody Willows, Eric Angels, Ken McKewen, and Derek Longhop.

It was not that the music was bad. The problem was that even at their very best, LHR were incapable of anything more substantial than slick bubblegum pop.

The dramatic and romantic themes that dominate Bond movies simply demanded greater substance than they were able to provide - and as is so often the case, bad soundtrack meant bad box office.

On the Front Foot

Even after all these years, the normally effusive LHR vocalist Ken McKewen struggles to maintain his composure when asked to assess the band's Bond contribution.

"The music was great", insists McKewen. "It was Melon's song placement that caused all the problems.

"For instance, there is that iconic moment when Bond arrives at the crease, proceeds to shake the wicketkeeper's hand whilst concealing a laser cutter, and surreptitiously manages to cut off the unsuspecting victim's hand whilst quipping: 'sheared not shaken'.

"I had written the song You Won't Catch Anything from Me with this in mind yet Melon used it to accompany the film's key love scene - when umpire Buckles attempts to arouse Britt Ekland with a stump.

"It was bad for the film and reinforced the old stereotype that all umpires are VD riddled perverts" says McKewen. "You'd get done for racism if you tried that these days.

"Tired Finger, a song about the occupational hazard that has tested the patience of many an umpire's wife, was meant to go there".

Drinkable Salt and other Frustrations

McKewen's recollections are incompatible with the widely accepted view that LHR deliberately set out to ruin the movie.

photo of Dr. No Ball
Dr. No Ball captures 18 wickets during the course of the film, including a film career best: 7 dead for 37.

Producer Gubby Melon feels that his only error was one of misplaced faith.

"I was very trusting in those days and made the mistake of leaving them unsupervised because I didn't want to hinder the creative process", admits Melon.

"In order to build tension in the moments leading up to Dr. No Ball appearing to trap Bond leg before wicket, I asked Willows to create a prelude called Off Cutter and left him to it."

Willows agreed to this and more. Shortly afterwards LHR commenced what would turn out to be a lengthy residency at the illustrious EMI Studio No. 2, on London's Abbey Road.

"You can imagine my disappointment when nine costly months later, they presented me with a collection of songs that at best amounted to a poor approximation of my instructions", says Melon.

Hot Butter - a ballad about a scoreboard operator who could only add up when he was drinking melted butter - typified the band's output and was the nearest they came to creating Off Cutter.

Melon was cornered. He wanted to cut his losses and replace LHR but the film was already over budget and out of time.

The beleaguered producer simply had to make do with what he was given.

With his promising future teetering on the brink of collapse, he began to salvage what he could.

"It was depressing, difficult and compromises had to be made", Melon recalls.

"I had asked them to write a song called Pole Vault to add dramatic effect to the film's most thrilling sequence which begins with Dr. No Ball seizing control of Lord's and locking the gates.

"No one, including Bond who is due to bat at first drop, can get inside the ground. Wickets are tumbling and an increasingly frustrated Bond hits upon the idea of pole vaulting his way in.

"The plan is carried out to perfection and he sails clear over the Mound Stand - bat in hand, lit cigar, pads on, and gloves in pocket.

"Much to the annoyance of the watchful Umpire Buckles who is eager to 'time-out' his adversary, Bond lands right on the batting crease, removes his parachute, and takes guard as the last man in with one second to spare.

"I was very clear that Pole Vault must contain all of this and I practically wrote the lyrics for them.

"All of which was a complete waste of effort. They ignored me and chose instead to record a song called Drinkable Salt. It was poorly written, nonsensical, yet one of their best - I had no choice but to use it".

Blame it on the Boss

Every umpire knows that vinegar's nice,

You can make it from malt, fruit, apples or rice,

Porridge is good hot or cold,

But best of the lot of them is drinkable salt.

Word spreads quickly in the entertainment industry. The misdeeds of the 'scoundrels from Scotland' were well known long before The Man with the Golden Gunn and Moore was released.

LHR realised they needed an excuse - and who better to blame than Melon.

They claimed that principal songwriter Woody Willows suffered from a rare hearing disorder that affected his comprehension of Oxford English - a type of audio dyslexia that jumbles up words spoken in Received Pronunciation.

The elaborate attempt failed when Melon revealed that his background was less privileged than commonly thought.

"The mistaken belief that I was educated at Oxford persists to this day; but I left school at fourteen and never went to university", he explains.

"In fact I come from a long line of electricians and worked for the family business - Circuits and Plugs - for many years prior to making movies.

"I recall telling McKewen that I was once electrocuted in Oxford - I suspect he got the wrong end of the stick. It possibly also explains those rumours about me having worked as a Circuit Judge".

An Unlikely Conspiracy?

Melon believes he was the unwitting victim of a nationalist conspiracy. "I was oblivious to it at the time", he says, "but there was a lot of ill feeling in Scotland that I had overlooked Mike Denness for the part of Bond.

photo of an effigy of Buckles being burnt
An effigy of Buckles is burnt by angry fans upset by the controversial 'dead-ball' ruling that denied Britt Ekland a neatly compiled posthumous century. Ekland - who was on 95 not-out - perishes seconds before her lusty straight drive disappears into the crowd.

"LHR were big fans of the police drama Special Branch and had fallen under the spell of Fulton Mackay who played Detective Superintendent Inman.

"He was forever lurking behind the scenes, plying them with short bread, and filling their heads with talk of the Jacobite Revolution".

Melon claims Mackay was especially keen to discredit the leading man and cajoled Willows into writing the embarrassing theme song He's a Lady Boy.

"It wasn't quite what I was expecting when I asked him to write a song about a ladies man", Melon admits.

The recently published memoirs of LHR drummer Derek Longhop lend weight to Melon's theory.

He remembers being in the room when Melon asked Willows to write a song called Gravity for the infamous moon cricket scene.

"Woody seemed genuinely enthusiastic and got on with it then and there. Next thing Fulton Mackay shows up, slips him a scotch egg, whispers something in his ear, and departs - the whole thing couldn't have lasted more than a minute".

A now contrite Longhop admits that "everyone was in on the joke" by the time LHR entered the studio a week later to record Gravy Tea, a song about an MCC steward who drinks onion gravy from a teapot.

photo of Gravy Tea comic strip
In 1973, LHR enjoyed their first #1 hit with Gravy Tea. The song was also responsible for inspiring the long running comic strip: Gravy Tea: the steward's choice.

Happy Endings

Despite having carried out the greatest musical sabotage in film history, the plotters failed to inflict any real damage.

The Man with the Golden Gunn and Moore broke even at the box office, Roger Moore would play Bond a further five times, Seth Buckles enjoyed his minute of fame, LHR dominated the charts for a couple of years, Maud Adams had a guest appearance on Kojak, Britt Ekland found 'sixploitation' immortality in The Wicket Man, and Mike Denness captained England.

Gubby Melon hasn't done too badly either. He has enjoyed a sustained period of critical and commercial success since the release of Bipolar Bear in 1989 - the true story of a boy from the Arctic Circle who is forced to return an insane pet back into the wild.

Even the film's financiers are starting to reap the rewards they sought nearly four decades ago as The Man with the Golden Gunn and Moore continues to enjoy a surprise revival.

In the United Kingdom alone there are currently more than twenty cinemas showing the film to frequently full-houses.

Ironically, and much to the chagrin of Melon, this time around it is the music that is packing in audiences dressed in 'Golden Gunn' themed costumes.

Citizen Kane this is not; but look no further if you want to be part of a show or simply enjoy watching exhibitionists.

A Little Luck

Woody Willows has been quick to claim credit for the belated success of The Man with the Golden Gunn and Moore.

photo of audience
Impromptu sing-alongs can be heard long after audiences have spilled out onto the street.

He is tired of being remembered as the ungrateful puppet who tried his best to destroy the movie that made him a household name; and well aware that this is his best and probably last chance to do anything about it.

Considering that his reputation remains damaged from a handful of creative indiscretions committed almost forty years ago, his need for vindication is perfectly understandable.

Willows might even have a point when he suggests that Melon should accept some of the blame for trusting, overindulging, and then leaving a group of young men to their own devices. As they say, boys will be boys.

The public just might buy it if he plays his cards right. But the situation demands good grace and humility - qualities that Willows has yet to demonstrate he possesses.

The Man with the Golden Gunn and Moore has only resurfaced because it is bad enough to lend itself to parody. Willows will continue to lack credibility until such time as he acknowledges this and ceases to espouse its artistic virtues.

He should simply be grateful to the mysterious workings of random luck that favoured this film above countless other movies of dubious quality.

But if hubris persists, he would do well to reacquaint himself with the film's incorrectly named but prescient 'title' song - about a man so plagued with skin disorders that his misfortune catapults him into the public eye, and brings him great fame and fortune.

The Man with the Golden Skin might be a cruel trivialisation of medical misery but it does contain an important maxim that may have eluded its youthful author: it has neither rhyme nor reason and is rare, but extraordinary luck does happen.

"I didn't know when I was scratching and thin
that I would turn out to be the man ...
with the golden skin"

And Willows will be wise to be wary of its fickle temperament. It will not be coaxed, or harnessed, and vanishes quickly.