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picture of Walter Less
Less on the set of the Bedsore Twins

Obituary: Walter Less 1938-2008

PDCC remembers England's most influential 'sixploitation' film director Walter Less who has died aged 70.

The actor and director Walter Less has died aged 70.

Classically trained and abundantly charismatic, his early career was plagued by unfair comparisons to Will Hay.

Unrealistic expectations weighed heavily upon the young Less - he loathed attention and resented the camera for magnifying his fragility.

He might have endured by finding solace in drink and the praise of strangers - an oft used ploy for hardening spotlight weary skin - but Less had no heart for this and chose to shun the limelight.

picture of Choose Spoons or Spoons (1959)
Choose Spoons or Spoons (1959)

In doing so he unwittingly set out upon a twisting and haphazard course that would eventually lead him to the discovery of a peculiar brand of exploitation cinema.

Walter Less was born in Ipswich on September 25, 1938. He displayed little academic aptitude and at the age of 14 was expelled from school following an argument over a shopping list. The next four years were spent playing monopoly and concocting a plan to avoid National Service.

Fainting at the sight of doctors proved to be less of a hindrance than he expected and he was accepted into RADA in 1957. A fondness for door knobs proved more problematic - he left a day later and signed a five-year deal with the film studio United Hobbies.

This led to a number of small film roles: a layabout slave in The Glass Blowers of Phoenicia (1958), a jovial publican in The Crown Cork Collectors Wedding (1959), a creepy door to door salesman in Choose Spoons or Spoons (1959) a terrified prison escapee in The Egg Thief (1960), and a newsagent turned informant in Origami Atrocities (1961).

In 1961 he landed his first leading role. Hobby Hoarse was a box office success and Less received lavish praise for his portrayal of a man who enjoys shouting.

picture of Origami Atrocities (1961)
Origami Atrocities (1961)

He was hot property and elected not to renew his contract with United Hobbies. The job offers rolled in but he chose unwisely.

In The Weather Vein (1963) he played a blood sucking weatherman. It was a game performance but the script was lame. Olivier himself would have struggled. The critics were uniformly savage.

Although he didn't know it at the time, his next role, a singing ornithologist in Hello Polly (1964), would be his final on-screen appearance. Takings were poor, reviews were even worse, and barbed comments stung the leading man.

A despondent Less was ill-equipped to deal with the fickle nature of celebrity and quit acting for good.

He spent the next twelve years in Italy as an apprentice to the Venetian hairnet maker Salvador Bianchi. It seemed as though he would eventually succeed the great master but a chance meeting with European exploitation film maker Benito Rossi changed his life forever.

Rossi convinced him that his future lay in the burgeoning world of British exploitation cinema. Less - who until now had no directorial ambitions - returned to London, or more particularly to the Poverty Row sleaze of Wardour Street, and the cinematic fleapits of Soho.

picture of Umpire Strangeglove and the Happy Hookers (1977)
Umpire Strangeglove and the Happy Hookers (1977)

Less hated what he saw - the years had not been kind to his wife Grace. He was more enthusiastic about the exploitation scene, but he had a problem: the themes most obvious to the genre had all been taken.

Hammer were still doing horror, Pete Walker was churning out a brand of shock horror less suited to mainstream appeal, Lindsay Shonteff had moved on to racy spy stories, and Stanley Long was enjoying considerable commercial success with the saucy Confessions, and Adventures series.

Determined to develop his own recognisable style, Less identified the formula that would soon catapult him into the upper echelons of B-list artistic society: cricket sexploitation.

"I was in the right place at the right time and I felt like Lennon and McCartney rolled into one" he said in what was to be his final interview in 1987.

"I had discovered something people were mad about and I was the only person they could get it from. I just couldn't believe my luck."

Less made his directorial debut in Extras (1976). Though thin on plot, the film managed to tell the story of a cricket tea lady who for a 'bob' or two would provide more than tea and sponge cake.

Heartened by the film's success, his output in the latter half of the 1970s was prolific. Notable releases included:

  • The In-Swingers (1976)
  • The Bedsore Twins (1976)
  • Umpire Strangeglove and the Happy Hookers (1977)
  • 22 Yard Strip (1977)
  • Fielding Positions (1977)
  • Seam Men (1977)
  • The Bowlers Bar (1978)
  • No Boundaries (1978)
  • Nun for £50 (1979)
  • Sticky Wicket (1979)
  • You're In Next (1979)
picture of Nun for £50 (1979)
Nun for £50 (1979)

Less will probably be best remembered for Full Toss (1982) but by this time the halcyon days of British exploitation cinema had long gone - the genre was simply out of step with contemporary social attitudes.

Perhaps it might have struggled on for a few more years but additional factors hastened its demise: economic recession, the home video recorder, and the abolition of the Eady Levy.

The good times were over and after one final offering - Javed, Me, and Dad (1982) - so too the remarkable, varied, and at times brilliant career of Walter Less.

Less - who spent the last five years of his life in the Brinkley House retirement home - is survived by two daughters, Hope and Charm.