The entire year having been spent obsessing about celebrity death, it seemed to me appropriate on this, New Years Eve, to celebrate those still alive. If you thought they were long gone, thing again.
The great and not late Ray Davies is not only still with us, he is as delightful as ever…and as a result of the NYH list, now Sir Raymond Davies. Long overdue in my estimation: there was only ever one great pop-song chronicler of the 1960s, and that was Ray. While others were drivelling on about grass growing, coloured circles and blowing their minds, Davies was knocking out Dead End Street, Well Respected Man, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Lazing on a Sunny Afternoon, See my Friend, Lola, Autumn Almanac and one of the best pop songs of all time, Waterloo Sunset.
Dick Van Dyke is 90 this year, and still working. Famous as the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins, Van Dyke was the epitomous TV husband to Mary Tyler-Moore in the 1960s sitcom hit the Dick Van Dyke Show. Tyler-Moore is also extant: 80 this year, and married to her bloke for 33 years, Mary was for me (as a hormone-enslaved teenager) the most lustworthy thing on two legs. The same could never be said of Julie Andrews, but she too remains in this World, and at 81 looks pretty damned amazing. (Her best role for me by far was opposite Paul Newman in the Hitchcock caper Torn Curtain).
Forces sweetheart Vera Lynn is an incredible 99, and with luck will hit the century this coming March. She is perhaps the last remaining survivor of a British outlook that has gone, never to return. That’s to say, she had guts, loyalty, determination, effortless politesse, and the upbringing to do the right thing even if nobody is looking.
You have to be as Grade II listed as me to remember the singing duo of husband and wife team Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson, but Pearl is 95 and still with us….and Edward is knocking 97. They live together at Brinsworth House, a home for retired entertainers. For me (if I’m honest) they really were awful, but it is sort of charming to discover they’re still alive, together, and with a relatively full collection of marbles. And my Great Aunt Lizzie liked them.
You might not know Melvin James Kaminsky, but you would almost almost certainly recognise his stage name, Mel Brooks. Ninety last June, Brooks is one of my great heroes, in that he wrote the original movie The Producers, perhaps the funniest film of all time. He does not consider himself retired, which is good news. Not a lot of people know this, but Mel wrote the wonderful spy-spoof TV series Get Smart.
I can’t resist dropping a name here, because in 1992 I did actually meet and talk to the man himself at the trade show for his film Life Stinks. It was an awful film, but Brooks had great fun outing me and my girlfriend at the time, even though we weren’t supposed to be an item. His fun at our expense reduced the host Ned Sherrin to helpless tears.
It’s hard to leave Kirk Douglas out, if only because – at 100 – he has outlived both Derek & Clive (Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) who recorded the merciless ‘You f***ing c*** Kirk’ among other tracks in the 1970s. A lot of his movies were stinkers, but his role as the ethically stricken defence counsel in Kubrick’s classic Paths of Glory does suggest that all Douglas Senior lacked much of the time was a sensitive director.