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Heroes of Motoring – The Stunt Professionals

Written by Andy Roberts

It’s 1986 and instead of revising for your O level in geography you are taking a well-earned break and watching a Bank Holiday revival of Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150AD on BBC1.

There, in addition to noting how the fascist pepper pots can apparently be defeated by ramming them with a 191-year old Morris JB van, the opening sequence features one of those familiar screen faces. Surely the driver of the getaway Jaguar Mk. X evading the long arm of Bernard Cribbins was the same chap who crashed his S-Type in the pre-credit scene of Stoppo Driver, one of the finest episodes of The Sweeney? Indeed it was, in the form of the great stuntman Rocky Tayor.

Stunt professionals are often recognised on the screen long before their names are known to the audience; Larry Taylor, Rocky’s father, was a moustachioed individual who was perfect at depicting irate lorry drivers. If like me, you are a devoted enthusiast of black and white British crime features, you could not fail to notice that the police Wolseley or Humber was driven by a dapper individual with Brylcreemed hair and a David a Niven moustache. That was Joe Wadham, who piloted a hospital gurney in A Stitch in Time and a Ford Zephyr 6 Mk. III patrol car in Arabesque with equal verve. His partner in Action 99 cars was Jack Silk, who had to double for Julie Christie in The Fast Lady. According to their colleague Alan Stuart, the firm was started by Wadham, when he ‘bought a Wolseley and dressed up it to look to look like a police car and that was the start’. By the 1960s Action 99 owned several black Scotland Yard style vehicles and operated elaborate workshops at Elstree Studios.

The backgrounds of such indispensable members of the entertainment world varied; Silk was a dance band drummer and Stuart was originally a saxophonist with Tommy Steele’s Steelmen. As Equity Card holders, they were often allotted dialogue although these tended to be variations on the theme of ‘Right guv’, ’Yes boss’ or ‘Over and out Inspector’. In Hammer pictures, they might also be allotted an ‘arrgh!’, for when their characters encountered Peter Cushing and/or Christopher Lee, and Nosher Powell will always be remembered for ‘Secret Agent – blah, blah, blah!’ in Five Go Mad in Dorset. Fred Griffiths was a genuine London cabbie between acting roles and in countless productions you would spot him behind the wheel of an Austin FX3 as he complained about his 3d tip. 

Today, CGI is taken as a matter of course by filmgoers around the world but no matter how many times you watch a film or a television programme from the past, the sheer skill and calculated risk taken by the stunt teams never fails to impress. In The Italian Job, L'Équipe Rémy Julienne faced cars that might have easily rolled over during the wedding party scene at the steps of the Gran di Dio Church and the possibly fatal consequences of jumping from rooftop to rooftop at the Fiat plant at speeds of nearly 70 mph need not be elaborated upon. Peter Brayham coordinated the stunts for Brannigan  - including the famous ‘S-Type jumping over Tower Bridge’ scene  and The Sweeney; in the latter, he can be seen as the Ford Escort estate driving hood in the opening titles of the fourth series. Brayham was also responsible for driving the Granada Mk.1 through plate glass in the credits for The Professionals – a prime example of televisual action that apparently took him ‘all of a morning’ to execute.

And so, let us pay tribute to such genuine motoring heroism with this Public Information warning. Naturally, it involves a BLMC ADO16 and some typically great stunt driving from Alan Stuart as the hapless Triumph 2000 owner. It may not have been a multi-million-pound production but the work on screen is never less than 100% dedicated:

 

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