A friend sent me word of this once rare, and I imagine, seldom seen British film oddity called Where Has Poor Mickey Gone? (1964). I’d never heard of it, however, I knew the filming location well. Set in the early 60s in London’s Soho area. Long before I would travel there on the train from my south coast hometown every other weekend to spend my wage packet on vinyl records. From the late 80s through to the early 2000s it was a mecca to me and many music heads for its vast assemble of filled to the brim, record shops. Most famously for Berwick Street, a street lined with the holy grail of crate digging flicking fingers.
We were 16 years old in 1988 on our first mission to a mystical world which to us and many like minded music addicts was a pure diggers paradise. For about 15 years it was the one-stop golden mile of pure wonderment. Even to this day, though a lot less frequent, I always like to stroll around the area. Have that rush of nostalgia float through you. Remembering that excited buzz and having to light up a cigarette as you left the shop clutching a square bag of goodies.
Every visit, I loved nothing more than travelling on the same original route we had taken as teenagers. The quickest way! Land at Waterloo station, straight to the Northern Line. Three stops to Leicester Square tube station, up the stairs, moving fast and forcefully through the bustling crowds of commuters. Once broken through the ranks you got that thrilling rushing feeling of being so close to the epicenter of joy. The walk in was part of the journey, the ritual. Used to pick up a music magazine from a bookstore, Straight no Chaser, Blues and Soul or later Big Daddy. Then take a sharp left onto Shaftsbury Avenue going past the fire station. A quick detour to walk through China Town. Fuel was needed. We often got a hot dog looking snack from a Chinese shop with orange looking ducks hanging from the window. We commented on it looking like a finger! It was in a sweet bun, it was cheap and nice and luckily never had an actual finger bone to crunch down on.
Couldn’t say it was a leisurely pace, as you could feel that eager gravitating pull pushing us towards the wonders of records. However, I always enjoyed the walk. Gazing up at the many grand buildings of musical theatres that aligned Shaftsbury Avenue. There was one really important theatre to look out for, The Globe Theatre, now renamed The Gielgud Theatre. At this junction was Rupert Street and where the real fun was about to begin. The flow of people began again, filtering through a small area for market stalls, an Irish pub and Cheapo Cheapo Records. A record shop piled high for the crate digger, you needed hours in there. We didn’t hang around as Berwick Street was the mystery realm we were heading. But first we had to walk through Walker’s Court! A magical world for these young lads and even secretly titillating as adults. We were walking through the red-light district. Adult only cinema’s, bright lights and arrows directing you in. Sex shops with blacked out window shop fronts with flashing triple X neon lights. Even saucy, scantly dress ladies offering their wares tried to lure you in. It was quite the eyeopener. Stay focused boys, as once through this naughty world of sleaze you appeared upon the mythical Berwick Street. Record shop after record shop, it truly was a vinyl addicts dream. Just check this map which was produced by The British Record Shop Archive and The Museum of Soho showing the record shops from 1946 to 1996. (I used to have it, might still be in my archives of memories.) As you can see Berwick Street was the beating heart.
Even today, if I’m ever up that way, I will still do that same walk. That exciting nostalgic buzz is still there. Unfortunately, so much has changed. Many of the records shops have closed. Pushed out by rising property tax, and rent increases and later, general gentrification. All that and the rise of digital music content readily available at the click of a button. Still, somehow, a few remaining stalwarts managed to fight on through. Helped by a new rise and wave of dedicated vinyl enthusiasts. Notably, Reckless Records, Sister Ray, Phonica Records and Sounds of the Universe still give you that small feeling of what it was like. Berwick Street was incredible. It might be most famous to many as the image used as the sleeve cover for Oasis’s 1995 album Morning Glory but for the record buying community it held legendary status. Getting back to my review of Where Has Poor Mickey Gone? The reason for all the nostalgia is the many times I’ve walked along the streets, roads and alleys featured in the film. From Berwick St to Poland St to Dean St to Bourchier St and back again.
Tagline – TOUGH… RELENTLESS.. an adventure into the Macabre!
Apologises for way too much waffling about my memories and not enough film review this time I’m afraid but here goes….
Where Has Poor Mickey Gone? is low budget fantasy thriller with a supernatural twist that fits in as a gritty kind of cockney Twilight Zone episode. It’s not hard to imagine Rod Serling walking up the nightclub stairs towards the pavement, smoking and snapping his fingers. Looking into the camera’s gaze as he starts to narrate his signature intro warning, the only difference is Rod has a very impressive jazz beard.
The film openings outside the Indigo nightclub in Soho just after we’ve been treated to the opening jazz theme tune from jazz and blues singer Ottilie Patterson. Belting out in her incredible voice the ode of Where Has Poor Mickey Gone? The band music is played by Chris Barber (bass), Eddie Smith (banjo), Graham Burbidge (drums) and Sonny Boy Williamson (harmonica). It’s a wonderful scene.
Ottile was married to band leader Chris Barber who incidentally just passed away, last month, at the grand age of 90 and was still jamming in his old age. Ottile Patterson’s song from the film is on YouTube but unfortunately gives away the end so I have added this superb performance from her and Chris Barber’s band. Ottile really belts it out with “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean“. It’s a cover of Ruth Brown’s chart topping hit. You can check Ruth’s absolutely fantastic original performance here. Ruth Brown Live.
Where Has Poor Mickey Gone is a tale about three bored juvenile delinquents, out on the lash, looking for late night booze. Wandering down Poland street all loud and lairy, they try their luck at the Indigo jazz club. Putting on the smooth act to get past the bouncers they soon hit a brick wall. These two seasoned hard men Tommy Eytle and Vincent Shaw are not falling for that trick. The gang, led by the obnoxious Mickey (John Malcolm), soon show their true colours. Hurling abuse and obscenities they take revenge by throwing a glass bottle down the basement stairs and make a run for it. Laughing and attacking everybody and everything in their path as they wildly terrorize down the streets. Smashing and kicking, abusing canoodling couples, beat someone over the head with a brick before buying some fish and chips. Now they were ready to settle in for their final bout of carnage for the night….
Taking a breather, the four hooligan’s, which to be honest look more like public school boys than hardened thugs, notice a lonesome old man sitting in his basement. An emporium of strange, freakish fairground, fairy-tale horrorish giant paper mache faces and oddities. A wonderland of garish, bizarre and oddball curiosities. Without even thinking they stumble into his business and ambush the old man, the owner Emilio Dinelli (Warren Mitchell). Tormenting him, taking him hostage, ransacking the place for money or, hopefully, booze. Emilio keeps poised and you start to wonder how he will get out of this situation. Will he use his wise charm or something more, dare I say, supernatural?…
A Few Things…
- Where Has Poor Mickey Gone was written and directed by Gerry Levy. He would direct one more film in 1969, a sci-fi horror mystery called The Body Stealers. Reading the plot it sounds great, hehe “In Britain, bodies of NATO paratroopers are being snatched during routine jumps by a mysterious red-beam of alien origin.“. It starred the wonderful George Sanders and sounds proper b-movie wack and I imagine brilliant fun. Gerry Levy would leave directing behind and go into production management. Working on films like Octopussy (1983), Cry Freedom (1987) and Gorillas in the Mist (1988) to name a few.
- Warren Mitchell was only 39 years old playing the older gentlemen, Emilio. Of course he would go on, only a year later, to play his most famous role, the role he would keep revisiting. That moany old git, the working class cockney “lovable” rogue Alf Garnett in the long running TV series Till Death Us Do Part.
- One of the group of ruffians, Tim, is played by a young John Challis who will be ever known as Boycie from classic comedy series Only Fools and Horses.
Ok it’s definitely a cheap b-movie. It feels more in line with a TV play especially with its one hour runtime. It’s real charm is it being a curiosity piece, a time capsule, of the streets of Soho London. John Malcolm does a fine job of really making you hate his character Mickey. Warren Mitchell is great as the bullied hostage with possible mystical ways to him. With that short run-time it races along at a good pace. And to me, the best thing was seeing and hearing Ottilie Patterson’s ode to “Poor Mickey” sandwich the story together.
Wolfman Rating of 7 jazz club jives outta 10.
Where to see it?
After being an almost lost and forgotten oddity, Where Has Poor Mickey Gone? has had a resurgences in the last few years after being added for rent on the BFI Player Here. Plus also being shown on the free TV channel Talking Pictures which showcases many wonderful classic old films within it’s schedule.
Thanks for popping on by.
Keep searching and enjoying those wonderful little gem’s of film.