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Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire (1985)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire (1985)
35mm, colour, 93 mins
DirectorAlan Clarke
Production CompanyZenith Productions
ProducerSimon Mallin
Screenplay/LyricsTrevor Preston
PhotographyClive Tickner
MusicGeorge Fenton

Cast: Phil Daniels (Billy Kidd); Alun Armstrong (Maxwell Randall); Bruce Payne (T.O.); Louise Gold (Miss Sullivan); Eve Ferret (Mrs Randall); Richard Ridings (Egypt); Don Henderson (The Wednesday Man)

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Backstreet snooker player Billy Kidd challenges seven times world champion Maxwell Randall (the Green Baize Vampire) to a money-making championship duel.

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A critical and commercial failure that has since picked up a modest cult following, Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire undoubtedly deserves plaudits for sheer originality: for all its many faults, it was the first and will almost certainly remain the only vampire snooker musical ever made. If it seems an unlikely project for gritty realism specialists Trevor Preston and Alan Clarke, it should be noted that neither man was entirely a stranger to the fantastical, their CVs including Preston's Ace of Wands (ITV, 1970-72) and Clarke's extraordinary pagan drama Penda's Fen (BBC, 1974).

It also chimes surprisingly closely with Clarke's longstanding interest in the work of German playwright Bertolt Brecht (previously expressed via the BBC productions Danton's Death, 1978, and the David Bowie vehicle Baal, 1982), whose output included several didactic, socially-conscious musicals whose style, if not subject, clearly inspired this film. However, Preston strongly objected to Clarke's ultra-stylised approach (staged in a series of near-abstract, claustrophobic indoor rooms and corridors), envisaging it at the time of writing as an exuberant location-shot piece. Preston was also suffering badly from depression, which led to his near-withdrawal from the project long before it had finished production.

But for all the tension behind the scenes, the cast gave it their all. Phil Daniels (then approaching the end of his surprisingly short-lived career as a major big-screen star) and Alun Armstrong flesh out the title characters with memorable vigour, though the standout performance is by Bruce Payne as T.O. ('The One'), Billy's gambling-addict manager who is easily the film's most complex and sympathetic character. But the film's major creative contribution comes from composer George Fenton, whose catchy score is as varied as the film itself is monochromatic, including witty nods to country & western and even opera.

Ironically, the film was financed through a tax deal that required it to have international sales potential, though it's hard to think of a more parochial project. In the previous decade, snooker had risen dramatically to become one of the most popular of all British television sports, having benefited more than most from the widespread adoption of colour television. Unsurprisingly, the film is studded with snooker in-jokes: the Vampire and the Kid are clearly based on Ray Reardon (whose real-life nickname was 'Dracula') and young pretender Jimmy White, whose showdown in the early 1980s inspired Preston's script in the first place.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Interviewing the Vampire (2:58)
2. I'm The One (4:31)
3. Kid to break (4:27)
Production stills
Clarke, Alan (1935-1990)
Daniels, Phil (1958-)
Fenton, George (1950-)
Preston, Trevor