‘Telly Savalas rambles over stock footage of British cities from a dubbing suite on a wet Wednesday afternoon…’ would be the fuller, more descriptive title for these three remarkable short films from producer Harold Baim. Quota-quickie shorts created to pad out cinema programmes, these promotional films pulled in an unwary Hollywood star to jabber for soup, reading a painful script over dismal images, and the result is comedy gold.
Portsmouth, Aberdeen and Birmingham are the subjects of Savalas’s strained musings, and while the images are washed-out and pathetic, each frame elicits more delight from our guide. ‘Would you turn down the opportunity to go to sea with the Royal Navy? I certainly wouldn’t…’ enthuses Savalas, ‘and so, I went to sea, to see the Navy’s Sea Day programme…’ It’s obvious that Savalas has never set foot in Aberdeen, Portsmouth or Birmingham, and yet his sincere bona fides flail around our ears. Savalas embraces each of these places as ‘my kind of town,’ and ‘I’ll be back,’ and his faux enthusiasm has no boundries. ‘This is where everyone in the know, goes …’ says Savalas over an image of a market-stall holder slicing a cabbage; this is what cognitive dissonance looks like.
Aberdeen is, for Savalas, ‘one of the most fascinating places in Europe.’ He foams at the mouth over ‘intense traffic’ in the form of three dirty big trucks. Ships in the harbour ‘have names which leave no doubt as to what business they’re in.’ Yes, Aberdeen is a town that literally ‘going boom’; ’paper-making is prominent’ says Savalas by way of explanation before doubling down on alliteration . ‘Trouble with tartan is unheard of,’ Savalas notes as he concludes his ‘industrial look see’. ‘I was captivated by everything I saw,’ he concludes unconvincingly.
Looking at Birmingham is an equally invigorating experience for the star, with Savalas creaming his jeans over more ‘intense traffic’ and ‘revolutionary’ road systems. ‘I can assure you, this is my kind of town.’ drones Savalas as we study such tourist draws as a ‘modern rail terminal.’ and ‘multi-carriageway motorways’. Everything he sees brings Savalas to his knees with paroxysms of joy. ‘‘I spent hours in the beautiful botanical gardens…” ‘This is the view that nearly took my breath away….’ ‘I visited the West Midlands motorway control unit…I found the city exciting….you feel as if you’ve been projected into the 21st century.’ One quote which does ring true is ‘‘It’s an adventure to shop in this city’ which accurately reflects my own experience of Birmingham.
Lastly, Telly invites us for one more go-round, ‘Let’s look at Portsmouth.’ Portsmouth is a city that Telly feels, without much evidence, has ‘projected itself into a new age!’ a view not-exactly backed-up with images of the shopping centre. A meat market elicits the pun ‘there’s certainly more than MEATS the eye…’ while the soundtrack goes mad with orchestral swing. Over 40’s open air disco-dancing championships unfold, freezing dignitaries watch archaic military trampolining events, but the moment passes and ‘Toodor England’ must become a memory for our guide. ‘So long Portsmouth, here’s looking at you!’