Monday, 30 March 2009

The only item of Star Wars memorabilia I possess

This didn't come from the kitchen cupboard - I found it in a commemorative OXO tin from the 1980s, in a chest of drawers. It is one of a series of bubble-gum cards, issued to capitalise on the success of  Star Wars, with which all boys who grew up in the 1970s will be familiar. I've never been much of a fan, to be honest. I remember going to the Northfields Odeon to see it, with a boy in my class, for his birthday treat, and marvelling at how it could be that such special effects were possible; and thinking that Han Solo was rather cool in his waistcoat, and being scared of Darth Vader, but I never got that into the whole thing. In later years, it was amusing to wind up one of my friends who is obsessed with it by labelling it a "Western in space" (which it is, of course) to his enragement - he dislikes all 'old' films, particularly Westerns.  Alas, even Star Wars, and all of us young bucks who saw it first time round, are getting on a bit these days.  

Once upon a time, as a boy, I had loads of these cards. Looking at this one now, I vividly remember the feel of the waxy greaseproof paper the cards were wrapped in, and the awful oblong of stiff pink bubblegum that came with them (in those days cards weren't sold specifically for sick adult geek collectors, on their own, to put in dumb binders; they were for children, and it was thought you needed something more to justify the purchase - but not much more). This gum was covered with a dry white powder, and I felt compelled to chew it, even though I didn't like the stuff (who did?) just to ensure that I got value for money. I recollect that it cracked into razor-sharp shards the moment you snapped it between your teeth, before gradually morphing into a stodgy mass of the least flavoursome, but most powerfully fragranced gunk you could hope to find in this galaxy, or in any others far, far away. I also recall the backs of the cards: when your collection was complete, and these were assembled corner-to-corner in a big square, they would make a giant jigsaw-picture - I believe the scene was Luke and Han in the Trash Compactor - I spent many hours of summer holiday (happy?) torment trying to complete that. 

I think I may have had the whole set at one time. But I got rid of the lot. I'm not sure of the provenance of this particular card, number 60 in the set, but I know why I have it - because it features one of my favourite actors, the late great Peter Cushing, as Grand Moff Tarkin. It reminds me, at first glance, of two things. Firstly, his expression on the card reminds me that Cushing (like Bela Lugosi before him) treated every role, no matter how absurd, as if it was desperately serious, and worthwhile, even if it was little more than a cameo, and involved wearing a strange back-to-front coat with a watercolour paint-box on front, and being strangled by the Green Cross Code man (Dave Prowse, as Darth Vader). Secondly, it reminds me of that great story about Cushing wearing tartan slippers on set because the Nazi-esque boots were too tight and made his feet hurt. Only an actor of Cushing's stature - and old fashioned dignity, and lack of pretension - would have been permitted - or would have wanted -  to do this. I love that story, and also that other splendid tale about Cushing, in his final years, wearing a special white glove to smoke a single cigarette (one per day, no more, no less), which was in turn held in a long holder which was kept behind the counter - along with the glove, of course, and his personal cushion (Peter's Cushion?) - to be ritualistically brought out for his daily visits to his favourite cafe in Whitstable, Kent. 

It's a shame there weren't more pictures of Peter Cushing in the Star Wars bubblegum card series; and I would have liked to have seen one of the chap who played Mr Bronson in Grange Hill, too. Ah yes, I'd certainly hang on to one of those. But bafflingly the majority of the cards seem to feature the main stars of the films. In any case, it occurs to me that maybe Mr Bronson was in the second film, was he not? So he would be on one of the later cards with the red borders...I'd have to check with a Star Wars nerd to find out. Yes, someone nerdier than me.

You will find this bubblegum card in THE HOUSE OF COBWEBS.   

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