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Sunday, 3 April 2016

A Chat With Simon Wells

I was lucky enough to be asked to interview Simon at The Who Literary Event in November of last year. It was a very insightful interview and one of the best I've ever conducted. We talked Quadrophenia and of course The Who and had a good laugh doing so! So I thought we should catch up with Simon and see what's been happening with this man about town since our last encounter...

DP: When was the first time you encountered Quadrophenia?


SW:  I was 16 and like many of my vintage I was too young to get into the cinema! I waited for about a year or two – all the time listening to stories about how amazing it was, and becoming intrigued by what I had heard. When it was released on VHS video a year or so later – a friend of mine who was lucky enough to have a Betamax video recorder rented a copy. And so a group of us sat and watched it in silence. My first thoughts? Well I was mesmerised, confused, enchanted, and bewitched. Overall, it was the energy that totally captivated me.  In time, I became far more critical in my view of the film, but you can’t take away the power of seeing it the first time.

DP: Did the film open your eyes to what being part of a Sub-Culture was like?


SW: I’m not sure about that because Quadrophenia appears more of a mish-mash of a few styles and cultures, not least as it was set in a different time period. I suppose what really drew me towards it was how it presented gang mentality – and how that mindset operates within its own sphere. I think that’s where its real power lies, along with its energy, which is ferocious.


DP: Would you say the film has stood the test of time?


SW: I think evidently it has. I was at the Hammersmith Apollo last month and there were 3,500 people there paying up to £70 for a ticket to watch a 37-year-old film. Many of those present weren’t even born when the film was released – and that to me is a strong testament to the longevity of the picture. I think Quadrophenia stands the test of time principally because it articulates the tribulations of being a teenager. So as long as there are teenagers, the film will always be relevant.


DP: You have written a book based on the film, what inspired you to write it?


SW: Probably because I felt it had to be done – but equally, not just as a potted history which would have been too obvious and predictable – the film deserved far more.  Why I subtitled the book, “A Way Of Life” is that  for many people, once they come across the film they adopt it as a blue-print for life – and for me that’s as powerful as the history and making of the film.  I devoted a large part of the book to the fans, and their stories allied to them growing up with the film. 37 years on Quadrophenia has now become the property of the fans – and they have ensured its remarkable popularity. It’s quite an achievement.

DP:  If you could re-draft the book would you add anything more?


SW: Since the book has been published there has been a steady stream of new information that has come through – it is something that always happens when a door closes on a writing project. I wouldn’t actually change the narrative structure of the book, but I would enlarge the photographic and memorabilia content to include some new pieces of information. Actually, to be honest, I am quite happy with it as it stands, and the new e-book is the most complete version to date. I’m also offering all of the on-set Polaroids taken during filming to all purchasers of the book. They were lost in the paperback version, and now I can offer them in hi-res to all purchases – and at just 2 quid it’s a bargain!


DP: Have you got any up and coming projects?


SW: I have quite a few projects on the way, the possibility of some new music, some soundtrack work too, a book of poetry and some other ideas yet to be realised. It’s exciting for me, and I’m chuffed to be able to do these things at my old age! There’s also the possibility of an audio book of the Quadrophenia project, and I will be taking the book to the streets this August – so watch this space!


DP: If you could play any character in Quadrophenia who would it be? And would you change the character in anyway?


SW: I’d be Mr. Cale, the post room manager. Hugh Lloyd who played the part, was Tony Hancock’s sideman in the 1960s, so that would be a nice role to play!
As for changing the character, I’d make Jimmy far, far more out there in terms of his psychosis.  It’s muted in the film, and I think he comes across more of an average teenager than someone with a major problem. If one reads the amazing novelisation by Alan Fletcher, that’s exactly the side of Jimmy I would have loved to have seen in the film.  I can see Franc Roddam’s dilemma in presenting a mentally-ill Jimmy without distancing the audience and the ambitions of the script. Actually, in the original script, Jimmy is quite way out, and there are a few moments – especially when he is jilted by Steph – where is descends into a dark hole. I go into it in my book, and share a few key sequences which were later cut.

DP: Could there ever be a sequel to the film?


SW: There is a sequel to Quadrophenia – and yet no one fully grasped the connection at the time (or since). It’s called White City and it was made by Pete Townshend in 1985 – and shows Jimmy as a late 20s, slightly deranged character. It’s quite a special little film, and I am amazed Townshend hasn’t released it on DVD. Actually, I wrote to him last week, but he was in no mind to revisit the project. He said at the time of the film’s release though, “It’s actually a continuation (of Quadrophenia). It’s like looking at the hero as a 25-26 year old, living in that area (White City) now, and what’s happened to him.” So there you are; there is a sequel to Quadrophenia.
However, as for the raft of ideas that are mooted to be the basis for a sequel over the years, I don’t personally think that any of them possess any great worth. Taking Jimmy and the characters out of their teenage bubble and the 60s would just be boring and predictable – and without the youth tag, it would never rival the original. I actually feel that the only valid take on Quadrophenia would be a remake set in the Mod revival of 1979 – but there again it would always be measured by the original – so probably best to leave it well alone.  So to get back to your question; no, I wouldn’t bother with a remake or sequel, but why doesn’t someone do a take from the Rockers’ side of the story? There’s a great film made in the early 60s called The Leather Boys, and that is – in my opinion – as good if not better than Quadrophenia, so maybe from that angle – and have a Jimmy and Steph Rocker couple! So that’s a rather long winded and circuitous reply to your question which could have just been answered with a straight “No”!

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In loving memory of Denise Pottinger