Before I completely take leave of the summer, I just wanted to say that I was lucky enough to attend the 're-premiere' of Zulu at the Odeon, Leicester Square, London, on 11 June. I was only saying earlier in the year how important the film was in encouraging my interest in Anglo-Zulu history, so I was delighted to have the chance to see it again on the big screen - with one or two exceptions, it hasn't been shown in cinemas since its last major release in the early '70s.
The 're-premiere' (isn't that a tautology? I presume it's a word invented for the occasion, for giving a film the premiere treatment when it had in fact been premiered - er, for the first time - back in 1964) had been organised by Suzannah Endfield Oliver, the daughter of the film's director and co-producer, Cy Endfield. It was a charity event, and the proceeds went to a number of good causes, including 'Walking With The Wounded'. The film itself was cleaned up and digitally re-mastered, and also shown was an extract from the black-and-white film about the making of Zulu (despite extensive publicity that this was 'never before seen footage', it had in fact been shown at an Anglo-Zulu War Historical Society event some ten years ago).
There's no doubt it was a fun evening. It wasn't cheap - the most expensive tickets would have set you back a cool £1000 - but it was over-subscribed, and offered the full red-carpet treatment (memorable in itself as it's the only time I'm ever likely to walk down one!). Members of the Die-Hards re-enactment group provided a guard outside the front in full period uniform, the Regimental goat of the Royal Welsh was on parade, and there was a Zulu singing group. The guests of honour were Prince Harry - patron of 'Walking With The Wounded' - and Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who had appeared in the film playing his great-grandfather, King Cetshwayo. The arrival of both apparently caused quite a stir among the crowd waiting outside but, frankly, was largely missed by the audience as we were required (presumably for security reasons) to already be in our seats by then.
There was a bit of a melee in the foyer as staff sorted out the tickets - the toffs paying top whack had a screened-off reception area of their own, but in fairness I suppose they were entitled to something extra for their money - and I was lucky enough to find myself stranded in an eddy in the crowd alongside Dickie Owen, now in his 80s, who had played Cpl. Schiess. We had time for a quick chat and I was amused to find that his perception of the film's status did not necessarily concur with its current standing as a classic. 'We didn't think much about it at the time', he said, 'Stanley [Baker] employed us all because we were all his mates, and he didn't have to pay us much!' Dickie was affable and entertaining, and I must admit I was disappointed that his presence was not acknowledged from the stage later on. I suspect he and Prince Buthelezi were the only ones present who had appeared in the film, although I gather some of the production staff were also present - it would have been nice to see them introduced ('re-introduced'?) to one another. I was also lucky enough to bump into the ever-charming Lady Ellen Baker; we once attended a screening of the film at Aberystwyth University, and were driven back in the same car, and she had kept me entertained over several hours with a stream of stories about not only the making of the film but about life with Stanley Baker and the celebrity world of the 1960s in general.
There were several other well-known faces milling about - real-life hero and VC winner Johnson Beharry, Lionel Blair, Ian Hislop, Charlie Borman, Nick Knowles - which just goes to prove how much the film has become a mainstream part of our popular cultural heritage. Before the screening began there were a number of short introductions on the stage, including something from 'man-band' Blake, and a rendition of 'Men of Harlech' by the choir of the Welsh Guards (perhaps not my most favourite moment of the evening, since as a historian I spend my life explaining that no-one actually sang it in the real battle). I did wonder why the Welsh Guards were chosen for this particular role, rather than the Royal Welsh - whose predecessor regiment, the 24th, had actually taken part in the battle - but I suspect that, ironically, the Royal Welsh no longer have a choir. Michael Caine, who was then away filming on location, gave a brief interview by video, as did Prince Buthelezi, who stressed the importance of the film in generating interest in Zulu history and culture around the world. Film historian Sheldon Hall narrated the 'making of' feature and Dan Snow gave a talk on the battle (and yes, I could have done that better).
The star of the evening was undeniably the film itself, however, which looked every bit as vibrant as I remembered it from my childhood. And one thing struck me about the direction, too; Zulu is very much a film designed to be viewed from below and on a big screen. No matter how good your large-screen TV blu-ray combo might be, watching it at home contains and diminishes it; seeing it from below, again, reinvigorated the grandeur, menace and claustophobia of several key scenes and gave me back the sense of awe I've never quite been able to recapture since I last saw it in a cinema.
Sadly, after it was over, I had to rush off (why do trains leave London at such a ridiculously early hour?). I must admit I had entertained dark thoughts about 'souveniring' one of the large pictorial boards which had been taped to the railings outside. In the event I probably wouldn't have had time - but in any case most of them had already disappeared by the time I came out ...
The Daily Mail gave the event extensive coverage, here - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2654322/Is-nanny-home-Harry-meet...
A short film about the evening can be found on Youtube here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9Fne6eK_Xg
Coverage of the event on SABC is here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZdIR7eqfTs