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News > Arts & Culture > ‘If….’ 50 Years On

‘If….’ 50 Years On

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the film If...., and sadly also the passing of David Sherwin (Sc 55-58) who co-authored the play with friend and fellow OT, John Howlett (SH 53-58).

 
2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the film If...., and sadly also the passing of David Sherwin (Sc 55-58) who co-authored the play with friend and fellow OT, John Howlett (SH 53-58). The following article was written by the film’s star, Malcolm McDowell, in memory of Sherwin, and was published in The Guardian.

The screenwriter David Sherwin was a special friend. We went through many girlfriends, marriages, triumphs and disasters together. I even wore his father’s demob coat from after the second world war in the opening shot of If…. It was perfect. It was my entrance into film. It has become a rather iconic image.

David and I had a unique relationship: my first film as an actor was his first screenplay. I met him in 1967 at the audition of If…. The actress I was playing with, Christine Noonan, punched me rather hard in the face. I was knocked to the floor, my script flew everywhere. There was stunned silence and my eyes welled with tears from the shock of being hit so hard. When I regained my composure the energy between us became electric. It made for good drama. Lindsay Anderson, the director, called for the audition to end. David jumped to his feet and shouted: “Lindsay, you have found your Mick!” Lindsay was irritated by his outburst and scolded: “That is not how you cast a film David, now piss off!” I was cast in his first film and mine. It started my career.

The 50th anniversary of If…. falls this year. David helped change cinema as we know it. He was an extraordinarily good writer who was never given the credit he deserved. He did major rewrites on Sunday Bloody Sunday, a significant film for its time, with its main homosexual character portrayed in a positive light, and it won a Golden Globe and a Bafta for best picture, but David was never credited.
He had a great talent; he would write lines such as, “Try not to die like a dog,” or “Watch out for her treacle tart, there’s many a fly got stuck in that.” Such vivid images – that was David.

His style was very much in keeping with the epic style of Anderson. I remember writing scenes with him for O Lucky Man! and when we were finished we would read what was on the page and laugh about whether Lindsay would consider the writing “epic” or “mini”. By Lindsay’s definition “mini” was unfocused and uninteresting, while “epic” had great style, was illuminating.

Our production company was called SAM Productions, for Sherwin, Anderson and McDowell. With the Mick Travis trilogy, David wrote three amazing films. Crusaders (which became If….) was David’s original idea, which Lindsay took and made mostly about his own life. Coffee Man (which became O Lucky Man!) was mainly my story. Britannia Hospital is more David’s. He had seen a newspaper article about England’s first heart transplant team. In the photos the doctors were wearing specially made neckties and blazers. Photographed before they had done any successful surgery, they seemed to be waiting for some unsuspecting victim. This spurred his fascination with the National Health system.

Of course, Lindsay’s magic dust was sprinkled over everything but it was all very much a collaboration between three partners. Lindsay didn’t write; he dictated and shaped. David got it on the page.

I was shooting A Clockwork Orange and Lindsay and David were working on O Lucky Man! when I received a card from Lindsay that he had written from his mother’s house on the beach in Hyde, Kent. It read: “Author drunk on floor, I don’t think we will ever make O Lucky Man!” A week passed – another card arrived: “Very fine work on the script! Things looking up … Looks like we will do the film after all!”
 

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