Thursday 11 July 2013

Aphrodite at the Waterhole

Here's a wonderful clip from The Rebel (1961), from a screenplay by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson and starring the lad himself, Tony Hancock. His character is much the same as that created by his writers for the radio series Hancock's Half Hour - vain, pretentious and doggedly aspirational. He has no doubts about his artistic genius and longs to live in Paris. His landlady - the matchless Irene Handel - is unimpressed ("It's violent and puerile! It's all a load of miskerlaneous rubbish!").

The paintings seen on the walls in Hancock's studio, including the marvellous Ducks in Flight, are by Alistair Grant (1925-1997), a Royal College of Art professor. He had his work cut out in producing images that would pass muster as bad but could also convince an audience that critics - at least French critics - would find something in them to value.

Hancock Self-portrait from The Rebel by Alistair Grant

Hancock's ghastly monumental sculpture - Aphrodite at the Waterhole (or "That great ugly thing here" according to his landlady) has something in common with Henri Gaudier-Brzeska's wonderful Red Stone Dancer (below), which can be seen in Kettle's Yard, Cambridge.

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska Red Stone Dancer (c.1913)

Anthony Aloysius Hancock Aphrodite at the Waterhole (c.1961)

The only other serious painter to have his work featured in a British comedy was John Bratby, who provided the images attributed to Gully Jimson (the maverick artist played by Alec Guinness) in The Horse's Mouth,  an under-rated 1958 film based on Joyce Carey's equally under-rated 1944 novel.

Bratby is also under-rated. It was his painting (below) that prompted the art critic David Sylvester to coin the term "kitchen sink", initially applied to Bratby's downbeat realism but soon taken up to refer to almost everything of interest happening in 1950s film, television and theatre.

John Bratby (1928-1992) Kitchen Sink 

Bratby's work was rather eclipsed by the arrival of razzmatazz pop art, but his stuff is looking good these days.

Images © The Estate of Alistair Grant; Kettle's Yard, Cambridge/The Estate of Henre Gaudier Brzeska; The Estate of John Bratby. I'm not sure who has copyright on these film still - so let me know. I assume it's fair use in the context?


  1. where is it possible to find work from Alistair grant

  2. You could first try this very good website:

    I see there's a fine AG lithograph for sale online - and a few paintings also. The website organisers can tell you more.