Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Thursday, 25 April 2019

Coming Up - Ney Day?


There's a great deal made of anniversaries these days. The great thing about an anniversary is that we know when it's coming round, so the media people can prepare something in advance, during slack periods. Sometimes these anniversaries can seem a bit contrived, or they commemorate something that isn't very interesting, or that nobody has heard of (which is a special case of "not very interesting", I suppose).

Recently it was the 54th anniversary of my Uncle Harold accidentally reversing into the lady next door's car, in Bromborough. The stature of this anniversary is limited by the fact that very few folk who knew of the incident at the time are still alive, and those who are cannot remember it anyway, so it is unsatisfactory on a number of counts - not helped by the fact that no-one was hurt.

No - we have to aim higher. This post is all the Duc de Gobin's fault, by the way, since he reminded me of the classic Waterloo film from 1970. Subsequently I was browsing around the subject of the movie - online, like - and I discovered that Dan O'Herlihy, the Irish actor who played Marshal Ney in the movie, was born on 1st May 1919. If Steiger will always be the true Napoleon to many of us, then for me O'Herlihy will forever be the iconic Ney, the man who told the Emperor to abdicate, for goodness' sake. You can't get any more important or influential than that - though it surprises me that I never saw O'Herlihy, as far as I know, in anything else. It has been suggested that they had to pay so much to secure the services of Steiger, Plummer and Orson Welles in the Bondarchuk movie that they economised by filling the rest of the cast with lesser lights - first-rate actors who were less well-known. And Terence Alexander, of course. 


Anyway, this means we are fast approaching the 100th anniversary of the birth of The-Man-Who-Played-Ney. I don't expect this to get into the BBC Radio 4 world news on 1st May, so I guess I'll have to commemorate Ney Day privately. I can always watch Waterloo again, of course, with a mug of cocoa, but I'd welcome any good ideas about a suitable way of celebrating.

Any thoughts?

To get myself in the mood, here's the classic opening sequence, in which we discover that Napoleon's Marshals were trained to speak in turn, in the best traditions of panto, that Marshal Soult was a Scotsman (played by an Italian actor), that Napoleon wore specs and that Marmont was a rotten scoundrel. Great stuff. Love it.

***** Late Edit *****

Scrapbook stuff, courtesy of the Interweb.


Ney (Michel, not Dan the Man) was born in Saarlouis, which these days is in Germany - his birthplace is now an Italian restaurant, but the situation is rescued by the fact that its address is 13 Bierstrasse, which is more like it. I don't know if the restaurant is the original building, but since his father was a cooper, it is no surprise that they had a big cellar.


Here's young Michel in the 4th Hussars, 1792.

******************* 



34 comments:

  1. Superb.
    I'll be celebrating with a metaphorical futile cavalry charge against supposedly retreating British infantry, by running headlong into the bushes in my back garden.

    Were Dan still about, he'd no doubt get a bit part in Game of Thrones like every other out of work Irish actor.

    I think the abdication sequence is quite true to form - at least this is how we speak when we're playing Field of Battle with Steiner?!?

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    1. That's such a fine idea that I may add it to my own to-do list for the day. I have been informed that Dan is most famous for being Robinson Crusoe - in fact, a surprising number of people are unaware of Waterloo (and probably wouldn't watch it anyway - which is unfair - I have watched The Sound of Music, though not all the way through).

      I haven't watched Game of Thrones - no particular reason, but it has assumed the position occupied in the past by (for example) Friends, which I never watched either. If enough people tell me I have to watch something, or offer to lend me box-sets so I can start my recovery, I am likely to hide in a dark cupboard somewhere until they all go away.

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    2. Lol, I remember reading an article by Charlie Brooker about his aversion to box sets. He recalls that a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer who was urging him to watch the series advised him that the first three seasons were only so-so but after Season 3 it really took off. Brooker decided that if even a fan was of the opinion that he would have to watch nearly 60 hours of TV before even reaching the good bits then it was probably not a worthwhile investment of his time!

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    3. To jump back to The Friends Era for a moment - I recall that so much chat in the pub and in the office canteen was dominated by discussion about what so-and-so said next in last week's show, and how it was the funniest thing ever, that I did briefly consider becoming a Tibetan monk.

      What happened to people's imaginations? Nowadays I take for granted that something or other is trending, and I may hear about it, so I can avoid it like the plague. Mention of the plague is accidentally pertinent - it serves as a reminder that just because everyone is currently doing something doesn't make it good.

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  2. By the way Tony, have you seen this slightly extended version?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSaGPIpb830
    This is interesting too
    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066549/alternateversions

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    1. Thanks very much for this - I had a few quick peeks and some of the battle scenes are less hectic and contain bits that were cut. The flash of Ligny is great, and the comments explain the famous left-handed Prussian cavalry later in the finished movie. Interesting that the British version cut the scenes were horses might have been hurt - I understand that 3 or 4 human stuntmen were critically injured in the movie (which was considered mild for a Russian film of the day).

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  3. (I think my original comment may have gone awol--please delete this if it turns up!)
    Brilliant idea!
    I think it should be referred to as O'Herlihy Day though, perhaps with the soutitre (or should that be Soult title) of 'the man who played Ney in Waterloo'.
    Clearly playing Ney catapulted him to the role of senior statesman and peacemaker in Robocop and Robocop II (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LniYN3sXmGg). My quick look at IMDb showed that he was in Man From UNCLE too. The trivia we discover...
    Back to the topic of your post; a local 'drive time' DJ has made a point of announcing the international days of..., everyday. Which is most amusing!
    Not sure whether he has a desk calendar or checks websites such as these:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_minor_secular_observances
    https://kalender-365.de/international-days.php
    Great little post. Always good to be reminded of the film Waterloo!

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    1. Thanks James - it would, of course, be more accurate to call it O'Herlihy Day, but that would blow my childish pun for the 1st May to shreds.

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    2. Superb research.
      Now that you have pointed this out - I DO remember him from Robocop - wow.

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  4. I am sure the Perry Ney was inspired by O'Herlihy - see link of my version here, hopefully!

    https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-INfBEG_A1oM/XGLIhxnN3JI/AAAAAAAAALo/ieCQ2WwLzXwBNeoEDYUuMnSBxOgXxqJjwCLcBGAs/s400/Ney%2Bat%2BWaterloo.JPG

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    1. Wow, yes, that is him isn't it? He's really quite splendid.

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    2. Very nice - excellent work.

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  5. Great scene. I was gripped by this film from the first time I saw it on TV on Christmas Day 1976. I was a mere fresh-faced 12-year-old and it made me a Napoleonic obsessive for life. I still get a lot of pleasure from watching it even though I am more aware now of the various inaccuracies, and I find both the main protagonists entirely believable as Napoleon and Wellington.
    Ney, like Murat, always had a special appeal, that seemingly reckless daring and courage; especially when shortly thereafter I read R. F Delderfield's Retreat from Moscow with its account of his legendary leadership of the rearguard of the Grande Armee. That description of him walking backwards over the bridge on the Niemen, firing infantry muskets at the pursuing Russians until, the muskets discharged, hurling the last one into the river and stomping contemptuously back to the western bank, one of the last men out of Russia...what a call that was to my young imagination. His fate - shot after a trial presided over by some of his erstwhile comrades - and Napoleon's callous response to it, troubled me a great deal at the time.
    I guess I will celebrate the man's birthday by continuing to paint - badly - the 28mm Perry Napoleonics I have acquired in a late bid to get back into miniatures wargaming. And I will definitely look to get hold of the Perry Ney now I now that such a fellow exists.

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    1. Hi Dave - I first saw this in the Edinburgh Film Festival - they did the UK premiere. We were short of celebs - I think we got Plummer and V McKenna - the standout guest was the pipe-major who appears in the film in the Gordons. He was great value, and gave us all sorts of insider chat about what sharing a film set with the Russian army was like. He told us about the nightmare of getting the soldiers in the squares to stand still when the horses came at them. Every time someone panicked and legged it, they had to move the whole sequence a few hundred meters to a fresh bit of the Crimea, since the helicopter showed up whether the ground was already cut up. Apparently the horses had to follow tracks laid out with wooden pegs which you couldn't see from the air, so it took ages to set everything up.

      I have a very soft spot for the old S-Range Ney - I have one somewhere, he can be seen waving his hat in many of my battles - usually being someone else for the day.

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  6. Perhaps you could celebrate by making a scratch-built model of HMS Marshal Ney https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Marshal_Ney - I was astonished to learn that the RN named a monitor after him. Pugnacious, close inshore to the enemy, a monitor was a fitting ship to name after him.
    I have enjoyed these comments - there must be reams of arcane trivia about the making of the classic old war films, which has now been replaced by arcane trivia about chaps slaving over CGI workstations.

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    1. Hi Mike - that name is a surprise - I understand that HMS Marshal Soult was a sister ship! Was recently reading some hair-raising tales of trying to sober up Richard Burton on set when they were making "The Desert Rats" - you don't get that kind of action in CGI.

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    2. CGI has its advantages I guess. Much as I hate The Patriot (as I hate a good chunk of Mel Gibson's output) I was struck by how in the battle scenes you actually had lumps of roundshot taking off peoples' heads. You couldn't easily portray that before CGI so you end up in older films like Waterloo with all the cannon having to fire explosive shells instead.

      Regarding sobering people up on set, I remember reading about the making of Cross of Iron, which is a film I used to love growing up, when apparently Sam Peckinpah was not only soaking up the local liquor like a sponge but snorting his weight in cocaine too.

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    3. HMS Marshal Soult was indeed real, and my great-uncle served on it in 1917 or 1918! ( Keep up the good painting work, Liverpool Dave )

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    4. I didn't know that about your great-uncle Mr B, although I was aware of the impressive military track record of your family, with involvement at Tel-el-Kebir and the Kaiserschlacht and all that malarkey. I bet your great-uncle and my old Dad would have had some tales to swap.

      Not sure you would call my painting work 'good' unless we are just talking about current output rate. I would be ashamed to have pictures of any of my figures here alongside the rather more impressive paint jobs by Prometheus and others!

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  7. 'Ney, Ney and thrice Ney.' Or am I getting mixed up with Frankie Howerd Day?

    I'm up for celebrating the man with a big glass on brandy. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have messed around with soft drinks like beer or wine.

    My first ever 'personality figure' (and first metal toy soldier) was Ney. Minifigs c 1976 from a shop near Waterloo.

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    1. Excellent - I shall get the supporter's scarf knitted up now. Brandy - yes, surely - the real man (yer actual Ney) was a hussar in the beginning, so I'm sure he had an appropriate thirst. There are some pretty silly pictures of him with a hussar barnet - I'll stick one in a late edit above. As a native of Saarlouis, then on the French-German border, Michel might have been partial to a beer, and Old Dan might have been a Guinness man, of course. Better play it safe and have a selection handy.

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  8. I have lost count of the numbers of time I have seen the film since I first saw it with my younger brother at a cinema near Victoria station when the film first came out.

    I am going to celebrate the first of May by painting a Hinton Hunt Ney figure I have had lying around for a while.

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  9. Tony - we've all missed the fact that it was the 250th anniversary of his birth in January of this year! I have two Neys in my army with one of them masquerading as Grouchy.

    Apart from watching the film when it came out I also had a paperback produced in conjunction with the release which told the story in gripping fashion, not sure what happened to it!

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    1. Hi Ian - that book you refer to is a sort of alternative classic - it is by Frederick E Smith. I used to have a copy as well, and mine vanished too. I think Mr Smith may have tried to retrieve them all. This book contains one of my favourite moments in dramatised military history - describing the moment when Bluecher's horse is killed at Ligny, Smith writes, "suddenly a shot rang out...".

      This comes as a pprofound shock to all those of us who had previously assumed that the Battle of Ligny was conducted in total silence. Apparently someone fired a gun at Ligny - I think we need some primary references to confirm this. Sorry - got ahead of myself there...

      If this book turns up, I'd be interested to see if it contains any dialogue from the missing scenes - mention of the Battle of Ligny suggests that it might. Did you have a look at the extended version of the film which James posted a link to above?

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    2. Apparently we've also just missed the 250th birthdays of Soult and Lannes. The Anniversaries Dept is going to have to get better at this...

      Cambronne is coming up in December next year, but he probably couldn't give a wassname anyway.

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    3. Exactly one week to the 198th anniversary of the death of Le Petit Caporal himself...

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    4. Tony,
      I still have my copy of the book! I picked it up second hand at a book sale at uni in the 80s. Belum dibaca, but I'll do so and put a review on my blog^.
      James

      ^I read the prologue and chapter one today. I think I know why I had not bothered previously; the filling out of the brief script is 'interesting'. Still, the chapters are short, so it's my kind of book, despite the lack of piccies.

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    5. I owe Mr Smith a big apology - he was the author of 633 squadron, so his credentials as a writer are - well - they are... well, he has some. Respect, Mr Smith.

      A shot rang out - Jeez.

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  10. I have been gently taken to task by Wayne, of North Carolina, for this post. Quite correctly, Wayne points out that Dan O'Herlihy was an actor, and therefore his birthday should not be celebrated as though he were an actual soldier. Ney and his colleagues, says Wayne, were heroes - exceptional individuals - and we should take this seriously, rather than reduce the topic to a disrespectful joke.

    I hasten to emphasise that this post was a light-hearted commemoration of an actor who contributed significantly to one of my favourite films. I don't think there was any other message. I am quite clear on the subject of which of the people mentioned were actors and which were historical characters. To those who entered into the spirit of the post I offer my thanks - to those who failed to understand it I can only offer my sympathy. Guilty as charged, I guess.

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    1. Tsk, you should be ashamed of yourself. Incidentally, would it be disrespectful to suggest that the young Michel looks a bit like the bloke who plays Jaws in the Bond films? Must be the eyes I think...

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    2. Yes, there is something, isn't there? Bravest of the brave in his formative years - looks like a fine young man, but I hope he blinked occasionally or that stare is unnerving. In the bar I would let him sit wherever he wanted, just to keep the peace, and in case he stuck me in an iron cage. A regiment of identical, unblinking 4th hussars would be a formidable prospect - even in miniature.

      By the way, happy Dan Day. Today I shall mostly be painting French soldiers - I have some Italian coffee to grind, and I'm going to start the boxed set of Radu Lupu again - should be OK.

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    3. I suspect that none of the marshals were men that you would lightly offend in a bar! Sounds like a good day of painting in prospect. I will also do a bit of painting after work this evening, I have a second box of Perry Austrians I hope to complete. I have poor eyesight and a very pronounced tremor, which makes my painting jobs less than impressive when viewed close up, but I quite enjoy it anyway and just hope that with enough figures painted the general effect when viewed from some small distance will be a pleasing one. In any case I am painting mostly for my own pleasure and these figures will likely never be used in any face-to-face battle against a real opponent! Your painting seems altogether more impressive and I very much enjoy the pictures you share of your embattled Napoleonic armies.

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  11. I've also received a reminder - off-topic, but appreciated - that today is also Ayrton Day, since it is the 25th anniversary of the death of the racing driver, Ayrton Senna. I remember exactly where I was when he died - one of those events. A man whose personality has rather compromised his reputation, but a genuine hero nonetheless - from the days when racing drivers did not wear earrings in the press sessions. Just saying.

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