G.B.H. Grievous Bodily Harm (1983): The Lost World of Cliff Twemlow

“He walks tall with his head held high, before he backs down he would rather die, he’s a mean machine none tougher than, the man man man-Mancunian man!”

Now, if Garth Marenghi made Road House in early 80s Manchester and cast a PE teacher in the lead role, you’d have G.B.H. In reality, G.B.H was clearly an influence on Matthew Holness, the comic genius and creator of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and A Gun For George. It was a deeply low budget, shot on videotape, straight to video film from one man band filmmaker, Cliff Twemlow. A Manchester legend, Twemlow was a much in demand nightclub bouncer turned composer of library music (one of his tracks features in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, whilst another provided the closing theme to the long-running daytime drama Crown Court) and pulp horror novelist whose memoir of his doorman days, formed the basis of two films in the early 1980s, Tuxedo Warrior and this one. Here, Twemlow writes, produces, composes the score and stars as hardman bouncer, Donovan, aka ‘the Mancunian’, fresh out of Strangeways and straight into a violent club war as he tries to protect Manchester nightspot The Zoo from a ruthless and opportunistic London mob headed up by Keller, played by Jerry Harris.

This is very amateurish stuff from director David Kent-Watson, but it nonetheless possesses a great, rugged and now somewhat nostalgic charm. Yes, it’s utterly, hilariously naff – there’s far too much time spent on jogging and disco dancing – but I think what makes G.B.H stand out is Twemlow himself. Most one man bands are incredibly egotistical, yet Twemlow is surprisingly down to earth and tongue in cheek in his approach to being a movie star. Yes, he beats up the bad guys and gets the girls (often, in an alarmingly Trumpian, ‘grab ’em by the pussy’ manner; one tarty twenty-something propping up the bar remarks that he looks old, which leads to him silently dragging her into a backroom to prove he’s not past it yet) but he’s no silver-tongued James Bond: “I feel like I should say something very romantic” he tells his love interest Tracy, played by Jane Cunliffe (no relation, though you never know!) before settling on “You’ve got a lovely arse” . It’s easy to see why Twemlow is such a cult icon, and especially so here in the north west: he possessed the same level of civic pride that Tony Wilson of Granada Reports and Factory Records had for Manchester, authentically setting G.B.H in the city and its environs (to persuade Donovan to defend his interests at The Zoo, owner Murray, played by Anthony Shaeffer, offers him “the house in Bury”) and even featuring Peter Stringfellow’s Millionaire club which Twemlow used to run the door of. He’s actually not that bad an actor either, indeed a lot of the major players in the cast are quite good for such a low budget friends only enterprise, with only Twemlow’s young doorman pal Chris (Brett Sinclair, not his real name I’m guessing; clearly a fan of The Persuaders!) disappointing. Incidentally, Donovan and Chris seem to have a rather sweaty homoerotic relationship, which is rather odd, given the amount of homophobic lines that Twemlow utters throughout the film. They are definitely the Rick Dagless and Sanchez of the movie.

Archive cutting from the Eccles Journal reporting on the filming

As you can see from the poster, much was made at the time that this was a gritty, ultra-violent affair, claiming that the film was “not for the squeamish” and “more brutal than The Long Good Friday” . It’s not, it’s quite tame and cartoonish really, and the poster is equally misleading as there’s no axe! But I’m guessing Twemlow wrote the straplines and was in charge of publicity too so obviously he was going to try and grab an audience’s attention. His score by the way owes a massive debt to John Barry’s instrumental for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the whacka whacka guitar of 70s porn. Despite its tongue often being firmly in cheek (my favourite bit is when Donovan physically bests some enforcers in dense woodland, one of whom, whilst felled, warns “You’re not out of the woods yet!” as heavies on scrambler bikes appear, giving chase!) the film provides a grim, downbeat ending as befits the tastes of the day. See for yourself…

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