A perennial sucker for feature films with sporting references, I suppose I’ll drag myself to Sixty Six, in spite of the verdict by the Spec’s Deborah Ross that, for all its occasional charm, it is ‘a comedy without any good jokes which takes itself too seriously’. It concerns a Jewish family’s dilemma, particularly 12-year-old Bernie’s, when the date of his bar mitzvah coincides with the England football team winning through to the 1966 World Cup final. The reasonable idea has Ross longingly sighing, ‘Where is Jack Rosenthal when you really need him?’ The late Rosenthal, of course, was a luminously original television (etcetera) playwright in the vanished, lamented days of grandeur for the single play. Most reckon Bar Mitzvah Boy (1976) was Rosenthal at his relishable best. Sucker moi as ever, my top two Rosenthals are his park football classic Another Sunday and Sweet F.A. (1972) and the weirdly titled P’tang, Yang, Kipperbang (1982), a touching and breathlessly zestful recall of the writer’s Lancashire schooldays at Colne Grammar. I met Jack only a couple of times in passing; I wish it could have been more often, but grevious myeloma got him a couple of years ago.
It wasn’t only Deborah Ross’s crit which reminded me of the droll filmscript maestro this week. I was reviewing Harry Potts, a commendable biography (by his 82-year-old wife!) of the legendary Burnley player and manager (SportsBooks, £17.99). Colne’s neighbouring Burnley F.C. was Rosenthal’s first schoolboy infatuation (before his enduring true-love affair began with Man United). Of a sudden, a portrait in the book leapt out at me: a distant, broodingly handsome stare, saucery ears, Brylcreemed ‘Tony Curtis’ quiff. It was Burnley’s fabled winger, jaunty, jinky, touchline twinkler Peter Kippax. Every team in those days fielded its exclusive schoolboy-worshipped Kippax. Kippax of Burnley’s 1940s Clarets, alas, did not live long enough to know his monicker, 40 years on, transmuted into the title of a famous television play after the young scamp Rosenthal and his Colne Grammar gang fashioned the hero’s name into their secret password — i.e., Peter Kippax = P’tang Kipper which, more playground melodic, became P’tang Yang Kipper, which metamorphosed, as these things do, into the Bafta award-winning P’tang, Yang, Kipperbang.
Apropos Wembley’s 40-year-old day of days, red shirts, golden showers, Ken Wolstenholme, sixty-six and all that…. Once I asked the wise, lugubrious England cricketer Graham Gooch to name the most chivalrous sportsman he’d ever come across. I suppose I was presuming, say, a Sobers or a Brearley. Not Graham: ‘In 1966, I was 13. It was Dad’s one week off, and the family was at the holiday camp in Freshwater, Isle of Wight. On World Cup final Saturday, about 50 of us crowded excitedly around a table in the dining-hall on which stood a tiny black-and-white television with a sort of coathanger on top which served as the aerial. The picture kept fuzzing up or blacking out totally, so a fellow camper picked up the aerial and walked around with it to various angles to try to settle it down. Suddenly, miraculously, it’s perfect: “Great! Hold it there! Don’t move!” One major problem: he was now three yards directly behind the screen. Can you believe it, he stood there with the aerial for the whole match: all 90 minutes plus extra time? Just for us; he never saw a thing, not even the Queen giving Bobby the cup! The finest example of generous sportsmanship I’ll ever witness.’