Celebrity Choice - Big Screen, Little Screen, Personalities

The Ford Cortina, 40 years old this year, has made dozens of film and TV appearances, more often as a character player than as a headline grabbing star.

Carry On Cabby, released in 1963 was an early exception to this. Neglected wife Hattie Jacques sets up her own cab firm –Glam Cabs – in direct competition with her husband Sid James. His dreary London taxis can’t compete with the a fleet of brand new Consul Cortinas driven by scantily clad young women. Look out for Amanda Barrie as one of the drivers who much later would find fame in Coronation Street. Representing everything that was crisp, modern and glamorous in 1963 these cars were provided from Fords Press fleet in an early example of product placement.

The Mk1 saw out the end of the black and white era in films like The Big Job - it appears as a getaway car - and The Knack - and How to get it. Rita Tushingham, Michael Crawford and Donal Donally hitch a ride on a transporter load of saloons fresh out of Dagenham in this 1965 comedy of the ‘Swinging London’ genre.

By this time the vestigial fins and ‘ban-the-bomb’ tail lights of the Mk1 were beginning to make way for the cleaner, bigger look of the MkII . This model turned up in productions as diverse as Billion Dollar Brain – driven by Michael Caine who, in fact, didn’t have a driving licence at the time – and The Benny Hill Show which occasionally featured a Crayford convertible.

The MkII’s finest moment however was undoubtedly in the film Get Carter (1970). In this dark, complex thriller London gangster Jack Carter (Michael Caine) travels back to his home town of Newcastle to avenge the killing of his brother. He rents a two door MkII Cortina Super then goes on a murderous rampage. His silver Cortina features extensively, memorably bashing the front passenger door off a pristine MkII Jaguar as he makes a hasty escape.

On TV in the 1970-71 series Callan the gritty spy drives a MkII 4-door, emphasising the down-to-earth credentials of this antidote to the glamour of James Bond style espionage drama.

The MkII sold quite successfully in North America and they occasionally turn up in Hollywood productions. In Alligator (1980) the over grown reptile, having grown to an enormous size in the sewers of New York, attempts to eat an unsuspecting MkII…

The new-style MkIII tended to turn up more often on TV than in film. Sid James drives a 2-door MkII in that quintessential early seventies Thames TV sit-com Bless This House (a yellow estate car was used in the film version) while in 1974-1976 episodes of The Sweeney – acknowledged as the best cop show of the period - a 2 litre GT occasionally appears as a back-up car: it wasn’t all Granadas in this series.

A blue two-door MkIII was used in Safer Driving with Graham Hill, as shown on ITV in 1972 and 1973. The Hong Kong Police use MkIII GTs in the 1978 Inspector Clouseau comedy Revenge of the Pink Panther.

Do you remember The Enigma Files? This 1980 BBC series about an obscure government department dedicated to unsolved cases featured a silver 1600XL with a cloth sunroof, which was driven by the show’s star Tom Adams – he is now better known as the square-jawed chap in TV commercials for a large furniture store.

In Shoestring, Trevor Eve, the part-time disc jockey and private eye, drove a MkIII estate. By the time this series was being made in 1979-80 the curvy MKIII had already been replaced by the more angular MkIV which had made its film debut the same year in The Spy Who Loved Me, Roger Moores' third outing as James Bond. Pursuing 007’s Lotus Esprit along the Sardinian mountain roads – with Jaws taking pot shots from the passenger seat - the black four door Cortina finally crash-lands into the roof of a log cabin to comic affect.

The MkIV was seen regularly in the TV series The Professionals but those with better memories may recall Southern Television’s serialisation of Enid Blytons' Famous Five stories which featured an MkIV Cortina, and several other Fords.

The Cortina had become so much a part of the collective national consciousness by the early 80s that it inspired a memorable hour-long BBC Arena documentary when it went out of production in 1982. Called The Private Life of the Ford Cortina it was hosted by the comedian Alexei Sayle and featured an interview with former bank robber John McVicar who eulogised the Cortina’s abilities as a get away car.

By 1982 the Cortina was almost gone but not forgotten. In the years following its demise it appeared in productions as diverse as Threads – an apocalyptic one-off BBC drama about the effects of a nuclear war – and in sit-coms like Only Fools and Horses, and Keeping up Appearances.

Today, as the generation that grew up with the cars begins to set the advertising agenda the Cortina is coming to symbolise ‘streetwise cool’. This is perfectly encapsulated in a recent Nescafe commercial four macho males cruise suburbia in a MKIII 2000GXL with its vinyl roof replaced by a mop of frizzy hair!

Published 16 September 2002 Melanie Carter
 

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