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Home > Film

Robin Ince's Top 30,000 Films Of All Time

#29,970: Number One

12 September 2003

Harry doesn’t play by the rules, he plays to win!

Where do British films go when they've been starved of the oxygen of their brief cinema releases? Sixties Brit films end up at the NFT and on pleasantly-packaged but extras-light DVDs; seventies movies (mainly sex, some horror, bit of John Schlesinger) appear on late night Channel Five, but where do the eighties movies vanish to? The epics that helped sink the British film industry pop up, but what of the curios packed with actors from The Bill and Phil Daniels?

Has anyone seen Shadey in any form over the last 10 years? Don't you remember it? Anthony Sher is a garage mechanic with the power to telepathically transmit images on film who longs for a sex change operation. What about Getting it Right, where El Dorado’s Jesse Birdsall is stuck with three women who desire him in a film directed by the man behind Big Top Pee Wee? Or Neil Morrissey's 'I Bought A Vampire Motorcycle', removal man adventure 'The Chain'? And did anyone ever see 'Billy The Kid' and 'The Green Baize Vampire'?

Billy the Kid and The Green Baize Vampire was the tale of a near vampiric snooker player (like Ray Reardon) and a flash cockney boy played by Phil Daniels (Jimmy White I presume). Directed by the much lauded Alan Clarke, who also helmed the festival of greenhouse buggery and temple cracking sock swinging Scum, I have never met anyone who has seen it, nor have I managed to find it in any dusty video shop clearout. Fortunately I had more luck finding the other half of British cinema’s misguided snooker movie boom, Number One, starring Bob Geldof and Mel Smith, fresh from his big screen appearances in Bullshot and Slayground (what do you mean you haven’t heard of them either?)

Number One was purchased for £1.99 from the West Ealing Oxfam, yet once was the shining jewel in property company Heron International’s film portfolio. In fact, it might have been their only one. Number One mixes purportedly gritty London pub life with an implausible narrative, and as it was made in 1984, both Phil Daniels and Ray Winstone appear in it.


Geldof is Harry 'Flash' Gorden, a prodigiously talented but hugely temperamental amateur snooker player and gambler, a bit like Hurricane Higgins perhaps. He has his money troubles, but fortunately he lives next door to a hooker with a heart of gold (official figures of the true generosity of prostitutes are unavailable, but using films as barometer, 93% are very giving, while 7% are that ugly pinch-faced one that gets her comeuppance from a vile pimp and some bleach). The part of Doreen is played by Alison Steadman.

We know Harry is flash not merely because that is his nickname, but because he has a red Capri.

After getting into a bit of trouble with the police (Alfred Molina and the man who used to play Clive Dunn's friend in Grandad) and getting deeper into debt due to a poker game, Harry joins forces with local betting shop owner Billy Evans (Mel Smith) and his possibly gay hard man sidekick, PH Moriaty. PH was best known for playing Bob Hoskins hard man sidekick in The Long Good Friday and Dennis Quaid’s hard man marine biologist sidekick in Jaws-3D, but is now best known for being in the nineties most horribly over-rated film / alcopop commercial - Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

PH is quite good at looking menacing, but less good at acting, therefore it was decided his character could only whisper, so his bad acting is less voluble.


It seems that getting into the World Snooker championship is pretty easy. You have to play a scrap metal dealer and if you win you go to the Crucible (where Marti Caine seems to be appearing in Funny Girl, sadly we only see an awning advertising the fact). Harry has been told to throw the game so Billy can make a fortune via his turf accountancy, what do you think he does?

Like so many British films, Number One looks like it belongs on television, its shortcomings are clear enough on an 18-inch screen and it lacks any visual flair to lift it above the doldrums of the bedsit and boozer life it portrays. Geldof is reasonable in the part, though clearly his acting is best when placed in a three minute garish video howling next to Johnny Fingers.

Mel Smith is entertaining, and it seems a pity he doesn’t act more, as then he would have less time to direct films. The rest of the cast is made up of actors who must have spent the eighties in a minibus being shuttled from one grimy movie location to another, stopping occasionally to pick up a neckerchief for their pickpocket and urchin roles in the odd costume drama.

Watch out for Freddie Parrotface Davies as the referee of the grand final, you may remember him as the budgerigar obsessed, hat wearing, excessively lisping children’s entertainer of the seventies


Number One is another failed attempt to leap on a sports craze and turn it into box office gold, but lacks the tension, drama or imaginative direction of a bout between Jimmy White and Ronnie O'Sullivan.

What about a film with Stephen Hendry, Colin Farrell, Jean Claude Van Damme (and possibly Ossie Ardilles) as POWs who organize a daring escape from the Nazis during a camp snooker competition? I think I'll start writing.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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