Obituary: John Bindon
A MAN of the Sixties, John Bindon lived a life at least as colourful as the roles he played: he was the archetypal actor-villain, and an all- round 'good geezer'. 'The fundamental thing about John was that he was a bright, intelligent man a size bigger than the room he was in,' recalls his agent, Tony Howard.
The son of a Fulham cabbie, Bindon had an upbringing shrouded in machismo myth. It was all good training for the adult Bindon, for whom the term method acting might have been invented. The director Ken Loach cast him in Poor Cow (1967), the gritty realist film of Nell Dunn's novel, having been introduced to him by Dunn 'through a contact of hers. He was very easy to direct,' says Loach, 'and he was very good in it, very straight.' Bindon's portrayal of Carol White's wife-battering husband was to set the tone for his acting career.
The celebrity of Poor Cow brought the model Vicki Hodge into Bindon's life, and Bindon into high society. He was 'not an East End tough,' says Tony Howard. 'He was a genial fellow welcome everywhere he went, from the highest to the lowest places. He could make a horse laugh - he could put people on the ground. He could charm Princess Margaret equally as well as anyone else.' Bindon's bonhomie certainly won him many celebrated friends: 'John Huston loved him, Stanley Kubrick loved him,' Howard says. Bindon appeared in the former's film The Mackintosh Man (1972) , with Paul Newman, and had a small part in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975).
In 1970 Bindon was cast, alongside Mick Jagger and James Fox, in Performance, in which he played minder to the Kray-like 'Harry Flowers'. The film's co-director Nicholas Roeg remembers him as a 'wild, naked talent; an extraordinary man; a totally unafraid person; people often mistrust that, mistake it for pugnacity.' Bindon kept in contact with Roeg, who met him again some 10 years later, when the actor came to the United States 'shortly after his 'other problems'. We were always able to pick up a friendly conversation. I had a very great regard for him. I liked his attitude of raw courage; he had an unencumbered attitude - people are so often encumbered by fear.' Bindon won the Queen's Award for bravery in 1968, after rescuing a drowning man from the Thames (although it was alleged that Bindon had pushed the man in himself, and only pulled him out when a policeman appeared).
In between bouts of acting, Bindon became involved in the music scene, acting as tour manager and security for Led Zeppelin and David Bowie; he was a particular friend of Bowie's manager, Tony de Fries, and through him got to know Angie Bowie, with whom he had a well-publicised affair. Bindon's amatory interests - Christine Keeler, Serena Williams - excited almost as many gossip column inches as did his other activities.
Unfortunately, what Roeg calls his 'other problems' soon established another sort of fame. In 1976 Bindon was declared bankrupt; two years later he killed John Darke, a London gangster, outside a pub in Putney, allegedly for a fee of pounds 10,000. Bindon escaped to Dublin, badly wounded. He returned to England, however, and was acquitted on a plea of self-defence when it was revealed that he had saved a victim whom Darke had stabbed in the face. The substantial appearance of Bob Hoskins as a character witness at the trial helped sway the verdict.
Bindon made various appearances, generally portrayed as a 'heavy', in television series such as Hazell, The Sweeney, Softly, Softly and Minder, where his tough-guy persona lent an authentic air to such productions. But film work declined after the adverse publicity of his trial - although he did memorably play a drug dealer in the rock film Quadrophenia (1979), a role which again appeared perilously close to typecasting.
In 1981, Bindon's 12-year relationship with Vicki Hodge ended, and his criminal activities began to garner more publicity than his acting work. In 1982 he was convicted of threatening a law student with a piece of pavement; and two years later was sentenced to two months in prison for holding a carving knife in the face of a detective constable. Although this sentence, and a similar one of six months for carrying an offensive weapon, was suspended, Bindon had spent time inside for other crimes. Tony Howard recalls: 'His time in jail was well spent, reading avidly. He had a great knowledge of history and Shakespeare - he loved the classics - he knew everything there was to know about people like Wellington - he could quote Shakespeare freely, and did.'
Bindon's last appearance was at the tiny King's Head theatre in Islington in 1987, but his performance merited a worthy critical mention. The latter part of Bindon's life was spent in a small flat in Belgravia, in a degree of poverty. His death from cancer brought unlikely tributes to the man's goodheartedness from colleagues and close friends. Over 200 people attended his funeral at Putney Vale crematorium, spilling out of the chapel in their eagerness to show respect.
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