For me it has been and always will be a classic British war film. Wonderful cast, huge amounts of top quality action, supervised by the legendary Bob Simmons. It stands the test of time and the story of the action scenes deserves to be told. A British businessman, Stewart Grainger, seeks to overthrow a vicious dictator in central Africa. He hires a band of mercenaries in London and sends them in to save the virtuous but imprisoned opposition leader who is also critically ill and due for execution. Just when the team has performed a perfect rescue, Grainger does a deal with the vicious dictator leaving the mercenary band to escape under their own steam and exact revenge. Roger Moore plays Shawn Fynn a smooth, Irish mercenaryâ€Ś.yes Roger Moore plays an Irishman! I knowâ€Ś still moving on. He has just killed the local Mafia Godfathers nephew and the biggest contract London has ever seen has been put out on him. He is hiding out above a casino when the heavy mob arrives.
Quite a bunch they are too. Here we see five of the country’s top stuntmen. Left to Right: Terry Richards, Eddie Eddon, George Leech, B.H.Barry and Tim Condren all looking down because Richard Harris has just thrown a grenade onto the floor. It goes off killing two and causing the rest to run from the establishment with their tails still between their legs.
As the song says “You will always find him in the kitchen at parties”, wearing his and hers raincoats these two stuntmen discuss the mission ahead. On the left is Clive Curtis and he is talking to Greg Powell on the right. Incidentally this proved to be a very interesting picture for Clive who was the only black stuntman on the Equity Stunt Register at the time of filming. As the movie goes on it becomes clear that black stunt performers will be in high demand in this business.
Greg Powell & George Cooper on the training ground in Tschepisi, South Africa.
So the rescue is on and the troops take their place in the cargo plane ready for a night time parachute jump. On the right of the picture is stuntman George Cooper, easily
recognisable with his distinctive moustache. Just behind him is Greg Powell. Also aboard is Rocky Taylor who makes it down safely and prepares to regroup after landing. Seen here in the middle of the shot.
So the first assault is on the perimeter fence and relies on a silent approach. Hardy Kruger plays South African Pieter Coetze whose weapon of choice is the crossbow. This allows him to take out the guards manning the watch towers without causing unnecessary alarm.
Clive Curtis performs the high part of the fall into a box rig after being picked off by the crossbow. In order to allow the scene to work the actor playing the guard must now sell the close up. Sadly he starts by standing in shot, showing the audience that he is going to fall onto the ground from a standing position. At least Clive sold the high part of the fall for him.
Clive Curtis, seen here on the left, as a guard attempting to prevent the opposition leader, Julius Limbani, from leaving the prison wing of the camp. Martin Grace also takes a brief cameo as an East German guard. His role is cut short by the very man he doubled on a regular basis Roger Moore.
Martin has to negotiate the railing in order to make the landing area. Starting a gate vault, Martin pushes against the railing in order to get as much clearance from the wall as he can.
Stage 3 of Twickenham Studios becomes the interior for this next action set piece. Inside the bar. Now as I mentioned earlier Clive Curtis was the only black stuntman on the Equity register back in 1978 and this production called for many black actors and extras to be used. This scene calls for 17 guards to be caught up in the middle of the attack, involving a grenade and machine gun fire. Nine of these guards are extras the other eight are stuntmen and only one is black.
Rocky Taylor Jazzer Jeyes
Greg Powell can be seen wearing a heavy duty back pad as he is required to be hit by flying furniture during this sequence.
Ironically George Cooper is then spotted in the doorway with the other mercenaries killing himself! Funny old game the movie business isnâ€™t it?
“That was LUDICROUS, sir. You're jumping from an aeroplane, not a whorehouse window. Do it again”.
Kit West, the special effects supervisor, started life in the film business under the supervision of Les Bowie who was responsible for sfx on the Hammer films of the fifties and sixties. One such invention of Les Bowies was the fire jacket. A suit jacket that had a ring stitched into the lining. This ring could be lit for a stunt and allowed the stuntman to have complete control over his performance. Filming a fire sequence for The Wild Geese in Northern Transvaal (Limpopo province) on the border of Zimbabwe, one of the driest regions in Africa would prove very demanding for the stunt team, but it was one of the most memorable sequences in the film.
A plane fitted with high powered machine guns and a bomb heads towards the convoy of military trucks. A mechanical fault has caused one to stop on the bridge making it an easy target. The plane flies past and opens fire. George Cooper is in the thick of the action.
Then the plane makes another pass and drops its bomb. It scoots across the dry river bed and explodes underneath the bridge.
Two soldiers are now set alight from this explosion. Greg Powell told me that the conditions were not favourable for a fire ‘gag’. 108 degree heat and a limited water supply were far from ideal. Greg and George Cooper were selected by Bob Simmons to perform the stunt. One of them would have to fall from the bridge into a box rig positioned out of camera shot. George Cooper performed the fall and was asked by Simmons to get out of the landing rig as fast as possible….it might set alight too! Greg told me that two buckets of water had been placed out of camera shot, one to extinguish George and the other for him to stand in when he’d finished. The heat from the ground coupled with that of the fire had caused the army issue boots to melt!
George Cooper Greg Powell
Note that the back of the camouflage jackets are ridged. The flammable ring is sewn into the jacket and only the top half of George and the bottom half of Greg is a blaze.
Scenes in which someone is actually set on fire are among the most dangerous ever filmed. The stuntman wears several layers of protective clothing, including fire-resistant materials like asbestos. Special gloves and a hood cover the hands and head. In most burn scenes, the hood is clearly evident, though its appearance can be minimized by good editing. Inside the hood is a small breathing apparatus connected to a small oxygen tank. The performer is then coated in a specially prepared flammable gel. All of these would have been standard precautions taken when dealing with fire. On location for The Wild Geese they had fire retardant gel to stop the stunt performerâ€™s skin blistering, wet blankets and buckets of water. Heath Robinson eat your heart out!
After the initial screening the censor asked producers to remove to shots of burning soldiers inside the bombed van. These soldiers were dummies, but still the scene was too graphic for some audiences.
Now all of us who enjoy the action movie are very familiar with what happens when a grenade is thrown into the path of a bunch of charging attackers. Firstly we see the explosion, then we see one or two villains flying through the air with the fireball behind them, then we see them hit the ground. Well none of this would have been possible without Bob Simmons who is responsible for giving the audience this perspective. Much more than just a coordinator, Bob saw action scenes as a fan and would craft his scenes to give the maximum input to the paying public. The trampoline explosion is one such twist on the action flick. A full size trampoline is positioned in the foreground and the stuntman will make a series of bounces to get him to the right height without bouncing out of shot. On ‘Action’ the special effects team will set off the explosion, in the background, and time this to the stuntman’s bounce. If everything goes according to plan you get something like the two shots above. Here we see Martin Grace being blown up. All the trampoline explosion sequences for this film were shot in slow motion which allows a beauty and grace to the whole thing. Here in another selection of trampoline explosions from the film we see Jazzer Jeyes and Rocky Taylor in the top three pictures and Martin Grace again in the bottom three.
Clive Curtis appears once again as a Simba soldier with a very nasty looking blade in his hand about to give dear Witty a very permanent divorce. Good job heâ€™d written a will. Leaving everything to the dearest, kindest proctologist in the whole wide world.
In this next sequence we see Greg Powell doubling a Simba soldier being blown up. No trampoline or mini tramp here. This is Greg launching himself into the undergrowth.
It would be right and fitting to give the last word to Bob Simmons who appears briefly in the film as a pilot over powered by Roger Moore and his men. Bob also doubled for Richard Burton during the scenes where Limbani is carried through the jungle. Martin Grace took over doubling Burton and Hardy Kruger for these scenes when Bob was needed elsewhere. Bob had worked on Paper Tiger for producer Euan Lloyd back in 1975 and they had agreed over a few drinks and a hand or two of poker to continue working together regardless of other commitments. Bob said that working and doubling for Richard Burton was a great thrill and that visiting all these exotic locations was far better than any real job. He was a man of great ambition and style, but underneath it all just like you and me a real fan of movies and he made sure that the viewer got every penny of the entrance fee in pure excitement.
George Cooper 1945 - 2006 Flight Of The Wild Geese
Sad are the eyes Yet no tears The flight of the wild geese Brings a new hope
Bob Simmons 1933 - 1987
Rescued from all this Old friends And those newly found What chance to make it last When there's danger all around And reason just ups and disappears
Martin Grace 1942 - 2010
Time is running out So much to be done Tell me what more What more What more can we do.
Eddie Eddon 1935 - 1999
There were promises made Plans firmly laid Now madness prevails And lies fill the air. What more, Oh What more What more can we do. What chance to make it last
Tim Condren 1927 - 2006
What more What more can we do.
The Wild Geese Dedicated to those stunt performers no longer with us
Stunt Arranger – Bob Simmons Credited Stunts – Tim Condren, George Cooper, Clive Curtis, Eddie Eddon, Martin Grace, Jazzer Jeyes, George Leech, Greg Powell and Rocky Taylor
Uncredited Stunts – Chris Webb, Richard Graydon, B.H Barry and Terry Richards “Thirty men in the valley of the shadow, and he wants to take over an entire country”!