Unseen photographs of real ‘Withnail’ from cult film

September 24, 2010 | by | 5 Comments

An author has uncovered a series of previously unseen photographs of the struggling actor who inspired the main character in the cult film ‘Withnail and I’.

Colin Bacon, 60, has unearthed new images of Vivian Mackerrell – the real-life thespian who was the inspiration behind the eponymous character.

Vivian, a jobless actor, was a notorious eccentric, drinker and drug taker who once shared a London home with Withnail writer and director Bruce Robinson.

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Robinson later immortalised his antics – including drinking lighter fluid – in the 1987 film with Richard E Grant playing the title role.

The film’s main character appears as a flamboyant but unemployable actor who has a tendency to consume a bottle of wine before breakfast.

Colin, of Penzance in Cornwall, has now discovered never-seen-before photos while researching Vivian’s life to write his biography.

He said: ”For a time it looked like Vivian would do well. He got two or three good parts and there was certainly something about him.

”There was no doubt that he was a star. After leaving drama school he seemed, with his obvious talent and good looks, destined for great things.

”But by then his life had begun to decline into a maelstrom of insanity and excess.
”Despite the obvious health warnings, he continually refused to curb his excesses, accepting his fate with mild indifference.

”He ended up spending most of his time concentrating on his other loves, which were cricket and getting drunk.

”Vivian didn’t do an awful lot of work after he left drama school in the 1960s. His life was peppered with the talents of others.

”His life involved a wealth of colourful eccentrics including past lovers and friends, all who help to fuel the Withnail myth.”

Born in May 1945, Vivian landed several roles in theatre and television as a young actor, including the junior lead in the play Hadrian VII at the Mermaid Theatre in London.

But then his life began to fall apart as he descended into frustration, shattered dreams and chronic alcoholism.

He later shared a home in Camden with Robinson and several other young actors and writers but they were so debauched the home was eventually demolished.

Robinson later wrote and directed Withnail and I – a tale of two struggling actors who try – and fail – to enjoy a weekend in the country.

Vivian eventually died of throat cancer aged 51 which Robinson attributed to his consumption of lighter fluid, portrayed in a notorious scene from Withnail and I.

Among the new photographs – which include unseen publicity shots that Vivian commissioned for his doomed career – is a picture of the actor alongside Colin in 1991.

Colin, who met Vivian on several occasions, said it was the actor’s wild, eccentric character that inspired Withnail and I.

His book ‘Vivian and I’ includes details about the actor’s final days in hospital where the similarities between Vivian and Withnail become obvious.

His final words before he died were: ”Give me a f*cking pre-med you f*ckers, I’m a personal friend of Sir Lancelot Spratt.”

During his research for the book Colin also discovered that, by a bizarre coincidence, Vivian was related to his wife Paula, 45.

It emerged that both shared a great-great-great-grandfather – Cornish mine owner Nicholas Boyns – making them 4th cousins.

Colin added: ”It was quite uncanny. My wife is an avid Withnail and I fan and turned out to be closely related to the man, which rather took the wind out of my sails.”

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Comments (5)

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  1. Viv was the BF of a great friend. They came to my wedding, after a great summer. He lent me his Leica during the reception, I took a photo of him and was teased for being the first bride they had seen behind a camera.

  2. Viv was the BF of a great friend. They came to my wedding, after a great summer. He lent me his Leica during the reception, I took a photo of him and was teased for being the first bride they had seen behind a camera.

  3. Theodora, would be interested to hear more about your Viv Mackerall story. We are running a feature on him and interviewing Colin for a magazine called LeftLion. Please contact me via twitter or email Books (at) LeftLion. co. uk Thanks.

  4. Gillturner0201 says:

    I went to see Withnail and I with Vivian in Nottingham we were great friends for a while and argued like rabid drunken dogs..I miss him
    Gill

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