It has gone down as one of the most memorable moments in film history… a triumphant Darth Vader telling a battered and crippled Luke Skywalker: “I am your father”.
And there was me, sitting in a packed cinema not believing a word of it. Vader? Luke’s father? Aye right.
If ever there was a bolt-on, nonsensical leap of narrative from the original film to a sequel, that was it.
In fact, it could only have been more ridiculous if the famous line had been delivered in the rich West Country accent of David Prowse, the actor who gave physical bulk to the Sith Lord, if not his voice.
As a Star Wars fan boy (I was prepared to overlook even the most glaring of non sequiturs), I was sad to hear of Prowse’s passing. He was so much a part of the lore of George Lucas’s far, far away galaxy.
Not, of course, that that was my first encounter with David Prowse… nope, that came when he popped up on telly as the Green Cross Code Man – and just in the nick of time, too.
Up until he appeared on the telly in 1975, my road crossing skills had been based on what I was told by a squirrel. Not that I was ever a fully paid up member of the Tufty Club, run by the the National Road Safety Committee (a precursor to RosPA) as a safety campaign. It was aimed at “little children and their mothers”. Clearly dads didn’t much care if their offspring were playing chicken with a Morris Minor.
However, I did know all about finding a safe place with no cars then look right, look left, look right again, then cross.
Pretty sure it was look left, right, but then I’ve never been able to tell my left from my right without doing that thing of making an L-shape with the index finger and thumb of your left hand. You know, the thing that most people use to signal “loser”.
Anyway, back to crossing the road safely – a pressing matter in the 1960s as traffic got busier. Mind you, on the street where I lived it was only Mr McCabe on the ground floor flat who had a motor. It was actually a van and not really his. He worked for the council as a toilet attendant and you could always see the piles of bog roll in the back. That shiny stuff, too. Not a decade for soft opulence, the 60s.
Despite it being the only car on the road, it still managed to get hit with a football on many an occasion, prompting rage and anger from Dan, Dan, the Lavatory man – a ball was burst with a knife on one occasion. See earlier references to the 60s.
By the time I reached my early teens, crossing roads was such a serious matter a superhero was required to keep the young people of the nation safe. A cheesy superhero, with a big Green Cross on his chest and an accent usually associated with singing about brand new combine harvesters.
Still, there he was, using his superpowers to teleport to wherever and whenever some urchin was about to lurch into moving traffic. His wise advice was always to stop, look, listen and think. An adage for life as much as crossing the road, if you ask me.
He would set the miscreants straight, politely, then vanish off with the warning he won’t be there when you cross the road so always use the Green Cross Code. As a callous teenager I thought the Green Cross Code Man was about as naff as you could get without wearing a Tufty Fluffytail t-shirt. But there’s no denying the campaign saved countless lives. According to Prowse, road accidents reduced “astronomically from about 70,000 to 30,000”.
As an aside, I could have used the Green Cross Code Man’s intervention last week when trying to cross a road, dazzled by low sun and oblivious to the world thanks to noise-cancelling earbuds. I only realised a car was bearing down when it suddenly stopped beside me.
If only I had paid attention to the Green Cross Code Man’s comeback in 2014 when he specifically warned adults of the dangers of crossing roads while listening to headphones. Thankfully by then he had been lost the uber naff rip-off R2D2 droid that turned up in the 80s ads, clearly a nod to his Darth Vader stint.
I had always idly wondered if Prowse got the Star Wars gig on the back of his Green Cross Code muscle-flexing, but apparently it was because Lucas spotted him as a bodyguard in A Clockwork Orange.
Because of his imposing height –6ft 6in – he was up for two roles, Chewbacca or Vader. Ultimately, he chose the latter because “you always remember the bad guys”.
True words, indeed.
Darth Vader is an icon, from his first jaw-dropping entrance on the blockade runner at the start of the first Star Wars, through to chucking the Emperor down an exhaust shaft in the last.
While I never bought into the whole story arc of The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi (Star Wars was built as a standalone film, end of) Vader was always a character you leaned forward in your seat for.
There was much forward-leaning in the moments before he finally took off his helmet to look at Luke with his own eyes. Who would be under the mask? Would it be David Prowse, surely not James Earl Jones?
Unfortunately, it was Humpty Dumpty.
That quibble aside, David Prowse was one of those characters deeply embedded in the psyche and culture of a generation, turning up not just as Vader or the Green Cross Code Man, but in countless cult shows like The Saint, Space 1999 and, my personal passion, Doctor Who.
May the force be with him… and don’t forget to stop, look, listen and think.