Call it youthful naivety, call it sexual ambivalence or confusion but when I first saw Eat the Rich (1987) several times in my late teens as an usher during a film festival, I really thought actress Lanah Pellay (1959-) was a woman, or I thought she was a man… Ummm…
Alan Pellay or Al Pellay is the original name of actress Lanah Pellay who really was once known as a ‘trans’ actress and she plays a character with the sexually ambiguous name of Alex in the movie Eat the Rich which is kind of known as The Comic Strip Presents… Eat the Rich. Pellay’s performance alone makes the film a cult movie but the other performers are just as inspired, including a rough Cockney masculine sexually polar opposite played by a former boxer.
And I was perhaps not the only one to be momentarily fascinated by Lanah Pellay as heavy metal band Motorhead’s lead singer Lemmy Kilmister (1946-2016 prostate cancer and congestive heart failure), who also stars in the movie, reportedly admitted to sleeping with an unnamed trans woman some time during his career. It is speculated that it was Lanah Pellay who also went by the moniker of Lanah P…. But this is all pure rumour and the only hint that Lemmy would do such a thing is someone’s recollections that he said in a television interview once about the possibility of sleeping with a transsexual: “If he’s man enough to have his dick cut off, I’m man enough to f#*k him.”
Otherwise Lemmy is the man and true rock and roller who according to another legend apparently collapsed on stage due to the fact he’d had too many blow jobs! No wonder there’s always a bottle of water handy on stage these days! I don’t see Lemmy needing to find solace in the arms of another man when groupies were the norm.
Aside from that, Eat the Rich is an endearing collective up yours to Thatcherite Britain by a group of comedians who were rich themselves. But they knew they were also rich bastards when they made the movie and didn’t mind poking fun at themselves either… If they were socialists at heart, the fact that Eat the Rich exists, is some kind of proof.
The movie was especially written with Pellay in mind as the lead actress and her character is a basically unlikeable yet endearing waiter/waitress that only has herself to blame when she is fired from her job and faces homelessness and the dole during the cold winter that was the reign of Maggie Thatcher (1925-2013 stroke). Pushed too far, Alex chooses a life of crime and like too many of the disenfranchised she has the seed of revolution planted and growing inside her … But it will end badly! Especially for some rich bastards.
The writers of Eat the Rich are The Comic Strip founders Peter Richardson (1951-) and his fellow comic contributor Pete Richens (1952-2018 undisclosed). Richardson was the ‘boss’ who would sketch out the details while Richens was known as the ‘mechanic’ who would make Richardson’s work run the full distance. Richens was also known for taking improvisations by The Comic Strip comedians and turning them into a narrative for their act.
The Comic Strip was a group of comedians collected by Richardson who toured Britain and Australia in the early 1980s before they were commissioned by Brit tv Channel Four to produce a series of half hour films, or in other words a short series.
The core comedians of The Comic Strip, who also appear in Eat the Rich to varying degrees, are Adrian Edmondson (1957-), Nigel Planer (1953-), Rik Mayall (1958-2014 heart attack) – who also had a hit together with the show The Young Ones – along with Dawn French (1957), Jennifer Saunders (1958-) and Robbie Coltrane (1950-) among others.
The Comic Strip Presents series of short films was so successful that it led to the production of their first feature film The Supergrass (1985). It stars the core group of comedians as it tells of an amateur drug smuggler who gets involved with the authorities to become an informant.
Watch The Supergrass today and you will be disappointed as it doesn’t hold up as big screen entertainment and plays like an extra-long and unfunny episode of a tv show. Its box office was hardly encouraging but the low budget must have helped it to recoup its money and a second film dubbed The Supergrass 2 was planned which ended up being Eat the Rich.
Pellay must have made some sort of impression on Richardson and she does appear as a woman or someone in drag in The Supergrass albeit briefly and the success of the original film probably doesn’t travel far beyond the Commonwealth as it was essentially very British.
Eat the Rich is also essentially British with lead characters played by actors who most people outside of Britain would never have heard of – yet these comedians help make this a far more successful feature and the cult movie it is, even if it is not essentially a laugh riot. It’s simply one of the first movies which was amusing for all the wrong reasons.
Take for instance the casting of Nosher Powell (1928-2013 in sleep) as the Home Secretary for what we guess is a Conservative government. Powell was a boxer and stuntman who worked on over a dozen James Bond movies. This heavyweight boxing champion within the world of unlicensed fighting also worked as a minder for several celebrities.
Powell has the face and personality of an out of shape rough and tumble pugilist and a gravelly Cockney voice to match. Nosh is playing himself as the perfect working-class hero as he bursts into a conference room wearing only a pair of jocks and a baseball cap reading: ‘Nosh’ as opposed to ‘Boy’, demanding that his minders, who are played by Ronald Allen (1930-91 cancer) and Lemmy, help him to not lose the next election… It’s a worry.
But the film begins in the restaurant named Bastards which is overflowing with rich characters as Lemmy sings over the credits in screaming fashion: “C’mon baby, eat the rich!”
Those that populate Bastards are upper class twits who continually brag about their wealth and this is the real world the comedians would have us believe exists where the crassness of the wealthy is only outdone by what is available on the menu… Whether such people exist can only be known only among the rich themselves, or so it seems.
“The baby panda, is it fried in honey?,” asks one customer, as Lanah Pellay’s Alex eyes off a social climbing waiter and yells at some diners who’ve stiffed her: “Oi, where’s my f@#king tip!” She is then humiliated when she is pushed into the restaurant’s indoor fountain while scrambling for loose change flung at her by the departing patrons.
“Shut your face,” Pellay says to the manager played by Derren Nesbitt (1935-) from Where Eagles Dare (1968) who tells Alex: “We’re pretty tired of your attitude.” The manager at the theatre where I worked told me the same one night. I mean the job was so well paid and mentally engaging! Not!! I was there for the movies not the customers or the manager. Maybe I really was just a little punk!
The possibility of getting fired doesn’t stop the rampaging Alex as she upturns a table upon being rejected as a possible movie star: “I can ever be so unnerving!”
It’s the last straw and Pellay is made homeless in the rain upon being sacked.
She makes a phone call in the rain in the hope of staying in someone’s cupboard under the stairs: “I’ve got no money and nowhere to live but at least I’ve still got my friends…” Only to discover that nobody cares. As I say, she is an endearing character in that she doesn’t realise the power of her own personality to drive everyone away. Shit happens.
Pellay’s effeminate voice is the key to her success as a performer as well as the question mark as to her true binary sex… This was the 1980s after all and Pellay’s Alex still remains a ground-breaker in terms of characters who raise a sexual question mark in all of its aspects. I can see why the writers intended to make her a star with this movie, or at least capture the essence of a possible icon.
Pellay’s grating personality reaches a crescendo when she goes to the dole office where her UB40 form is torn up by a cocktail sipping public servant at the counter played by Miranda Richardson (1958-) who laughs maniacally as she does so… This is the last straw for Pellay/Alex as she thinks there is no other option but to kill… and she produces a gun and blows Richardson away.
“We’re the dispossessed,” Alex tells the media as she flees the scene with another lost soul.
The authority figures behind the scenes are corrupt, while Nosher sorts out terrorists, which are led by the lead singer of The Pogues poet Shane MacGowan (1957-), with his bare hands, much to the delight of the milling crowd and as another Motorhead song plays on the soundtrack. Nosher is the new messiah and it is scaring the establishment as he could end up as Prime Minister.
“Couldn’t we put out a rumour that he’s gay?,” says a head honcho, which may have been part the in-joke of the Lemmy rumour about sleeping with transsexuals.
Alex gathers a few more ‘losers’ together in the form of Ron Tarr’s (1936-97 cancer) homeless man and Jimmy Fagg’s (1929-) long-haired nobody who would rather talk about trees at the pub while everyone else wants to play darts.
“There are millions like us Ron with no hope, no future…” muses Alex as she begins her road trip on a draught horse before the eventual cannibalistic climax of Eat the Rich.
Meanwhile the notion that power and money rule when it comes to sex is raised as we have a beautiful young woman tell the perhaps unlovely Nosh in the back of a car: “You’ve got a lovely body.”
Alex’s ragtag group of recruited misfits head towards the unexpected revolution of the title even if she doesn’t quite truly inspire like the greats such as Che Guevara (1928-1967 executed by gunshots): “Haven’t you read Karl Marx?!,” she asks the none too bright Ron facetiously after he has a conniption fit over what the point of it all is.
As we wait for the pay-off of the working-class revolution which happens under the very noses of the upper crust as they dine, Alex says when asked of any plans of future terrorism: “We haven’t really thought about it.” We get the idea that Alex is a kind of lost soul who exists through pure self absorption and overreaction to herself and despite her lighter moments of empty reflection shows how for some that despite a road paved by good intentions it can often lead to the town dump. But Alex will grow balls by the end of Eat the Rich – if she doesn’t already have them!
It’s that voice of Pellay’s that’s used to great effect throughout, it’s even used inside her head as she composes her diary: “Each day, dear diary, I feel the inevitable bloodbath draw closer… I know the end will be both violent and painful… Please God they don’t shoot me in the face, I couldn’t bear that.”
Lanah or Alan Pellay was born near the docks of Grimsby – so famous now for the 2016 film by Sacha Baron Cohen (1971-) – and was the youngest of six children. Her mother was a cleaner of Barbadian descent, while her father was an engineer on fishing trawlers of Indian descent. Thus, the actress has an exotic look while also possessing the build of a rugby player. She started out as a teenager performing drag acts in men’s clubs impersonating such celebrity singers as Shirley Bassey (1937-), Eartha Kitt (1927-2008 colon cancer), Lena Horne (1917-2010 congestive heart failure) and Cleo Laine (1927-).
She transformed into Lanah Pellay and in the mid-1980s had a Top 40 hit single in Australia and New Zealand with the song Pistol in my Pocket. It is a dancefloor number which came in the wake of gender bending singers Boy George (1961-) and especially the music of the androgynous Pete Burns (1959-2016 cardiac arrest) of pop band Dead and Alive.
It was after Pellay met actor Keith Allen (1953-) that she was introduced to The Comic Strip founder Richardson which caused her to be cast in several episodes of The Comic Strip Presents… Then came Eat the Rich, a role that today might have been massive and more fully embraced… but it was essentially dismissed. After that Pellay had a one-woman show Off-Broadway in New York and has regularly appeared in her own cabaret shows. She now gives make-up tips on YouTube.
The main course of Eat the Rich happens when Alex returns to Bastards and after a quick coup rechristens the place Eat the Rich where she along with the help of her friends put the manager and other rich people through a hand cranked meat grinder and serve them as Mince and Chips or Manager with Chips. Alex wears sunglasses as she grins and rudely welcomes the rich which include former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman (1936-) who is shown the way to the kitchen and his doom. If only I could have grinned that way to keep my job at the up-market cinema where I worked! Hypocrisy is a key element to Eat the Rich and the creators and comedians of The Comic Strip are revelling in being hypocrites themselves.
Plates of mince and chips are tossed across the table at the rich with contempt in a reinvention of the idea of fine dining. It may have changed since the 1980s but there are always those with money who don’t mind slumming it in terms of service just to get what has been tipped off by others as a good meal. It’s just that the restaurant in Eat the Rich is meant for rich people in more ways than one. As for Nosh, he has a hard time swallowing it when he visits with his wife who’s loves nothing more than a plate of mince.
Other celebrities in on the joke include Paul McCartney (1942-) as a banquet guest where there is someone playing the Queen as an overweight woman obsessed with the royal appointment of tomato sauce… Then there’s famous for being famous celebrity Koo Stark (1956-) who dated Prince Andrew and Mike Leigh favourite Katrin Cartlidge (1961-2002 pneumonia and sepsis) in a quick role. Plus, all those comedians.
The end of the movie has Nosh and Alex come up fatally against one another on a deserted road where we wonder who will have the last word or laugh. It’s a great subdued ending.
Film critic Leonard Maltin gives the film his lowest rating saying it has a “weird point of view” while others say, naturally, that it’s not to everyone’s taste. But the film stands up pretty well and it’s surprising critics don’t point out Pellay more often. Trans woman or just a drag queen with attitude to match? It appears Lanah never had the snip despite living as a trans woman at the time of making of Eat the Rich.
The Comic Strip creators would make a couple more movies which Richardson wrote and directed and one was The Pope Must Die also known as The Pope Must Diet (1991) which was far more suited to the big screen than The Supergrass. In terms of professional filmmaking Eat the Rich had been a further step in between. The Pope Must Die had appearances by Herbert Lom (1917-2012 in sleep) and Paul Bartel (1938-2000 after surgery for liver cancer) along with Robbie Coltrane as the star, but its controversial title was altered for the United States while the original script was also reportedly changed and watered down due to unfavourable press and anger within the Catholic establishment. The Pope Must Diet lacked the raw energy and undeniably peculiar comic flavour of Eat the Rich.
Later Richardson and Richens came up with the World War Two set Churchill: The Hollywood Years (2004) which is back to their more subversive best and stars Christian Slater (1969-) and Neve Campbell (1973-). The best line in the movie is when a camp butler at Buckingham Palace is given a copy of Hitler’s book Mein Kampf and after a cursory glance at the title says: “Me in Kamp F? What’s this? A gay prison story?” It had me in stitches on and off for several minutes. The rest of the movie is rather uneven but it captures the 1940s period pretty well.
The ‘weird’ point of view that the rich can be full of themselves, together with the strange attraction of the otherwise abrasive and dissonant Lanah Pellay on the impressionable youth that was myself, helped to make Eat the Rich the perfect nosh slapped together and smothered with tomato sauce by royal appointment and served best as a takeaway with chips … bring on the wine and beer!