Telly Savalas looks at Portsmouth, and a false memory visits my imagination

by Michael Nugent on January 25, 2015

Today I discovered the second, relatively obscure, false memory that I am aware of having.

When I was growing up in Dublin, Irish cinemas used to show short films before the main feature. They were, possibly deliberately, not as exciting as the main feature, and one 1981 short sparked a meme among me and my friends.

It was called ‘Telly Savalas Visits Portsmouth’, and it featured the late Kojak star promoting the old English coastal town. The strange combination so stuck in our minds that we began to refer to the time waiting for any feature movie to start as ‘Telly Savalas Visits Portsmouth’ time.

Telly SavalasI was discussing this meme today with Ashling O’Brien, and to show her what I meant, I googled ‘Telly Savalas Visits Portsmouth’. The search results led to a short movie titled ‘Telly Savalas Looks at Portsmouth’, which seemed a more clunky title than I remembered.

On watching it, I realised why. Telly Savalas was nowhere to be seen. He was merely narrating the tourist video, which showed buildings, markets, ships and more. It turns out that the Kojak star had not actually visited the town, but had merely recorded the voiceover in a Soho studio.

And yet I have (clearly false) memories of watching Telly Savalas walk through Portsmouth and point out the features of the town. I can still see his familiar smile, bald head and glasses, and detective-style overcoat. I don’t see him sucking the lollipop that he did on Kojak, because it was Telly Savalas and not Kojak that was visiting Portsmouth.

In my (false) memory’s favour, the narration by Savalas is scripted to create the impression that he was there.

He says about the Prince of Wales visiting Portsmouth: “In Guild Hall Square, all kinds of things happen. I felt the anticipation, the excitement. As the band plays, a limousine arrives at the red-carpeted Guild Hall steps.”

He asks: “Would you turn down an invitation to go to sea with the Royal Navy? You wouldn’t? Well, neither did I. I went to sea to see the Navy’s sea day programme.”

And the film concludes with Savalas telling us that: “The Guild Hall seems to be looking at me. So, so long Portsmouth, here’s looking at you!”

But despite the assertions by Savalas that he felt anticipation and excitement before the visit of the Prince of Wales, that he went to sea on a Navy ship, and that the Guild Hall seemed to be looking at him, he does not appear in the film. And yet, despite that I now know this for a fact, my memory still pictures him walking through Portsmouth on the Savoy cinema screen.

Joe Burke GoalThis is the second false memory that I am aware of having. In 1976 Bohemian football club, who I watched nearly every week as a child, were drawn at home in an FAI Cup tie against an amateur league side called Ringmahon Rangers, and Bohs were expected to win comfortably.

However, Ringmahon packed their defence, and despite relentless pressure Bohs only scored one goal – a free kick from outside the box, hammered home in typical style by Joe Burke, to the relief of those of us watching from behind the goal on the Tramway end terrace of Dalymount Park.

That vivid memory resurfaced in 2004, when Bohs were again drawn to play Ringmahon Rangers in the Cup. But the match programme for that game also recalled the 1976 fixture, and it described Joe Burke’s goal as a header, not a shot from a free kick. I later checked the Irish Times archive, and unsurprisingly, the match programme was correct.

Again, in my (false) memory’s favour, Joe Burke scored many goals from free kicks just outside the box, in exactly the manner that I falsely remembered his goal against Ringmahon rangers. Perhaps my mind combined the significance of this particular goal (Bohs went on to win the Cup that year) with the type of goal he typically scored, to create a composite false memory. I don’t know.

But I still have two relatively obscure memories fixed in my mind, even though I know that both of them are false. I can still see Telly Savalas walking through a town that he never visited, and I can still see Joe Burke score a goal from a free kick that never happened. And I inevitably wonder how many more of my memories might later join this short list.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 citizen_wolf January 25, 2015 at 9:53 am

Odin’s beard! Why the heck was Telly Savalas looking at Portsmouth in the first place?

What a bizarre short. I hope the main feature was considerably better than that!

2 Nialler January 25, 2015 at 11:25 am

The mind does funny things.

The horrible thing is that so many criminal convictions can be based on witness testimony, which can be dodgy to say the least.

3 Nathan (formerly GerardO) January 25, 2015 at 12:30 pm

But did Telly Savalas ever visit Portsmouth? We will probably will never know.

I have a similar story regarding the 1994 Australian rugby league Grand Final. I was convinced that the Canberra Raiders had beaten Canterbury 38-12, but the final score was actually 36-12. I’m still not sure why I thought they had scored those two extra points.

4 Shatterface January 25, 2015 at 4:15 pm

What a bizarre short. I hope the main feature was considerably better than that!

Cinemas in the UK did this until well into the Eighties too.

IIRC, The Empire Strikes Back had a documentary about horse racing and Raiders of the Lost Ark had some toss about a French unicyclist.

5 Shatterface January 25, 2015 at 4:21 pm

I think it was what was referred to as ‘a full supporting bill’.

6 chill chick January 25, 2015 at 11:13 pm

There was a French tightrope walker who snuck into the World Trade Center while it was under construction, and walked a tightrope between the tops of the Twin Towers. The documentary “Man on Wire” was about him. He was also a unicyclist. I wonder if he was the same person mentioned in comment #4.

7 citizen_wolf January 26, 2015 at 12:39 am

@Shatterface
Haha, that sounds like torture. I’m glad I’ve never had to face such horribleness :)

8 Tigzy January 26, 2015 at 1:54 am

Thanks for this – Pompey’s my home town, and this is a neat little curio to stumble across. Have to say, ‘Telly Savalas Looks at Portsmouth’ has just the kind of weird incongruity that makes me think of a spoof Viz article. Luv it!

9 JetLagg January 26, 2015 at 8:38 pm

Nialler@2

That nags me day and night. Seems like a huge area for potential research and evidence-based overhauling of the legal system.

10 Malcolm Morrison January 28, 2015 at 9:55 am

Telly may be the one who has false memories because also thinks he visited Birmingham.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EoHVO1eSMFc

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